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CountryLink is the operator of passenger rail services in country New South Walesmarker, Australia and from New South Wales into Queenslandmarker and Victoriamarker. It is an operating brand of the Rail Corporation New South Wales, a government-owned entity. CountryLink operates rail services using two types of rollingstock - the XPT and the Xplorer, and contracts out connecting bus services to private operators.

History

CountyLink was formed as a business unit of the State Rail Authority in 1989 to operate all non-metropolitan long distance passenger services. It inherited a fleet of XPT and locomotive hauled passenger trains. This was following the election of the Greiner State Government in 1988 and the publication of the Booz- Allen Hamilton report into NSW rail services. This report recommended closing all country passenger services as they were considered economically unviable, however this was politically not feasible.

The reports fall-back position was that NSW move to an all XPT fleet, a move which was initially implemented but never fully introduced. Many locomotive hauled long distance trains, such as the Brisbane Limited and the Pacific Coast MotoRail were withdrawn and replaced by XPT services at about this time. In 1993, CountryLink introduced its first and only new passenger stock- the Xplorer railcar, to replace the Northern Tablelands XPT to Tamworth and locomotive hauled services to Canberramarker. In 1996, political pressure forced the government to reintroduce passenger services to Griffithmarker, initially as a weekly locomotive hauled service and later a weekly Xplorer service. A weekly service to Broken Hill was also reintroduced at about the same time.

In 2004, with the formation of RailCorp, CountryLink became an operating brand of the new corporation.

Network

The CountyLink rail network as of 2007.


CountryLink operates its own rollingstock over track owned by the Rail Infrastructure Corporation in country NSW, RailCorp in greater metropolitan NSW and the Australian Rail Track Corporation in Queensland and Victoria. The hub of its operation is Sydney's Central railway stationmarker. The CountryLink ticket office is located on platform one and along with the Sydney Coach Terminal it is one of the city's main commuter and long-distance transport hubs.

North Coast region

The North Coast region covers the Central Coast, North Coast and Northern Rivers regions, and South-East Queensland. Accordingly the Government of Queensland makes a contribution to the provision of these services. North Coast region services appear on the network map in red. Services run along the Main North and North Coast lines from Sydney to Roma Street stationmarker in Brisbane. XPT trains serve: Connecting buses serve coastal destinations including Alstonvillemarker, Byron Baymarker, Lennox Headmarker, Lismoremarker, Murwillumbahmarker, Port Macquariemarker, Robina, Surfers Paradise, Tea Gardensmarker, Tuncurrymarker and Tweed Headsmarker.

North Western region

The North Western region covers the state's North West, Northern Tablelands and Hunter regions. North Western region services appear on the network map in orange. Services run from Sydney to the junction at Werris Creek. Two branch lines are in operation, to Moree and Armidale. Xplorer trains serve: Connecting buses serve smaller destinations including: Burren Junctionmarker, Inverellmarker, Tenterfieldmarker, Walchamarker and Wee Waa.

Southern region

The Southern region covers the Illawarra, South Coast, Snowy Mountains, South West Slopes, Southern Tablelands, Riverina and Sunraysia regions plus the Australian Capital Territory and parts of Victoria. Accordingly the Government of Victoria (though not the ACT Government) makes a contribution to the provision of these services. Southern region services appear on the network map in green. Services run on the Main South line between Sydney and Albury, continuing on the North East line to Southern Cross Stationmarker in Melbourne, with a branch at Goulburn serving Canberra and a branch at Junee serving Griffith.XPT trains serve: Xplorer trains serve: Connecting buses serve smaller destinations including: Bombalamarker, Echucamarker, Edenmarker, Griffithmarker, Jindabyne, Milduramarker, Tumbarumbamarker and Wollongongmarker.

Western region

The Western region covers the Central Tablelands and Western regions. Western region services appear on the network map in yellow. Services run on the Main Western line between Sydney and Dubbo, and the Broken Hill line to Broken Hill. XPT trains serve: Xplorer trains serve: Connecting buses serve smaller destinations including: Baradinemarker, Bourkemarker, Brewarrinamarker, Condobolinmarker, Coonabarabranmarker, Grenfellmarker, Gulgongmarker, Lightning Ridgemarker, Nynganmarker and Oberonmarker.

Rolling stock



Today, the CountryLink fleet consists of two train types, the XPT and the Xplorer. The XPT fleet is maintained at a purpose-built facility in the Sydney suburb of Sydenham. Xplorer Railcars are maintained at Eveleigh, next to the facilities used to maintain Cityrail's Millennium train. It is anticipated that a significant investment in new rolling stock—around $855 million—will be required in the next decade if CountryLink is to continue as a provider of services by rail.

Onboard facilities

CountryLink has recently completed a $43 million refurbishment of the XPT fleet. A similar program is underway for the Xplorer fleet, and due for completion in late 2009. The refurbishment involves replacing carpet, curtains, seat cushions and covers, together with updating internal wayfinding signage and external re-painting in the new CountryLink livery. Modifications and improvements to air-conditioning systems, bathrooms, the buffet, luggage storage areas and driving cabs have also been made.

The XPT offers economy and first class seating as well as twin share sleeping berth accommodation on overnight journeys. The pitch and recline of first class seats are greater than those in economy. All seats face the direction of travel and can be rotated to form a group of four. All seats feature adjustable arm rests, drop down tables and spring loaded footrests. The sleeping car provides accommodation for 18 travellers in twin share style compartments. A toilet and shower is located between each compartment and toiletries, towels, bed linen, supper and breakfast are included in the sleeping berth fare. On daytime journeys, where a sleeping car is in the train consist, each compartment converts to three first class seats, which are ideal for families and small groups.

The Xplorer offers economy and first class seating which is similar to that in the XPT. Xplorer trains are not used on overnight services.

Both trains have an onboard buffet that provides light snacks, meals, non-alcoholic hot and cold beverages and an alcohol service.

Both trains are wheelchair accessible, have a wheelchair accessible toilet with baby changing facilities, a nebuliser for asthma sufferers and luggage racks above seats, at the ends of carriages and at each end of the train for checked-in luggage.

Passenger attendants are onboard throughout the journey to assist with passengers needs. XPTraveller, CountryLink's onboard magazine, is provided in seat pockets.

Current issues

The hub of the CountryLink network is Sydney's Central Station.


Ministerial Inquiry

On 9 December 2003, the Minister for Transport Services released Professor Tom Parry's Final Report of the Ministerial Inquiry into Sustainable Transport. Known as the "Parry Report" it recommended refocusing Countrylink, and to adjust fare structures.

"CountryLink currently operates a number of train services that move relatively small numbers of passengers," the inquiry has concluded, noting that the high cost of maintenance and the need to replace rolling stock "makes these services very expensive ... they are expected to become even more expensive in the future." At the time of the report operating expenditure is around five times as much as revenue gained through ticket sales.

The low numbers of passengers are due largely to the high prices CountryLink charges for tickets. This is due to the government view of the service not as an essential part of regional transport infrastructure, but as a cost against their budget that must be reduced wherever possible. The Inquiry does not appear to attempt any calculation of the economic benefits produced by enhanced urban-regional and inter-regional transport links.

The Inquiry also noted that in 2002-03, CountryLink incurred $29.9 million in costs associated with advertising, booking and selling tickets, against $43.5 million in fare revenue. "This is more than two thirds of the revenue received from passengers and is excessive," the Inquiry report stated.

The Inquiry made eight specific recommendations for "refocusing CountryLink":
  • review the allocation of costs to CountryLink to improve the transparency of government railway accounts
  • seek efficiencies in the marketing of tickets
  • align subsidies to CountryLink with the benefits to the community
  • seek to have the ACT Government contribute to the cost of the Sydney-Canberra service
  • explore alternatives to rail on a case-by-case basis for all rural and regional routes
  • include CountryLink in integrated regional transport planning
  • establish "Solutions Teams" to assess various areas of CountryLink's operations
  • review fare structures and discounting


It seems unlikely that CountryLink's on-rail network will expand—or indeed, maintain its current extent—in the years to come.

Government response

In 2005, the State Government announced a rationalisation of ticket offices across the CountryLink network, but ruled out the closure of further rail services in the immediate future. Ticket prices increased on 1 November.

Transport minister John Watkins told the Sydney Morning Herald that "To protect commuters who want a continued rail option, the Government has made a number of changes to booking options in an effort to secure CountryLink's future and boost patronage." Mr Watkins also said in front of news crew that the refurbishment of the XPTs would also encourage more people to use the trains. However the Opposition questioned how price increases would increase patronage.

Outdated Infrastructure

Rural NSW suffers from outdated and poorly maintained track. Much of the rail system used by CountryLink was constructed in the late 1800s and essentially the same track alignment remains more than 100 years after it was first laid down. Replacement of essential works such as bridges has been delayed for very long periods of time. According to a survey by the National Trust there are a number of iron lattice truss girder bridges still in use in country NSW. The oldest of these crosses the Macquarie River at Bathurst. It was constructed in 1876. Plans were made to replace it in 1912 and again in 1985 but neither came to fruition. The Rail Infrastructure Corporation inspected the bridge in May 2003 and recommended that it be replaced within 5 to 10 years. There are speed restrictions of 10 km (freight) and 30 km (passenger) per hour for trains crossing the bridge.

Auslink, the government body which provides a planning framework and funding for the Australian Government's investment in land transport infrastructure, in its 2006 report Sydney Dubbo Corridor Strategy, determined that one of its short term priorities would be to "Address inefficiencies in sections of railway track including sections with poor condition bridges,track and tunnels and outdated signalling systems."

The Parry Report, referred to above, did not make any reference to improved under-rail infrastructure in rural NSW which would assist CountryLink to overcome its immediate challenges.

See also



References

  1. Hoyle, J. CountryLink- a snapshot. Railway Digest November 1996, ARHS NSW Division
  2. NSW Ministry of Transport - Ministerial Inquiry into Sustainable Transport (Parry Report)
  3. NSW Ministry of Transport: NSW Government's Response to the Final Report of the Parry Inquiry
  4. CountryLink: Reform program offers significant improvements 27-09-2005
  5. ABC News: 'CountryLink' review angers pensioners - Fri Apr 30, 2004
  6. Sydney Morning Herald: Final push to get rail users back on track - September 28, 2005
  7. http://www.nationaltrust.org.au/pdfs/0305.pdf
  8. http://www.railcorp.info/__data/assets/file/0016/718/Bathurst_Report_Rev_2_,_22_May.pdf
  9. http://www.auslink.gov.au/publications/reports/pdf/Sydney_Dubbo_Corridor_Strategy.pdf


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