PASSENGER trains returned on July 10 to Ararat in Victoria’s Wimmera region. Earlier, on May 2, they had returned to Bairnsdale in the state’s Gippsland Lakes tourist region.

Victorian Premier Steve Bracks said at a ceremony that ’when the trains were stopped in August 1993, it almost ripped the heart out the community. Today, we are giving that heart a much stronger beat. This is more than just a train service - it is part of the heart and soul of the community and a catalyst for regional development, tourism and jobs.’ He added that ’we are one of the few governments in recent memory to bring back train services and invest properly in them, instead of shutting them down.’

More than A$12m has been invested in upgrades to track and signalling on the Gippsland route to allow V/Line trains to run at 100 km/h. Bairnsdale and Stratford stations have been renovated at a cost of A$350000. The upgrade of 92 km on the Ararat route is priced at A$15m and provides single line electric staff operation with no crossing loops between Ballarat and Ararat. The work included inserting 8000 new sleepers, enabling Sprinter trains to operate at 130 km/h.

  • On July 1 the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission approved the sale of Freight Australia, owned by RailAmerica, to Pacific National, for A$285m. Still awaited is approval by the state of Victoria. According to Melbourne’s Age, among issues that could delay the deal is a condition imposed by the Bracks government that gives the state the right to buy back the infrastructure for A$2. Not surprisingly, RailAmerica is reported to be considering legal action.