CountryLink was established in January 1989 under the Transport Administration Act 1988 as a business unit of the State Rail Authority to operate all non-metropolitan long distance passenger services. It inherited a fleet of XPT and locomotive hauled passenger trains. Following the election of the Greiner State Government in March 1988, consultants Booz Allen Hamilton were commissioned to prepare a report into NSW rail services. On purely economic grounds, the report recommended closing all country passenger services as they were judged unviable, however this was not politically acceptable. If services were to be maintained, the report recommended an 'all XPT' option with an expanded network of coach services replacing many other services.
In November 1989, the Silver City Comet was withdrawn, while in February 1990 the Brisbane Limited and Pacific Coast Motorail were withdrawn and replaced by XPT services, the Canberra XPT was withdrawn and replaced by locomotive hauled stock and the Northern Tablelands Express was truncated to Tamworth with coaches introduced from Sydney to Armidale. The Intercapital Daylight ceased in August 1991 and the Sydney/Melbourne Express in November 1993 was replaced by an XPT in November 1993 following the delivery of additional stock.
In policy reversal, in June 1990 the government announced that it would purchase 17 Xplorer carriages to reintroduce services to Armidale and Moree and replace locomotive hauled stock and coaches on services to Canberra. This would release an XPT to operate a daily service to operate the Grafton Express replacing a weekly locomotive hauled service that was reintroduced at the same time. The Xplorers entered service on the North Western service in October 1993 and on the Canberra service in December 1993. In November 1994 the government ordered a further four Xplorer carriages.
In October 1990 the government announced that eight sleeper carriages would be ordered for use on overnight services to Brisbane, Murwillumbah and Melbourne. These were included in an order placed with ABB Transportation, Dandenong in 1991 for four power cars and 13 trailers that was jointly funded by the New South Wales and Victorian governments.
In December 1994 a daylight service to Melbourne resumed by extending the Riverina XPT from Albury.
In 1995 CountryLink trialled three Swedish Railways X2000 tilting train carriages. After conducting a state wide tour in March, they were used on Canberra services from April until June with two modified XPT power cars.
In March 1996 services were reintroduced to Broken Hill and Griffith using refurbished locomotive hauled rolling stock honouring an election commitment by the Carr State Government. Following the electrification of the South Coast line from Dapto to Kiama line, CityRail was able to release one of its mechanically identical Endeavours and this was converted to an Xplorer to replace the locomotive hauled stock.
With the formation of RailCorp, responsibility for CountryLink transferred to the new corporation in January 2004.
With the closure of the Muwillumbah branch, services were cut back to Casino from April 2004. In 2013, CountryLink will be formed into NSW TrainLink which will also take responsibility for CityRail's intercity routes.
CountryLink's Network consists of 4 lines:
- CountryLink North Coast Railway Line
- CountryLink North-Western Railway Line
- CountryLink Southern Railway Line
- CountryLink Western Railway Line
Today the CountryLink fleet consists of two train types, the CountryLink XPT and the CountryLink Xplorer. The XPT fleet is maintained at the purpose built Meeks Road Depot, Sydenham. The Xplorer fleet is maintained at the Xplorer Endeavour Service Centre, Eveleigh.
In recent years CountryLink has refurbished both its XPT and Xplorer fleets. The refurbishment involved replacing carpet, curtains, seat cushions and covers, together with updating internal wayfinding signage and external repainting in a new CountryLink livery. Modifications and improvements to air-conditioning systems, bathrooms, the buffet, luggage storage areas and driving cabs have also been made.
The XPT offers economy and first class seating as well as twin share sleeping berth accommodation on overnight journeys. The pitch and recline of first class seats are greater than those in economy. All seats face the direction of travel and can be rotated to form a group of four. All seats feature adjustable arm rests, drop down tables and spring-loaded footrests. The sleeping car provides accommodation for 18 travellers in twin share style compartments. A toilet and shower is located between each compartment and toiletries, towels, bed linen, supper and breakfast are included in the sleeping berth fare. On daytime journeys, where a sleeping car is in the train consist, each compartment converts to three first class seats, which are ideal for families and small groups.
The Xplorer offers economy and first class seating which is similar to that in the XPT. Xplorer trains are not used on overnight services.
Both trains have an onboard buffet that provides light snacks, meals, non-alcoholic hot and cold beverages and an alcohol service.
Both trains are wheelchair accessible, have a wheelchair accessible toilet with baby changing facilities, a nebuliser for asthma sufferers and luggage racks above seats, at the ends of carriages and at each end of the train for checked-in luggage.
Passenger attendants are on board throughout the journey to assist with passengers needs. XPTraveller, CountryLink's onboard magazine, is provided in seat pockets.
The Public Transport Commission had first introduced coaches in September 1975 when six Dennings were introduced to replace all train services out of Dubbo. Coaches replaced many branch line rail services over the next few years and by 1987 the State Rail Authority had 36 Denning, Hino and Scania coaches operating throughout the state.
CountryLink decided it adopt the model used by V/Line in Victoria and contract out the provision of these services to private operators, with services transferring to the successful bidders between November 1989 and June 1990.
Coaches were originally painted in CountryLink's grey, white and blue livery. Following the transfer of the administration of coach services to the Department of Transport in July 1992, operators were not required to repaint coaches dedicated to CountryLink duties, thus most operated in the livery of their owners. This policy was later reversed and coaches once again are painted in CountryLink livery. Many of the current contracts were up for renewal in December 2012, RailCorp electing to take up an option to extend for up to three years.
Parry Enquiry 2005Edit
On 9 December 2003, the Minister for Transport Services released Professor Tom Parry's Final Report of the Ministerial Inquiry into Sustainable Transport. Known as the "Parry Report" it recommended refocusing CountryLink, and to adjust fare structures.
"CountryLink currently operates a number of train services that move relatively small numbers of passengers," the inquiry has concluded, noting that the high cost of maintenance and the need to replace rolling stock "makes these services very expensive ... they are expected to become even more expensive in the future." At the time of the report operating expenditure is around five times as much as revenue gained through ticket sales.
The low numbers of passengers are due largely to the high prices CountryLink charges for tickets. This is due to the government view of the service not as an essential part of regional transport infrastructure, but as a cost against their budget that must be reduced wherever possible. The Inquiry does not appear to attempt any calculation of the economic benefits produced by enhanced urban-regional and inter-regional transport links.
The Inquiry also noted that in 2002-03, CountryLink incurred $29.9 million in costs associated with advertising, booking and selling tickets, against $43.5 million in fare revenue. "This is more than two thirds of the revenue received from passengers and is excessive," the Inquiry report stated.
The Inquiry made eight specific recommendations for "refocusing CountryLink":
- review the allocation of costs to CountryLink to improve the transparency of government railway accounts
- seek efficiencies in the marketing of tickets
- align subsidies to CountryLink with the benefits to the community
- seek to have the ACT Government contribute to the cost of the Sydney-Canberra service
- explore alternatives to rail on a case-by-case basis for all rural and regional routes
- include CountryLink in integrated regional transport planning
- establish "Solutions Teams" to assess various areas of CountryLink's operations
- review fare structures and discounting
It seems unlikely that CountryLink's on-rail network will expand—or indeed, maintain its current extent—in the years to come.
In 2005 the State Government announced a rationalisation of ticket offices across the CountryLink network, but ruled out the closure of further rail services in the immediate future. Ticket prices increased on 1 November.
Transport minister John Watkins told the Sydney Morning Herald that "To protect commuters who want a continued rail option, the Government has made a number of changes to booking options in an effort to secure CountryLink's future and boost patronage." Mr Watkins also said in front of news crew that the refurbishment of the XPTs would also encourage more people to use the trains. However the Opposition questioned how price increases would increase patronage.
In May 2012 the newly elected O'Farrell State Government announced RailCorp would be restructured and CountryLink incorporated into NSW TrainLink in July 2013.
In October 2012 a report by Infrastructure NSW to the state government recommended either replacing the XPT fleet with coaches or privatisation. The Minister for Transport had previously stated that privatisation of CountryLink was not government policy.