So what are the current and past public transport options in a town like this?
Have you ever noticed how the main freeways out of Melbourne parallel the main railway lines? Heathcote is between the Hume/Seymour-Albury line and the Calder/Bendigo line.
Being a branch line, the Heathcote line never seems to have had very many trains. The 1928 timetable shows generally just 1 or 2 trains per day in each direction served the station, and it’s a similar story in the 1954 timetable.
The line closed in stages between 1958 and 1968. More recently a bike rail trail was opened along the old route to Bendigo, and there’s a restored sign where the station once stood – a few hundred metres behind the main street.
And the public transport nowadays?
There’s a Heathcote to Bendigo bus which runs 5 times a day on weekdays, and 3 times a day on weekends. The bus has no route number, but appears to have Myki ticketing.
The route is pretty direct along the highway, apart from a small diversion via the La Trobe Uni campus in Bendigo, and another that appears to be to serve a housing estate in Junortoun on the eastern side of Bendigo.
The bus takes about an hour from Heathcote to Bendigo station, which is faster than the old train, which took about 90 minutes.
The town’s main link being to Bendigo makes sense as it’s the biggest nearby city (population about 101,000).
Apart from the bus to Bendigo, there are also several V/Line coach routes serving Heathcote:
- Melbourne via Bendigo to Barham – once a day
- Melbourne via Shepparton to Barmah – once a day
- Melbourne via Echuca to Deniliquin – generally once a day, but twice a day on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays
The coaches to Melbourne take about 2 hours, and effectively there are only two per day as the Barham and Barmah coaches run in parallel to serve slightly different towns between Melbourne and Heathcote, with interchange at Heathcote for final destinations.
Given how infrequent the coaches are, a journey planner may suggest you travel on bus and train via Bendigo – more frequent, but taking about 3 hours.
Back in 1928 it was a similar story: direct and via Bendigo options were shown in the timetable. The direct daily train from Heathcote to Melbourne took around 3.5 hours, or travelling via Bendigo took 5+ hours depending on connections.
Let’s face it, public transport back then on branch lines like this was not terrific. Most people used it because they didn’t have a choice.
While Heathcote no longer has a train service, you could easily argue that public transport services to the town are now better than they’ve ever been: faster and with more services.
Is it enough to compete with cars? Definitely not, given multiple driving routes from Melbourne taking around 90 minutes, generally without much in the way of delays.
Public transport prior to cars didn’t have much in the way of competition. Now it needs to compete with cars, so it absolutely needs to be better than ever before.
That can be a difficult task in small regional towns, especially those off the railway network, but better buses providing direct connections to fast frequent trains can make help make more trips competitive with driving.
Related: the Climate Council yesterday published a poll showing Australians overwhelmingly want more investment in public transport and active transport.