Western Rail Plan gets $100m Budget boost

The Victorian Government’s 20192020 Budget includes a $100 million boost to the Western Rail Plan.

The investment is intended to fund planning and design works to separate the regional and metro services on the Geelong and Ballarat lines as part of a wider plan to deliver fast rail to the regions. This separation will avoid situations where V/Line trains are slowed down by Metro trains, allowing for faster and more frequent journeys.

Rail Projects Victoria (RPV) has started a program of investigations and technical studies along the Melton, Werribee, Wyndham Vale and Geelong corridors, with staging of the Western Rail Plan being considered alongside the Melbourne Airport Rail Link business case, due for publication in 2020.

Committee for Ballarat chair Nick Beale welcomed the investment in a statement, saying the works were “in line with Committee’s stated aim of duplicating the line between Ballarat and Southern Cross, which includes electrification and quadruplication of the line to Melton. Once the work is complete, it will result in a noticeably faster trip to Melbourne.”

The Western Rail Plan sets out investment plans for three connected rail projects, including the creation of two new metro lines leading west to Melton and Wyndham Vale; increased rail capacity between Melbourne’s CBD and Sunshine; and upgrades on the Geelong and Ballarat lines to allow trains to run faster than 160km/h.

The creation of the metro lines to Melton and Wyndham Vale will separate the two areas from the Ballarat and Geelong lines, with Wyndham Vale also proposed as the potential western section of the Suburban Rail Loop, which is expected to cost at least $50 billion, with a pencilled completion date of 2050.

V/Line train. Photo: Victorian Government

V/Line to benefit from influx of new drivers

V/Line has revealed plans to boost driver numbers in Victoria by 20 per cent by the end of 2020.

The move is in keeping with promises made by the Andrews Labor Government to increase regional rail reliability by increasing the number of services by 40 per cent.

The group, which is responsible for regional rail services to towns in Victoria such as Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong, stated that it had trained around 30 fully qualified drivers in the last year. A further 120 trainees are currently completing an intense training course.

The course includes on-the-job training, classroom work and driving practice using train driving simulator systems. Member for Northern Victoria Jaclyn Symes said that the “fresh crop” of drivers would help to improve reliability in the short term and support the network for years to come.

“We’re providing a massive boost to driver numbers by the end of next year, which will mean more reliable services, less cancellations, and more local jobs,” said Minister for Public Transport Melissa Horne.

“As our regional cities continue to grow – we’re investing in the people and infrastructure to help keep our regional network moving and get you where you need to go safely and quickly.”

In addition to the training ramp-up, the state government recently started works on the first stage of a $7.2 million sleeper replacement program on the Seymour V/Line, which is due for completion by June 26.

Certain evening trains on the Seymour line are being replaced by coaches for a two-week period until May 23 as a result of the ongoing maintenance. These coaches will also replace certain evening trains on the line from May 26 to June 6.

The works form part of wider track maintenance investment in Victoria by Labor on the Seymour and Shepparton lines, which will see 55,000 life-expired sleepers on the two tracks between Donnybrook and Seymour replaced in 2019.

V/Line also carried out works to install new boom gates, bells and flashing lights at the Ewings Road level crossing at Avenel and the High Street level crossing at Barnawartha between March and April this year.

Labor to meet with stakeholders for Suburban Rail Loop planning

The Andrews Labor Government is due to meet with representatives from Melbourne suburbs for consultations on the first stage of the Suburban Rail Loop.

Labor will meet with representatives from the suburbs of Whitehorse, Monash and Kingston to discuss first-stage implementation of the proposed corridor for the $50 billion project’s South East Section. The talks will include consultation regarding ecological and geotechnical studies

The Victorian Government looks to be on its own in delivering the ambitious rail project, after Labor was defeated at the federal election over the weekend. Labor leader Bill Shorten had made a commitment to provide $10 billion for the project.

Billed as Australia’s largest ever public transport project, construction on the Suburban Rail Loop is currently pencilled for a 2022 start and may not be completed until the 2050s.

The project involves construction of a new underground rail line that will connect several Melbourne suburbs to the city’s existing major lines so that  improving connectivity and reducing commuting times. The line will run 90km from the Frankston line in the southeast to the Werribee line in the west via Melbourne Airport in the north.

Initial site investigations have been proposed for the second half of 2019, but the final number of stations has yet to be determined.

“The Suburban Rail Loop will change the way we move around Melbourne forever, and we’re not wasting a minute getting this vital project started,” said Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.

“It will create and support local jobs and slash travel times, getting people where they need to go.”

PTV posts improved performance in April despite works disruption

Public Transport Victoria (PTV) has improved its public transport reliability figures in April across its Metro Trains, Yarra Trams and V/Line services.

Metro delivered 91.4 per cent of its services on time for the month, while V/Line and Yarra Trams delivered 86.8 per cent and 81.8 per cent of their services on time, respectively.

April figures across the three services were all improved on the 88.4 per cent, 84.4 per cent and 78.1 per cent posted for the Metro, V/Line and Yarra Trams in March.

PTV CEO Jeroen Weimar said that April saw Victoria’s “biggest ever construction blitz”, including continued works on the Metro Tunnel and level crossing removal project. These works contributed to the implementation of 600 replacement buses across the state to meet commuter demand.

“The Autumn construction blitz included major track, signal and platform upgrades on the Geelong and Warrnambool lines, which will lead to more reliable trains in Victoria’s southwest,” Weimar said

Yarra Trams exceeded its reliability target in terms of running services at 98.7 per cent, while V/Line’s reliability increased by 2.6 per cent to 97.8 per cent.

Reliability figures on V/Line’s busiest line, Geelong, showed marked improvement in punctuality by 3.9 per cent to 92.1 per cent, a rise PTV attributed in part to timetabling improvements set out in March.

Metro’s reliability performance missed its target by just 0.2 per cent at 98.3 per cent, a factor PTV attributed in part to disruptions caused by a level crossing accident on the Sandringham line on April 15.

Weimar said that the April figures for Metro were a “step in the right direction” but admitted that performance was still below passenger expectation.

Labor commits $10bn to Melbourne Suburban Rail Loop

Bill Shorten’s pre-election promise to provide $10 billion for the development of Melbourne’s Suburban Rail Loop has been welcomed by Victorian Premier Dan Andrews.

The Opposition Leader Shorten made the pledge at a campaign rally in Maribyrnong in advance of the election on May 18.

The $50 billion endeavour is the biggest public transport project in Australia. It envisions a suburban underground rail route connecting Cheltenham in the southeast to Werribee in the northwest via Melbourne airport in the north.

Construction is set to begin in 2022 and may not be completed until the 2050s, by which time Melbourne’s population is expected to grow to 8 million. The initial phase of construction will stretch from Cheltenham to Box Hill and is set to take around 10 years to complete.

The line is also intended to connect to the developing Melbourne Airport Rail Link, which is also scheduled to begin construction in 2022 over a period of up to nine years.

The Suburban Rail Loop, intended to reduce transfers within Melbourne’s central business district, will precipitate the construction of up to 12 new underground stations.

“The Suburban Rail Loop will slash congestion across the transport network – taking thousands of passengers off existing rail lines and 200,000 cars off major roads – and create 20,000 jobs for Victorians,” said Victoria Premier Dan Andrews.

Andrews, who announced his plans to support the project last year prior to his landslide win in November’s state election, expressed his approval of Shorten’s pledge.

“The Suburban Rail Loop will get people where they want to go – and with a real partner in Canberra, we will be able to get on with this project even faster,” he said.

Pakenham line level crossing to be replaced with road bridge

The Victorian Government is fast-tracking the removal of the Cardinia Road level crossing on the Pakenham line as part of its Level Crossing Removal Project.

The Cardinia Road crossing — one of 17 to be removed from the Pakenham line and 75 in Melbourne overall — impacts over 23,000 vehicles a day according to the state government.

The government has fast tracked the construction of a road bridge to pass over the train line starting later this year, with the removal of the boom gates to follow in 2021. The Cardinia Road level crossing’s boom gates are down for up to 30 per cent of the morning peak, according to a release from the Victorian Government.

The announcement follows the news that eight level crossings from the Upfield and Merda lines in Melbourne’s north would also be dealt with by elevating the lines, creating new open spaces and connections for cyclists and pedestrians.

The Level Crossing Removal Project joined other government bodies such as the West Gate Tunnel, North East Link Project, Rail Projects Victoria and Major Road Projects Victoria as part of the Major Transport Infrastructure Authority established as an office of the Department of Transport in January.

The removals represent Victoria’s largest rail infrastructure project to date. The project is also intended to create over 27 new or upgraded stations by its completion in 2025.

Labor promises $1bn for Queensland-Victoria high speed rail link

Labor says it will invest $1 billion to begin securing the corridor for a high speed line running from Brisbane to Sydney should it win the federal election on May 18.

The plans for the proposed 1,748km route would build on a feasibility study produced under Julia Gillard’s Labor Government in 2013. The feasibility study suggested that the nation-building project would return over two dollars in public benefit for every dollar invested.

“As Australia’s strong population growth continues in coming years, the already established case for High Speed Rail will become more compelling,” said Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development Anthony Albanese.

“If we start to acquire the corridor now, we will protect it from development and thereby minimise costs.”

The 2013 study envisaged a train capable of travelling up to 350km/h across rail link running between Melbourne and Brisbane via Sydney with spur lines to Canberra and the Gold Coast.

In keeping with the plans laid out in the document, Labor plans to create a High Speed Rail Authority, working with the ACT and east coast state governments to commence land acquisitions and finalise track alignments.

Albanese added that the project would bring regional communities closer to capital cities, increasing commuting and strengthening the case for investment in regional businesses.

“The project will also be an economic game-changer for communities along its path, including the Gold Coast, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Newcastle, the Central Coast, Southern Highlands, Canberra, Wagga Wagga and Shepparton,” he said.