Victoria’s first 21st century rail megaproject: benefits from Regional Rail Link

Victoria’s first big 21st century rail megaproject is almost complete. Regional Rail Link was started and mostly funded by Labor (State and Federal, in part as stimulus money during the Global Financial Crisis), and largely built under the State Coalition.

Construction itself is now complete, with driver training and other preparatory work happening ahead of the expected opening in April June.

The line provides an enormous amount of additional track capacity in the western suburbs… but of course this is only of use if it’s used.

So what are the benefits, and what do we know about how it’ll be used?

Wyndham Vale station, looking south

Tarneit/Wyndham Vale get their new stations and new rail line, served by some Geelong trains. The infrastructure for starting suburban diesel trains from Wyndham Vale into the City has also been provided, but it’s not clear that option will be used initially. The opening of the stations will be accompanied by a bus route revamp in the area, focussed on the new stations, which makes a lot of sense, and pleasingly have had extensive community consulation.

Geelong line – more reliable travel time in the suburban part of the journey, as V/Line trains won’t get stuck behind slower Werribee line trains. It’s unclear if the trip will take longer though — this was a subject of some controversy when RRL was first planned, and still hasn’t been clearly answered. While it’s a longer distance, the track speeds are higher than the old route, so hopefully the running time won’t be much longer.

We know the Geelong line will go to 20 mins off-peak (probably every 40 minutes to Armstrong Creek due to the single track beyond South Geelong), a move which was probably possible in the past, but will be easier to reliably operate with RRL in place. This boost was promised by Labor before the election, and amusingly matched by the Coalition, who claimed they’d been planning it all along… but they hadn’t actually told anybody about it. Ah, secret railway business.

Ballarat and Bendigo lines — ditto; more reliable travel times. Likely to be faster, particularly during peak when in the past they had to wait for Sunbury line trains. Scope for some extra services, though this is still constrained by the single track sections further out. These trains are already using the new RRL tracks from Sunshine into the City, but timetables haven’t yet been adjusted. The question will be whether the April timetable makes use of this properly, and whether V/Line get their act together at the city end to reduce or eliminate delays coming into Southern Cross, where they should now have plenty of platforms to accommodate all the incoming trains.

The 2021 draft documents suggested the three lines combined would have up to about 15 trains in the busiest hour, but the infrastructure should allow some growth beyond that.

Sunshine station

Sunbury line — apart from between Sunshine and Sunbury, no V/Line trains have to share the metro tracks anymore, meaning a virtual doubling of capacity between Sunshine and the City.

Right now (as of the last load survey in May 2014) figures show crowding on the line has eased, following a roughly 50% boost in peak services over the past 6 years, thanks in part to moving the Werribee line out of the Loop in 2008, and also thanks to the Sunbury electrification, which added stations but also added overall track capacity by removing short haul V/Line trains off the line.

However with Zone 1+2 fares having been cut by about 40% since the start ofg the year, we may see a lot more people on suburban trains across the network, so the question is how quickly will the government move to boost services on the line to cope — particularly in peak hour, but also at off-peak times when crowding can be a problem. The new Calder Park train stabling, expected to open later this year, will help with this.

Sunbury line load survey May 2014

Werribee line — again, once RRL opens the Geelong line trains will be off the Werribee line completely, and with crowding already bad before January, they’ll need to make use of that capacity to boost services.

In the past 6 years, the load survey shows the Werribee line has gone from 13 to 21 services, and in that time has gained Williams Landing station. But the line has evidently seen greater passenger growth than the Sunbury line, with far more trains above the load standard. In fact it has 46% of AM peak passengers travelling on crowded trains, the highest proportion anywhere on the network.

I’m hearing the zone changes have eased demand at Laverton, in favour of Williams Landing, but given the huge population growth in that area, I’d also expect overall patronage to keep growing.

Werribee line load survey May 2014

Williamstown line — theoretically could get a boost, but not seen as a priority as it doesn’t serve growth corridors, and the last load survey showed crowding was well below the levels seen on other lines. One would hope at least the 22 minute peak frequency shared with Altona will be fixed to 20.

Altona Loop — technically part of the Werribee line, the changes in 2011 when the third (turnback) platform at Laverton opened were primarily of benefit to the outer section of the Werribee line (early 2011 was when the line got a big increase in services). It helped add capacity for the Altona Loop stations, but degraded the service in other ways: peak hour service dropped back to an almost impossible to memorise 22 minute frequency, and at off-peak times on weekdays shuttle trains run every 20 minutes only as far as Newport.

This means that at off-peak times, if you want to travel to a City Loop underground station, you need to catch three trains — one to Newport, another to North Melbourne or Southern Cross, then a third to the Loop.

One of the reasons widely cited for the shuttle trains (and the 22 minute peak timetable) was a lack of capacity between Newport and the City, given the need to share the line with Geelong trains. RRL will see the Geelong trains off the line, and it has been flagged many times that this would bring an end to the shuttles, with off-peak Altona Loop trains going all the way into the city — in fact Labor pledged it during the 2014 election campaign. It would help those passengers, but also ease off-peak crowding on the Werribee line by enabling the Werribee trains to run express Newport to Footscray, bypassing busy inner-city stations like Yarraville.

But with a lack of assurances from the powers that be, there are now fears this won’t happen after all, or at least not any time soon. (Do you use the Altona Loop? Click through to find out how to help the campaign.)

Jill Hennessy at MTF forum: Altona rail
Source: Metropolitan Transport Forum — video from Western Suburbs forum

Other lines indirectly benefit: the Frankston, Craigieburn and Upfield lines gain some isolation from V/Line operations which currently can snowball across the network.

So, RRL brings a lot of scope for extra services

With the zone 2 fare cuts, anecdotal evidence is that patronage is on the rise again, right across the rail network. The government is going to need to stay ahead of the growth, to avoid the politically sensitive situation of widespread packed trains that we saw in the later years of the Bracks/Brumby government.

This time, they’re a bit more prepared. RRL unlocks capacity for a number of lines, and planning work is underway to unlock capacity on other lines around the network. The key is for the funding for upgrades (and that includes infrastructure, fleet and services) to keep on coming.

You wouldn’t expect them to use all the extra capacity from day one, but they should where they have the train fleet available and the crowding is worst (eg the Werribee line and Altona Loop), as well as a plan to roll out additional service boosts over time.

Of course it shouldn’t just be directed at easing train overcrowding. Trains, like no other transport mode, have the ability to get large numbers out people out of the traffic on the Westgate Bridge and the other river crossings, if good frequent services are provided.

And remember — all-day, 7-day frequent servicesevery 10 minutes or better — are actually relatively cheap on the upgrade list, because they largely use fleet and infrastructure already provided for peak hour. Frequent services help the people who can, make more trips outside peak hours, and just like in the world’s biggest cities, help turn our train system into a mass transit solution that gets people out of cars by providing good connections between lines, and Turn Up And Go services.

  • Update 20/2/2015: The government has postponed the opening to June, blaming a lack of V/Line rolling stock due to the previous government delaying the order.

Regional Rail Link tour part 2 braindump

About a year ago, a group of us from the PTUA went on a tour of the Regional Rail Link, a massive 50 kilometre-long rail project providing new tracks from Southern Cross, via Footscray and Sunshine, then along a new corridor through Melbourne’s new outer-western suburbs to West Werribee.

The project will provide extra track capacity for V/Line trains on the Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo lines into the city — in other words, the bulk of V/Line services into Melbourne — but will also allow more trains on the busy Werribee and Sunbury lines.

A few weeks ago we did part two of the tour, to look progress in the last 12 months, which has been considerable. The project is expected to finish up in 2015, about a year earlier than previously expected.

Southern Cross new platforms

The city end

At Southern Cross, new platforms 15+16 went into service in December last year, primarily for Geelong trains. As noted last year, platform 16 is outside the glass, but it’s still undercover, and passengers seem to be surviving so far.

The works have resulted in a greatly simplified track layout between Southern Cross and North Melbourne, and a lot of wiring and signalling has apparently been ripped out and replaced, which over time should cut signal faults in the area.

Apart from into Southern Cross 15+16, extra track has been provided from the existing flyover into platforms 1 to 8. This resulted in widening of the bridge so it almost touches Festival Hall — art has been installed at ground level recognising some of the music history of the Hall.

Along the street nearby, noise barriers are going up — in fact this is now a common sight along the project where housing is nearby to the new and existing tracks along the line.

Rail bridge widened near Festival Hall

Rail flyover near North Melbourne station

North Melbourne

At North Melbourne, you can get a good view of the new tracks into Southern Cross (both the ground level and revamped flyover) from the new(ish) concourse.

View of city and rail flyover from North Melbourne station

Alas, RRL trains won’t stop at North Melbourne, though there is space for platforms to be provided later to serve the ground level tracks into Southern Cross 15+16. We don’t yet know how many trains will use each set of tracks, but if trains from specific lines consistently use the ground level tracks, it would then be possible to stop at least those trains there, for connections to Metro services and the very popular 401 bus. Platforms serving the flyover tracks would be a great deal more difficult to construct.

Along the rail corridor from North Melbourne to Footscray, it’s now possible to see the bridge over the Maribyrnong river, which along with the rest of the new track as far as Sunshine, has just come into use. West of the river, these new RRL tracks have a flyover to get over the Werribee line tracks, so V/Line trains can cross to the middle platforms at Footscray without causing any delays.

Footscray

Signal box being restored at Footscray station

Footscray station

At Footscray, works seem to be largely complete. The two new platforms (1+2) for Sunbury line trains have been in use for some months, and the bridge extension is finished (along with weatherproofing improvements), providing escalators, new ramps to accompany the lifts and stairs. Having used Footscray a few times in the past few months, it’s pleasing that most of the locals have worked out the Melbourne escalator etiquette of standing on the left so those in a hurry can walk past on the right.

The RRL platforms, now known as 3+4, have been extended, like all platforms on the new line, to allow for much longer V/Line trains in the future. 4 is a little bit curved at the western end by necessity due to the confined space, though given V/Line trains have conductors to verify a safe departure, one wouldn’t expect this would be a problem.

Notably, drainage is built into all the platforms at Footscray and the other renovated or rebuilt stations, with a slight slope away from the tracks. Yes, after decades of building stations so water simply drains onto the tracks, the standard has changed This has been the case for some decades now, and is good for safety, given some highly-publicised incidents of unsecured prams rolling off platforms recently.

Although booking offices and so on are at ground level, the bridge includes some concourse elements, including Myki machines and gates for platforms 2 and 3. The Passenger Information Displays (PIDs) are also in place, though at present only showing four departures at once — I’m told they are looking at solutions to show information for all 6 platforms — possibly separate screens for the V/Line-only platforms 3 and 4.

The heritage buildings at Footscray are being completely restored. This has involved a lot of work, in part because of termites, but if restoration work done at Windsor a couple of years ago is any guide, they should look terrific when finished.

As with many of the other new and rebuilt stations, the bike cage has been provided underneath a staircase, making good use of the space.

The doughnut seller has a new kiosk which opened for the first time on a couple of weeks ago. It’s lacking the trademark-defying dodgy upside-down Olympic logo of the old caravan — not that it matters. But you can tell it’s the same doughnut vendor because the dolphin jam dispenser is back.

Parkiteer at Sunshine station

West Footscray

As I wrote in December, West Footscray station has been completely rebuilt, but is looking even nicer now than when I last saw it, thanks to murals built into the bridge, and a few more splashes of colour around the place.

The ramps have been connected to the local bicycle network — apparently they were built to be a full metre wider than the required station ramp standard of 1.8 metres, to make it easier for cyclists to pass each other. Provision is there for a future upgrade of the station to premium status, and thanks to solar panels and rainwater harvesting, West Footscray has gained a 4-star sustainability rating.

West Footscray station

West Footscray station

We didn’t stop at Tottenham station, but there has been work on the road underpass, and there’s some rather nice murals around the station entrance now which it’s hoped will deter tagging.

Sunshine

Sunshine station, which is becoming a very important interchange, has been completely rebuilt — in fact apparently just about the only remaining feature of the old station is a retaining wall on platform 1. The old dingy subway is gone, replaced by an overpass/concourse with booking office, waiting room, and fare gates.

It looks good — though very grey from some angles.

Sunshine station

Sunshine station

Junction at Sunshine station

Northwest of Sunshine, the Ballarat/Geelong and Bendigo lines converge at a junction. This is at-grade, but apparently there’s provision for a future Melton electrification project to include an overpass to allow Melton trains to pass under these lines to connect to the Sunbury tracks. In the mean time, space has been provided for Bendigo trains to wait, clear of both the Ballarat/Geelong line and the Sunbury line.

Level crossings on two sections of Anderson Road have been grade separated as part of the project.

Following along the line towards Deer Park, more noise walls are in evidence, as well as automatic pedestrian gates at the crossings, which hopefully should prevent accidents such as the fatal one in 2008 involving a pedestrian at one of those crossings.

The new line

West of Deer Park, the new Geelong line branches off the Ballarat line. Near the future Caroline Springs station there’s a new road bridge over the Ballarat line, providing additional road access into the area.

A “consolidation train” was running between Deer Park and West Werribee most of that particular weekend, to apply weight to the new tracks, as part of (literally) bedding down.

Tarneit station was closed up, but at a glance much of it appears to be nearing completion.

Tarneit station


Wyndham Vale station

We did get to have a good look around Wyndham Vale station, which looks rather good. Sunk into the ground, it’s currently got two platforms, for V/Line trains, but also has provision for another two tracks in the future, allowing electric trains to come through from Werribee and terminate there. In the short term though, that connection is expected to be provided by buses.

There are also points nearby to allow V/Line to provide short-starting services from there into the city, and would also presumably provide a termination point during major disruptions.

Works at the station seem to be almost complete. The track is in, the basic building structure is there, the lighting and so on is installed. We saw Myki equipment ready to go in, and even the waiting room has its chairs.

At ground level next to the concourse is an extensive bus interchange — it sounds like numerous routes in the area will converge here. There are stairs and ramps down to the platforms.

For anybody who’d fancy working at one of the new stations, V/Line is advertising for “Services Officers” at Wyndham Vale and Tarneit — 5 full time positions at each station.

Wyndham Vale station

Wyndham Vale station: Myki is coming

Wyndham Vale station, looking south

Wyndham Vale station, looking north

Looking south from Wyndham Vale station

The line continues south to West Werribee (aka Manor) junction, where it connects with the existing Geelong line. The entire line from Geelong through to somewhere just west of Sunshine is engineered to allow trains at 160 kmh, so for express services, my thinking is the running time should be similar to now, despite the longer distance.

At the junction, the existing track between Werribee and Geelong has been slewed to get around the new overpass (needed to prevent delays between V/Line trains and freight and passenger trains on the standard gauge line to Adelaide) — this track is now down to 80 kmh, though given it appears few trains will continue using it after next year, this wouldn’t appear to be a huge problem.

Completion next year

It seems the project is running much earlier than expected, in part to the major shut downs which over the past couple of years (including the one just finished), meaning more has been able to be done each time the existing train service is disrupted. This in turn has resulted in huge money savings — for instance some of the funds saved are going into the St Albans grade separation project. So despite some pain for existing passengers on the affected lines, there seem to have been good outcomes for taxpayers — more bang per buck.

And while there have been some problems with the project in the initial design phase, there are undoubtedly benefits in terms of capacity to run extra trains on both V/Line and Metro to the western suburbs lines, with fewer delays.

Parts of the new line from Sunshine to the City have started to be used by V/Line trains (though some trains are arriving early, as the timetables don’t really take the quicker trip into account).

It looks like the full project will be completed next year.

And I for one look forward to my next visit to Footscray station for a doughnut.

PS. Just to prove we were properly authorised and equipt to look around the construction zone at Wyndham Vale: here is bad dorkie selfie of me in high-vis. Thanks to the Regional Rail Link authority for the tour.

Daniel at Wyndham Vale

Updates/corrections: Some minor changes made to the text tense, because some was written a couple of weeks ago.

My brain dump from a look around the Regional Rail Link project

Last Saturday some of us from the PTUA did a tour of the Regional Rail Link project. Here are some photos and notes.

The RRL project, for those who haven’t being paying attention, is basically a brand new railway from somewhere west of Werribee, through new stations in the fast-growing suburbs of Wyndham Vale and Tarneit, then joining the Ballarat Line west of Deer Park, heading in through Sunshine to two new platforms there, and a new pair of tracks from there into the city, with extra platforms also at Footscray and at Southern Cross.

Regional Rail Link proposed route

So it has two goals: to separate V/Line and Metro trains from Melbourne’s west, and to serve new suburbs.

The project, almost $5 billion in total, is predominantly funded by the Federal Government. Around the traps I first heard it mooted in late-2007, though reserving a corridor north of Werribee had been flagged in 2006. It was officially proposed in the 2008 Eddington study, then popped-up again in Labor’s 2009 Victorian Transport Plan, gaining funding as part of stimulus spending to help avoid the Global Financial Crisis. For a while it was a bit mysterious as it was well outside the Urban Growth Boundary… then, not completely unexpectedly, the UGB moved west to encompass it — could it be that for once, urban planning and transport were in sync?

The city end

Ironically the tour started an hour later than scheduled because every single person attending was held-up by disrupted train services, on various lines. Eventually we got started at Footscray, then headed for the city end and made our way back outwards.

At Southern Cross, new platforms and track are in place, but signalling work is still being carried out. It may be that the extra platforms (15 and, out in the weather, 16) will come into service before the rest of the project is finished.

Some trains will go into the new platforms; others will use the flyover near North Melbourne, which is being strengthened, to head into platforms 1 to 8. Extra track over Dudley Street will help V/Line trains stay completely separate from suburban services, which would have otherwise caused a bottleneck. A number of old freight lines in the area have been moved around as well.

The new platforms at Southern Cross. 15 is inside. 16 is outside the glass wall, and may be less pleasant in bad weather!
Regional Rail Link: Southern Cross Station, July 2013

Existing platforms. V/Line will still use 1 to 8, via the flyover, as well as 15 and 16.
Southern Cross Station, July 2013

New tracks at North Melbourne heading for platforms 15/16. The flyover to platforms 1-8 is being strengthened and having emergency pedestrian walkways added.
Regional Rail Link: Near North Melbourne station, July 2013

Footscray

Heading back towards Footscray on a train, we looked at the works on the south side of the line, with the two extra tracks taking shape rapidly. They’ll go over the Maribyrnong River on a new bridge (hey, a new river crossing!) then on a flyover over the current tracks to Newport, which will be shifted south a bit in the cutting coming into Footscray. The suburban tracks to Sunshine will be moved to the north, to go into the two new platforms at Footscray, with the V/Line trains using the (to be) middle platforms.

At Footscray, the “colander” bridge is being extended over the extra tracks, and has apparently already had some weather-proofing added to it, to reduce the amount of wind and rain that gets in. Footscray station is losing all its parking, but that’s all to be replaced (and more) by spaces going in at West Footscray. Fair enough — while I’ve used Footscray’s parking on occasions, it’s a central activities district — the worst place to waste land on parking. They’ll need to improve bus/tram connections from some directions though.

The most important thing? The doughnut man is staying. In fact he’s getting a brand new kiosk! A second kiosk will be in the forecourt area, to help provide more activity in the area. The bridge will eventually have ramps, escalators and lifts.

Footscray station showing the bridge being extended. On the left you can see the new platform 1 station building being constructed.
Regional Rail Link: Footscray station, July 2013

The various road overpasses in the Footscray area are being widened to cope with the extra tracks.
Regional Rail Link: near Footscray station, July 2013

West Footscray

Middle Footscray to West Footscray has long been one of the shortest distances between two stations — the latter was built there to serve the footy ground, but this is no longer used. This project is moving West Footscray about 200 metres further west. Well, when I say moving, I mean replacing with a brand new station.

A lot of this stretch of the line is in a cutting. Notably, where it would be difficult to add them later, stanchions are being installed to cater for later electrification. (Electrification and duplication to Melton has been mooted for a while.)

New tracks being built near Middle Footscray.
Regional Rail Link: Near Footscray, July 2013

Sunshine

Sunshine will get an upgrade — a new aboveground concourse — and two additional platforms.

It’s unclear how many V/Line trains will stop there. It’s been confirmed to me that the infrastructure will permit it, but the infrastructure guys don’t necessarily know what the service planners are thinking. The best indication we have at present is from the Rowville study, which indicates that most trains from Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo will run express through Sunshine, but that trains originating at Melton and Bacchus Marsh (2 per hour off-peak, 3 per hour peak) will stop there. There’s a good argument for having more trains stop there, given development in the area, including the Victoria University campus, as well as interchange between V/Line trains.

The junction just west of Sunshine is where trains from Melbourne to Ballarat and Geelong trains will head west, while Bendigo trains head north-west. It’ll be a flat junction, so some potential for delays here… hopefully it can be upgraded later if needed — I’m not sure; space may be tight, given nearby roads.

Just west of Sunshine, the two level crossings on Anderson Road (one for trains towards Ballarat, one towards Bendigo) are being grade-separated. The Bendigo tracks will have a short section of additional track before joining the suburban line to Sunbury. One day they might get their own lines all the way, but for now they’ll at least have space so that trains from Bendigo to Melbourne can stop and queue to enter the RRL tracks if they need to, without delaying Metro trains behind them.

Towards Ballarat, the existing V/Line tracks are used. There are some minor upgrades going on such as the installation of automatic pedestrian gates where they don’t exist at remaining crossings. (I’m not sure; this may include the location where a lady was killed by a train in 2008.)

Greenfields section

At Deer Park West the Ballarat line will have a new junction, with Geelong trains diverging here down through the “greenfields” section towards the new suburbs.

Near the new station at Tarneit, a lot of houses are built, or under construction, at least on the south side. Real estate agents have clearly identified the railway as a selling point. (I wonder… $360K for a house-and-land package 500 metres from a brand new station and a planned shopping centre could be a pretty good investment, if only I had the money.)

Regional Rail Link: Real estate agents know it's coming, July 2013

Various bridges are being built, including this rather impressive one over the Werribee River:
Regional Rail Link: Bridge over Werribee River, July 2013

At this point of the tour, it was starting to get pretty dark, emphasising how big this thing is. My photos of Wyndham Vale station — a big hole in the dark — aren’t worth publishing.

Tarneit and Wyndham Vale stations will have bus stops close to station entrance. Both will have several hundred parking spots, and provision for more later (which costs more money, of course). Most new and rebuilt stations are designed to have staff/booking office areas overlooking platforms, to help security. Where lifts are provided, ramps will also be available.

Both new stations have provision for extra platforms and two additional tracks to be added at a later date. Cuttings (eg either side of Wyndham Vale station) haven’t been built for four tracks just yet, but are big enough for the two tracks plus space to work on expanding later without encroaching onto those two tracks.

From the new suburbs, the RRL line continues south from Wyndham Vale, and will join the existing Werribee to Geelong line with a flyover (helping to prevent delays, including from passing freight trains on the standard gauge line) at a place called Manor, west of Werribee.

Early versions of the project plans included a rail connection from Werribee to Wyndham Vale, with the possibility of electric trains being extended there to their own platforms, providing an interchange, and a stabling yard a north of the station. But that’s all in the future — it’s unclear how existing passengers between Werribee and Geelong will be catered for.

Signalling

I’m told the new lines will be signalled to handle trains every 2 minutes from Sunshine to the City. The usual formula for reliable running is a 20% reduction on theoretical (30 trains per hour) capacity, making 24 trains per hour.

The Metro tracks are getting all-new equipment, but will remain at their current 155 second headways (apparently some trains do run closer today, thanks to some clever use of the TPWS that’s fitted, I believe, to the V/Line fleet and on all V/Line commuter lines.

Between Sunshine and Manor, the signalling will cope with trains every 3 minutes — so for practical purposes, 16 trains per hour. Signalling equipment going in is capable (where relevant of course) of conversion to work with next-generation in-cab signalling.

Travel times

The speed limit will be mostly 80 from City to Sunshine; 160 further out, but some lower limits for junctions and flyovers. Official modelling suggests no longer travel time for Geelong line.

My back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests 13 km at 80kmh = 10 minutes, and 34 km at 160 kmh = 13 minutes … for a total of 23 minutes. Expresses will stop once on the RRL line — at Footscray. Stopping trains will stop up to three times in this section, adding up to say 6 minutes, for a total of about 29 minutes.

So it should be pretty competitive with today’s travel time via Werribee and Newport. It’s a bit hard to compare current times, but in one case the train from Warrnambool inbound in the evening takes 35 minutes from Werribee to Southern Cross (stopping only at Footscray).

Other notes

Apparently the RRL project has an excellent safety record. Only three incidents have been recorded — sounds like one was a guy who twisted his ankle, and the other two were white-collar workers in project offices — I can’t quite remember the details, but it was along the lines of paper cuts!

All RRL platforms will be 250m long to cope with long V/Line trains (8 carriages?) — including the new Southern Cross platforms.

In many spots, bike paths (or provision for later bike paths) will be provided along the rail alignment.

Freight will not be permitted on the new line between Manor and Deer Park – sounds like the relevant authorisations under noise standards only cover passenger trains.

There’ll probably be some opportunities to start using bits of infrastructure before the entire project is finished, eg the additional Southern Cross platforms, which will provide some big benefits — currently V/Line and Metro mix it up on platforms 13 and 14.

The web site is worth a look; a lot of info on there, including (as posted recently) some rather good video flyovers. www.regionalraillink.vic.gov.au. Also bear in mind how it fits into the broader PTV rail plan.

Overall I’m impressed. Of course, some issues remain… particularly for current regional passengers who want to use Werribee and North Melbourne stations, and the cost is huge, but it’s great to see this project taking shape, and for many in Tarneit and Wyndham Vale it’ll help provide transport options other than driving their cars everywhere.

And, memo to self: next time I go take a look, I should take notes as well as photos. The project is so big I’ve probably forgotten some details. Hopefully I haven’t got anything wrong above — comments and corrections very welcome, as always!

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.

Vicroads and their decades-long plans for road widening

Say what you like about VicRoads, they know how to do forward planning.

For example, there’s a stretch of Ballarat Road in Footscray, just west of where the dual carriageway ends, where this is a common sight:

Vicroads land, Ballarat Road, Footscray

Lovely, isn’t it. Derelict wasteland, left to rot.

A look at Google’s aerial view reveals quite a few empty properies along the street.

Ballarat Road, Footscray

In a classic case of salami tactics, VicRoads has been slowly buying up the properties, perhaps over decades, with a view to eventual widening and duplication of the road.

Looking at some Planning Property Reports for one of the properties, there is indeed a Public Acquisition Overlay for the sections of those properties that face the road.

Public acquisition overlay (yellow) / heritage overlay (pink), Ballarat Road, Footscray

So, when and if road widening ever happens, then between Gordon and Droop Streets, the old Kinnears rope factory won’t be touched, but a bunch of houses and shops will lose part of their land (and thus face demolition or modification). Further towards Victoria University, it won’t touch the newish apartment block on the southern side, but will take part of the bowling club on the northern side.

West of Gordon Street, it’d be the northern side of the road that gets wiped-out — though it appears that (for now) a heritage overlay protects the rather glorious avenue of trees between Summerhill Road and the next section of dual carriageway.

All this is not to say VicRoads has any immediate plans to widen the road. It could still be decades off. But they have the overlay, and they have some of the land in their possession already. It’s a similar situation in various spots around Melbourne — one well-known one is Punt Road in South Yarra/Prahran, where overlays have been in place for more than half a century. (It’s a reminder to always check for overlays when thinking about buying a property.)

VicRoads owns about 2500 homes across the state. They have been bought over the past five decades for the sole purpose of future road use.

Herald Sun 2/2/2008

Such road expension projects have taken place before; the widening of the Nepean Highway in Brighton took out scores of houses. St Kilda Road between the junction and Carlisle Street was once High Street, and the old shopfronts still seen on the eastern side once were on the western side as well — that widening removed the historic Junction Hotel. And close to where the above example, Geelong Road was widened in the 1960s, all but obliterating an Avenue of Honour that had been there.

Meanwhile, on RRL

The VicRoads way is symptomatic of the forward planning that goes on — the so-called “bottom drawer” they can whip road plans out of whenever funding is available for something. And while this road expansion never seems to solve traffic congestion (thanks to induced traffic), they seem very efficient at getting it built.

It’s arguable that having a clear plan via an overlay, and slowly buying up the properties — even if empty land is a waste and looks horrible — is better than turning up out of the blue and announcing to people that their homes are going to be bought and demolished.

That’s what’s happened with the Regional Rail Link project.

In contrast to quiet buying up of land for road widening in the distant future, down the other end of Footscray, the RRL project had to acquire and demolish a number of houses and industrial property — and managed to botch the notification to affected people.

And in Sunshine, RRL is shaving away a section of the HV Mackay gardens. The of course there’s the new Footscray station bridge demolition.

Apparently nobody envisaged that the main western railway corridor would ever need to be widened, so the land wasn’t reserved. One can only hope that over time, future planning will improve.