Into 2000 with Great Southern...

Passenger Services Privatisation
It has always been passenger services which are noticed most by the general public, whether they travel by train or not. This is a very good PR reason for a railway company to run passenger services. However in this case, it is now a private company dedicated solely to the concept of providing just passenger services, at a profit to its shareholders, which purchased the rolling-stock and the terminal premises, tracks and facilities.

The passenger tender was for the lease of the land on which the station buildings at Adelaide and Alice Springs are located, and the ownership of all the improvements including trackwork, signalling, buildings and roadways.

The winning consortium combined several unlikely bedfellows. Several years before, a portion of Adelaide's municipal bus system was privatised, with the tender of an overseas company being succesful. This company, Serco, is one of the shareholders of Great Southern Railway. So also is GB Railways, a provider of rail services in the United Kingdom.

Goninan (the locomotive and rolling-stock manufacturer) perform all maintenance on the rolling-stock purchased by GSR, on site at their Keswick depot which is the only trackwork owned by GSR. Interestingly, to avoid track access charges, they have adopted the practice introduced by NRC to utilise road fuel tankers to bring diesel on site and to refuel locomotives and power vans on their own premises. This is because the only "provisioning" facilities in the Adelaide area are at the MPC at Dry Creek South, which means a twenty mile round trip to visit.

The broad and standard gauge turntable from the old Mile End loco had been moved slightly eastwards in AN days when the yards at Mile End were demolished, to permit locomotives to be turned without the trip to Dry Creek and return, with wrong end leading in both directions. So with tankers on site as required, full provisioning can be provided at Keswick, and the carriage washing facilities also being on the station property, it is a self-contained operation.

refuelling at Keswick - loco and power van

Macquarrie Bank
There needs to be a financial base behind every consortium, and Macquarrie fits into this area.

Illustrations various

A year on, and the new owners seem to have been able to pull off something that the government's own railway management were never able to. Occupancy of the three titled trains has improved, to the point where the handful of passengers on the "Overland" between Adelaide and Melbourne has been grown substantially. It is in many ways a tragedy that it could have only been done with so much loss to the faithful but now disillusioned employees of the rail system who one fears were so discouraged by the end that many would have lost all confidence in management, governments, politicians and bureaucrats.

One of the first things that GSR put in place was a website on the internet, adapting the excellent one constructed for Australian National shortly before its demise, which is really an extremely good tourism site for Australia. Considerable information about each capital city on each train journey is there for the reading, along with fares, timetables, and details of on-train facilities. A section dealing with how to access booking agents in a dozen or more regions around the world have proved fruitful, in many cases enquiries and bookings coming from overseas people. Interestingly, many of the graphics had been previously used by AN who had included them in well designed brochures advertising both the "Indian Pacific" and the "Ghan".

Before even commencing operations GSR moved swiftly to establish some credibility by eliminating the likelihood of mechanical failures by contracting all their operations to Nation Rail Corporation for the supply of almost brand new locomotives and crews. An important aspect of this was also the fact that NRC crews are accredited in all States and territories of Australia, and at that stage, the only other possible supplier of locomotives was still AN without a potential purchaser in sight, so the unreliability of their CLP locomotives was the only point on which the decision to go with NRC could be made. The decision-making operating staff were well aware of these shortcomings from long before the hand-over date, because they had already lived with the situation for a couple of years.

Logistically, one of the immediate needs of the passenger services after NRC locomotives were selected was the permanent reinstatement of the HGM and PCO generator vans on the "IP", "Ghan" and "Overland" services because of there being no head-end power available in the NRs. AN's CLP locomotives had a pair of Detroit 415V generating units in them for on-train power, but as motive power they were unreliable. This is covered in the chapter called "problems".

Having resolved one of the two main reasons for late arrivals of the "Overland", the way was left open for incoming GSR Chief Executive, John Finnin, to vocally attack the apalling state of the "One Nation" federally funded standard gauge route in southern Victoria.

Described by Finnin and others as a "goat track", this route was well south of the main Adelaide-Melbourne line through Ballarat, and one has to question the political motivations which determined the selection of a low grade country line some fifty-four kilometres longer than the direct route. It is often said that "Squeaky wheels get the oil", and Mr. Finnin's many comments, carefully placed and timed, have resulted in not just the the release of funds to get the track fixing started, but action in so doing - something over which neither NRC nor AN appeared to have any success for several years. It suggests that one advantage of privatisation is the ability to get things done without committees.

map - Adelaide-Melbourne routes

Another point made by GSR initially was the location of the station, inaccessible except by special mini-bus and taxi, and because of unpunctual arrival times, there was (and still is) great difficulty in obtaining a taxi on the rank outside the station. For a while GSR were attempting to negotiate the laying of a third rail to the Adelaide suburban lines and conversion of one of the platforms in the Adelaide station to permit the use of a central city location for boarding and alighting. Enormous costs were quoted in 1998 for such works to be performed, and as a result things have gone quiet.

Improvements in the form of fencing in the carriage storage compound to cut down on vandalism has now been installed, so perhaps GSR have given up on that development.

Refurbished "Overland" rolling-stock
Over many years, the "Overland" rolling-stock had deteriorated to the state where most sleeping cars could not be used and few sitting passengers were even being carried; after cutting two of the seven daily services in mid 1998 (it now runs five days per week), some of the rolling stock was able to be sent to Clyde Engineering at Port Augusta workshops for repair. Five refurbished passenger-carrying cars in a new all-stainless livery have been issued to traffic for the "Overland" and it will be interesting to see what reactions of the travelling public are. In the meantime, one deleted Overland service was effectively replaced by the extended running of a "Ghan" to Alice Springs, starting from Melbourne instead of Adelaide.

Saturday, April 3rd, 1999