Bendigo

Extra funding for Bendigo and Echuca Line upgrades

An improved electronic train ordering system will be installed on the Bendigo and Echuca Line, after the Victorian and federal governments agreed to a $300 million funding boost.

The modernised train ordering system will be a first for Victoria and enable fast and more frequent services to Echuca and more services between Epsom, Eaglehawk and Bendigo.

Bendigo and the surrounding region will benefit from over three times the number of week-day return services to Echuca, one more than what was previously promised.

The electronic train ordering system will use the existing telecommunication networks and radio equipment in use on V/Line trains, improving safety and frequency.

Once deployed on the Echuca Line, the technology could be rolled out across the entire V/Line network.

Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan said that the improvements would lift the region’s economy.

“These critical upgrades will mean better services for passengers while creating jobs and providing a much- needed boost to the regional economy through and beyond the pandemic,” she said.

In addition to the train ordering system, ten level crossings between Eaglehawk and Bendigo will be upgraded with improved train detection technology. This technology will make the level crossings safer while allowing more services to run.

The $300m funding boost is in addition to other improvements being carried out on the regional rail line. Three new stations at Goornong, Raywood, and Huntley will be constructed to allow Metro-style services between Bendigo and surrounding communities.

“This extra funding will get shovels in the ground faster – delivering more trains more often for Bendigo and Echuca passengers,” said Allan.

The combined funding increases the total investment in Victoria’s regional rail network, under the Regional Rail Revival banner, to over $2 billion.

Federal Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure Alan Tudge said the funding would enable better connections between Victoria’s cities and regions.

“This funding will significantly boost the Regional Rail Revival Package, helping to improve conditions for train passengers on their journeys to and from Melbourne.”

Australasian Railway Association CEO Caroline Wilkie said that it was heartening to see rail recognised as a sector that can support long-term economic recovery.

“It is good to see funding for projects that will provide an immediate boost to our economy while also supporting long term value for the community,” said Wilkie.

Further work on the Bendigo Echuca Line upgrade will look into improving the frequency of services between Bendigo and Kyneton, and the reopening of Harcourt station.

Melbourne Metro Train. Photo: Creative Commons / Zed Fitzhume

Performance figures in May outstrip April records in Victoria

The performance and punctuality of Victoria’s rail transport network improved again in May.

With April seeing some of the highest figures for on-time running and availability, May’s results were a step further.

Across all metrics except for tram reliability figures were higher in May than in April.

According to Metro Trains Melbourne, these figures were the result of a quieter network in May due to work from home restrictions imposed due to coronavirus (COVID-19). Patronage across the network decreased in May.

“We’re always striving to do better and this focus will support us as trains return to more normal patronage levels,” said a Metro spokesperson.

Train services in May were on time 96.2 per cent of the time, while 94.3 per cent of trams were on time and 92.8 per cent of regional trains were on time.

For reliability, 99.1 per cent of scheduled train services were delivered in May, while 98.6 tram services were delivered and 97.4 per cent of regional trains were delivered.

For V/Line services, the most reliable short distance line was the Seymour line, while the most punctual were services on the Geelong line. On the long distance lines, all Swan Hill & Echuca and Bairnsdale services were delivered, while services on the Warrnambool line were the most punctual.

Delays caused by people getting on and off services dropped due to fewer people on the Melbourne network, while trespassing and vandalism also fell.

With some restrictions in Victoria beginning to ease, transport operators are asking passengers to keep each other safe.

“Our priority is improving performance and delivering a reliable service for those who depend on our trains, so they can get to where they need to go,” said a Metro spokesperson.

infrastructure

Warrnambool line sleeper replacement works brought forward

Upgrades on the Warrnambool line have been brought forward, with works to begin on June 9.

The works involve the replacement of 27,000 timber sleepers with concrete sleepers at a cost of $8.1 million.

V/Line staff and contractors will work through the night in 10-day blocks to renew the line. The work will be focussed on the section of the line between Colac and Waurn Ponds after other upgrade works were done in late 2018 and early 2019 on the section between Warrnambool and Colac.

Although the works will be conducted at night, trains will run slower than normal after the works are complete to allow the sleepers to bed down. Some trains will be replaced by buses. Freight services will operate as normal.

Once works are complete, Minister for Public Transport Melissa Horne said that passengers would enjoy a smoother ride.

“These works help to ensure V/Line can continue to offer a safe, reliable and comfortable experience for passengers who rely on the service.”

The sleepers are being produced by Austrack at their Avalon facility.

“This project is not only going to benefit south-western Victorian public transport users but is supporting local business to get the job done,” said Member for Western Victoria Gayle Tierney.

The Victorian government has been carrying out sleeper replacement works on other regional lines, including a $16.1m program on the Bendigo line that used 48,000 concrete sleepers.

Sleepers replaced ahead of schedule on Bendigo line

Sleeper replacement works have been completed ahead of schedule on the Bendigo line.

50 workers worked around the clock to replace 48,000 timber sleepers with concrete sleepers, to improve reliability and comfort on the regional Victorian line that connects Bendigo, Echuca, and Swan Hill.

The concrete sleepers were locally made in Avalon, and work began in January.

The $16.1 million project is part of a wider $103m investment in maintenance across the V/Line regional network to be rolled out during this financial year.

Minister for Public Transport Melissa Horne said that the project benefits the whole of the state.

“We’re getting on with upgrading vital regional rail infrastructure right across the state – improving services and creating jobs,” she said.

Member for Bendigo East and Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan said that locals will be able to rely on improved services.

“This massive project will mean Bendigo locals who rely on V/Line services get the service they deserve.”

Regional maintenance works on Victoria’s train lines have been given an extra $90.5m boost as part of the $2.7 billion building blitz, announced on May 18, which includes sleeper replacement elsewhere on the network. Safety precautions are being taken across the state on all infrastructure projects to minimise the chance of transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Travellers on the Bendigo line are now back to the regular timetable, however some rail milling works continue until Friday, June 5.

“This massive $16.1 million upgrade has been completed months ahead of schedule, meaning locals will have access to smoother rides sooner,” said Bendigo West MP, Maree Edwards.

Victorian

Victorian transport operators exceed all performance and reliability targets

Victorian public transport operators have exceeded all punctuality and reliability targets in April.

The figures were some of the highest in the past year, and some operators recorded the highest results since data was being measured.

The results were largely due to fewer people on the network and fewer disruptions due to stay at home directives issues by the Victorian government to limit the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), according to a statement from Metro Trains Melbourne.

“A quieter network means more trains are able to get to their destinations sooner, which is important for the Melburnians who still depend on our services.”

A Department of Transport spokesperson also acknowledged the impact of fewer people in the transport system.

“The lower patronage on the public transport network combined with fewer cars on the road has resulted in an improvement in punctuality for our trains and trams in April,” said the spokesperson.

“The improved result was also due to a reduction in incidents, such as track and infrastructure faults and ill passengers on the network.”

Metropolitan train services were punctual 96.2 per cent of the time, and 99 per cent of services were delivered. This exceeded the respective 92 and 98.5 per cent targets.

Metro Trains Melbourne said that there were fewer incidents on the network during April, which also improved performance.

“In April we saw fewer faults impacting our trains and equipment meaning a more reliable journey for passengers,” the operator said in a statement.

“There were also fewer disruptions caused by weather events, trespassers and police operations.”

Regional train services were similarly above targets, with 92.1 per cent on time and 97.4 per cent of services delivered. The most reliable short distance line was the Seymour Line with 99.1 per cent of services delivered and the most punctual were services on the Geelong line.

Of the long-distance lines, Warrnambool, Albury/Wodonga, Swan Hill and Echuca, and Shepparton lines all saw 100 per cent of services delivered. The most on time services were on the Warrnambool line, with 99.3 per cent delivered within 10 minutes and 59 seconds of the scheduled time.

The punctuality of tram services was well above the 82 per cent target, with 93.8 per cent of services arriving on time. 99.2 per cent of services were delivered, exceeding to 98.5 per cent target. Both figures were the highest for the past 12 months.

Victorian

Design released for locally-made new VLocity sets

The design of the new VLocity trains for the North East line in Victoria have been released.

The new model will be manufactured by Bombardier at its Dandenong workshops, said Minister for Public Transport, Melissa Horne.

“These new trains will be the first VLocitys to run on standard gauge tracks on Victoria’s regional network and will provide North East line passengers with a more comfortable and reliable train journey,” said Horne.

Features of the new trains include built in USB chargers, six luggage racks and overhead luggage storage, a modern catering facility, and six wheelchair spaces with companion seats nearby. Three bike racks will be installed, as well as four shared tables so groups can sit together. The design also includes accessibility improvements so that transport is accessible to people of all abilities.

The units will be manufactured in three car sets which can run coupled together for a six carriage train. Todd Garvey, director sales & marketing Australia for Bombardier, said the company has utilised its local knowledge and expertise.

“Bombardier is proud to support the Andrews Government by manufacturing these new standard gauge trains for North-East Victoria, in Victoria, using our local supply chain. Our operations in Dandenong employ over 500 people and we are the only business in Australia that can build trains and trams from end-to-end right here in Melbourne. We are fortunate to have a strong, talented workforce and a facility that can deliver for Victoria.”

The new design was developed in consultation with the community in North East Victoria, said Member for Northern Victoria, Jaclyn Symes.

“The feedback from local passenger groups, accessibility advocates, local government and tourism representatives has been fantastic, and central to the design process – I thank everyone who contributed.”

Once the $235 million upgrade to the North East Line is complete, the new trains will run on the standard gauge line. Current services to Albury are hauled by N class locomotives as the rest of the V/Line VLocity fleet are designed for Victoria’s broad gauge network.

Regional rail improvement works about to begin

A $3.9 million package of maintenance and improvement works is kicking off on the Ballarat, Ararat, and Maryborough lines.

The works will begin on Wednesday, April 22, and continue until Sunday, May 3 and involve a works crew of 90 to complete the major infrastructure upgrades. Minister for Public Transport Melissa Horne said that the upgrades will make for better rail services.

“We’re getting on with this work now to improve reliability and services for passengers on the Ballarat, Ararat and Maryborough lines.”

Work will involve maintaining and renewing infrastructure, such as the Melton Reservoir Viaduct. In addition, the surface of the rail bridge over Toolern Creek and other culverts will be replaced, allowing water to easily pass under the tracks.

Other sections of track will be replaced and improved, while signalling equipment will be installed and the road surface at the Dowling Road level crossing in Windermere will be upgraded.

Coaches will be replacing trains while the works are underway.

Physical distancing measures will be in place on site.

“These works are going ahead with extra precautions in place to keep workers safe as we continue to slow the spread of coronavirus,” said Horne.

Member for Wendouree, Juliana Addison said that the works would improve regional rail.

“We are carrying out these important works now, to ensure that the many members of the Ballarat community who rely on V/Line services, get the service they deserve.”

Victorian public transport exceeds March targets

Victorian public transport operators have met all but one of their targets in March.

The only metric to not meet its target was the punctuality of regional trains, operated by V/Line, which fell to 85.4 per cent from 86.8 per cent, missing the 92 per cent total.

However, all other metrics were above the target and exceeded 12-month averages.

Metropolitan tram punctuality leapt the most, with a 5.3 percentage point increase from February figures. In March 86.8 per cent of tram services in Melbourne were on time. 98.7 per cent of tram services were delivered, exceeding the reliability target of 98.5 per cent.

Factors affecting these figures include the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown measures, with non-essential workers told to stay at home and limit travel. However, stage 3 restrictions, which made previous advice enforceable with fines, only came into effect on March 31, meaning that further limits will have a greater effect on April figures.

Metro Trains Melbourne listed a number of other factors which impacted on services in March, including flooding following heavy rainfall on March 5, the theft of signalling cable on March 13, and trespasser incidents, however 60 per cent fewer delays were caused by trespassers than in February.

Additionally, Yarra Trams has also had to content with COVID-19 measures, such as the cancellation of the Formula 1 Grand Prix. Renewal works on Plenty Road also had a significant impact upon the tram network.

Other renewal works were also carried out in March by Metro Trains Melbourne. A 10-day program of work on the Sandringham Line saw upgrades at Gardenvale Station, maintenance to overhead lines, signal upgrades, and level crossing renewal works near Brighton.

In total, 92.7 per cent of Metro Trains Melbourne services achieved the punctuality threshold, and 98.8 per cent were within the reliability window.

V/Line services achieved a 96.3 per cent reliability rate.

Transport agencies respond to COVID-19 shutdown

On Sunday, March 22, NSW and Victoria announced shutdowns of non-essential services from midday, Monday, March 23.

While both states have continued to determine that public transport is an essential service, Victoria has introduced extra guidelines to keep passengers and rail workers safe from coronavirus (COVID-19).

The Victorian government has encouraged commuters to stagger the times that they need to use public transport. With the recommended distance of four square metres per person in indoor gatherings often difficult to achieve on public transport, even with reduced patronage numbers, travelling outside of peak times could be safer.

On top of measures announced last week, extra cleaning will be carried out on Victorian public transport, including trains and trams. Similarly, in Auckland personal hand sanitisers have been given to frontline staff, and new public hand sanitiser stands have been installed. Health advice has been displayed on services and in stations and stops.

Transport for NSW reiterated the advice it has given to passengers and staff to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Operators are encouraging passengers to use cashless payments, including the myki and AT HOP cards. Auckland Transport will not be accepting cash fares on buses from Monday, March 23.

Outside of the major cities, the Australian and New Zealand governments have prohibited non-essential travel. This has led to operators suspending some interstate and regional passenger services.

In Australia, The Overland, The Ghan, and the Indian Pacific have been cancelled until May 31 after Western Australia and the Northern Territory closed their borders to non essential travel. South Australia has also restricted border crossings. This closure does not apply to freight rail.

In New Zealand, KiwiRail has suspended three tourist trains, until further notice, said chief executive Greg Miller.

“Tomorrow’s TranzAlpine, Northern Explorer and Coastal Pacific trains have been cancelled and the services will remain suspended until further notice,” he said. The Capital Connection service will continue.

Miller said that safety of staff, customers, and communities was the priority.

V/Line has advised that passengers using regional services should reconsider if their journeys are essential. Café bar services on V/Line trains will not be available.

A Transport for NSW spokesperson said that regional and urban trains will continue as normal.

“We understand the important role public transport plays in the daily lives of our commuters, especially in the regions, and there is currently no plan to reduce services of trains or buses across our network.”

Review of rail freight project targets governance, planning for improvement

The Victorian Auditor-General has delivered a withering critique of the governance and delivery of the stalled Murray Basin Rail Project (MBRP) and the Freight-Passenger Rail Separation Project (FPRSP).

The MBRP, which promised to upgrade over 1,000km of rail track in regional Victoria to standard gauge, has been left unfinished as funds ran out and disputes between V/Line and the contractor, a McConnell Dowell and Martinus Rail joint venture, caused the project to spiral beyond its original budget.

The Victorian Auditor-General brought in V/Line and the Department of Transport for criticism, nothing that both projects “have not met scope, time, cost or quality expectations”.

Particularly concerning for the Auditor General was the way that the project had been handled.

“From a project and program management perspective we identified deficient project planning, cost estimation and scoping by the Department of Transport’s (DoT) predecessor agencies. V/Line Corporation’s (V/Line) inadequate contract and project management has also contributed to project delays and cost overruns for the MBRP Stage 2 works,” wrote the Auditor-General.

Rail industry figures have encouraged both the Victorian and federal governments to continue with the project, with the many benefits flowing to hard hit areas, said Pacific National CEO, Dean Dalla Valle.

“Governments of all political persuasions must be acutely aware how vital regional exports are to the overall health of the nation’s economy. With the current coronavirus outbreak, domestic and international trade are facing significant headwinds, now is not the time to neglect key transport supply chains in Australia,” he said.

Rail Futures Institute president, John Hearsch, echoed these statements.

“Until the project can be brought to a successful conclusion the rail industry and its operators are being disadvantaged in terms of service and cost and that impacts their competitiveness.”

The current works have left the network with extensive speed restrictions and roundabout routings, with the objective of improving axle loads not met. Rectifying this would see significant benefit for regional communities said Dalla Valle.

“Upgraded rail lines result in operators like Pacific National being able to run heavier freight trains at increased speeds. Upgraded lines also enhance safety across the network. This means safer, more cost-efficient and reliable rail haulage services to port; hence regional producers and exporters benefit. By extension a significant workforce in regional Australia benefits, including train crews, primary producers, farm workers – the list is long.”

The Rail Freight Alliance (RFA), a grouping of regional councils in Victoria, said that it is essential that the project is completed.

“With Victoria’s freight task estimated to treble by 2051 the Andrews government owes it to industry and Victorians to fix and complete the Murray Basin Rail Project to its original scope, as promised, and now is the time to do it.” RFA chair councillor Anita Rank said.

Currently, the Victorian government is finalising an updated business case for the remainder of the project, said Minister for Transport Infrastructure, Jacinta Allan. Once completed, the revised business case will be submitted to the federal government for consideration, which had contributed funding to the initial stages.

“We’ve been disappointed with the performance of the previous contractor and the management of the project previously by V/Line and that’s why some time ago the project has moved across to be delivered by Rail Projects Victoria,” said Allan.

According to the DoT, the MBRP remains a “priority project”.

“The Murray Basin Rail Project has already delivered benefits for the freight industry, but we know that there is more work to be done. That’s why the Victorian Government is working with the Commonwealth government to progress the business case,” said a DoT spokesperson.

In its report, the Auditor-General issued a number of recommendations, including recommending that V/Line expedite finalisation of all unfinished works in Stage 2 of the MBRP, improve its contract management of major infrastructure projects, and expedite assessment of the reason for temporary speed restrictions on the re-opened standard gauge line from Yelta to Ararat.

The Auditor-General also recommended that V/Line and the DoT both develop a sustainable funding approach for regional rail freight lines and improve network reliability and performance standards. The report also highlighted the need to identify regional rail freight needs, and ensure compliance with project risk management processes for all major capital projects.

Both the DoT and V/Line accepted all the recommendations, and in an action plan the Department of Transport noted that it would review the original MBRP business case by engaging with industry, and complete detailed modelling of the Murray Basin rail network. The Department pointed to the recently formed Rail Freight Working group as a method by which government and industry will work together on rail freight infrastructure projects.

Work completed on the rail network to date includes updating the Mildura and Murrayville to Ouyen lines to standard gauge, as well as the Maryborough to Ararat line. A junction near Ararat station will have its signalling upgraded in the coming months.

Dalla Valle highlighted that work to build a staging area for standard-gauge freight trains at Maryborough could act as a “pressure valve” for the network.

“The Murray Basin is the economic lifeblood of northwest Victoria, with regional rail veins pumping exports worth hundreds of millions into the state’s ports. Thousands of country and city jobs are supported by this freight and logistics ecosystem,” he said.