Wimmera passenger rail campaign: use and cost halted train services

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PASSENGERS last boarded a train between Horsham and Melbourne 25 years ago. 

The last passenger train travelling direct to Melbourne left Horsham on August 21, 1993 – 111 years after the service began. 

Low passenger numbers and high expenses meant the rail was closed and replaced with buses. 

Hugh Delahunty was the mayor of the then Horsham City Council when passenger rail services ended. 

Mr Delahunty, who went on to become the Member for Lowan, recalled two main reasons that led the change – a lack of patronage and a standardised line from Adelaide to Melbourne. 

“It was unfortunate because people were not using the train services for some reason,” he said. 

“When a standardised line from Adelaide through to Melbourne and Geelong was constructed, the rail line was disenfranchised – which meant that passenger rail services could only go as far as Ararat.” 

The state government was making budget cuts during the time the region lost passenger rail services. 

A Wimmera Mail-Times article from August 20, 1993 quoted then Transport Minister Allan Brown, who said the state government was losing $40 million a year from passenger rail. 

Mr Brown told the Mail-Times cuts to train services would save the state government $30 million each year. 

The state government then introduced bus services because it was considered a more cost-effective system.

Despite a low patronage of train services 25 years ago, Mr Delahunty said the state government received a lot of anger from residents towards its decision. 

Horsham City Council hosted a public meeting at the Horsham Town Hall, in response to the Transport Minister’s decision to remove train services. 

It called on people to share their concerns. 

He said the council also met with Mr Brown and lobbied to keep the service, however their efforts were unsuccessful.

“But we were not the only council who were losing its services,” he said. 

“There were delegations from right across rural and regional Victoria who were trying to keep their train services.” 

Three passenger rail services were cancelled – the Wimmera, Mildura and Leongatha. 

Mr Delahunty said the council made an effort to ensure each service was replaced with a bus service.

“While we lost rail services, we did pick up a lot more transport services. As a council we made sure that every town, which had rail services continued to have a service,” he said. 

Passenger rail first operated from Murtoa in 1878 followed by Horsham in 1879 and Dimboola in 1882.  

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