I noticed a sticker while in Mildura calling for the re-introduction of passenger trains to Mildura. There’s a lobby group pushing for this, and a google search shows in principle support from the local council and parliamentarians.
The railway line is parallel to the highway for long stretches, and we noticed on our trip that there were groups of workers at quite regular intervals. Seemingly, they were putting the finishing touches to the line as part of the Murray Basin rail project (and here). Although this project doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of publicity, in least in the capital cities, in fact it’s really a very significant project. Given all the work that was occurring, my hunch is that, at the time we were there, the standard gauge line was yet to re-open, although it’s clear from the amount of ballast under the rails that a lot of work must have already occurred.
Although it sounds a good idea to run passenger trains in addition to the freight trains for which the re-built line has been designed, apparently it wouldn’t be so easy, see this article. For example, it’s stated that trains currently have to slow to 50km/h on the Mildura line if the crossing is not protected by lights and booms. And there are 130 level crossings! Just why trains have to slow to such a speed where the crossing is nothing more than a rarely-used minor road (and there are many of these) isn’t clear; surely such crossings could be treated in other less-expensive ways so as to make sure that inattentive drivers don’t get hit by trains? And there would be a need, it seems, for additional crossing loops to enable freight trains to be separated from passenger trains.
But, be that as it may, the article states that the trains at best would only travel at 80 kmph, meaning that even if the crossings issue was resolved, the time from Mildura to Melbourne could be reduced from 14 hours (the current time it takes freight to travel the line), to 12 hours. While a factor contributing to this amount of time is that any standard gauge passenger train would have to go via North Geelong to get to Melbourne, by my calculations, the distance from Mildura to Melbourne via North Geelong is just over 600 kms, so a 12 hour journey time would mean an average of 50 kmph. Hence, 12 hours seems to be on the high side, even allowing for stops. If an average speed of 75 kmph were able to be achieved (assuming some stops plus some segments at higher than this speed – surely possible), the train trip would take 8 hours. For comparison, I see that the train from Melbourne to Swan Hill averages 78 kmph.
This would be compatible with the existing train/bus services. These take about 7½ hours (changing from train to bus at Swan Hill) or over 8 hours if the change is at Bendigo, including a 40 minute stop at Nyah.
For the record, the Victorian Railways Country Timetable for 1961 shows that the “Mildura Sunlight” train took 10 hours 10 minutes for the trip to Mildura (via Ballan, 565 kms), and 9 hours 55 minutes for the return. The overnight train at weekends took 10 hours 40 minutes for the trip to Mildura and 10 hours 10 minutes for the return. Each of these stopped at numerous wayside stations, perhaps not all of which would be served if a passenger service were to be re-introduced.