I’ve been watching The Killing Season, the story of Labor and the switches in power between Rudd and Gillard. It’s really good, and episode one goes into some detail about the Global Financial Crisis, and the Rudd/Swan stimulus packages (two of them, totalling almost $60 billion) to fight it off.
The stimulus package was intended to spend money fast — the school halls and home insulation programs were evidence of that — some good outcomes from better school infrastructure and improved energy efficiency in thousands of homes, but fundamentally rushed and poorly planned.
Something that people might have forgotten is that Regional Rail Link was funded as part of the stimulus package. The Victorian government bureaucracy had been throwing the idea of a “Tarneit bypass” for the Geelong line for some years, in association with extending the Urban Growth Boundary to to encompass it.
If the GFC hadn’t happened, and if RRL hadn’t been close enough to ready to go (despite it being described later as costed on the back of an envelope) it may not have happened. Or at least, it might still be on the drawing board, perhaps overtaken by the Metro rail tunnel.
Even with the haphazard pre-planning — and for years the PTUA tried without success to get answers on the proposed changes to train schedules as part of it — it’s turned out well, perhaps far more so than the school halls and home insulation.
There are similar travel times from Geelong, despite the longer distance. Yes, they could have prioritised faster express trains, but these eat up track capacity, reduce frequency/service to skipped stations, and save little time (a minute or two per station). Thankfully, lessons have been learnt since the Regional Fast Rail project’s “flagship” trains — which were a near-pointless attempt to provide a single fast train per day from the commuter-belt into Melbourne. There’s some express running, but regular, more frequent services are far more valuable to users.
Importantly, the new stations (plus Deer Park) in the growth areas get decent rail services (at least on weekdays), with trains every 20 minutes most of the day, and timed connections to and from a re-designed local bus network.
I went along to the Wyndham Vale station open day on Saturday. It was very busy, with obviously a lot of interest from the locals, and (as at the opening of Lynbrook some years ago, overheard some saying they planned to start using the trains to get to work).
And there’s finally been some promotion of the new line, with flyers going to locals, and extensive newspaper advertising. (Now, when will they tell the Melburnians that trains run every 20 minutes to Geelong on weekdays?)
There are niggles: connections to Werribee and North Melbourne may be difficult for some passengers.
And crowding may be an issue at peak times for trains originating in Geelong and serving Wyndham Vale and Tarneit — hopefully PTV and V/Line will monitor this carefully and deploy extra carriages as they become available.
Indeed, the Wyndham Vale Leader says the 6:31am from South Geelong (7:10am at Tarneit) was looking pretty crowded this morning:
— Wyndham Leader (@WyndhamLeader) June 21, 2015
The separation of V/Line and Metro should help with the reliability of both, and provides extra capacity. But on the Metro side of the fence, almost none of this is being used yet. (From what I understand, they have enough metro trains available to do a lot more.)
On Metro, and elsewhere, numerous changes were expected with this timetable change, but have apparently been postponed until later in the year:
- Wholesale re-write of the Sunbury and Werribee lines to take into account the removal of V/Line services from the majority of those lines — that is, timings due to previous congestion, and extra services on both (bar the two extra Werribee trains)
- Postponing adding extra Sunbury services appears to be behind not enforcing the ban on using V/Line between Melbourne and Sunbury/Pakenham, due to the gaps of up to 40-60 minute between metro services at Sunbury. (Pakenham is okay in this regard; it’s every 20 minutes most of the time.)
- Restoration of direct trains to the City for Altona Loop services on weekdays off-peak hasn’t happened
- The new rail map is delayed, meaning the two newest suburban stations aren’t on metropolitan rail maps for now, and we’re stuck with the old confusing map
- Flagstaff was going to open on weekends — not yet!
- Numerous changes to the tram network were also held over
Hopefully it’s full steam ahead on these important upgrades to keep the network improving.