Sunday, 22 January 2023

So what to do about the train service?

When we talk about improving train services in Australia we tend to fixate on capital city to capital city services, and the Sydney Melbourne service in particular.

That’s a red herring.

There is no way, within current budgets and using currently available technology that the services between the east coat capitals (Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide) can be improved to make the door to door journey times competitive with flying.

Can’t be done.

So what can be done?

Well it’s not all about capital cities, it’s more about travel between regional centres and capital cities.

People who live in the Newcastle/Sydney/Wollongong strip have an acceptable service. Those living in the larger regional centres outside NSW Trainlink’s Intercity service don’t. Orange, Wagga and the rest have poor or near non-existent services, as does the north coast.

In Victoria, where the population is a little more spread out the situation is better, but not great.

It’s possible from most Victorian centres to get to Melbourne and back in a day, but it’s a long day.

On a personal note, J has a medical condition that requires periodic visits to see specialists in Melbourne, and while we could take the train we usually drive and stay overnight in the city as it’s more convenient and crucially we’re not dependent on a sometimes erratic service.

As to South Australia, I don’t know. Outside of Adelaide there are no passenger trains to speak of, and while there are no large towns, there’s enough of a population in the south of the state that might support a regional service along the Great Western Highway (M1/A8) corridor.

So what to do?

In Victoria, it’s simple – press for more, better and faster regional services and perhaps a shuttle service along the standard gauge section between Ararat and the South Australian border to allow residents in the west of the state connect with the broad gauge Ararat/Ballarat/City service.

If South Australia was minded to contribute the service could extend to Adelaide.

In NSW, a shuttle service from Wagga to Albury to connect with V/Line services might be advantageous, but basically it’s the same as Victoria, more regional services, but given the historic lack of investment in regional services it there’s a lot more work to be done to even emulate V/Line’s current service levels, which will need substantial investment.

Given that it’s the states that run the rail services any campaign needs to be state based. Victoria is clearly persuadable as regards improving services.

It might then be possible to shame NSW into doing something …

Sunday, 15 January 2023

Trains (again)

Last week we had two of J's younger UK rellies visit us while on their way round the world.

It was the usual thing, catch up with us, use our washing machine and go on a couple of bushwalks with us.

They're experienced travellers and used to the vagaries of train services internationally in Europe and Asia, and veterans of commuting in the North of England with the appalling trans Pennine service, but even so they were amazed how sparse the country V/line service was, expecting there to be at least half a dozen trains between Albury and Melbourne a day.

The sparseness of the service does beg the question as to how the service will cope  when $9.20 price cap comes in at the end of March - one could imagine the current sparse service being swamped, even locally, with people travelling from Benalla or Wangaratta taking the train to Albury rather than driving.

(Or maybe not, the sparseness of the service may inhibit its use, no matter how cheap the service)

However, Ben and Jen were even more amazed the daylight hours service to Sydney consisted of a solitary forty year old XPT. 

They emailed us after they got to Sydney to let us know they'd survived the journey. Being young they thought the XPT was incredibly retro and cool tho, especially as, with the exception of Scotrail, all of the XPT's UK cousins, the Intercity 125s, have been withdrawn from service in the UK.

I think we might have a bit of a way to go as regards having a decent train service ...

Sunday, 8 January 2023

Prince Harry

 I'm over the whole Harry and Megan psychodrama, not to mention all the false moral outrage over him having his first sexual encounter in a paddock, getting drunk and taking illicit substances. 

He's not the first young man to have done so, nor will he be the last. 

Yes, there probably are grounds for concern over his alleged continued use of said illicit substances and possible psychological issues from his time in Afghanistan. 

Again he's not the only ex soldier who self medicates in this way. 

What the whole sorry story does show is that collectively the royal family are a gang of disfunctional mutants who should probably never be trusted with any position of responsibility... 


Saturday, 31 December 2022

A pigeon and a good deed

 A few days ago, just after Christmas, I was putting some rubbish in the recycling bin I saw a pigeon sitting on the ground close to the bin.

Clearly in shock, the bird had a wound in its back between its wings. My guess is that a dog got it.

It might have been a fox, but as it was afternoon I suspect a dog.

Now it was a common or garden pigeon. Not native, just a feral introduced standard pigeon.

The wildlife rescue people would most probably be disinterested, and any vet (assuming any were open) would simply euthanise it. 

It's a pigeon after all.

Well, I decided it deserved a chance. They may not be native, but they've probably been here for two hundred and more years, making them part of the ecosystem.

So I set some water in an old plastic food container down beside it, and left it to it.

I reckoned it probably wouldn't last the night, but no, next morning it was sitting there, looking brighter. It had clearly hopped about a bit in the night seeking shelter behind some pot plants.

I reckoned it might be hungry. 

I had some native wild bird food left over from an abortive attempt to help the native birds during a cold spell a couple of winters ago (abortive, because the possums found the bird feeder after a couple of days and ripped it to bits to get at the seed), so I gave it a handful of seed and left it to it once more.

A few hours later I looked back and it had gone, and most of the seed. I looked behind the plant pots to see if it had snuck in there and died.

No, not there.

All I can hope is it managed to gather enough strength and fly off. 

No idea as to its long term prospects, but I felt I'd done a good thing.

While I'll admit I do eat meat occasionally, I'm not in favour of killing animals for no purpose. And while I love the native bush, there's no way we can remove all alien species and go back to a pre-1788 ecology. We've made so many changes and introduced so many animals I don't believe we can go back, so we basically now live in a managed landscape.

As for pigeons? Generally they're a pain, but that's not a reason not to give one a second chance ...

Tuesday, 20 December 2022

My God, the Nationals are in favour!

 A report in today's Guardian, that the Nationals are broadly in favour of an upgrade to the Sydney Melbourne line, with tilt trains and the like, as I reported previously.

If so, this is quite a turn around.

Just before COVID struck, and in the wake of the Wallan XPT derailment, I wrote to our local Federal MP, Helen Haines, about the poor state of the track and its impact on the reliability of the service.

I wrote to our Federal, and not our State MP as the track is operated by the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) which is a Federal entity.

Helen Haines raised my concerns with Michael McCormack, who was Federal Infrastructure Minister, as well as Deputy Prime Minister, and incidentally MP for Wagga.

This is the reply I received

Now, to be fair to Michael McCormack, I only raised my concerns about the performance of the Albury Melbourne V/Line service and not the NSW Trainlink Sydney Melbourne service.

However, I think the tone of the letter suggests that at that time the Nationals were not invested in the idea of an improvement to the overall passenger service.

As always this is complicated as it's the states that run the passenger services and, in this case, the Federal goverment that runs the track ...

Thursday, 15 December 2022

Improving the Sydney Melbourne train

 I know I'm channeling my inner train geek here, but this morning's Guardian had an article by a transport expert on how, by adopting tilting trains, as has been done in Queensland,  and some comparatively modest improvement to the track, it would be possible to roughly halve the Sydney Melbourne travel time.

And of course the thing about track improvements and realignments is that they do not all need to be done at once, leading to incremental improvements in travel times.

As I commented a few days ago, NSW  has a project to replace the elderly XPT and Xplorer trains with new Spanish sourced trains.

These trains alone won't deliver any substantial improvement in performance and travel times - I guess the prime aim of the train replacement project is to contain ongoing maintenance and running costs by standardising on a single train type, which we assume is predicted to be less than the current trains.

As the NSW government themselves admit, it's not expected to deliver improved service times. There is of course a risk that having bought shiny new trains NSW would be reluctant to buy additional tilting trains, even if they were to undertake a programme of track improvements ...

Sunday, 11 December 2022

The hollowing out of the train service

 A few days ago I vented about the Sydney Canberra train service

Since then there's been various reports that the Sydney/Melbourne train service has been enjoying a substantial increase in patronage, basically because flights have become unaffordable for some.

What's interesting is the way that people have to be told about how the train service works - long distance train travel has ceased to be a thing in Australia, and train travel in regional and rural Australia has become the preserve of those who live too far from an airport or who can't afford to fly.

Railways are of course operated by the State governments, and not the Federal government.

Here in North East Victoria, we've just got new trains on the Albury line, shortening the journey time by twenty minutes each way. We havn't used them yet, but while we grumbled about the old locomotive hauled service, it basically worked, getting us there and back in a day when we needed it, even during the pandemic.

V/line is a pretty attenuated service however - our local station in Wangaratta is still in the old 1880's building but has shrunk down to a waiting area with these bolted to the floor benches once only seen in social security offices, a ticket counter and some toilets - not the most welcoming, but it does the job. Strangely, reasonable amount of parking.

V/line shrank nearly to nothing but is now beginning to claw its way back with new trains, track improvements, reopening closed lines and stations, etc, to try and provide a half way decent service.

There's still not enough trains and services are often slow but they're trying and one has to give them  credit for trying to move things in the right direction.

Queensland Rail has also been investing, replacing the old long distance Sunlander between Brisbane and Cairns with a newer modern train with improved journey times.

However, New South Wales, which operates the Melbourne Sydney service and the Sydney Brisbane service is still using 40 year old XPT trains, over track which is much as it was in the early twentieth century.

The result is a distinctly sparse, slow and unreliable service between the three largest population centres on the east coast. However, it's been like that for at least a generation now, meaning that unless you have had experience of a decent, fast, long distance train service overseas, it's what you take for normal. Even if it hasn't always been like that, it's what you expect things to be like.

Fixing the problems all at once is probably impossible, the money is probably not there for track improvements, electrification etc. 

While the Inland Rail project has delivered improvements for the Melbourne Albury line, it's not going to help the improve the line from Albury to Sydney, which is much as it was in the 1880's with sections of single track, nor is it going to help with the line from Sydney to Brisbane.

In the 1980's the then NSW government reportedly wanted to abandon all non metro passenger services. This was not acceptable politically, with the result we have a bare minimum service for people who either live regionally or who cannot afford to fly.

And when patronage increases, there's not enough slack in the system to cope.

I suspect that the NSW government would prefer to invest its rail budget in continuing improvements in the Woollongong/Sydney/Newcastle area - it's where most of the population lives after all.

However, it's not all gloom.

New trains are promised from 2023 onwards, which may help improve matters, but without improvements to the track I suspect that there won't be any marked increase in speed. 


Likewise without additional rolling stock over and above those older trains being replaced, there probably won't be any increase in frequency of service.

So what's the answer? I don't know. 

What I do know is that while Victoria and Queensland have shown a willingness to invest in their regional services, New South Wales has not, which is unfortunate given that they have control of the Melbourne/Sydney/Brisbane passenger train service ...