Victorian public transport
advocates say Labor Premier Steve Bracks is spending $200 million to
save less than one minute’s travel time on one of his flagship Regional
Fast Rail Projects. Protesters shouting “Keep both tracks, Bracks”,
greeted the cabinet when they met in Castlemaine last month. The
demonstration was organised by the Better Rail Action Group, a group
which has been campaigning for radical changes to the Bendigo line
project since details were released in 2002.

Just before
Christmas, the government released a draft timetable for when services
resume next year. BRAG claims the draft timetable proves that changes
to the rail infrastructure, in particular the removal of the second
track between Kyneton and Bendigo, will make it impossible for the Fast
Rail Project to deliver a useful fast train service, let alone state of
the art fast trains.

The draft timetable suggests Bendigo line
customers will enjoy reductions in travel time of up to 35 minutes.
BRAG argues that in practice no train running on the draft timetable
will be more than 15 minutes faster than any comparable service in the
old timetable – and that the 15 minutes will only be gained by the one
daily non-stop express, which achieves half of its time savings merely
by not stopping.

When pressed on the issue, then acting
transport minister, Bob Cameron, insisted the fastest train on the new
schedule would be more than 35 minutes faster than the old slowest
train. BRAG claims the average train from Melbourne’s Spencer Street
Station to Bendigo will be only three minutes faster than before, and
the average service from Bendigo to Spencer Street will be 2.5 minutes
slower – leaving the average journey time for both directions combined
just 0.4 minutes faster.

The price tag? Two hundred million
dollars. BRAG is also critical of the scheduling of the express
services. They will depart Bendigo at 6:08am, arrive in Melbourne at
7:32am, and leave Spencer Street at 4:45pm – too early for commuters.
BRAG states intervening stations like Castlemaine will have practically
no trains leaving at the same time past the hour.

BRAG claims
that many of these problems are caused by the removal off the double
track between Kyneton and Bendigo. Singling lines slows trains down and
makes them less regular as, of course, when trains approach from
opposite directions, one has to wait in a passing loop.

Lines
made into singles in the UK 40 years ago (at the time of the great rail
cutbacks) are now being restored to dual tracks at vast expense. Isn’t
there a lesson there? Maybe. BRAG says Bracks is doing worse. The new
single track on the Bendigo line is being placed between where the two
old tracks ran, making attempts to replace the second line in the
future much more complex. So much for infrastructure as an economic,
social – or political – saviour. Other states please note.

Peter Fray

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