Bendigo Metro and the useless station at Epsom

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?

R761 and R707 at Bendigo

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
Lauren Henry
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.

V/Line stations north of Bendigo: Epsom and Eaglehawk

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:

Bendigo line V/Line timetable circa 2010

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
Blair Thomson
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
Hannah Knight
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
Hannah Carrodus
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
Adam Holmes
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
Tom Cowie
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.

Further reading

I found this interesting paper, titled Developing business cases for regional rail stations: a Victorian case study.

August 2015 update

In August 2015 the Bendigo Metro Rail Community Consultative Taskforce released their report – the Bendigo Advertiser detailed their recommendations:

  • Stage 1: five return train services per day to Epsom and Eaglehawk, along with including Kangaroo Flat on every trip between Bendigo and Melbourne.
  • Stage 2: further services to Epsom, Eaglehawk, Bendigo and Kangaroo Flat, as well as station upgrades and connectivity with walking and cycling paths.
  • Stage 3: 20 minute peak and 40 minute off-peak services between Bendigo and Kangaroo Flat, with alternating services to Epsom and Eaglehawk at peak times.

Note the useless 40 minute off-peak frequency – if you missed one train, you could drive to the other end of Bendigo and back, and still get done before the next train!

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32 Responses to “Bendigo Metro and the useless station at Epsom”

  1. Chris Gordon says:

    V/Line no longer removes passengers from the trains when splitting/joining at Ballarat and hasn’t done so for quite a long time now (there is a press release about it somewhere). Standard is first train arrives, 4min later for the second train and depart another 4min later (total 8min for the first train).

  2. Jennifer Williams says:

    The Altona loop is effectively a branch. When the off peak shuttle started on May 8 2011, the car parks were literally empty and people abandoned in droves. The Newport car park was so busy an additional 200 spaces filled up instantly. So I’m not surprised Epsom station has suffered a similar fate (and we have many more trains per day). What a waste of money!

  3. Andrew S says:

    I’d add singling to line beyond Kyneton to the list of dubious upgrades for Bendigo back with the Fast Rail project – I guess you can travel at full speed between the passing loops!

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Back in the June 2004 issue of Railway Digest a piece titled ‘Single-minded mania?’ by Andrew McLean appeared:

      The reasoning given by the government of the period for the ‘upgrade’ are dubious are best.

      • Tom the first and best. says:

        The Bendigo line should not have been singled. The services arriving in Bendigo before 9am, introduced by the Bracks government after this article did best on the Bendigo line and there is now a significant flow of passengers to Bendigo in the mornings and from Bendigo in the evenings along the Bendigo line that faces line capacity constraints because of the single track.

  4. Rohan Storey says:

    Yes a bendigo urban rail service is a silly idea !

  5. Seph Murphy says:

    The White Hills – Epsom corridor is the fastest growing area in Victoria outside of Melbourne. It only makes sense for it to be given its own station. The amount of services is of course a joke, but was going to have been fixed by now with the opening of RRL and corresponding timetable changes. Given thats now not until next month, services shoud improve then

  6. wxtre says:
    The above map is the Bendigo future proposal.

    Adding additional railway stations to regional cities is similar to English regional cities. Usually they have additional stations surrounding second tier population areas. It is a cost effective method of creating rail systems. These cities will continue to increase in population.

    In NSW the regional cities such as Wollongong and Newcastle are another example that both about 20 railway stations each serving the city/region and connected to the network.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Newcastle is an interesting one – commuters from the surrounding area already use the rail service to access what *used* to be a station centrally located in the Newcastle CBD.

      As for Wollongong, rail services benefit from the geography – the city stretches between the coastline and the Illawarra Escarpment, so the single line forms a catchment that covers much of the city. There is also the short Port Kembla branch, but that appears to be more of a industrial legacy, then a heavily used commuter route.

  7. Bendigonian says:

    I am from Bendigo and do not understand this proposal. Frankly, it’s amazing that it was even an election promise as both Bendigo seats have been safe Labor seats for ages.

    Frankly, this is totally unnecessary. What the government would be much better doing is continuing Bendigo trains alternately to Epsom and Eaglehawk. The actual time would only add 10-15 mins to each train each way.

    The station at Epsom is actually a fair station as there is huge growth in that corridor and given a few years and more regular services the station use will grow.

    The problem with the metro rail idea is that it is unnecessary. How many people use vline to traverse from Marshall to North Geelong. Not a huge number of people, as busses or cars are a much better way to go.

    The bus network in Bendigo need work and 2 million would be better spent improving that, as it can reach more places and has better potential for higher ridership. And all Bendigo buses go via the railway station anyway, meaning connecting to VLine services is still easy.

    I am all for increasing public transport options, particularly in large regional cities that can get forgotten, but a metro rail in Bendigo is a stupid idea, and is an expensive way to increase public transport options in a place like Bendigo.

    • wxtre says:

      The railway line should be electrified to Geelong as part of the Melbourne metro services, it is overdue .

      Also providing a passenger rail connection between Geelong and Torquay and reinstating passenger rail services between Geelong and Drysdale along the former Queenscliff railway alignment

      There could also be a railway service added to the Avalon airport.

      A tramway to the Cunningham Pier or to Fyansford.

      Reinstating a V-line Service between Geelong-Ballarat-Bendigo

      Retaining the service to Warrnambool.

      The overall network would be similar to this map.

      • Marcus Wong says:

        Blindly introducing rail services on the disused rail corridors of Geelong is a dubious proposition – the line down to Cunningham Pier results in branching issues, and barely extends the rail catchment beyond that of the existing Geelong station.

        Services on the Fyansford line have their own issues – a rail journey from Hamlyn Heights to central Geelong is at least four times the ‘as the crow flies’ distance, the catchment to the east is farmland, and the catchment to the west is already served by North Geelong station.

        • wxtre says:

          It is correct, the NSW government have closed the Newcastle city railway around Christmas time last year. It is interesting whether it will be reinstated, as legally it is a contentious issue. The rail corridor is still available.

  8. mich says:

    One hundred car parks ? Crikey !

    • Marcus Wong says:

      There are 216 seats in a 3-car VLocity train set, so enough car parking for half a train to drive to the station. 😛

      • mich says:

        It seems to have become some kind of semi-literate blond airhead-speak to say that some mall has three thousand car parks. Normal people would say that it has 2 car parks, with three thousand parking spaces. Or maybe 3 car parks, one on the east side, one on the west, and one on the roof, with space for 3 thousand cars.

        Or maybe it’s a Melbourne thing.

  9. mich says:

    It’s all very well for Jarrett Walker to pooh-pooh the idea that rail and tram lines should have multiple terminal branches, but the fact is, they are everywhere, even on some of the brand new chinese metros. What is the alternative ? Close down the Lilyvale and Cranbourne lines completely so that Belgrave and Pakenham can have double the service ? Would that really be better, to anyone other than a doctrinaire egghead ? Or build a whole new separate line from Lilyvale to Melbourne to replace it ? Might be a good idea, but not going to happen.

    There are about six trains during the peak period between Bendigo and Melbourne. Having three of them going to Epsom and three to Eaglehawk sounds like an adequate service to me – better than none.

    As for local services, it’s all very well to say it’s only 20 minutes to drive from anywhere to anywhere in Bendigo, and you’d be right…. as long as everybody has a car, and there is unlimited parking, everywhere. And for commuters to Melbourne, having trains which are as fast as driving the 100 km is great, as long as you can park at the station.

    In the UK, there are a few recent and not-so-recent stations built on main lines on the outskirts of cities, and they have been built for several reasons, including enabling people to drive and park there, and also for towns and cities to be served by lines which don’t actually run to their old stations in town centres, without making detours, and often having to reverse out again.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      As for the merits of branches – the argument isn’t that a rail network shouldn’t have them, but that if you are going to introduce a branch, they won’t magically expand the area covered by a transit network – they have tradeoffs.

      (Some overseas examples of newly built metro rail branches are the Filyovskaya Line of the Moscow Metro, and the Tseung Kwan O Line of the Hong Kong MTR)

  10. mich says:

    Thanks for the link to that interesting paper.

    I found this to be a rather bizarre statement: “Grovedale station is a proposed new V/Line station on the Geelong to Melbourne railway line.”

  11. James A says:

    I had the displeasure of using Epsom Station recently, on a family trip up to Bendigo. We decided to visit the pottery (which is adjacent to the station) and then had an onward train trip to Echuca; theoretically, it was perfect. However, there was a wire fence between the back of the pottery and the station’s service road, meaning we had to do a complete loop, adding probably 10-15 minutes to the journey. There are no footpaths between the major intersection, local shopping centre and the railway station, meaning we had to drag our cases along the side of the road. Arriving at the station, we were greeted by the empty, expansive carpark. The station was designed solely for the car. Not to mention that the ramp entrance is right in the middle and two shelters on complete opposite ends. It is the stupidest white elephant I’ve ever seen in this state.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      The newly built Waurn Ponds station isn’t much better – pedestrians have to fight their way out of the car park, but at least in the latter case there are actually footpaths to use.

      Bus stops with no shelters outside the station on the public road

  12. wxtre says:

    This is a map of a new proposed bus network for Bendigo that is on the PTV website. That is topical and people may be interested to read and view the map.

  13. […] a few months ago when I wrote about the the useless station at Epsom, outside Bendigo? The proposed Bendigo Metro network would use Bendigo station as the junction […]

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