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The Overland in limbo, public transport numbers crash

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The future of embattled Adelaide-Melbourne train service The Overland is in limbo due to coronavirus, with a lifeline to keep it operating expiring tomorrow.

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The Overland suspended services last week after a series of measures to limit the spread of coronavirus were announced by the federal, SA and Victorian governments.

But its future has been under a cloud since 2018, when the SA government withdrew the subsidy it paid to private operater, Journey Beyond Rail Expeditions.

The 135-year-old train service stops at a number of Victorian and SA town, including Bordertown and Murray Bridge.

After SA pulled its funding, JBRE and the Victorian Government increased their own contributions for 12 months, then agreed to a three-month extension to keep the train running from January 1, 2020, to March 31 while its long-term future was considered.

Earlier this year, JBRE said the extension would also give the “South Australian Liberal Government three months to reassess its cut in funding for the service, which is primarily used by South Australians”.

Despite the March 31 extension deadline, JBRE continued negotiations with the Victorian Government in a bid to secure The Overland’s future, but the coronavirus crisis has now put a halt to that.

“The Overland has consistently required Government support which has heavily subsidised significant operational costs to ensure affordability for commuters,” JBRE told InDaily today.

 “In light of recent developments regarding COVID-19, ongoing discussions between JBRE and the Victorian Government have been temporarily suspended.

“A decision will be made about future operations when discussions are able to recommence.”

Adelaide public transport numbers fall off cliff

Meanwhile, the State Government has revealed figures showing passengers are staying away from Adelaide public transport in droves, with a measured decline of almost 10 per cent a day across all modes for 10 days.

Statistics released to InDaily show that bus passenger numbers have slumped by 69 per cent compared with the same time last year.

Train patronage has dropped by 74 per cent, while there were 77 per cent fewer tram passengers.

Transport Minister Stephan Knoll said he expected the decline to continue as people self-isolated due to coronavirus.

“As people change their daily routines, begin to work from home and do the right thing by self-isolating, we expect to see less and less people use public transport,” he said. 

“At this stage, we are still running full timetable services and will continue to act on the advice of the medical experts. 

“We are continuing our intense cleaning regime on public transport to help safeguard passengers as best as possible.”

From today, Adelaide Metro staff and drivers will not accept cash payments for tickets or to reload Metrocards.

Just 20 days ago, Adelaide Metro was hailing a “new era” for public transport in Adelaide, with new contracts for bus and tram services being awarded.

Adelaide Metro is due to go out to the public consultation next month on “a proposed enhanced network providing improvements to the services we offer”.

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