Alternate V/Line routes across Victoria

If you take a look at the V/Line’s network map, it seems very simple – each railway line radiates directly from Melbourne, with no connections between them. It may also make you think that many journeys across Victoria require a stopover in the big smoke, and any minor disruption along the way results in an entire line being shut down – but that isn’t necessarily the case.

V/Line network map circa 2014

The reality becomes apparent when you look at a map showing the entire Victorian railway network – there are a web of lines covering the entire state, and for cities such as Geelong and Ballarat, there multiple way to reach Melbourne by rail. So why doesn’t V/Line use them?

Victorian railway network map circa 2014

Let us start with the alternate routes through the suburban area.

Southern Cross to Sunshine via the suburban tracks

Before the first stage of Regional Rail Link opened to passenger trains in 2014, V/Line services to Ballarat and Bendigo used the suburban tracks between Southern Cross to Sunshine. This route is still available today, so if anything happens on the Regional Rail Links between the city and Sunshine, V/Line trains should still be able to operate.

VLocity 3VL37 arrives into Footscray on the suburban tracks to Sunshine

Southern Cross to Werribee via the suburban tracks

V/Line Geelong services moved onto the new RRL tracks in 2015, having used the suburban tracks via Newport and Werribee before this time. Again, this route is still available today, so if the Regional Rail Link tracks develop a fault, Geelong trains could still travel via the ‘old route’.

VLocity 3VL50 leads a down Geelong service through Laverton station

In suburban Melbourne, there are also a number of nominally freight-only tracks that V/Line trains can travel over.

Southern Cross to Sunshine via the goods lines

If something goes wrong with both the Regional Rail Link and suburban tracks west of the city, there is actually a third route to Sunshine! These freight tracks link South Kensington to Sunshine, passing through the Bunbury Street Tunnel beneath Footscray station and then paralleling to the normal passenger route as far as Sunshine.

Unfortunately using this link is slow going for passenger trains – a 15 km/h speed limit applies for the section of track that passes Tottenham station, and due to the tracks being shared with freight trains, long delays can occur while they pass through flat junctions.

V/Line train still waiting at Tottenham Junction, as the pair of NR class locomotives on a freight train get the signal to go

Southern Cross to Newport via the goods lines

In addition to the freight-only tracks from South Kensington to Sunshine, another freight route heads south to Newport, allowing Geelong trains a way to avoid the suburban tracks that pass through Footscray and Yarraville.

As with the previously mentioned freight line, slow speed limits and conflicts with the freight trains that normally use the line limit the usability of this alternate route for V/Line services.

Diverted V/Line Geelong service stopped at a signal at Brooklyn - we must have been caught up to the freight train ahead of us

Southern Cross to Broadmeadows via the goods lines

The final freight-only route in suburban Melbourne is the Albion-Jacana line – it links Sunshine to Broadmeadows via Airport West, and allows Seymour-bound services to avoid the suburban tracks via Essendon.

Subject to an incredibly slow 20 km/h speed limit due to the poor track condition, the only upside of this route is that only a handful of freight trains use it each day, so getting a clear run isn’t hard.

Diverted Shepparton service crawling along at 20 km/h on the broad gauge track of the Albion - Jacana line

Once outside of Melbourne, the number of alternate routes multiplies.

Ballarat via Geelong

The Geelong-Ballarat railway line exists for freight traffic, leaving the main Geelong line before North Geelong station, and joining the main Ballarat line just outside the township of Warrenheip.

Up until the late 1990s V/Line would occasionally divert Ballarat services via Geelong in order to free up space on the single track through Bacchus Marsh. As to why regular services don’t use today, the route is almost twice as long as the normal route, it is subject to a slower 80 km/h speed limit, and the line between Geelong and Gheringhap sees busy interstate freight traffic, which could get in the way of regular passenger services.

Pacific National grain train running through the empty station at Lal Lal

Bendigo via Ballarat

Once upon a time there were two alternate routes to reach Bendigo by rail!

The first approached the city from the south and passed through Ballarat, Maryborough and Castlemaine, using the Moolort railway line.

Unfortunately for anyone wanting to run a train this way, the section of line between Moolort and Maldon Junction has been ‘booked out of use’ since 2004, with the section of line between Castlemaine and Maldon Junction being turned over to tourist services operated by the Victorian Goldfields Railway.

V/Line VLocity railcar at Maryborough station

And the second entered Bendigo from the other side of town Eaglehawk–Inglewood line: trains would pass through Ballarat, Maryborough, Dunolly and Inglewood; then change direction and head through Bridgewater to Eaglehawk, and arrive into Bendigo from the north.

Like the first diversion route to Bendigo, the line via Bridgewater has also been ‘booked out of use’ and has not been used by any form of train since 2007.

El Zorro grain services passes the yard and silos at Dunolly station

Echuca via Seymour

Trains to and from Echuca also have another route to Melbourne, via Seymour and the Toolamba–Echuca railway line. After a number of years of disused, the line was recently brought back up to a standard to carry freight trains from Deniliquin, allowing them to avoid the busier passenger route via Bendigo.

Station stop at Nagambie for a Seymour Railway Heritage Centre operated train

Finally, here are some really oddball diversions that I doubt V/Line would never consider using.

Ararat via Geelong

Ararat is served by V/Line services that run on the broad gauge tracks via Ballarat. However there is a separate standard gauge route to Ararat, as used by interstate Melbourne-Adelaide freight services and GSR operated The Overland passenger train.

Hence if V/Line had spare standard gauge rolling stock (which they don’t!) then they could run a service to Ararat via Geelong, Cressy and Maroona.

VLocity VL27 in the board gauge dock platform at Ararat station, with the relocated Ararat A signal box alongside

Why doesn’t V/Line use any diversionary routes?

Seeing V/Line trains diverted onto nominally freight-only tracks in suburban Melbourne is a rare sight – my most recent examples are an unplanned diversion of Geelong trains via Brooklyn in 2007, and a planned diversion of Shepparton trains via Albion-Jacana in 2010. As for the rest of the examples I’ve given, I’m struggling to think of any examples in the past decade of V/Line passenger carrying services making such diversions.

Sending passenger trains along routes isn’t easy – for a start, the tracks in suburban Melbourne were specifically built to separate freight trains from passenger services, so introducing any additional trains onto them is a recipe for long delays.

VLocity VL11 on a down Ballarat service at Parwan Loop, running past an El Zorro operated grain train

In addition, there is a concept called ‘route knowledge‘ that limits where train can go. Unlike road transport, where anyone can pull a drivers license out of cereal box, train drivers are required to learn each route they will drive trains along, and memorise the location of features such as station platforms, junctions, signals, lineside structures, level crossings, sharp curves and steep grades.

Learning all of that information takes some time, and there is also a gotcha – if a train driver doesn’t drive a train along a given route for a given period of time (normally 2 years) a train driver’s route knowledge will lapse, rendering them unqualified to drive along the route.

The end result is that all rail operators needs to keep their train crews qualified on the routes they drive along, which presents V/Line with difficulties given their crews never have a reason to drive trains along random routes through the Victorian countryside.

Future problems?

While V/Line train crews still have the route knowledge to operate trains along the suburban tracks in Melbourne, with the opening of Regional Rail Link V/Line trains now stick to their own independent set of tracks, separate from those used by Metro Trains services.

Comeng train on a down Werribee service arrives into Footscray on the suburban lines, with a V/Line train on the parallel RRL tracks

This raises the question – will V/Line ensure that their staff retain their qualifications, or in two years time will a fault on the RRL tracks result in V/Line passengers being loaded onto replacement buses, while electric trains cruise past on the perfectly usable suburban tracks alongside?

So far, the signs seem to be positive – a number of passenger carrying V/Line services have been diverted onto the suburban trains via Sunshine due to various issues, V/Line trains head to Newport for maintenance, and a handful of empty trains have been sent over the otherwise redundant tracks between Werribee and Little River to keep the rails clean.

V/Line 1, Marcus 0?

Last week an incident on the tracks at Deer Park disrupted all V/Line services that use Regional Rail Link – Ballarat services were shut down, but Geelong trains were sent via the ‘old’ route via Werrribee, and Bendigo services were sent around stuck V/Line trains via the suburban tracks to Sunshine.

Passengers for Wyndham Vale and Tarneit were directed to Werribee line services and then a connecting suburban bus, while passengers for Ardeer through Melton were directed to suburban buses operating out of Sunshine.

Hopefully V/Line will take the same approach during future disruptions!

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13 Responses to “Alternate V/Line routes across Victoria”

  1. Kevin says:

    The interstate XPT passenger service does use the Albion-Jacana freight line.

  2. Notch IX says:

    Some gunzelly additions:
    1: West Footscray-Sunshine can only have one passenger train in the section at any one time.
    A following train would have to wait at West Footscray for some time for the first one to clear.

    2: Albion-Jacana has an apparent restriction on broad gauge passenger movements. No other train is allowed in the section – as I haven’t seen a rule or instruction on it, whether it applies just to broad or standard gauge moves is unclear.

  3. Paul O'Connor says:

    Marcus,
    great article. I wonder if the abandoned station at Paisley will ever be re-opened. The platform is just sitting there so it’s not like any track works would have to be done. Just a thought!

    • Marcus Wong says:

      The difficult bit about reopening Paisley station would be providing access to the platform – there used to be a subway, but it has since been filled in:

      http://www.railgeelong.com/location/paisley

      Given current DDA access standards, a massive footbridge with ramps and lifts would need to be installed.

      • Tom the first and best says:

        Paisley would be a good location for a station today. It would provide an interchange with the 903 smartbus. It should not have been closed, it could have had the peak hour express services still stop at it. A large footbridge would not look out of place next to the Millers Rd overbridge but there is a shortage of room next between the standard gauge (where the subway entrance used to be) and Ross Rd.

    • Gene says:

      What about Galvin station just west of the Maidstone St,adjacent to the now long gone Union Carbide factory,just a island platform with no building it was.

      • Marcus Wong says:

        One could *possibly* justify Paisley station due to the houses found to the north-east: but Galvin is surrounded by industry, with the only nearby houses already being closer to Westona station.

  4. David Watson says:

    More on alternative routes:
    As from 19th October, Metro does not allow V/Locity and Sprinter DMUs to operate between Werribee and Manor Junction due to there being insufficient traffic to keep the rail head clean enough for track circuits to operate reliably.
    Some 55 years ago, a Station Master who had been at Horsham told me of the “Overland” being routed via Balmoral due to a derailment between Ararat and Horsham. Hard to imagine now but those sort of things were not unusual before today’s plethora of routing constraints.

  5. […] Geelong could have been sent along the ‘old’ route via Werribee – I wrote about V/Line’s alternate routes the other […]

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