It’s not every day a major new suburban rail line opens in Victoria. In fact it’s been 85 years since the last one.
Finally all the details of the Regional Rail Link (which despite its name, runs entirely within the metropolitan area) have been released, including the timetables for the line, and connecting bus services within Melbourne and in the Geelong area.
After $4 billion spent on it, you’d hope they’ll be marketing the benefits to people. I’ve been told this will occur in the coming weeks, at least on a local level, including flyers into mailboxes.
RRL of course includes two new stations in Melbourne (Wyndham Vale and Tarneit), as well as moving the Geelong line onto its own tracks from Deer Park.
The trains will basically run every 10 minutes in peak (though the gaps are uneven), every 20 minutes off-peak. They’ll still be hourly in the evenings and on weekends, including to Wyndham Vale and Tarneit, which is a bit poor for a metropolitan growth area.
Some trains originate at Waurn Ponds; some at South Geelong. Some skip North Shore and Corio, some skip Little River, but otherwise most trains stop at most stations until they get into the suburbs.
Most trains stop at Wyndham Vale (and some in peak originate there). Slightly fewer trains stop at Tarneit.
Many Geelong trains will stop at Deer Park, finally giving this long-established suburb a decent service on weekdays, though fewer stop at Ardeer. These stations are also served by trains on the Ballarat line, confusingly, so far there is no published combined timetable for those two stations.
Oddly, not a single Geelong train stops at Deer Park or Ardeer on weekends.
Also oddly, the trains from further afield at Warrnambool (which require reservations to use) will also stop at Wyndham Vale and Tarneit, but not at interchange stations such as
Footscray and Sunshine. Edit: they do stop at Footscray.
So overall a big boost for the Geelong line (and for Deer Park), but they’ll have to watch how passenger loads are affected by the extra stops in Melbourne’s west, and the hourly evening and weekend services need a boost.
The Geelong-Werribee disconnection
A loss for some people is the convenient Geelong to Werribee train trip, which currently takes about 30 minutes.
Instead it’ll be a 25-30ish minute trip to Wyndham Vale, then a change onto the (mercifully frequent) new route 190 bus. To Werribee this is 15 minutes off-peak, but up to about 18 minutes during peak, with buses scheduled to depart 5 minutes after the train arrives.
So for those people, if everything runs smoothly, the trip will be about 20 minutes longer.
Overall trip time Geelong to Melbourne
There’s been years of speculation about how long the overall trip would take from Geelong to Melbourne.
The existing time varies widely: from about 56 minutes for expresses to about 77 minutes for a peak stopper.
The new times are similar despite the longer route. The difference is trains can run faster on the new section than they can on the more congested Werribee line, but this is countered by (for most services) extra stops at the new stations.
The quickest still seems to be 56 minutes, with the longest stopper in the middle of peak about 75 minutes.
Trying to serve more passengers rather than skip more stops and get the trains in as quickly as possible is, I think, a sensible move. On weekdays, this means most stations get a decent service frequency, and the clear run in should mean much more reliable and predictable travel times.
Other V/Line changes
All the lines from the west see tweaks and adjustments.
The current ludicrous timings of up to 16 minutes between Footscray and Southern Cross are brought a little bit more under control, down to 9 minutes supposedly non-stop — but this is still the same time as a suburban train making additional stops at South Kensington and North Melbourne.
One detail some may miss in the new timetables: urban fringe stations Sunbury and Pakenham are now marked as “d” (set down only) for inbound trains, and “u” (pick up only) for outbound trains. This means local residents will no longer be able to use V/Line trains to and from the city. I actually think this makes sense given those stations have heaps more Metro trains than they used to, and V/Line services need to prioritise space and seats for people travelling longer distances, but one would hope they are explaining this decision to the locals.
Buses networks in the Geelong and Wyndham areas are getting major redesigns — the latter to fit into the new stations.
In both cases PTV say they’ve continued to consolidate routes, with high-frequency (by Victorian standards) routes along main roads feeding into stations, which is a good thing — it should make the network much more usable for everyday travel. Again, they’ll obviously have to communicate the changes to users and potential users.
Other routes around the place are getting minor adjustments, including regional city bus service timetable changes to better coordinate with trains.
The intention had been to introduce a raft of Metro timetable changes at the same time as RRL, making use of some of the capacity unlocked by the project, particularly on the Sunbury and Werribee lines.
But in this timetable change, almost nothing is changing on Metro.
One wouldn’t expect them to fill the new capacity from day one, but one might expect adjustments to at least take advantage of it.
On the Sunbury line for instance, there are reports of trains (now unencumbered by congestion from V/Line services, which got moved to the new tracks some months ago) arriving at Footscray several minutes early, having to sit idle until their departure times.
Meanwhile on the Werribee line, crowding has been getting steadily worse (including on weekends), and although some of those people may move over to the new stations, we’re talking about one of Melbourne’s biggest growth areas. They are getting a single new service in on weekday mornings and another on weekday evenings, but that’s it.
The long-suffering Altona Loop, with its off-peak shuttle, sees no changes. I haven’t looked closely at other lines, or trams, but it appears other changes are also deferred, which seems to be a missed opportunity.
The rail map change has been held over until later in the year. The current suburban maps won’t change (this would cost a small fortune), meaning many suburban passengers will remain blissfully unaware of the new stations.
The V/Line map has been updated, and looks more like the London map (the old “Connections” version) than ever before. Not that this is a bad thing.
RRL will make a huge difference to Melbourne’s West. The Wyndham Vale and Tarneit areas are growing fast, and for once new residents may be able to make a choice to use a viable public transport service before they buy cars for every adult in their household and fill their driveways with motor vehicles.
But there are some oddities, and some missed opportunities to provide a big boost on the metropolitan network.
No doubt there are more improvements to come — let’s hope those aren’t too far away.
Any other changes you’ve spotted?