Mount Barker has a station, but no passenger trains to Adelaide – could this change?

The Adelaide Hills town of Mount Barker is experiencing a population explosion, and this is set to continue over the next decade.

The big problem for locals has long been infrastructure – particularly transport corridors linking the emerging peri-urban center to Adelaide’s CBD some 30 kilometers away.

One option is, and has long been, a railway line.

There’s been rumble for years, and while train talk isn’t quite smoke and mirrors, it’s fair to say there’s been plenty of hot air.

But a Spanish company is set to embark on what is potentially the biggest step yet to bring trains back to Mount Barker.

What is the proposal?

During the recent election campaign, the Labor Party pledged to undertake a review of the viability of restoring commuter rail services to Mount Barker, after an almost 40-year hiatus.

Adelaide Metro’s current Adelaide Hills line terminates at Belair, but the parallel freight line – which runs to Melbourne and is run by the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) – extends a branch line to Mt. Barkers.

This line has not been used for passenger services to the city since 1984.

Adelaide Metro’s Belair trains operate on a different gauge than Mount Barker.(ABC Radio Adelaide: Malcolm Sutton)

Spanish train maker Talgo yesterday sent a letter to the South African government asking for support for a high-speed passenger train trial.

After preliminary assessments, the company estimated that its train could make the “journey from Adelaide to Mount Barker in approximately 45 to 50 minutes”.

“We are very serious, Talgo is very serious,” consultant Luigi Rossi said yesterday.

“As part of this … we are undertaking a security case to demonstrate that the trial can be undertaken on the existing network safely.

“It’s not like Talgo has never done this before. They’ve done similar trials in India, America and the Middle East.”

The highway takes its toll

Late last year Mount Barker Council released a discussion paper on the need for alternative transport routes to the often congested South East Highway.

While Mount Barker is well served by Adelaide Metro buses, the newspaper warned of population pressures, with the district expected to grow from around 38,000 to “reaching 60,000 in the next 15 years”.

Cars and a truck occupy all lanes of a multi-lane highway surrounded by hills
Congestion is a common occurrence on the highway.(ABC Radio Adelaide: Malcolm Sutton)

He considered several solutions, including a series of road-only works “costing more than $2 billion”, as well as rail options.

“There appears to be a prima facie case for constructing a tunnel to run the line from a point around Belair to the Torrens Park/Mitcham area before joining the existing Belair line,” he said. .

But whether or not that’s a pipe dream, most agree that something has to give.

“We have a serious problem on the southeast highway, every time, every morning rush and every afternoon rush, it’s getting longer and longer to enter the city. So we have to look for alternatives,” said Transport Minister Tom Koutsantonis. noted.

“Is it more buses? Is it trains? Is it a mix of things?”

Adelaide Hills resident Chris Reed.
Adelaide Hills resident Chris Reed backs a rail option.(ABC News)

This feeling is widely shared by the inhabitants.

“We’ve got this big, amazing city growing in Mount Barker. It’s growing exponentially,” said local Chris Reed.

Gauging aid

The Adelaide Hills line runs through bucolic countryside, but is also characterized by steep sections.

A major obstacle to smooth rail travel is a colonial-era hangover – the difference in gauges.

Unlike the Adelaide Metro rail network, which uses broad gauge tracks, the line to Mount Barker is standard gauge.

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But the tilting system technology used by Talgo means that its trains can negotiate bends faster than others and can switch between gauges.

“There are a number of factors in terms of Talgo technology,” Rossi said.

“The bogie system is quite different and allows them to move over hilly terrain and around curves in particular at a higher speed than other rolling stock, but in complete safety.

“They are able to go from wide gauge to standard gauge, from standard gauge to wide gauge thanks to the technology that they have developed.”

Next stop Mount Barker?

It is nowhere as simple as that.

In fact, even setting up the trial won’t be easy.

A historic building with vines on the verandah and a sign pointing to Mt Barker
Historic SteamRanger trains depart from Mount Barker Station.(ABC News: Patrick Martin)

“Something like a trial of this nature could take eight months to organize – we have to get the rolling stock from Spain to Australia,” Mr Rossi said.

“What is very important here is to analyze the geometry, the curvature, the track, the slopes, to undertake the simulation, to examine the level crossings, all the infrastructure that is there.

“[It’s about] ensure that the Talgo rolling stock will be able to undertake the trial successfully and safely.”

But whatever those challenges, commuters from outside Mount Barker have also expressed a desire for an express train.

“It would definitely make things a lot quicker and more convenient,” Liz Polanco said yesterday as she boarded a local bus.

Adelaide bus user Liz Polanco at the Mount Barker bus interchange.
Liz Polanco lives outside Mount Barker, but said trips there would be made easier by train.(ABC News)

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