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It has been nearly twenty years since VLine was a freight carrier in Victoria and yet they have been tasked to design and execute the Murray Basin upgrade and standardisation project.
The implementation of the Murray Basin Standardisation project is well into its design phase and the proposals that VLine, which is managing this project has some disturbing aspects for both the freight rail industry and some the towns along the lines.
The project will standard gauge the Mildura, Murrayville, Sea Lake and Manangatang rail lines. It will reopen the Maryborough to Ararat branch and it will dual gauge the existing line between Maryborough and Gheringhap. Some ancillary works will also occur such as the removal of the dual gauge between Maryborough and Dunolly, installing of a “Y” junction at Ararat and the removal of yards and infrastructure at a number of places along the lines.
The Rail Revival Alliance is fully supportive of the concept of this standardisation.
However, there are a number of disturbing aspects of this plan which require attention now, at the design stage, to ensure that money does not have to be spent in the future to make good some glaring mistakes.
There are two main issues which we believe should be addressed:
The Removal of infrastructure
The plan currently in place provides for the removal of a number of siding, stations yards, the branch line connection to Castlemaine and crossing loops. It is our view that VLine does not have sufficient understanding of freight operations any longer to make decisions about the removal of this infrastructure. The consultation with the stakeholders has been cursory, or in most cases, not at all. And apparently, which any stakeholder has pointed out problems with the current design, it has been ignored.
The changes to Maryborough are a case in point. The number of roads made available in the proposed yard will be totally inadequate for major train movements and the necessary remaking of trains, crossing of trains and temporary storage. The implication for current or any future freight operator to keep Maryborough as a depot are dire as the “hub” of freight operations as it currently stands would be unlikely to continue into the future. Private freight operators may see such towns as Ararat with its main line connection, a much more attractive location in which to centre their operations.
In addition, the standard gauge line is to be moved from the platform, into No 3 road, so any train going further north will not have platform access on Standard Gauge at Maryborough. Thus for any tourist trains, let alone a future Mildura passenger service, Maryborough will not be a stop and to alter this situation in the future will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
It is planned to remove there some of the crossing loops, sidings and other infrastructure along the line. This will inhibit future market development unless the facilities have been retained for an existing user. Any new clients needing to put in a siding or loop would face costs of up to $10,000,000 for their business to access the line. This will only increase the share of freight being taken by road.
The removal of the current junction of the Castlemaine line at Maryborough will again provide a significant disincentive to re-open the Maryborough – Castlemaine line. With VLine’s unrealistic capital costs, the re-installation of this junction in the future would again be quoted at several million dollars and used by the Department as another excuse to do nothing to deliver the Geelong – Goldfields Passenger Rail Service. At present, they should install the junction with the existing facilities of the points and signals in preparation for the future opening up of the line.
The number of crossing loops between Ararat and Mildura will severely restrict freight operations on the line. Eighty to one hundred kilometres between loops is just too far, even with the current level of traffic. As the level of traffic increases with Mineral sand traffic and increased agricultural product, rail operation will be severely limited because of the inability to allow trains travelling in opposite direction to pass. The effect on train operations in a year of high grain yields will be drastic. The system will be limited in the number of trains it can carry on this corridor, and it is most likely that road will carry a great deal of the excess grain production.
The lack of crossing facilities will also severely affect future passenger operations to Mildura and again require the replacement of currently available infrastructure which is necessary for the proper operation of the Mildura Passenger Train.
The Installation of Dual Gauge Line between Maryborough and North Geelong
It is proposed that the line between Maryborough and Geelong via Ballarat will be dual gauge, i.e. a third rail will be installed inside the current Broad Gauge track to accommodate Standard Gauge train.
This would allow Standard Gauge train from the Murray Basin to take a shorter route to the Geelong or Melbourne wharves without the necessity of going through Ararat and this saving over 100 kilometres distant for the trip. The dual gauge would also mean that the current Broad Gauge Passenger Services between Maryborough and Melbourne via Ballarat could continue uninterrupted without change of rolling stock.
Unfortunately, there are a number of disadvantages to this proposal. Passenger trains operating on dual gauge track are limited, for safety considerations by VLine, to 80 kilometres per hour.
The effect on the travel times of the Maryborough Passenger train would be between 10 to 15 minutes per trip, or an additional 25% in time.
The additional costs with the dual gauging of the line would not be inconsiderable. Approximately 5000 tonnes on additional rail would be required costing at least $25M. There would be additional costs to lay this track as well.
Dual gauge points and turnouts would also be required at an additional cost. A speed limit of 20kilometres per hours is imposed on this points and turnouts.
The overall saving on not making the line between Maryborough and Geelong dual gauge would be around $50M; This is a significant saving on the project.
The solution to this issue is to make the Maryborough – Geelong section standard gauge only. There would significant cost and time saving if this proposal was implemented. Naturally, there would be some additional costs. VLine would need to allocate a passenger train set to cover the Maryborough line and have it converted to Standard gauge. Passengers would need to change trains at Ballarat to continue their journey to Melbourne. Currently, there is a wait both on the up and down trains of at least ten minutes at Ballarat and so the time in changing trains would be of little consequence at Ballarat Station.
While this passenger set would be underutilised in just running the Maryborough – Ballarat service, (4 trains per day), the standard gauge passenger train could then proceed through to Geelong on the line which is currently used only for freight, thus fulfilling the plan for the restoration of the Ballarat – Geelong passenger service.
A short distance of dual gauge track would need to be provided at the Geelong end to connect with the existing track at North Geelong into the main Geelong station.
With the Standard Gauge conversion of an existing passenger train and dual gauging of approximately 1500 meters of track at Geelong, there would still be considerable savings from the current plan to dual gauge all of the line from Maryborough to Geelong.
In summary, the Department of Transport must show both vision and consultation their design of the future Murray Basin Rail Corridor. The present plans are both restrictive and unworkable. The development of future freight business on these lines will be severely limited by the plans to remove existing infrastructure. Train operators will find that the loss of crossing loops, sidings and the Maryborough marshalling years. These issues can be easily sorted at the present design stage, but they will be much more expensive to correct once the project has been completed.
The Dual gauge between Maryborough and Geelong has both disadvantages in cost and travel time for passenger trains. There is now an opportunity to institute a standard gauge passenger train between Maryborough and Geelong as part of the Murray Basin Project, all of which would be paid for in the savings from only converting the line to standard gauge only.
The Rail Revival Alliance sees the standardisation of Victorian country rail track as an important objective and this plan for the Murray Basin is a key component of this plan. This group was formed to promote the Geelong - Goldfields Passenger Rail and the proposal contain in this document would see the re-introduction of rail services on the Maryborough to Geelong corridor. The restoration of the link Between Maryborough and Castlemaine is a last section of the proposal. Clearly, it has to also be standard gauge, from Castlemaine junction just North of Maryborough right through onto the main line at Castlemaine.
If the proposed changes between Maryborough and Geelong are accepted, the Maryborough to Geelong line will be returned to passenger service. Then the restoration of the Maryborough to Castlemaine section would be all that would be required to complete the Bendigo - Geelong link. This would be completed at a cost in today’s dollars of approximately $50M. This, in fact, was the budget cost for the re-introduction of the Ballarat – Maryborough passenger service seven years ago.
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