‘Indian Pacific’ Train Route Cutback By Operators!

A famous caboose...

A famous caboose…

Australia’s lagging rail network has long baffled those in the tourism industry. Compared to Europe and China, Australia’s rail system is simply not fit for purpose. As a large nation encompassing a truly awe-inspiring landscape, one would assume that rail travel would be a priority for the nation’s lawmakers and peak tourism bodies. However, a slated cut to the Indian Pacific’s route has set chins wagging.

Over the weekend, train operator Great Southern Rail announced that they would be cutting their twice-weekly peak season services in half. Another cost-cutting measure is a slated increase to the cost of fares for pensioners and veterans.

The announcement, which has been met with public condemnation and consternation, was in part due to the severe budgetary constraints faced by the operator. Over the course of the last year, Great Southern Rail has had to deal with the sudden removal of more than $9 million worth of subsidies usually handed out to regional travel operators.

The decision, established in last year’s federal budget, has now been met with calls for relevant state governments to pitch in and save the fledgling industry. In the long run, operators are concerned that the lack of transport options will disincentivise travel to regional areas dependent on tourism. Small towns, such as Broken Hill, are expected to bear the brunt of the cataclysmic change.

Inland Tourism New South Wales head, Graham Perry, explained that the changes would likely affect the proposed doubling of visitor numbers to the region. “We’ve just heard that these subsidies have been cut and again that reduces services and the ability for Australia to travel out to Broken Hill.”

Mr. Perry explained that government-run operator, TrainLink, should help cover the shortfall in the short-term. “We need to grow the services at a time when other people are pulling back,” Mr. Perry advised. “I would really encourage TrainLink, who I think has for the last couple of years now been really pulling back in terms of their involvement in tourism, so what I would urge them to say, urge them to do is to pick up the slack.”

The Liberal-National Government has been keen to distance itself from any responsibility for the cutbacks. WA MP Sussan Ley reiterated the LNP’s position that transport subsidies should be funded by the states and territories. “While the Australian Government indicated in the 2014-15 budget it will cease concessions, it’s my understanding the changes announce [have] not been the only factor in new GSR owner Allegro’s business decision to reduce passenger services. I also see GSR boss Chris Tallent also accepts it is not really the Federal Government’s job to subsidise pensioners’ trips.”

The decision will likely affect regional and national tourism, with operators already decrying disastrous and potentially damaging side-effects. Here’s hoping the issue is solved some time soon.

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