RRL: We must build more rail lines. This is a rail line, therefore we must build it.

Regional Rail Link is a $5ish billion project to separate out V/Line trains, by running the Geelong line via new stations at Wyndham Vale and Tarneit to Deer Park, then into the City (along with Ballarat and Bendigo line trains) on dedicated tracks. Yesterday it was confirmed that it would go ahead.

Regional Rail Link proposed route

The idea of separating fast, limited stops V/Line trains from slower stopping Metro trains is a good one, of course.

But there seem to be a lot of people thinking that this combined with the new stations in growing areas automatically means the whole project must be a good idea.

Problem is there are a number of big questions about it that remain unanswered:

What service will the new stations at Wyndham Vale and Tarneit get? Will it be the kind of appalling V/Line suburban service already seen at places like Deer Park, Ardeer and Rockbank, where outside peak hour there’s a train only about every two hours? (Indeed, will Deer Park and others see any better service from this?)

Will the peak hour service to those new stations be adequate for the expected commuter population?

Will Geelong trains double as suburban trains to those new stations, and if so will they cope? (Are we setting up to repeat the problems seen now on the Sunbury line?)

Will residents along the line only be able to use the new stations if they are lucky enough to live within walking/cycling distance or get up at the crack of dawn to get a car spot? Or will good quality connecting buses be provided?

Southern Cross StationHow much longer will Geelong trains take to get to the city once they detour via Tarneit? (It’s theoretically possible to build the line so the expresses move through at 160 kmh, but it’s not been stated that it will be the case.)

What will Geelong to Werribee passengers (apparently several hundred per day make the trip) do once their trains are diverted away from Werribee? Maybe (if they can) they’ll just get in their cars and join the traffic.

Will V/Line trains still stop at North Melbourne so passengers can continue to use the 401 University shuttle, or change to the City Loop? (They can change to the City Loop in the morning at Southern Cross, but with current loop patterns, the only afternoon choice without interchange at North Melbourne is going to Footscray, which includes catching a train on the most crowded line in Melbourne, the Sydenham/Sunbury line).

Will there be problems with V/Line trains and Metro trains on the Bendigo line on the 15 kilometres between Sunbury and Sunshine, where they will still share tracks? (Ditto between Wyndham Vale and Sunshine, if it’s a mix of express and stopping trains. And the project won’t touch Seymour/Shepparton trains between North Melbourne and Craigieburn.)

And finally, given the huge cost, were other projects considered, such as extra tracks on the Werribee and Sydenham lines, and Smartbuses or bus ways into the Tarneit area from nearby stations?

Maybe someone’s looked at all these issues, but nothing’s been announced. Despite the multi-billion bill being presented to taxpayers, there’s no transparency.

Good public transport planning should dictate that you first work out what services you want, then you work out the infrastructure needed to provide them. Given continual responses of “we don’t know” when basic questions have been asked about, say, what the line’s timetables will look like, it appears the planning for this is going backwards — and still hasn’t been completed.

While it’s clear there will be some good benefits from the project, it’s less clear that it’s the best option available, or that it’s good value for money.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

16 replies on “RRL: We must build more rail lines. This is a rail line, therefore we must build it.”

Okay, so I’ve paid basically zero attention to the RRL and this is really the first I’ve read anything apart from “houses will be knocked down”.

The first thing that strikes me is this: There are going to be 8 stations between Footscray and where the line rejoins the existing Geelong line, only two of those new stations. Between where the new line starts outside Werribee and Footscray, there are 7 existing stations (not counting the Altona Loop as Vline trains would never go through there except in some emergency). It’ll be 8 once Williams Landing gets built (though hardly anyone is going to use that when Laverton is pretty close and in zone 1).

So, apart from the people who live near the two new stations, who is this benefiting? Is it definitely going to be quicker for Geelong trains going via this route assuming they can do 160kmh most of the way?

I know that the shortest distance between two points is not necessarily the fastest, but this just seems silly (at first glance).

I think the project has its merits, but a few enhancements would make the benefits a lot better for the west:
1. I think the RRL should be electrified between wyndham and sunshine as well as the small branch to Melton so all these places can get suburban services. However, Geelong v/line trains should be dispersed through both the RRL and the werribee lines so that the amount of v/line disruption to metro services is equal on both lines (deer park to sunshine, werribee to footscray) and less than what is happening at the moment. Also, the small amount of people going from Geelong to werribee will still have a service.
2. Maybe a third track between sunbury and sunshine.
3. Something needs to be done to stop demand for car park at Sydenham. The carpark is about a 1.5 km radius around the station.

It’s actually 26km, not 15km from Sunshine to Sunbury. That’s a marginally longer distance than what it is now from Southern Cross to Watergardens where they share tracks already.

I’d guess Ardeer would benefit if more Melton trains run (as those are the ones that stop there) . Otherwise it might become an even more hopeless station where you can sit and watch 5 trains pass you by between each one that stops there every 2 hours.

$5 Billion?

That means it will ACTUALLY be $45 billion. Always round up any project budget figure by that much percent. These things ALWAYS wind up catastrophically over budget. Always.

BWA-HAHAHAHAHAHAAAA! Nah, just kidding. This time, it’ll be different. Unlike the past 76 major Melbourne projects, THIS ONE will be *different*.

I must say the issue of the two new stations along the bypass route and what purpose they’ll serve has been blurred, much like the way that land acquisition around Footscray was last year. The line is to serve express V/Line trains from Geelong but the stations are to serve new outer western suburbs (Metro-esque). It looks like they’ll operate as a long term poor man’s suburban service like Melton is at the moment, but not really sure.

On the other hand operating a suburban service through Tarnet would defeat the purpose of RRL in the first place. Having said that I’m not complaining as my last couple of train trips from Geelong both involved grinding to a halt at the old Paisley station platform and inching in from there (on weekends too mind you!!) – it’s getting to a point where they could reopen it as a wayward V/Line stop!!

This project will make the Desal Plant look like a walk in the park.

Me and my bogan brethren will milk this for all it is worth.


This is the mantra that is being delivered right now.

Nobody should be under any illusions about this.

What I find most frustrating about the whole (already frustrating) situation is that whilst we were told before the election that there would be a new PTDA put in place, we still haven’t heard anything about this.

Surely if you have no faith in a department and you’re wanting to replace them, holding off $5billion projects that they have half planned would be worth it?

I disagree with most of this blog.

New infrastructure goes hand in hand with new development.

The two new staion are going to serve the the obvious new dwelling, but little do people know about a few things, I will point them out.

1. There is provision for two future station.
2. Enough land is being acquired for an additonional two electrified lines also including substations when required, basically when the money is available.
3. Much cost is also going to the fact Vic Roads is piggy backing off this project for pre planned road widening
4. Each new and future station has space for 500 car spots minimum and bus allocation.
5. Easement are being aquired for pre planned underground services to allow for electrification of the future 2 lanes.
6. This is essentially a 4 track project.
7. We need to service the massive explosion in population in the western suburbs.
8. $5b is not a big price to pay, considering land costs alone, new over passes, trains, future proffing, Vic Roads piggy back.

Anyhow I could go on, but its needed. Better to do it now then when its to late.

Any sources for any of that information Luka?

This is exactly the problem with the project. Nothing is in the open, the public has no idea what is going on with it. We’re just being slumped with a $5billion price tag and whole lot of questions.

@Luka, the whole point of this blog post is to say Yes, we need to do things, but is the detail of this project going to get us our money’s worth.

In response to your points…

1. Speculation on space for future stations, sure but is it clear they’d ever get built? And is there a publicly available source for this kind of information?

2. Again, speculated upon, but may never get built.

3. Source? If so, it should be exposed as X% of the project going to road projects.

4. Source? In any case 500 car spots is not necessarily good design. It’s inefficient use of space around stations that should be targetted at Transit/Ped friendly mixed-used development. Bus interchanges do not mean good quality connecting bus services are provided.

5-6. Not clear if this is relating to point 2?

7. Nobody’s saying otherwise, but is this project good value for money? Could we serve more than just two extra stations?

8. $5b makes it the most expensive rail project in Victoria’s history. It deserves more scruitiny than it’s getting.

so what exactly happens with platforms 2 – 8S at Spencer street station? If the new track that we “so desperately need” is to be built on the right hand side (facing up) of the rail reserve, and the new platforms that we see are being built on the west side of spencer street, none of the highest frequency intercity trains will be able to reach them… they are no good for metro as they are terminus platforms…

also, overseas train systems run signalling that allows trains to run like 1 every minute (or better in some cases) PER TRACK… metro’s 4½ lines + vline’s 3 lines combined on the northern group tracks would come nowhere near this, even in peak, and there is 3 or 4 inbound tracks? something doesn’t add up here… if the signalling can’t do a train every couple of minutes, then upgrade it. if the problem is VLocity trains cutting across tracks in/near melbourne yard to get to 2 – 8S, then build a bloody flyover? What about the dual gauge line that the XPT uses? wasn’t that built in the 20’s for the express purpose of separating slower intercity steam trains and freight trains from the newly electrified network?

this project raises more questions than it answers…
I use the RFR quite a lot, so would potentially have the most to gain, but surely that kind of money would be best spent where it will create the most benefit… Airport line anyone? (and a proper PT one, not like the abortion in sydney). Line to Monash uni? Line to Doncaster (finally…)?

Don’t go telling us that we are running into capacity constraints, when we are running nowhere near the trains per hour that modern lines can carry… one of the melbourne papers reported last week that PT (all modes) had reached a 500 million trips, a level not seen since the 1950’s… in the 1950’s we had no MURL, which supposedly doubled the capacity of the core network, and yet now, as we reach pre loop patronage of the 50’s our tracks are full? sounds like b/s to me…

Luka, on average, “park and ride” car spaces cost the taxpayer around $15,000 each. this is a complete waste of money to allow a select few people to drive selfishly to the trains… a metro train can hold over 1000 people per six car train, a VLocity can seat approx 450, so your 500 car parks ½ fill one metro train (or fill one vline train) and that is it for that car park for the day… no one else can use that park until the owner returns to their car (usually at the end of the day). It is a complete waste of taxpayers money (worse so that these parks are provided to end users free of charge). It makes train stations look unsightly, and hostile to pedestrians and other non car users… look at systems overseas, you do not see hundreds of carparks attached to stations all over the place, yet they carry many more passengers per annum than we do… Good feeder services with integrated fares feeds rail patronage, not bloody car parks.

also, not to mention… you would be struggling to run any more trains on the ballarat and bendigo lines without building more passing loops, which as far as I can tell, have not been included in the cost… although the “plan” seems to have no detail of service frequency, so who knows what the hell we are getting…

It’s also worth pointing out that bendigo used to be 2 tracks all the way until the govt ripped one out to “improve the speed”

In regards to the likely service that will be given to Tarniet and Wyndham Vale stations, I expect that roughly half of the Geelong trains will stop at those stations. That’s not so bad, however, because the RRL will allow the latter number to increase manifold. The same probably applies to Ardeer and Deer Park.

It has been stated that the line will be built to RFR standards, and therefore 160km/h track including curves. However, there are rumours going around that the line will actually be built to 200km/h standards, and that the next generation of trains after the VLocities will be built to take advantage of that.

Geelong to Werribee passengers will definitely lose out as a direct consequence of the RRL. Ideally the electrified extension to Wyndham Vale would be built but thanks to someone actually calculating the price of the project, which might not happen. Either way, the lost Werribee passengers will be more than made-up-for by the increase in Geelong, Tarniet and Wyndham passengers thanks to the increased frequency.

RRL trains, at this stage, will not stop at North Melbourne. Provision is being made in the plans to allow for an island platform 7/8 at North Melbourne for those RRL trains which will run to Southern Cross platforms 15/16, but that will not be constructed immediately because of the aforementioned financial problems. It is unlikely if not impossible for platforms to be provided at North Melbourne for trains running to platforms 1 through 8 at Southern Cross, because in the modern era, curved platforms and non-flat platforms are Eeeevillll! As a result, platforms can’t be provided on the North Melbourne Flyover, nor can they be provided north of it and west of the new concourse’s footbridge.

Of course, if curved platforms are only banned because of a) standard clearances and b) driver-only-operation, then there is no reason why a good pair of curved platforms can be developed as a special case to be applied to the North Melbourne Flyover. After all, there’s only a limited range of trains using the tracks, and all of them will have conductors, making the DOO point moot.

Otherwise, the RRL will allow at least eight electric trains per hour between Melbourne and Sunbury, each with about double the capacity of the trains running today. And beyond that, there should be an allowance for ‘short’ trains between Melbourne and Sunshine, allowing extra Loop – Footscray capacity if that is deemed necessary.

So long as everything is running close to time, there should not be problems with the mixture of V/Line and Metro trains between Sunshine and Sunbury. Metro trains will need to be held at Watergardens Station to allow the V/Line service to pass through, but the odds of that having to happen in both directions simultaneously is low. Good timetabling should guarantee that.

The overtaking process, known as a run-through, is also available at Essendon and in the down direction at Broadmeadows, for Seymour trains. And the removal of Albury trains thanks to the North East project (if they ever finish it…) should free up even more paths.

Yes, RRL is expensive, but it’s also worth remembering that despite the monumental cost, a lot has been cut from the first draft of the project:
1. Duplication of goods lines outside Southern Cross
2. Goods lines, of any sort, between the Arrivals Yard and South Kensington
3. The massive plan that was implied at Sunshine – the current proposal with only four platforms is pathetic, and we lost all the urban redevelopment and etc.
4. Quadruplication between Sunshine and Ginifer, and Sunshine and Deer Park West, and duplication to Bacchus Marsh (including the Melton Weir).
5. Potential quadding at all six stations between Deer Park West and Werribee/Manor junction – now down to two stations, neither having any through tracks. We’ve lost Truganina, Davis, Sayer and Manor Lakes.
6. Wyndham Vale station was supposed to be six tracks (four platforms)
7. Wyndham Vale Stabling Yard, shown on some early discussion documents, was meant to stable at least 30x six-car sparks be my rough calculations
8. Black Forest Road Stabling for V/Line trains
9. An electrified, duplicated extension from Werribee through Black Forest Road station and terminating at Wyndham Vale station
I suppose one of the biggest problems (depending on your perspective) with the RRL project as a whole is that it was built to fix a specific issue with the network, that being the lack of services to Tarniet, and the lack of paths between Werribee, Sunshine and Southern Cross. Apparently, no consideration was given to travel times over the route, because that’s irrelevant in regards to the initial problem.

Bitching and moaning about increased travel time doesn’t help fix the lack of paths problem, particularly when it distracts from the fact that requiring people commuting between Geelong and Melbourne is a stupid urban planning policy in the first place.

@Jon: We can’t afford electrification, so scratch that. Same applies for any extra tracks between Sunshine and Sunbury, although three tracks is about as useless as a three-lane road with one lane each way and a middle lane switching direction every 20 minutes. As for sharing trains between various routes, that just makes everything more complicated than it needs to be, and complications = unreliability.

@Luka: I’m also interested in any information you’re able to share about the VicRoads projects. It sounds believable, but until we see some evidence it can’t be considered anything more than a rumour. If you aren’t able to say anything publicly, but can confirm that, I’d be satisfied with that (for now).

@tango: Platforms 1 through 8-South at Southern Cross will be accessed via the rail-over-rail bridge just south of North Melbourne Station. Historically one track there was used for locomotive transfers and the other for trains to Sydney, and more recently Adelaide.

In terms of headways, the biggest limiting factor for our network is that we use signals, rather than in-cab signalling systems. As a result, the best we can achieve is about two minutes between trains, and then you have to account for differing train speeds. A lot has changed since the 1950s, particularly the average travel distance, so comparing to pre-Loop timetables means very little. People want express services, and every express train can take up to one-and-a-half Stopping train slots in the timetable (called ‘train paths’).

Railways to Monash/Rowville and Doncaster would be a complete waste of money, when Light Rail could do the same job for about a quarter of the cost. The line to Tullamarine would be in the same boat except that my preferred route there is to take the Upfield line, cut it at Camp Road, send it west under Broadmeadows station and over to Tullamarine. Then hook it to the Sandringham line by tunnelling between Jewell and Windsor stations under Swanston Street, instead of the Eddingtunnel plan.

Finally, in regards to the Bendigo Line: Yes, pulling out the duplication of the line should not have been necessary, but that was a cost-cutting measure required after the private industry refused to help pay for RFR. In fact, part of that project included laying fibre-optic communication systems from Melbourne to Bendigo, Ballarat, Geelong and Traralgon – 150 cores, of which only a handful are used for signalling systems. The rest are available for hire, and nobody’s taking them.

@David: “the biggest limiting factor for our network is that we use signals, rather than in-cab signalling systems.”
I don’t think I have ever heard trackside signals put forward as a limiting factor when the subject wasn’t high speed trains… Obviously the key feature of signalling is to allow trains enough time to stop before a collision occurs… in which case, surely the limiting factor is the train’s braking performance? track to train signalling came about because the likes of the TGV travel too quickly to make lineside signals of any use – by the time the driver sees the signal at speed, it would be too late to stop. A train travelling at 80km/h however, will come to a dead stop in 30 seconds (less under emergency braking), add in some reaction time and a buffer and 90 second headways would be easily achievable (if not 60, especially when combined with trip stop devices in the event of a SPAD)

Between Sunshine and Footscray, there is one track in each direction. A 90 second headway = 40 trains per hour. in the busiest part of the peak, say you had a train every 5 minutes on the Sydenham line = 12 trains, and a train every 15 minutes from Ballarat and Bendigo which we will call 8 train paths each = 28 trains per hour. We still have 12 free train paths (or 2 at 120 second headway)

At Footscray we get 2 tracks each direction, we will leave our Sydenham tracks alone for now, so to the other track we now add a train every five minutes from W’town and Werribee (24 trains) + a train every 10 minutes from Geelong (36 train paths used) – still 4 spare.

When the Craigieburn line joins we get another set of tracks, which we will use for it and Upfield, one train every 5 minutes each = 24 trains, so no capacity issues there…

Indeed, the theoretical services listed there exceed the May timetable changes, and even with a supposed technological limit of 2 minutes, drop w’town & Werribee back to 10 trains an hour & take 1 off from Geelong and everything fits (and that is assuming that the VLo’s take up 2 paths, if they are only 1½ then there is even more room obviously). Obviously in that scenario, only say Craigieburn and Upfield would use the northern group loop tunnel…

We should be demanding that ALL options have been reviewed, when such a large amount of our money is at stake… that shouldn’t be too much to ask should it?

Regarding light v heavy rail…
I’d be interested in seeing the comparative numbers…
Presumably the tracks are a bit cheaper due to less kg/m of steel… you would still need ballast and sleepers if you are doing off road light rail I’d assume? from a rolling stock perspective the trams are certainly cheaper… those flexity trams are going to be about 6 million each vs about 40 million for a 6 car x’trapolis… but then the tram holds about 200 people, versus about 800 for the train… so to match capacity you need 24 million worth of trams + the extra labor costs etc…
with Doncaster, how many cars use the Eastern fwy of a morning? (as far as I can determine, this was about 5000 cars per hour per direction in 1999) how many use DART? 10% or 20% of traffic off the Eastern + DART could potentially overwhelm a lightrail system…
With Rowville, Monash is obviously a potentially massive trip generator… + the area is well separated from the ends of the tram network… how much would it really save to have a completely isolated tram line out there (or how much to link it back into the network)… presumably you would need a new depot out there and maintenance facilities etc… but what are the true savings compared to a train line from say Huntingdale on the Pakenham/Cranbourne line via Monash uni, Rowville etc, and potentially meeting the Belgrave line at Boronia or something…

Regarding the fibre optics on the RFR’s:

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