Bungled timetable revamp leaves only two new metro trains from $3.6 billion link [The Age]

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Regional Rail Link update: Better days ahead some kinks away. Keeping the faith!

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Bungled timetable revamp leaves only two new metro trains from $3.6 billion link
Clay Lucas
City Editor, The Age
Source – The Age, published June 21, 2015

Premier Daniel Andrews and Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan aboard a V/Line service at a launch for the Regional Rail Link. Photo: Chris Hopkins
Premier Daniel Andrews and Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan aboard a V/Line service at a launch for the Regional Rail Link. Photo: Chris Hopkins

A new rail line through Melbourne’s west that was meant to free up capacity for both regional and metropolitan services has resulted in just two extra Metro Trains services being added to the city’s timetables.

The Regional Rail Link, the city’s first major new suburban rail line in 80 years, opened on Sunday, ushering in services to Geelong at an unprecedented interval of every 20 minutes during weekdays.

And trips on Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo trains are set to become more reliable because they will be separated from metropolitan rail lines.

But the bungled launch of a new timetable for metropolitan Melbourne has seen virtually no extra services added on stretched western suburbs railway lines.

The new timetable, meant to start in April, has now been delayed until at least the end of this year.

Part of the justification for the federal government pouring money into the $3.65 billion project was “to create extra capacity on the Werribee, [Sunbury] and Craigieburn lines”, the late Lynne Kosky said as public transport minister in 2008.

The Regional Rail Link – separate V/Line tracks from West Werribee to Sunshine and a new pair of tracks from Sunshine to Southern Cross – promised to provide space to run 23 extra metropolitan services each morning and evening peak hour.

A spokesman for Public Transport Victoria said there would be a timetable change later this year, which was currently being designed.

Metro Trains expects to run extra services on the Werribee, Sunbury and Craigieburn lines as a result of the new timetable, but referred questions to Public Transport Victoria.

Public Transport Users Association spokesman Daniel Bowen said it was fantastic the new rail line would provide rail services to thousands of new residents on Melbourne’s fringe. “For once we’ve got these new suburbs in outer Melbourne that have good public transport. It should be a model for future urban growth,” he said.

But he said the promised benefits of the new rail line had not yet eventuated: “For Metro passengers there’s virtually no difference.”

The launch of the Regional Rail Link has also angered a western suburbs council, which says Labor had broken its promise to restore direct train services from Altona once the new line opened.

Timetable changes in 2011 saw some Altona services terminate at Newport station during off-peak times, meaning city-bound passengers had to change trains.

Hobsons Bay councillor Sandra Wilson said Altona locals felt let down by Labor, which in opposition promised to reinstate direct services.

Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan said direct city services for Altona loop passengers would be reinstated, but not until the new timetable was brought in. This would “occur later in the year”, she said.

Meanwhile, millions of dollars of public money remain under legal dispute for land acquired as part of the Regional Rail Link.

The transport department is locked in legal battles with around 20 remaining landowners over the price it paid to buy their land to clear the route for the rail line.

In one case, the department valued a 700-square-metre sliver of land in Tarneit at $46,000 – only to have the land’s owner, Grassylands Pty Ltd, demand $1.6 million.

The department reached a secret settlement and would not say how much public money Grassylands was paid.

In another battle under way in the Supreme Court a major landholder in Melbourne’s west, Investa Properties, won an order for the government to pay $2.2 million extra for land taken in Wyndham Vale.

The transport department has challenged the state planning tribunal decision in the Supreme Court, saying a mistake at law has been made and that it does not need to pay the extra millions to Investa – which last year booked a $98 million profit.

The Regional Rail Link Authority’s media manager Paul Frawley said negotiations continued with landowners in “approximately 20 land acquisition matters”. And he said no details would be released about how much public money was being given to buy out land owners.

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