It was ten years ago to the day The Courier ran a front page story on the prospect of having the rail journey to Melbourne clock in at under an hour with upgrades to the metropolitan track system. The nightmare that is outer Melbourne’s insatiable urban sprawl and 90 minute car crawls to work, made the idea of 60 minutes of productive quiet time on a modern train a delicious prospect. The concept tied in beautifully to the then Bracks Government’s approach to decentralisation and growing the regions and was part of a substantial investment in the long declining regional rail network.
But a promise of the magical sub–sixty minute commute must seem like a distant mirage to today’s commuters who have just experienced their annus hornbills. The strain on their patience and any long term hope are understandable. An expenditure of more than $4 billion on the Regional Rail tracks in outer Melbourne to separate metro and V/Line trains led not to the magical one hour journey but resulted in a timetable meltdown last June. Then when V/line had begun to claw its way back with a fast-tracked order of extra carriages, the wheels metaphorically fell off with the nightmare of severe wheel wear and commuters found themselves back on the buses.
Yesterday’s good news announced full services would return to the line by June 26 and the long suffering population of commuters might be expected to hope for a degree of reliability in the expanded timetable. If this is the basic service people expect and deserve, even better news which arrived in last month’s budget is a substantial investment in the same regional rail. Passing loops and even the duplication to Melton are massive projects which may not grab the average traveller’s imagination but they are the incremental steps toward an efficient system which makes a railway commute a viable alternative to car transport and even living in an overcrowded Melbourne. In short, long term infrastructure planning and implementation will serve to make Ballarat an even more attractive proposition.
But we must ensure that these “big picture” ideas are built on the reliability of the everyday. If the horrors of the last year are water under the bridge, it is hoped these investments and new leadership at V/line can avoid the errors of 2015/16 but also rebuild confidence in the system. Only then will ideas like the 60 minute commute to Melbourne be more than forgotten newspaper words.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.