CountryLink is the operator of passenger rail services in country New South Wales, Australia and from New South Wales into Queensland and Victoria. It is an operating brand of the Rail Corporation New South Wales, a government-owned entity. CountryLink operates a skeletal rail service using two types of rollingstock- the XPT and the Xplorer, and contracts out connecting bus services to private operators.
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 Many locomotive hauled long distance trains, such as the Brisbane Limited and the Pacific Coast MotoRail were withdrawn and replaced by XPT services at about this time.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 Canberra. In 1996, political pressure forced the government to reintroduce passenger services to Griffith, 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.
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 station. 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.
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 Station in Melbourne, with a branch at Goulburn serving Canberra and a branch at Junee serving Griffith. XPT trains serve:
Xplorer trains serve:
Southern region services, which cover destinations in the Snowy Mountains, run to an amended timetable in the summer months.
Xplorer trains serve:
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.
The XPT fleet was based on the InterCity 125 developed in the UK in the early 1970s. The British Rail Mark 3 carriages of these trains have recently in 2008 been involved in interior overhauls to incorporate at-seat power outlets and wi-fi showing that this would be possible for the XPT also. “The only power supply available to passengers is for the use of electric shavers. Electric shaver power points are provided in your sleeping berth and in the men's toilets. Please do not use these power points for laptop computers or any other electrical devices as the power supply on CountryLink trains is subject to surges.”
There is a marked difference between the XPT and British inter-city trains with regard to other onboard facilities. For example Virgin Trains, in addition to at-seat mobile-charging points and laptop power points, offer large disabled toilets, baby change facilities and priority seating for those with mobility problems. At stations they offer First Class passengers Wireless Broadband Internet access, free refreshments and even showers (at Euston only).
"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":
It seems unlikely that CountryLink's on-rail network will expand—or indeed, maintain its current extent—in the years to come.
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.
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.
RailCorp has issued tenders for 15,000 and 30,000 hour overhauls of up to 22 Paxman VP185 diesel engines used in CountryLink's XPT.(Australia)
May 01, 2008; RailCorp has issued tenders for 15,000 and 30,000 hour overhauls of up to 22 Paxman VP185 diesel engines used in...