Dear valued subscriber,
The south-west has been crying out for new trains for decades. Five years after being promised new rolling stock, and hundreds of million of dollars spent so far on track upgrades, the boom gate red lights are flashing with alarm that we may not end up with a better service.
Warrnambool line trains, which for much of this century have been neck and neck with Wodonga for the least punctual, reliable and modern service, are among the last in the state to be upgraded.
Premier Daniel Andrews first promised VLocity trains on the region's line in 2017, predicting they would replace our ageing fleet within 12 to 18 months.
But as we revealed, the new VLocity trains which are now expected to hit the rails in 2024, may not be what we hoped they would be.
V/Line has revealed VLocity trains will have no snack cars and fewer seats whenever they roll into town. The cafe bar is a bespoke feature that won't be included in the current design of the new VLocity trains.
A V/Line spokesman said the overwhelming feedback from passengers was they wanted a fast, reliable train service.
"Which is why we're delivering more modern VLocity trains to give passengers the better services they deserve," he said.
"We understand there are some passengers who would prefer to have catering facilities on board during their journey - we acknowledge this will be a change and will work with them to see what alternative options are possible."
The problem here though is the trains won't actually run any faster than our existing trains, which hit a maximum speed of 115km/h.
The second stage of level crossing upgrades started last year; the first stage works have not yet been completed because of delays associated with the pandemic.
But even when those first stages are completed, the new trains will be restricted to 115km/h. Only after more track upgrades are done will they be able to travel at 160km/h. And money for those works is not yet on the table from either the state or federal governments.
The bill for the upgrades is estimated at $510m. What's our chances of getting more?
State Liberal Party leader Matthew Guy, who travelled to Warrnambool in May on the train, had to organise food to be delivered to him and his entourage at Colac because the snack car was not operating.
He was in Warrnambool again this week and said the service coming our way was unacceptable. "It's totally unreasonable for people to be sitting in a bolt upright position without any access to a café service," he said.
The coalition back in 2018 had promised new trains with first and economy carriages and a cafe service. Our train service has been a centrepiece of state election campaigns for years and it appears it will be again this year.
Given the feedback from readers to our stories in the past week, the topic could be a vote-winner for candidates. And given the seat of South West Coast became marginal at the 2018 election, those votes could be decisive. Is it too late for the government to re-consider its decision? Let's hope the horse hasn't bolted or in this case, the train hasn't left the station.
The national spotlight remained on Kirkstall this week after the brutal double nine days ago. The partner of slain career criminal Kevin Knowles revealed a different side to the man regarded as a standover man. Knowles was linked to the deaths of five people. Knowles' sidekick Benjamin Ray, who was also gunned down, had experienced his share of tough moments in his life. But what motivated Travis Cashmore to kill them and then take his own life? This story and a court hearing back in January shed light on the reasons.
Warrnambool City councillors have some big decisions to make on Monday night. They are being asked to choose between multi-million dollar upgrade options for the city's saleyards. But if they elect to not award a tender, that decision could then "accelerate" closure of the facility, a report to be tabled at the meeting says. A decade ago the council seriously considered closing the saleyards and prioritising a private operator to set up new state-of-the-art yards close to Warrnambool. But an emotional campaign from agents, farmers and businesses resulted in the council voting to keep the yards open. That didn't stop a private operator setting up in Mortlake - something the previous council was warned could happen - and the city losing economic benefits associated with sale days. No one wants the city to lose an economic-driver but the costs associated with upgrading the ageing facility make keeping it open "marginal", the report says.
The state opposition is prepared to dig into the state's coffers should it win November's state election, announcing it would fund a $36m drug and alcohol residential rehab centre in Warrnambool. The south-west is the only region in the state without such a centre. Will the state government follow suit?
An exciting new chapter could be on the cards for a prime site in south Warrnambool with plans for a school camp lodged with the council.
There was good news with the state government announcing $1.2m to educate 100 new trainee nurses at Warrnambool's South West Tafe.
Plans have been unveiled for a music conservatorium to be established in the region.
It's been a shocking week for sporting identities with former Collingwood star Bill Picken, of Hamilton, and then Warrnambool's Clinton Hall, a premiership-winning footballer with both South Warrnambool and Dennington, dying suddenly. Warrnambool Basketball Inc lost its president Michael McGowan at age 46. Our thoughts are with their families.
It's been a sad week inside our office as we said goodbye to stalwart staffer Liz Cozens after an astonishing 55-year stint with us in various roles including classifieds, circulation, payroll and finance. We wish her all the best in retirement.
We also said goodbye to brilliant young photographer Morgan Hancock, who after six years with us, is off chasing his dream in Melbourne with news photo agencies shooting events like AFL matches.
Don't forget to check out some other stories that made headlines this week, below.
Until next week,
Greg Best, editor, The Standard
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