Opinion- Geelong Branch

‘Report on the Wrong Track’, Geelong Advertiser, 15 July 2008.

The huge increase in the number of passengers on trains to and from Melbourne has led to daily tales of woe from passengers who have to sit on floors, perch in luggage racks or stand for long distances.  People are taking to the trains in record numbers because of ever-rising petrol prices, congested roads, a significant fare cut and concern about the environmental impact of car travel.

So it isn’t surprising that Geelong council recently joined the chorus of people who are urging that something needs to be done about overcrowded and unreliable rail services to Melbourne.  The Eddington Report, endorsed by the Council last week, is supposed to provide solutions, but does it?

The Council’s additional push for electrification of the Melbourne line is not a solution to capacity problems.  Electrification will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but if the electric trains run in the same way on the same tracks as our present diesel-powered trains, they can’t run any more frequently.

Councillors seem to believe that electrification would let Geelong trains use the Melbourne city loop, but this has been ruled out.  After November, even Werribee trains will be removed from the loop to increase overall rail capacity.

The main priority for Geelong commuters is to get seats on trains which run to time.  The Council must push the State Government for clear, practical and well-reasoned plans on how it will deal with the problem in the short, medium and long terms.

The Eddington report’s main ˜solution” – which is only a concept – is that trains to Melbourne will run via a new line to the west of Werribee, through Tarneit, and then to Melbourne using an expanded Ballarat line.

Not only will it take years to design and build, it isn’t clear that this indirect route will actually work.  It bypasses major centres like Werribee, and may require already overcrowded Geelong trains to stop at new suburban stations along the line, or be caught behind suburban trains serving those stations.

If Geelong passengers are to see any improvements in the short or medium term, we’ll have to improve our existing rail corridor.  Rail experts must review Geelong and Werribee line running patterns to see where more trains can fit on the network. They must then work out where money needs to be spent on lengthening station platforms, upgrading signalling, adding additional tracks and grade separating junctions, so that we can run more and longer trains.

Until the State Government starts doing some serious public transport planning, we’ll see more half-baked proposals that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and yet fail to ˜ease the squeeze” for Geelong line commuters.

Paul Westcott is the Convenor of the Geelong Branch of the Public Transport Users Association.