Regional Rail Link – details and timetables at last

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.

PTV RRL poster June 2015

Geelong line

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.

V/Line trains at Southern Cross

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

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.

Metro changes

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 map

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.

V/Line Map June 2015

Overall

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?

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33 thoughts on “Regional Rail Link – details and timetables at last”

  1. 1
    Simbera says:

    Pretty much in agreement with you on the train stuff above. Some massively bad changes to bus timetables in Ballarat though – the bus to the university (rt10 Buninyong) is no longer timed to suit uni class times (ie start and end on the hour or half-hour) and doesn’t seem to actually connect with trains better either!

  2. 2
    Roger says:

    Interesting that the PTV map has the airport Skybus marked on it (which isn’t part of public transport system) but misses many suburban railway lines (which are part of the public transport system). I wonder if the Skybus operators pay to have themselves on the PTV map?

  3. 3
    Sam says:

    Well written. Let’s hope the oddities are written out of the next timetable.
    In my opinion adding Wyndham Vale and Tarneit to the Geelong line is only going to lead to more over crowding and congestion but I guess time will tell.

  4. 4
    Campbell says:

    In the Nine News coverage of the unveiling, Jacinta Allen mentions that there will be additional Metro timetable changes at the end of the year – hopefully taking advantage of the additional capacity provided and making tweaks depending on how the loads turn out to be.

  5. 5
    Seph Murphy says:

    I was a bit disappointed with the Bendigo Timetable – no real changes outside of fixing the Footscray – Southern Cross 18 min crawl. I was hoping for at least an extra afternoon and morning service to Kyneton to help with the overcrowding that is currently there. No extra Services to Epsom or Eaglehawk either despite being promised. Hopefully extra rolling stock is allocated to deal with existing loads.

    I’m fairly certain Sunbury stops have been listed as restricted for quite a while now – just nobody listens to them. The PIDS at Sunbury already display ‘Vline Service not taking passengers’ so it will be interesting to see how this is enforced. Will vline trains be held at Sunbury until they all get off? I’ve seen a conductor do that before, it turned into a standoff which eventuated in the train leaving 10 minutes late with the passengers still onboard.

    I’m assuming the lack of new Bendigo services is based on no real changes to the Metro Network and Vline not being offered more paths, whereas on Ballarat and Geelong they can now do whatever they like.

  6. 6
    Tom the first and best says:

    Deer Park will get a big increase in Weekday patronage. Pity about the poor weekend service levels (not just for Deer Park, but the whole Geelong Line).

    Hopefully every 10 minutes to Newport is in the next timetable change.

    I notice that the PTV ad in this continues the station representations theme from the every 10 minutes on weekends ads.

  7. 7
    Tom the first and best says:

    Skybus would be on the regional map to encourage regional travellers to use it to get from Southern Cross to the airport.

  8. 8
    Roger says:

    #Tom: So regional commuters use the airport more than they use the suburban rail network. Really? Why not show the 901 Smart bus and Broadmeadows train line on the map (cost of trip to airport from SC using these is a max of $3.76).

  9. 9
    John of Melbourne says:

    Daniel: “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.”
    Errr, yes. Running faster is countered by the extra stops /and the longer route itself/.

    Seph Murphy: Sunbury and Pakenham have always been /announced/ by the PIDS as restricted, even though they weren’t. The timetable, however, has shown them as unrestricted. Sunbury was supposed to be restricted, but the Minister at the time it opened undermined that and effectively made it unrestricted, and that was later formalised.

    As far as enforcement is concerned, in theory it’s no different to the existing situation at other stations (Werribee, Dandenong, Footscray, etc.), except for the fact that it is a change from being unrestricted.

    Restricted stops means that more people end up on already-overcrowded suburban trains, and means that V/Line trains are taking pathways for far fewer passengers than a suburban train, even moreso than now. My understanding is that nobody likes this idea except for the Minister, who’s seat is Bendigo East, and of course the V/Line passengers who can now keep their bags on the adjacent seats instead of having to give them up for those horrid suburban passengers.

    I believe that there are also issues insofar as Sunbury is concerned, in that there are times of the day when they get an inferior service to the one they had before electrification (given that they no longer get Sunbury V/Line trains). I’m not sure on specifics there, though. And the V/Line services went some way to filling in the 40-minute and 60-minute gaps beyond Watergardens.

    And yes, Metro’s services were supposed to take advantage of the extra capacity at the same time, and this was planned by the previous government. The current government, however, had other ideas. Saving some money by deferring it may have had something to do with it.

  10. 10
    Marcus W says:

    When I lived in Geelong, catching a train all the way into Southern Cross then changing to the Skybus was never an option I considered – the express bus from Geelong to Melbourne Airport is much faster!

    By the looks of the Melbourne Airport website, there are also express buses from Ballarat, Bendigo, Gippsland and Shepparton, as well as a number of Melbourne suburbs:

    http://melbourneairport.com.au/to-from-the-airport/other-bus-services/other-buses.html

  11. 11
    Kathy says:

    I think the loss of the direct Werribee – Geelong connection will inconvenience quite a few people, but I appreciate that it’s probably more than offset by the gains in other areas. Anecdotally, living not far from Werribee, there are quite a few families in this whole Werribee-and-surrounds area that either live in W’bee / Hoppers and work / study in Geelong or the other way around. The train to bus changeover has been of particular concern to the parents of the hundred-odd school students who live in one place but study in the other. Still, no change is free of cost to someone, I guess.

  12. 12
    Michael says:

    There will also be a train to and from Bacchus Marsh every 30 minutes on weekdays during the day.

  13. 13
    Adam says:

    Further to Daniel’s point about there not being a timetable published for Deer Park services, (and Ardeer for that matter), the publication of a simple timetable indicating which trains passengers need to catch, and whether they are bound for Geelong, Ballarat or Bacchus Marsh will be essential if Deer Park residents are expected to make any sense of the significantly increased frequency of services.
    The new timetable, while greatly improving frequency, significantly reduces simplicity.
    There will now be an irregular mix of services stopping at Deer Park destined for Geelong South/Waurun Ponds/ Wendouree / Bacchus Marsh/ Melton in no particular order (in addition to various express services not stopping).
    Any unsuspecting traveller at Southern Cross Station will have no hope of working out what train to catch to which destination station, and even if they did follow a regular pattern, the average Jo/e commuter shouldn’t be expected to have to work it out.
    Wallet sized Southern Cross – Deer Park timetables would be a good start, but hopefully VLine will come up with a more accessible solution.
    (Please feel free to bang on about this to anybody who will care to listen, or anybody who has the ability to do anything about it)

  14. 14
    Mark says:

    Interesting about the continuing poor weekend frequencies.

    Over the past few years traffic on the roads has become increasingly worse on weekends, to the extent that I would say it’s often worse than on weekdays. This would lead one to the conclusion that more people are travelling on weekends nowadays.

    I wonder if this is at least partly because of the abysmal public transport service frequencies. I imagine to some extent it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy – the decision makers at PTV see that demand for PT on weekends is lower, so reason that there’s therefore no need to increase frequency. Whereas if they did provide commuters with sufficient incentive to use PT (by increasing frequency), you would most likely see an increase in demand.

    I also wonder if it has much to do with weekend penalty rates – perhaps the cost of running PT on weekends is simply too high to make frequent services economically viable. Does anyone have any information about this – what are the weekend penalty rates like for train/bus/tram drivers?

  15. 15
    Roger says:

    This week’s Leader newspapers in the western suburbs have full page ads for regional rail. So the message is spreading.

  16. 16
    Sir Robert Risson says:

    I love the spin on some of this crap. They’ve slowed the morning up Ararat by five minutes, despite gaining two minutes between Sunshine and Spencer St, and have it leaving Ararat 17 minutes earlier. A real joy for the people on the Horsham bus, now a pre 6am start. The spinners can’t even read the timetable they’re advertising the Ballarat departure time as the arrival time.

  17. 17
    John of Melbourne says:

    Mark, weekend services on the suburban trains at least are roughly equivalent to weekdays (outside the peak periods).

  18. 18
    Simbera says:

    Sir Robert Risson: I can’t comment on towns further down the line, but making the Ararat train get into Ballarat those few minutes earlier is a massive boon for people from Ararat and Beaufort. Makes getting to places in the CBD before 830, or places further out (that require a bus) by 9am, actually possible. Pretty poor form that they can’t read the timetable right, though, I agree.

    Marcus: Ballarat certainly does have one and it has been the default option for years, but it’s very infrequent at most times of the day, so depending on when you take off/land it can be quicker and easier to take the Skybus and then a train.

  19. 19
    Phillip says:

    What happened to all the changes to our tram routes that were rumoured to take effect this month?
    There were reports that 55 would be extended to Toorak to replace route 8.

  20. 20
    Campbell says:

    The tram changes that were rumoured were put on hold or canned a while ago. The only alteration to tram operations on the 21st will be that E-class trams will begin running out of Preston.

  21. 21
    Andrew says:

    It remains a puzzle to me that the Geelong train is not really any faster than when steam trains made the trip.

  22. 22
    Gobillino says:

    Campbell – where did you hear that they were canned/iced? There was never an official commencement date so far as I was aware, and I’ve never heard anything about Yarra Trams dropping the plan. There was some speculation that they might happen in association with RRL, but given the fact that the rail network timetable isn’t being comprehensively reviewed as part of RRL opening, I would assume that the tram changes might take effect with the next timetable rewrite.

  23. 23
    Tom the first and best says:

    Suburban services on weekend daytimes are the same as weekdays except on the Sandringham and Glen Waverley lines where they are worse and the Belgrave and Lilydale lines where they are better.

  24. 24
    L2 says:

    Also don’t forget that the Werribee line as far as Newport is half as frequent on weekends compared to during the week. Same frequencies beyond there but the express track doesn’t get used on a weekend.

  25. 25
    Daniel says:

    @Andrew – “the Geelong train is not really any faster than when steam trains made the trip.”

    Yes and no. The 1928 timetable shows the Flyer did indeed take an hour (63 minutes in fact) but that didn’t stop at any stations at all along the way. And the express at 4:45pm took 76 minutes, presumably due to track congestion.

    Stopping trains such as the 11am took 100 minutes – a lot longer than trains stopping at similar numbers of intermediate stations today.

  26. 26
    Shaun says:

    I think these new stations at Wyndham Vale & Tarneit are going prove very popular and attractive. 27mins from Tarneit to City is very good travel time, and easily beats the car. Decent frequencies which are better than some Metro services (ie Upfield). I think overcrowding may become a huge issue.

  27. 27
    Andrew says:

    I’ve seen a figure of 56 minutes, perhaps later than 1928. Yes, it did not stop along the way. Even so, the trip should be much quicker now with advances in signalling, trains and track technologies. A car trip to Geelong back in steam train days probably took double the time of what it does today.

  28. 28
    David says:

    I am worried about overcrowding. I don’t think people realise how many passengers who currently frequent Werribee and Hoppers Crossing stations are going to use the new rail link.
    I am disappointed trains will only run every 20 minutes at Tarneit station, even during peak times. Hopefully that will change as more rolling stock is built.

  29. 29
    FrankR says:

    Missed opportunities? I’ll say. I think you’re being too kind, Daniel. And too hopeful. There are no guarantees that they’re going to make any major changes: not in a few months, not even in a few years… Anyway, what would be their incentive to do so? There is none, other than to avoid a few grumblings from a small percentage of the train travelling public.

    Considering the billions spent on this infrastructure, they nobble it with no intention of running it well. But Victoria’s famous neglect to look after and its rail network effectively, isn’t it? I think we all fully expected a half-hearted effort from them.

    Along with the the Metro timetable changes needed, all three RRL V/Line lines — Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo — should stop at the brand new Sunshine station to allow the earliest interchanges for their passengers.

    (Perhaps if the people in the Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo corridors got up and protested about that, the govt *might* notice… )

    Maybe Daniel Andrews can be made aware of all the shortfalls. He does seem genuinely interested in improving Melbourne’s public transport system. Just need to prise him away from the do-littles in the DoT and get him to listen.

  30. 30
    FrankR says:

    Also, I wanted to add that the real reason the RRL was built — indeed any and all recent transport infrastructure in Victoria — is not to greatly improve the transport network, but merely to provide construction jobs while it is being built.

    We saw this with the East West Link, where the Liberal party’s main argument was that it would create X,000 jobs while being constructed. The usefulness of the East West Link was completely secondary. (And as we all know it wasn’t very useful at all!)

    The same with the RRL. They are not interested in running it properly. It need to only provide a lot of jobs for the big engineering firms while it was being built. And now that’s coming to a close.

    We shouldn’t effuse too much about this project. It may be the biggest rail project in Victoria since the City Loop, but it’s really just a rail line running through the outer suburban fringe without really bothering to put in enough train services to make it worth the $5 billion spent on it.

    It’s the Victorian culture of infrastructure-funding-as-economic-stimulus that needs to change.

  31. 31
    Bruce Willaton says:

    Interestingly, Geelong & Ballarat lines can change at Sunshine but Bendigo passengers can’t.

  32. 32
    fFrankR says:

    @Bruce Willaton – You mean that Bendigo trains can’t stop at Sunshine, or that they won’t let them stop at Sunshine? Up until the Sunbury electrification opened in November 2012, there were 90 Bendigo trains stopping at Sunshine every week.

  33. 33

    […] biggest change in this time is that the Regional Rail Link project was completed, giving trains from Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong their own tracks through suburban Melbourne. […]

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