THE evolution of passenger rail services in the past 10 years shows that despite significant investments in rail infrastructure, travel times continue to inch longer.
As The Courier revealed yesterday, a Monday morning service from Ballarat to Southern Cross station is now timetabled to take one hour and 13 minutes, an increase of 12 minutes or a fifth since 2006 timetables.
For those who remember Ballarat’s push for a 60-minute service to and from Melbourne in the late 1990s, the reality for most services is at least 20 minutes shy.
The transformation of timetables has been largely due to increases in passenger numbers.
In 2012, four minutes was added to the overall travel time, in 2011 five minutes was added and in 2007 three minutes was added.
In the past five years, there has been a 37.2 per cent increase in patronage on the Ballarat line.
Congestion at the metropolitan end of the line are seen as major contributors to longer trips.
Governments have at least recognised the problems at Southern Cross, with the Regional Rail Link project works well and truly on the way to completion.
Despite the billions spent on this project, not all services are expected to benefit as commuters may expect.
The proof will be in the timetables created with the completion of this project – timetables which will be eagerly awaited by commuters and city leaders alike.
It’s not just longer travel times which have been a frustration to regular travellers in recent years either.
The lack of mobile phone coverage and digital connectedness on services remains a problem.
Modern society demands better than the hit and miss service currently available while travelling between Ballarat and Melbourne.
Into the future, further duplication of the line between Sunshine and Ballarat is also required.
Duplication, while expensive, will be necessary to cope with growth in travellers if it continues as seen in recent years.
The Regional Fast Train project came as an overblown cost burden on the state but has ultimately delivered the basis of revitalisation neglected for so long.
The Regional Rail Link project will build on that impetus.
The challenge is to think about how the next 50 years and for our city leaders to consider just hop important rail is to Ballarat’s prosperity.