IN a major backflip, the State Government has agreed to extend the Avonlink rail service to the Wheatbelt on a trial basis for the next three years.
The decision, announced in last week’s State Budget, reverses an earlier judgement to close the passenger service, which runs between Northam, Toodyay and Perth, and replace it with a twice-daily bus run because of under-use by the community.
In what is seen as a major victory for ”people power”, the trial will be financed by the Royalties for Regions fund and go ahead on the approval of a business case that has been prepared by the Wheatbelt Development Commission and Public Transport Authority in consultation with the Department of Treasury.
Toodyay Shire councillor and Avonlink advocate Paula Greenway, who travelled to Midland recently with 20 members of the Toodyay Avonlink Support Group to support the service, said the local community was “chuffed” with the decision to trial an enhanced rail service to the Avon Valley.
“The whole of the community is involved – we all made a noise. It’s so important for all different sectors of the community because it’s a link to Perth for the community,” Cr Greenway said.
Cr Greenway said she hoped the trial would include a more sociable timetable to encourage visitors to use the service and enhance tourism in the area.
“Our education trips will continue until the new timetable is announced,” she said.
Local Nationals MPs also welcomed the Government’s support.
“The Avon Valley has been identified as a growth area for the State and a daily public train service to and from the region is critical to catering for future population and economy growth and prosperity,” Central Wheatbelt MLA Mia Davies said.
“It’s also a valuable and safe service for those unable to drive, catering for our seniors, those with disabilities and our youth.”
Moore MLA Shane Love said reasons for previously low patronage should have been addressed instead of stopping trains.
“I’m pleased the Minister for Regional Development has recognised the importance of this service for the Avon,” Mr Love said.
“The trial will mean the issues that have led to low patronage can be addressed and the community and State Government can monitor and evaluate the outcome.
“The barriers to increasing patronage include inconvenient scheduling, expensive ticketing and limited marketing of the service to the public.
“Including a marketing campaign to raise awareness of the AvonLink will provide increased knowledge of the benefits in using this service.”