The Regional Fast Rail project
was a State Government
initiative in Victoria
, to decrease travel times on parts of the Victorian regional railway
network. Launched on September 5 2000
, the project involved the upgrading of tracks
, and the Latrobe Valley
, the state capital
, as well as the introduction of 38 high-speed "VLocity
" diesel multiple-unit trains
built by Bombardier
Part of the Linking Victoria program, the Regional Fast Rail project was described as "possibly the biggest single upgrade to regional railway lines in 120 years", including:
- delivery of 38 new VLocity trains (with additional trains later ordered)
- upgrade of 500 km of track
- installation of 400 new and upgraded railway signals, along with the Train Protection & Warning System
- installation of more than 460,000 concrete sleepers
- upgrade of 170 level crossings
- introduction of new rail safety systems
- the development of new train timetables with improved services
- new fibre optic signalling that provides broadband opportunities in regional areas
To provide for the faster services, an existing order for 2-carriage VLocity DMUs was altered to increase the top speed and to increase the number of the trains to 38.
Services on all four RFR lines plus other lines outside the scope of the project are provided by the VLocity trains, the older Sprinter DMUs, and A class, N class and P class locomotive-hauled "N sets" and "H sets". As each of these trains have different top speeds, timetables are designed with particular services being run by particular types of trains.
The VLocity trains began running to the slower schedules from December 2005, and 160 km/h services began on the Geelong, Ballarat, and Bendigo lines on 3 September 2006
. On the Traralgon line, 160 km/h services began on 15 October 2006
, although in both cases a few selected services ran to slightly faster schedules for a week or so beforehand.
As well as reduced journey times, the new timetables also increased the frequency of services, with off-peak trains arriving up to once per hour. Additional trains, with varying consist lengths to suit demand, are also scheduled to operate during the peak, with one service each peak designated as a "flagship" service with the shortest journey time.
Line by line
Fast Rail services were officially launched on the Geelong line on February 3 2006.
The double-track Geelong line had the track and signalling upgraded to allow for VLocity trains running at 160 km/h between Werribee and Geelong. These works were carried out in various stages between 2004 and 2006. The Geelong line already comprised two bidirectional tracks between Newport and North Geelong. 160 km/h operation is only provided for on the East track for down trains and the West track for up trains.
The Ballarat line
was the first line to see V/Line
's new VLocity
in service on December 22 2005.
Track and signalling was upgraded to allow for VLocity trains running at 160 km/h between Deer Park West Junction and Ballarat. In addition, some deviations were built to ease curves or, in one case, to provide a considerably shorter route (the original route was retained, however, to provide a passing loop).
Track and signalling was upgraded on the Bendigo line
to allow for VLocity trains running at 160 km/h between Sunbury
and Bendigo. Also, bidirectional signalling was provided between Sunbury and Kyneton
. Between Kyneton and Bendigo the double-track line was singled to allow for better clearances past heritage structures, although retaining some sections of double track in the form of long crossing loops. The crossing loops were provided with bidirectional signalling, but only one of the two tracks was upgraded for 160 km/h running.
Track and signalling on the Traralgon line
was upgraded to allow for VLocity trains running at 160 km/h between Pakenham
and Traralgon. Bidirectional signalling was also provided on the double-track sections between Pakenham and Bunyip
, and between Longwarry
. However, only the former up track (now called the South track) was upgraded for 160 km/h running; VLocity trains are limited to 130 km/h on the former down track (now North track).
Criticisms of the project have centred on the cost, the lack of time savings, and the removal of one track from part of the Bendigo line. The State Opposition have dubbed the project the Farce Rail Project
The Government originally hoped that most of the cost of the project would be borne by the private sector. However, when this support failed to materialise, the Government decided to pay for the entire project themselves. In addition the project ran overtime and over budget.
The original promise was for trains to run to Geelong in 45 minutes, Ballarat in 60 minutes, Bendigo in 80 minutes, and Traralgon in 90 minutes. However, this was soon changed to add four minutes to each journey. In the current V/Line timetables, it takes the Traralgon service 111 minutes to the city.
However, even these times were only for a few trains each day that would run express between Melbourne and the respective regional cities. Furthermore, the number of trains what would run to these schedules was cut to one each way each day. Even though most journey times are now faster than before the project, the public impression is that time savings are minimal.
Bendigo line singling
The removal of one track from much of the Bendigo line
has also been the source of much criticism, although the original plans for crossing loops was altered to allow for longer crossing loops.
A spokesman for the Better Rail Action Group has claimed that the reason for eliminating the double track is to save costs, rather than for technical reasons.