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FIRST came the unmistakeable vibrations, then the rumble, then the persistent “ker-thump, ker-thump” as the train rattled and rolled its way into town. The whistle sounded. The brakes creaked, then groaned, and then it screeched to a halt.
There were gentlemen at the station. And ladies, too. There were bankers and farmers and merchants. There were mums with young children in tow awaiting the arrival of the morning train, ready to board and be whisked away for an outing, a shopping trip or a visit to a relative or a doctor.
There was a time when the train was a lifeline for people in the bush, for much-needed supplies, or transport, a connection between local communities, to the big smoke, a day at the races, a footy trip or a holiday away.
But today, many of these tracks that once symbolised growth and prosperity lie lonely and abandoned, steel lines rusted, sleepers rotting and overgrown with trees and weeds.
“We would have to get up early at catch the train at 6am ... we all loved it,” says Burra resident Maureen Bevan, 82, recalling the three-hour trips to Adelaide.
Debbie Elliott travelled to Adelaide by rail and wants the service returned to Burra. Photo Naomi Jellicoe“By the time you stopped at the refresher room at Riverton, you’d would be hanging for a cup of tea and a pasty.
“You could have a big day out in the city and then you could come back on the train at night.”
So when the rail’s last passenger service rolled into town in 1984, followed by the last freight service in 1999, it signalled a slow decline for the regional community.
Matt Riley, 73, says up to 15 people were working at the Burra Railway Station, while a further 10 people were maintaining the rails and the closure “definitely had an impact”. “For example, we used to have 14 schools in the Goyder Council District and today there’s about four,” Mr Riley says.
“We also used to have 10 A-grade footy teams and today we have two.”
Now, there is a bold plan to resurrect the regional infrastructure and return it to its former glory, to provide a much-needed jobs boost and to reinvigorate regional communities.
Jamestown's Railway Hotel publicans Shelley Woolford and Rob McKenzie. Photo Naomi JellicoeThe South Australian Regional Rail Alliance (SARRA) wants the rail link to be reinstated after it was “gifted” to a subsidiary of Genesee & Wyoming Australia for just $1, in 1997.
Under conditions of the sale, the regional tracks were to be maintained to such a standard that trains could operate on them with two weeks notice.
“We believe this state asset — even in the condition it’s in now — should be handed to the State Government,” SARRA spokesman Paul Henley, of Burra, says.
“It could be used by other operators if the government asked for expressions of interest, with the cost to upgrade the lines worn by the potential operators.”
The SARRA group is appealing to the major political parties — ahead of the March state election — to invest in regional SA to help create jobs and provide economic benefits.
Some of the train lines SARRA says should be considered for reopening are from Adelaide to Kapunda, Burra, and Balaklava, Tailem Bend to Loxton.
“Reinstating regional rail networks would create hundreds of jobs and is critical to South Australia’s regional future,” Mr Henley, 54, says.
Regional rail lines in disrepair near Burra. Picture: SA Regional Rail Alliance“When you open a railway you’re not just opening a service for the township at the end of the line, there will be more industries and communities to benefit.”
Jamestown’s Railway Hotel publicans Shelley Woolford and Rob McKenzie say any way to increase tourism to small towns “can only be a good thing”.
“It would be good to have another means of getting people here and if it did open, more businesses might establish,” Ms Woolford says.
The local watering hole opened in 1878 — the same year the first goods train arrived at the Jamestown Railway Station, only a stone’s throw away.
While freight trains still pass through the town, the passenger service finished long ago.
One industry still reliant on the regional freight rail is the grain industry.
In 2015, grain handler Viterra signed a $100 million multi-year contract with GWA to use the SA rail network to move about 50 per cent of the state’s crop to export terminals.
The lines still in use are in the central region and the Eyre Peninsula, as Viterra stopped its rail freight service in the Mallee two years ago, saying that road transport was more cost-effective.
Regional rail lines in disrepair near Tarlee. Picture: SA Regional Rail AllianceGrain Producers SA chief executive Darren Arney says the Eyre Peninsula line is extremely important to the industry and used to move about 900,000 tonnes of grain a year.
He believes the reopening of the rail link between Tailem Bend and Pinnaroo should be explored, as there is an opportunity to connect the rail to another grain-growing area to Murrayville, just across the border in Victoria.
The Victorian Government is undertaking $416 million of works to upgrade its regional freight network, including Ouyen to Murrayville, allowing farmers to access major ports.
“It would be interesting to see it connect, as there would be a lot more grain that could go either way and into different markets,” Mr Arney says.
If SA is serious about being a tourist state, the SARRA believes passenger trains to the Barossa Valley and Tailem Bend should at least be investigated.
Riverton railway station, circa 1925, featuring a refreshment stand on the right.Mr Henley says the three-carriage Barossa Wine Train, which ran from 1998 to 2003, should reopen to give tourists a convenient wine tour option from Adelaide to Tanunda.
As well, a train service link from Adelaide to Murray Bridge would allow easy transport — and fewer potential traffic problems on the South Eastern Freeway and Princes Hwy — for fans attending The Bend Motorsport Park, at Tailem Bend, which opens next August.
“One of the key campaigns of the Labor Party is that tourism is going to be a backbone of helping build industry and support SA,” Mr Henley says.
“This is one thing we could do in SA to support the tourism industry.
“Why not establish passenger services, especially to Murray Bridge for the overseas and interstate visitors expected to travel to the new raceway?”
Currently, the only regional tourism rail lines in service are the Pichi Pichi Railway, from Port Augusta to Quorn, and the Steam Ranger Heritage Railway, in the Adelaide Hills and Fleurieu region.
Transport Minister Stephen Mullighan says the State Government and Genesee and Wyoming have always been open to re-establishing the regional rail lines.
“But to date no one has been able to demonstrate whether they could attract enough patronage for the services to be viable,” Mr Mullighan says.
A Genesee & Wyoming Australia spokesman says: “GWA is in regular dialogue with the government and is open to discussion on the future of the lines.
“These lines have been dormant for many years due to the fact there has been no viable traffic, nor has any been proposed.”
This article first appeared on www.adelaidenow.com.au
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