10 years of rail travel in Ararat

Ararat Railway Heritage Society president Alan Butt boarded one of the new V/
Locity trains at the Ararat Railway Station this week.

Ararat Railway Heritage Society president Alan Butt boarded one of the new V/ Locity trains at the Ararat Railway Station this week.

Yesterday marked 10 years to the day since passenger rail travel returned to Ararat and to celebrate the occasion outgoing Member for Ripon Joe Helper will host a celebration at the Ararat Railway Station tomorrow.

Mr Helper was a vocal advocate and one of the main drivers of the then Victorian Government's promise to bring back rail services to the region, which eventually saw the first V/Line train in more than 10 years make its way from Ballarat to Ararat on July 10, 2004.

"It was quite apparent to me and the government at the time that the community of Ararat and the district were very keen to use passenger rail and they were still very disappointed in the previous government for having taken it away," Mr Helper told The Ararat Advertiser this week upon reflection.

"We had a commitment to return passenger rail to the region and we did so in response to that community desire."

Mr Helper was a passenger on the first train, along with the former Victorian Premier Steve Bracks and former Transport Minister Peter Batchelor.

Waiting for them at the Ararat station were more than 3000 people, including Ararat Rural City Council Mayor Cr Paul Hooper, who also held the role at the time.

Thousands welcomed the first passenger train back to the Ararat Railway Station 10
years ago in 2004.

Thousands welcomed the first passenger train back to the Ararat Railway Station 10 years ago in 2004.

Cr Hooper said the response and feeling of celebration from the Ararat community on that day in 2004 came as quite a surprise.

"We knew that people would welcome the service back, but didn't expect that sort of reception to be had," he said.

"I was really surprised at the depth of feeling and the amount of people that turned up.

"I remember us saying at the time to the Ararat people that they had to use this service or we would lose it, that was our theme right through it, because we were also trying to negotiate a timetable at that stage, which as history would have, we are still trying to do!"

At its peak between the 1950s to late 1970s the Victorian Railways' Ararat operations employed about 600 people.

The closure of the rail services came in the early 1990s at a similar time that Aradale was shutdown down, seeing many locals lose employment.

Victorian Premier Steve Bracks said at the time of V/Line's return that taking away passenger service was 'a social and economical mistake' for Ararat.

Peter Gibson from V/Line prepares to ring the bell to welcome back passenger
rail to Ararat 10 years ago.

Peter Gibson from V/Line prepares to ring the bell to welcome back passenger rail to Ararat 10 years ago.

In the lead up to the recommencement of rail services about 8000 railway sleepers had to be replaced to restore the track.

As well as the maintenance work, Mr Helper said some of the other challenges that needed to be overcome included managing community aspirations and persuading government of the priority of returning passenger rail.

"We had strong support however and I compliment the council of the day - it was a strong backer and fought hard for the community," he said.

"It was great to work in partnership with the council to make sure the commitment the government made, and was always going to keep, was kept as early as possible."

In the 10 years that have passed Cr Hooper and Mr Helper both agree that V/Line has served the Ararat community extremely well.

Cr Hooper said there have been many benefits in the past decade, but said there was still room for improvement.

"There's a lot of water under the bridge, but I think it is fair to say the utilisation of the service has greatly exceeded our expectations," he said.

"We are obviously very grateful that we have got it....For health, education, trade purposes and more it has been fantastic.

"Having said that we need a train that gets into Melbourne before 9am, that's the main one.

Former Premier Steve Bracks and former Minister for Transport Peter Batchelor enjoyed their train trip from Ballarat to Ararat.

Former Premier Steve Bracks and former Minister for Transport Peter Batchelor enjoyed their train trip from Ballarat to Ararat.

"The last train out of Melbourne that gets back into Ararat is at 8.45pm, we don't need a later service than that, but certainly that early morning service that is the critical one to us I think."

Cr Hooper said work is also underway with 12 other councils from the north and south of the region on a feasibility study to use Ararat as rail hub.

"The rail network serves a much broader region than just our own, so hopefully we can utilise it with Ararat being such a central location in Western Victoria," he said.

Tomorrow's 10-year celebrations will commence at Beaufort where there will be complimentary tickets available for people who wish to travel to Ararat to join in the celebrations.

The train will then arrive at the Ararat Train Station at approximately 10.15am where Mr Helper will host a sausage sizzle, with birthday cake and soft drink available to celebrate the historic occasion.

Mr Helper said he encouraged the public to head along and 'help share the victory that was achieve 10 years ago which has had a positive impact on the community'.

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