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New train timetables. Minimal change.
That was the feeling most got from the new timetables announced by V/Line earlier this week. The problem with this is pretty obvious.
Unfortunately for the Victorian government, during the height of commuter anger it repeatedly pointed to the timetable review as the key change to deal with the problem.
This was the golden solution the government would use to improve services. The government over sold what was always going to involve some pretty minor changes.
Those minor changes may end up improving the line dramatically, who knows? But the issue here is that, looking forward, there are still a number of problems with the train line that are not being addressed.
The problem is Ballarat’s train line is so constricted, there just isn’t much room to move. In reality there isn’t a lot that can be done until a government (of any political persuasion) realises the stress the line is under and invests in infrastructure.
To V/Line’s credit, since the failed Regional Rail Link launch, the line achieved steady improvement, but in the long term that improvement will struggle to continue.
The fact of the matter is we have a booming patronage all along the line. That means not just Ballarat but also from Bacchus Marsh and further towards the city. So much so that a new train station is being constructed at Caroline Springs as the Melbourne sprawl continues out in a westerly direction.
That train station is going to have a massive impact on Ballarat commuters. Not only will there be another jump in people wanting to access an already under stress service, but trains will be forced to slow down and make another stop.
This steers the service away from what should be the ultimate goal for train commuters – a regular and consistent 60 minute service each hour.
Instead we create a more crowded, slower, and what will probably end up being a less frequent, service to accommodate poor public transport planning spanning successive governments.
Maybe Ballarat trains will bypass Caroline Springs and a separate train altogether will be used to take into account the new station. Sadly we probably don’t have the trains to accommodate the idea, nor would it fit in with a single track train line already under pressure.
A new passing loop at Rowsley is great, even if it took five years. But it should really only be the beginning and the need has greatly passed the impact it will have.
If both state and federal governments are as serious about regional cities, as every government claims it is, then surely this is the most obvious problem with an obvious solution. The Courier keeps asking for some kind of change in how government views our regional rail line. However, the same answers keep coming from government which is that we must wait for a review or a report before any action can really take place.
Whether it be the review of regional timetables or the Regional Network Development Plan, reviews and reports are only valid if we get some action. So while the review of timetables may have just been oversold more than it should have been, the RNDP should present real infrastructure improvements that are acted on.
The government must give commuters reason to believe there is a tangible method for real improvement and right now that just doesn’t exist.
This article first appeared on www.thecourier.com.au
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