Thoughts on the Regional Network Development “Plan”

The Regional Network Development Plan was released on Monday to a little bit of fanfare. Not much though. And it’s easy to see why when reading it, it’s only 56 pages long and falls short of actually being a plan. Google defines a plan as “a detailed proposal for doing or achieving something.” This document provides no real details, just a rough outline for when those details are going to come out. That said, there were some ideas that I picked up on when I read through.

Moving to frequencies of 40 min off peak and 20 min peak on all commuter lines, with additional services on the long distance lines as well.

This is good news for regional Victorians. However the blanket approach to all lines might not be making the best use of rolling stock. The Bendigo Line for example, runs trains half empty beyond Kyneton. Having a 30 minute service to Kyneton would help this. This would also mean that trains to Bendigo could run limited express or express between Kyneton and Footscray, saving 10-20 minutes from every Bendigo trip.

Extra services are always welcome for long distance trains. However, a lot of work still needs to be done. Echuca only has one train service in each direction per day, and runs at limited speed between Bendigo and Echuca, despite the upgrades to level crossings that have already been completed but never enacted. Hopefully the responses from the “Plan” get the government into action on actually improving things.

New standards for stations to be developed, more parking, secure parking at some of the stations on the long distance lines, platform extensions to allow 9 car running on some lines/services

The secure parking is a good idea, especially for stations on the long distance lines where frequency is so low that people may have to stay in Melbourne overnight.

Developing standards for stations is a nice idea, as long as the result isn’t a lot of paint over existing problems just to cover things up, much like the Bayside Rail Project.

Platform extensions for longer running is great. The V/Line platforms at Footscray were built with 9 carriage long platforms. Sunshine was built with enough room for 7 carriages. Wyndham Vale and Tarneit were both built with room for 9. Extending other platforms (presumably on the Geelong Line) to allow for 9 car VLocity running would be useful for providing more capacity for the Geelong Line which service both Vicotria’s second biggest city, and the booming western suburbs. Hopefully it means other stations that are currently too short for trains get extended as well. Clarkefield station missed out on being extended when Macedon, Gisborne and Riddells Creek were done last year.

Trialing coaches to outer suburbs instead of all the way into Melbourne

A good idea, as long as there are connecting services available for people to change to.

Possibility of rolling out myki long distance – lots of public feedback on requiring two ticket types for different journeys. Review of current fare structure. Only in the long term plan (10+ years) to reflect new ticket technologies

This is exciting, especially with the ticketing system currently being convoluted in how it works. V/Line ticketing staff generally make people from Melbourne pay for their train and coach journey on a paper ticket, believing it will be cheaper, but this is not always the case, especially when travel in Zones 1 and 2 has already been paid for.

Disappointingly, this seems to have been put on the back burner with the “new” ticketing technologies – that have been in use in Melbourne for 4 years, and in regional centres before that – not to be rolled out on long distance services until at least 10 years in the future. While there may be some complicated aspects involved, such as seat booking and first class surcharges, the system should be robust enough to introduce these. If they can’t be added at all, then there was something wrong with the design brief for myki in the first place given it was always meant to be an integrated ticketing system.

Lots of focus and acknowledgement of freight, improvements to corridors carrying freight not coming at the cost of losing it

Freight makes the network tick, and the network access charges it provides gives return to the network for maintenance, much more than passenger trains which are highly subsidised. The plan acknowledges that improvements to passenger train frequencies can come at a cost for freight trains. An example of this is on the Bendigo line where the number of passenger trains going through the single track section between Kyneton and Bendigo means freight trains are now a rare sight. Track amplification is needed both for passenger frequency improvements and freight reliability.

Developing local area campaigns for local transport

Kyneton, where I live, has a local bus service. I have no idea on the days it runs, its timetables or routes because I have never seen any advertisement for it, not even at the station. The only time I have heard it mentioned was when some elderly tourists asked the station attendant when the next bus to town was. “Tomorrow” was the answer. Creating advertising campaigns for local bus services is the best way of getting people to use the services.

In conclusion

In all the plan is okay, but not as a plan. It’s more a collection of nice ideas that all need their own detailed plans to happen. This is in stark comparison to the Metropolitan Network Development Plan which detailed very clearly the stages and all the works that need to happen over the medium to long term to maximise the efficiency of the suburban network. This document seems a bit too rushed and light on details in comparison, and is more of a reactionary release than a vision for the future.