The old railway line to Rutherglen and Wahgunyah

On the road to Rutherglen a few weeks ago, we came across this: the old railway. Some photos below.

Apparently it opened in 1879, with passenger trains running until 1962, and freight trains until 1995. These days the nearest operating railway is at Springhurst a few kilometres away, on the main line to Albury and Sydney.

If you take a look at Andrew Waugh’s excellent VRHistory web site, you’ll see maps that show just how extensive the Victorian Railways were. By 1940, the network reached most populated parts of the state, before it contracted in the decades following.

By the way, it’s notable that some argue that not only should the South Morang line be extended to Mernda, but also another 10 kilometres to Whittlesea where it used to run. I’m not convinced. Just because there used to be a line to Whittlesea doesn’t automatically mean it should be rebuilt. The Urban Growth Boundary doesn’t extend out that far. Serving the population, not empty fields, is the priority for public transport upgrades.

The old railway line to Wahgunyah, near Rutherglen, Vic

The old railway line to Wahgunyah, near Rutherglen, Vic

The old railway line to Wahgunyah, near Rutherglen, Vic

Regional Rail Link: Melbourne’s first brand new suburban train line since 1930

It’s often said that there hasn’t been a suburban rail line built in Melbourne since the Glen Waverley line opened in 1930. To be precise, that year it was extended from Darling to Glen Waverley.

Others built or extended since then have either been electrification along existing lines, or re-openings of lines along old alignments: Werribee, Sunbury, Craigieburn, Cranbourne.

The City Loop was all-new, but is not suburban and didn’t serve any areas that had no existing public transport routes. South Morang kinda re-opened an old line, but was basically a completely new alignment.

(Update: it’s been rightly pointed out to me that Westona station is on a section of line first opened in 1985.)

Regional Rail Link changes that. Despite the name, and despite being served by diesel trains, it will serve new suburban areas, with stations at Tarneit and Wyndham Vale, and is being built almost entirely in suburban Melbourne (both in fresh “green fields” and existing “brown fields” areas).

The RRL social media team has been busy, and they’ve posted a video flyover of the whole project.

When seen like this, it puts the size of the project into perspective, and at 47 kilometres long, it’s longer than any existing suburban line except the Pakenham line (though with far fewer stations).

At a full cost of around $4.8 billion (around $100 million per kilometre), it’s a lot of money… but it looks like a bargain against the proposed East West road tunnel stage 1, at $6-8 billion for just 6 kilometres (around $1 billion per kilometre). Of course, that’s mostly tunnel, which is more expensive — though even against the proposed rail tunnel the road expensive in terms of construction cost and particularly cost per person moved.

New Footscray station bridge now being partially demolished

This is Footscray railway station’s William Cooper bridge, pictured just after it opened in 2010. It’s almost brand new.

Footscray railway station footbridge in 2011

Preparatory work on replacing the old bridge had began in April 2009, with the first bridge spans put into place in around August 2009. It was opened in April 2010, at a cost of $15 million.

Meanwhile, the Regional Rail Link (RRL) project was first publicly mooted in 2006, and recommended as part of the Victorian Transport Plan in 2008. It gained the bulk of its funding (and thus the green light to proceed) from the Federal government in May 2009, with a preliminary route design being announced in June 2009.

But despite the RRL project having been given the go-ahead before the bridge started major construction, apparently nobody on the bridge project team thought to check if the it was long enough to handle the extra tracks and platforms likely to be built as part of RRL…

The bridge is not long enough.

Footscray railway station footbridge being partially demolished

Footscray railway station footbridge being partially demolished

Footscray railway station footbridge being partially demolished

The northern part of the bridge is being demolished, less than two years after it opened, so it can be extended a few extra metres over the new tracks. Harking back to a couple of years ago when the new bridge was built parallel to the remains of the old one, a temporary bridge has been constructed.

Your tax payer dollars at work.

The silver-lining is the upgrade will apparently make some improvements, including escalators and better weather-proofing… it’s unclear why the bridge design didn’t include these in the first place.

Of course in an ideal world, the bridge wouldn’t have been built in that form at all — as part of the wider Footscray $62 million redevelopment programme they should have looked at a Perth-style train/bus interchange which would fix the problem of most of Footscray’s buses terminating several hundred metres away from the station, at a myriad of different bus stops.

Update Monday: It’s been pointed out to me that once construction starts it’s hard to stop and change the design, and that the RRL design for Footscray station may not have been known before about October 2009 (which is certainly when I first heard it would be extra platforms on the northern side). Fair enough.

But I still think the point here is that as soon as RRL got funded/underway (in May), someone should have flagged the issue with the bridge project team immediately, and construction halted until it was known where the extra platforms would go, and whether the bridge needed to be modified.

Ferries and underground railways!! … But why?

Yet again we have public figures extolling the virtues of technology over service in public transport.

Underground railways

Jeff Kennett thinks underground railways are the panacea:

“If I was able to wave a magic wand even now, I would start the planning for an underground rail system,” he told the Australian Property Institute Pan Pacific Congress in Melbourne on Tuesday.

“It would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but I can assure you when you look back in 50 years, or 100 years, whatever you pay today would seem cheap.

“We can hardly accommodate the traffic on the surface of our community in an efficient way and it is only going to get worse.”

AAP: Underground rail would be magic: Kennett

It’s great that the bloke behind Citylink (the inner-urban motorway that was meant to fix Melbourne’s traffic — but didn’t) now understands that to move people more efficiently around big cities, you can’t do it with cars.

But without knowing exactly what else he said, he seems to not have realised that the (mostly European) cities that have underground railways have them because the city developed before the railways came.

In Australia it’s the opposite — the railways were built as the cities developed, so naturally the railways are at ground level because that’s the cheapest option.

The proposed Melbourne Metro tunnel is only a tunnel because now the inner-city is built-up, and if you’re going to do expansion of track capacity and serve the hospital precinct and St Kilda Road with heavy rail, it’s got to be underground.

The benefits of European rapid transit/metro systems aren’t because they’re underground (many aren’t outside city centres). The benefits are from having high-capacity, high-frequency services meaning large numbers of people can move quickly with minimal waiting, at any time of day, providing the sort of freedom of mobility the motor car can offer (better, in fact, given traffic levels in most cities).

This can be done with Australian suburban railways, by simply running more frequent trains all day every day, along with level crossing removal, and better connecting feeder buses to make more trips viable without a car.

Ferries

Proposed Melbourne ferry mapMeanwhile, Melbourne Lord Mayoral candidate Robert Doyle is pushing ferries:

At the launch of “Team Doyle” this morning on the banks of the Yarra River, lord mayoral candidate Mr Doyle said the ferry trial would cost about $500,000, would run five times a day and take about thirty minutes to sail between three stops.

Mr Doyle said existing water taxis and ferry services mainly operated on weekends and the new service would help workers who want to travel around Docklands.

The Age: Doyle pledges free Docklands ferry

Five times a day? You’re kidding me.

Aimed at workers? What Docklands workers are going to wait 1-2 hours for a ferry, which will take 30 minutes to cover a distance they could walk in 17 minutes?

Tourists would probably like it, but for workers/commuters, how does this solve anything, except perhaps for a struggling ferry operator who would appreciate $500,000 a year in revenue?

Sorry Robert, but unless vital information is missing, this idea makes no sense at all.

It’s not about infrastructure

When will our leaders figure out that better public transport is not about digging tunnels or exploring new modes such as ferries? It’s about dependable, well-connected, capacious, safe, fast, frequent services.

If a ferry or an underground railway or a maglev or a monorail is being proposed, the first question should be: does it cost-effectively deliver on the basic requirements of good public transport and improve mobility? And is it better/cheaper/quicker than upgrading what we already have now?

One day…

When the Hitachi trains were built in the early 70s, it was before the days of dot matrix displays. Destination rolls weren’t easily changed, so they included a few places they thought that might one day get rail services.

Forward planning, much of it in line with the stated rail extensions in the 1969 transport plan.

Here, courtesy of an old railways book I have, is a list of destinations which had been added in anticipation:

Hitachi train, ParliamentWERRIBEE[1]
SUNBURY [2]
DEER PARK WEST [3]
MELTON [3]
CRAIGIEBURN [4]
SOUTH MORANG [5]
EAST DONCASTER [6]
COLDSTREAM
MULGRAVE [7]
LEAWARRA [8]
BAXTER [8]
MORNINGTON [9]
CRIB POINT
STONY POINT

Interesting omissions include Cranbourne (opened 1995) and Warragul (a few suburban trains went out that way during the 90s).

[1] Werribee — was electrified and got suburban trains in 1985.

[2] Sunbury — No electric trains yet, but funded and expected to open in 2012. Controversial because some locals would prefer to keep their V/Line trains, though I think the project brings numerous benefits.

[3] Deer Park West and Melton — Electrification and duplication from Sunshine to Melton is included as part of the Victorian Transport Plan, but is not currently funded.

[4] Craigieburn — Eventually got electric trains in 2007.

[5] South Morang — Funded and expected to open in 2013. Controversial because of the astronomical cost, partly explained by the project including lots and lots of other stuff. Interestingly the official government information now appears to be devoid of an expected opening date.

[6] Doncaster — Despite bridges on the Eastern Freeway being specifically built to accommodate a train line, it hasn’t eventuated. A big upgrade to bus services, under the name DART (Doncaster Area Rapid Transit) is about to start.

[7] Mulgrave — The State Coalition has pledged to do a feasibility study of the line to Rowville (including Mulgrave) if it wins the state election, one of its few policies announced so far.

[8] Baxter — Not planned, but the PeninsulaLink plans do include provision for expansion of the existing line underneath part of the freeway under construction. Extending to Leawarra (where Monash’s Peninsula campus is) and Baxter makes sense, if only to move the train stabling and massive car park out of Frankston, which can be redeveloped as part of the multiple CBDs strategy.

[9] Mornington — Gone backwards. The station and some of the train line that were there have been demolished/ripped-up… the only indicator left is Railway Grove.

Older

Going back further, here are some that were on the blue (Harris) trains:

STONY POINT
CRIB POINT
WARBURTON [10]
HEALESVILLE [10]

The red (Tait) trains appear to have listed only stations which today get suburban trains — or did at the time (St Kilda and Port Melbourne, for instance).

[10] Trains once ran here, though I don’t think they were ever electric trains.

  • Source: Electric Railways of Victoria”, by S.E.Dornan & R.G.Henderson, AETA 1979
  • The full lists that I once laboriously typed up and posted to Usenet — and include a few stations which are no longer used to terminate trains, such as Glen Huntly and Westona