About a year ago, a group of us from the PTUA went on a tour of the Regional Rail Link, a massive 50 kilometre-long rail project providing new tracks from Southern Cross, via Footscray and Sunshine, then along a new corridor through Melbourne’s new outer-western suburbs to West Werribee.
The project will provide extra track capacity for V/Line trains on the Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo lines into the city — in other words, the bulk of V/Line services into Melbourne — but will also allow more trains on the busy Werribee and Sunbury lines.
A few weeks ago we did part two of the tour, to look progress in the last 12 months, which has been considerable. The project is expected to finish up in 2015, about a year earlier than previously expected.
The city end
At Southern Cross, new platforms 15+16 went into service in December last year, primarily for Geelong trains. As noted last year, platform 16 is outside the glass, but it’s still undercover, and passengers seem to be surviving so far.
The works have resulted in a greatly simplified track layout between Southern Cross and North Melbourne, and a lot of wiring and signalling has apparently been ripped out and replaced, which over time should cut signal faults in the area.
Apart from into Southern Cross 15+16, extra track has been provided from the existing flyover into platforms 1 to 8. This resulted in widening of the bridge so it almost touches Festival Hall — art has been installed at ground level recognising some of the music history of the Hall.
Along the street nearby, noise barriers are going up — in fact this is now a common sight along the project where housing is nearby to the new and existing tracks along the line.
At North Melbourne, you can get a good view of the new tracks into Southern Cross (both the ground level and revamped flyover) from the new(ish) concourse.
Alas, RRL trains won’t stop at North Melbourne, though there is space for platforms to be provided later to serve the ground level tracks into Southern Cross 15+16. We don’t yet know how many trains will use each set of tracks, but if trains from specific lines consistently use the ground level tracks, it would then be possible to stop at least those trains there, for connections to Metro services and the very popular 401 bus. Platforms serving the flyover tracks would be a great deal more difficult to construct.
Along the rail corridor from North Melbourne to Footscray, it’s now possible to see the bridge over the Maribyrnong river, which along with the rest of the new track as far as Sunshine, has just come into use. West of the river, these new RRL tracks have a flyover to get over the Werribee line tracks, so V/Line trains can cross to the middle platforms at Footscray without causing any delays.
At Footscray, works seem to be largely complete. The two new platforms (1+2) for Sunbury line trains have been in use for some months, and the bridge extension is finished (along with weatherproofing improvements), providing escalators, new ramps to accompany the lifts and stairs. Having used Footscray a few times in the past few months, it’s pleasing that most of the locals have worked out the Melbourne escalator etiquette of standing on the left so those in a hurry can walk past on the right.
The RRL platforms, now known as 3+4, have been extended, like all platforms on the new line, to allow for much longer V/Line trains in the future. 4 is a little bit curved at the western end by necessity due to the confined space, though given V/Line trains have conductors to verify a safe departure, one wouldn’t expect this would be a problem.
Notably, drainage is built into all the platforms at Footscray and the other renovated or rebuilt stations, with a slight slope away from the tracks.
Yes, after decades of building stations so water simply drains onto the tracks, the standard has changed This has been the case for some decades now, and is good for safety, given some highly-publicised incidents of unsecured prams rolling off platforms recently.
Although booking offices and so on are at ground level, the bridge includes some concourse elements, including Myki machines and gates for platforms 2 and 3. The Passenger Information Displays (PIDs) are also in place, though at present only showing four departures at once — I’m told they are looking at solutions to show information for all 6 platforms — possibly separate screens for the V/Line-only platforms 3 and 4.
The heritage buildings at Footscray are being completely restored. This has involved a lot of work, in part because of termites, but if restoration work done at Windsor a couple of years ago is any guide, they should look terrific when finished.
As with many of the other new and rebuilt stations, the bike cage has been provided underneath a staircase, making good use of the space.
The doughnut seller has a new kiosk which opened for the first time on a couple of weeks ago. It’s lacking the trademark-defying dodgy upside-down Olympic logo of the old caravan — not that it matters. But you can tell it’s the same doughnut vendor because the dolphin jam dispenser is back.
As I wrote in December, West Footscray station has been completely rebuilt, but is looking even nicer now than when I last saw it, thanks to murals built into the bridge, and a few more splashes of colour around the place.
The ramps have been connected to the local bicycle network — apparently they were built to be a full metre wider than the required station ramp standard of 1.8 metres, to make it easier for cyclists to pass each other. Provision is there for a future upgrade of the station to premium status, and thanks to solar panels and rainwater harvesting, West Footscray has gained a 4-star sustainability rating.
We didn’t stop at Tottenham station, but there has been work on the road underpass, and there’s some rather nice murals around the station entrance now which it’s hoped will deter tagging.
Sunshine station, which is becoming a very important interchange, has been completely rebuilt — in fact apparently just about the only remaining feature of the old station is a retaining wall on platform 1. The old dingy subway is gone, replaced by an overpass/concourse with booking office, waiting room, and fare gates.
It looks good — though very grey from some angles.
Northwest of Sunshine, the Ballarat/Geelong and Bendigo lines converge at a junction. This is at-grade, but apparently there’s provision for a future Melton electrification project to include an overpass to allow Melton trains to pass under these lines to connect to the Sunbury tracks. In the mean time, space has been provided for Bendigo trains to wait, clear of both the Ballarat/Geelong line and the Sunbury line.
Level crossings on two sections of Anderson Road have been grade separated as part of the project.
Following along the line towards Deer Park, more noise walls are in evidence, as well as automatic pedestrian gates at the crossings, which hopefully should prevent accidents such as the fatal one in 2008 involving a pedestrian at one of those crossings.
The new line
West of Deer Park, the new Geelong line branches off the Ballarat line. Near the future Caroline Springs station there’s a new road bridge over the Ballarat line, providing additional road access into the area.
A “consolidation train” was running between Deer Park and West Werribee most of that particular weekend, to apply weight to the new tracks, as part of (literally) bedding down.
Tarneit station was closed up, but at a glance much of it appears to be nearing completion.
Wyndham Vale station
We did get to have a good look around Wyndham Vale station, which looks rather good. Sunk into the ground, it’s currently got two platforms, for V/Line trains, but also has provision for another two tracks in the future, allowing electric trains to come through from Werribee and terminate there. In the short term though, that connection is expected to be provided by buses.
There are also points nearby to allow V/Line to provide short-starting services from there into the city, and would also presumably provide a termination point during major disruptions.
Works at the station seem to be almost complete. The track is in, the basic building structure is there, the lighting and so on is installed. We saw Myki equipment ready to go in, and even the waiting room has its chairs.
At ground level next to the concourse is an extensive bus interchange — it sounds like numerous routes in the area will converge here. There are stairs and ramps down to the platforms.
For anybody who’d fancy working at one of the new stations, V/Line is advertising for “Services Officers” at Wyndham Vale and Tarneit — 5 full time positions at each station.
The line continues south to West Werribee (aka Manor) junction, where it connects with the existing Geelong line. The entire line from Geelong through to somewhere just west of Sunshine is engineered to allow trains at 160 kmh, so for express services, my thinking is the running time should be similar to now, despite the longer distance.
At the junction, the existing track between Werribee and Geelong has been slewed to get around the new overpass (needed to prevent delays between V/Line trains and freight and passenger trains on the standard gauge line to Adelaide) — this track is now down to 80 kmh, though given it appears few trains will continue using it after next year, this wouldn’t appear to be a huge problem.
Completion next year
It seems the project is running much earlier than expected, in part to the major shut downs which over the past couple of years (including the one just finished), meaning more has been able to be done each time the existing train service is disrupted. This in turn has resulted in huge money savings — for instance some of the funds saved are going into the St Albans grade separation project. So despite some pain for existing passengers on the affected lines, there seem to have been good outcomes for taxpayers — more bang per buck.
And while there have been some problems with the project in the initial design phase, there are undoubtedly benefits in terms of capacity to run extra trains on both V/Line and Metro to the western suburbs lines, with fewer delays.
Parts of the new line from Sunshine to the City have started to be used by V/Line trains (though some trains are arriving early, as the timetables don’t really take the quicker trip into account).
It looks like the full project will be completed next year.
And I for one look forward to my next visit to Footscray station for a doughnut.
PS. Just to prove we were properly authorised and equipt to look around the construction zone at Wyndham Vale: here is bad dorkie selfie of me in high-vis. Thanks to the Regional Rail Link authority for the tour.
Updates/corrections: Some minor changes made to the text tense, because some was written a couple of weeks ago.