In recent years Bendigo have been the recipient of many dubious rail upgrades – first was a few million on a new station at Epsom, followed by the promise of Bendigo Metro Rail. So why are these ‘upgrades’ on such shaky ground?
The story starts in November 2010, when the Coalition promised to build a new railway station at Epsom if they won the 2010 state election.
Train station for Epsom planned
November 11, 2010
The Coalition plan to build a new train station at Epsom, if they are elected at the state election. Coalition spokesman for transport Terry Mulder, in Epsom this morning, said the station would include a 160 metre platform, 100 sealed car parks and 95 train services. Mr Mulder said the Epsom Station would be built by 2013.
Mr Mulder said the Coalition would also employ staff for a renovated Eaglehawk station, and provide more train services and 100 sealed car parks. He said both Epsom and Eaglehawk upgraded facilities would cost $6 million, plus $2 million for more train services and $250,000 for boom gates.
I saw the proposal as an half-witted brain fart trotted out as an election stunt, with no thought given to how the new station would be served with trains, yet alone fit into the existing V/Line rail network.
The problems with Epsom
Epsom is located on the existing V/Line serivce to Echuca, which only receives one train each way Monday-Friday, and two trains on Saturdays and Sundays – a railway station is useless if no trains serve it! A problem then, but surmountable if the existing Bendigo services were extended north by one station to serve Epsom.
However, building a station at Epsom had an extra sting in the tail – the existing station at Eaglehawk, a northern Bendigo suburb on the line towards Swan Hill.
At the time of Epsom station being proposed, Eaglehawk only received a token train service – the twice daily Swan Hill train stopped there on the way through, as well as a handful of Bendigo trains extended one station to the north.
You might naively ask:
Why not alternate existing Bendigo services to terminate at either Eaglehawk or Epsom. Both stations would still get a reasonable service without requiring any extra infrastructure south of Bendigo.
Here is a hypothetical example of a Bendigo resident catching the train to Melbourne:
Bendigo to Epsom is about 7 km by road, as is Bendigo to Eaglehawk and Epsom to Eaglehawk.
Imagine you drove to Eaglehawk station to catch a train into Melbourne for a day out. You have lunch, do some shopping, then decide to come home. Lets check the timetable to see what train we can catch:
Lets catch the 1515 you say. That goes to Bendigo. OH WAIT! It goes to Epsom, and our car is at Eaglehawk. I’ve got to wait an hour until the 1615.
This leaves us at the crux of the matter – you can’t serve two places with a single train!
Jarrett Walker, transit planning consultant and author of ‘Human Transit’, has this to say about how transit is like a river:
We should suspicious whenever we see a branch drawn as though one line can effortlessly divide into two equal lines. Often, such a branch will be called an extension, a very slightly misleading word because it suggests that an existing, known quantity of service is being extended. In fact, a branch always means one of three things.
- points beyond the branching point have less frequent service or
- one of the branches operates as a shuttle, requiring a connection, or
- in a few rare cases, the train itself comes apart, with some cars proceeding along one branch and some along the other.
Across Victoria, examples of all three branching strategies can be found:
- Beyond Ringwood station, services alternate between Lilydale and Belgrave,
- Off-peak Alamein services operate as a shuttle, connecting to mainline services at Camberwell,
- Ararat and Maryborough services split at Ballarat, and continue as separate trains.
For anyone who has had to use the above services, you already know they are sub-optimal solutions.
Note that in the latter case, V/Line doesn’t allow passengers to stay on board while trains are joined and split – everyone gets turfed out onto the platform for a couple of minutes, even in the middle of a bitterly cold Ballarat winter!
Making stupid ideas reality
In May 2013 it was announced that Epsom station would go ahead.
Epsom to receive a railway station in 2015
May 7, 2013
A new train station will be built and operational at Epsom in two years. The $9-million station was announced in today’s state budget and aims to improve public transport access in North Bendigo. Local rail services will also undergo a shake-up, with Epsom and Eaglehawk to become terminuses for some services.
Construction started in mid-2014:
Epsom station on track
June 17, 2014
Public Transport Minister Terry Mulder has turned the first sod on the new Epsom Train Station project.
With the official opening of Epsom station held on October 11, 2014.
Epsom train station officially opens
October 11, 2014
Minister for Public Transport Terry Mulder said the $7.76 million Epsom and Eaglehawk Rail Improvements were a great example of the wider benefits a station can bring to a regional growth area.
“Tomorrow, we’ll see this is not just a $7.76 million investment in a station; we’ll see this is a $7.76 million investment in the people of Greater Bendigo,” Mr Mulder said.
Liberal candidate for Bendigo East Greg Bickley said that people in the growing Epsom area were looking forward to using the new station when services begin tomorrow.
“Four months ago work started on this project, and now we’re just one day from being able to jump on a train,” Mr Bickley said.
“The community has rallied behind the new station, and I’m sure there will be a few very excited people ready to make the historic 10.10am trip to Bendigo and on to Melbourne tomorrow morning.”
Mr Mulder said that there would be four trains a day stopping at Epsom, with two services heading to Melbourne and two services coming from Melbourne.
Turns out two trains each way per day to Epsom wasn’t enough to entice local residents to get out of their cars.
Empty Epsom has Jacinta Allan seeing red
November 4, 2014
Just three weeks after it opened, each of the 100 car parks at Epsom Railway Station were empty halfway through a Monday morning.
Member for Bendigo East Jacinta Allan stood in the middle of the bitumen expanse to highlight a perceived lack of interest in the rail service.
One train leaves Epsom at 8.25am for Bendigo, and another arrives at 5.29pm.
Ms Allan said to have a successful rail service, people needed a reason to make it a regular part of their lives.
“We know that if you provide the service, people will use it from the get-go,” she said.
“We want people to choose to travel by rail. We need to give them that option.
“It’s not a service that people are using because it doesn’t meet their needs.”
I could have told you that before you spent $7.76 million on the station!
Doubling down on stupid
Just to prove that both sides of politics can come up with stupid ideas, in the lead up to the 2014 state election Labor also came up with their own half-baked scheme.
Labor pledges $2m for a Bendigo rail service
October 30, 2014
Bendigo could one day have its own local commuter train service if Labor wins the state election. But the state government says the promise is uncosted and won’t deliver any new trains.
Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews has pledged $2 million to set up a Bendigo Metro Rail taskforce, which would advise the government on the feasibility of trains running solely in the goldfields city.
Following their election win the study has commenced, with the Bendigo Metro Rail fact sheet having this to say:
Bendigo Metro Rail aims to deliver a commuter train service for Bendigo, with an increased number of services running from Epsom, Eaglehawk and Kangaroo Flat to Bendigo.
Bendigo Metro Rail aims to reduce local traffic and allow people to commute to work, school, TAFE and university via rail.
Presumably the theory behind Bendigo Metro Rail is that just because the city already has a two railway lines running through it, running more trains along them will magically make people leave their cars at home.
Unfortunately, this neglects one important point: a rail service is useless if both your origin AND destination are both found on it.
Bendigo is a small enough place that you can drive from one end of town to the other in 20 minutes: you’re going to have to be running those trains pretty bloody often in order to provide competitive door-to-door travel times, and if the only way to the station is by driving, the war is already lost.
I found this interesting paper, titled Developing business cases for regional rail stations: a Victorian case study.