A Victorian MP is urging the state government to commit further funding to the Overland rail service that will stop running on March 31.
The South Australian government withdrew its funding in 2019 and for the past three months the Victorian government took over subsiding the service.
The 828km long service between Adelaide and Melbourne has been running since 1887.
Stuart Grimley, Victorian leader of Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party stated in a speech to parliament that Overland should be jointly funded by both Victorian and SA state governments.
However, if SA doesn’t agree to joint funding then the Victorian government should consider long term funding to guarantee the longevity of the service.
“Rail is vital for rural and regional towns,” Grimley said.
He is calling on the Minister for Public Transport, Melissia Horne to back the service to rectify perceived differences in funding between regional and metro projects, following investments in the Melbourne Metro Tunnel project, countless level crossing removals and forward planning on the Suburban Rail Loop.
“No-one argues that these projects are not of significant importance, but we must be conscious of striking a better balance between funding for metropolitan and rural rail projects,” Grimley said.
“With airports few and far between in the Wimmera area and buses not accessible for all those with physical impairments, a long-term rail transport option should be guaranteed.”
Grimley said he understands that there are a number of demands on the state budget in terms of rail already, however, they should not come at the expense to services in regional areas.
“Given this, the action that I seek is for the transport infrastructure minister to commit to long-term funding for the Overland train service to continue,” he said.
A spokesperson from Journey Beyond said last year that Overland has consistently required government support, which has heavily subsidised significant operational costs to ensure affordability for commuters.
Edwin Michell, an aerospace engineer, told IN Daily that for $50 million or less, commissioning new, state-of-the-art tilting trains such as the Spanish-made Talgo XXI could save the line, as at present the service is too slow.
Talgo’s dual gauge capability will allow seamless operations on the broad-gauge suburban networks of Melbourne and Adelaide, as well as on the standard-gauge interstate railway, meaning no changes to the track would be required.
Michell said the current railway is well maintained and its concrete sleepers and heavy, continuously welded rail is well suited for high speed operations.
“Using the dual-gauge system to take the shorter broad-gauge route via Ballarat, instead of the current standard-gauge route via Geelong, would save a further half-hour,” Michell said to the IN Daily.
“Assuming a 25 per cent speed increase on the highly curved sections through the Adelaide Hills and on approach to Melbourne, and a 160km/h cruise speed through the long, flat and mostly straight run between Murray Bridge and Ararat, about 3.5 hours would be cut from the journey.”
Michell is calling on private sectors to take advantage of the Overland as a business opportunity.
He estimated to the IN Daily that annual revenue would be $33 million from an average fare level of $150 and financing costs of 5 per cent, interest on capital would be $2.5m and if track access were charged according to the ARTC’s present price schedule, such charges would come to about $1.8m per year.
“Therefore, the break-even level of direct operation and maintenance costs would be $28.6m, or roughly $0.17 per passenger-kilometre, O&M costs would need to be kept below $0.11 per passenger-km.” Michell said
“This should be achievable, even with no subsidy.”
At this stage, the Overland is set to retire by the end of the month.