This plan got splashed onto the Age front page on Friday:
Of course if you were paying very, very careful attention, this wasn’t a complete surprise. The eventual shift of Geelong trains back to Newport and the Metro 2 tunnel was included in a document leaked in 2018, and has been floating around as a way of helping capacity constraints for the proposed Airport line.
So what do we know? Nobody official is willing to speak on-the-record, but as far as I can make out, the proposal is:
- New express tracks from Werribee to Newport for Geelong trains (it appears the recent Aviation Road bridge includes provision for this)
- Geelong trains would then join Werribee trains to run through the proposed Metro 2 tunnel underneath the Yarra, to Fishermans Bend (one or two stations, probably two) then to Southern Cross
- Werribee trains continue through the City via Flagstaff, Parkville, Carlton and Fitzroy then through to the Mernda line
- Geelong trains also continue through the City with stabling around the vicinity of Thornbury
- There’d be a rejig of Newport station and surrounds to separate the Werribee and Geelong trains (heading into the tunnel) from the Laverton/Altona Loop and Williamstown trains (heading to the City via Yarraville and Footscray)
- Geelong trains using the tunnel obviously need to be electric, not diesel. This means either the tracks need to be electrified all the way to Geelong, or a bi-modal (diesel and electric) train fleet used for Geelong services.
What about other lines?
This proposed change would mean Wyndham Vale and Tarneit would be served by local services – hopefully electrified along with the Melton line (and separate Ballarat express tracks) to provide higher frequency, higher capacity trains than at present.
The Werribee line could be extended slightly to provide interchange with the Wyndham Vale line, assisting connectivity.
(It’s unclear how the Suburban Rail Loop would interact with the Wyndham Vale line given SRL is meant to be a standalone railway. My view is the SRL, when eventually built, should go by a completely different route, helping to spark transit-oriented development in the outer west.)
Long distance Warrnambool trains would either need to terminate in Geelong, requiring passengers to change services, or run to Melbourne on the aboveground line via Wyndham Vale and Sunshine.
How fast would it be from Geelong to Melbourne?
The fastest current inbound service is scheduled to take 58 minutes – the 7:50am from Geelong, stops at North Geelong, North Shore, Corio, Lara, then express to Wyndham Vale, express to Sunshine, Footscray, Southern Cross. But most inbound trains take around 70 minutes, with more stations served.
Let’s assume trains with similar patterns instead will stop at Werribee (for connections) then two stops in Fishermans Bend and then Southern Cross, and assume they could maintain a maximum speed of 160 km/h as far as Newport, then 80 in the tunnel.
- Geelong to Werribee would take about 25 mins, same as the above train to Wyndham Vale
- Werribee to Newport (21km) would take about 8 mins, plus 1 min for the stop at Werribee = 9 mins
- Newport to Southern Cross with two stops along the way, say about 9 mins
- That’s 43 minutes in all, with 7 intermediate stops in all. Quite a bit faster than today (a 26% time saving), and that’s without pushing the maximum speed over 160.
- That’s also assuming the new trains would have similar acceleration and braking to the current V/Locity fleet. But electric trains could be quite a bit better.
Pros and cons
Advantages of this plan (particularly over the Sunshine to City tunnel idea)
- Speeds up Geelong to Melbourne services quite a lot – without the enormous expense and disruption of completely re-engineering the line for actual High Speed Rail
- Relieves capacity on the RRL line – which serves Wyndham Vale, Ballarat/Melton, and Bendigo – and may provide enough relief to run Airport trains as well, especially if Melton and Wyndham Vale become Metro services using the suburban tracks
- Avoids disruptive track amplification between Deer Park and Wydham Vale – apparently some bridges and cuttings need work to handle 4 tracks
- Speeds up Werribee and Mernda suburban services and provides access to Fishermans Bend, Carlton, Fitzroy as well as capacity on the Werribee, Altona, Williamstown, Mernda and Hurstbridge lines – see this article last year on other benefits of Metro 2
- Potential for a bus/train interchange in Fitzroy so that DART/Eastern Freeway bus passengers can complete their CBD commute by train rather than slow buses stuck in traffic (leaving aside potential for a Doncaster train)
- Fast cross-town connections from the west could include one-seat journeys for trips such as Geelong to Flagstaff or Parkville – and indeed from the Geelong/Werribee corridor to Fishermans Bend, currently a big weakness of public transport compared to driving
- New underground platforms and pathways at Southern Cross could help relieve passenger congestion there
The are a few disadvantages of course.
- Despite what The Age’s article says, I think there’s no way you’d send Geelong trains back via Newport without a tunnel for them to reach the City
- It’d be expensive. Tunnels never come cheap
- Does not inherently speed up the Ballarat and Bendigo lines, though the capacity boost would have a positive effect on punctuality
- Mixing Geelong and Werribee trains on the same tunnel tracks may have issues. Probably made a lot easier if there are 4 platforms at Southern Cross to help deal with CBD dwell times
- Ditto Geelong and longer distance trains if they end up sharing some of the same tracks
- Equally, capacity on the Sunshine to City corridor needs to be carefully managed, especially if Airport trains join the mix
- If sticking to maximum speeds of 160 km/h, it postpones the development of actual high speed rail
What have I missed?
Tunnel vs tunnel
I’m sure the debate will continue between the merits of a Sunshine to City tunnel against other proposals, including Geelong via Metro 2.
Some of the arguments coming from the Committee for Ballarat are a little odd – including repeated claims that their trains get caught behind slow Metro services – something that hasn’t happened since 2015 when RRL opened.
In a discussion on Twitter with a Ballarat Courier journo, it was clarified that the paper at least is referring to outer-suburban V/Line stations between Sunshine and Melton. This is an important issue, but not one resolved by a Sunshine to City tunnel – it’s better fixed by track quadruplication between Sunshine and Melton – something also needed for the Bendigo line between Sunshine and Sunbury. And further cutting travel times can be achieved by duplicating the rest of the line to remove single track bottlenecks.
Compared with the Sunshine tunnel proposal, a key advantage of Metro 2 is that it doesn’t just parallel existing tracks – it expands the footprint of the heavy rail network, which is why I think it’s a better plan.
For these expensive projects, the more boxes they tick, the better.