Adelaide is growing beyond its limits — so could a train revival help steam the city’s expansion?

South Australia’s train services weren’t always this limited.

Forty years ago, passenger trains ran all over the state.

People caught regular services from Adelaide to major centres such as Whyalla, Mount Gambier, Victor Harbor and Angaston in the Barossa Valley.

The opening of the Angaston line in 1911 was a major event.

On the first service, 1,200 children caught a “special school train” to Angaston form Gawler.

The Angaston train line opened in 1911.(Supplied)

But as roads and cars improved in the 1970s and 1980s, South Australia’s passenger rail era came to an end with regional services largely scrapped.

In the Adelaide Hills, the last regular passenger train from the city to Mount Barker stopping running in 1984.

“I think all of us in the Hills rue the day when rail departed,” Kavel MP Dan Cregan told the ABC.

“It fell out of fashion, state governments everywhere weren’t investing in rail, now we look right across the country and light rail, in particular, is becoming fashionable again.”

South Australia too is looking seriously at further rail revitalisation.

$10 million study is being funded by the state and federal governments to look at what extensions could be built or historic lines reopened.

Transport Minister Tom Koutsantonis said with Adelaide already experiencing a housing crisis, improving rail would be vital to help the city grow.

Tom Koutsantonis says improving rail is vital to helping Adelaide grow.(ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)

“Public transport can solve a lot of these problems … we lost that in the ’80s and we’re trying to get it back,” Mr Koutsantonis said.

He said the government was considering extending rail further south, north and into the Hills, with a plan to electrify and decarbonise “quickly”.

One option is to return rail to the Barossa Valley.

It would not be able to go all the way back to Angaston as part of that line is now bikeway, but there is a push for a new service beyond Gawler where the line currently ends.

Locals hopeful of rail line upgrades, extensions

Barossa Council Mayor, Michael “Bim” Lange, said rail makes sense as part of the plan to create the new city of Concordia in the Barossa.

“That in the future is going to be 26,000 people, so that’s a huge population growth within our council area and, of course, public transport is critical,” the mayor said.

But Mayor Lange is less hopeful about trains returning to Lyndoch, Tanunda or Nuriootpa.

“I guess that will come down to the government’s assessment, the cost benefit ratio, the population growth in those areas,” Mayor Lange said.

Michael “Bim” Lange hopes to see improvements to public transport facilities in the Barossa Valley.(ABC News: David Frearson)

At the other end of Labor’s electrified rail network is Seaford.

Electrification of the Gawler and Seaford lines was part of Labor’s last great rail push nearly 20 years ago.

Even then, many locals in Aldinga wanted the railway extended, and perhaps now it will be.

“We’re all very excited in the south — the further it goes, the better it will be,” Onkaparinga Mayor Moira Were said.

“We’ve got another 7,500 who will be joining the 15,000 people who are already living there [in Aldinga] in the next few years.”

In Adelaide’s west, the Outer Harbour line could also have a long-awaited upgrade.

Plans to electrify the line were scrapped more than 10 years ago, but Mr Kousantonis has again flagged possible electrification and an extension of the line to accommodate AUKUS workers at the Australian Submarine Corporation.

“The study will inform us about … whether we actually extend the Outer Harbour line right down to Osborne to try and get 5,000 workers to and from the shipyards,” Mr Koutsantonis said.

Then there is perhaps the most costly and difficult project to deliver — the return of services to Mount Barker.

‘We’re the ones who’ve got to fix it’

One estimate, from the privately-run SA Railway Company, has put the cost at $5 billion to return rail to Mount Barker.

Former transport executive Luigi Rossi, now a director for the SA Railway Company, said a new freight and commuter line to Mount Barker and beyond would be expensive but feasible.

“It provides the opportunity for people to live at Murray Bridge and live at Tailem Bend and have a rail service that gets them into town within 50 minutes,” Mr Rossi said.

Locals are less hopeful about trains returning to Lyndoch, Tanunda or Nuriootpa.(ABC News: David Frearson)

Mr Koutsantonis disputes the $5 billion cost, but does acknowledge Mount Barker will need better transport.

Mount Barker’s population is expected to reach around 50,000 people in just over a decade, creating more traffic congestion around the city and on the South Eastern Freeway.

“The Labor party has unfinished business in Mount Barker,” Mr Koutsantonis said.

“We’re the one who zoned Mount Barker, and we’re the ones who’ve got to fix it.

“I think rail probably is the solution, but we’ll wait and see what this study finds.”

Re-invigorating the long dormant passenger line from Belair to Mount Barker also remains an option, despite concerns that the long commute time makes it unviable.

The idea was raised again two years ago but the plan has failed to materialise.

Mount Barker’s population is expected to reach around 50,000 people in just over a decade.(ABC News: Simon Goodes)

But Mr Cregan believes using the old line could work.

“We should be examining whether there are some small improvements to that corridor to make the journey time faster,” he said

Any investment from the state government on future rail projects would also require substantial funding from the federal government.

Meanwhile, the state already has big expenditure in the pipeline, including the South Road upgrade with a price tag of about $15 billion, and the new Women’s and Children’s Hospital, which is expected to cost more than $3 billion.

“We are talking very, very substantial dollars,” Mr Cregan said.

Mr Koutsantonis said this study was not just about new train lines, but was also looking at how to bring more people onto public transport.

“This is long-term thinking,” he said.

“I’m not saying these things will be built tomorrow, but we’ve got to do the planning.

“I think South Australians expect that of us.”

ABC News

5 thoughts on “Adelaide is growing beyond its limits — so could a train revival help steam the city’s expansion?

    1. $15b is a lot of coin for a project in Adelaide. There are existing roads on this route the money would have been better spent on rail projects to allow those on the fringe of Adelaide to gain access to rail services. DMU’s (Victoria has many) would be perfect for lines like Mount Barker and Port Pirie.

  1. If you are going to invest in rail extensions great but do them properly. Rail service to minimum Tununda allowing people access to the area. Mount Barker already the size of Warrnambool and getting larger. South Australia is way behind.

    Iron triangle should be considered for a service with it being the fastest growing regional area of South Australia.

  2. What became of the talgo proposal to run trains between Adelaide and mount barker?

    Mount barker is the fastest growing area of the state.

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