As 35 years of anecdotal evidence clearly counts for something, I'm happy to accept that you have exhausted your arguments in this matter.
And there’s the rub, Mike: it’s 35 years of anecdotal evidence against empirical data from quite a number of sources.
Yes, anecdotal evidence can count for something. In fact, I’ve used it myself, as a one time passenger of the Maryborough Express Maxi Taxi, an anecdote which leads me to draw the conclusion that the current service beyond Ballarat is an almost criminal waste of funds.
The real value of the anecdote, though, lies in showing that its implications and underlying assumptions match those backed up by hard evidence.
On that note, let’s address the fallacy that the Ballarat patronage explosion provides grounds for a rail service to Mildura.
The Ballarat-Melbourne journey is now - regardless of its history - an achievable commute by both train and car. This means that the factors contributing to patronage growth are necessarily factors which improve the commuter journey in some way.
I think you’ll happily concede that Mildura will never be “commutable” to either Melbourne or a closer centre such as Ballarat by land transport. (The only mode which would possibly enable this is a true high-speed train, which I’m sure you will agree is outside the scope of this discussion due to the prohibitively high capex required.)
The underlying market for a Mildura train is therefore fundamentally different to the Ballarat service, and it’s foolish to make superficial “build it and they will come” comparisons as a consequence. It’s analogous to arguing that the next 100 years of development of the suburban rail network should focus on an area the size of the Paris Metro, when the urban form of Melbourne clearly demands other solutions.
With that in mind we turn to the anecdotal evidence more closely linked to the provision of a long-haul train service using mostly existing infrastructure.
I’ve supplied a number of reports and statistics which I consider relevant to my case that the market for this train simply does not exist. As an extension, I argue that Mildura’s public transport needs are being met quite well compared to benchmarks, and that development of a rail service in any case does not meet the most pressing connectivity needs.
I politely challenge you to present some rigorous analysis which supports your case: that is, a growing market for travel to and from Melbourne, coupled with positive feedback as a result of some specific aspect of the train.
I’m very happy to concede that such evidence may exist, particularly in the form of The Prospector
and its exceptional patronage. In fact, I am trying to inform myself about the circumstances which create such patronage as I would be very happy to invest in the Mildura service knowing it could produce similar passenger numbers (I believe this would demonstrate a genuine social need regardless of any economic criteria). On this, however, for now, the onus remains on you.