Ballarat line overwhelmed and underfunded

V/Line’s annual report for 2015-16 shows the Ballarat line has experienced a massive, if not expected, rise in passenger growth since 2012.

While Gippsland and Bendigo lines experienced a considerable drop in numbers over the past four years, patronage on Ballarat and Geelong services exploded, rising 72.8 and 18.1 per cent during the period.

Patronage on the Ballarat line for last year alone rose more than 12 per cent, with an estimated 3.79 million using the line.

V/Line’s horror year began with the various lines and networks struggling to cope with the increased number of RRL services before a debilitating wheel wear problem saw a quarter of its VLocity fleet commissioned for urgent maintenance works.

The results were reflected in the overall customer satisfaction, which dropped from 71.9 per cent in 2014-15 to just 68.2 per cent for the year. 

Problems were also compounded by a lack of carriages, with the full roll out of rolling stock, which included a recent allocation of more cars, likely to take more than three years.

The setbacks saw the state government make a $518 million commitment to upgrading the line through a state budget allocation, with 17 kilometres of track to be duplicated between Deer Park west and Melton – paving the way for electrification a decade down the track.

Despite the funding, the numbers suggest the Ballarat line will be in dire straights if it does not receive additional investment over the next few years, with the Caroline Springs Station – set to open early next year – set to facilitate thousands more commuters.

“We've seen about a 13 per cent increase in patronage from last year, which continues the upward trend we've seen ever since the Regional Fast Rail project of 2005,” Public Transport Users Association Ballarat convener Ben Lever said.

“These numbers show that when governments invest in public transport, people will use it.

“The Ballarat line now has nearly as many passengers as the Geelong line did five years ago, but the Geelong line is double-track the whole length. While the duplication of the Ballarat line between Deer Park and Melton is a great start, if the trend of increasing patronage continues, we will clearly need full duplication of the line before long.”

The report aims for 170 more additional off-peak services to Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong and Traralgon next year.