Despite the number of Nationals MPs who could be expected to support (or defend?) country rail travel, NSW's rural and regional rail services were downgraded in October 2013.
The most conspicuous change was the Brisbane XPT. It was re-timed, altering its northern turnaround from around 7am NSW time to 4am (October-March) or 5am (April-September), times which are inconvenient for everyone. This change was made without even an apology for public consultation. The reason is probably something to do with avoiding rail congestion around Brisbane in the morning peak but no explanation was ever given so we don't know. Other re-timings have been suggested which would have averted the inconvenience.
Another change was routing the Melbourne XPT and Canberra Xplorer via the East Hills line, taking away the handy stop at Strathfield. While this may have been an attempt to reduce rail congestion around Homebush and Lidcombe, the passenger/customer suffers. Ironically, it happened at the same time as the cutting back of inner west services to Homebush, which one would also expect to relieve congestion around the same area, so perhaps the XPT and Xplorer could have been left untouched.
Re-timing of the Western XPT meant that the inbound Western XPT misses the outbound overnight Melbourne XPT at Central by 12 minutes. Decent public consultation would have exposed these problems before they affected anyone.
The timetable changes compounded the cessation of services on the Murwillumbah branch by the former government in 2004. Learn more ...
Worse, the present government cut all rail services to Newcastle on 25 December 2014. Learn more ...
Readers who were around in the 1980s would remember that the XPT was going to revolutionise rural train travel by high speeds - up to 100 miles per hour. Unfortunately, neither the speeds nor the revolution happened. However, travel times on all lines have been slowed over the years since. This may have been to minimise conflicts with freight movements although the changes got soft-pedalled and hence we don't know. Meanwhile, millions of dollars were spent on the roads parallel to the railway, guaranteeing faster trucks and cars than trains. And intrastate flights want more timeslots at Sydney airport so they can run more flights direct to Sydney.
With such unfriendly treatment, you wouldn't expect rail passenger numbers to grow. However, the Minister denied in March 2015 that further cuts were in the pipeline.
Also, are we ever to see a replacement for the ageing XPT carriages? Most of them entered service in 1982 and are well past their use-by date. The Nationals announced on 15 March 2015 that the XPT fleet would be replaced. A government announcement on 1 November 2016 was less definite but said that "the procurement process" would start in 2017. We shall see.
The Xplorer trains date from 1993. Both types of train seem to have poor reliability but statistics are not easy to find.
A relatively minor re-timing of the Melbourne XPT services, perhaps in conjunction with track improvements permitting higher speeds, could see the northbound and southbound services cross near Cootamundra. That would allow Trainlink coach services to connect with both trains, improving the efficiency of the coach services and thereby encouraging people to use public transport.
As for the infrastructure, the track on the vital Southern line between Sydney and Melbourne is reportedly in poor condition. According to this video [start at 15 minutes, watch to 25 minutes], about 300km was badly re-sleepered in 2007, resulting in mudholes, and remediation has not progressed very far. You can see a 2013 report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau here.
It was reported on 29 March 2016 that the following stations were to be closed (all staff withdrawn): Blayney, Broken Hill, Byron Bay, Griffith, Lismore, Macksville, Murwillumbah, Nambucca Heads, Parkes, Wellington and Yass Junction. There will be staff cutbacks at: Albury, Armidale, Bathurst, Canberra, Casino, Coffs Harbour, Cootamundra, Dubbo, Goulburn, Grafton, Gunnedah, Junee, Kempsey, Narrabri, Orange, Tamworth, Taree, Wagga Wagga and Wauchope.
It was reported on 5 April 2016 that
Northern Rivers Railway Action Group ("NRRAG")
Trains On Our Tracks ("TOOT")
were to press for Federal funding to support a rail connection from the Gold Coast to the Northern Rivers region.