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Most parts of our rail network have at least two tracks. At least one for each direction. Then trains can pass in opposite directions without points having to be continually switched to allow access to the only track. That's how it should be in any reliable urban rail system.
However there are also single track sections. Some are within 20km of the city. With other constraints, single tracks make it harder to timetable frequent trains at even intervals, leading to overcrowding on some services.
Reliability is also affected. The train network may still operate but a small delay becomes major if single track bottlenecks cause trains to be held back. This is because safe working rules and the signalling system enforce spacing between trains. Trains may be out of position and recovery can take some time. In the interim, because trains cannot pass they may need to terminate early, bypass your station or not run at all.
Thick lines on the interactive map below shows single line sections of track on the Melbourne train network. Click on top left to switch on and off rail network and single line sections. Click on single line sections for more details on what may happen to your train if service alterations are necessary.
Source: http://vicsig.net line guides
Single track sections are appropriate for a quiet rural railway. However they have no place on modern frequent urban systems. Provided the land is there track duplication can be relatively cheap. Past governments have been slow to duplicate as frequency(*) and reliability don't seem to be highly valued. Freeways, road-rail grade separations, rail electrification, additional commuter parking and even projects with no transport system benefit (eg rebuilds of existing stations) are all seen as more tangible, exciting and vote-winning. Nevertheless we have had some recent duplications, such as between Heidelberg and Rosanna on the Hurstbridge line.
What's the outlook for our remaining single track sections?
Before being re-elected state Labor promised to duplicate the Cranbourne line south-east of Melbourne. Cranbourne is the only single track section that serves an outer growth area. Growth pressures on it are acute. Especially when failures have knock-on effects on Melbourne's busiest rail corridor, including the proposed Metro tunnel.
Duplication between Greensborough and Montmorency and around Diamond Creek on the Hurstbridge line is also now government policy. Some form of duplication was promised by both parties as the seat of Eltham was marginal going into the 2018 state election.
While not growth areas, both the Lilydale and Belgrave lines attract commuters from a wide catchment. The latter has substantial growth potential if feeder buses from Rowville and Lysterfield were improved.
Areas along the Upfield and Altona lines are undergoing densification and gentrification. This is likely to increase the number of city commuters. A fully duplicated Upfield line has potential to relieve both the over-burdened Craigieburn line and the Sydney Rd tram. The Altona line duplication's benefits are more local but a reduction in the number of people driving to Newport or Laverton in search of better service may offer some relief to the busy Werribee line. Upfield and Altona both have local activist groups advocating duplication. Their job is made harder by both being safe seats (unlike the marginals on the Hurstbridge line).
In the meantime, if you want a reliable train service, avoid living near single track sections.
(*) Provider attitudes to frequency vary. Some regard it as something only to be increased when crowding becomes acute and extra capacity is needed to meet demand. Whereas more progressive decision makers with a network vision invest in frequency to lead patronage growth. In the last few years Melbourne has lagged on frequency while Sydney has led. Attitudes towards frequency are one of the key differences between reactive and progressive public transport service planning and marketing.
This item was written by Peter Parker http://www.melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
This article first appeared on melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
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