Regional rail travel is seeing a rise in popularity, with increasing numbers of people opting to leave the car at home and jump on board the train.
The spike comes as the NSW Government pushes ahead on overdue plans to update its fleet and is finally closing in on completing a major new maintenance facility in the state’s west.
“We’re incredibly pleased to see passengers embracing what NSW TrainLink has to offer, including around 127 regional train services and 605 coach services each week,” said Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Jenny Aitchison.
“People are recognising that it is a unique, cost-effective way to sit back and enjoy the ride, taking in the stunning scenery out the window, without the stress of driving or catching a plane.”
More than a million trips were made on NSW TrainLink’s long-distance regional services, with use up 3 per cent on the pre-COVID period.
In 2021, trips on the XPTs and XPLORERS dipped to an average of about 42,000 a month but in 2023, that has risen to around 107,000.
Coach journeys are also on the rise, doubling from 2021 figures, with more than 440,000 trips made this year.
The Melbourne to Sydney train route proved the most popular, with a 250 per cent increase in average monthly patronage compared with 2021 and a 47 per cent increase compared with 2022.
Bookings spiked in September ahead of the AFL grand final and a sixth carriage was added to the Melbourne services for several weeks.
“We also see popular routes like Melbourne and Brisbane are valued because passengers arrive right in the heart of the city, without the need to transfer from an airport,” said Ms Aitchison.
“Train travel offers passengers fantastic flexibility. They’re able to visit the buffet and stretch their legs, get on and off at multiple stops, breaking up their journey or visiting more places in regional NSW and Australia.”
A recent NSW TrainLink advertising blitz has been credited with the resurgence of interest and sparked an increase in the number of people paying full fare.
It’s also believed that cost-of-living pressures, including the high prices of fuel and airfares, have contributed.
The increase in long-distance regional train travel coincides with the now-overdue construction of a purpose-built maintenance facility in Dubbo, to service a new Regional Rail fleet.
Contractors have pointed to COVID interruptions as the reason the Dubbo project is running overtime and over budget, but work is expected to be completed in 2024.
Announced in 2017, the Regional Rail project promises 29 new trains, including 117 carriages.
The plan is for 10 long regional and nine short regional trains to replace the current XPT and XPLORER services and another 10 regional intercity trains.
The new trains will have a hybrid power system that enables them to run primarily on diesel but utilise the overhead electric network when in NSW metropolitan areas.
The project’s original estimated cost of $1.48 billion has now blown out to $2.29 billion.
It was due to enter service in early 2023, but delivery could still be more than two years away. A revised timetable for the delivery or operational start is yet to be revealed.