Curve easing for faster trains on the Ballarat line

One of the basic rules of railway engineering is that the tighter the radius of a curve, the slower a train has to travel through it to avoid derailing.

I’ve written about the history of the Ballarat line a lot recently, including the construction of a deviation to cut the length of the journey between Melbourne and Ballarat, but today I’m looking at a much less “sexy” improvement – curves easing so that trains could run through them a little bit faster.

Three car VLocity 3VS37 rounds the Parwan curves out of Bacchus Marsh

Some background

If you’ve read my past items on the history of the Ballarat line and the looping section of track outside Bacchus Marsh you know the story by now – the line was born as two 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.

For this reason the railway was built to a cost, avoiding expensive earthworks, viaducts and tunnels by following a twisting route around the countryside, with multiple 40 chain (800 metre) and even some 20 chain (400 metre) radius curves along the way, forcing trains to slow down to to 80 km/h and 50 km/h respectively when traversing them. For early steam locomotives this wasn’t much of a problem, given their low top speeds.

PROV photo VPRS 12800/P0001 H 5012

But as the top speed of trains increased, these curves limited the actual speeds that could be achieved.

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

Enter Regional Fast Rail

In 2000 the 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 travel times before the upgrade were quite variable.

6.9 Ballarat Line
6.9.1 Existing Infrastructure Review

Existing Timetable
The existing travel time between Spencer Street and Ballarat varies according to the particular service, the time of day, available train paths, rolling stock and stopping patterns:
· The shortest travel time is 85 minutes
· Typically, the most frequent fastest travel time for an Up train is 85 minutes
· Typically, the most frequent fastest travel time for an Down train is 88 minutes
· 60% of all trains have travel times less than or equal to 90 minutes
· The slowest trains are mainly for opposing peak flow moves
· The slowest train is 104 minutes, an up train where this has to wait for two down train crosses.

As can be seen the variation in travel time is considerable.

For the Ballarat line a number of upgrades were considered.

6.9.3 Travel Time Scenarios

For the Railway line from Melbourne (Spencer Street) to Ballarat three travel time scenarios have been proposed:
· 70 minutes,
· 60 minutes, and
· 55 minutes.

Various options to reduce travel time were investigated. This investigation included assessing the merits and impacts of these options. The options ranged from low cost options to large scale engineering works, and are as follows:

· Applied cant and transition adjustments; low cost solution with small benefit.
· Curve easings to achieve typical minimum curve radii of 1500m; moderate cost with small benefit.
· Curve easings to achieve typical minimum curve radii of 2000m; significant cost with increased benefit.
· Major route alignment changes; major works costs resulting in significant time savings

At this stage, it is likely that deviation works (and associated land acquisitions) will be required to achieve travel time targets.

Eventually 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.

The headline act was the construction of a 8.2 kilometre deviation to shorten the journey between Millbrook to Dunnstown, west of Ballarat.

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

But another factor limiting top speeds was having to slow down to 50 km/h on what was otherwise a 160 km/h railway. Hence a targeted plan to replace tight curves with wider ones, using land already within the railway reserve wherever possible.

Speeding through Melton

Before the upgrade, Melton station had a 40 chain (800 metre) radius curve on the approach, limiting trains to 75 km/h.

VLocity VL91 leads VL51 into Melton on a down empty cars move

And a 20 chain (400 metre) curve on the departure, limiting trains to 50 km/h.

Up end of the Coburns Road level crossing

But both were rebuilt, as well as the station platform.

7 November 2005

Over the past four weeks, Thiess Alstom Joint Venture has worked to upgrade the Station-Exford Road level crossing so that it could accommodate the addition of a second track, which leads to the newly extended Melton station platform.

Melton station platform has been extended 27.5 metres on the Melbourne-bound side and 44 metres on the Ballarat-bound side, to accommodate the new signalling requirements.

A swathe of land beside Melton Weir flagged as part of the project area, allowing a chunk of land beside the Coburns Road level crossing to be acquired.

VicPlan map

The old sharp curve being cut off.

Weston Langford photo

And the road rebuilt across it.

Weston Langford photo

And a new track on a smoother alignment constructed to the south.

Weston Langford photo

Combined with land acquisition closer to Melton Weir, the 50 km/h curve was replaced by a 120 km/h curve to the left, followed by a 150 km/h curve to the right.

Rebuilding the Parwan Curves

The sweeping curves over Parwan Creek outside Bacchus Marsh have been a favourite of railfans for years.

VLocity winds through the Parwan Curves descending into Bacchus Marsh

But they played havoc with the speedy operation of trains, thanks to the series of 30, 26 and 20 chain (600, 520 and 400 metre) curves, limiting train speeds to 50 km/h.

As a result, a wide swathe of land was made part of the project area, and land compulsorily acquired to give a smoother alignment between the curves.

VicPlan map

The bulldozers and dump trucks then rolled in to create a new embankment over the Parwan Creek.

Weston Langford photo

The fill coming from a massive cutting created between Parwan Creek and Bacchus Marsh.

Thiess ALSTOM Joint Venture photo

The end result – 50 km/h curves replaced by a 120 km/h curve to the right, followed by a 120 km/h curve to the left.

Realigned tracks across Parwan Creek at the up end of Bacchus Marsh

Bacchus Marsh station

Bacchus Marsh station is located at the bottom of the valley, with a 20 chain (400 metre) curve at the down end limiting trains to 50 km/h as they start their long climb towards Ballan.

Stabled Sprinter consist beside a carriage set stabled for the weekend at Bacchus Marsh

The solution – rebuilding the entire Ballarat end of the station.

15 November 2005

Realigning the track
Major changes have also been made to the track alignment on the western entry into, and within, the rail yard.

The Ballarat-approach to Bacchus Marsh has traditionally supported trains that travel at an average speed of 45km/h. Track alignment works were required so that the faster trains could approach and enter the Parwan Road level crossing and rail yard safely.

Thiess Alstom Joint Venture’s works have included the installation of one new crossover and six refurbished turnouts within the yard. Recycled timber sleepers have been used in the reconstruction of the sidings which is where the trains will park when not in operation.

The existing station platform has also been modified to support the new track alignment. Over 30 m of bluestone has been cutback so that the platform aligns with the newly positioned track. A concrete platform extension of 75 m has also been constructed.

With a wider curve leading away from the station.

VLocity VL60 and VL63 depart Bacchus Marsh on a down Ballarat service

Leaving a disused section of platform behind, so that trains could enter the new wider curve earlier.

Disused section of track at the down end of the station

The end result – a left hand curve up from 50 km/h to 100 km/h.

Arriving into Ballan

You wouldn’t notice it today, but at the Melbourne end of Ballan station was once a sticking point – a 30 chain (600 metre) curve limiting trains to 65 km/h.

VLocity VL20 and VL28 arrive into Ballan on the down

So the Regional Fast Rail project went and flagged a whole row of properties on the inside of the curve.

Department of Sustainability and Environment map

Then acquired a chunk of each to build a new smoother curve.

VicPlan map

The new route left the old one behind.

Weston Langford photo

Making a bridge redundant.

New bridge behind old one, after curve realignment

And creating a big green patch of land beside the Windle Street level crossing.

Original main line alignment west of  in Ballan

On what was once the main railway line between Melbourne and Ballarat.

Original main line alignment east of Windle Street in Ballan

The end result – an increase in curve speed from 65 km/h to 160 km/h.

Blink and you’ll miss it – Llandeilo Lane

Midway between Ballan and Ballarat is the Llandeilo Lane level crossing – otherwise forgettable, except for a 40 chain (800 metre) radius curve that limited trains to 80 km/h between to otherwise 160 km/h sections of straight track.

Down the line from the Llandeilo Lane level crossing

The solution – cutting the corner by relaying the track on a wider curve, squeezing up against the parallel road.

VicPlan map

Giving a speed increase from 80 km/h to 160 km/h.

Portland Flat Road – a bridge to nowhere

Still following the back road from Ballan, you’ll find something bizarre – a rusty stretch of disused railway, crossed by a timber bridge.

Old bridge looking up the line

And the bridge leading leading nowhere.

Old bridge looking down the line

Thanks to the railway running alongside.

Old and new lines looking up the line

The reason for the rebuilding was the 40 chain (800 metre) curve that limited trains to 80 km/h.

Weston Langford photo

Demolishing the bridge was not an option, as it is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register, so the new alignment was built clear of the existing bridge.

Thiess ALSTOM Joint Venture photo

Construction able to progress without disturbing rail services.

Weston Langford photo

Until the new line was cut into service.

Weston Langford photo

Allowing trains to increase their speed from 80 km/h to 160 km/h.

And the big one – the Bungaree Deviation

The original circuitous route via Bungaree was full of 30 and 40 chain (600 and 800 metre) curves, with speeds as low as 65 km/h.

VLocity VL10 bound for Ballarat approaches the junction at Bungaree Loop West

It was replaced by a 8.2 kilometre deviation on a far more direct route.

VLocity VL55 leads VL69 on an up train through Millbrook Loop

The top speed for the new line – 160 km/h.

The verdict

Increasing line speeds from 80 km/h to 160 km/h is a massive improvement, especially in sections of railway between stations where a train could be travelling at top speed.

But improvements such as those at Ballan and Bacchus Marsh now look rather pointless, given the demise of the Ballarat to Melbourne express services, that skipped these stations to complete the run in 59 minutes.

VLocity VL09 departs Ballan on the down, passing the remains of the yard and a disused goods shed

As today every train stops at both Bacchus Marsh and Ballan, with both stations having gained a second track, platform and footbridge as part of the Ballarat Line Upgrade.

VLocity VL20 and VL28 depart Ballan on the down

All part of a focus on service frequency and reliability, not raw speed.

Footnote: more detail on curve speeds

Current day curve speeds on the Ballarat line are from this V/Line driver training video.

While historical curve radii are taken from the 1989 Grades and Curve book:

Old: 40 chain approach, 20 chain departure
New: 120 km/h curve left, 150 km/h right

Parwan Creek:
Old: 30, 26 and 20 chain curves
New: 120 km/h curve right, 120 km/h left

Bacchus Marsh
Old: 20 chain curve
New: 100 km/h curve left

Old: 30 chain curve
New: 160 km/h line speed

Llandeilo Lane
Old: 40 chain
New: 160 km/h line speed

Portland Flat Road
Old: 40 chain
New: 160 km/h line speed

Bungaree Deviation
Old: 30 and 40 chain curves
New: 160 km/h line speed

Historical curve speeds can be found in the Victorian Railways 1928 General Appendix, page 291.

12-20 chains = 25 mph (40 km/h)
20-25 chains = 30 mph (48 km/h)
25-30 chains = 35 mph (56 km/h)
30-35 chains = 40 mph (64 km/h)
35-40 chains = 50 mph (80 km/h)
40 chains = 60 mph (96 km/h)

With metricated distances found alongside miles per hour speeds in the 1979 edition.

402m = 30 mph (48 km/h)
604m = 35 mph (56 km/h)
805m = 50 mph (80 km/h)

Footnote: construction timeline

The February 2004 Thiess Alstom Joint Venture project newsletter gave a timeline of works along the Ballarat line.

Dec 2003 to April 2004
Melton: Earthworks and track formation west of Melton Station.

Dec 2003 to April 2004
Bacchus Marsh: Earthworks and track formation between Bacchus Marsh Station and Woolpack Road.

Feb 2004 to April 2004
Ballan: Realignment of Walsh Street, upgrade of the Windle Street level crossing.

Dec 2003 to April 2004
Gordon: Earthworks and construction of the new Portland Flat Road Bridge.

Feb to June 2004
Millbrook to Dunnstown: Construction of a new bridge over Spread Eagle Road.

Feb to June 2004
Construction of a new bridge over Peerwerrh Road.

Feb to December 2004
Construction of a new bridge over Lal Lal Creek.

Feb to July 2004
Construction of a new bridge over Moorabool River.

April to August 2004
Construction of a new bridge over Old Melbourne Road.

April to August 2004
Construction of a new bridge on Sullivans Road.

Feb to December 2004
Earthworks throughout the newly constructed corridor.


The archived website for the Thiess Alstom Joint Venture which delivered the Ballarat line portion of the Regional Fast Rail provided further detail, as did the archived Department of Infrastructure website.

The Department of Sustainability and Environment’s Regional Fast Rail Project, Integrated Approval Requirements document for the “Rail Infrastructure Projects Ballarat Rail Corridor Deviation” gave a high level overview of the land affected by the project.

A more detailed view of each railway deviation can be found on the VicPlan planning map.

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8 Responses to “Curve easing for faster trains on the Ballarat line”

  1. M says:

    What an excellent and richly researched post! I’m new to Melbourne and thoroughly enjoyed this, as well as the previous one, with all the historical images. Keep them coming 🙂

  2. Tom the first and best says:

    The eastward platform move of the platform at Bacchus Marsh looks a bit silly now the points that were put there for yard access and to avoid the curve have been replaced with double track and a new yard beyond the curve.

    Maybe the old platform section can be recycled to provide for 9-car trains?

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Strangely enough the down end of the platform at Bacchus Marsh actually got demolished when the second platform was added – January 2020, before the double track was in use.

      Down end of the station, connection to the new second track yet to be made

      And after – fence still in place blocking access to part of the platform, the rest demolished.

      Signals BHM742 and Signals BHM744 for down trains departing the platforms

  3. […] was ABC Radio Ballarat, who had seen my recent posts on the Ballarat line through Bacchus Marsh and curve easing for faster trains, and thought it would be of interest to their […]

  4. Yiu says:

    After departure from Melton it is a left-curve at 100km/h followed by a 115km/h right-curve. Is the 150 km/h a typo? The max line speed at Melton is 115 km/h.

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