Fix N.S.W. Transport!

Fix rural and regional rail services!

Despite the number of Nationals MPs who could be expected to support (or defend?) country rail travel, NSW's rural and regional rail services were downgraded in October 2013.

The most conspicuous change was the Brisbane XPT. It was re-timed, altering its northern turnaround from around 7am NSW time to 4am (October-March) or 5am (April-September), times which are inconvenient for everyone. This change was made without even an apology for public consultation. The reason is probably something to do with avoiding rail congestion around Brisbane in the morning peak but no explanation was ever given so we don't know. Other re-timings have been suggested which would have averted the inconvenience.

Another change was routing the Melbourne XPT and Canberra Xplorer via the East Hills line, taking away the handy stop at Strathfield. While this may have been an attempt to reduce rail congestion around Homebush and Lidcombe, the passenger/customer suffers. Ironically, it happened at the same time as the cutting back of inner west services to Homebush, which one would also expect to relieve congestion around the same area, so perhaps the XPT and Xplorer could have been left untouched.

Re-timing of the Central West Express meant that the inbound western XPT misses the outbound overnight Melbourne XPT at Central by 12 minutes. And the former no longer stops at Strathfield, precluding interchange there. Decent public consultation would have exposed these problems before they affected anyone.

The timetable changes compounded the cessation of services on the Murwillumbah branch by the former government in 2004. Learn more ...

Worse, the current government cut all rail services to central Newcastle on 25 December 2014. Learn more ...

Readers who were around in the 1980s would remember that the XPT was going to revolutionise rural train travel by high speeds - up to 100 miles per hour. Unfortunately, neither the speeds nor the revolution happened. Rather, travel times on all lines have been slowed over the years since. This may have been to minimise conflicts with freight movements although the changes got soft-pedalled and hence we don't know. Meanwhile, millions of dollars were spent on the roads parallel to the railway, guaranteeing faster trucks and cars than trains. And intrastate flights want more time-slots at Sydney airport so they can run more flights direct to Sydney.

With such unfriendly treatment, you wouldn't expect rail passenger numbers to grow. However, the Minister denied in March 2015 that further cuts were in the pipeline.

The Xplorer trains date from 1993. Endeavour trains are mechanically similar but with different seating. Both types of train seem to have poor reliability but statistics are not easy to find.

2019 renewal

It was announced on 14 February 2019 that new "Region Link" trains replacing the XPTs (most dating from 1982) and Xplorer series had been ordered and would be serviced at a new depot in Dubbo. While there may well be social benefits in regional jobs, some observers are concerned by the extra distance involved whenever trains require maintenance. Dubbo is about 380km west of Sydney from where all lines radiate.

The community group Ecotransit Sydney identified a list of issues with the announcement:

  1. The details of the contract were not to be released for 45 days i.e. after the NSW election on 23 March 2019!
  2. The new trains will be built in Spain, though some "fitting out" will be done at Dubbo. This is a major wasted opportunity to provide jobs in NSW.
  3. The details that were released by NSW Govt about the new trains indicate to EcoTransit that the trains are not suitable for the operations and services that they will be used for.

and a list of unanswered questions:

Presumably the new DMU trains can be split. A suggestion worth considering would be splitting the Central Western Express at Orange into two parts, one for Dubbo and the other to Parkes.

A relatively minor re-timing of the Melbourne XPT services, perhaps in conjunction with track improvements permitting higher speeds, could see the northbound and southbound services cross near Cootamundra. That would allow Trainlink coach services to connect with both trains, improving the efficiency of the coach services and thereby encouraging people to use public transport.

As for the infrastructure, the track on the vital Southern line between Sydney and Melbourne is reportedly in poor condition. According to this video [start at 15 minutes, watch to 25 minutes], about 300km was badly re-sleepered in 2007, resulting in mudholes, and remediation has not progressed very far. You can see a 2013 report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau here.

It was reported on 29 March 2016 that the following stations were to be closed with all staff withdrawn: Blayney, Broken Hill, Byron Bay, Griffith, Lismore, Macksville, Murwillumbah, Nambucca Heads, Parkes, Wellington and Yass Junction. There were staff cutbacks at: Albury, Armidale, Bathurst, Canberra, Casino, Coffs Harbour, Cootamundra, Dubbo, Goulburn, Grafton, Gunnedah, Junee, Kempsey, Narrabri, Orange, Tamworth, Taree, Wagga Wagga and Wauchope.

It was reported on 5 April 2016 that Northern Rivers Railway Action Group ("NRRAG") and Trains On Our Tracks ("TOOT") were to press for Federal funding to support a rail connection from the Gold Coast to the Northern Rivers region.

A chronic issue which resurfaced in April-May 2018 is rail trails. People press for "unused" rail corridors to be converted to bicycle corridors, providing a flat trip with occasional tunnels between rural centres. Unfortunately, the conversion seems to require removal of the rails and is quite costly. Restoration of the railway becomes less practicable. A case in point is northwards from Armidale - residents of the New England area of NSW want rail restored from Armidale to Wallangarra, with eventual connection to the proposed inland rail between Parkes and Toowoomba. Learn more.... They point out that destruction of the railway would be attractive to trucking and other interests. Learn more... A railway overbridge about 500 metres NW of Armidale station has frequently been suggested for removal because of the height restriction on the road underneath. Will the trucks prevail? Learn more...

Re-opening several other lines will eventually become feasible. Possibilities include Queanbeyan-Cooma thence Bombala or Eden. For light rail, Newcastle-Belmont might be considered. Canberra-Civic is of course a matter for the A.C.T. government.

Another issue is the standard of the rail lines. Country trains should travel much faster than they do now. This does not necessarily mean Very Fast Trains but only Fairly Fast Trains like Queensland's tilt trains up the coast. Learn more...

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Fix N.S.W. Transport!