Big rail spend brings us closer to what we really need

Big rail spend brings us closer to what we really need

Published 30 July 2016, The Courier, Ballarat.

In the biggest dedicated investment on the Ballarat to Melbourne train line since it was built in the 1880s, the state government has committed over half a billion dollars in this year’s budget for a range of upgrade works.

The allocation of $518 million is a good start, and we acknowledge that this has been achieved thanks to the efforts of key players working together. The funding will provide for a number of upgrades that will create much-needed additional passing opportunities, including new track duplications at Warrenheip and between Deer Park and Melton, three new passing loops, double platforms at Bacchus Marsh and Ballan, a platform extension at Rockbank, extra car parking at a number of stations, and additional VLocity trains.

But it’s just a start. It’s one step closer to what we really need – a fully duplicated line between Ballarat and Melbourne, increased capacity and more frequent services that take less than an hour to arrive in Melbourne.

It’s the latest in a number of investments in recent years. In 2005, the VLocity trains, capable of 160 km per hour, commenced operation. In 2014, the completion of the Regional Rail Link project saw the separation of metro and regional lines, which gave us a dedicated line from Deer Park to Southern Cross.

These large investments were highly valued but the question needs to be asked: “Have they improved the Ballarat commuter experience?”

The facts tell us they haven’t – travel times are slower, trains still run late (tough if you need to get to work on time), and trains are still overcrowded due to too few services during peak times.

According to V/Line, of the 5860 Melbourne-bound passengers each day, 2877, or almost half, travel in the morning peak times between 7.15 am and 9.15 am, and on the return trip, 3189, or more than half of the 6082 passengers, travel in the afternoon peak between 4 pm and 6 pm.

The key question remains: “Will these upgrades actually improve the user experience?”

The answer is mixed.

Yes, we should see travel times decrease on some of the non-peak services thanks to the new passing loops and double platforms.

Yes, we should see delays reduced when faults occur on the line, with trains able to “hop along” to the next passing loop or double platform.

Yes, we should see overcrowding reduced in the short term thanks to Ballarat getting its fair share of new VLocity trains, which would see extra carriages for peak services.

Yes, our Maryborough users should enjoy an improved experience thanks to a new service planned for the Maryborough–Ballarat leg.

However, to achieve any meaningful improvement for peak-time services, we need full line duplication; the current planned works will deliver only around 54 per cent duplication.

It’s not just about people travelling to Melbourne. Equally we want to bring people to Ballarat for education, work, sport and tourism.

We acknowledge the significance of these upgrades, which are major works and will take until 2019–20 to complete.

Meanwhile, Committee for Ballarat will not be resting.

We won’t stop advocating until we get 59 minutes maximum travel time for express services, more frequent and reliable services, and additional capacity that meets the rapidly increasing number of passengers using the service.

To this end, we will continue to lead the push until we get full duplication of our line.

Janet Dore
Chair of Committee for Ballarat