12 July 2018

Commuter rail push on again

| Maryann Weston
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Southern Tablelands Rail Users Group President Greg Price is advocating for tilt train technology which is widely used in Europe. Photo: Supplied.

Southern Tablelands Rail Users Group President Greg Price is advocating for tilt train technology which is widely used in Europe. Photo: Supplied.

Around 18% of people living in the Goulburn-Mulwaree region travel outside of the area to work, and with an increasing population rail commuter links to Sydney and Canberra are on the agenda in the lead up to the NSW election in March 2019.

However, it’s not the first time the inadequacies of country rail infrastructure and the Goulburn rail timetable have come into sharp focus, demonstrating decades of unsuccessful lobbying for better commuter services to metropolitan areas.

According to Southern Tablelands Rail Users Group (STRUG) President Greg Price, the current rail timetable is “about as slow as steam train timetables, and the timetable now is 12 minutes slower than the previous timetable which was replaced in November 2017”.

“Ageing diesel trains, unreliability due to passenger services being held up by broken down freight trains, and lack of investment over decades in rail infrastructure, have contributed to poor services”, Greg said.

While Australia may be a ‘nation of car drivers’, increased population along the Sydney to Canberra corridor, and long car commute times due to road congestion in metropolitan areas, have highlighted rail timetable deficiencies.

“If we can have a rail timetable of three hours or less between Canberra and Sydney, we’ll take a significant number of passengers off the airlines. With no check-in times, and the opportunity to work on your laptop, and a journey which delivers you to the centre of Sydney, rail travel becomes attractive. The Sydney to Canberra corridor is the only regional corridor capable of generating a profit,” Greg said.

The answer, according to STRUG, is to invest in tilt train technology and electrification of the current lines. It’s a campaign STRUG has been pushing since 2014, and which had the support of local councils along the corridor between Sydney and Canberra.

“The councils understand that fast and frequent electric train services offer better residential and commercial growth opportunities for their local government areas,” Greg said.

The group is lobbying the NSW Government to fund a feasibility study into tilt trains, which it first raised in 2014. With the State Government recently concluding a tender process to replace the ageing diesel trains servicing the Sydney to Canberra corridor, now is the time to examine tilt train technology, even if the trains were diesel powered.

“Even the diesel tilt trains without any alterations to the tracks should be able to do the trip between Sydney and Canberra in around two hours fifty minutes. If the NSW Government doesn’t invest now in this technology, it will be the middle of the century before we get another chance – given the trains have around a 30-year lifespan,” Greg said.

With investment in faster rail times, the Canberra to Sydney rail corridor can attract passengers, taking them off the airlines in favour of rail travel.

With investment in faster rail times, the Canberra to Sydney rail corridor can attract passengers, taking them off the airlines in favour of rail travel.

“Tilt trains are the only way that an immediate reduction in travel times can be gained. It may be slightly more expensive technology but if you don’t invest in tilt trains you are again buying 1980s train technology.”

While the Goulburn region didn’t score anything specific in the recent NSW Government budget for rail travel, the government is looking at ways to improve the rail travel between Sydney and Canberra.

CSU Associate Professor Ian Gray whose research has focused on the link between rail services, regional development and social issues, believes a train service that is attractive to commuters can make a big difference to communities which may be disadvantaged due to access to employment, health and other services when compared with metropolitan residents. Smaller towns and villages along the line can also benefit, as well as larger population centres.

“When frequencies are raised, the smaller places can be served too by allowing maybe one train a day, each way, to stop at these stations,” Associate Professor Gray said.

With coach services replacing some rail services in country NSW, commuters haven’t always been advantaged by efficient timetables.

“From a commuting angle, buses can be very slow,” he said.

“However, the NSW Government has recently started some regional coach services which are quite innovative in that they are aimed at connecting regional centres with other regional centres, not just providing access to train services to and from Sydney.

“Needless to say, a train service with a commuter timetable, not a timetable like the XPTs which suits an interstate service, would be quite different and, I think, more attractive.”

In the meantime, STRUG is continuing to take up the baton for an efficient commuter service from Goulburn at least.

“We need a rail service like the one Newcastle has,” Greg said.

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I have had a couple of conversations with people who know what is going on with the short term future of passenger rail transport between Sydney, Goulburn and Canberra. It is likely there will be some incremental improvements in trip times and frequency when NSW starts receiving it’s new country trains. The current fleet is both old and running to capacity. In addition to new trains, there will also be some track improvements progressively implemented to allow for some higher speed running.
Entirely my view is the arrival of the new fleet should see opportunities arise for the older trains that are not retired to be allocated for regional use, such as Canberra-Goulburn, Wagga-Albury or Orange-Bathurst-Lithgow. These are all feeling population pressures.

Capital Retro7:57 pm 11 Jul 18

Julie Macklin says “….Then the train carriage needs to be designed differently”

Good luck with that and next time you share a train with too many unrestrained bikes, “have a nice trip”.

Ah yes, but you just don’t like bikes, period.

Capital Retro7:54 am 13 Jul 18

I have probably ridden more miles than you have but there comes a time when one’s body cannot meet the challenges of the local terrain. When it happens to you I hope you recall this thread.

Reminds me of an interesting documentary film on retired Chinese workers taking a cycling trip in Northern China in winter- up a mountainside. Three quarters of the group were well into their 80’s. So that might put things in perspective for you Capital Retro.

Lots of people have ridden more miles than me, although I have taken my bike twice to Europe and cycled about several countries, a third trip I had a hire bike, cycled over large sections of south east Australia and I cycled to work for many years. That’s the reason I want to take my bike on the train; I am no longer up to riding to Goulburn unless I took several days, (I have ridden Canberra to Goulburn once many years ago), to catch the Sydney network train there. Now I have a senior’s card it’s cheap.

Capital Retro wrote, “When it happens to you I hope you recall this thread.”
I don’t understand the relevance of this comment, as naturally when the day comes I won’t ride. So?…

Bit if that refers to your comment, “Good luck with that and next time you share a train with too many unrestrained bikes, “have a nice trip”.” , all I can reply, is that I have taken my bike on many trains overseas and never was there a problem with unrestrained bikes, as there are rules about where bikes could go. In Australia I have been on trains when bikes got on and I have never once seen unrestrained bikes. Either it was a designated place for bikes to be stored, or owners hung onto them, so not unrestrained.

Capital Retro10:43 pm 10 Jul 18

Careful what you wish for about bikes on trains, Julie Macklin.

This is allowed in some regional train services in France and has become a trip hazard for passengers getting on and off. There is no place to put passenger luggage because the cyclists take up all available space with their bikes.

HiddenDragon9:06 pm 10 Jul 18

Aside from anything else, the ACT Government could do its bit by following the recent federal Labor announcement about parking at railway stations, including – very importantly – security. What we have at present is basically an after-dark adventure playground for fire-bombers and assorted other crims.

The Federal government is rolling in (our) money and the NSW government is rolling in money so how about the ACT government get its act together and secure a fast train Canberra-Goulburn-Sydney (or at very least as far as Picton/Campbelltown to connect to a direct train to Sydney CBD ). It would help everyone in those areas in terms of access to housing, jobs, etc. It seems nobody is interested in restricting the size of Sydney so lets connect to it properly in a planned way. You get what you vote for so my vote is for a high speed train to Sydney or no vote.

Capital Retro5:08 pm 11 Jul 18

Another correction needed here and that is that the Federal government is rolling foreign debt, not our money.

There were plans a few years ago to introduce daily commuter rail trams from Goulburn to Canberra via Bungendore and HQJOC . The rail-cars were self-powered, fast and could also run on light rail tracks.

ACT government deemed it wasn’t sexy enough. It could be revived and this would suit NSW Rail as they wouldn’t have to run the Explorer into Canberra any more.

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