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Question: Reactivation of Regional Rail

22 March 2023


The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the Minister for Regional Development on regional rail.

Leave granted.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Today, the Adelaide Advertiser reported that planning minister Nick Champion has written to councils, many in the regions, asking for more development. This comes after the Minister for Planning announced a plan to rezone land in Murray Bridge to build a thousand new homes. Currently, the only way to get to Murray Bridge by train is on the Overland, which costs $65 and only runs twice a week. Other regional areas, such as Port Augusta, have no access to rail at all.

Earlier this month, when asked if the Minister for Regional Development had considered the recommendations from the public and active transport committee to reactivate regional rail, the minister simply replied, 'I haven't read the report.' My question to the minister therefore is: given the government's intention to increase population in the regions, has the minister now read the report of the public and active transport committee, in particular the recommendations relating to reactivating regional rail, and what action has she taken?


The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries): I thank the honourable member for his question. Certainly, in regard to the Overland, I am very pleased that that is continuing. Members might recall that under the former government, the former Liberal state government, they wanted to, in fact they did, cut the funding, modest though it was, to the Overland. It was a pre-election promise that the now Malinauskas Labor government made to reinstate that funding, which indeed we have done. Of course, it was only the Victorian Labor state government coming to the table with additional funding that allowed the Overland to continue.

In terms of a proposed trial of rail at Mount Barker, which I think is one of the things that the member is referring to, I have received a briefing about that. The purpose of the trial is to prove the viability of a passenger rail service from Mount Gambier to Adelaide Railway Station. My advice is that the proposal is from Talgo and is based on the use of a tilt train, which is also a gauge-convertible vehicle and could potentially operate on the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) standard gauge network, the Adelaide metropolitan broad gauge network and the current broad gauge connection to the Mount Barker station.

Talgo, I am advised, has not indicated if the proposed trial would demonstrate gauge conversion. Talgo needs to demonstrate to ARTC, the Department for Infrastructure and Transport, and the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator the ability to provide a safe, reliable and effective public transport service that can be supported by a business case to inform further consideration. I am advised that the initial advice from Talgo is that the process to undertake modelling and secure necessary safety accreditation before undertaking the trial could take 12 to 18 months, and the trial will be undertaken on a no obligation basis to the South Australian government.

Discussions between the department, Talgo's local representative and the ARTC, I am advised, commenced in June 2022. Further to this, the chief executive of the department met with the President of Talgo, Mr Carlos Palacio Oriol, in September 2022 at the InnoTrans conference in Berlin to discuss the proposal to undertake the trial of the tilt train technology. I am advised that a draft non-refundable financing agreement was provided by the Secretary of State for Trade of the Spanish government. The Crown Solicitor's Office has reviewed the terms and more information, I am advised, is being provided.

The suitability of the trains for operation between Adelaide and Mount Barker, and over longer distances, was also recently discussed with Talgo at a meeting in Spain. The Chief Executive of the Department for Infrastructure and Transport facilitated a meeting with Talgo and ARTC executives on 27 February 2023 to gain an understanding of the current status of Talgo's access request to ARTC and seek to progress discussions.

I am further advised that the department has met with the Economic and Trade Commission of Spain to Australia, and she advised that an in principle agreement to enter into a formal deed with the South Australian government would be required before the application could be assessed. I am very happy to take any other questions on notice and provide an answer from the relevant minister in the other place.


The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Supplementary: has the minister read the other recommendations in the report relating to reactivation of regional rail—not just in Mount Barker?


The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries): There are a number of other regional rail issues which, whilst they are in the purview of the Minister for Transport in the other place, I have been able to be apprised of and have the following advice. One of those of course is in regard to the potential for commercial rail lines to operate successfully on Eyre Peninsula. Our government would be supportive of that, but of course it does need to be commercially viable. We are generally supportive of new rail infrastructure, but would need to look at this proposal and make an assessment on its merits, including the degree of private investment proposed.

To date, I am advised no detailed proposal has been presented to the South Australian government. The previous closure of Viterra's rail network has led both directly and indirectly, of course, to significant investment in port developments, but had other significant impacts as well, perhaps some of those not so positive. The government has spent significant funds improving the local road network to facilitate greater use for freight in response to Viterra's 2019 decision to cease its rail operations in the region. The government will continue to investigate options that can provide better services as we go forward.


The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Supplementary: has the minister read the report herself or has she simply obtained a briefing?


The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries): I did answer that in the beginning of my first answer to this question.