Category Archives: Ballarat

PTUA welcomes Overland reprieve, calls for long-term investment

The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has welcomed the announcement that the Victorian government will contribute funding to keep the iconic Overland train running for another three months.

When the South Australian government withdrew its contribution to subsidising this vital passenger link at the end of 2018, the Victorian government stepped up to fund the shortfall until the end of 2019 – this new 11th-hour announcement will grant the Overland an extension till the end of March 2020.

PTUA Ballarat Branch Convener Ben Lever welcomed the announcement, saying that the Overland provided an invaluable public transport link for western Victoria.

“The Overland is the only regular rail services for communities like Stawell, Horsham, Dimboola and Nhill. A rail link between Melbourne and Adelaide is important, but the job the Overland does connecting these towns within Victoria is hugely important to these communities as well.

“Whether people are travelling for leisure or for things like medical appointments, people in western Victoria need a regular rail service to quickly and safely connect them to Melbourne. It’s fantastic that the Victorian government has stepped up yet again to keep this vital service going.”

The government has said that this three-month extension will allow time for conversations to continue with Journey Beyond, the Overland’s private operator, about the long-term future of the train. While the Overland provides a valuable lifeline for many people, it is clear that it is struggling to get the passenger numbers it needs to be commercially viable for a private company.

Mr Lever called for the government to take a holistic view of the public transport needs west of Ararat, and to approach the issue with the same ambition that has worked so well closer to Melbourne.

“The Overland has unfortunately entered into a negative spiral, where the low passenger numbers lead to service cuts, which make the service less attractive to passengers, which lead to more service cuts. When it was first privatised in the 1990s, it used to run every day in both directions – but now it only runs twice a week in each direction. This makes it a real gamble as to whether the train will even be running on the day you want to travel – which is no way to get serious passenger numbers.

“If the Overland service ran to and from Adelaide every day, and this was supplemented with short-run services to Horsham, this would mean western Victorians had a regular train service that would always be available, no matter when they wanted to travel. This would start to attract way more passengers, making continuing to run the service much more viable.”

Mr Lever said that the huge success of other rail services in Victoria showed that bold vision and serious investment would be rewarded with increased passenger numbers. Bringing the privately-operated Overland under the V/Line banner should be one of the options on the table to facilitate these improvements.

“We’ve seen that when governments invest in serious improvements to train services – especially making them run more frequently – more people will choose to use them. If the Overland ran every day, perhaps with a variant of the fast, modern VLocity rolling stock, it would attract passengers in droves.”

In the meantime, Mr Lever called on the government to provide a longer interim funding arrangement, to keep the service running while these larger visions could be implemented.

“It would take time to put these improved services into place, so in the meantime we hope the government can provide a longer-term subsidy to give passengers certainty. Many of the Overland’s passengers are tourists who want to book well in advance, so it’s important that bookings are available on the website when they search for them.”

PTUA congratulates King on new portfolio, calls for state-federal cooperation on infrastructure

The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has congratulated Catherine King on her re-election as the member for Ballarat, and on being appointed Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development.

PTUA Ballarat Branch Convener Ben Lever said that this portfolio was crucial to the future of Ballarat and western Victoria. “One of the keys to developing both rural towns and regional centres is strong transport links – both to Melbourne and to each other. We need to have all levels of government working together to improve these links, so that regional Victorians can access jobs, education, healthcare and culture, as well as visit friends and family.”

In the medium term, the PTUA is calling for a number of transport infrastructure projects for western Victoria, including:

  • electrification and quadruplication of the Melton line
  • full duplication of the Ballarat line
  • the return of passenger trains to Horsham, Hamilton and Mildura
  • the return of direct passenger trains between Ballarat and Geelong

Mr Lever emphasised the need for the state and federal governments to work together on the key transport infrastructure projects that the western region needs. “It’s been great to see the state government taking the lead on improving the Ballarat line corridor. But there is a long backlog of work that needs to be done, and it will be important for the federal government to contribute funding to these kinds of vital infrastructure projects. We hope that Ms King can be a strong advocate for the Ballarat region to not only get our fair share of tax dollars, but to ensure the right projects get built. Commonwealth funding should not just go to road projects – a much greater portion should go to rail projects than we’ve seen in recent years.”

Mr Lever also welcomed the returned Coalition government’s commitment of $2b towards faster rail in the Melbourne-Geelong corridor, saying that the fortunes of the Ballarat and Geelong lines were linked. “The highest priority for speeding up trains to Geelong – and for addressing the serious problems with overcrowding and reliability – is the city to Wyndham Vale section. Giving Wyndham Vale a proper Metro service, and giving the Geelong line dedicated express tracks through suburban Melbourne, will be crucial to improving these things – and the Ballarat line shares a corridor with the Geelong line from the city to Deer Park. Any project that affects this corridor will affect both lines.”

“Statements from the Coalition before the federal election indicate that they see their $2b contribution going towards untangling this suburban section. [1] While the state government’s Western Rail Plan is designed to determine the best way forward for this corridor, we hope that whichever model they ultimately decide on, the federal funding can go towards building it – and delivering benefits to both the Ballarat and Geelong lines, sooner rather than later.”

[1] Geelong Advertiser 8/5/2019: Coalition calls on State Labor to match $2b commitment for fast train link between Geelong and Melbourne

PTUA launches Connecting Ballarat proposal

The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has launched an ambitious policy document, “Connecting Ballarat”, which calls for dramatic improvements to Ballarat’s bus network.

Ballarat’s bus network currently has a lot of problems with indirect, inefficient routes through the CBD, which turn back on themselves in order to call at key destinations in a specific order, and terminate at Ballarat station. These paths waste valuable driver time, which is an inefficient use of taxpayer resources compared to more efficient paths. They’re also slow and hard for casual users to understand, which makes them unattractive to potential passengers.

The central idea of the Connecting Ballarat proposal is to link routes on opposite sides of Ballarat together into longer cross-town routes, so that buses can flow smoothly in one side of the CBD and out the other, in a path that is faster, more efficient and more sensible than the current paths. This would mean faster trips for passengers, a more understandable network for first-time users, and more efficient use of resources – resources that can be reinvested into other service improvements.

Three of these routes would become high-frequency SmartBus routes – fast, direct routes that run every ten minutes, designed to act as the spine of a true turn-up-and-go network for Ballarat. The other routes would increase to run every 20 or 40 minutes, to match the increased V/Line train frequencies expected from late 2019.

Buses would also run to a longer span of hours, connecting with commuter trains in the early mornings and late evenings, and allowing people travelling within Ballarat to take the bus home after dinner at a restaurant or a night at the movies.

PTUA Ballarat Branch Convener, Ben Lever, said this was in many ways an ambitious proposal, but that it also picked a lot of low-hanging fruit.

“We know the existing network has a lot of inefficiencies, both in the twisty paths it takes and the excessively-padded timetables. Not only are these inefficiencies frustrating for users, they take up a lot of resources that would be better spent on improving the service – that’s what we’re proposing here.”

“Beyond those efficiency gains, we’re calling on all political parties to invest some serious money into our bus network. Low-density outer suburbs of Melbourne have high-frequency SmartBuses running through them, connecting key destinations like shopping centres and universities with railway stations – Ballarat deserves the same. Even the standard non-SmartBus routes run till at least 9pm in most suburbs of Melbourne, while Ballarat’s buses currently shut down around 7pm – it’s just not good enough.”

“We’ve seen time and time again that when governments invest in good public transport, people use it. Whether it’s trains, trams or buses – if governments provide a fast, frequent and direct service all through the day, people flock to it. And on the other side of the coin, where services are slow, indirect and infrequent, it’s not surprising that very few people us them. Buses don’t have to be the poor cousin of trains, and we see plenty of examples around the world where they aren’t – even in Australia, cities like Brisbane and Sydney have several fast, direct bus routes with priority measures that make them perform a similar role to Melbourne’s trams.”

“If we want to reduce pressure on parking and help fight climate change, we need to get people out of their cars and onto public transport – and to do that we need to see serious investment in a high-quality service.”

PTUA welcomes rail investment in Ballarat

The Public Transport Users Association has today welcomed the government’s announcement of the details of a $130m project to untangle freight and passenger services in Ballarat.

The project will largely separate freight and passenger trains west of Ballarat station, and upgrade the signalling system in the Ballarat area, to allow for more efficient movement of trains of all kinds.

PTUA Ballarat Branch Convener Ben Lever said it was important work that would complement other investments in freight and passenger rail.

“There are two big rail projects going on around Ballarat at the moment – the Ballarat Line Upgrade project for passenger trains, and the Murray Basin Rail Project for freight trains. These two projects intersect within urban Ballarat, so today’s announcement will help make sure there aren’t too many conflicts between freight and passenger movements.”

“It’s really essential that our passenger services can have a clear run so they’re not delayed by freight trains – but it’s also really important that freight doesn’t get overlooked. We need a strong rail freight industry that is competitive with the road freight industry, if we want to reduce the number of trucks on our roads, and get the safety and air quality benefits that come with it. This kind of infrastructure investment is a great step in the right direction.”

Mr Lever said the project will help allow for extra services to Ararat and Maryborough, and potentially for extension of trains to Dunolly.

“For the train to really be useful to people, it needs to run quite frequently. The Maryborough line in particular has always suffered from a lack of services, so we are definitely keen to see trains running more frequently on this line.”

Mr Lever also noted that the project may have benefits for the eventual return of direct passenger trains between Ballarat and Geelong.

“Although this seems to be flying under the radar of both the government and the opposition at the moment, in the medium term we will also need to see the return of direct passenger trains between Ballarat and Geelong, to connect Victoria’s second- and third-biggest cities to each other without the need for a lengthy diversion to Melbourne. This service would travel along the existing freight line that is part of the Murray Basin Rail Project, so any investment that helps sort out the path through urban Ballarat gets us one step closer to making it a reality.”

PTUA welcomes Coalition commitments to regional rail in western Victoria

The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has today welcomed the state Coalition’s commitments to improve regional rail in western Victoria if elected in November.

A study commissioned by a group of councils in western Victoria in 2017 called for a swathe of improvements to public transport in their regions, including returning passenger trains to Horsham and Hamilton, and improving a number of coach connections. The Coalition have announced their intention to fund a formal business case for these proposals.

PTUA Ballarat Branch Convener, Ben Lever, welcomed the announcement as the first step towards returning passenger trains beyond Ararat.

“Returning passenger trains to these communities is really vital for connecting them to each other, and to Ballarat and Melbourne. We hope this business case can do the detailed planning necessary to allow construction to start as soon as possible,” he said.

“Passenger trains along these routes would act as the spine of the region. When fast, high-capacity passenger trains are running on these routes, they can be complemented by connecting coaches to places that aren’t on the rail line, and thereby improve public transport across the whole region.”

The Coalition also propose extending the Maryborough line to Donald, reactivating stations at Dunolly and St Arnaud along the way. These extensions are also seen as a first step towards returning passenger services all the way to Mildura in the future.

“Returning passenger trains to these communities would be a real boon. Whether they’re taking shorter trips to Maryborough or Ballarat, or going all the way to Melbourne, a fast and well-timed train could be extremely useful for the people living in these towns.” Mr Lever said.

Mr Lever did note that there were some technical obstacles to returning trains to returning passenger trains beyond Maryborough that would need to be addressed.

“In that part of Victoria there is a mixture of Broad Gauge track, which is primarily used for passenger services, and Standard Gauge track, which is primarily used for freight services. Because a given train can only run on one type of track, passengers travelling all the way from Donald to Melbourne would need to change from a Standard Gauge train to a Broad Gauge train at some point in their journey – the decision will need to be made about where that change should happen. We look forward to the Coalition providing these kinds of finer details about their policy in the coming months.”

While Mr Lever welcomed the proposed reopening of these stations, he warned against a “set and forget” approach.

“Governments need to bear in mind that it’s not just about providing the infrastructure or providing “a train” – it’s about backing that up with services that are frequent enough and timed well enough to really be useful to passengers,” he said.

“When the Maryborough line was reopened in 2010, it initially only had one train running in each direction per weekday, and no trains on weekends. After years of local campaigning, the line finally has two trains per weekday. and one train per weekend day – which still leaves a lot to be desired. It’s still not possible to live along the Maryborough line and commute to Melbourne by 9am, or return from Melbourne after 5pm – or for tourists to take a train to Maryborough on a weekend morning. If services are returned to these other towns, they will need to avoid these kinds of issues by providing a good level of service from day one.”

Under another Coalition proposal, Ararat would also get an extra counter-peak service on weekday mornings, allowing people to get to Ararat by 9.00am. Currently, the earliest train to Ararat arrives at 10.39am, which is too late for most workers.

“In the current term of government, Ararat has gotten a new early-morning peak service that allows people to live in Ararat or Beaufort and commute to Melbourne by 9 am. If implemented, this new service would allow people to do the reverse-commute by train – travel from Ballarat to Ararat every morning, and take the existing coach service home in the evenings.” Mr Lever said.

“There are already many people who live in Ballarat and work in Ararat, but they currently have to drive – so there is a clear market who could take advantage of this service.”

Mr Lever also called on other political parties to match the Coalition’s pledges. “It’s fantastic to see the Coalition recognising how important public transport will be in spreading population and prosperity across Victoria. The current Labor government has made strong investments in regional public transport in this term, but they won’t be able to rest on their laurels – they will need to pledge to continue this investment next term, as will the Greens and other crossbenchers who may hold the balance of power.”

“Ballarat is ideally placed to become a hub for much of western Victoria, offering health services, education, employment, tourism and many other things. For that to happen we need really strong public transport connections – and that means improving the infrastructure and services we already have, as well as reopening old lines and reconnecting with towns that lost their services in past decades.”

Ballarat commuters shortchanged by piecemeal track duplication

Ballarat single track

The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has today criticised the state government’s piecemeal approach to track duplication works near Bacchus Marsh.

The Melbourne Metro Authority, which is delivering the Ballarat Line Upgrade (BLU) project, announced changes to the project in December 2017, including changing the location of one of the crossing loops. The project originally included 3km of duplication works at Warrenheip, but this was changed to 3km of duplication west of Bacchus Marsh.

The rationale given for this change was that it meant less tree removal and excavation, and that it allowed trains to more quickly move in and out of the stabling facilities that are also planned as part of the BLU project.

However, indicative maps released as part of public consultation show that this duplication will end approximately 1km short of the Rowsley Loop, which was constructed in 2016 – meaning the line will go from double-track to single-track and back again in a very short distance.

“Shifting the duplication from Warrenheip to Bacchus Marsh, to allow trains to move to and from stabling without causing disruption to revenue services, was a sensible move. But it would be much more sensible if they would just extend the track a little bit further to join up these loops” PTUA Ballarat Branch Convener Ben Lever said.

“It seems ridiculous that these duplication works will get within sight of the existing Rowsley Loop, but won’t actually join up with it.”

“This introduces a new bottleneck to the rail network, which will make V/Line’s operations much more complicated than if they just connected the two up. Having these little low-quality bottlenecks limits the usefulness of the high-quality infrastructure being built further up the line.”

Mr Lever also raised concerns that having two separate loops so close together would be an inefficient use of taxpayer funds.

“With these track duplication projects, among the most expensive parts are the points and the signals at either end of the loop – the flat, normal track in between is comparatively much cheaper. Because there are such big fixed costs, no matter how long the loop is, a 2km loop isn’t twice as expensive as a 1km loop – and in the case of this project, a 4km loop would not be 33% more expensive than a 3km loop. Once you’ve committed to paying the fixed costs, it’s much more efficient to have a slightly longer loop.”

“The 1km section planned to be left as single track is quite flat and smooth, and should not require expensive earthworks like other sections of track might. This really seems like low-hanging fruit, so why isn’t the government picking it?”

“Even more inefficient – the BLU project is just the first step in duplicating the whole Ballarat line. We all know we need the line to be fully duplicated from Ballarat to Melbourne as soon as possible, so eventually all these little crossing loops will be joined up into a continuous double-track railway. It would be incredibly wasteful if the government had to rip up these points in order to join the two loops in just a few short years.”

“The government should extend the duplication a little further to the Rowsley Loop, do the job once and do it right – it will give passengers the best outcome, and save a lot of money in the long run.”

Bacchus March Rowsley duplication map

PTUA welcomes extra Night Coach services

The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has welcomed the government’s announcement of extra Night Coach services for regional Victoria.

Passengers on the Ballarat and Bendigo lines will benefit from new Night Coaches leaving Melbourne around 1am, in addition to the existing coaches which leave around 2am. This fills a gap of approximately 2 hours in the existing timetables, between the last train leaving around midnight and the Night Coach leaving around 2am. The Geelong line’s last train is around 1am, so the new Night Coaches to Ballarat and Bendigo will cater to a similar crowd.

The PTUA has previously advocated for a service leaving around 1am, and is extremely pleased that the government has decided to introduce these services in addition to the existing 2am coaches.

For passengers heading in the other direction, there will be extra Night Coach services from Bendigo, Seymour and Traralgon, all timed to arrive in Melbourne around 12:40am. These services also fill a large hole in the timetable, making it possible to stay in these regional centres later into the evening.

PTUA Ballarat Branch Convener Ben Lever praised the government’s announcement, saying this would provide more flexibility to passengers wanting to travel to and from Melbourne on weekends.

“The extra services to Ballarat and Bendigo fill a real hole in the current timetable between midnight and 2am. For many people, the midnight train means they have to leave the party too early, and the 2am coach gets them home too late – so the 1am coach should be very popular.

“The Geelong line’s last train leaves around 1am, so these new Night Coaches will give Ballarat and Bendigo passengers the same opportunities as Geelong passengers to socialise and attend events in Melbourne”.

The services from Bendigo, Seymour and Traralgon to Melbourne will also serve a real need.

“In many regional towns and cities, the latest train to Melbourne on a Saturday night is very early – in most cases before 9:30pm, and on the Traralgon line before 7pm! This means that if you want to visit one of these regional centres to attend an event, or even just have dinner, you currently have to spend the night – which is a big deterrent for many people. These Night Coach services will make it easier for Melburnians to experience all that regional Victoria has to offer, and head home to their own beds afterwards.

“The new services will also come in handy for regional Victorians who need to arrive in Melbourne later at night, such as people catching the SkyBus to Tullamarine airport for a late-night flight”

PTUA supports call for better services for Ballarat

Ballarat single track

The Public Transport Users Association today welcomed Committee for Ballarat’s new #59minuteballarat campaign, which calls for full duplication of the line to Ballarat, electrification of the line to Melton, and faster, more frequent and more reliable services.

PTUA Ballarat Branch Convener Ben Lever said the region needs a long-term bipartisan plan to deliver the infrastructure and services it needs.

“The Ballarat line has always been held back by the long single-track sections. Trains need to wait in crossing loops for trains coming the other way, which adds to journey time and limits how frequently trains can run. It also means that when one train is late getting to the crossing loop, other trains need to wait for it – meaning delays spread from one train to another.”

“We’ve seen some fantastic investment recently, with part of the line to be duplicated over the next two years – but there’s still a long way to go. With Ballarat’s population expected to grow to 160,000 by 2040, and the western suburbs of Melbourne already growing rapidly, we need the full duplication of the line to Ballarat, and electrification of the line to Melton, as soon as humanly possible.”

“The good news is, we know this is a sound investment for governments to make – from the Regional Fast Rail project to Regional Rail Link, when governments have invested in a better service, people have flocked to it. If governments continue to invest in better public transport, the public will use it”

The Committee for Ballarat proposal calls for an express train between Ballarat and Melbourne in under an hour, as well as more frequent and more reliable trains.

“The full duplication of the line is going to allow for some dramatic improvements to service on the Ballarat line – not just a faster journey once you’re on the train, but more trains, more often. Not only would running trains more frequently reduce overcrowding and give people more choice in when to travel, it would cut door-to-door journey time – less time waiting on the platform means more time at home with your family.”

The State government maintains that Melton can’t be added to the electrified Metro network until the Metro Tunnel opens in 2026 – even if this is the case, detailed planning needs to start now, so that the two projects can be built alongside each other and open on the same day.

“Adding Melton to the Metro network will not only provide Melbourne’s west with a much better service, it will allow Ballarat trains to run express from Melton to Sunshine, reducing crowding and resulting in faster journeys.”

The plan also calls for better connectivity to Ballarat’s regional neighbours, like Ararat and Maryborough.

“Ballarat isn’t just a commuter town for people who work in Melbourne – it’s also a significant destination in its own right. People come to Ballarat for education, healthcare, shopping and tourism – so we need a frequent, reliable public transport system that can get people here.”

Ballarat bus passengers still waiting

A new bus timetable for Ballarat will come into effect on 27 August to align with new train times, but the Public Transport Users Association note that most problems with the timetables still remain.

Since January 2017, Ballarat bus timetables have been excessively padded out, with overly-generous estimates for how long parts of a journey will take. Buses are constantly being forced to sit idle at key timing points, waiting for the timetable to catch up to reality – wasting the time of drivers and passengers alike.

Before January 2017, a trip from Federation University to Sovereign Hill was timetabled at 11 minutes. Now the exact same journey is timetabled at 18 minutes – a 64% increase. This means that when the bus arrives at Sovereign Hill, it regularly has to wait several minutes for the timetable to catch up before continuing on its journey.

A few times have been tweaked in the August timetable update, to reflect similar tweaks to V/Line timetables – but none of these overestimations has been corrected.

PTUA Ballarat Branch convener Ben Lever noted that this was a missed opportunity.

“There are a lot of complex issues with Ballarat’s new bus network that will require comprehensive review, but this isn’t one of them. This is a simple problem which could easily have been fixed along with the other August timetable tweaks – it’s extremely disappointing that PTV have let this opportunity pass by.

“With an entirely new route structure introduced in January, these sorts of teething problems aren’t surprising – it takes time and experience to fine-tune timetables. But PTV now have six months’ worth of experience with the new network, so there’s no excuse for letting these problems continue.

“If we want to get people out of their cars and reduce congestion – both on the roads and in station carparks – Ballarat needs fast, direct buses that can compete with cars. Sitting idle is no way to do that.

“PTV needs to commit to reviewing these excessively slow timetables as soon as possible.”

PTUA welcomes funding of bus interchange at Ballarat station

The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) today welcomed the announcement of $5 million funding for the construction of a new bus interchange at Ballarat railway station, to be completed in 2018.

The bus interchange had been included in draft plans during public consultation, but notably was not funded in Ballarat Station Precinct works announced in December 2016.

PTUA Ballarat Branch Convener Ben Lever praised the decision to bring the construction of the bus interchange forward.

“Ballarat railway station is a key transport hub, and must remain so. The highest priority for the station precinct has to be public transport enhancements like the bus interchange.”

“While we still have questions about other aspects of the Ballarat Station Precinct plan, there can be no doubt that the funding of the bus interchange is a huge win for Ballarat commuters.”

“The interchange should allow easy transfers between buses and trains, making life a lot easier for those who currently take the bus. It should also help encourage people who currently drive to get out of their cars and take the bus to the station, reducing pressure on parking and reducing congestion on surrounding streets.”