Along some of the main freeways coming into Melbourne, you’ll spot signage for Parkway stations.
This now outmoded branding originated with the Regional Fast Rail project.
Regional Fast Rail project
Back in the mid-2000s, the Victorian government was revamping V/Line, via the RFR project, which updated the infrastructure and the fleet, introducing the V/Locity trains.
The RFR project also brought higher speeds (up to 160 km/h) to the shorter distance (commuter belt) part of the network, from Melbourne out to Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, and Traralgon.
It wasn’t perfect. The Seymour line missed out on many of the upgrades. And they foolishly converted much of the Bendigo line to single track, slashing line capacity.
But the project helped bring much of the infrastructure up to modern standards. And while splashing the cash on infrastructure, they were sensibly planning service upgrades to help boost patronage.
And so with the RFR project came beefed up timetables with better frequencies.
In 2007 they implemented fare price cuts. Most journeys got a 20% price cut, and some stations were pegged to zone 3 fares (Lara, Wallan and
Melton Bacchus Marsh among them) which became zone 2 fares when zone 3 was deleted. The subsequent 2015 price cut has led to big discrepancies, with a journey from Melbourne to Lara ($4.50) being a fraction of the cost of a journey to the next station, Corio ($12.20 peak/$8.54 off-peak).
Alongside the fare cuts was the rollout of Myki. It was repeatedly delayed, but once finally running, made it far easier to catch a V/Line train within the commuter belt without having to first queue to buy a ticket.
Aside from timetables and fare changes, they introduced the parkway stations.
The Parkway name appears to have been an idea picked up from the Brits. British Rail first opened Bristol Parkway station in 1972 -actually named after the nearby M32 motorway known as the Bristol Parkway, not originally a reference to park and ride, though it quickly gained that meaning as more of them opened).
The Victorian Government expanded car parks at a number of stations, and branded them Parkways – putting these signs on the motorways to attract motorists driving towards Melbourne.
“Parkways are designed to relieve congestion by making it easier for travellers to park their car and connect with public transport services.”
Features of the new Bacchus Marsh Parkway include:
Upgraded and extended car parking; andVictorian Government: 160 Extra Car Parking Spaces For Bacchus Marsh Parkways, 24 January 2008
New roadside signage
In terms of the strategy of a wide range of improvements, there’s some logic here – and you’d have to say the mix of measures to attract passengers actually worked – 2020 is obviously an exception, but in recent years, V/Line patronage has gone through the roof – from 11.3 million passenger trips in 2004-05 to 25.9 million fifteen years later.
When you introduce new faster trains, improve timetable frequencies and cut fares, you get more passengers. Who knew!
Parkways: UK vs Victoria
There’s a key difference between Victoria’s Parkway stations and the originals. In Britain they’re usually new stations – built on existing lines, where land is available for car parks, and near motorways. Sometimes they have been opened on the sites of former closed stations. But they haven’t been applied to stations in the middle of towns. The idea seems to be to avoid adding to traffic levels in towns.
V/Line’s parkways didn’t do this. They took existing stations, in existing towns, and expanded their role for park and ride passengers.
Britain’s parkway stations also tend to have far more train services than V/Line’s – though January’s timetable changes will be a good upgrade in the right direction.
As I’ve written many times, park and ride in urban areas is very problematic. Rather than expand the public transport network into car land, it does the reverse, often resulting in traffic snarls in local suburbs, and undermining feeder buses, walking and cycling and efficient land use. It’s also extraordinarily expensive, and no expansion ever quashes the calls for more.
But park and ride is defensible in regional and urban fringe areas where land is cheap, distances to reach the stations are often impractical by walking or cycling, and low density populations make good feeder buses less viable.
Whether the current locations of V/Line’s big station carparks are right, or whether these “Parkway stations” add to a long stream of town traffic, is a good question. It might vary site by site – just as it does for Metro’s station car parks.
So how are Victorian “Parkway” stations different to other stations with car parks? They’re not really.
It’s just branding, which is why you won’t find many references to Parkway stations around the place these days. Just the old signs on the freeways.