In today’s Age, former National Party leader and Deputy PM Tim Fischer is quoted as saying the new Regional Rail Link should have had a flyover where the Geelong and Ballarat lines converge.
And due to congestion, trains sometime have to wait for five minutes for the track to be clear, he said.
“Nobody builds major commuter junctions anywhere in the world without grade separation. It has now become choke-point Charlie.”
He has a point.
Flat junctions mean trains often have to wait for each other. RRL has three: that one, where the Bendigo line joins them at Sunshine, and another just northwest of that where the Bendigo line connects with the Sunbury line. (In the long term you’d think those lines would need to be separated… I hope the level crossing removals underway in St Albans have future provision for that.)
But as always it’s not just infrastructure, it’s also operations.
On my little jaunt to Geelong a few Saturdays ago, coming back I noticed our train slowed before joining the Ballarat line. And as shown in the photo above, a train from Ballarat was also approaching… it slowed and waited for us.
The train I was on leaves Tarneit at 15:27, runs express through Deer Park and Ardeer, getting to Sunshine at 15:39.
The Ballarat train we saw leaves Rockbank at 15:26, Deer Park 15:38, Ardeer 15:41, Sunshine 15:44.
Given the extra stops, it’d be reasonable to assume the Ballarat train is timed to arrive at the junction within 2-3 minutes of the Geelong train.
The timestamp on the photo, which hopefully is accurate, is 15:35.
It gets worse: another outbound Ballarat train is due out of Deer Park at 15:35.
This was a weekend, when both those lines run hourly. Why on earth would these trains be timetabled like that, within a few minutes of each other?
In this case the train from Geelong delayed an inbound Ballarat train, but running late could easily delay Ballarat trains in both directions… every hour, every weekend.
(It also makes for a very poor connection at Sunshine for people travelling Geelong to Ballarat… almost an hour’s wait. Spacing them out, and stopping Geelong trains at Deer Park etc as on weekdays, would also help improve the service for those growing suburbs.)
So Mr Fischer makes a good point needing to invest to avoid congestion — flat junctions cause problems, as does single track — but some of it is avoidable through a little more thought in the timetables.