Category Archives: Regional

Australia must ‘move on’ from freeway fantasy, not High Speed Rail

In response to the Grattan Institute’s calls for Australia to ‘move on’ from High Speed Rail, the Public Transport Users Association notes the limitations of their analysis, and calls for urban megaroads projects to receive the same level of scrutiny.

Evidence has shown again and again that urban motorways induce more traffic, rather than “busting” it as proponents claim; that they do not stack up financially, in part because they rely on flawed “traffic busting” modelling; and that they are actively hindering our efforts to fight climate change. The North East Link’s price tag more than doubled after its benefit-cost ratio was calculated by Infrastructure Victoria, and it has not been re-assessed since; the West Gate Tunnel has completely circumvented this assessment process. And of course the East West Link, which the Victorian Opposition are inexplicably still fighting for, was a total dud at a BCR of 0.5

However these projects never attract the same scrutiny from economists that High Speed Rail projects do, despite the fact that they cumulatively cost a similar amount. As we quite rightly re-assess the merits of big government expenditure in light of COVID-19, these megaroads projects should be first under the microscope.

The report quite rightly notes many problems that any HSR project must overcome. However, it also has a number of large flaws that need to be addressed if we are to have a reasonable public debate about the merits of the project.

Population size and distribution

The report makes comparisons between the current population of Australia’s largest cities and international city pairs with HSR. However, this underplays the role that population growth will play – populations in Europe and Japan have grown very slowly since 1960 while Australia’s has more than doubled, and that growth is continuing. The Melbourne-Sydney corridor may have a much lower population than the Madrid-Barcelona corridor now, but by 2050 it will be very similar.

The overall trend towards urbanisation that is noted in the report masks considerable variation at the local level. Many rural LGAs are shrinking, or at best keeping their populations steady, but this does not just represent people moving to the capital cities, it also reflects considerable growth in regional centres. While still modest in absolute numbers, in percentage terms regional cities like Ballarat and Geelong are growing as fast or faster than Melbourne. This does not mean that regional centres are a silver bullet for the growing pains of our cities, but it does mean that claims of an inexorable flow towards the capitals are laughable. And despite claims that we have been trying to decentralise for decades, the decentralisation discussion has been long on rhetoric and short on substantive policy and investment for most of this period. The report is correct to assert that HSR would not be a silver bullet and to note other priority measures, such as internet connectivity – but the suggestion that it couldn’t form part of a decentralisation plan are more dubious.

The report makes the assertion that “to properly service regional towns, the train would need to stop in the centre of town” and notes that this does not happen in the Phase Two report, singling out the Gold Coast station in Robina as an example. This flies in the face of many international examples where a non-central station can work quite well for regional centres, where it’s part of a well-integrated transport network. Regional passengers can simply take the bus or drive to these stations; given that the Gold Coast HSR station was proposed to be adjacent to the existing conventional rail station, they already do. The report itself notes that the Gold Coast-Brisbane corridor is already the largest regional commuter corridor in the nation, despite Robina and all the other stations being inland.

The analysis suggesting Australia is more comparable to the USA than Europe or Japan may have merit on the grounds of population distribution, but it makes the untenable assumption that the USA has no HSR for purely economic reasons, completely ignoring the political environment. There is a well-documented history of vested interests advancing ideological political agendas against rail projects and in favour of road projects, and America’s political and funding landscape reflect this. The Californian HSR project mentioned in the report was hamstrung from the beginning due to political interference in the choice of route and staging, and the eventual decision to scale back the project is equally political. Similarly, the Texas Central project has “struggled to acquire land for the project”, but this is not due to the merits of the project, it is because vested interests have been doing their utmost to prevent the project from going ahead, leading to extensive legal battles. Clearly these political struggles do not have any bearing on the viability of the project in any objective economic sense.

Decarbonising long-distance travel

The report makes the valid point that a large-scale HSR project like this would be a very expensive and slow way to reduce emissions, compared to other emissions reduction measures in other sectors of the economy. The project would generate emissions during construction, and would take time to “pay back” these emissions through operation – this is a serious problem that environmental advocates for HSR must deal with.

However, it is also true that viable ways to decarbonise our interstate travel are thin on the ground – options like battery electric, biofuel or hydrogen planes may show promise but are currently unproven. Given that we’re now in the endgame of the climate crisis and must completely decarbonise all aspects of our economy – not just the cheapest and easiest aspects – analysts must compare apples to apples, and compare HSR against its direct alternatives for decarbonising interstate travel. It may be that one of these alternatives would be quicker and cheaper – but if not, it may be a case of building HSR and taking direct action to offset its construction emissions, such as through reforestation.

The PTUA certainly recognises that, on almost all measures, more modest improvements to public transport – whether within Melbourne or more conventional rail proposals for regional Victoria – are a higher priority, and our campaigning has always reflected this. However, the urgent need to address the climate crisis means that governments must do both – build the intra-city public transport networks we need while seriously addressing long-distance transport as well.

To help ease pressures on the budget, governments should be cancelling white elephant urban megaroads projects like North East Link, the West Gate Tunnel and the Monash Freeway Upgrade. None of these megaroads projects stack up financially, they all induce more traffic rather than “busting” it, and they all increase carbon emissions at a time when we need to be reducing them – if Australia needs to “move on” from a transport fantasy, it’s that these urban motorways are a good idea.

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 welcomes government intervention to save The Overland

The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has welcomed the announcement that the Victorian government will provide additional funding to assist the Overland passenger train to continue running between Melbourne and Adelaide – and has renewed calls for the government to support reinstatement of regular passenger trains to Horsham.

The Overland has been supported by the South Australian and Victorian governments for many years; its future was jeopardised when the South Australian government recently announced it would cut its portion of the funding. Today’s announcement represents an increase in funding from the Victorian government, with the remainder of the shortfall coming from Great Southern Rail, who operate the Overland.

The Overland runs twice weekly in each direction, and stops at North Shore (Geelong), Ararat, Stawell, Horsham, Dimboola and Nhill in western Victoria; it is the only passenger rail service that travels west of Ararat, and is therefore a very important link for those communities. The Overland also serves Bordertown and Murray Bridge in South Australia.

PTUA Ballarat Branch convener Ben Lever praised the Victorian government for working with Great Southern Rail to ensure that the Overland can continue to run in 2019.

“The Overland is the only passenger train that runs west of Ararat, and it serves as a vital link for people who live in places like Stawell, Horsham, Dimboola and Nhill. Not only does it connect these towns to Melbourne and Adelaide, it connects them to each other – and to Bordertown and Murray Bridge in South Australia.”

“Many people in these communities cannot drive, and some struggle to use high-floor coaches – it’s vital to maintain the rail link, and we are delighted to see the Victorian government step up to preserve this service.”

While welcoming the news that the Overland will continue to run, Mr Lever noted that places like Stawell and Horsham needed a higher level of service than the Overland currently provides.

“While it’s great that the Overland will still run, there is still a real need to provide regular rail services to Horsham in the very near future. The Overland provides a lifeline service to these communities, but years and years of cuts mean it only runs twice a week, and has a reputation for slow speeds and poor punctuality – so it’s not an attractive option for most trips.”

“Horsham needs and deserves a serious public transport option – trains that run two or three times a day, 7 days a week, with a modified version of the existing fast VLocity trains.”

Great Southern Rail have committed to a full review of the Overland service, to determine its future beyond 2019. Mr Lever encouraged the Victorian government to take the opportunity to take a holistic view of rail transport in western Victoria, and consider the best options for running V/Line services beyond Ararat.

“Great Southern Rail are primarily a rail tourism operator, running the luxury Indian Pacific and Ghan trains, and they arguably run the Overland on a similar model – running trains infrequently, and providing an enjoyable ride that is more about the journey than the destination. But the people of western Victoria also need to be able to get from A to B efficiently, so they need a regular train service like the rest of the state.”

“Whether that means running a regular passenger service to Horsham while continuing to subsidise the Overland beyond, or replacing the Overland with regular V/Line services to Adelaide, or anything in between – now is the time for the Victorian government to take a serious look at the long-term future of this key rail corridor. Councils in western Victoria have already commissioned a report into returning regular passenger trains to Horsham and Hamilton, and we urge the government to take this work and flesh it out into a proper business case as soon as possible.”

What year did your railway station open?

What year did your local station open? Before you were born? Probably before your grandparents were born! Our population is growing, and our public transport network needs to keep growing too.

Click here to view the map larger.

The rail network grew rapidly between 1854 and 1930… but since then almost nothing. Expansion of rail, tram and Smartbus services is far too slow for Melbourne’s huge population growth. No wonder the roads are congested!

Melbourne railway stations vs population growth

Join PTUA today to help the campaign for better public transport.

PTUA welcomes improvements to Shepparton line

The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has welcomed the government’s announcement that the introduction of a fifth daily train to Shepparton will be brought forward.

Enabling work, including a new crossing loop and more train stabling, was originally to be completed by 2020, but the state government announced on Wednesday that construction will begin sooner than expected. It will allow trains to run more frequently and reliably on the Shepparton line.

PTUA Regional Spokesperson, Paul Westcott, noted that Shepparton-Mooroopna is one of the fastest-growing regional areas centres in Victoria, and deserves a faster, more frequent and more reliable rail service to Melbourne.

“At the moment, train services to Shepparton/Mooroopna fall well short of those to regional centres such as Ballarat or Bendigo,” he said. “That has led to considerable dissatisfaction in the Goulburn Valley, and it has been an increasing problem as the population grows.”

“With more frequent trains, passengers will have more choice about when they travel, and not have to wait such a long time between trains, making trips to Melbourne more attractive and convenient,” Mr Westcott said.

“This investment in infrastructure and services on the Shepparton line is an important step towards a better-connected Goulburn Valley.”

Regional rail upgrades welcomed

The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has welcomed the agreement between the federal and Victorian governments which will see the release of $1.7 billion for improvements to the state’s regional rail network.

The PTUA’s Regional Spokesperson, Paul Westcott, said there was a need for significant improvement of the state’s longer-distance regional rail lines. The funding now available will be put towards upgrades on the Gippsland, Albury/Wodonga, Bendigo/Echuca, Ballarat and Geelong/Warrnambool lines.

“It’s good to see that the state and federal governments have finally sorted out this funding wrangle, so they can get on with delivering these vital projects, including the state government’s Regional Rail Revival project.”

“Inadequate service frequencies and poor timekeeping on our regional lines, coupled with too-frequent train breakdowns, have led to many complaints to the PTUA,” he said.

“There’s an obvious need to increase capacity on the system by track duplication and signalling upgrades, which will allow an increase in the number of services, not only on the regional commuter network, but also to places on the long-distance network, such as Echuca, Warrnambool and Shepparton.”

Mr Westcott noted the increasing number of large, heavy trucks on our highways, creating significant road maintenance and safety problems. “There’s general agreement that more freight must be carried by rail and this funding will also help achieve that,” he said.

PTUA welcomes Coalition plan for new long-distance trains

The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has welcomed the Coalition’s pledge to order new VLocity trains for use on long-distance lines in Victoria, if elected in November.

PTUA Regional Spokesperson, Paul Westcott, said the existing long-distance trains were overdue for replacement.

The Coalition promise would see older locomotive-hauled trains replaced by more modern modified versions of the VLocity carriages used on commuter lines today. They are planned to include the same first class and buffet facilities currently seen on long-distance locomotive-hauled services.

“Trains used on long-distance services are past their use-by date,” Mr Westcott said. “They’ve served the state well for over 30 years, but they’re outmoded and too unreliable for a modern railway network. Faster and more dependable trains will keep regional Victorians connected to the rest of the state.

“VLocity trains work well on long-distance services to Ararat and Maryborough, so they should provide a good service on the other long-distance lines.”

While the PTUA welcomed the announcement of faster and more reliable trains, it stressed the importance of running trains frequently.

The Coalition has pledged to procure only 16 new trains, and will remove the old sets as the new ones come into service. That would mean no net increase in the number of trains running on long-distance lines.

“Faster and more reliable trains are important, but having trains run more frequently is vital,” Mr Westcott said. “Most of the lines in question see only two or three trains per day, leaving huge gaps between services.

“In many cases, the last train is in the late afternoon, so if you want can’t travel until the evening you’re stuck till the next day. Faster journey times are great, but having to wait several hours – or overnight – till the next train makes the service unusable for a lot of people.”

Mr Westcott noted that an increase in the number of trains will help provide a more usable train service, that allows regional passengers to get to and from Melbourne when they want to, and encourages more people to move to regional areas.

“Passengers hope that the Coalition is open to delaying the retirement of the older trains, and to procuring more of the new trains after placing the initial order,” he said.

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”