V/Line’s 20% fare cut of 2007

In the past decade V/Line patronage has exploded, with millions more passenger journeys being made each year. What is the driver behind it – improved services, or regional sprawl? There is also another factor – the 20% fare cut of 2007.

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

The battleground was the 2006 State Election, and the elimination of Zone 3. From The Age:

Both parties promise ‘fare go’ for public transport
Stephen Moynihan and Farrah Tomazin
October 27, 2006

More than a million Melburnians will have cheaper public transport fares in 2007, no matter who wins next month’s state election.

Within hours of each other, the Opposition and State Government yesterday announced plans to abolish Zone 3 on the metropolitan transport system.

Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu fired the first shot, saying the creation of simpler fare structure would reduce ticket prices and increase public transport patronage.

Four hours later, Premier Steve Bracks announced the same promise but trumped the Opposition with a pledge to cut V/Line fares by up to 20 per cent.

The Liberals costed their plan at $84 million over four years, with Labor costing theirs at $94.1 million over five years.

Labor won the election, with their fare changes introduced on 4 March 2007 – removal of Zone 3, and a 20% cut in V/Line fares.

What happened to V/Line?

The 2006-07 V/Line annual report had this to say.

Patronage in 2006–07 climbed to its highest level in more than 60 years, with nine million passenger trips – 29 per cent more than last year. This followed the introduction of the new timetable in September and October 2006 and the government’s 20 per cent reduction in fares from March 2007.

The patronage trend continued – from the 2007-08 annual report:

While the 29 per cent increase in passenger numbers in the previous financial year may have been seen by some as an anomaly associated with the introduction of cheaper
fares, a further 23 per cent increase this year is confirmation that we are indeed experiencing a new era in rail travel.

Nearly 12 million passenger trips were made with V/Line in the past year, almost doubling our patronage of just three years ago. With the likelihood of continuing high fuel prices and increasing congestion on metropolitan roads, we expect patronage to grow to more than 13 million passengers in 2008–09.

This increase in patronage initially has a positive impact on revenue – as the 2010–11 annual report states:

The farebox has risen 57 per cent from the $49.3 million recorded in 2006, almost entirely due to the rapid rise in patronage as ticket prices were cut on average by 20 per cent in 2007. Price increases in 2008 and 2009 were at or below CPI, with prices held constant in 2010. A small increase of 3 per cent during 2011 was delayed until March and as a result had a minor impact on the overall farebox for the year.

As more people make the switch to public transport, V/Line has become a more efficient business. A key indicator of this performance is the subsidy per passenger trip, which dropped to $18.36 in 2011. This is the fourth consecutive year that V/Line has reduced this subsidy.

However this reduction in operating subsidy was short lived – by 2015-16 was already back at previous levels – around $22 per passenger.

One possible cause – the majority of these new passengers were commuters travelling at peak times, requiring extra services to be run into Melbourne each day and back home again at night.

VLocity 3VL31 and classmate depart the turnback siding at Wyndham Vale South, as a Sprinter consist arrives

Combine an increasing number of passengers and an increase in services run, the overall franchise subsidy – government funds to meet the gap between operating costs and farebox revenue – began to skyrocket.

This increase in overall subsidies to V/Line now appears to track patronage.

With an overall V/Line subsidy of $391 million in 2015-06, I wonder what the current explosion in suburban patronage from the likes of Caroline Springs, Tarneit and Wyndham Vale will do to this trend?

V/Line passenger board a VLocity train at Southern Cross platform 2

Source data

Here you can find my spreadsheet tracking V/Line’s franchise subsidy and subsidy per passenger year-on-year.

Closing roads to remove level crossings

There are many ways to remove a level crossing – with closing the road being the easiest. An example can be found in Terang, a town of 1,800 people located on the Melbourne-Warrnambool railway line in south-west Victoria.

N453 leads a down Warrnambool service into Terang station

The railway runs right though the middle of the town’s grid of streets, creating five level crossings in a 1.7 kilometres stretch of tracks.

VicTrack have slowly been upgrading the level crossings of Terang.

Looking south over the Shadforth Street level crossing

VicTrack annual report 2009–10

  • Seymour Street: upgraded from passive to flashing lights

VicTrack annual report 2012-13

  • Thomson Street: upgraded from flashing lights to boom barriers
  • Shadforth Street: upgraded from passive to boom barriers

VicTrack annual report 2013-14

  • Simpson Street: closed

Located only 250 metres from the the neighbouring Shadforth Street, closing the Simpson Street level crossing was an obvious choice. The resulting detour: 600 metres by road.

The level crossing at Simpson Street used to look like this.

But strangely enough, closing the road had to be funded by savings elsewhere.

Victorian Government-funded safety upgrades were completed at 22 level and pedestrian crossings across Victoria in 2013-14, mostly in regional Victoria. This exceeded the agreed target by one crossing for the Fix Country Level Crossings Program, with VicTrack able to fund the closure of the Simpson Street crossing in Terang from program savings.

Road signs aren’t free.

Former Simpson Street level crossing in Terang

And neither is the provision of a passive ‘crib crossing’ for the use of pedestrians.

Former Simpson Street level crossing in Terang

Footnote

According to Vicsig the closure date of the Simpson Street level crossing was 16 May 2013.

And elsewhere

Until the 1990s the Upfield line through suburban Melbourne was the home of dozen of hand operated level crossing gates.

It took until 1997 for the line to be upgraded to modern standards, which some lesser thoroughfares were closed to road traffic.

  • Barkly Street (Jewell)
  • Phoenix Street (Brunswick)
  • Tinning Street (Anstey)
  • Shorts Road (Merlynston)

The remainder of the hand gates were replaced by boom barriers.

Photos from ten years ago: June 2007

Another instalment in my photos from ten years ago series – this time it is June 2007.

We start this month with the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Geelong & Melbourne Railway on 25 June 1857. A series of displays and special trains ran to mark the event.

R761 Melbourne bound at Corio

R761 off the train and headed for the turntable

Steam locomotive R761 led the special train to Geelong, with a pair of tiger moths giving chase.

R761 and two chase planes outside Lara

Also at home in Geelong, I photographed a green and white liveried Benders bus.

Benders #99 4567AO westbound on route 30 at Malop and Moorabool Street

The ‘Benders’ name was dropped in 2014 by parent company ComfortDelGro Cabcharge Victoria, who adopted the simpler ‘CDC Geelong’ name. The colour scheme has also bitten the dust, replaced by either PTV orange, or all over advertising.

An ongoing theme in this series is the Waurn Ponds cement train – this time around I headed out to Ghazeepore Road to capture a return working.

X39 on the up at Grovedale, returning from Waurn Ponds with a rake of loaded cement hoppers

The carriage of cement by rail in Victoria was abandoned altogether in December 2015, and the scene pictured has drastically changed: Anglesea Road now crosses the tracks via an overpass, along with the recently built Baanip Boulevard.

Over in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, I photographed a 3-car Comeng train shunting into Siding ‘A’ at Camberwell, in between running the off-peak shuttle service to Alamein.

Alamein shuttle running into Siding A at Camberwell

These shuttles still run today, but thanks to the growth of the Melbourne train fleet, are now run by the newer X’Trapolis trains.

I also found an even older train – Hitachi 184M still with a ‘The Met’ logo from the 1990s.

Hitachi 184M still with a 'The Met' logo, coupled to 179M

These logos were eventually removed in late 2007, as Connex started refurbishing the remaining seven Hitachi trains in their fleet.

While something much newer was the completed station at Southern Cross.

Wide angle overview from the Collins Street concourse

Collins Street entrance at Southern Cross

Note how open the station concourse used to be – since bastardised with the addition of numerous retail outlets, and hemmed in by ticket gates and fences.

Another significant change to the station can be seen on the western wall facing Wurundjeri Way.

Western wall of the station from outside

Platform 15 and 16 have since been added to the ground level, and two new office towers have been built atop the concrete deck: 664 Collins Street and 699 Bourke Street.

And we end on a common theme: Myki screwups, this time the Myki Discovery Centre at Southern Cross.

Sign at the Southern Cross Myki display

Open to the elements, the freezing conditions inside soon led to the staff walking out, forcing the installation of glass doors and a climate control system.

Myki Discovery Centre at Southern Cross reopened

If only fixing the rest of the Myki flaws was so simple.

Footnote

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

Passengers stuck waiting at pedestrian crossings

One point often missed regarding level crossing is that rail passengers also get stuck waiting at them – leaving them stuck on the wrong side of the tracks and missing the train they were trying to catch. An example of this is Yarraville station, as I found a few years ago.

Crowd of passengers abandoning the platform at Yarraville, after an announcement that no trains were running

Yarraville has a pair of platforms flanking the tracks with only a level crossing links the two.

I arrived there around 1:30pm and stood on the outbound platform.

Soon enough the level crossing went down, and the following trains passed through:

  • Werribee bound suburban
  • Geelong bound V/Line
  • citybound suburban

Of course, the entire time I had been waiting intending passengers headed for the city were stuck on my side of the level crossing, so the 1:36pm train for the city that just arrived was completely useless for them.

Alstom Comeng 670M arrives at Yarraville on the up

However that wasn’t the end of the wait – a second Werribee bound train was due through, followed by a second citybound train!

At 1:40pm the gates finally opened – but thanks to the distance between the level crossing and the platform, the passengers had no hope of making it on board.

The level crossing finally opens at Yarraville, letting the passengers past

Instead they just had to wait on the platform for the third citybound train to appear, which was the 1:52pm.

Alstom Comeng 339M with parts of the Metro logo missing

I’m sure the passengers were happy – turn up to catch the 1:36pm train, but end up on the train departing 15 minutes after that. Quite a wait!

Footnote

My above example was from February 21, 2011 – it was a Monday, and back then the Werribee line received a train every 10 minutes off peak, and shared the tracks with V/Line trains to Geelong.

These frequent off-peak services were dropped in May 2011, with V/Line trains moved to the new Regional Rail Link route via Wyndham Vale and Tarneit in June 2015.

Photos from ten years ago: May 2007

Another instalment in my photos from ten years ago series – this time it is May 2007.

We start down at Geelong at the future site of the TAC head office on Brougham Street.

Lower level basement walls removed

Once the site of the the largest reinforced concrete roof in the world, the heritage listed ‘Bow Truss Building‘ was demolished in 1990, only to lay empty as a car park for two decades. it was selected as the site of the new TAC head office in 2006, work starting in 2007, with the new building opening in 2009.

Another construction project during the same period was the redevelopment of North Melbourne railway station.

Looking east across the platforms before work begins

Announced in 2006, the project added lifts and escalators to the city end of the station, making it easier for passengers to change platforms, as well as replacing the poky entrance at the northern end of the station with the current entrance at the city end.

North Melbourne station

Early works in 2007 include removing advertising panels from the platforms.

Removed advertising at North Melbourne station

As well as the establishment of a work site at the city end of the platforms.

Track removed from Melbourne Yard for work site

Work on the new station was completed in 2009. The years that followed have seen a plague of escalator breakdowns, as well as the bypassing of the station by most V/Line services.

Another piece of changed rail infrastructure I visited was Number 2 Goods Shed, located west of Southern Cross Station.

Recessed tracks in the middle of No. 2 goods shed

Built in 1889-90 to handle rail freight, the shed fell out of use in the 1990s after the removal of rail infrastructure as part of the Melbourne Docklands redevelopment. Restoration work commenced in 2008, with the goods shed now adapted into offices.

Something else that no longer exists is special trains for the Warrnambool Cup. V/Line built up the morning train to Warrnambool from five to seven carriages to cater for the extra patronage.

N455 with a down Warrnambool, built up to 7 cars for the Warrnabool Cup, at Grovedale

They also ran a special Warrnambool Cup train, with club car ‘Victoria’ attached so the punters could relax over a few drinks.

N473 on a down Warrnambool Cup special with club car 'Victoria' and power van PCO2 in the consist, at Grovedale

V/Line’s special race trains ended a few years laterthe end of alcohol onboard trains from December 2008 probably having something to do with it. The replacement – the ‘Grand Annual Race Coach’.

Not quite lost, but a shadow of its former self is the Melbourne-Adelaide ‘The Overland’ train. After circling the drain for years, 2007 saw the last run of the aging 1970s sleeper carriage stock.

Last run of the unrefurbished Overland, westbound at Moorabool

In their place was a refurbished fleet of sitting carriages, allowing the train to be rebooted as a thrice weekly daylight service.

Refurbished Overland set at Southern Cross

Despite challenges receiving funding from the Victorian and South Australian state governments, The Overland still runs twice weekly.

Another train I found this month was track evaluation vehicle EM100.

EM100 running through Spencer Street

Designed to inspect the track for flaws, the vehicle is still in serivce today, just with a shiny new Metro Trains Melbourne paintjob.

And we end with a railfan favourite – the Hitachi trains.

Hitachi 23M being worked on beside the Williamstown line

I spotted Hitachi 23M being worked on at the Newport Workshops, after Connex started refurbishing the remaining seven Hitachi trains in their fleet. The trains were farewelled in 2014, making their last move under their own power in 2015.

Footnote

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