Rail Services

About this Item
SubjectsFines and Penalties; Railways; Students; Fares
SpeakersAplin Mr Greg
BusinessPrivate Members Statements

Page: 19079

    Mr GREG APLIN (Albury) [4.55 p.m.]: This year we celebrate 150 years of rail in New South Wales. On 26 September 1855 the first official rail journey opened the Sydney to Parramatta line. Australia began with the standard gauge in 1831 with horse-drawn carriages on a railway in Newcastle. Over ensuing decades Australia developed more railway gauges than any other country or continent in the world, resulting in massive passenger and freight problems at State borders and wherever else the systems interfaced. The standard gauge line reached Albury on the border with Victoria in 1881. The Albury railway station was built that same year as the transfer point on the break of gauge between Sydney and Melbourne, for the line south was Irish broad gauge. The grand Albury station was one of the most important in Australia and represented the Government's territorial claim to counter the intrusion of Victorian railways into the border district in the highly competitive 1880s.

    The building is over 300 metres in length with a 22-metre clock tower, original cedar joinery, and a cast iron platform with fluted columns. It is the longest platform in New South Wales, owing to its role as a changeover point. One of the most famous commentaries on this monument to poor planning and even worse customer service comes from the famous American author Mark Twain. It was in the spring of 1895 that Mark Twain embarked upon a public lecture tour of five States and became one of our best-known early tourists. The Twain party departed Sydney Central on the overnight Melbourne express and, 40 years to the day after the first official rail journey in this State, they arrived in Albury at 5.45 a.m. This is what Mark Twain had to say of changing trains in Albury:

    Now comes a singular thing: the oddest thing, the strangest thing, the most unaccountable marvel that Australia can show. At the frontier between New South Wales and Victoria our multitude of passengers were routed out of their snug beds by lantern light in the morning in the biting cold to change cars on a railroad that has no break in it from Sydney to Melbourne.

    Think of the paralysis of intellect that gave that idea birth; imagine the boulder it emerged from, on some petrified legislator's shoulders. It is a narrow gauge to the frontier and a broader gauge thence to Melbourne. All passengers fret at the double-gauge; all shippers of freight, must of course, fret at this; unnecessary expense, delay, and annoyance are imposed upon everybody concerned, and no one is benefited.

    One would think that, 110 years after this observation, the confusion, irritation and poor communication at border points would be a thing of the past. But not so. Consider the case of Albury university students David McInerney and Daniel Ryan, who were fined $154 each for travelling on student concession tickets to Melbourne on V-Line. Both hold student concession cards but the New South Wales cards are not recognised in Victoria, which is exceptionally unfortunate for all students in our border region who have to travel to Melbourne for work experience, sporting and cultural events, and for a host of other reasons. To their credit, V-Line and the Victorian Government responded to my representations and withdrew the fines. They also announced a possible solution for border residents travelling on an interstate journey. The New South Wales Minister for Transport was less forthcoming, leaving me to approach the Victorian Government on behalf of New South Wales students.

    The New South Wales Ministry of Transport web site for travel concession indicates that students will not receive discounted fares on an interstate rail journey, but this conflicts with the CountryLink site which states that they receive a student fare on all CountryLink services, which means all the way to Melbourne. This was also confirmed by CountryLink's customer service and a senior executive, but the staff at Albury railway station sided with the Minister and now say there is no concession, unless the students have a blue Sydney transport sticker. It is difficult to get one of those stickers if one is studying full-time in Albury. All this conflicting information causes confusion for the ticket selling staff, let alone the travelling public, so one can guess what Mark Twain would have had to say about that in 2005! To cap it all off, it appears that an International Student Identity Card would get one a concession travel on both CountryLink and V-Line. So perhaps that is the answer—travel as a tourist in your own country! I received a letter last week from a Victorian mother whose daughter attends school in Albury. She is infuriated by the restrictions on student travel between the States and writes:

    I can't believe that for all these years Albury Wodonga students have attended cross-border institutions this red tape has not been removed by the State Transport Departments. With Albury Wodonga actively promoting itself as a centre for learning and pitching for students from far afield, utmost flexibility for their travel options is paramount. Located on the main Melbourne/Sydney rail line should be a selling point. Rural universities need to attract more students to their campuses. Rail passenger services surely need to attract more travellers. Tourism Australia actively promotes the backpacking experience … Surely streamlining student concession travel would encourage wider use of the Australian coach and rail system?

    I commend this approach to the Minister.