It’s very frustrating to read the comments on the Facebook page of Victorian Transport Minister Jacinta Allan.
It’s not the sort of frustration I consider out of line. People have needs, especially in regional Victoria, and as attempts are made to improve the system there are going to be hiccups. The biggest hiccup was having a Coalition government between 2010 and 2014. The Liberals have a history of not caring about public transport. They think roads are the solution. Since 1955 the rail system has contracted incredibly badly, thank primarily to two Premiers – Henry Bolte and Jeff Kennett. Nothing Bolte took has been restored, while only Ararat and Bairnsdale have been brought back from Kennett’s closures.
But what we have is under pressure. There are many complaints about delays on the Ballarat line, and Gippsland passengers are wondering where their fast regional rail is given they have a longer trip through metro Melbourne that the other lines. Passengers are expecting perfection.
Well you aren’t going to get it.
It’s unfair to demand perfection from a transport system that is yet to be up to optimum. It’s one thing to be frustrated with the hiccups in the system. It’s something else to expect second perfect on time services with no one standing. And that’s just the trains.
I’m not saying the way things are at the moment should be accepted. Of course not. But we have a LOT to fix. A LOT!
1. Level crossing removals are the metropolitan priority. 50 were identified by the Level Crossing Removal Project, 10 of which are done (Gardiner, Ormond to Bentleigh, Ginifer and St Albans, Bayswater – both – Blackburn and Heatherdale). Skyrail covers nine more including Clayton and Noble Park as well as the core section from Carnegie to Hughesdale, and along with Thompsons Road between Dandenong and Lyndhurst, Sydenham, Rosanna and Alphington are heavily progressing. Tenders are up for another 14 and and remaining 13 are being planned.
2. The only interurban line that should be running 100 percent is Geelong. But the problem there is that many residents in the Wyndham council region are boarding at Wyndhamvale and Tarneit – more than what was anticipated, simply because it’s quicker from there than it is from Werribee. It’s clogging the line, and that means that more express services are needed on the Werribee line. Beyond Geelong however we have that single line that is holding up improving the services beyond, and the biggest issue there is the tunnel between Geelong and South Geelong.
3. I’ve said before that the entire Ballarat line needs to be duplicated. The $518 million that came out of last year’s state budget is only for duplication to Melton. That will help as will the two extra loops and the second platforms at Bacchus Marsh and Ballan. That’s due to be finished in 2019, and it has already started with the opening of Caroline Springs (something that was delayed by the previous Coalition government) extending the duplicated rail from Deer Park West. We have to take that for what it’s worth and it is worth a lot compared to what we have now.
4. Engineering issues stops re-duplication of the Bendigo line, involving the Chewton and Ravenswood tunnels – both of which are heritage listed – and I suspect similar issues with the Malmsbury and Taradale bridges and some bluestone bridges on top of that. But Sunbury has to let the Bendigo services go. That’s a major issue. Sunbury passengers have to start using the metro services and stay off the V/Line services – and that means more express services are needed.
5. In this year’s budget the silly single line between Bunyip and Longwarry has been covered for. That’s overdue and it will help as well as the partial duplication between Moe and Traralgon including second platforms. The Sunbury issue also repeats itself here at Pakenham. Skyrail will help but they need the extra tracks at least between Caulfield and Springvale. They also need to re-signal between Caulfield and the City Loop and provide a flyover at Caulfield – provided the signal box there isn’t heritage listed!
6. The intercity services are in bad need of improvement – starting with better rolling stock. More services are being planned for Warrnambool and with that in mind you can understand Shepparton residents demanding the same. The hold back there though is the Federal government announcing the inland rail from Melbourne to Brisbane – which will go via that route. That will mean a standard gauge conversion. But we need to see the money from Canberra and I suspect we might get it next week in the Federal budget. We’ll see.
One Kennett closure that has been getting a large amount of attention on the Minister’s Facebook page is Mildura. Now I would like to see it return, but I have it on good authority that the numbers aren’t there. The only reason that would be the case is if the numbers on the current services aren’t up to the appropriate level. I’m being told the services are full. Sorry – that’s a nothing answer. What is needed is demand. The booked services need to be full at least a week in advance and complaints about the lack of seats. Is there any of that? No there isn’t. Put it this way – Mildura residents need to force V/Line to consider running two buses out of Mildura on the one trip, and that isn’t happening. The overnight bus for instance could have one going express right through and the other being the stopper. The same for the daylight services – express to Swan Hill and a stopper, and the same for the services through to Bendigo.
Two other locations popped up recently – Kyabram and Heathcote. Kyabram is serviced by the link bus between Murchison East and Echuca. It’s present level will only be improved when the demand is there. The same applies to Heathcote.
Long term, we do need much more work. I’m keen to see populations in the interurban area rise, not just at the terminals in Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo in particular, but down to the small localities that have an active station – Little River, Clarkefield, Malmsbury, Tallarook and so on. And even the larger places like Kyneton, Castlemaine and Drouin amongst others.
We are a long way from 100 percent operational. Until we get to that point, we have to take the rough with the smooth. I’ve been relying on public transport for my independence so I am used to this. Yes it is frustrating at times, but it’s the nature of the beast – a beast creating originally by Bolte from which we have never fully recovered.