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.
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25 Replies to “Victoria’s first 21st century rail megaproject: benefits from Regional Rail Link”

  1. @Christopher – Unfortunately you’ll still have to wait as the Standard Gauge line that carries most of the freight trains is unaffected by RRL.

  2. Labor pledged to grade separate the Werribee Street level crossing – see http://www.danielbowen.com/2014/09/24/level-crossing-list/

    Of course, given after RRL opens it’ll receive very little rail traffic (at least until the time in the future the Werribee line is extended westwards, perhaps to Wyndham Vale), from the sounds of it they may sensibly reconsider and do a crossing a bit closer to the city, such as the one at Hoppers Crossing.

  3. One rumour I’ve heard about the Altona Loop is that they might swap the destination of through services, as in returning the Williamstown branch to being a shuttle service, and running those trains through to Laverton in the off-peak.

    One trip from hell in the near future would be trying to get from the Altona Loop to the Geelong line: shuttle train to Laverton, train to Werribee, bus to Wyndham Vale, then finally get on a V/Line train there. Now on a weekend or at night it’s as simple as one change of train at Werribee.

  4. I don`t think they would take the through trains off the Williamstown line. They switched which had the shuttle service because the Williamstown line has more patronage and it now has an even greater patronage because of the comparative drop in Altona line patronage.

    If they run the Altona services into the city, instead of shuttles to Newport, then it would be easier and probably quicker to change at Footscray for Geelong line trains. It may even still be quicker even with the shuttles.

  5. @L2, I doubt they’d swap the shuttles to Williamstown. That would place the whole group of lines (all the way to Frankston) at the mercy of Altona’s single track. Not a good idea.

    Of course the single track needs to be fixed, but while it’s there, its use needs to be isolated as far as possible from the rest of that group of lines.

    Re: bus changes in the area, including the Werribee to Wydnham Vale route check here: http://ptv.vic.gov.au/projects/buses/wyndham-bus-network-changes/ How well this works for Geelong to Werribee trips remains to be seen.

  6. I have only one feeling. Delighted. With this, and the massive improvements done as part of the RFR around 10 years ago, I am one very happy chappy. Country rail has come quite a long way in the recent 10 years.

    The irony is, Sunbury line trains do need to share with the Bendigo V/Line trains beyond Sunshine. And get this, recently they released the plans for the St Albans grade separation. No provision whatsoever for a third or express track. So plans are very much to force Bendigo and Sunbury to share for some time to come.

    At least Bendigo have a chance to overtake a Sunbury train out to Sunshine.

    I hear rumor of some kind of a shuttle to Whyndamvale and Melton once this starts up.

    The one dumb feature that comes with this is, there is no direct rail link between Werribee and Geelong. There should be at least an hourly service say Geelong to Werribee. I cant see why this would be so hard to do.

    While I am here, I have just read the posting on the ABC website. They guy saying we need to remove trams to aid in traffic flow, I think he must be pulling someones leg. I mean for a tram not to move while the lights are green????

  7. Interesting article. Re:Geelong’s 20 minute off-peak trains, you are correct. It’s in the brochure for the Geelong bus changes that trains will run every 20 minutes to South Geelong, and every 40 to Waurn Ponds.

    Regarding a current lack of capacity to through run Altona trains, I don’t see how that can be the case. They currently run Werribee, Williamstown and Altona/Laverton trains at short frequencies during peak hour, so I don’t see why its not possible off-peak with crappier frequencies. Either way, RRL will help.

    Hopefully with the changes we see Ballarat and Bendigo line trains speed up on the RRL track. Some trains are scheduled to take an absolutely ridiculous amount of time between Southern Cross and Footscray, to the point they are much slower than Werribee trains which have to stop twice between.

    Also hoping for more trains servicing Deer Park/Ardeer, especially from Geelong. The Wyndham-Brimbank corridor gets a lot of traffic, demonstrated by the congested country roads in between and the fairly good patronage of the terribly infrequent and long Rt400 bus.

  8. Should we now campaign for reopening at least a portion of the Queenscliff line?

    We could have services operated every 40 minutes. Trains would alternate between Waurn Ponds and Queenscliff lines?

  9. Is there still a ban on Locomotive hauled trains?

    My ears have picked up something a year or two ago, where due to noise issues, locomotive hauled trains shall be banned from this new route?

    Does anyone here have any updates on this?

  10. The next thing that needs to be done for the line is 25kv AC Electrification (+ Rolling stock) as I wouldn’t be surprised if the two new stations put extra load onto an all ready busy Geelong line.

  11. *single track past Geelong, not just South Geelong.

    Worth noting that the turnback south of Wyndham was a last-minute addition which means they probably won’t be running all trains all the way to Geelong.

    I expect that the Altona Loop services will be improved, but everyone’s afraid to announce it in case something goes horribly wrong, like the entire Siemens fleet needing to be withdrawn again or something like that.

    Service increases are also dependent on having enough drivers.

  12. One thing that has only just come to my mind.

    How many people are going to use the Metro service to Werribee and Hoppers crossing??

    When those same people have the choice of quicker and more comfortable V/Line trains from Tarneit and Wyndham vale stations??

  13. RRL1 – an extra track pair for Vline to Sunshine – good.

    RRL2 – $2 billion (I guess) for a line from Deer Park to West Werribee that serves only two stations and LENTHENS the route to Geelong by 10km – absurd.

    I have never seen any adequate cost benefit analysis or other justification for RRL2. If there is one in the public domain, please tell me where it is. The project appeared from nowhere in the c2008 Eddington report, and for some reason grew political legs from there. Possibly because it just happened to be on the table at about the time that the newly elected Commonwealth Labor government wanted to throw some money at a large rail project.

    Geelong line growth could have been handled by a much shorter and more direct line from RRL1 at Tottenham to Laverton, with a third track to Werribee. That really would have speeded up Geelong trains and separated them from Werribee trains in the peak direction (there is no particular problem with Geelong and Werribee trains sharing a track in the contrapeak direction). And maintained the useful train service from Werribee to Geelong. And cost a lot less.

    it’s tragic the way Australan governments waste infrastructure money because of politicised decision-making, when there are so many other important projects that it could have been spent on.

  14. So any news on a backflip so that the govt/PTV will ensure that *all* RRL trains stop at Sunshine so that V/Line passengers going to another country destination can alight at Sunshine and transfer to another RRL service without wasting time going further towards the city and then having to come out again? (For instance, a Woodend passenger whose destination is Werribee.)

  15. Good point L2 I go to the football at Geelong I will have to go from laverton to werribee to Wyndham vale then finally arrive South Geelong surely they can still run football special or the odd vline service stopping werribee imagine going from Geelong to Wyndham vale then werribee to get to work I think is going to not go down too well.

  16. Hey Dan,
    Good to see a blog with information impossible to find anywhere else.

    Would you know when it will be fully operating in April and also will the trains be stopping at W/Vale in the mornings to go to Geelong and going from Geelong to W/Vale in the evenings?
    I was planning on doing some studies in Geelong this year but with this new RRL, it might be better to wait until Semester 2 or maybe even defer it until next year due to all the confusion about it still to this day.

    Otherwise I might do some other small courses in the city instead where the changes won’t be much and know that the Werribee line won’t be changing too much any time soon.

    Just trying to wrap my head around it, the increased services sound good but who knows whether they will be reliable and the rest.

    Cheers :)

  17. “…V/Line get their act together at the city end to reduce or eliminate delays coming into Southern Cross”

    That’s a bit harsh and inaccurate I believe. All metropolitan track movements are controlled by Metro, hence they are not particularly motivated to prioritise V/Line services into Southern Cross.

    In the future, yes, there will be no excuse. But currently, there are significant mitigating factors for V/Line.

  18. The RRL tracks are already 100% V/Line controlled:

    http://wongm.com/2014/11/inconvenient-interchange-footscray-for-city-loop/comment-page-1/#comment-333391

    Since the North Melbourne Flyover was opened to passenger carrying services in July 2014, there are only a handful of interfaces between V/Line and Metro signalling – Seymour trains leaving Southern Cross, Geelong trains changing tracks at South Kensington, Bendigo trains merging at Sunshine, and any suburban trains using Southern Cross platform 8.

    This means all of the delays seen at Southern Cross today are due to V/Line mismanaging their assigned platforms.

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