My adjournment matter is for the attention of the Minister for Public Transport. Rail is vital for rural and regional towns. Properly funded rail services, whether they be passenger or freight, are of economic and social importance to not only these towns but also their domestic and international markets in the case of freight. In my recent travels around western Victoria, rail has been a central theme of every conversation. When I say ‘every’ I mean every. People in country Victoria feel short-changed. They see huge investments in the Melbourne Metro Tunnel project coinciding with cost blowouts on the West Gate Tunnel Project, countless level crossing removals and forward planning on the Suburban Rail Loop. No-one argues that these projects are not of significant importance, but we must be conscious of striking a better balance between funding for metropolitan and rural rail projects.
One key concern I had raised with me was the future of the Overland rail service, which travels between Victoria and South Australia. Since 1887 there has been a regular passenger rail service between Melbourne and Adelaide. Back then the most popular way to travel between the capital cities was by coastal ships. In 1926 the train which services the two cities was named the Overland. In 1953 diesel locomotives took over from steam. In 1995 the route of the train changed with the construction of a standard gauge line, taking the train via Geelong instead of Ballarat. And then finally the service was privatised in 1997, with the Overland becoming a daylight train trip, with two trips a week to Melbourne and Adelaide.
Fast-forward to today and the future of the service beyond March remains largely unknown. South Australia withdrew funding for the service last year, which forced Victoria to pick up the tab until this month. While the Overland should be jointly funded by both states, if South Australia does not come to the table, the Victorian government should consider guaranteeing long-term funding for the service. With our state’s economy still growing strongly, to put it casually, I would like to hope the minister could look behind the cushion on the couch to find some spare change to fund this vital service. With airports few and far between in the Wimmera area and buses not accessible for all those with physical impairments, a long-term rail transport option should be guaranteed.
I do understand that there are a number of demands on the state budget in terms of rail already; however, they should not come at the expense of important services to our regional areas. Given this, the action that I seek is for the transport infrastructure minister to commit to long-term funding for the Overland train service to continue.