Over the July school holidays major works are to be carried out in order to finalise the Sunshine to Southern Cross section of the Regional Rail Link project. Bendigo and Ballarat train services will be replaced by coaches between Saturday 28th June and Tuesday July 15th in order to allow the Regional Rail Link authority and its contractors to complete track and signal installation.
The shutdown period is also set to include testing and commissioning works between North Melbourne and Southern Cross, driver familiarisation trips and noise barrier installation in West Melbourne.
Once the shutdown period has ended, Bendigo and Ballarat V/Line services will then begin to use the new track that has been under construction for the past few years between Sunshine and Southern Cross, marking the first segregation of Metro and V/Line rail traffic inside metropolitan Melbourne.
Bendigo and Ballarat trains will also start to utilise the new platform infrastructure at Footscray and Sunshine stations and the rebuilt North Melbourne flyover will also see V/Line trains cross Metro services to enter regional platforms at Southern Cross unhindered.
A spokesman for the Regional Rail Link commented the greenfields section between West Werribee and Deer Park is scheduled, weather and other construction-related risk permitting, to be complete by the end of the year with Geelong services using the new track in early 2015.
While the benefit likely to kick in after the July shutdown is limited to a mainly modest operational one, within 6 to 12 months construction, testing and driver familiarisation will be complete on the entire project and PTV will have rolled out its new V/Line and Metro timetable. As the project name itself suggests, the biggest beneficiary for the Regional Rail Link is the regional passengers travelling beyond metro's footprint and traveling inter-city but it is the metro side which will have the greatest impact on reducing congestion and driving new development investment into Melbourne's West.
One on hand, Werribee and Williamstown line commuters are likely to benefit the most early next year as all Geelong trains are to be diverted via the new track opening up the existing corridor to increased capacity. One thing to watch around the time the new timetables take effect in 2015 (and thereafter) is whether or not planning application activity throughout the rail corridors in Maribyrnong, Hobsons Bay and Wyndham sees an uptick.
By early 2015, increased levels of service on the Werribee and Williamstown lines will arrive conveniently after the new planning zones are bedded down; more mass transport capacity and planning certainty is a match made in heaven for increasing densities. This, of course, does hinge on whether PTV actually do increase services over what currently operates - caveat emptor!
Yet on the other hand it's telling the largest rail project in living memory is coming to its conclusion and thanks to a balance transport policy mentality in a extremely unbalanced transport modal share situation we have in Melbourne(1), we are realistically another 10 years away(2) from seeing the full benefits on the Metro side for those who live or plan to invest along the Sunbury line.
Footscray wins no matter which way you look at it: increasing levels of service on the Werribee and Williamstown line will enhance the attractiveness to increase development investment. But Brimbank, which has liberally deployed the Residential Growth Zone and General Residential Zone around Sunshine, St. Albans and Watergardens, has a less bright - more delayed - urban development future hanging over it.
The three North and North Western lines - Sunbury (9), Craigieburn (9) and Upfield (3 services in the afternoon peak) - are not far off maxing out the capacity in the loop tunnel they currently use and unless one is removed from the loop there's likely to be little uplift in Metro services under the status quo.
The question: Why weren't the Melbourne Metro (now Melbourne Rail Link) plans finalised in the first or second year of the current Government - and funding prioritised so construction could start sooner - utilising the labour deployed on the Regional Rail Link as the project wound down?
There are many answers, some more cynical than others, feel free to leave yours in the comments section below.
(1) I'm referring to the anti-urban East-West link and the amount of funds it will suck from the infrastructure purse over the next decade.
(2) When the Melbourne Rail Link, or who knows which next iteration, is complete and operating.
Lead image credit: www.regionalraillink.vic.gov.au