Impact and opportunity for VGR tourist railway

The coronavirus pandemic has forced the Victorian Goldfields Railway to suspend all of its advertised passenger service until the end of June.
The VGR has also had to halt its project taking up the old disused main line track between Guildford and Castlemaine for recycling on part of its tourist line.
“We’re not happy with that,” VGR president Steve Strangward said.
“Some of the training organisations, the RTOs that we were going to use, have withdrawn their services. They’ve shut down so we’re restricted in some ways.
“We’ve gone back to just doing our regular track maintenance on our railway for the short term.”
But so far work is still progressing well to build the VGR’s new Castlemaine locomotive stabling facility where the roof could be seen rapidly going up over recent days.
And with passenger services on the vintage tourist rail attraction on hold due to COVID-19, it’s also potentially a prime chance for some valuable track maintenance work to get done.
Mr Strangward said the VGR hoped to secure federal government assistance to ensure it could pay staff to make the most of the chance to do more maintenance – like taking up slabs of track.
“It’s huge opportunity. We can rip up track and not have to put it back down,” the VGR president said.
“At the moment we’re still looking at what government support is going to come through to help keep employees on. If we can keep them on we can massively take advantage.”
The VGR president said he believed the track gangs could work outside safely.
“There’s certainly plenty of distancing between them in that job so I think they can work,” he said.
“Likewise in our workshop our fitter is working by himself still. A lot of the old volunteers have chosen not to come to work on the railway.
“They’re in the high-risk category so we’ve lost a lot of our workforce. We’re trying to keep the paid workforce gainfully employed, but without revenue that may come to end.
“What we’re focusing on right now is trying to prepare for a total shutdown so that people can work either at home on their own or perhaps in the workshop by themselves.
“If we can have a safe environment for volunteers maybe some of them can come back and work during this close-down in isolation.”
Mr Strangward said it was unclear how long current construction work on the new loco stabling facility could continue in the face of anticipated further tightening of pandemic restrictions.
“Is the building industry going to shut down or are they going to keep on going throughout this?” he asked.
“I don’t know.
“The builders are still working on the loco shed. We’re still waiting on a permit for our carriage shed extensions. “That’s still tied up in red tape in Melbourne. But if we can proceed with that we will.”

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