Even after 135 years, the Overland’s future is still bright, advocates say
The passenger rail service between Adelaide and Melbourne is still as important as ever, its supporters say, but its future is uncertain.
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When the first Adelaide Express rolled out of Melbourne’s Spencer Street station on January 19, 1887, it was described as a milestone in the history of the colony.
A hundred and thirty-five years later, there is still enthusiasm for the passenger service now known as the Overland.
An MP and members of the community band were among a smaller crowd which gathered at Murray Bridge Railway Station on Thursday morning to celebrate the train’s birthday, and more celebrations were expected right along the line.
But the service’s future remains up in the air.
It’s safe for a couple of years, at this stage – the Victorian government guaranteed that last March, when it stumped up a $3.8 million subsidy to keep it running until 2024.
South Australia’s government has declined to offer any funding of its own since 2018.
COVID-related interruptions, declining passenger numbers and a change of ownership – operator Journey Beyond was recently bought out by the US-based Hornblower Group – have also clouded the Overland’s longer-term future.
Still, advocates such as John Wilson, who published a book about the train in 2020, remain hopeful.
“I’m optimistic that we’re going to get a lot of increased passenger traffic next year,” he said.
“It’s going to be difficult for the politicians to shut it down.”
Murray Bridge resident Peter Crowley said there were plenty of people for whom the train was still preferable to flying or taking a bus, including some living with a disability.
Labor promises to find a long-term solution
The future of the Overland is not likely to be a central issue at the upcoming state election, but it may be a point of difference between the two major parties.
Labor MP Clare Scriven, speaking in Murray Bridge on Thursday, did not suggest any particular dollar figure; but she did repeat her party’s promise to find a way of sustaining the service in the long term.
“This is about tourism, yes, it’s about train enthusiasts, yes, but it’s also about regional services,” she said.
“I’m really keen that we don’t lose any of the services that we currently have.
“When services go from regional areas, it’s pretty rare ... that they come back.”
Murray Bridge News is seeking comment from Liberal MP Adrian Pederick, who has previously argued against subsidising the service.
Birthday celebrations expected down the line
In the meantime, celebrations were expected all the way along the railway line on Thursday: lineups of vintage cars at Tailem Bend and Bordertown, a stopover at Serviceton, waves from the Karen refugees living at Nhill and strains of Happy Birthdayat Horsham.
Live music and speeches were to follow on Friday morning at Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station for the start of the return journey.
Operators Journey Beyond have also come to the party with an offer of half-priced travel on the Overland between January 30 and March 31.
The train departs Adelaide on Sunday and Thursday mornings, and returns on Mondays and Fridays.