$450m to keep XPT fleet on rails

IT would cost about $450 million to rebuild NSW’s ageing Country–Link XPT fleet, according to the state’s transport tsar.

Transport for NSW director general Les Wielinga yesterday told a hearing in Sydney that’s how much it would cost to keep dozens of towns and cities across NSW, Victoria and Queensland connected by rail.

XPTs travel between Sydney, Brisbane, Casino, Grafton, Dubbo and Melbourne, stopping at dozens of stations.

There has been speculation the service will be axed, given the cost of rebuilding or replacing the trains.

Most have been in service for nearly 30 years. They were designed to last just 25.

Refurbishing passenger cars and replacing locomotives would cost about $450 million, Mr Wielinga said.

Buying higher-speed tilt trains would add “probably a couple of hundred million more”.

“It’s a significant investment and it’s a critical decision,” Mr Wielinga told a committee of MPs questioning him.

He would not say if he agreed with a report by former NSW Premier Nick Greiner suggesting the government consider privatising the service or replacing CountryLink trains with coaches.

Bus times assume light traffic, do not include pick-up and off-load time, and assume all optional CountryLink stops are skipped.

CountryLink bus services now stop every 4½ hours for 30 minutes, adding 1½ to the Sydney-Melbourne and Casino-Sydney trips.

The government is unlikely to make any decisions until next year, meaning the ageing trains will be forced to run even longer.

“Some of these trains are many, many hours above their original design life but maintenance is keeping them going,” Mr Wielinga said.

The passenger cars are so outdated they don’t have power points for phone chargers or laptops.

About 1.9 million people travelled on CountryLink last year, down from 2.2 million a decade earlier.

CountryLink acting general manager Matthew Coates told yesterday’s hearing that until recently, just 10  per cent of trains between Sydney and Melbourne were on time with delays of 1½ hours common.

He also rejected talk that allowing CountryLink to carry freight could reduce its costs.

“Our luggage-carrying capacity is well utilised so it would be difficult to carry any goods of significance,” he said.

Mr Coates also declined to comment on the privatisation question.