Wagga Wagga state MP Dan McGirr, an Independent whose electorate is on the XPT line from Sydney to Melbourne, said regional trains were “a really neglected part of travel” and his constituents were “resigned” to the inconvenience and lateness of the service.
Even when trains run on time, there were only two services a day in each direction from Wagga Wagga at awkward times of day. It took more than six hours to get to Sydney, an hour and a half more than by car.
“Rail is an important way of travelling and that applies to pensioners, as well as people on low incomes and students,” Dr McGirr said.
“The time is long overdue for an improvement in client service in terms of internal comfort, availability of the internet, and the timetable. It’s ancient technology.”
The XPT trains, which run from Sydney to Melbourne, Brisbane, Dubbo, Grafton and Casino, were introduced in 1982. The XPLORER trains, which link Sydney with Armidale, Moree, Griffith, Broken Hill and Canberra, date from 1993.
Last year the NSW government announced a $2.8 billion project to upgrade the regional train fleet, but the first of the new trains is not expected until 2023. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has also hired UK rail expert Andrew McNaughton to provide advice on high-speed rail options across the state.
Trains running up the North Coast were significantly disrupted throughout the spring and summer, with passengers north of Grafton most affected. NSW TrainLink closed the rail line between Grafton and Casino in October because of the bushfires.
Just over half of Casino and Brisbane services have run on time since the start of spring, with extensive use of rail replacement buses. The Grafton service has been more reliable but passengers in Grafton and further south use all three services.
Meanwhile, the service to Dubbo has been patchy, with 95 per cent of trains arriving on time in October but only 55 per cent in July.
A NSW TrainLink spokesperson said regional trains ran late for a number of reasons “including track and signalling issues, emergency situations, extreme weather conditions and stationery freight trains”.
The spokesperson said the bushfires started causing delays on some lines from September 2019, while the Melbourne and western lines were busy freight corridors.
Tamara Smith, the Greens MP for Ballina, said the situation “seemed symptomatic of letting things slide for regional communities”.
Her electorate has been without a rail service since 2003. Instead there was one bus a day from the tourist hub of Byron Bay to connect with rail in Casino and the trip took two hours.
Caitlin Fitzsimmons is a senior writer for The Sun-Herald, focusing on social affairs.