|via Public Transport Victoria|
Slightly less reasonable, however, is the fact that the new timetables for this change were only released on Sunday, three weeks before the opening date - and they mean sweeping changes for a lot of the network. It's not just the trains that run on these lines that will be affected, but the buses in Melbourne and in regional cities that connect with them. It is quite a lot to digest, so I've divided it into two parts for ease of reading. Part 1 on the trains is below; Part 2 on the buses here.
|Geelong Railway Station (via Wikipedia)|
Geelong's new 20-minute inter-peak service also starts with the opening of the new line, which is great to see - it would have been impossible while they were sharing tracks with Metro. It really makes catching the train a much more flexible option for more people, and since about half of them will start at Waurn Ponds (the other half starting at South Geelong) this adds up to a pretty usable suburban network for getting from one side of Geelong to the other, too.
|Deer Park Railway Park (via Wikipedia)|
It looks like Geelong-line trains will do the same as Ballarat trains did, with about half of them stopping at Deer Park (and one or two stopping at Ardeer). This combines with changes to the Ballarat line - almost all Ballarat services will now stop at Deer Park (except expresses - again, totally reasonable) and there will now be additional half-hourly services that start at Bacchus Marsh, which will also stop at Deer Park. The two lines together add up to an excellent frequency for Deer Park, and while its neighbours Ardeer and Rockbank haven't fared quite so well, this makes sense - Ardeer gets the Ballarat improvements but not the Geelong, and most patrons are close enough to Sunshine or Albion to use Metro trains anyway; and Rockbank simply doesn't have the numbers to justify better service.
|Ballarat Railway Station in 2013|
Similarly - it's great to see the improvement to Bacchus Marsh's frequency but ideally you'd want that to be extended to Ballarat itself - if Geelong can justify a 20-minute frequency then surely Ballarat can justify a 30-minute frequency. The fact that much of the line is single track does make things difficult, as it always has, but this is long overdue to be addressed. The plan is to add another crossing loop just west of Bacchus Marsh, which would be helpful, and other small bits and pieces are constantly being looked at, but in the long term only full duplication will do.
Also on the Ballarat line, there has been a slight rejig of the Ararat timetable, so that the first train from Ararat gets to Ballarat at 0809 instead of 0826 as it currently does. This may not seem like a big deal, but it means people who start work at 0830 can do so more easily. There was also historically an issue whereby the Buninyong bus (which goes out to the University at Mt Helen, and is therefore the bus a lot of people want to catch) left at 0823, so you couldn't use the Ararat train to (reliably) get to the Uni before 0900 - there was a bus at 0840 which arrives at exactly 0900 but that cuts it a bit fine for most. This change to the train timetable would solve that...if it weren't for the simultaneous changes to the bus timetable. More on that in Part 2.
|Sadly, the LEAST depressing photo of Bendigo Railway Station I could find (via Wikipedia)|
It's also worth pointing out that there used to be a heap of padding in the timetables, which was introduced when trains started using the new tracks between Footscray and Southern Cross. It added a heap of extra time between those two stations, supposedly to compensate for lower speed limits while the track was bedded in, but which mostly had the effect of making their stats look better than they really were; when they inevitably crossed this section quicker than they were timetabled to, it made up time they'd lost further down the line. In any case, this has now been removed and the timetable now reflects the actual journey times.
Overall I'm really very happy with the way things have turned out here. The decisions made around stopping patterns are great, and while the Geelong line gotten the bulk of the improvements, the changes to the Ballarat line are very sensible. There are a few things that I would've liked to see changed - improved inter-peak frequency on the Ballarat line, Bendigo trains stopping at Sunshine, etc - but these are long-standing issues, and there's nothing stopping us from fixing them in the coming years.
I am distinctly less happy, however, with the changes to buses. Part 2 is here