Building the Bungaree deviation on the Ballarat line

Almost 20 years ago something interesting happened on the Ballarat line – a brand new stretch of railway line was built through open paddocks, cutting the travel time between Melbourne and Ballarat. This is the story of the Bungaree Deviation, which opened to trains in 2005.

VLocity Melbourne bound crossing the Moorabool River on the Bungaree deviation on the Ballarat line

Some history

I’ve written about the history of the Melbourne-Ballarat railway before. Ballarat’s first railway was completed in 1862 as double track, but was indirect and travelled via Geelong. Today’s direct route to Melbourne came much later, being built from both ends over a 10 year period as a single track branch line serving towns along the way, until 1889 when the two met in the middle to form a through route that now linked Melbourne to Adelaide.


PROV photo VPRS 12800/P0001 H 5012

But following the completion of the heavily engineered Geelong-Ballarat and Melbourne-Bendigo railway lines, the finances of the young colony were depleted, so the new railway to Ballarat was built on a more economic basis. An example of this was when the surveyors reached the steep Moorabool River valley, they didn’t build a bridge – they sent the railway north for for the flatter terrain of Bungaree and Wallace, then back south to avoid the foothills of Black Hill outside Gordon.

Topographical map - Bungaree, Dunnstown and Millbrook, Victoria

In the years that followed the number of trains using the railway between Melbourne and Ballarat grew, as did the size of each – but the dogleg via Bungaree remained.

Pair of B class diesel-electric locomotives haul 1300 ton load up Ingliston Bank, 20 August 1952 (PROV image VPRS 12800/P1, item H 2545)
PROV image VPRS 12800/P1, item H 2545

In the 1970s the Bureau of Transport Economics looked at a number of upgrades to the Melbourne – Serviceton railway, with straightening out the line one of the options considered.

Millbrook to Dunnstown Deviation

It is proposed to straighten out the line between Millbrook, and Dunnstown to reduce the distance between these two localities by about 5 km.

A 5 minute reduction in transit time is expected for both directions of travel if the deviation is introduced at a capital cost of $1.5 million.

But this option was not pursued – instead a lower cost package of signalling upgrades and longer crossing loops was completed.


Weston Langford photo

Enter Regional Fast Rail

In 2000the newly elected Bracks Government announced Regional Fast Rail – a project to speed up trains between Melbourne and the regional centres of Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and Traralgon.

Government propaganda sign at Deer Park spruiking the Regional Fast Rail project

For the Ballarat line a target travel time of 64 minutes was set, which meant that the existing steam-era alignment needed to be rebuilt to allow the new maximum top speed of 160 km/h to be reached.

At Bungaree the solution to speeding up trains was simple – they brushed off their old plans, and proposed a brand new 8.2 kilometre section of railway joined the two halves of the existing doglegged route, bypassing the numerous tight curves along the way.

Sounds simple, eh?

But where will the line line run?

Drawing a line on a map is one thing, but new railway deviation cut through 30+ parcels of private land.


Department of Sustainability and Environment map

And the government failed to engage the local community following the announcement of the project.

Hansard, Legislative Assembly
13 June 2001

Mr Leigh (Mordialloc) – I will quote a letter from the Department of Infrastructure. It is a very nice letter to a whole range of people who live along what is called the Bungaree diversion. It is part of a loop on the Ballarat line that the government has to get rid of .It is where the government should look if it wants to use of some of the $550 million and reduce time frames on the Ballarat line.

Firstly, the government introduced the program without telling a resident or anyone else. Following the announcement, when the people in the area looked at the local newspaper they saw a report that their land would be blighted by this scheme, and the government had not told the parties concerned. What did Premier Bracks then do? Nothing.

After some months I forced the government to call a public meeting of the residents, and the honourable member for St Kilda — or Ballarat East, as I think he refers to himself — said he was getting on with it.

A letter dated 5 June from the Department of Infrastructure, which I will make available to the house, if necessary, says, in part:

Millbrook to Dunnstown deviation – Regional Fast Rail project

On 31 May the government released the expression of interest documentation to the market as the start of the bidding process

Work on whether the deviation is required between Millbrook and Dunnstown is still continuing, however this may not be resolved until the end of the tendering process early next year.

The government regrets the uncertainty …

Farmers and others who live in the community have no knowledge of what is going on.

At the public meeting the people supporting the fast train proposal put forward a great idea about how farmers could resolve the problem of crossing the track with their sheep. They said the train line should be buffered to protect them.

The track will go right through the middle of one farmer’s property. The head of the infrastructure group said, `I do not understand what your problem is, because we are going to make a payment to you. With that payment you will be able to afford to hire a transport company to move your sheep from one side of the railway neck to the other when you need to. Every time you want to move your sheep you will have to ring Ballarat to get a transport company out. There will be enough money for you in an account so you can afford to pay for that forever’.

That is the sort of nonsense that is going on.

The first community meetings being held in 2002.

Minister Meets with Landowners On Regional Fast Rail
Media release from the Minister for Transport
22 July 2002

Transport Minister Peter Batchelor attended a meeting Thursday of last week in the Millbrook Community Centre to brief landholders who could have their properties acquired for the Millbrook to Dunnstown rail deviation as part of the Regional Fast Rail Project.

The deviation is essential to reduce the distance the new fast trains will travel in this location, and to allow the trains to reach a speed of 160km/h to achieve a 64 minute express trip between Ballarat and Melbourne.

The Fast Rail project is the biggest upgrade of the regional rail system in 120 years.

But with the 2002 Victorian state election approaching, the railway deviation became a political football.

Liberals not prepared to reveal fast train policy called
Ballarat Courier
21 October 2002

The Liberal Party will reveal its policy on the fast rail project’s controversial Bungaree loop after the next state election called.

That was the message it delivered to Millbrook and Dunnstown residents at a public meeting on the issue last night.

The Liberal Party’s Ballarat East candidate Gerard FitzGerald and Ballarat Province candidate Helen Bath met with up to 50 people at the former Millbrook Primary School to discuss the impact of the Bungaree loop bypass on landholders.

Mr FitzGerald said he supported the farmers’ stance at the meeting and had presented their concerns to the Liberal Party.

Millbrook and Dunnstown landowners have banded together to fight a plan to build a new train line through or near their properties to bypass the Bungaree loop.

The group believes the bypass is unnecessary and would not be worth the pain it would cause the area.

At Millbrook and Dunnstown 18 properties will, under present plans, be affected by a new track that will partially replace the Bungaree loop and cut four minutes off travel times.

Mr FitzGerald said he wanted to see the money proposed for the Bungaree loop to be spent on improving the gridlock between Sunshine and Spencer St instead.

“What I am telling my party in Melbourne is that the deviation is clearly a waste of money,” Mr FitzGerald said.

However, the two candidates stopped short of committing to scrapping the Bungaree Loop plans.

Ms Bath said it could not yet commit to scrapping the loop deviation project until an election was called, any time between November 30 this year and the end of next year.

“As soon as the election is called you will have a very clear distinction (between the Liberal Party and Labor),” Ms Bath said.

Ms Bath also said she would organise a meeting with the party’s leader Robert Doyle and transport spokesman Geoff Leigh.

But the deviation was given the go ahead in 2003.

Government to Proceed With Millbrook Rail Deviation
Media release from the Minister for Transport
6 February 2003

Works on the deviation of the Ballarat rail line between Millbrook and Dunnstown for the Regional Fast Rail project will go ahead, Transport Minister Peter Batchelor announced today.

Mr Batchelor said the deviation was one of several necessary to create a high-quality 64-minute trip between Ballarat and Melbourne, a travel time strongly supported by the Ballarat Council and community.

Mr Batchelor will meet with affected landowners tonight at the Millbrook Community Hall.

“There is no feasible or cost-effective alternative to the deviation,” Mr Batchelor said.

“The only way that the travel time can be achieved on the Ballarat line is by building the deviation and realigning the track in four other locations.

But the state opposition still kept up the pressure on the government’s handing of the project, and proposed an alternate solution – double tracking the Ballarat line closer to Melbourne.

Hansard, Legislative Assembly
27 August 2003

Mr Mulder (Polwarth) — On 8 August, without any discussion, the Minister for Planning gazetted compulsory acquisition of 44 pieces of land in the Millsbrook–Dunnstown area for the $30 million Bungaree deviation. As one of the 20 affected land-holders, Graeme Harris says that Labor has bulldozed its way along.

There has been no proper consideration of alternatives such as those suggested by the Liberal Party to spend the same amount on duplicating the rail line between Deer Park West and Rockbank and abandon the Bungaree deviation.

Not a single rail has been laid on the $573 million fast rail projects. Today we see in the Herald Sun that there are further cost blow-outs of an initial $8 million for just the Bendigo and Traralgon projects. This bill will be picked up by all Victorians.

When will the Premier, the Minister for Transport and the members for Ballarat East and Ballarat West start to listen? The Bungaree deviation is about the Premier’s image in his own home town of Ballarat. According to the Ballarat mayor, David Vendy, it is no wonder the Premier’s body language is embarrassed! Fast rail construction delays are set to cost Victorians over $100 million.

Duplicating the track closer to Melbourne would benefit Ballan, Bacchus Marsh and Melton residents. This is all about the selfish pride of the Premier versus a small country community. The Ballarat members would do better to look after the small country.

But the government stuck to their plans, with newsletters for the Regional Fast Rail project being used to justify their choice of upgrades.

Regional Fast Rail Bulletin
Issue 2
November 2003

Why can’t the Government just run some more trains and leave the rail line as it is?

Victoria’s regional rail network has not been upgraded in decades, and much of the infrastructure is reaching the end of its life. The track includes sections of poor quality rail and sleepers which can result in uncomfortable journeys and wear-and-tear on trains, and the outdated signals are responsible for many delays.

As with roads, rail lines need to be upgraded. The Government is spending $130 million on bringing the Ballarat line up to modern standards to provide high-quality rail services which are frequent, fast, comfortable, reliable and safe.

How can services travelling in opposite directions run without being delayed on the single track?

Many sections of the country and metropolitan rail network operate safely and efficiently as single-track lines with passing loops. Duplication of the Ballarat line from Melton is not required to provide for more frequent and reliable services, and is unaffordable within the project’s budget. The introduction of 38 new trains, the redevelopment of the timetable to better match community needs, and the major upgrade of the tracks and signalling system will improve service frequency and reliability for all communities along the line.

What will be done about the delays between Melton and Sunshine, and in the metropolitan area?

Many of the delays experienced between Melton and Sunshine are caused by signalling problems. By replacing the outdated signals with an automated, centrally-controlled signalling system, reliability will be greatly improved. The upgrade of the signals on the country network will also reduce delays caused by trains missing their timetable slot once they reach the metropolitan system.

Improving the capacity and operation of the metropolitan system is a priority for government. Planning studies have begun to examine rail service operation on the Sunshine corridor, which provides paths for Ballarat line services. These studies will identify bottlenecks, clarify the causes of delays and formulate options for upgrading infrastructure, signalling and operating systems.

Why is the land acquisition necessary?

The track realignments are necessary to achieve the target express travel time of 64 minutes between Ballarat and Spencer Street station. A travel time close to one hour is strongly supported by the City of Ballarat and the Ballarat community, and faster travel times are required if rail is to compete with road travel. The only other option for achieving the 64 minute travel time without bypassing the Bungaree Loop is to bypass Bacchus Marsh, which is not appropriate. Affected landowners will be fairly compensated in accordance with the provisions of the Land Acquisition and Compensation Act 1986.

Building it

Now that a route was chosen, it was time to build.


VicPlan map

In came the bulldozers, scrapers, dump trucks and graders – clearing the way for the new railway.


Weston Langford photo

Some impressive civil works were required to build the new line, which had no level crossings:

  • 380,000m3 of cut and fill earthworks,
  • Construction of four road over rail bridges:
    • Sullivans Road (16m span)
    • Spread Eagle Road (12.5m span)
    • Peerewerrh Road (12.5m span)
    • Old Melbourne Road (18.5m span)
  • Two rail over water bridges:
    • Moorabool Bridge: 270m long, 27m high
    • Lal Lal Bridge: 363m long, 40m high

The two massive rail over water bridges being the main feature.


Thiess ALSTOM Joint Venture photo

Built to an innovative design not seen before .

The construction of the Moorabool River and Lal Lal Creek bridges on the Bungaree Deviation included many innovative design and construction solutions. The challenge for the design team was to develop an innovative design that would minimise the on-site works and therefore minimise risk for the construction phase of the project.

The design and construction methodology included the following objectives:
• Minimise work at heights
• Prefabricate and preassemble as much as possible including access systems
• Assemble as much on the ground as possible
• Use of physical handrails rather than fall arrest systems

A breakthrough in the design was the use of wind tower technology for the steel bridge columns, fabricated by Keppel Prince in Portland.

Lal Lal Creek piers:
– rolled from 32mm plate
– maximum length of 38m
– maximum weight of 82 tonnes
– base diameter up to 4.5m tapering down to standard 1.5m at the top

Moorabool River piers:
– rolled from 20 – 25mm plate
– maximum length of 25m
– maximum weight of 25 tonnes

All the piers were transported to site in one section including the platforms and access systems to enable piers to be erected straight off the truck.

During construction, the pre-cast concrete crossheads weighing 27 tonne were lifted onto each steel pier with the permanent access platforms installed on the crossheads on the ground prior to final erection.

Three super T pre-cast concrete beams (ranging from 62-76 tonne and 27-33 metres) were laid in parallel to span each gap between the columns.

Each beam was fitted out on the ground prior to lifting into final position. The fit out included the installation of ballast walls incorporating permanent hand rails, drainage system and temporary handrails around lifting points. Additional lifting clutches were incorporated to take into account the change in centre of gravity due to the beam fit out.

The use of very large steel columns, precast beams, and crossheads required detailed planning for each lift. Mobile cranes were used for all the lifts and special attention was placed on prepared detailed engineering solutions for all lifts including access roads and the provision of piled support systems and embankment strengthening works for the crane positions.

The two bridges were functionally complete by late 2004.


Weston Langford photo

And following the completion of works elsewhere along the line, Premier Steve Bracks and Transport Minister Peter Batchelor launched VLocity trains along the upgraded line on 22 December 2005.

Victorian Premier Steve Bracks, Transport Minister Peter Batchelor, and local members of parliament at the launch of VLocity trains on the Ballarat line
Matt Julian photo

But a false economy

Despite building a shorter route, it was decided to retain the old route as a crossing loop, so that trains in opposite directions could pass each other without stopping.

VLocity VL11 back on the move at Bungaree Loop East with an up Ballarat service

The new deviation joining the existing route at Millsbrook in the east.

VLocity VL50 on a down Ballarat service diverges onto the north line at Bungaree Loop East for a cross

And Dunnstown in the west.

VLocity VL65 bound for Ballarat, approaches Bungaree Loop West on the 'old' north line

Cost cutting on the project was attacked at the time.

Submission to the Select Committee, Train Services, Parliament of Victoria
Rail Tram and Bus Union
18 September 2006

Much has been made of the improvements to the Ballarat line which features the hugely expensive deviation from Millbrook to Torpys Road ($45,000,000) This was done to facilitate a time saving of 5 minutes in the running time of the fast train service.

All the track improvements were carried out with one objective, that is to allow one service to negotiate the distance from Ballarat to Sunshine in 45 mins. This would explain why two sections of track from Bacchus Marsh to the Horseshoe Bend and from the Horseshoe Bend to Ingliston were not even touched and left with the original wooden sleepers and worn out rail. There was no speed gain on this section of track because it was too costly to upgrade. The total length of these two sections is around 15 – 20 kms. A further 2 km section of track exists on the approach to Ballarat where the concrete sleepered new track finishes at Stawell Street and passengers are treated the last bit of their journey on this rough old section. The reason for this? No speed gain on this piece of line so leave it.

All crossing loops were left in situ ( except for Bungaree) and were extended for run off purposes at Bank Box, Parwan, and Rockbank, using mostly second hand plant, ie: rails and sleepers.

The track around through Bungaree (the original line) has been made into a ridiculously long crossing loop (over 7 kms) purely to save the cost of constructing a new loop on the deviation track.

Because the Ballarat line is single track throughout any late running will compound right down the line causing delays to all trains because of the poor siting of the crossing loops.

The incompetent arrangements at Bacchus Marsh are a prime example. Rather than reworking the station (which has significant commuter traffic) to an island platform, the station still has only a single platform face which seriously inhibits crossing trains. In fact it is the only station on the line with a single platform face and over 70% of the patronage on this line occurs out to Bacchus Marsh.

And the cost cutting came back to bite them in the years that followed – in 2008–09 had to come back and install more than 50,000 concrete sleepers in the section of track they skipped a few years earlier.

Passing track work near Ingliston

And in the 2012/13 financial year VicTrack had to fund upgrades at four level crossings along the ‘old’ Bungaree Loop.

Old Melbourne Road level crossing

A mess finally cleaned up as part of the recently completed $518 million Ballarat line upgrade project – the ‘long way around’ via Bungaree was closed.

Tracks removed through the former station of Bungaree

Replaced by a brand new crossing loop at Milbrook, so that opposing trains could still pass each other.

VLocity VL55 leads VL69 on an up train through Millbrook Loop

The project also duplicated the Ballarat line as far as Melton.

VLocity VL08 passes through the new station at Cobblebank on the up

And provided second platforms at Bacchus Marsh and Ballan.

VLocity VL20 and VL28 depart Ballan on the down

Upgrades suggested two decades earlier in place of the deviation via Bungaree.

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12 Responses to “Building the Bungaree deviation on the Ballarat line”

  1. Andrew says:

    And where is the promised 64 minute travel time?!?!

  2. Simon says:

    It’s funny (or perhaps not so funny) how the recent Ballarat line upgrade reversed things that were completed 15-20 years earlier.
    For example at Bacchus Marsh, the platform was extended towards Melbourne and truncated on the other end, so less tight curves could be constructed towards Ballarat, presumably for the one train a day that was express through Bacchus Marsh.
    Then last year they completed re-instating the original track curve as part of duplicating parts of the line, the platform remains in a strangle place compared to the station building.

  3. Andrew says:

    The loop via Bungaree and Wallace was not done originally to minimise construction costs. The contour map shows clearly that a much shorter and more easily graded route would have been to run just north of what is now Old Melbourne Rd, and this would have been little different in length to the modern route.

    The original route was to serve the villages of Bungaree and Wallace. The entire line was a very light branch running to Gordons serving the farming areas supplying Ballarat. These areas were then considered very important as the climate was the closest approach to what the settlers were familiar with in the UK. Little or no thought was given to making it part of a main line between Melbourne and Ballarat.

    As to the local protests over the construction, it’s a good illustration that NIMBYs are not only from the inner and middle suburbs of Melbourne.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Interesting – the line to Gordons predated the rest of the route by a few years – so it was built as “just a branch line”.

      When I was researching the history of the direct line on Trove, the Sunshine – Bacchus Marsh and Gordon to Ballan extension were described as being part of a future interstate route, being laid with heavier rail than what was usual for a branch line.

  4. Robbie says:

    The Regional Fast Rail and later Regional Rail Link are perfect examples of half arsed rail projects. Instead of spending enough money to do it right the first time with future-proofing built into the design, they were built to a tight budget and excessively narrow scope. There was (and is) no vision or ambition, and when the minor improvements saw patronage skyrocket V/line had no idea what to do with all these passengers. Victoria is small enough and densely populated enough to justify a proper statewide Taktfahrplan (integrated timetable), and with some modest additions to what we currently have it would be easily achievable.

    Why didn’t the RFR include gauge conversion? Why didn’t they duplicate all the lines? Why was the Seymour line excluded? Why did they install TPWS?

    We can do so much better and consistently just… don’t.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      From a 2006 paper on the introduction of TPWS to Victoria…

      http://web.archive.org/web/20060820131506/http://www.asiapacificrail.com.au/media/2006-irse-paper.pdf

      While the functionality of the TPS does not include the ‘bells and whistles’ of a continuous or predictive ATP system such a system is not required.

      The TPS delivers full functionality for the intended application and achieves an ‘A’ grade result at a fraction of the cost.

      TPWS is a simple and cost effective technology and its success as a TPS is due to the inherent protection features provided by the RFR signalling system.

    • Tom the first and best says:

      Gauge convertible sleepers would certainly have been preferable, however, in order to gauge convert the RFR lines, most of the regional rail network and rollingstock would have needed to be converted or the lines would have needed to be dual gauge.

      The planned service levels for the RFR lines weren`t considered to require duplication. Having said that, singling the Bendigo line was a terrible decision.

      Seymour has a much smaller population than Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo or any of the major Gippsland towns that got RFR and additionally has relatively close station spacing for the entire line and the line is comparatively curvy. All of which made it harder to justify the costs of RFR. Shepparton does have half the population of Bendigo or Ballarat but is a little further than Bendigo and has historically had a bare bones long distance service on 95km/h track, only now being upgraded to about half the Ballarat or Bendigo frequency with pre-RFR speeds (max 130km/h).

  5. Tom the first and best says:

    Had the Bungaree deviation been built when it was proposed in the 1970s, I suspect the following:

    It would have had level crossings.

    It may have been on a different, slightly more northerly route.

    The old route probably would have closed either in the 1980s (when Bungaree station closed) or 1990s (with the standard gauge taking almost all the freight away and causing cuts to infrastructure), probably replaced by a passing loop.

    It may have helped avoid rerouting the Dimboola trains via North Shore.

    It would have assisted the New Deal for Country Passengers in the early 1980s.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      The construction of the North East standard gauge line in the late-1950s saw many level crossings replaced by bridges, so there is a chance that a new mainline deviation would also grade separate any road crossings.

      • Tom the first and best says:

        All but one of those crossings were immediately next to stations in substantial towns (the other was on the then Hume Highway, now Seymour Avanel Rd, a bit north of Seymour). All but one (Glenrowan) is on a main road.

        As far as I am aware what it today Old Melbourne Rd, that the deviation would have crossed, was no longer the Western Highway in the 1970s, so is unlikely to have qualified.

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