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Welcome to Talbot - population 258 according to the 2011 census - a ''living ghost town'' that doesn't have a sewerage system but is about to get a brand new railway station.
V/Line trains are scheduled to stop again at the quiet former gold mining town by year's end after a 20-year absence, and excitement is building among locals who were initially told they would be left out when it was announced in 2008 that the Maryborough line would be reopened.
''It'll be fantastic for the town,'' said Helen Green, owner of second-hand bookstore Slightly Bent Books. ''It's a little village, it's a bit marginal, but we've always been left out a bit.''
Local resident Belinda Michael at the disused Talbot train station and the landmark building of yesteryear. Photo: Wayne Taylor
Construction of the new station will start in October, and will be finished by the end of the year at a cost to taxpayers of $2.5 million, Public Transport Victoria says. Talbot, in the marginal Labor-held state seat of Ripon, will be the smallest town in Victoria with a functioning railway station, although Mrs Green says there are hundreds more living on big blocks just outside the town boundary.
There is an existing station, a single-storey brick and cast iron building from the 1870s, but it cannot accommodate V/Line's modern VLocity trains and so will remain in its current use as a plant nursery.
Talbot - 165 kilometres north-west of Melbourne - is the only disused stop on the Maryborough line. The Coalition promised at the last state election to reopen it, to the joy of locals who had lobbied for its return. ''Most people were really happy the line reopened in 2010 because that was a step towards what we were working for, but of course we were disappointed because Maryborough, Clunes, Creswick were all getting the train, why wouldn't we?'' said Talbot ceramicist Belinda Michael. ''The train's going straight past us.''
Talbot railway station in its original glory.
When built, the new station is likely to attract few passengers, at least initially.
The Maryborough line is little used, with just 13,026 boardings in 2012-13 - about 35 passengers a day on average. Clunes station, one stop up the line from Talbot, had 2331 boardings - an average of just six passengers a day.
In an attempt to attract extra patronage, a free minibus will run for six months between Talbot and neighbouring Lexton, 22 kilometres away.
Talbot resident Ralph Durr lives in a train carriage at the old railway station site. Photo: Wayne Taylor
Chris Meddows-Taylor, chairman of the Victorian Goldfields Tourism Executive, said the Maryborough line was being held back by the ''hopeless'' number of services - just one into Melbourne each morning and one return at night.
Terry Mulder, the Minister for Public Transport, said Talbot had ''great potential for tourist development''. ''The project is required because the previous Labor government left Talbot off the railway map,'' Mr Mulder said.
Richard Wynne, Labor's acting public transport spokesman, said the new station was ''well and good'', but what people really wanted was better service.
''A new or upgraded station does not improve or increase services on the Maryborough line and that is what commuters are desperately crying out for, to the deafening silence and inaction of the Napthine government,'' he said.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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