Overland passenger train service to continue until at least March

THE only passenger train servicing the Wimmera will continue to run for at least the next three months.

On Friday, a Victorian government spokesman told the Mail-Times it had offered to extend the Overland train until the end of March 2020 "to give holidaymakers certainty".

"Given the South Australian Liberal Government's cut to the service, Victoria will use the next three months to continue discussions with Journey Beyond about the future of the Overland," he said.

"This gives the South Australian Liberal Government three months to reassess its cut in funding for the service - which is primarily used by South Australians."

The train runs twice weekly between Melbourne and Adelaide, stopping in Nhill, Dimboola, Horsham, Stawell and Ararat.

It is operated by the private company Great Southern Rail, which relies on state government subsidies to run the service at an affordable cost.

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At the end of 2018, the state government committed $3.78 million to fully fund the service for another year, after the South Australian Government pulled out of the joint funding arrangement between the two governments.

When the Melbourne-bound train arrived at Horsham station on Friday, seven people got on the train while six alighted.

Among those departing Horsham was former resident Jimmy Nicholas, taking the Overland for the first time. Now living in Melbourne, Mr Nicholas drove to Horsham with his sister to spend Christmas with their parents.

"I would definitely use the train again if it was available," he said. "It makes things easier. I've got all these bags and I don't want to be getting on and off a bus, this way I can get straight to Southern Cross Station."

Horsham resident Eric Smith was also on the platform, not to travel but to observe the train. A casual trainspotter, Mr Smith said he had used the service several times in the past six years.

"There should be a service to Melbourne from the border daily," he said. "Some people with health issues can't get on and off buses but can get on a train OK.

"I'd be disappointed if the Overland doesn't continue, but the government cuts services if people don't use them enough. It shouldn't be a matter of whether it pays its way though, it's a service."

On Monday Member for Lowan Emma Kealy called on the government to invest money in improving other public transport services across Western Victoria if it would not support the Overland's future.

"I am once again calling on (Victorian Premier) Daniel Andrews to make good on his commitment to 'deliver for all Victorians' by committing to bring back passenger rail services to Hamilton and Horsham and improving local coach connections," she said.

Ms Kealy said 17,000 passengers used the Overland every year.

Northern Grampians Shire mayor Councillor Murray Emerson said the council will continue to campaign for the service's continuation.

"The Northern Grampians Shire is very happy the state is taking up the option to extend the period of the Overland Rail Service to South Australia," he said.

"We are hopeful that our campaigning to try and retain the service not just for the next three months but continuing on is successful."

Retaining existing services and adding new ones to the region has been part of a "gigantic fight" with the state government, Cr Emerson said.

"From the economic benefits for tourism in our region it is very important that we have some rail services travelling from Adelaide and from Melbourne into our regions, but of course that is an ongoing argument that we've been having with the state government for a number of years now, to reinstate extra passenger rail services stopping at Ararat, Stawell and Horsham," he said.

"The Overland individually is very important to our region but as important is our passenger services."

Hindmarsh Shire mayor Cr Rob Gersch said the additional three months was "great news" and it will provide opportunity to continue talks with the government.

"I have phoned (Victorian Transport Infrastructure Minister) Jacinta Allan to talk to her but I haven't heard back from her at this stage, so I'll be pursuing that, and thanking her but looking to try and consolidate a long-term arrangement," Cr Gersch said.

"Hopefully the South Australian government comes on board too."

Cr Gersch also called attention to the need for a passenger rail service between Ararat and Horsham, which has been a long-running campaign by the region's councils.

"We need to continue to pursue having the train come to Horsham," he said.

"There has been a lot of lobbying going on to have that train come from Ararat to Horsham and we need to continue that because the Overland doesn't always quite wok in with people's schedules, even though it's great to have it," he said.

"There's been several councils lobby together ... and at the last election the Coalition committed to doing further work on that, but unfortunately the current government hasn't done it yet so we need to continue to lobby."

Journey Beyond Rail, which runs the Overland, and Horsham Rural City Council mayor Cr Mark Radford were contacted for comment.

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This story Overland service to continue until at least March first appeared on The Wimmera Mail-Times.