A MAN who was left in “intolerable” pain after taking a bus from Mildura to Melbourne is frustrated more isn’t being done to restore passenger train services to the state’s northwest.
Glenn James, 83, who has severe spinal damage from a condition called scoliosis, travels around Australia but has been based at Red Cliffs for the past two years.
On a 2019 trip, he had intended to take the bus from Mildura to Swan Hill before changing onto a train.
However, buses were replacing trains on that day, meaning his entire journey to Melbourne was by bus.
He said the problems started when he boarded, which required climbing six steep stairs.
“When you sat down in your seat, the seat was too bloomin’ small, too narrow,” he said.
“While you are driving from there to Euston, the road’s that rough, it’s just unreal, unbelievable, you couldn’t describe it.
“Because the highway is very narrow, it’s only about 10 foot wide on 12 foot of tar, half the time the bus is driving along the edges of the road through the potholes, which causes a lot of bouncing up and down.”
Mr James said the bus he boarded at Swan Hill for the leg to Melbourne was more of “a normal bus” rather than a coach, with the journey continuing to be uncomfortable.
“For a disabled person, it’s intolerable, the pain you go through is untold,” he said.
“When I got to Spencer Street, I couldn’t walk.
“I had to hobble, and I didn’t have a walking stick to help me at the time, and I had no way but to hobble to get to another train out to Lilydale.
“By the time I got there I could hardly walk at all.”
He said he had written letters to politicians about his ordeal, including Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan, but had been disappointed by the responses.
Mr James said given Daniel Andrews’ own back issues after a fall early last year, he wondered how the Premier would have felt taking the same trip he did.
A Victorian Government spokesperson said when an accessible service is not available, every attempt is made to ensure an alternative mode of transport is provided.
V/Line encourages passengers to make contact ahead of time if they are unable to navigate the steps of a coach.
The Department of Transport is currently developing a Transport Accessibility Strategy to inform the government on key priorities for people with disabilities.
To Mr James, there is no comparison between the comfort offered by trains over buses.
“With a train service, you can get in and sit in a comfortable wide chair, you’re normally in airconditioned comfort,” he said.
“If you’ve got to move up because of pain or injuries, you can get up and walk around, up and down, in safety.
“Whereas the buses, you can’t – start wandering around and the bus driver will soon tell you to sit down.”
In an election year, Mr James wanted Mildura residents to issue politicians with a “no train, no votes” ultimatum.
“If people in Mildura don’t get up and start howling, the politicians down in Melbourne are just going to walk all over them, they’re not going to take any notice of them,” he said.
Passenger trains haven’t run between Mildura and Melbourne since the last service was axed in 1993 under the Kennett Government.
A $500,000 study into transport needs in the northwest, including consideration of trains, was due for completion late last year.
Mildura Rural City Council were funding the study, which spans five local government areas along the Mildura line.
Recent costings by the Parliamentary Budget Office found it would take $22 million to set up a basic “shuttle” train service running from Mildura to Maryborough, where passengers could then connect to Melbourne-bound trains.
It was estimated the service would initially generate $1 million annually in fares and run at an annual loss of about $3.5 million, if not offset by savings elsewhere.
All Victorian passenger train services operate at a loss and are heavily subsidised, although the government disputed the budget office’s figures.
It privately argues eight crossing loops would need upgrading, some stations would need to be rebuilt and new trains would need to be purchased before a service can be considered.
According to V/Line data, 94.1 per cent of services on the Swan Hill and Echuca line operated as trains for the entire journey over the most recent 12-month period data was available.
About 8200 V/Line tickets including a leg from Mildura to Melbourne were sold in 2019, with the pandemic reducing patronage numbers the past two years.