V/Line thwarted from keeping trains running

Last week passengers on a Geelong-bound V/Line service were stuck at Deer Park for almost 3½ hours after their train broke down, with many other Geelong services also being delayed. So how does one broken down train manage to cause so many issues?

Passengers at Deer Park board at citybound service led by N461

V/Line said the delays were due to a “obstruction on the track”.

The “obstruction” being a broken down train!

With one track through Deer Park blocked, V/Line should have had multiple option for working around it – but were foiled at every turn.

Firstly, trains to Geelong could have been sent along the ‘old’ route via Werribee – I wrote about V/Line’s alternate routes the other month.

N455 leads the down Warrnambool service past the end of the overhead wires at Werribee

However things are never easy, and in the case of the Geelong line, Metro Trains Melbourne has decided to make things difficult – in October 2015 they banned V/Line’s fleet of VLocity and Sprinter trains from the line beyond Werribee, due to issues with said trains activating the now-seldom used level crossings. So there goes that option!

Another way to keep on running trains is the use of bidirectional signalling, which safely allows trains in either direction to use any track.

Signals and darkened skies at Deer Park

The railway between Sunshine and Deer Park West once formed part of the main route between Melbourne and Adelaide, so a second track was laid in the 1970s, so that faster moving passenger trains could overtake the far heavier and slower freight trains.

In the years since, trains to Adelaide were been diverted onto a new route via Geelong and the Regional Fast Rail project increased the speed of passenger trains, but the bidirectional signalling was kept in place, allowing movements like this pair of Ballarat trains chasing each other into Melbourne on separate tracks.

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

However as part of the Regional Rail Link project it was decided that bidirectional signalling was “too complicated” and the system was ripped out, leaving one track for citybound trains and the other for outbound trains.

So in the end, V/Line gets stuck with a broken down train blocking their tracks at Deer Park, an alternate route they are not allowed to use, and a clear track that they were not able to run trains along. Progress, eh?


While bidirectional signalling provides a great deal of flexibility in the operation of trains, it isn’t necessarily the most efficient way to operate a railway – switching between tracks causes conflicts, and hence cuts down the available track capacity.

The real benefit comes during disruptions – instead of cancelling services altogether, you can still run a limited rail service past the blockage, albeit with some delays as trains in opposing directions take their turn to traverse the section of single track.

The best example of this is the double track from Newport through to North Geelong via Werribee – it still retains a bidirectional signalling system, but is normally operated in the standard ‘left hand running’ mode to maximise the number of trains using the line. However during trackwork or disruptions, trains can still sneak through.

Vlocity VL30 and two classmates run through the worksite at Laverton

The above photo shows Laverton station back in 2009 – one of the tracks was ripped up to allow for the upgrade of the station, but V/Line trains to and from Geelong were able to keep on running on the remaining track.

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29 Responses to “V/Line thwarted from keeping trains running”

  1. Daniel says:

    Describing one of their own broken down trains as “an obstruction” is a world class bit of spin, implying it was some external factor that blocked the line. Well done to Twitter user Katja Bak for spotting that.

  2. Seph Murphy says:

    How long does it really take to bring in a rescue train? And what engines get the job? Is it just anything available at Southern Cross?

    • Tommy Bent says:

      In most cases, it can be whichever train is following the failed one, or relief can arrive from the opposing direction running “wrong line”. It’s also possible that something can come from Southern Cross, and how easy it is to join different train types together.

      This is a decision made by the senior train controller on duty and varies dependent on the failure’s location.

      Either way, stringent safety precautions have to be taken.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Back in 2011 at Sprinter railcar ran out of fuel on the suburban tracks near Footscray, so permission was granted for the following suburban service to push the dead train out of the section:


      Coupling railcars to units of the same type is the easiest recovery mode – but they can run mixed consists (minus passengers) if needed:


      Railcars can also be towed by a diesel locomotive, but a special adapter coupler is needed:


      • Seph Murphy says:

        That July 2011 one is interesting – I’m assuming that passengers were unloaded from the Comeng set as well before being allowed to push the sprinter?
        Once my train was stuck at Sunshine when some Sprinters failed there in front of us, our loaded VLine train was not permitted to move the Sprinters and we had to wait for a rescue engine that then placed the Sprinters in the siding until we passed.

        • Marcus Wong says:

          I believe both trains were emptied of passengers – the combined consist crawled along at a very slow speed, so it wasn’t like they were going to get to their destination in a hurry!

  3. Scotty A says:

    I get multiple messages every day that say train fault and have never seen it described like this before. Doesn’t seem like company policy to me. Rest of the article is spot on.

  4. Kevin says:

    Warning: Do NOT begin reading this blog post while holding an open cup of coffee! You’ll spill it laughing so hard!!

  5. Andrew says:

    Surely it is up to DoT to decide if V Line can use the tracks beyond Werribee, not Metro Trains. The trains can travel slowly through level crossings if there is a safety concern. Surely the crossings are properly maintained.

  6. Rohan Storey says:

    And the only advantage of the regional rail as it turned out was that it avoided delays by removing conflicts with suburban trains (that might break down !).

    Yes the PTC has (understandably in a way) has an overly doctrinaire approach to safety, but just saying ‘no’ mostly, rather than finding ways to make such things safer. Im thinking of their attitude to W Class trams which is ‘must not run with other trams’ even though they do already and obviously have for ages without any probs.

  7. Tommy Bent says:

    Bi-directional running causes much less, or no delays or conflicts if done right; a good signaller will work with where trains are, and gets used more than you think.

    One, very much disused, option is something called “pilot working”, where trains are worked in both directions over section of track if one line is blocked. That can create delays if opposing trains have to use that section.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      At night on the Werribee line I’ve heard of signallers using the bidirectional signalling to send suburban trains along the ‘wrong’ tracks between Werribee and Laverton, or Laverton and Newport – with island platforms at all of the intermediate stations, there isn’t any inconvenience to passengers.

  8. Albert says:

    Bi-directional signalling should not be necessary during emergency/severe disruptions. Doesn’t Victoria have (like NSW does) anything like a Special Proceed Authority, Half-pilot staff, or other special safe working methods that can be brought on line to allow trains to pass the obstruction on the other line even without bi-di signalling?

    Sure there may be some delays to trains in the other direction, but prevents passengers getting stuck for hours.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Victoria used to have pilotworking on the rulebooks, but I’m not sure of the current status. However, we still have caution orders that allow a driver to pass a home signal at stop.

    • Tommy Bent says:

      Yes, pilot working does still exist (without the waffly pompous titles and overcomplication that NSW has).

      Bi-directional signalling has been used successfully around failures between Newport South and Werribee: the advantage is it’s a lot quicker, allows run-throughs of slower trains and if necessary, you can run a section as single track a hell of a lot quicker.

  9. mgm says:

    Couldn’t they use the Geelong line and just stop or slow down before level crossing to make the boom gates are down?

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Level crossings on seldom used industrial sidings often operate this way – train stops short of the road, crew push a button in a trackside cabinet to activate the warning devices, and then proceed through the crossing.

      There is nothing preventing the same thing being done on a main line, except the operating rules aren’t setup for it.

      • Tommy Bent says:

        Not all rail vehicles can be detected by track circuits; mainly hi-rails and track machines.

        There is a facility to activate level crossings at the crossing itself, and these facilities are used when these vehicles run over level crossings.

  10. Doug says:

    In fact, a quick look at the Melway shows that there are only two level crossings between Werribee and Manor Junction. One is at Werribee Street, which is slated for removal by 2022 (not that it needs it). The other is at Galvin Road. Vicsig says that the V/Line-Metro border is about halfway between the two crossings. With only one crossing after 2022, there will be even less grounds for this ridiculous claim. This appears to be Metro making sure they can maintain their ‘metro style service’ and (eventually) higher frequencies on the Werribee line without ‘pesky V/Line trains’.

  11. Angus Brooks says:

    Interesting article. I was on a Geelong bound train on August 21, and there was a police operation on the Regional Rail Link. My train was the last one to go on the RRL, and then all following services went via the suburban tracks https://twitter.com/vline_geelong/status/634630982868467712. Interesting how it’s been banned now.

  12. […] But unfortunately the cost cutting to the project saw the bidirectional signalling removed, resulting in major delays to V/Line services every time a train breaks down in the section. […]

  13. […] The station was eventually upgraded in 2010, but signalling changes completed in 2014 as part of the Regional Rail Link project made it harder to reroute services around failed trains. […]

  14. […] 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. […]

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