Opinion Pieces

Going loco over the north-east rail line

13 June 2014

Have you travelled the north-east line recently? Tell me about your experience here

Campaigning in Kilmore several months ago I met Ivan, a train driver who operates freight services on the north-east rail corridor between Melbourne and Junee.

The line between Melbourne and Sydney is the most important rail freight corridor in Australia.  Victorian businesses rely on the network to be efficient and effective.

It is also an important link for communities in our electorate who need to travel to Melbourne for business, to see family or to access services.

Ivan asked me what I thought could be done about the state of the track which has been subject to speed restrictions for years.

It’s a common question no matter where I go in the electorate and, having been the victim of lengthy delays on the line on a number of occasions myself, a frustration share.

  Vline trains

The problems with the corridor are well documented. The track is leased by the Australian Rail Track Corporation which sells access to train operators and is, in return, responsible for investing and maintaining the corridor.

ARTC’s lease on the track was due to expire in 2014, but the previous Brumby Labor Government extended it by 45 years to 2059.

The quid pro quo was the $600 million North East Rail Revitalisation Project, a major investment program by the ARTC and the Victorian and Commonwealth governments to upgrade the track between Melbourne and Sydney.

The former government billed the project as “an interstate rail super highway” designed to improve speed, reliability and efficiency. 

However, the project soon struck problems and the techniques the ARTC used to resleeper the track have been heavily criticised.

Instead of using a track laying machine, concrete sleepers were used to replace the wooden sleepers using a technique known as side insertion.

After a number of near misses and concerns about the appearance of mudholes on the line, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau was called in to investigate.

Their report, completed in August 2013, confirmed that the process of installing new concrete sleepers exacerbated pre-existing weaknesses in the structure of the track.

Six frustrating years on and progress has been made but the line is still subject to ‘temporary’ speed restrictions, passenger services are more often delayed than not and train drivers are still concerned about the quality of the track.

Earlier this year the Victorian Coalition Government established a community reference group that included representatives from Seymour, Violet Town, Benalla and Euroa to provide feedback on how V/Line and the ARTC can provide a better service.

That won’t fix the underlying problems, but taking local knowledge on board is certainly a step in the right direction.

The new Federal Government has also promised $300 million to finalise plans, engineering design and environmental assessments for high speed rail between Melbourne and Brisbane.

While the estimated $114 billion price tag is hefty, Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss has said that the Federal Government is “open to innovative funding and construction models” to help deliver the project.

If there's one thing for certain, there’s no quick fix to the mess that has been created by previous governments but the Victorian Coalition hasn't given up on getting it back on track.

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