Fast train projects

December 2001 Update
(Based on August 2001 document)

We were concerned that the original Fast Train Project consultants’ report focused almost solely on speeding up trains for commuters travelling between Geelong Station and Melbourne’s CBD, and unfortunately this has been maintained in all subsequent documents. While speed is important to deliver a trip that is competitive with the car (at least with regards to travel time,) there are many other crucial factors that also need to be addressed. This document briefly discusses the wider issues that will be critical for the project, in providing a multi-purpose public transport link for Victoria’s south-west corridor.

We commend the report from Environment Victoria, Driving the Fast Train Further: Integrated Public Transport Across All Victoria, which was launched in May 2001, by the Minister for Transport, Peter Batchelor. It discusses many of the wider issues that have been raised by the Fast Train Project.

1. Stopping Patterns and Speed

a) Concerns with the current proposal

We were concerned that the original proposal for the Geelong line would mainly achieve its high speed and short trip time, by expressing past many important stations. While the Minister for Transport recently announced that either diesel train sets (DMUs) or electric train sets (EMUs) will be used on the Geelong line, current plans still have the 45-minute train stopping at only two stations between Geelong Station and Spencer Street.

Given that either of these new train sets will accelerate faster after stops, the fast rail project should take advantage of the time saved, by having trains stop at more stations in preference to decreasing overall trip time.

Bypassing stations reduces the flexibility and convenience of the rail service for passengers. It puts pressure on other station car parks and means that people may have to drive instead of walking or cycling to their local station, or drive even further than they already do. Good opportunities for bus links to the rail network may also be lost. If the fast train stops at only two stations between Geelong and Spencer Street, it will bypass two or three important commuter stations that currently receive a regular service (up to every 20 minutes during peak times.)

Providing a tiered service, where fast services stop at only two stations between Geelong and Melbourne and slow trains serve the rest, would not be adequate. If the stations to be bypassed by fast trains currently receive a service up to every 20 minutes, and if existing service standards to those stations were to be maintained, the slower trains would have to run every 20 minutes in addition to the fast trains. That outcome would be very unlikely: Geelong trains would then be running more frequently than many suburban services.

In off-peak times, lower patronage would make the operation of a two-tiered service very expensive. It is likely that only ‘slow’ trains would run, or alternatively, that smaller stations would lose services.

b) Ways of speeding up trains without bypassing important stations

Fast acceleration from stations or achieving a high top speed, will be of little use if Geelong trains are still caught behind late-running suburban services, which is currently a chronic problem between Spencer Street and Newport. Any options to speed trains through metropolitan Melbourne should be explored in greater detail: a clearer path for Geelong trains may allow them to run at higher speeds through the urban area.

The latest tender document (Request for Tender, Rail Projects Group, September 2001) seems to focus on track improvements only between Geelong and Werribee. It requires Geelong trains to be capable of travelling the 43 km between Geelong and Werribee in 16 minutes (express,) which would leave at least 27 minutes (or 60% of travel time) to make the 32 km journey between Werribee and Spencer Street.

While travelling through inner suburban areas will always take more time, the tender arrangement puts unnecessary pressure on saving time between Geelong and Werribee, where Geelong trains should make the most stops. Meanwhile, the long section of straight track between Werribee and just before Newport, which has potential for high-speed travel, seems to have been forgotten. Proposed track improvements (eg at the Newport and Westona/Laverton junctions,) some of which were flagged in the original fast train report, also seem to have been left out of tender guidelines. A passing loop to allow Geelong trains to overtake late-running suburban services could also help speed trains through the metropolitan area.

However, it as just as critical (and potentially much cheaper) to explore other operational issues. Metropolitan and Geelong train timetables could be thoroughly reorganised so that trains travel in groups, with the fastest trains at the head and the slower trains following behind. Simply improving poor punctuality may also reduce conflicts.

c) Electrification

We support electrification of the rail line between Geelong and Werribee, so long as conductors are retained on Geelong services and the carriage fit-out reflects the needs of Geelong users. (Therefore, no old metropolitan rolling stock should be used.) Electrification must also extend to the proposed Grovedale Station, or at least as far as South Geelong station. (It would be ridiculous if passengers from South Geelong station had to change trains at Geelong Station.)

Electrification has potential to allow faster, more frequent rail services that could cater for trips between stations in Geelong and Melbourne, as well as within Geelong itself. An electric service can be more easily run through the City Loop if it is deemed necessary or desirable. Electric services are likely to be quieter, less polluting, more energy efficient (due to the reduced weight of rolling stock,) and cheaper to run in the long term.

The electrification option would cost more money; however, of all the regional centres, Geelong is the closest to Melbourne and has the largest population; thus serving the biggest potential market for the new fast train service. Indeed, the benefit-cost ratio in the original fast train report was 4.9 for the Geelong line, compared to 2.0 or less for the other regional lines. Even if the cost of electrification were over $100 million, it would still be less than half the amount to be spent on the Ballarat line, despite serving more than double the population.

If electrification is rejected, new diesel trains (DMUs) with greater capacity than those proposed for the other lines may be needed to cope with passenger numbers on the Geelong line. Simply reallocating some of the train sets that have already been ordered for the other fast train corridors, would severely restrict services on all lines. Using upgraded locomotive-hauled trains would have to be strictly limited to the occasional peak-hour express to relieve peak passenger loads. There should be no reduction in existing service levels to major commuter stations.

2. Important Stations

There are currently at least four very important commuter stations between Geelong Station and Spencer Street that are served regularly by Geelong trains. Almost all train services to Melbourne stop at (1) North Geelong and (2) Lara stations, and consequently these are the stations that many passengers use to catch the train. Approximately 15% of passengers use each station, (see Figure 5.3, Draft Geelong Transport Strategy or attached graph p. 6). Lara has a large and growing commuter population (total population almost 8000), working in both Melbourne and Geelong.

Closer to the Spencer Street end, many passengers get off the train at (3) North Melbourne to catch the City Loop trains or to access other parts of Melbourne. A significant number of passengers get off the train at (4) Footscray, whether for work, study or other purposes, and to change to trains to the western suburbs. Residents of the western suburbs can also change trains to go to Geelong. If the Airport Rail Link goes ahead and is routed via Footscray, passengers from Geelong will also be able to change services there for the airport.

A number of commuters and school students get off at (5) Werribee. At the end of the suburban network, Werribee is the logical place for Geelong trains to stop. It allows passengers to change to suburban trains, to go to stations between Werribee and Footscray (which is the Geelong train’s next stop.) Werribee is also the place at which many residents in that corridor, change trains to access Geelong and the Surf Coast. Werribee passengers could also be allowed to use an upgraded Geelong service for much faster trips into central Melbourne, so long as the Geelong services have the capacity to cope with increased numbers. This might mean running trains more frequently, or restricting Werribee passengers to using only off-peak Geelong trains.

In addition, we propose that trains should stop more regularly at (6) Corio Station, so that a reliable bus connection can be established to Corio Village Shopping Centre (Geelong’s major northern shopping centre and bus route hub). Currently, few trains stop at either North Shore Station or Corio Station, despite these northern suburbs of Geelong having a population of approximately 25,000 people. As a result, many people from the northern area of Geelong have to drive to Lara or North Geelong Stations, which are 13 km apart, to have access to a regular, frequent train service. This means that if they don’t just decide to drive, they either have to drive ‘backwards’ towards North Geelong, or drive a reasonably long distance, through residential areas, to Lara Station. [See page 6.]

We would therefore suggest that the standard express service stop at (Grovedale), South Geelong, Geelong, North Geelong, Corio, Lara, Werribee, Footscray, North Melbourne and Spencer Street. Except for the addition of Corio Station, this is the same pattern as used by many of the existing services. The very occasional ‘super’ express services (stopping at even fewer stations) could be maintained to deal with peak passenger loads. A service stopping at all stations (including North Shore and Little River Stations) should continue to run, and existing numbers of services to those stations could just be maintained. Stops at Newport station could be removed, and the few passengers who use Newport Station could catch the parallel suburban service to and from Werribee. (The reintroduction of express suburban services to Werribee would make this journey quicker.)

Geelong has a largely linear urban form that is oriented parallel to the railway line. Stops at more stations mean that more people have the opportunity to take a bus, walk or cycle to their local station, and the benefits of this could very well be worth the extra couple of minutes that this would add to the journey to Melbourne. The railway line has potential as the future ‘spine’ of rail-based public transport within Geelong and its region, and not just for commuter travel to Melbourne.

3. Bus Connections and Car Parking

Large car parks at the Geelong Station are full, while car parks at South Geelong, North Geelong and Lara are nearing capacity. In addition, many stations have little space left to expand their car parking. If faster trains bypass any stations, much greater pressure will be put on the other stations’ car parking facilities.

Regional centres such as Geelong should seize the opportunity to have their local public transport improved, though the introduction of reliable bus links to trains. Buses could provide an alternative to people driving their cars to railway stations, reducing congestion and air pollution in Geelong, and helping stations to cope with the expected increase in passenger numbers.

However, many people cannot presently catch a bus that ‘connects’ with trains. Buses should arrive at stations just before trains leave, and depart from stations soon after trains arrive. Scheduling services to ‘connect’ can be difficult, because at the moment, trains run more frequently than buses to the Bellarine Peninsula, and more frequently during the commuting peak times than Geelong’s urban buses. Trains also run much later into the evening than either bus system. This means that even if travellers are able to catch a bus to the station, they are often left stranded at the station in the evening, unable to take a bus home.

The expected increase in the number of train passengers provides Geelong with a critical opportunity to improve bus links, for the benefit of commuters as well as existing residents. Well-patronised bus links would reduce the overall cost of providing public transport in Geelong and allow the savings to be ploughed into further improvement to bus services.

Good bicycle facilities, including lockable bicycle cages, as well as other bicycle loops in prominent or well supervised positions should also be installed at stations.

4. Fares and Ticketing

In the fast train consultants’ reports, the cost of taking the train to Melbourne was cited as a major reason why people avoided using the train. A once-only, return journey to Melbourne during peak hour currently costs an adult $19 for an economy class seat, more than the cost of petrol for an equivalent car journey, and only price-competitive for people who don’t own a car or have to pay for parking in central Melbourne. Friends and families travelling together find it is much cheaper to drive than pay for two or more tickets. Off peak tickets are cheaper but only available if passengers are travelling both ways during off-peak times on weekdays. Discounted tickets need to be available to encourage people travelling as a group to use the train, and off-peak tickets should be available on weekends.

When train travellers from Geelong reach Melbourne, they can use trains in the ‘City Loop,’ but they have to buy a Met ticket to get around on the rest of Melbourne’s public transport. Whereas travellers from Pakenham can buy a Daily Zone 1+2+3 ticket for $10.80 (as of 1/1/01,) and be entitled to travel on any trains, trams or buses in Melbourne’s entire metropolitan area, all day. Train fares from Geelong to Melbourne should be integrated into this system, and should also allow travel on Geelong’s urban buses. Good public transport links to railway stations in both Melbourne and Geelong are important to ensure that the train becomes an important link in a much wider public transport network.

Conductors are a valued part of the Geelong rail service and must be retained. As well as serving an obvious role in checking tickets and selling them to passengers who get on the train at unstaffed stations, they also provide information, keep carriages in good order and importantly help make passengers feel secure. Conductors could sell Metcard-type tickets.

5. Frequency

A fast train is of little use, if passengers can still drive to Melbourne in the time that they spend waiting for the train. Currently, trains to and from Melbourne run approximately every hour, except during peak times, when they run up to every 20 minutes. The base frequency of an hour isn’t good enough. We would propose trains running every half-hour, all day, every day. Trains to Pakenham on the south-eastern outskirts of metropolitan Melbourne run at frequencies of every 20-30 minutes in both directions, all day and into the evening.

6. Hours of Operation

Trains should leave Melbourne for Geelong until at least midnight, and later on Friday and Saturday (when the service is particularly well-patronised.)

Currently, the last trains from Geelong to Melbourne leave around 9pm. This imposes an early curfew on visitors, eg. making it difficult to have dinner in Geelong before returning to Melbourne. Trains should keep leaving Geelong for Melbourne until at least 11pm. Services arriving in Melbourne before 9am on Sunday are also needed.

7. Interior Specifications

New trains should have adequate provision for carrying bicycles, surfboards, and other large luggage, as well as overhead racks for smaller bags and cases. There should also be good access for the disabled, with convenient and secure areas for wheelchairs: ‘Sprinter’ trains are often criticised in this area.

Toilets on trains would be very much appreciated by passengers. Unlike metropolitan services where passengers get on and off the train throughout the entire trip, the majority of passengers will be on the train for 45 minutes or more. Given the relative infrequency of the Geelong service, the greater travel time between staffed stations (with unlocked toilets,) and the fact that Geelong train travellers are used to having toilets on existing trains, some toilets need to be provided. Perhaps one toilet for every three-car set would be adequate. It would not be an extraordinary request; some regional and outer metropolitan electric trains in New South Wales do have on-board toilets.

There should be no more than four seats across carriages- squeezing in five people per row is uncomfortable for long journeys, and is not competitive with the comfort offered by car travel.

Further Information-

Tim Petersen
Convenor

Geelong Branch of the Public Transport Users Association
PO Box 4127,
Geelong 3220.

Appendix

Station Patronage vs Number of Stops graph

% Patronage: National Express figures from September 1999 of a typical weekday and weekend.
From Figure 5.3, Draft Geelong Transport Strategy, Maunsell Macintyre.

Numbers of stops: Total numbers trains stopping at a station on a weekday (both directions.)
From Table 2.18, Geelong Transport Strategy Study Public Transport Working Paper, Maunsell Macintyre.

There is a clear correlation between the numbers of stops that trains make at a station and the number of people who use that station to access the train. All trains stop at Geelong Station.

It is likely that improving service to Corio Station (in addition to some upgrade of bus services, car parking facilities and the return of station staff) would see patronage improve significantly.