Ballarat Commuters Group – A bunch of whingers (Part 1)

For totally separate reasons, I am not staying in Ballarat. I am stuck here for the moment due to certain circumstances that I won’t detail. But as long as I’m still living there I’ll do my bit to realistically improve the train services here.

It was September 2005 when I first moved in to the Central Highlands and lived in Ballan until February 2008. When I first moved there the rail services were not great. The frequency was only just acceptable and the last service out of Melbourne on the weekend was a joke, especially on Sunday.

But nowadays the services are far more frequent, the Velocities have been brought in to make the trips both faster and more comfortable – and most recently the latest trains back have been much more tolerable.

However this isn’t good enough for some whining Ballarat commuters.

Recently I was booted from a Facebook group called Ballarat Commuters for an improved service – for being realistic. They obviously saw me as an ALP lap dog/mouthpiece – when in fact I’ve been trying to get things done for a lot longer than that; because I have to. I rely on trains to get me not just from Ballarat to Melbourne but to other places as well. They seem to think I’m not a commuter. I am, and I have been using trains all over Victoria over a long period of time – longer in fact I would suggest than many members of that group. 1974 was the year I first starting travelling on trains on a regular basis and I made my first regional trip that same year – from Melbourne to Geelong. I have seen the service change a great deal – some aspects for the better and some for the worse. Those two have one thing in common. All the better stuff has come from the ALP. All the worse stuff has come from the Coalition. Since 1955 we have had 39 years of Coalition government and only 22 years (and counting) of ALP government. The first 27 years of that Coalition rule was the worst for rail transport in this state. Infrastructure across the board was neglected with only one real positive development – the City Loop. I don’t count the introduction of the Harris and Hitachi trains as they both had their issues even though they were marginally better than the Taits/Red rattlers.

It took the Cain government to bring in the Comengs and get rid of the Taits and the Harris’, and also get rid of the red regional cars and bring in the new ones that we now call the classic sets. Both had one thing in common – air conditioning. Unheard of on Melbourne and Victorian trains until then.

Unfortunately world finances attacked our own and while in Canberra they seemed to have things under control more or less that wasn’t the case in Victoria unfortunately. We had awful trouble finding the money for the infrastructure work that was needed, and the state (perhaps rightly at the time) threw the ALP out in 1992. That led to another period of neglect by a Coalition government, including a privatisation binge and closures that cost us Mildura, Leongatha, Bairnsdale, Cobram and the Wimmera and it almost cost us Warrnambool, Upfield and Alamein as well. The remnants of privatisation are still around today with Metro Trains (a private company) and V/Line (a government owned independent corporation).

When the ALP got back in 1999 it was tough. It wasn’t until 2002 when the ALP got proper control that the infrastructure repair actually began, resulting in the return of Bairnsdale and the extension to Ararat. We couldn’t go further because of the standard gauge track and the ARTC (a Canberra owned independent corporation) had left that part to the private company Great Southern Railway – again, a situation that prevails today.

So in reality, the ALP has done a massive amount of work since 2002 – save the four year interruption where infrastructure was neglected yet again between 2010 and 2014. And there’s more to come beyond this as well. Ultimately, what’s needed is the full duplication of the entire Ballarat line. But that is a long way off. Right now, the Ballarat line is the worst in the interurban area for full infrastructure. Full duplication at present only goes as far as Caroline Springs, and even that is a recent extension albeit a short one from Deer Park West. That’s closer to Melbourne than any of the other interurban lines – the others go as far as Geelong, Kyneton, just outside Seymour and just before Bunyip. The distance from Caro Springs to Ballarat is 97.6 kilometres – the longest single track with loops in the interurban area, longer than between Kyneton and Kangaroo Flat on the Bendigo line by a little under 32 kilometres.

More to come in part 2.

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