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 …