Regional Rail Link and level crossings delays in Deer Park

Since the full opening of Regional Rail Link on June 21, level crossing delays at Mount Derrimut Road in Deer Park have skyrocketed, with some newspaper reports claiming that the boom gates have been down for period of up to 40 minutes! So what is actually going at the crossing?

N461 arrives into Deer Park with a citybound service

Newspaper reports

The first reports on level crossing delays came only a few weeks after Regional Rail Link opened.

Rail Express
Police ‘absolutely sick’ of risky drivers at level crossings
Oliver Probert
July 9, 2015

Victorian transit police have issued a plea to motorists to improve their behaviour around rail crossings after a spate of near misses in the past two weeks.

Police have reminded motorists that a new timetable – delivered following the opening of the Regional Rail Link on June 21 – means more V/Line trains are going through level crossings at Deer Park and Sunshine West.

Some motorists have been “dicing with death” by ignoring warning signals and even driving around boom gates, the state’s police force said on Thursday.

Victorian Police Transit Safety Division Inspector Karl Curran said he wanted to get a clear message to drivers who ignore level crossing warning signals.

“If driver behaviour continues this way there is going to be a fatality,” Curran said. “We are absolutely sick of drivers taking potentially deadly risks around railway tracks and level crossings as trains approach at up to 160 km/h.”

By August a local resident flagged the issue with Member for Kororoit Marlene Kariouz, who then raised it with the Minister for Public Transport.

Brimbank & North West Star Weekly
RRL opening causes Deer Park crossing gridlock
Ben Cameron
August 17, 2015

Ballarat train timetables will be reviewed after a Brimbank politician raised commuter frustration in parliament last week.

Member for Kororoit Marlene Kariouz had called on the Minister for Public Transport to sort out severe traffic congestion at a Deer Park railway crossing on August 6.

Traffic at Station Road has increased by 34 per cent over the past decade, according to Brimbank council’s transport priorities report.

“Since the completion and opening of the Regional Rail Link, the boom gates at the Deer Park railway crossing are down for lengthy periods, causing a backlog of traffic and driver frustration, and other safety issues,” Ms Kariouz said.

“I have had a number of emails from constituents regarding the long waits they are experiencing since the opening of the regional rail link.

“I note the minister has asked Public Transport Victoria and V/Line to review the timetable for the Ballarat line after the opening of the Regional Rail Link.

“As part of this I ask the minister to investigate what options are available to address traffic congestion at the Deer Park railway crossing in Station Road, Deer Park, caused by the railway gates being down for long periods of time.”

Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan said the scheduling of services through Deer Park is being considered as part of a review by Public Transport Victoria and V/Line of the Ballarat line timetable.

But no reason has been given as to why the delays are occurring, except that a timetable change is coming for the Ballarat line, and nothing is actually broken.

Brimbank & North West Star Weekly
Deer Park crossing delays prompt deadly risks
Ben Cameron
November 24, 2015

Drivers and pedestrians are illegally crossing railway tracks near Deer Park train station because boom gates are down for up to 40 minutes.

In a letter to Western Metropolitan MP Bernie Finn, Deer Park resident Daniel Attard said there was an “escalating safety issue” at the Mount Derrimut Road crossing.

Sunshine police’s Acting Inspector Brenda Bagally confirmed safety at the level crossing was an “ongoing issue”.

“The gates are down not just from getting stuck but from more trains coming through,” she said.

Police transit safety division inspector Karl Curran told Star Weekly in July that the Regional Rail Link and new V/Line timetables increased the number of trains going through level crossings at Deer Park and Sunshine West.

New timetables for the Ballarat line are due in late January but are not a direct response to Deer Park safety concerns, the state government has said.

Mr Attard stated the delays were leading to dangerous behaviour from train commuters, pedestrians and cyclists, who are crossing the tracks.

“I’ve witnessed on countless occasions pedestrians, rail commuters and cyclists climbing over or walking around the safety barriers while the crossing alarm is sounding and the boom gates are down,” he wrote.

“Several times I have witnessed motorcyclists riding around the boom gates and passengers in vehicles attempting to raise the smaller boom gate by hand, allowing vehicles through.”

He wrote, “there had been and still are frequent and significant malfunctions” with the boom gates.

“[Recently] the boom gates were down for a continual period of approximately 25 minutes.

Often, during the morning and afternoon peak periods, the boom gates are down for significant lengths of time, in regular cases between 25 and 40 minutes.

“This includes periods of up to 10 or 12 minutes when no train is either arriving or departing the platforms at Deer Park station.”

A spokesman for the minister said the government would ensure V/Line inspected and monitored the level crossing.

The real answer

The reason for the worsening level crossing delays at Deer Park is simple – since the opening of Regional Rail Link, every train to and from Geelong now uses the tracks through the station, resulting in the boom gates being down for longer than when just Ballarat trains used the line.

VLocity 3VL40 passes Deer Park Junction with a down Ballarat service

However, the gates staying down despite trains not passing through the crossing isn’t a physical fault – it’s fault with V/Line’s operational procedures, tied up with the way that level crossings operate.

How do level crossings even work?

The point of a level crossing is simple – prevent motorists and pedestrians from being on the tracks at the same time as a train. They achieve this by detecting the presence of trains before they reach the crossing, so that the mandatory warning time of 25 seconds is given to road users.

Level crossing activates at Werribee Street in Werribee, long before the next train is due to arrive

For a simple level crossing detecting a train isn’t too difficult – work out how long the fastest train takes to reach the crossing, install a sensor at that location, trigger the warning right away, and then reopen the crossing to road traffic as soon as the train is clear. However complexity soon arises once you head out into the real world.

The first hurdle is the ‘another train coming’ scenario on double track railways – where a train in one direction clears a level crossing, only for another to approach from the other direction soon after. Since you can’t open and close a level crossing instantly, the gates sometimes need to be kept down even when the tracks looks clear – the ‘Victorian Rail Industry Operators Group Standards’ describes the rationale:

The provision of holding for boom barriers ensures that if a motorist has just begun to move after the first train has passed, he will not be surprised by the level crossing protection restarting, causing him to react inappropriately and possibly stopping on the crossing.

Further complexity occurs when you start to mix trains that travel at different speeds – obviously a train travelling at 160 km/h towards a level crossing will get there much faster than a train doing half that speed, which also means the warning time calculated for a ‘fast’ train will result in the boom gates staying down longer when a ‘slow’ train approaches.

Thankfully technology has a solution that allows for varying warning times – instead of just detecting the presence of trains at a given trigger location, a ‘level crossing predictor’ uses a motion detection system to determine how fast a train is travelling towards it, which allows a consistent warning time to be given to road users, no matter the speed of the train.

However at Mount Derrimut Road, the main cause of delays is a third factor – the mix of express and stopping trains using Regional Rail Link. Express trains go flying through Deer Park on their way to the city, but stopping trains slow *down* on their approach, stop at the platform for passengers to board, then eventually accelerate back to normal speed. So how is the level crossing supposed to give a constant warning time, when the two times are so different?

Yarra Street level crossing, South Geelong

Again, this is already a solved problem, and it doesn’t even need any fancy technology – for decades level crossings in suburban Melbourne have been using ‘express/stopping selection’ to minimise the delays to motorists when trains stop at stations.

The ‘Victorian Rail Industry Operators Group Standards’ has this to say about the practice:

Express/stopping selection is provided when a platform is on the approach side of a level crossing fitted with boom barrier protection and is in close proximity to the crossing.

Stopping trains utilising the express train approach would cause extended closure times of the crossing. A stopping approach is provided in this circumstance to reduce the closure time for stopping trains.

Correct operation of express/stopping approaches requires selection and identification of each train as either an express or stopping train at the station under consideration.

There are currently two methods of achieving this:

  • Manual selection by a signaller at that location or at a preceding location. The signaller is required to select the train as either a stopping train or an express train via push-buttons before the departure signal will clear.
  • Automatic selection via a timing track at a preceding station. The train will be identified as an express or stopping train based on its operation at the selection station.

The signals and level crossing approaches are then set based on the identification (or selection) of the train.

If the train is selected as an express, full line-speed control and holding approaches are selected and the signals are cleared.

If the train is selected as a stopper, stopping control and holding approaches are selected and the signal protecting the level crossing is held at stop. The signals leading to the signal at stop display the appropriate aspect sequence.

In many cases the selection, whether manual or automatic, applies to a number of stations and crossings on the line ahead.

In this case the selection information proceeds to the rear of the previous train and follows that train to establish the required conditions for the following train. The circuitry used to achieve this is referred to as the progression system.

For those who aren’t signalling nerds, the above means “express trains get a clear run through the level crossing, while stopping trains have to stop in the platform, wait for the level crossing to activate, and then proceed”.

And back to Deer Park

So what is going on at Mount Derrimut Road? The top speed of V/Line trains is between 115 km/h and 160 km/h so that doesn’t really explain the massive delays – and the ‘another train coming’ scenario isn’t unique to Deer Park either.

However when I paid a visit to Deer Park for myself, express/stopping selection was the obvious issue – the level crossing activating early, no matter if the train is passing through at 160 km/h, or coming to a halt to pick up waiting passengers.

VLocity 3VL23 and classmate arrive to a full platform at Deer Park

I’ve since been told that all level crossings along the Regional Rail Link route already have express/stopping selection equipment fitted, but V/Line flags every train as an ‘express’ service in the signalling system – an operational convenience that makes life hell for anyone trying to cross the tracks.

While motorists in Deer Park won’t be happy that they have been unnecessarily delayed since June 2015, at least it means the fix for the problem is simple – no new timetables are needed, and no repairs to level crossings are required – V/Line just needs to use their signalling system as it was designed, and the infrastructure they already have in place will minimise delays.


The opening of Regional Rail Link has seen a previous theme at V/Line become even more apparent – their difficulty to adjusting to the fact they are now responsible for operating a commuter rail service to Melbourne’s ever growing regional satellites.

VLocity 3VL19 on a Melbourne-bound service passes new housing developments outside Waurn Ponds station

When you only run three trains a day through a town, level crossing delays don’t really matter. But when you are running four trains a hour to Geelong and another two to Bacchus Marsh, Deer Park is no longer just a ‘country’ station, and small delays add up.

And another problem

Regional Rail Link trains also suffer from delays at the flat junction west of Deer Park – I’d write about it, but Daniel Bowen covered the topic a month ago.

Small children – “you’re going to need a car”?

The other week in the Herald Sun I read an opinion piece titled “In Melbourne’s real world, cars still rule“, but it was a quote from Labor member for Brunswick, Jane Garrett, that really made me ask “are people really that blind”.

Down in the basement car park of Altona Gate Shopping Centre

She said:

The reality is that most people have cars. If you’re elderly or have small kids or have to do a lot of travelling for whatever reason, you’re going to need a car.

Obviously Ms Garrett has never driven down the shops with a newborn baby – at our house it looks like this:

  1. gather all of the baby paraphernalia and put it into a bag,
  2. put baby somewhere safe and take the bag out to the car,
  3. head back inside the house, pick up the pram, then load that into the car,
  4. head back inside again, but this time for baby,
  5. open the car, get the car seat ready, and strap baby in,
  6. get into the driver’s seat and drive away.

And if the above activities wasn’t complicated enough, you have to do it in reverse when you arrive at the shops – but with the added complication of somehow moving baby from car seat to pram while the car is squeezed into your typically narrow shopping centre parking space!

Compare this to just walking down the shops – just strap baby into the pram, dump the bag of baby kit into the bottom, and away you go.

Even catching the bus down the shop or the train to the city is easier that driving – the only tricky bit is getting the pram up the step and through the doorway, thanks to inconsistent platform heights and bus drivers who don’t pull up right to the kerb.

On newborns, public transport, and car seats

Apparently there are hospitals in Canada where the thought of transporting baby without a car is a foreign concept:

Apparently there are hospitals in Australia with similar policies, as well as some in the United Kingdom.

When we brought Baby Wong home from the hospital, we did have the option of taking the train instead of driving, but the 20 minute frequencies that pass for the off peak “service” made driving home the much faster option.

And insipid television commercials

And still on the topic of people who think you need a car to be a parent, a few months ago Volvo ran a series of asinine television commercials with “Makes Parenting Look Easy” as the tagline.

Fancy technology like rear view cameras didn’t exist in the old days, but it was also a time when people walked their kids to school each day, instead of driving them there in the road-legal version of a M1 Abrams tank.

V/Line thwarted from keeping trains running

Last week passengers on a Geelong-bound V/Line service were stuck at Deer Park for almost 3½ hours after their train broke down, with many other Geelong services also being delayed. So how does one broken down train manage to cause so many issues?

Passengers at Deer Park board at citybound service led by N461

V/Line said the delays were due to a “obstruction on the track”.

The “obstruction” being a broken down train!

With one track through Deer Park blocked, V/Line should have had multiple option for working around it – but were foiled at every turn.

Firstly, trains to Geelong could have been sent along the ‘old’ route via Werribee – I wrote about V/Line’s alternate routes the other month.

N455 leads the down Warrnambool service past the end of the overhead wires at Werribee

However things are never easy, and in the case of the Geelong line, Metro Trains Melbourne has decided to make things difficult – in October 2015 they banned V/Line’s fleet of VLocity and Sprinter trains from the line beyond Werribee, due to issues with said trains activating the now-seldom used level crossings. So there goes that option!

Another way to keep on running trains is the use of bidirectional signalling, which safely allows trains in either direction to use any track.

Signals and darkened skies at Deer Park

The railway between Sunshine and Deer Park West once formed part of the main route between Melbourne and Adelaide, so a second track was laid in the 1970s, so that faster moving passenger trains could overtake the far heavier and slower freight trains.

In the years since, trains to Adelaide were been diverted onto a new route via Geelong and the Regional Fast Rail project increased the speed of passenger trains, but the bidirectional signalling was kept in place, allowing movements like this pair of Ballarat trains chasing each other into Melbourne on separate tracks.

3VL47 and classmate head towards Sunshine, with another VLocity closing in behind along the parallel track

However as part of the Regional Rail Link project it was decided that bidirectional signalling was “too complicated” and the system was ripped out, leaving one track for citybound trains and the other for outbound trains.

So in the end, V/Line gets stuck with a broken down train blocking their tracks at Deer Park, an alternate route they are not allowed to use, and a clear track that they were not able to run trains along. Progress, eh?


While bidirectional signalling provides a great deal of flexibility in the operation of trains, it isn’t necessarily the most efficient way to operate a railway – switching between tracks causes conflicts, and hence cuts down the available track capacity.

The real benefit comes during disruptions – instead of cancelling services altogether, you can still run a limited rail service past the blockage, albeit with some delays as trains in opposing directions take their turn to traverse the section of single track.

The best example of this is the double track from Newport through to North Geelong via Werribee – it still retains a bidirectional signalling system, but is normally operated in the standard ‘left hand running’ mode to maximise the number of trains using the line. However during trackwork or disruptions, trains can still sneak through.

Vlocity VL30 and two classmates run through the worksite at Laverton

The above photo shows Laverton station back in 2009 – one of the tracks was ripped up to allow for the upgrade of the station, but V/Line trains to and from Geelong were able to keep on running on the remaining track.

The not so ‘Happy Hens’ egg world at Meredith

During the 1990s I made many backseat trips along the Midland Highway between Geelong and Ballarat, and one of the sights on the trip was the ‘Happy Hens’ egg farm at Meredith. Misleading named given that thousands of battery hens call it home, even more surprising was the egg themed tourist attraction that once occupied the site.

Photo by Mattinbgn, via Wikimedia Commons

Called ‘Happy Hens Egg World’, from the highway an adventure playground with a massive slide towered above the surrounding trees, and inside the gates the ‘Big Egg’ was perched atop a visitors centre, from which tours of the egg farm could be taken.

Our family never actually paid a visit to Happy Hens – my parents knew someone who went on the tour and were disturbed by what a battery hen farm looks like from the inside, so they didn’t let us go in.

You might think that calling a battery hen farm ‘Happy Hens’ is just inviting trouble, and it did – by the 1990s activists from Animal Liberation Victoria were breaking into the complex on a regular basis and rescuing injured birds.

With all of that unwanted attention, the owners presumably realised that inviting tourists into a battery hen farm wasn’t good for business, and so the tourist complex was closed down. The massive slide was demolished soon after, but the large ‘Happy Hens’ sign on the highway is still there today, albeit repainted.

As for the trio of big hens sit outside the locked front gates, these were erected after the park closed, sometime between 2010 and 2013. So much for keeping a low profile!


The ‘Big Egg’ was never visible above the treeline, but you can find a photo of it on the Wilkins Tourist Maps’ Australia’s Big Things webpage.

The massive slide at Happy Hens was originally located at Seagull Paddock in Geelong, a photo of the slide can be found on the KRock Facebook page.

Animal Liberation Victoria has been targeting Happy Hens for years – here is an article from 1998 detailing the arrest of an activist on trespassing charges, and by 2007 they had completed at least 23 rescue operations there.

Myki and a flood of wasted paper

I last wrote about unwanted myki receipts way back in January 2013, but unfortunately the problem still hasn’t been fixed – instead money is spent on paper that just gets thrown on the ground.

Unwanted receipts still littering the ground around Myki machines

I found piles of them in June 2013.

Unwanted Myki receipts litter the ground below the ticket machine at South Kensington

January 2014 wasn’t any better.

Unwanted receipts still pile up

The month of November 2014 saw no change.

Unwanted myki receipts still pile up at Southern Cross

And August 2015 was more of the same.

Discarded myki receipts at Merinda Park station

Tom Minear of the Sunday Herald Sun recently wrote about the scale of the problem.

Unwanted myki transport receipts cost Victorian taxpayers $16,000 a month
Tom Minear
September 27, 2015

Myki was supposed to be a paperless ticket system — but taxpayers are paying nearly $16,000 a month for receipts commuters don’t want.

Public Transport Victoria has racked up a $477,104 bill since January 2013 because ­receipts print automatically for every EFTPOS myki top-up, even if commuters specifically decline to take one.

A Freedom of Information investigation which reveals the full extent of the paper wastage found PTV spent $71,589 on ­receipt rolls for myki machines in just one month last year.

But the besieged system’s use of “thermal printing” meant taxpayers did not have to fork out for ink or toner to print the unwanted receipts.

PTV is now promising to stop receipts printing for every transaction, even though they were working to fix the glitch nearly three years ago.

How many more years will it take until the problem is finally fixed?