VICTORIA has begun a $A 500 million ($US 326 million) infrastructure, track and signalling upgrading project to improve the speed and efficiency of its passenger services on four key 1600mm-gauge regional lines radiating from Melbourne.
These lines link Melbourne to Bendigo, Ballarat, Geelong and Traralgon, and the work itself represents the largest upgrade of Victoria's regional rail network for 120 years. Although the scheme is hardly radical in global terms, it will bring Victoria up to contemporary European standards, where outer-urban and regional passenger trains usually have unobstructed egress from cities, and travel at between 120 and 160km/h. In addition, a new fleet of 58 dmus is being built by Bombardier Transportation for introduction on the routes.
The Regional Fast Rail (RFR) project is the centrepiece of the Linking Victoria Strategy, a $A 3.5 billion plan to revitalise the state's rail, road, and port links. The Victorian Premier, Mr Steve Bracks, says this unprecedented funding for regional public transport will have "far-reaching benefits for Victoria's economic and social development."
For the Ballarat and Geelong lines, the successful tenderer is the Thiess-Alstom consortium. For the Bendigo and Traralgon lines, the successful tenderer is Regional Rail Link Consortium, a 50:50 joint venture between John Holland and Transfield.
The contracts involve upgrading more than 500km of track and installing modern signalling systems which will enable the new trains to operate up to 160km/h. Also required are 26,000 tonnes of new rail and 400 new and upgraded signals. Curves will be also be straightened, and safety will be improved at almost 200 level crossings. Key stations along the fast rail corridors, and, in particular, the terminal stations, will be upgraded over the next few years under various complementary programmes.
The RFR project will also be complemented by a roll-out of fibre optic cable along the rail corridors. The signalling and rail communications will be served by this fibre optic network that will replace steamage copper wires, and provide greater reliability. Installation of the network has begun. The cable will also create extra capacity for enhanced internet and telecommunications services to regional centres.
Individually, the works required for the four lines are as follows:
* Melbourne-Ballarat This $A 130 million contract involves upgrading 137km of track and replacing signalling. It will enable an express travel time of lb 4mi on the 118km journey to Ballarat, a reduction of 22%. The travel time could only be achieved by realignment at several locations, with one major but controversial 8km deviation.
* Melbourne-Bendigo: This $A 182 million contract will enable an express travel time of 1h 24min to Bendigo (162km), a reduction of 15%. The work involves upgrading 200km of track, and replacing signalling. Because of the prevalence of heritage bridges and tunnels between Kyneton and Bendigo, single-track operation was deemed the most cost-effective solution on this section. There is still an option to further upgrade in the future.
* Melbourne-Traralgon: This SA 115 million project will provide an express travel time of 1h 35min over the entire 158km route. The length of the track upgrade is 111km.
* Melbourne-Geelong: This $A 69 million project covering the entire 73km line will provide an express travel time of 45 minutes to Geelong.
There will be a mix of express, semi-fast, and stopping services, using the new trains. Existing trains are expected to supplement these services. The precise level and mix of services as well as the timetable and stopping patterns will be determined by the operator, V/Line, in consultation with local communities during the next two years.
Construction began officially in October 2002 and the works are scheduled to be completed by mid-2005. Early works are underway on the Traralgon line, and are imminent on the Geelong line. Design of the infrastructure upgrade is proceeding on all four lines, with construction to commence soon on the Ballarat and Bendigo lines.
Welding of all the new rail started in April at the John Holland/MVM Rail Joint Venture depot in Spotswood. Short lengths of rail are being flash-butt welded into 165m lengths for transporting by train to work sites. The John Holland/MVM Rail Joint Venture is carrying out the rail welding work for all four lines, and the work is expected to take 12 months to complete.
There has been local controversy over route diversions and planned extensive shut-downs for track works. Meanwhile, concurrent plans to standardise many freight lines in rural Victoria have prompted the Railway Technical Society of Australasia (RTSA) to express dismay at the apparent decision not to specify gauge-convertible sleepers for the RFR project (IRJ April p15). RTSA spokesperson, Dr Philip Laird, said this will prejudice any future gauge standardisation of these lines and isolate them from the rest of the Victorian and national networks.
There also has been criticism that the project does not make any attempt to improve speeds in the inner suburban areas of Melbourne, where service conflicts, congested junctions, and other problems significantly impact on long-distance express services.
In addition to the RFR infrastructure project, Bombardier Transportation is providing 38 new VLocity 160 two-car diesel- hydraulic, stainless steel-bodied trains for V/Line. Each 160km/h dmu will seat 173 passengers and travel 30km/h faster than the existing fastest trains. The fleet will be commissioned progressively from the end of 2004 until late 2006. The total contract value is approximately $A 535 million, including maintenance for 15 years.
Bombardier will build the trains at Dandenong, Victoria, while Bombardier's facility in Derby, Britain, will provide the bogies, which are convertible from broad to standard gauge. Bombardier's site at Vasteras, Sweden, will supply the train control system. Local construction includes the bodyshell, fabricated metal parts, air-conditioning, interior (wall panels, fittings), seating, and wheelsets.
The design of the VLocity 160 is based on the service-proven Endeavour and Xplorer dmus manufactured during the 1990s for New South Wales State Rail Authority. Incorporating these vehicles' strengths with the best features of other Bombardier-built vehicles, the result is a train developed specifically for Victorian conditions.
The propulsion system is a well-proven marriage of the Cummins QSK19-R diesel engine and Voith transmission. Gummins will also supply auxiliary power generators, plus the exhaust, radiators and cooling systems for the engines. One unique feature of VLocity 160 is the use of a separate electrically-powered pump for the engine coolant When the vehicle brakes, engine power drops; if the coolant pump is powered from the engine, then there is a corresponding drop in coolant pressure which can lead to overheating. The electrically-powered pump boosts the coolant pressure and provides an immediate response in hydrostatic braking, avoiding this problem.
EXPRESS JOURNEY TIMES Melbourne to: Existing fastest Express journey Minimum saving times (minutes) times (minutes) (minutes) Ballarat 82 64 18 Bendigo 99 84 15 Geelong 51 45 6 Traralgon 116 95 21 Melbourne to: Minimum saving Ballarat 22% Bendigo 15% Geelong 12% Traralgon 18%