Curve easing for faster trains on the Ballarat line

One of the basic rules of railway engineering is that the tighter the radius of a curve, the slower a train has to travel through it to avoid derailing.

I’ve written about the history of the Ballarat line a lot recently, including the construction of a deviation to cut the length of the journey between Melbourne and Ballarat, but today I’m looking at a much less “sexy” improvement – curves easing so that trains could run through them a little bit faster.

Three car VLocity 3VS37 rounds the Parwan curves out of Bacchus Marsh

Some background

If you’ve read my past items on the history of the Ballarat line and the looping section of track outside Bacchus Marsh you know the story by now – the line was born as two single track branch line serving towns along the way, until 1889 when the two met in the middle to form a through route that now linked Melbourne to Adelaide.

For this reason the railway was built to a cost, avoiding expensive earthworks, viaducts and tunnels by following a twisting route around the countryside, with multiple 40 chain (800 metre) and even some 20 chain (400 metre) radius curves along the way, forcing trains to slow down to to 80 km/h and 50 km/h respectively when traversing them. For early steam locomotives this wasn’t much of a problem, given their low top speeds.

PROV photo VPRS 12800/P0001 H 5012

But as the top speed of trains increased, these curves limited the actual speeds that could be achieved.

Pair of B class diesel-electric locomotives haul 1300 ton load up Ingliston Bank, 20 August 1952 (PROV image VPRS 12800/P1, item H 2545)
PROV image VPRS 12800/P1, item H 2545

Enter Regional Fast Rail

In 2000 the newly elected Bracks Government announced Regional Fast Rail – a project to speed up trains between Melbourne and the regional centres of Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and Traralgon.

Government propaganda sign at Deer Park spruiking the Regional Fast Rail project

For the Ballarat line travel times before the upgrade were quite variable.

6.9 Ballarat Line
6.9.1 Existing Infrastructure Review

Existing Timetable
The existing travel time between Spencer Street and Ballarat varies according to the particular service, the time of day, available train paths, rolling stock and stopping patterns:
· The shortest travel time is 85 minutes
· Typically, the most frequent fastest travel time for an Up train is 85 minutes
· Typically, the most frequent fastest travel time for an Down train is 88 minutes
· 60% of all trains have travel times less than or equal to 90 minutes
· The slowest trains are mainly for opposing peak flow moves
· The slowest train is 104 minutes, an up train where this has to wait for two down train crosses.

As can be seen the variation in travel time is considerable.

For the Ballarat line a number of upgrades were considered.

6.9.3 Travel Time Scenarios

For the Railway line from Melbourne (Spencer Street) to Ballarat three travel time scenarios have been proposed:
· 70 minutes,
· 60 minutes, and
· 55 minutes.

Various options to reduce travel time were investigated. This investigation included assessing the merits and impacts of these options. The options ranged from low cost options to large scale engineering works, and are as follows:

· Applied cant and transition adjustments; low cost solution with small benefit.
· Curve easings to achieve typical minimum curve radii of 1500m; moderate cost with small benefit.
· Curve easings to achieve typical minimum curve radii of 2000m; significant cost with increased benefit.
· Major route alignment changes; major works costs resulting in significant time savings

At this stage, it is likely that deviation works (and associated land acquisitions) will be required to achieve travel time targets.

Eventually a target travel time of 64 minutes was set, which meant that the existing steam-era alignment needed to be rebuilt to allow the new maximum top speed of 160 km/h to be reached.

The headline act was the construction of a 8.2 kilometre deviation to shorten the journey between Millbrook to Dunnstown, west of Ballarat.

VLocity VL11 back on the move at Bungaree Loop East with an up Ballarat service

But another factor limiting top speeds was having to slow down to 50 km/h on what was otherwise a 160 km/h railway. Hence a targeted plan to replace tight curves with wider ones, using land already within the railway reserve wherever possible.

Speeding through Melton

Before the upgrade, Melton station had a 40 chain (800 metre) radius curve on the approach, limiting trains to 75 km/h.

VLocity VL91 leads VL51 into Melton on a down empty cars move

And a 20 chain (400 metre) curve on the departure, limiting trains to 50 km/h.

Up end of the Coburns Road level crossing

But both were rebuilt, as well as the station platform.

7 November 2005

Over the past four weeks, Thiess Alstom Joint Venture has worked to upgrade the Station-Exford Road level crossing so that it could accommodate the addition of a second track, which leads to the newly extended Melton station platform.

Melton station platform has been extended 27.5 metres on the Melbourne-bound side and 44 metres on the Ballarat-bound side, to accommodate the new signalling requirements.

A swathe of land beside Melton Weir flagged as part of the project area, allowing a chunk of land beside the Coburns Road level crossing to be acquired.

VicPlan map

The old sharp curve being cut off.

Weston Langford photo

And the road rebuilt across it.

Weston Langford photo

And a new track on a smoother alignment constructed to the south.

Weston Langford photo

Combined with land acquisition closer to Melton Weir, the 50 km/h curve was replaced by a 120 km/h curve to the left, followed by a 150 km/h curve to the right.

Rebuilding the Parwan Curves

The sweeping curves over Parwan Creek outside Bacchus Marsh have been a favourite of railfans for years.

VLocity winds through the Parwan Curves descending into Bacchus Marsh

But they played havoc with the speedy operation of trains, thanks to the series of 30, 26 and 20 chain (600, 520 and 400 metre) curves, limiting train speeds to 50 km/h.

As a result, a wide swathe of land was made part of the project area, and land compulsorily acquired to give a smoother alignment between the curves.

VicPlan map

The bulldozers and dump trucks then rolled in to create a new embankment over the Parwan Creek.

Weston Langford photo

The fill coming from a massive cutting created between Parwan Creek and Bacchus Marsh.

Thiess ALSTOM Joint Venture photo

The end result – 50 km/h curves replaced by a 120 km/h curve to the right, followed by a 120 km/h curve to the left.

Realigned tracks across Parwan Creek at the up end of Bacchus Marsh

Bacchus Marsh station

Bacchus Marsh station is located at the bottom of the valley, with a 20 chain (400 metre) curve at the down end limiting trains to 50 km/h as they start their long climb towards Ballan.

Stabled Sprinter consist beside a carriage set stabled for the weekend at Bacchus Marsh

The solution – rebuilding the entire Ballarat end of the station.

15 November 2005

Realigning the track
Major changes have also been made to the track alignment on the western entry into, and within, the rail yard.

The Ballarat-approach to Bacchus Marsh has traditionally supported trains that travel at an average speed of 45km/h. Track alignment works were required so that the faster trains could approach and enter the Parwan Road level crossing and rail yard safely.

Thiess Alstom Joint Venture’s works have included the installation of one new crossover and six refurbished turnouts within the yard. Recycled timber sleepers have been used in the reconstruction of the sidings which is where the trains will park when not in operation.

The existing station platform has also been modified to support the new track alignment. Over 30 m of bluestone has been cutback so that the platform aligns with the newly positioned track. A concrete platform extension of 75 m has also been constructed.

With a wider curve leading away from the station.

VLocity VL60 and VL63 depart Bacchus Marsh on a down Ballarat service

Leaving a disused section of platform behind, so that trains could enter the new wider curve earlier.

Disused section of track at the down end of the station

The end result – a left hand curve up from 50 km/h to 100 km/h.

Arriving into Ballan

You wouldn’t notice it today, but at the Melbourne end of Ballan station was once a sticking point – a 30 chain (600 metre) curve limiting trains to 65 km/h.

VLocity VL20 and VL28 arrive into Ballan on the down

So the Regional Fast Rail project went and flagged a whole row of properties on the inside of the curve.

Department of Sustainability and Environment map

Then acquired a chunk of each to build a new smoother curve.

VicPlan map

The new route left the old one behind.

Weston Langford photo

Making a bridge redundant.

New bridge behind old one, after curve realignment

And creating a big green patch of land beside the Windle Street level crossing.

Original main line alignment west of  in Ballan

On what was once the main railway line between Melbourne and Ballarat.

Original main line alignment east of Windle Street in Ballan

The end result – an increase in curve speed from 65 km/h to 160 km/h.

Blink and you’ll miss it – Llandeilo Lane

Midway between Ballan and Ballarat is the Llandeilo Lane level crossing – otherwise forgettable, except for a 40 chain (800 metre) radius curve that limited trains to 80 km/h between to otherwise 160 km/h sections of straight track.

Down the line from the Llandeilo Lane level crossing

The solution – cutting the corner by relaying the track on a wider curve, squeezing up against the parallel road.

VicPlan map

Giving a speed increase from 80 km/h to 160 km/h.

Portland Flat Road – a bridge to nowhere

Still following the back road from Ballan, you’ll find something bizarre – a rusty stretch of disused railway, crossed by a timber bridge.

Old bridge looking up the line

And the bridge leading leading nowhere.

Old bridge looking down the line

Thanks to the railway running alongside.

Old and new lines looking up the line

The reason for the rebuilding was the 40 chain (800 metre) curve that limited trains to 80 km/h.

Weston Langford photo

Demolishing the bridge was not an option, as it is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register, so the new alignment was built clear of the existing bridge.

Thiess ALSTOM Joint Venture photo

Construction able to progress without disturbing rail services.

Weston Langford photo

Until the new line was cut into service.

Weston Langford photo

Allowing trains to increase their speed from 80 km/h to 160 km/h.

And the big one – the Bungaree Deviation

The original circuitous route via Bungaree was full of 30 and 40 chain (600 and 800 metre) curves, with speeds as low as 65 km/h.

VLocity VL10 bound for Ballarat approaches the junction at Bungaree Loop West

It was replaced by a 8.2 kilometre deviation on a far more direct route.

VLocity VL55 leads VL69 on an up train through Millbrook Loop

The top speed for the new line – 160 km/h.

The verdict

Increasing line speeds from 80 km/h to 160 km/h is a massive improvement, especially in sections of railway between stations where a train could be travelling at top speed.

But improvements such as those at Ballan and Bacchus Marsh now look rather pointless, given the demise of the Ballarat to Melbourne express services, that skipped these stations to complete the run in 59 minutes.

VLocity VL09 departs Ballan on the down, passing the remains of the yard and a disused goods shed

As today every train stops at both Bacchus Marsh and Ballan, with both stations having gained a second track, platform and footbridge as part of the Ballarat Line Upgrade.

VLocity VL20 and VL28 depart Ballan on the down

All part of a focus on service frequency and reliability, not raw speed.

Footnote: more detail on curve speeds

Current day curve speeds on the Ballarat line are from this V/Line driver training video.

While historical curve radii are taken from the 1989 Grades and Curve book:

Old: 40 chain approach, 20 chain departure
New: 120 km/h curve left, 150 km/h right

Parwan Creek:
Old: 30, 26 and 20 chain curves
New: 120 km/h curve right, 120 km/h left

Bacchus Marsh
Old: 20 chain curve
New: 100 km/h curve left

Old: 30 chain curve
New: 160 km/h line speed

Llandeilo Lane
Old: 40 chain
New: 160 km/h line speed

Portland Flat Road
Old: 40 chain
New: 160 km/h line speed

Bungaree Deviation
Old: 30 and 40 chain curves
New: 160 km/h line speed

Historical curve speeds can be found in the Victorian Railways 1928 General Appendix, page 291.

12-20 chains = 25 mph (40 km/h)
20-25 chains = 30 mph (48 km/h)
25-30 chains = 35 mph (56 km/h)
30-35 chains = 40 mph (64 km/h)
35-40 chains = 50 mph (80 km/h)
40 chains = 60 mph (96 km/h)

With metricated distances found alongside miles per hour speeds in the 1979 edition.

402m = 30 mph (48 km/h)
604m = 35 mph (56 km/h)
805m = 50 mph (80 km/h)

Footnote: construction timeline

The February 2004 Thiess Alstom Joint Venture project newsletter gave a timeline of works along the Ballarat line.

Dec 2003 to April 2004
Melton: Earthworks and track formation west of Melton Station.

Dec 2003 to April 2004
Bacchus Marsh: Earthworks and track formation between Bacchus Marsh Station and Woolpack Road.

Feb 2004 to April 2004
Ballan: Realignment of Walsh Street, upgrade of the Windle Street level crossing.

Dec 2003 to April 2004
Gordon: Earthworks and construction of the new Portland Flat Road Bridge.

Feb to June 2004
Millbrook to Dunnstown: Construction of a new bridge over Spread Eagle Road.

Feb to June 2004
Construction of a new bridge over Peerwerrh Road.

Feb to December 2004
Construction of a new bridge over Lal Lal Creek.

Feb to July 2004
Construction of a new bridge over Moorabool River.

April to August 2004
Construction of a new bridge over Old Melbourne Road.

April to August 2004
Construction of a new bridge on Sullivans Road.

Feb to December 2004
Earthworks throughout the newly constructed corridor.


The archived website for the Thiess Alstom Joint Venture which delivered the Ballarat line portion of the Regional Fast Rail provided further detail, as did the archived Department of Infrastructure website.

The Department of Sustainability and Environment’s Regional Fast Rail Project, Integrated Approval Requirements document for the “Rail Infrastructure Projects Ballarat Rail Corridor Deviation” gave a high level overview of the land affected by the project.

A more detailed view of each railway deviation can be found on the VicPlan planning map.

Ballarat trains looping through Bacchus Marsh

One question I’ve seen people ask many a time is why the Ballarat line loops around after passing through Bacchus Marsh, instead of just running in a straight line. But the answer is simple – there is a bloody great big hill in the way.

Going for a ride

We start on the Melbourne side of Bacchus Marsh, looking down into the valley below.

Carriage set FSH25 trails P18 through Parwan, bound for Bacchus Marsh

Pass over Parwan Creek on a curved embankment.

Three car VLocity rounds the Parwan curves out of Bacchus Marsh

Then into another cutting.

Vlocity climbs out of Bacchus Marsh for the Parwan Curves

To finally arrive into Bacchus Marsh station.

VLocity VL41 departs Bacchus Marsh on the up

But that was only a taste of the journey ahead – we’ve got an even bigger hill to climb.

VLocity VL52 leads a down Ballarat service out of Bacchus Marsh

Trains get a short respite from the climb at Maddingley, where V/Line have a stabling yard and crossing loop.

N469 in the yard at Maddingley, having run around the carriage set

But five minutes later, you’ll see the same train again, but far above your head, and running in the other direction.

Five minutes and a horseshoe curve later, the VLocity train is still climbing Ingliston Bank

Having rounded the horseshoe curve.

VLocity VL24 rounds the horseshoe curve and climbs Ingliston Bank

Then hugging the hillside.

VLocity VL24 climbs Ingliston Bank bound for Bank Box loop

Don’t look down – the V/Line stabling yard is back at the bottom of the hill.

N467 stabled on carriage set LH33 at Maddingley

But trains still have further to climb.

Three car VLocity 3VL37 on the way up Ingliston Bank

Now running in a cutting hewn out of the rock.

Three car VLocity 3VL37 on the way up Ingliston Bank

The grades ease off again at ‘Bank Box’, where a crossing loop allows opposing trains to pass.

VLocity VL07 trails a down Ballarat service through Bank Box

Then it’s off into the rugged bushland of Werribee Gorge.

VLocity VL14 runs around the curves near Bank Box loop

A tall bridge crossing between the ridges.

VLocity crosses a bridge through the Werribee Gorge

Until the railway line finally rejoins level ground, and can leaves the curves behind.

VLocity VL04 and VL17 head towards Bank Box Loop for a cross

So why does it curve around so much?

I’ve written about the history of the Melbourne-Ballarat railway before – born as a line headed east from Ballarat towards Ballan in 1886, and a second branch west from Sunshine towards Bacchus Marsh in 1887 – the hills outside Bacchus Marsh presented a formidable barrier.

Stabled Sprinter consist beside a carriage set stabled for the weekend at Bacchus Marsh

Topographic maps showing the steep country around the Werribee Gorge.

Bacchus Marsh 1:50 000 topographic map, Geoscience Australia

A newspaper report from the period describing it as.

There still remains to be constructed that portion of the line extending from Bacchus Marsh station to Ballan, a distance of 17 miles.

The route of this section passes through most difficult country, there being a rise of over 1800ft in that distance The earthworks on this section alone will necessitate the removal of no less than 1¼ millions of cubic yards, cuttings for long distances being upwards of 40ft in depth while the embankment will be correspondingly high, in one instance more than 100ft.

These heavy earthworks result from the fact that the line has to be carried along the northern spurs of the great plain which extends from between the Werribee River and Little River to Port Phillip. The steepest gradient upon the line will be 1 in 48.

It will be seen from the figures given that the through railway is far from being an easy line to construct. The country through which it passes is so broken and difficult as to compel the provision of very large works, while the earthworks are upwards of 50 per cent greater than upon the line by way of Geelong.

And the benefit of the new line.

The present distance to be travelled by rail between Melbourne and Ballarat, by way of Geelong, is 100 miles, but when the direct line is completed that distance will be reduced to 74 miles, a saving of 26 miles been thus effected in the journey to Ballarat.

But despite all the massive earthworks, the railway still required a large horseshoe curve outside Bacchus Marsh to attack the hill.

Bacchus Marsh 1:50 000 topographic map, Geoscience Australia

But still the railway had one of the steepest grades on the Victorian rail network – a 1 in 48 climb all the way from Bacchus Marsh to just outside Ballan.

Victorian Railways grades and curves diagram

What about an alternate route?

I’ve seen it on Twitter, I’ve seen it on Reddit – but even when the railway was brand new, people asked why the railway descended into Bacchus Marsh, only to climb back out again.

There has been a question as to the wisdom of taking a fast passenger line down and up the long gradients of Bacchus Marsh to reach the township. It is alleged that the extra haulage required will be fatal to economy and fast service, and that the Ballarat and intercolonial passengers will gain only a few minutes in time, with an added risk of accident. It is contended that a route on a level could have been found encircling the Marsh, which would have secured every advantage.

It was asked again by the late W. Williams in his book “A History of Bacchus Marsh and its Pioneers“, and serialised in the Bacchus Marsh Express.

The horseshoe bend of the railway near the town is a puzzle to many. The question is asked : Why did the line undertake this acrobatic performance? Why did it not pursue its even course on the plateau?

Then follows an ominous shake of the head — “I suppose some job again,” and immaculate departmental purity suffers defilement at the hands of an undiscerning public. For a passing moment the pictorial style of diction is indulged in. I see the train like an elongated caterpillar crawling up yonder summit, with two engines before, and one behind to give a friendly help in time of need.

Straight across to the plateau is only two or three miles, and yet to reach that identical spot the concentrated procession of engines and cars has travelled a circuitous course of eight miles.
On the face of it some mistake appears to have been made, especially when it is remembered that the section is part of an interstate line, in connection with which time is the essence.
of the contract.

But taking a shorter route would have only given minor time savings.

The answer is that the exclusion of Bacchus Marsh by taking the outer route would not be compensated for by any practical gain; that the saving in distance would be only 29 chains, and that the gradients are not such as will seriously prejudice the traffic, and that of all the 17 surveys that have been made none have shown a route that did not join the selected route at the point where the question of gradient has any force.

Alternative routes having been surveyed.

The line as constructed between Parwan station and the Dog Trap reservoir is about 24 chains longer than the route surveyed via Ryan’s corner (near Parwan station) and Collie’s bridge (close to the Dog Trap reservoir), between the same points. The two lines rejoin at the road about midway between the crossing of the Parwan Creek and the Dog Trap Gully on the Ryan’s corner route; and therefore the long gradient of 1 in 48 from the Parwan Creek on towards Gordon must have been the same upon either line.

On the Ryan’s corner route the gradients would have been comparatively easy between Parwan station and the crossing of the Parwan Creek, where the steep ascending gradient of 1 in 48 commences, which is common to both routes. The length of ascending gradient of 1 in 48 upon that portion of the Ryan’s corner route between Parwan station and the Dog Trap reservoir would have been about 110 chains in length, against 240 chains of 1 in 48, and 27 chains of 1 in 50 ascending, and 90 chains of 1 in 49 and 45 chains of 1 in 50 descending gradient upon the line as constructed between the same points.

If the line had been constructed via Ryan’s corner it would have been necessary in order to accommodate Bacchus Marsh, to construct in addition a branch line to that place. And a viaduct would have been required over the Parwan Creek of similar construction to that over the Werribee River. The length of this would have, been about 300 feet, and the height about 120 feet.

A similar bend of about six miles occurs between Mitcham and Belair on the Adelaide end of the overland route. Those places are about two miles distant from each other the crow flies, but are eight
miles apart by railway line, the cause being that Mitcham is 241 feet above sea level and Belair, 1008 feet above the sea.

Now let the doubter for ever hold his peace. Abundant evidence is supplied that from an engineering point of view “the horseshoe” is valid performance, without the faintest approach to any “fishy” aroma.

The horseshoe even seen as an engineering wonder.

It was a great engineering feat to make that railway call at Bacchus Marsh, and then to scale the plateau and the glory involved in same is to be shared by three engineers, Mr Leo. Cussen, Mr. G. C. Darbyshire and Mr. W. C. Billings.

Versatile indeed was the genius of Mr. Leo Cussen, for how seldom in the one mind is there the conjunction of the literary and the mathematical faculty; but law now claims the erstwhile Engineer as one of its brightest ornaments, for in Judge Cussen we have one whose judgments are almost invariably beyond successful appeal.

But the operational cost of the line was high.

It is well known amongst railway employees that the engine drivers and guards who travel over the line dread the journey from Gordons to Bacchus Marsh, for although the distance between those stations is only 25 miles, yet there is a drop in that distance of 1536 feet, in negotiating which the brakes have to be used continuously whilst running down steep embankments and ugly looking curves.

Owing to the heavy pulls between Bacchus Marsh and Ingliston, where the line rises 1170 feet in 13 miles, it requires two engines to take the Adelaide express when heavily laden to Ballarat, and
when only only engine is used on a light train it is assisted as far as Ingliston by a “bull-dog” engine that is always stationed at Bacchus Marsh for that purpose.

Naturally the cost of haulage is unusually heavy, and will in a large measure explain the fact that last year the loss incurred in working the line was £1857.

And as trains grew bigger and heavier, the sharp curves and steep grades grew ever more limiting.

Pair of B class diesel-electric locomotives haul 1300 ton load up Ingliston Bank, 20 August 1952 (PROV image VPRS 12800/P1, item H 2545)
PROV image VPRS 12800/P1, item H 2545

So the idea of shortening the route was brought up from time to time, such as this 1976 report on upgrading the Melbourne to Serviceton railway.

Parwan to Horseshoe Creek Deviation

This scheme, costing $1.8 million, includes construction of an 8 km long deviation between Parwan and Horseshoe Creek, bypassing Bacchus Marsh to avoid the descent to Bacchus Marsh followed by a steep climb. It also includes keeping the existing track for use by commuter trains originating from or terminating at Bacchus Marsh. A 6 minute reduction in transit time is expected for both directions of travel if the deviation is introduced. Furthermore, the reduction in transit time would render one crossing loop unnecessary.

But it took the Regional Fast Rail project to finally do something about it.

Government propaganda sign at Deer Park spruiking the Regional Fast Rail project

Straightening the curves over Parwan Creek in the descent into Bacchus Marsh.

VLocity winds through the Parwan Curves descending into Bacchus Marsh

With the construction of new cuttings and embankments.

VicPlan map

And a 8.2 kilometre long deviation between Millsbrook and Dunnstown.

VLocity Melbourne bound crossing the Moorabool River on the Bungaree deviation on the Ballarat line

But with the measure of success for the project being the 60 minutes “Country Express Run Time” between Melbourne and Ballarat, the tracks through the horseshoe curve and up to Bank Box were left with timber sleepers – saving the Victorian Government $404,110.

Flogging upgrade at Dog Trap Gully

Only to end up being replaced with concrete sleepers a few years later anyway.

Passing track work near Ingliston

But since then focus has rightly moved from raw speed, to frequent and reliable trains – leading to the recently completed Ballarat Line Upgrade project, which delivered double track to Melton, and a second track and platform at Bacchus Marsh and Ballan stations.

VLocity VL60 and VL63 depart Bacchus Marsh on a down Ballarat service

That’s a change in focus that I can get behind.


Here is the driver’s view of the slow climb up from Bacchus Marsh to Ballan.

Wider Network Enhancements and the Metro Tunnel project

One of the marketing lines for Metro Tunnel project is ‘More trains across Melbourne’ – both for the railway lines which will run through the new tunnel under Melbourne, and those which won’t. So how does that work?

'More trains across Melbourne' banner outside the City Square site

The PR puff pieces

Over on the State Government’s ‘Big Build’ website they give a high level overview.

Untangling the City Loop means more trains, more often. It will make travel easier for you with more frequent trains carrying more people to destinations across Melbourne.

Some of Melbourne’s busiest metropolitan train lines – Sunbury, Cranbourne and Pakenham – will run exclusively through the new tunnel. By taking these lines out of the City Loop, other lines will be able to run more services.

As a result, room will be created on the network to enable over half a million additional passengers per week across Melbourne’s train network to use the rail system during the peak periods.

They also break it down.

'More trains in and out of the city' poster outside the City Square construction site

Line by line.

Cranbourne / Pakenham lines:
The Metro Tunnel and associated network improvements will create room for 121,000 passengers every week on the Cranbourne and Pakenham lines during peak periods. That’s 45% more peak capacity.

Sunbury Line:
The Metro Tunnel will create room for 113,000 more passengers every week on the Sunbury Line during peak periods. That’s 60% more peak capacity.

Craigieburn Line:
The Metro Tunnel will create room for 54,000 passengers every week on the Craigieburn Line during peak periods. That’s 27% more peak capacity.

Upfield Line:
The Metro Tunnel will create room for 45,000 passengers every week on the Upfield Line during peak periods. That’s 71% more peak capacity.

Werribee and Williamstown lines:
The Metro Tunnel will create room for 63,000 passengers every week on the Werribee and Williamstown lines during peak periods. That’s 24% more peak capacity.

Frankston Line:
The Metro Tunnel will create room for 36,000 more passengers every week on the Frankston Line during peak periods. That’s 15% more peak capacity.

Sandringham Line:
The Metro Tunnel will create room for 72,000 more passengers every week on the Sandringham Line during peak periods. That’s 48% more peak capacity.

So where did those numbers come from?

Enter the ‘Wider Network Enhancements’

Turns out building a new tunnel across Melbourne to divert trains from the existing City Loop isn’t all that’s needed to increase overall network capacity, but a package of other works are needed around the network.

The Metro Tunnel business case from February 2016 lists these in a chapter titled ‘Wider Network Enhancements’.

Melbourne Metro will create a through-running suburban corridor from Sunbury in the west to Cranbourne and Pakenham in the east (the Sunshine – Dandenong Line) through two new 9km tunnels with five new stations. The new twin tunnels connect the existing Sunbury Line to the existing Cranbourne / Pakenham Lines, allowing this corridor to operate independent of the existing City Loop and creating capacity through the inner core of the network to support service growth on other corridors.

Melbourne Metro will also facilitate delivery of a range of Wider Network Enhancements to capitalise on this additional capacity in Central Melbourne and, together with other planned works, deliver an uplift in service frequencies on the new alignment as well as the Werribee, Craigieburn, Upfield, Sandringham and Frankston Lines.

The Wider Network Enhancements comprise a range of works, including infrastructure to facilitate access to sidings, turnbacks, signalling headway improvement works, other works to support service frequency across the existing network and some changes to the operation of the tram network. More work is being undertaken to refine various aspects of the works.

The Wider Network Enhancements will facilitate delivery of the benefits of Melbourne Metro. The nature of the works will be further developed to ensure the benefits are maximised and that interfaces with other Victorian works are coordinated to efficiently deliver an optimal solution.

Appendix 3 of the business case titled ‘Scope of Works’ went into the Wider Network Enhancements further.

Sunshine to Dandenong corridor works

• Systems and infrastructure to support a safe and reliable operation to meet the service requirements on the Sunshine – Dandenong rail corridor including HCS
• Passive provision for future works in corridor – Melton electrification & Sunshine -Deer Park West quad track
• Infrastructure to support service continuity during planned and unplanned disruption (Resilience for Day 1 Operation)

Other corridor works
• Turnback facility to allow turn-back of services from the Cross City line (Eastern Turnback)
• Infrastructure to facilitate short turnback of services at Gowrie
• Signalling improvements to support additional services on Craigieburn Line
• Infrastructure to facilitate short turnback of services at Essendon
• Reconfiguration of Carrum stabling access
• Signalling upgrade on Cross City Line
• Turnback capacity to terminate new services at Cheltenham

With the business case detailing the reasoning behind each enhancement.

Infrastructure to facilitate short turnback of services in the east to service the Cross City Line

The increased service frequencies (which reflect demand) on the Cross City Line on project opening results in a difference between peak period, inter-peak period and off peak services levels from the eastern and western ends of the corridor.

To balance the service frequencies required on the east and west side of the corridor, turnback locations are required to turn back more frequent trains to the Werribee end of the corridor. Existing network infrastructure on the Cross City Line may not facilitate the number of turnback moves required and therefore additional turnback infrastructure may be required.

There are more services from the western side of the Cross City Line as the population and rate of growth is higher at Wyndham/ Werribee, and there are also services from Laverton via Altona and Williamstown. In comparison, the Sandringham line serves an established area and therefore customer demand is not growing as quickly.

A turnback will therefore result in some services from the west being able to turn back to the west without having to travel for a significant length of the Sandringham line. This will reduce the number of train sets required to serve the Cross City Line and associated operating costs.

Infrastructure to facilitate short turnback of services on the Craigieburn Line

The increased frequencies on the Craigieburn Line on opening requires a turnback in the vicinity of Essendon to achieve the most efficient train paths and stopping patterns and maximise the number of services that operate on that line.

To effectively meet customer demand on this corridor, not all services need to go to Craigieburn. Some services can start in the vicinity of Essendon, which is a major interchange station, particularly in the peak periods. This will help to serve customers south of Essendon station, whilst reducing the number of train sets and operating costs serving the Craigieburn line, as not all services will need to operate all the way to Craigieburn. It also reduces the need to further upgrade infrastructure north of Essendon for a higher number of trains operating in the AM / PM Peak hour.

Infrastructure to facilitate turnback of services on the Upfield Line

Delivering the required uplift in service frequencies on the Upfield Line requires a turnback short of Upfield to mitigate the existing single line section of track between Gowrie and Upfield. This single line, when combined with sharing the Northern Loop with the Craigieburn Line, represents a significant constraint in increasing the number of services operating on that line.

Infrastructure to facilitate short turnback of services on the Frankston Line

Whilst some services on the Frankston line already commence at stations other than Frankston, the increased frequencies on the Frankston Line on opening requires a turnback in the vicinity of Cheltenham / Mordialloc to achieve the most efficient train paths and stopping patterns and maximise the number of services that operate on that line.

To effectively meet customer demand on this corridor, not all services need to go to Frankston. Some services can start in the vicinity of Cheltenham or Mordialloc, which are major interchange stations, particularly in the peak periods. This will help to serve customers north of Cheltenham / Mordialloc station, whilst reducing the number of train sets and operating costs serving the Frankston line, as not all services will need to operate all the way to Frankston. It also reduces the need to further upgrade infrastructure south of Cheltenham / Mordialloc for a higher number of trains operating in the AM / PM Peak hour.

Improvements to access to sidings on the Frankston Line

In order to achieve the increased frequencies on the Frankston Line on opening, efficient access to the limited stabling facilities available on the Frankston line is required to achieve the most efficient train paths, stopping patterns and limit moves that have the potential to impact upon the reliability of the service.

Signalling headway improvement works

Signalling infrastructure will largely determine the frequency of train services that can be run on any given line because it will dictate how close together trains can be scheduled. Conventional signalling works on a system of blocks (defined by lineside signals) where a train may only enter a block or section of track once the train in front has cleared it.

Existing constraints on the network preclude achieving the full uplift potential of Melbourne Metro in service frequencies. Upgrades and improvements are required to reduce the number of minutes between scheduled trains to accommodate the frequencies prescribed for opening of Melbourne Metro and beyond and remove unnecessary constraints on train moves.

These include:
– Signalling improvement works on the Sunshine – Dandenong Line
– Signalling and other rail infrastructure improvement works on the Werribee Line
– Signalling improvement works on the Craigieburn Line
– Signalling improvement works on the Frankston Line.

And delivering them

The 2016 Metro Tunnel business case also looked at how and when the Wider Network Enhancements should be delivered.

The Wider Network Enhancements are being considered separately to the other packages, consistent with the approach recommended in the 2013 Procurement Strategy. The key reasons for considering the wider network works as a separate package (or series of packages) are as follows:

– The scope and location of these works means that they can potentially be undertaken independently of other scope elements.
– They have very different technical characteristics to the tunnel and stations works, are geographically separate, are of a brownfield nature and will be undertaken in a live operating environment with significant interface and stakeholder management issues.
– The required timeframe for procurement and delivery of these works differs to the rest of the project. These works need to be completed to coincide with completion of the tunnel and stations works, but have a much shorter construction duration.

Wider Network Enhancements will be packaged with other works where there are clearly demonstrable benefits such as procurement and/or delivery synergies. As noted above, the eastern turnback will form part of the Rail Infrastructure package and the signalling upgrades on the Sunshine – Dandenong Line will form part of the Rail Systems package. Other Wider Network Enhancements may ultimately form part of these packages and, where appropriate, works will be incorporated with the Level Crossing Removal Project to reduce costs and minimise disruption. Further detailed assessment of any such opportunities will occur as part of the detailed pre-procurement planning activities

So what’s happened?

Signalling improvement works on the Sunshine – Dandenong Line are well underway, with the High Capacity Signalling rollout well underway.

Trackside Radio Assembly lineside at West Footscray for the new communications-based train control (CBTC) system

And upgrades to stabling along the Frankston line were delivered as part of the Level Crossing Removal Project – the troublesome single compound leading into the siding at Carrum has been ripped up.

Single compound crossover and stabling yards at the down end of Carrum

To make way for a new elevated railway station.

With the stabling yard relocated to Kananook.

Comeng and Siemens trains stabled at Kananook

Cheltenham station also got a new, more flexible centre turnback siding as part of the recent level crossing removal works.

EDI Comeng 450M arrives into Cheltenham on the up

But no changes at Essendon station – the third platform there is still too short for a 6-car Metro train to stop at, despite the level crossing at the city end being removed.

Siemens 725M arrives into Essendon on the up

And the Upfield line has also missed out, with Gowrie station the same as it was back in the 1990s.

Life extension EDI Comeng 526M arrives into Gowrie on a down Upfield service

So what is left?

The Victorian Auditor-General’s Office detailed the current scope of the Metro Tunnel project in a June 2022 report, including scope cuts made in May 2022.

As of May 2022, Rail Projects Victoria forecasts that the overall project will cost $12.58 billion. This is a $1.55 billion (14 per cent) increase over the 2017 approved project budget.

This comparison does not allow for the wider network enhancements and High Capacity Signalling work which have been descoped. Adjusting for this, the overall project increase over the 2017 approved is $1.88 billion (17 per cent).

The value of the savings? $244.8 million by removing the Eastern Turnback and signalling upgrades from the Wider Network Enhancements scope. Rail Projects Victoria gave this reason for the cuts.

RPV’s rationale for this request was that pre-cursor works assumed in the original Metro Tunnel Project business case have not been done, and therefore the original network enhancements scope cannot achieve network benefits. The funds released by the government’s descope decision have been reallocated within the wider MTP budget

So will the Craigieburn and Upfield lines be able to make the most of the extra track capacity through the City Loop released by the Metro Tunnel project?

Crowded platform at Flagstaff platform 3 following an extended period without trains

It looks like the answer is “kinda sorta” – more trains will be able to run than today, but even more trains could run if the cancelled Wider Network Enhancements works had have been delivered.

A High Capacity Signalling footnote

The Metro Tunnel project has also saved $91 million by cutting the High Capacity Signalling scope by about a third (or 27 kilometres of double rail track) — from the original announced scope of Watergardens to Dandenong, to a new scope of West Footscray to Westall.

Note that this dollar figure was based on the original estimate for the work, with Rail Projects Victoria estimating in 2022 that the actual cost would more likely cost between $300 million and
$500 million.

New South Wales coal mines undermining road and rail

In New South Wales coal mining is big business, with mines hidden beneath ordinary looking forests extracting millions of tonnes of coal each year. However once the coal is removed, an empty void is left behind – and the resulting land subsidence impacts road and rail networks on the surface.

New and old coal loaders at the South32 operated Dendrobium Mine

This is an incomplete list of infrastructure that has had to be modified, replaced or rebuilt due to underground mining.

A quick introduction to longwall mining

The Total Environment Centre provide us some background to longwall mining in New South Wales.

Longwall mining is a form of underground coal mining where ‘panels’ of coal are mined side by side separated by narrow ‘pillars’ of rock that act as supports.

A long wall panel can be up to 4km long, 250-400m wide and 1-2m thick. Chocks are then placed lines of up to 400m in length to support the roof.

Coal is cut by a machine called a shearer that moves along the length of the face in front of the chocks, disintegrating the coal, which is then taken by a series of conveyors to the surface.

As coal is removed, the chocks are moved into the newly created cavity. As the longwall progresses through the seam, the cavity behind the longwall, known as the goaf, increases and eventually collapses under the weight of the overlying strata.

This collapsing can cause considerable surface subsidence that may damage the environment and human infrastructure.

Longwall mining in NSW began in 1962. In 1983/84 it accounted for 11% of the state’s raw coal production. This had increased to 36% by 1993/94 and stood at 29% in 2003/04.

Nearly all of the coal mined in NSW lies within the Sydney-Gunnedah Basin and in the five defined coalfields of Gunnedah, Hunter, Newcastle, Western (in the Lithgow / Mudgee area) and Southern (in the Campbelltown / Illawarra area).

Virtually all coal mining in the Southern and Western coalfields is underground.

Douglas Park Bridges, Hume Highway

The first example of modified infrastructure I found was the 285 metre long twin Douglas Park Bridges, which carry the Hume Highway 55 metres above the Nepean River.

Douglas Park Bridges over the Nepean River

The concrete piers having a large steel brace attached where they meet the bridge deck.

Added bracing to the Douglas Park Bridges over the Nepean River

The bridge was designed in 1975 by the Department of Main Roads, and did not take land subsidence into consideration, as the Department of Mines indicated mining that they would maintain a coal mining buffer zone around the bridge.

However by the late-1990s approval was given to BHP Coal to expand longwall mining at thier Tower Colliery towards the bridge, provided an extensive monitoring program was put in place.

The impact on the bridge once mining was complete – the abutments were 10 mm closer together, piers had sunk up to 18 mm, and the piers at one end had moved 48.6 mm east.

In the years that followed, the movement in the bridge had worsened, and so in 2007 BHP funded a $9 million project to realign the bridge.

The northern Abutment had moved 57mm, the first Pier around 40mm and the second Pier around 20mm. The next piers were stable.

Because of the different movements, the deck was in a unnatural form and that’s why the bridges had to be realigned. Works had to be proceeded with a minimum of bridge closures.

On the abutments, pot bearings had to be replaced with sliding bearings, which required 4 x 200 tonne jacks to lift the deck. To be able to lift the deck at the Piers, we installed a 40 tonne steel structure to create a lifting base around each Pier.

The realignment was done using 6 x 50 tonne jacks. Once the movement was complete, the bearings had to be welded or clamped to fix the deck to the Piers.

However while this work was still underway, the NSW Government approved further mining was approved beneath the bridge, but this time with a network of 400 sensors collecting deformation data 24 hours a day, along with inclinometers linked to an early warning system.

Trackside solar powered gizmos

Alongside the Melbourne-Sydney railway outside Picton, I found an multiple sets of solar powered instruments connected to the tracks.

Solar powered land subsidence monitoring equipment along the tracks at the down end of Picton

And a few kilometres away outside Douglas Park, I found some more complicated looking systems.

Solar powered land subsidence monitoring equipment along the tracks at the down end of Douglas Park

Complete with fixed structures for the installation of surveying equipment.

Solar powered land subsidence monitoring equipment along the tracks at the down end of Douglas Park

These systems monitor movement in the railway due to mining at the SIMEC Group Tahmoor Colliery and South32 Appin Colliery respectively.

Risk mitigation on the Hume Highway

BHP Billiton Illawarra Coal’s Appin Colliery also passes beneath the Hume Highway at Douglas Park, with land subsidence running the risk of distorting the base of the road pavement. The solution – cutting up the road.

Modelling studies concluded that cutting slots through the existing pavement would be an effective method of dissipating compressive stress in the bound sandstone subbase. As a result of these analyses, the Technical Committee adopted a management strategy where slots would be installed prior to mining.

Sixteen slots were cut in the pavement, eight in each carriageway, directly above the proposed Longwall 703. A further twenty six slots were cut above Longwall 704, for which mining has now started. The spacings of the slots were based mainly on subsidence predictions, with extra slots added within a zone of geological structure.

The Technical Committee recognised that pre-mining slots would probably not be able to accommodate all potential subsidence movements. In particular, irregular subsidence movements could develop, the locations of which could not be identified prior to mining, resulting in locally high compressive stresses in the pavement.

The Technical Committee recognised that additional slots could be installed proactively during mining based on actual monitoring data prior to compressive stresses in the pavement becoming sufficient to result in stepping. Materials, labour and equipment were available to install a new slot within a required 48 hours, with a target to install within 24 hours. This was undertaken on 5 occasions during mining.

Fibre optic sensors were also installed to monitor the movement of the road surface.

BHP Billiton’s Illawarra Coal has embedded three kilometres of fibre optic cables in the Hume Highway to track subsidence caused by a longwall mine that runs under the road.

Illawarra Coal uses fibre Bragg grating sensors to measure temperature and strain at ten-metre intervals along the road’s pavement to detect any forces that could damage the road.

Illawarra Coal’s in-pavement monitoring system is connected to a site-based bank of interrogators that analyse the raw data on a real time basis.

“All data is transferred via wireless network link and is maintained on a web server which is managed by one of the key stakeholders,” a BHP Billiton spokeswoman told iTnews.

“The captured data is compared against pre-determined triggers and has the capability to initiate mobile phone SMS-generated alarms if required for appropriate response as determined by the trigger.”

Replacing a railway tunnel

Just outside of Tahmoor was Redbank Tunnel – a 315 metre long double-track tunnel completed in 1919 as part of the duplication of the Melbourne-Sydney railway.

Google Earth, April 2010

But there was a problem – the nearby Tahmoor Colliery, established in 1975, and expanded in 1994 and 1999.

Looking down on the balloon loop at the Tahmoor Colliery in the Southern Highlands

A further 4.5 million tonnes of coal was located under the tunnel, and Xstrata wanted to expand the mine yet again to extract it, which would destroy the tunnel.

Tahmoor has now undertaken modelling of subsidence impacts on Redbank Tunnel as a result of mining. This modelling has concluded that subsidence impacts would be significant (up to 1130 mm of vertical subsidence) and likely would impact on the structural integrity of the tunnel, resulting in a risk to rail safety on the Main Southern Railway Line which runs through the tunnel.

So their solution – move the railway.

On 21 December 2010, Tahmoor submitted an application to the Department seeking to modify the Minister’s consent (DA 67/98) to allow for mining impacts within Area 3, and thereby to support the proposed mining of these longwalls. In order to avoid the potential impacts on rail safety, Tahmoor proposes to build a major deviation of the Main Southern Railway line for 1.9 km around the tunnel. The modification would also involve construction of a new overbridge to facilitate landowner access to their property once the rail track has been completed.

And decommission the redundant tunnel.

If Redbank Tunnel was left open after it is bypassed, then it is likely that some sections of the Tunnel’s masonry lining would experience cracking, shearing and localised spalling and possible collapses as a result of mining subsidence. Tahmoor therefore proposes to fill the tunnel with material excavated during construction of the proposed deviation, mitigating any potential safety hazards to people who might enter the tunnel and reducing subsidence to the natural surface above the tunnel.

Reshaping the landscape.

Assessment Report: Tahmoor North Mine, Redbank Rail Tunnel Deviation Modification

Work on the deviation commenced in June 2012, with the first train using the new route in December the same year.

Rebuilding a bridge

While chasing trains around Picton, a strange looking bridge caught my eye.

8109 and 8127 departs Picton with an empty aggregate train bound for Peppertree Quarry

The expansion gap looking far too big for the size of the bridge.

Oversized expansion gap in the Bridge Street bridge over the railway at Picton

It turns out coal mining at Tahmoor Colliery was also the driver here.

Tahmoor Coal Pty Ltd is currently replacing an existing bridge over the Main Southern Railway Line near Picton in NSW, due to proposed mining works. The new bridge is located immediately to the west of an existing brick arch bridge. The rail overbridge is an asset of Transport for New South Wales with Wollondilly Shire Council owning the connecting road.

The new overbridge is required because of potential subsidence impacts from scheduled longwall mining activities in the area in late 2015 which would compromise the safety of the existing bridge structure. The project also involves realignment of the road approaches and the demolition of the existing bridge.

A key issue in the design was the articulation of the bridge which had to cater for large opening/closure movements and large differential vertical and horizontal movements between the two ends of the bridge. A large movement modular deck joint and large movement sliding spherical bearings were adopted to accommodate these potentially large mine subsidence displacements.

Construction commenced in June 2015 and was completed by November the same year.

Landbridges on the Hume

This pair of bridges on the Hume Highway outside Mittagong don’t look at unusual from above.

Google Maps

Or from the road.

Google Street View

But they don’t actually span a watercourse.

Google Street View

But were built in 2000s to bridge a section of land affected by mine subsidence.

Plan to bridge the Hume Highway at Mittagong
5 June 2001

Working with the Federal Department of Transport and Regional Services (DOTARS), the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) has commenced preliminary work on the upgrading of the Hume Highway on the Mittagong Bypass.

The south and northbound lanes will be re-built and two new three-lane bridges constructed on this major interstate road corridor as a result of geological changes that have damaged the road surface and surrounding region over time.

To maintain travel conditions for the 16,000 vehicles using this section of the highway every day, the RTA will receive an initial $6 million from the Federal Government to complete planning and to construct median cross-over lanes. These will allow traffic to switch between the north and southbound carriageways once construction of the bridges has commenced.

The crossovers will be located near the Nattai River and Gibbergunyah Creek bridges and are expected to take two months to build.

During construction, lane restrictions will be in place in the area from 7am to 6pm Mondays to Fridays and from 8am to 1pm on Saturdays.

“In recent years, engineers have detected a subsidence in the road caused by the unique geology of the area. However, the current rate of ground movement is extremely slow and presents no short-term risk,” an RTA spokesperson said.

“The area has a very complex geological history, including mining activity at the adjacent Mount Alexandra Coal Mine from the 1950s to the 1970s.

“To ensure the highway continues to provide high standard travel conditions, work on the crossovers has commenced, with construction of the bridges expected to begin later in the year for completion by the end of 2002.”

The RTA expects to let a contract for the bridge works in October. The twin three-lane bridges will be supported by concrete pylons sunk 10 metres into the bedrock and protected from possible future earth movement by steel casings.

The southbound bridge will be built first and then operate temporarily as a single carriageway road carrying traffic in both directions during construction of the second bridge.

“The Hume Highway is Australia’s most important interstate road artery, with funding for improvements and maintenance a Federal Government responsibility,” a Department of Transport and Regional Services spokesperson said.

“Accordingly, the cost of the new bridges will be fully funded by the Federal Government.

“Both the Federal Department and the RTA are working to ensure this essential road route is upgraded quickly and with minimal inconvenience to the travelling public.

Telephone trouble at Tahmoor

Even the Telstra network wasn’t safe from mine subsidence at Tahmoor.

As part of the planning for mining longwall LW32, Tahmoor Coking Coal Operations has identified surface assets which may be affected by the mining operation in Tahmoor north area. Some of these assets belong to Telstra and are part of Telstra’s infrastructure in the area.

Telstra’s major assets in the area are: Tahmoor telephone exchange which is located on the north east corner of Thirlmere Way and Denmead Streets and Picton telephone exchange which is Menangle Street.

As mining has continued north of the telephone exchange the potential for impacts on the major network cable infrastructure has changed as now the longwalls are commencing to impact on the Picton telephone exchange area and the optical fibre cables and copper network to the south of Picton.

The planned longwall mining covering the area.

Management Plan – Longwall Mining beneath Telstra plant at Tahmoor and Picton NSW

With the critical parts of the network being:

a. Optical Fibre Cable – this is predominantly due to the nature of the cable in that it is only able to sustain relatively low ground compressive and tensile strains before the external sheath transfers the strain to the individual fibres within the cable. When this occurs the individual fibres have limited capacity to tolerate tensile or compressive strains before they cause interruption to or failure of transmission systems.

b. Aerial Cable – Aerial cable anchored at adjacent poles or from pole to building can be impacted by ground tilt. Where poles are affected by ground tilt the top of the pole can move such that there is a change in the cable catenery with the potential to either stretch the cable or reduce the ground clearance on the particular cable.

And somehow the legacy copper network got off lightly.

Generally the more extensive Main and Local copper cable network is more robust and able to tolerate reasonable levels of mining induced ground strain. The interaction is complex since the network comprises of very small cable of 5mm diameter up to heavily armoured 60mm diameter cables spread diversely across the entire mining area.

Footnote: and the environment

Water being lost to reservoirs.

NSW’s top water agency has called for curbs on two big coal mines in Sydney’s catchment, saying millions of litres of water are being lost daily and that environmental impacts are likely breaching approval conditions.

Cracks in creeks.

The ground is bulging and cracks are reaching from the surface to the coal seam in a section of Sydney’s drinking water catchment that sits above a mine, according to an independent study commissioned by the state government.

Creeks turning orange.

Flows from a “significant” water source for one of Sydney’s dams are turning orange and disappearing beneath the surface because of an underground coal mine that is slated to expand to beneath the reservoir itself.

180 tonnes of concrete pumped into a creek.

It was meant to be a remediation program to repair extensive mine subsidence damage to Sugarloaf State Conservation Area in the Lower Hunter. Instead it turned one environmental disaster into another. Contractors working for coal giant Glencore Xstrata pumped more than 180 tonnes of concrete into a tributary of Cockle Creek at Lake Macquarie.

And yet new mines are approved beneath reservoirs.

The Berejiklian government has given the nod for the extension of coal mining under one of Greater Sydney’s reservoirs, the first such approval in two decades.

The Planning Department earlier this month told Peabody Energy it could proceed with the extraction of coal from three new longwalls, two of which will go beneath Woronora reservoir.

All of this makes a few damaged bridges and cracked highways pale in comparison.

Further reading

Photos from ten years ago: October 2012

Another instalment in my photos from ten years ago series – this time it is October 2012.

Building it up, tear it down

We start off in the Melbourne CBD, where the Emporium Melbourne shopping centre was emerging inside the gutted facade of Myer’s Lonsdale Street store.

Looking east over the construction site

The complex opened a few years later in April 2014.

Over at Royal Park the old Royal Children’s Hospital was being demolished.

Northern side of the 'H' block all done

Opening up a view towards the CBD.

Melbourne CBD skyline viewed from the demolition site

The expansion of Royal Park onto the site was completed by December 2014.

And out in Truganina I photographed the trashed gatehouse at the abandoned Truganina Munitions Reserve on Palmers Road.

Gatehouse at the abandoned Truganina Munitions Reserve on Palmers Road

Abandoned for years, it eventually bulldozed in 2020 so the road could be widened.

Building Regional Rail Link

In October 2012 work on the Regional Rail Link was well underway, with the west side of Sunshine station cleared to make room for two new V/Line platforms.

Siemens on the down at Sunshine, passing Regional Rail Link works

The car park off Irving Street at Footscray station was also closed for good, to make way for two new suburban platforms.

Irving Street car park at Footscray closed for good - site of the future suburban platforms

Work to widen the rail corridor towards Middle Footscray about to begin.

Siemens train on the up at Footscray, passing Regional Rail Link works

And out in the back blocks of Truganina a number of minor roads were about to be permanently closed, so that work on the new Regional Rail Link route between Deer Park and Werribee could start.

Woods Road permanently closed to traffic where the RRL alignment crosses it

The new platforms at Footscray were first to open in January 2014, followed by the new platforms at Sunshine in April 2014, the new tracks between South Kensington and Sunshine in July 2014, and finally the new route via Tarneit in June 2015.

Myki replaces Metcard

The Metcard magstripe ticketing system was scheduled to be switched off at the end of December 2012, so the switch to Myki message was everywhere, including the soon to be removed ticket machines onboard trams.

'Metcard cannot be used from 29th December 2012' message on a MVM1 ticket machine onboard a tram

At Flagstaff station the Metcard barriers were being replaced by new Myki gates.

Replacing Metcard barriers at Flagstaff with permanent Myki gates

Allowing the decommissioning of the 1990s-era ‘Barrier Lane Control’ computer that controlled them.

'Barrier Lane Control' computer for the Metcard gates at Flagstaff station

The Metcard gates were then disassembled.

Metcard barriers at Flagstaff station ready to be removed

With the ‘frankenbarrier’ conversion kits removed.

Box filled with Metcard 'frankenbarrier' conversion kits

I assume the old ticket gates were sent back to Metcard operator OneLink, while the Myki readers were sent go back to their owner – Kamco.

Scenes that are gone

One morning I was out at Sunshine, where I found two V/Line trains running parallel towards me.

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

It was a little unusual back then, but it’s impossible now – Regional Rail Link converted the tracks to two single directional tracks, removing flexibility if a broken down train blocks one line.

On a quiet weekend I found dozens of Melbourne Bus Link buses stabled for the weekend at their Footscray depot.

Melbourne Bus Link buses stabled for the weekend at Footscray depot

Melbourne Bus Link was replaced by Transdev in 2013, who were then replaced by Kinetic in 2022; and the depot in Footscray closed in 2016, replaced by a new depot at Sunshine West.

At Moonee Ponds Junction I found tram passengers playing frogger while trying to change between route 59 and route 82 trams.

B2.2003 arrives at Moonee Ponds Junction, with a diverted Z3.205 heading to West Maribyrnong

The mess of an interchange was rebuilt in 2016, providing a slightly nicer experience for passengers.

And finally, I spotted one of the seven surviving Hitachi trains in Melbourne running a Belgrave train at Southern Cross.

Hitachi 294M runs a down Belgrave train at Southern Cross

It took until December 2013 until the last one was finally withdrawn from revenue service.


Here you can find the rest of my ‘photos from ten years ago‘ series.