North West CountryLink services may be at risk under a plan released yesterday to the NSW government.
In the proposal, which was part of the long-awaited Infrastructure NSW report released on Wednesday by former premier Nick Greiner, Country-Link trains may be handed to a private operator – or stop running altogether.
CountryLink XPT trains which travel to Brisbane, Casino, Grafton, Melbourne and Dubbo, are now nearly 30 years old, despite being designed to last just 25.
CountryLink’s Xplorer fleet, which first entered service two decades ago, and links Armidale, Moree, Griffith, Broken Hill and Canberra to Sydney, is also facing the axe.
The most lucrative Country-Link routes are south to Melbourne and along the North Coast.
However, trains travelling in the North West, west and south to the ACT pull just a fraction of the overall revenue and NSW Labor fears these routes would be axed under a private operator or replaced with coaches.
“If the O’Farrell government agrees to these proposals, it will be a disaster for rural and regional communities across NSW who will lose vital public transport connections and lose millions of tourist dollars,” Opposition transport spokeswoman Penny Sharpe said.
She called on rural and regional National and Liberal MPs to block any changes.
In a statement, NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian acknowledged action was needed but did not answer questions about how much it would cost, or whether privatisation was possible.
She has previously said privatising CountryLink was not government policy, however the Infrastructure NSW recommendation may prompt a rethink.
INTERACTIVE MAP: See which areas could lose CountryLink services
RED DOTS indicate XPT service stops.
PURPLE DOTS indicate Explorer service stops.
Transport for NSW is investigating the future of Country-Link services.
A report by the department last month found country passenger rail services were “approaching a critical decision point”.
Despite a recent increase, patronage has fallen from 2.2 million passengers to 1.9 million passengers over the past decade. It hit a low of 1.55 million in 2008.
In 2009/10, CountryLink cost $111 million to operate but generated just $41.5 million in revenue. One option to reduce the cost to the taxpayer was to allow CountryLink trains to haul light freight as well as passengers.
The Infrastructure NSW report said replacing the XPT fleet with coaches or privatising it may “be more economically viable and could provide faster journey times”.
When asked how much it would cost to replace the fleet and keep it in public ownership, a spokeswoman for Infrastructure NSW said cost estimates were not known.