Photos from ten years ago: March 2008

Another instalment in my photos from ten years ago series – this time it is March 2008.

Like most months we start down at Geelong, where I found a stretch of decaying timber sleepered track on the main line to Melbourne.

Peak School Road level crossing and wooden sleepers

Despite the millions of dollars spent on the Regional Fast Rail project between 2004 and 2006, this stretch of worn track was left behind – the measure of success for the project was a faster travel time for a handful of express trains each day.

Victoria’s fast-train network, a year behind schedule but scheduled to begin operating in 2006, originally promised the prospect of swift rail access from Melbourne to some of the state’s prime regional tourism destinations, such as Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong and the coast.

But according to the draft 2006 fast-train schedule released by V/Line, the promised frequent express services, particularly for travel from Melbourne, will be often as slow as the old ones.

In the time brackets that suit people travelling out from Melbourne for the day, the 45 minutes to Geelong is typically 60-65 minutes, the 65 minutes eventually promised for Ballarat is as much as an hour and 50 minutes, and Bendigo as much as two hours.

It turns out that only a handful of services from the regions in the morning will meet the promised travel-time savings.

The reason? It all gets back to money and politics. Money because the Government eventually opted for a low-cost version of the original vision, which meant many time-saving features were axed.

Politics got involved when it was realised that to achieve the time targets, country communities along the line would miss out because the fast trains would have to run express throughout the day. So rather than introduce new express services, almost all will be slowed down by en-route stops.

By 2008 V/Line realised that maintaining decaying timber sleepers was a losing battle, so started replacing them with concrete sleepers.

New sleepers stacked

Instead of ripping up the track and rebuilding it from scratch, they used slotted new concrete sleepers into the spaces where timber sleepers used to be.

Loaded sleeper handling machine headed to the worksite from North Geelong towards Geelong

This allowed trains to continue running while the works were going on.

Standard Gauge freight runs past track work at Cowies Creek

But in the process destroyed the drainage properties of the track bed, allowing water to pump through the ballast, creating ‘mud holes’.

Mud hole in the V/Line tracks at North Geelong

But a more immediate f^[email protected] occurred during the construction of a new platform tram stop at the corner of Flinders Street and Swanston Street.

New island platform stop under construction, Flinders Street and Swanston Street

Excavation work at street level misjudged the depth of the Degraves Street Subway below, breaking through the roof, and damaging the shops below.

Said shops were closed off for a number of weeks, while repair works were completed.

Degraves Street Subway, Flinders Street Station. Blocked off shops to the left where they dug through the roof

A more successful upgrade was the reconfiguration of the tracks at the arrival end of Southern Cross Station.

Track rearrangement work at the up end of Southern Cross

The existing tracks were ripped up.

Trackwork to rearrange the entry to Southern Cross Station

And new dual gauge tracks laid to platform 2, ready for the operation of standard gauge V/Line trains to Albury.

Trackwork to rearrange the entry to Southern Cross Station

Another upgrade was the installation of drivers air conditioning to the final six Hitachi trains still serving Melbourne.

Drivers air conditioning on the roof of 197M

Originally planned to be decommissioned following the 2006 Commonwealth Games, patronage growth on the suburban network saw them kept in service beyond their use by date, with passengers sweating inside the non-air conditioned saloons until their eventual retirement in 2014.

We then end on something positive – the debut of the route 401 shuttle bus between North Melbourne Station, the Royal Melbourne Hospital, and the University of Melbourne.

Sita bus #43 rego 6728AO waits for route 401 passengers at North Melbourne station

It was the first example of a useful bus service in Melbourne:

Melbourne’s newest bus – route 401 – started operation today, and it seems to be quite a departure from existing Melbourne bus practice. Running from North Melbourne station to Melbourne University, it eschews basically everything we expect from a Melbourne bus. It is high frequency (every 3 minutes peak, every 6 minutes off peak), has very few stops, doesn’t allow the driver to sell tickets and runs as a spur from a trip generator to an interchange station.

Some of these developments – such as the high frequency and direct link between a railway station and trip generator – are very positive indeed. The limited stops idea is interesting, but the bus should really also stop at Abbotsford St. to connect with the 57 Tram. Furthermore, it’s disappointing that it won’t be running after 7:30pm or on weekends. It’s a start though and it’s nice to see a departure from the entrenched mindset. I didn’t see anyone aboard today, but given time it should start getting some decent patronage.

And led the way for similar express bus services across Melbourne – route 601 from Huntingdale Station to Monash University, as well as route 201 from Box Hill Station to Deakin University, route 301 from La Trobe University to Reservoir Station and route 403 from Footscray Station to Melbourne University.

And a note on timber sleepers

The same half-arsed method of ‘side insertion’ sleeper replacement was used by the Australian Rail Track Corporation on the Melbourne-Sydney railway – leading to a flood of track faults, and delays to the V/Line service to Albury.


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

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6 Responses to “Photos from ten years ago: March 2008”

  1. Graham Bradshaw says:

    And of course, the very useful route 401 was far less useful after V/Line trains stopped stopping at North Melbourne, necessitating a change of trains at Footscray, then a change to a bus at North Melbourne …

  2. CatMack says:

    As always, very interesting record of our trials and tribulations with the rail system. The 401 has been one of the few genuinely effective innovations in recent years (not withstanding the fact that V/Line passengers no longer get the benefits) Which brings me to my question, how is it that our public transport planners and engineers are so very pathetic? Is it that we have lost all our qualified people in these fields or is it the consequence of out-sourcing everything to contractors … or… ? Have we always been this bad? How does the system get to be so chaotic? I am really interested to know because it does strike me that the system as a whole is so fragile that it might fall over at any minute.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      I know a number of competent public transport planners and engineers in Victoria – the problem is that their good ideas miss out on funding, or get knocked back by people at higher levels.

      Alternatively they get so frustrated by bureaucratic inertia that they move to other industries.

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