Overland's supporters hope for one more miracle

Funding for the passenger rail service is due to run out in seven days' time.

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After 133 years, the fate of the Overland is due to be decided in the next week.

A Victorian government subsidy for the passenger train service is due to expire on June 30.

The situation has been complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic – no trains have actually run since March.

But supporters of the Overland have not been sitting idle.

On Friday, Murray Bridge Councillor Mat O’Brien was one of eight delegates at a virtual meeting between campaigners from both sides of the state border.

Those present called for operator Journey Beyond to keep the rail service going for another six months, time enough for supporters to draw up a strategic plan for its future; and for the formation of a Friends of the Overland group which could advocate for and within the community.

Cr O’Brien argued that minor changes could make the Overland a more attractive option for interstate travellers.

Connecting buses from surrounding towns would expand the service's passenger catchment area; wi-fi and USB charging facilities would give travellers more entertainment options; and replacing the daytime service with an overnight service might also have some appeal, he said.

“The Overland does so much right already,” he said on Friday.

“Comments abound about the excellent service, spacious seating, ability to move around, affordable food, the ability for older folk and those with disabilities to travel in comfort, and families who just love making the trip.

“To get more travelling this way, we need to get the message out to people – not only the footy public, who know it’s a great way to catch a game interstate, but to anyone who wants to travel in comfort between Adelaide and Melbourne.”

Government subsidies for the train supported tourism jobs, he said.

Among the others at the meeting were Horsham Mayor Mark Radford, state Labor MPs Clare Scriven and Tony Zappia, University of Woolongong academic Philip Laird and Adelaide author John Wilson.

Mr Wilson hoped a new operator might start an Adelaide to Melbourne passenger service, and that Journey Beyond would be willing to sell the carriages that were the soul of the Overland.

“I reckon we've got about a week left to save the grand old lady,” he said.

“My fear is that if nothing is in place they (the carriages) will go out to the Islington workshops, to the knackery, and be turned into crew cars for long-distance freight trains.

“Once the carriages get gutted, we've lost it – it's gone.”

Photo of John Wilson at Murray Bridge Railway Station: Peri Strathearn. Video: Mark Radford/YouTube.