RAIL service operators are unsure whether the Victorian Government will continue to support The Overland passenger rail service in 2020 after South Australia backed out of funding last year.
The Overland relies on government support which has subsidised significant operational costs to make the service more affordable for commuters.
Journey Beyond, the owners and operators of The Overland, also contributed further funding for operational costs to ensure the level of required financial support was met for this service.
In 2018 it was announced the South Australian Government would not renew its subsidy deal with Great Southern Rail beyond the end of the year.
The Victorian Government continued to fund the service for 2019, however there is uncertainty they will continue the service into 2020.
With State Government funding expiring at the end of this year, Journey Beyond has disabled the booking function past December 31.
A spokesperson for Journey Beyond said they are uncertain of the future of the passenger rail service.
“Unfortunately at this stage we’re still in negotiations with the Victorian Government,” the spokesperson said.
“Our booking system only goes up to the 31st of December.
“Patronage has been in steady decline over the past year, it’s been relatively flat.”
The overland service has dropped from 46, 553 patrons per in year in 2007 to just 18, 737 in 2017.
At its peak the overland provided a five-day-a-week service in the 1990s, however cut back to just two-a-week in 2013.
The train stops over in Dimboola, Horsham, Stawell and Ararat within the Grampians region.
The Overland currently runs twice a week between Adelaide and Melbourne.
Trips take 10.5 hours compared with 1.5 hours flying across 828km between the State capitals.
Great Southern Rail has relied on a funding agreement between the SA and Victorian Governments to fund the service for the past 20 years.
Grampians Tourism CEO Marc Sleeman has concerns if the rail service is to discontinue it will negatively impact a growing tourism sector in the Grampians and Wimmera Mallee region.
“Any cuts in those types of services are going to impact on visitor arrivals into regions, but it’s also about the connect ability for Adelaide and Melbourne for regional Victoria into South Australia,” Mr Sleeman said.
“South Australia is a key market for Horsham and the Wimmera Mallee.
He said the Overland is more than just a matter of getting from point A to point B.
“It’s about the experience as it is about the accessibility and connections. It’s that unique rail experience that is offered.
“From a rail perspective it offers both domestic connection, but also international experience.”
Mr Sleeman said there’s opportunities there to expand on the international market.
“Melbourne to Adelaide are drivers for the UK and European market. We know that the European market likes to travel by rail, so there’s an opportunity to expand that market,” Mr Sleeman said.
“There’s an international opportunity to help disperse international visitors into regional Victoria.
“We’re not going to get increased yield in our regional centre without a connection via rail. This would help support both dispersal into regional Victoria and also increased yield with spend into some of those smaller towns.”
Nationals member for Lowan Emma Kealy said losing the Overland service would negatively affect a growing tourism industry.
“We’re just on the cusp of understanding our tourism potential in this region but if we don’t have good, connections to the region then we’re never going to optimise that full potential,” Ms Kealy said.
“It’s hard to get out here, and it’s made harder to get out here via a two day a week train service.”
Ms Kealy said she doesn’t believe the State Government will continue subsidising the service.
“They leave it until the very last minute and they announce they will fund it. I don’t believe they will be funding it this time round,” she said.
“There’s certainly a really good reason to connect our region through a regular multiple daily service via rail through to Melbourne.
“The further west you go from Horsham like Dimboola and Nhill in particular, you get a lot of people who talk about how they really rely on the Overland as their public transport to Melbourne.
“People use it to get to their medical appointments; to connect with their friends and family, go to the footy. It’s a good for students if they go away to Uni to come back home and visit family.”