South Australiaʼs peak regional rail lobby group has called on the state government to reintroduce rail transport services to the Spencer Gulf region ahead of the regionʼs expected growth in the years ahead.
South Australian Regional Rail Alliance Convenor Paul Henley says public rail transport services connecting Adelaide to rural South Australia, and in particular Whyalla, should be reinstated.
This is based on the population boom of up to 80,000 in Whyalla expected to be created by GFG Alliance’s plans to build a new state-of-the-art steelworks in town.
Mr Henley said it was ‘imperative’ that the government reintroduce the services as soon as possible.
“Passenger trains to the region will be an absolute necessity if Whyallaʼs population rises to 80,000 as predicted,” he said.
“The road lobby is already making noises that more highways and road infrastructure will be necessary to support a substantial population increase - but hand in hand with that is the need to pursue rail public transport options.
“Rail is safer, more comfortable, more energy efficient and ultimately cheaper than extensive road infrastructure and on-going road maintenance.”
Mr Henley said rail lines connecting Adelaide to the Spencer Gulf region were already in place.
“The main rail line from Adelaide to northern and western Australia, under the control of the Australian Rail Track Corporation, already carries freight and tourist trains, the Ghan and the IP,” he said.
“The line into Port Pirie can be put back into use - and then with services to Port Augusta and around to Whyalla, this rail link will be vital for public transport and rail freight to service residents and the enlarging steelworks. This is a no-brainer.”
“If rail passenger services were to be introduced to Whyalla, itʼs not hard to imagine rail passenger, freight and rail-tourist services being extended to Port Lincoln – really opening up the Eyre Peninsula to greater economic and social activity.”
But Mr Henley described the state government as being ‘anti rail’, saying they ‘donʼt care about rural taxpayers who are unable to fly, canʼt use cramped bus services or canʼt use cars for various reasons’.
“At the same time, this Government professes that it wants to expand the rural economy – but that will only happen if there are rail passenger and freight services to the regions,” he said.
The Whyalla Railway Line was served by a daily passenger service when it opened in 1972, but the service was withdrawn in 1975.
In 1986 the passenger service was reintroduced as the Iron Triangle Limited, but was shut down when Australian National ended all their passenger services in South Australia in 1990.
Transport Minister Stephan Knoll said the potential for regional train passenger services would be considered by the state government and its new transport authority.
“We are in the process of forming the South Australian Public Transport Authority (SAPTA) which will inform the development of a comprehensive strategy that is customer-focused, more reliable and better suits the needs of the state,” he said.
“SAPTA, along with Infrastructure SA, will look at things such as regional train passenger services and consider the evidence base for any future action.
“It’s important to note that while regional rail passenger services were prevalent in South Australia prior to the increase in private car ownership in the 1960s, they operated at a significant loss with declining patronage as road transit times improved.”