Regional Rail Link is a $5ish billion project to separate out V/Line trains, by running the Geelong line via new stations at Wyndham Vale and Tarneit to Deer Park, then into the City (along with Ballarat and Bendigo line trains) on dedicated tracks. Yesterday it was confirmed that it would go ahead.
The idea of separating fast, limited stops V/Line trains from slower stopping Metro trains is a good one, of course.
But there seem to be a lot of people thinking that this combined with the new stations in growing areas automatically means the whole project must be a good idea.
Problem is there are a number of big questions about it that remain unanswered:
What service will the new stations at Wyndham Vale and Tarneit get? Will it be the kind of appalling V/Line suburban service already seen at places like Deer Park, Ardeer and Rockbank, where outside peak hour there’s a train only about every two hours? (Indeed, will Deer Park and others see any better service from this?)
Will the peak hour service to those new stations be adequate for the expected commuter population?
Will Geelong trains double as suburban trains to those new stations, and if so will they cope? (Are we setting up to repeat the problems seen now on the Sunbury line?)
Will residents along the line only be able to use the new stations if they are lucky enough to live within walking/cycling distance or get up at the crack of dawn to get a car spot? Or will good quality connecting buses be provided?
How much longer will Geelong trains take to get to the city once they detour via Tarneit? (It’s theoretically possible to build the line so the expresses move through at 160 kmh, but it’s not been stated that it will be the case.)
What will Geelong to Werribee passengers (apparently several hundred per day make the trip) do once their trains are diverted away from Werribee? Maybe (if they can) they’ll just get in their cars and join the traffic.
Will V/Line trains still stop at North Melbourne so passengers can continue to use the 401 University shuttle, or change to the City Loop? (They can change to the City Loop in the morning at Southern Cross, but with current loop patterns, the only afternoon choice without interchange at North Melbourne is going to Footscray, which includes catching a train on the most crowded line in Melbourne, the Sydenham/Sunbury line).
Will there be problems with V/Line trains and Metro trains on the Bendigo line on the 15 kilometres between Sunbury and Sunshine, where they will still share tracks? (Ditto between Wyndham Vale and Sunshine, if it’s a mix of express and stopping trains. And the project won’t touch Seymour/Shepparton trains between North Melbourne and Craigieburn.)
And finally, given the huge cost, were other projects considered, such as extra tracks on the Werribee and Sydenham lines, and Smartbuses or bus ways into the Tarneit area from nearby stations?
Maybe someone’s looked at all these issues, but nothing’s been announced. Despite the multi-billion bill being presented to taxpayers, there’s no transparency.
Good public transport planning should dictate that you first work out what services you want, then you work out the infrastructure needed to provide them. Given continual responses of “we don’t know” when basic questions have been asked about, say, what the line’s timetables will look like, it appears the planning for this is going backwards — and still hasn’t been completed.
While it’s clear there will be some good benefits from the project, it’s less clear that it’s the best option available, or that it’s good value for money.
- Some of the questions above were answered (indirectly) in 2012