Geelong fast rail and Waurn Ponds track duplication to improve services after years of crowding and delays

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Billy Deikos, 43, had to be flexible to travel from Geelong to his job in Melbourne — physically flexible.

“Back in the day I’d be sitting underneath a luggage rack when the trains were crowded … it was quite funny,” he said.

Not only was over-crowding an issue on Victoria’s busiest regional rail route, but the single line between Geelong and Waurn Ponds, the last suburban station on the southern edge of the city, meant cancellations and delays were inevitable.

“The trains [to Melbourne] leave Waurn Ponds every 40 minutes and in Geelong central it’s every 20 minutes,” Mr Daicos said.

“We currently have a single track which kind of just delays the services slightly … so hopefully when we have the duplication of the track from Waurn Ponds to South Geelong, towards the tunnel, it should increase the services and hopefully it will reduce bottlenecks.”

As Australia looks to revive its economy after the coronavirus-induced shutdowns, state and federal governments are investing billions of dollars in rail infrastructure.

The single track between South Geelong and Waurn Ponds will be duplicated thanks to state and federal funding.(ABC News: Steven Schubert)

Geelong, whose population is expected to grow by around 50 per cent to 485,000 by 2051, according to State Government projections, is one of the biggest beneficiaries.

Recent funding announcements include:

  • Federal and state government funding to fast-track stage two of the South Geelong to Waurn Ponds duplication. This includes upgrading South Geelong and Marshall stations with second platforms and accessible overpasses, the removal of level crossings at Fyans Street and Surf Coast Highway and signalling upgrades between South Geelong and Waurn Ponds stations. The project is due to be completed in 2024.
  • $2 billion from the State Government to match an existing $2 billion commitment from the Federal Government to complete stage one of the Geelong Fast Rail project. This includes new tracks through the Werribee rail corridor, although some Geelong services will continue to run via Wyndham Vale and Sunshine. This will cut up to 15 minutes off some journeys, bringing the trip to Melbourne down to 50 minutes.

But that’s still a long way off the 32 minutes promised during last year’s federal election campaign.

Speed takes a hit compared to previous promises

Prime Minister Scott Morrison travelled to Geelong during the 2019 federal election campaign, promising $2 billion for fast rail between Geelong and Melbourne — if the Victorian Government matched the funding commitment.

At the time, the State Government had pledged $50 million to develop a business case for the project.

The Federal Government proposed trains would travel at an average speed of 160 kilometres per hour and take about 32 minutes to get from Geelong to Melbourne, down from the current time of about an hour.

They would continue running through Wyndham Vale and Sunshine on an upgraded track.

A map showing two tracks connecting Geelong to Melbourne, one a 72.6km track via Werribee and the other 80.7km via Sunshine.
The first stage of the Geelong Fast Rail project will deliver a travel time of around 50 minutes between Geelong and Melbourne.(Supplied: Rail Projects Victoria)

But Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure Minister Alan Tudge this week said the aim was now to get services down to 40 minutes.

“When all stages are completed the time from Geelong to Melbourne will be just 40 minutes,” he said.

The announcement of funding for stage one also outlined a different route to the one set out by the Prime Minister in 2019, with some Geelong trains returning to their historic track via Werribee.

It is the most direct rail line, about eight kilometres shorter than the current route through Sunshine, which Geelong trains were moved to upon completion of the Regional Rail Link in 2015.

Jennifer Cromarty, chief executive of the not-for-profit advocacy group Committee for Geelong, said getting services back on the Werribee line was “well-supported”, but the key issue for commuters was reliability, not speed.

“We have not advocated for a specific time for the journey — just the best overall solution for Geelong,” she said.

“If Geelong commuters have a journey time that is under 50 minutes, that is important, but what is more important is frequency, capacity and reliability.”

Ms Cromarty is now pushing for rail connections to be extended to Avalon Airport, between Melbourne and Geelong.

“What the Committee for Geelong is looking for next is an announcement regarding a train station for Avalon Airport, which is vital for our international airport’s competitiveness and growth,” she said.

The fast rail project, which is expected to start construction in 2023 if it passes approval processes, would include track upgrades between Werribee and Laverton, including a new dedicated express track.

This would get Geelong to Melbourne services down to 50 minutes by the completion of stage one.

Some Geelong services will continue to run on the existing corridor via Wyndham Vale and Sunshine, giving Geelong commuters more choice and a quicker connection to the new Melbourne Airport Rail Link, which is due to be completed in 2029.

‘Ripple effect’ of pandemic to be felt across public transport

But with trains still relatively empty as people continue to work from home, Melbourne University transport planning expert John Stone questioned the validity of big infrastructure projects based solely on pre-COVID projections.

“I think we’re going to need to go back to square one on all the data underpinning all these big projects, whether they be road or rail, because immigration is slowing, the economy is slowing, people’s travel movements are changing,” Dr Stone said.

“We can’t just say, ‘well we thought that North East Link or extensions to various roads were a good idea then, so they’re a good idea now’, and the public transport packages need to be considered in that light.”

He said anxiety about the safety of public transport during a pandemic was pushing more people into their cars.

Before COVID-19, up to two-thirds of workers travelling into Melbourne’s CBD used public transport to get there, he said.

“Even a small shift away from that will put a lot more traffic on the roads going into the CBD and then cause a ripple effect for congestion right across the city,” Dr Stone said.

A man with a short grey beard stands in a garden holding a face mask and a Myki public transport card.
Dr Stone says there needs to be more services, more often, to encourage people back to public transport in the COVID era.(ABC News: Dylan Anderson)

Passenger numbers across the Victorian public transport network were approximately 11 per cent of normal levels in September, as Melbourne endured its final weeks of the strictest coronavirus restrictions, including the curfew.

That increased to 20 per cent of normal levels during October, and 31 per cent by late November.

But with 25 per cent of Victorian office workers allowed to return to the office from November 30, and further increases expected next year, Dr Stone said a lot of work would need to be done — and quickly — to change the way the state’s public transport system works.

“The problem is it’s going to happen as soon as we start going back to work in large numbers. As soon as there’s greater demand for travel into the centre of the city, and even the centre of Geelong, these problems are going to arise,” he said.

One solution he proposes is significantly reducing the occupancy rates on public transport so people can safely keep their distance.

But with fewer people per carriage, more frequent services would be required.

Another solution is encouraging people to travel outside peak periods, which relies on already challenged employers embracing even more flexible work patterns.

“We’re going to have to spread the peaks and spread the frequency of public transport into the middle of the day which we don’t do at the moment,” he said.

“Those sorts of things are going to be absolutely vital to ease the pressure on our transport system overall so that people are travelling at different times of the day or not travelling so often.

“That’s going to be at the core of what we need to do.”

One person sits on a train carriage between Geelong and Melbourne. A sign tells people to
Victoria’s public transport system was running at 11 per cent of its usual passenger load in September.(ABC News: Steven Schubert)

Public transport timetables will also need to cater for people who continue to work from home and will spend more time moving around their local suburbs, rather than into and out of the city, something the Victorian Government’s suburban rail loop is looking to address.

But with no date set for completion, and early works not scheduled to begin until 2022, Dr Stone said changes would be needed far earlier.

He said while it was “very easy for governments to get excited about capital projects”, the big challenge would be finding the cash to fund service improvements on existing routes.

“The operational costs, how we drive those down, how we get efficiencies into the system so we can actually deliver the more frequent services that we need, that’s where the challenge for the treasuries and public transport agencies is really focused now, it’s getting the most out of our operational spending,” he said.

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AFL 2021 | Geelong Football Club’s balancing act with plan to play youngsters

He said the Cats – who lost 21-year-old Lachie Fogarty to Carlton as he sought more opportunity – understood the challenge they would face at selection in 2021.

“The real challenge is how do we provide opportunities for our young players next year,” Cook told SEN.

“We need a different mentality around some of the senior players who expect to play 22 games. Maybe they won’t, maybe they will play 15.”

The Cameron deal took three years, it didn’t take three months or three minutes.

Brian Cook

Geelong just fell short of beating Richmond in this year’s grand final but with the addition of three quality players are expected to contend for the premiership again.

They also re-signed a bunch of youngsters this month including Zach Guthrie, Quinton Narkle, Sam Simpson, Stefan Okunbor, Ben Jarvis, Brad Close and Brandan Parfitt while also adding Paul Tsapatolis as a category-B rookie.

Charlie Constable explored his options but has stayed at the Cats while top 20 draft picks Cooper Stephens and Sam DeKoning are yet to debut. Jordan Clark has also decided to fight for the spot he lost this season.

Cook revealed that the Cats spent three years getting their salary cap in shape to enable them to secure a free agent such as Cameron with Geelong also showing interest in Essendon’s Joe Daniher.

“The Cameron deal took three years, it didn’t take three months or three minutes,” Cook said.

The deal went right to the wire with Geelong only able to hand over pick 20 and land an extra second round pick when the Giants traded Jye Caldwell to Essendon in the dying minutes of the trade period.

That leaves the club with a first round pick and three second round picks in 2021 with list manager Stephen Wells saying they have just pushed their plan to go to the draft back a year on what they anticipated.

After a trying year Cook said the club would break even in operating terms although they were likely to report a loss of around $2.5 million after write downs, much less than the $8 million hole they were staring down when the game was suspended in March.

He said they were planning for six budget scenarios depending on crowds in 2021.

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Geelong CEO sheds light on “messy” Jeremy Cameron deal and Jack Steven’s struggles before retirement

Geelong CEO Brian Cook has shed further light on the “messy” trade negotiations with GWS for Jeremy Cameron.

Cameron eventually signed for the Cats on a reported five-year deal in the dying stages of the trade period and Cook says it was a nerve-wracking time for all concerned.

“The best word to describe it was messy, really messy,” Cook told SEN’s Dwayne’s World.

“We had seven emails ready to go and we only had to press one so to speak, but there were some renegotiations in the last 90 seconds around the deal.

“I can’t imagine how Jeremy was feeling. It was a really tight, tough and challenging last two minutes to say the least.”

Geelong handed over three first-round picks – 13, 15 and 20 – and a future fourth-round selection to the Giants while the Cats landed Cameron and got two future second-round picks back.

Cook also explained how Jack Steven’s decision to retire came about after just one season at Geelong.

“That was a joint decision,” he said.

“In the hubs you see firsthand how people live and what their challenges are and in a really human and caring way, it was obvious to us that Jack was struggling to meet the full commitments of high-performance AFL athletes and what was required.

“We met with both him and his player manager and we agreed that Jack should look at other things in life, particularly around his physical and mental health.

“It happened at the end of the hub after the Grand Final and all parties admitted and accepted that there was probably a better alternative than another year of AFL football for Jack.”

Steven, 30, decided to hang up the boots with another year to run on his Cats

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Geelong re-signs trio of players

Geelong has announced the re-signings of three players as they look to complete their list changes heading into the National Draft.

Lachie Henderson, Sam Simpson and Brad Close have all recommitted to the club, though the Cats have not revealed the specific lengths of the contracts.

Simpson broke out in 2020, playing nine games, including three finals, while Henderson fought from the rookie list to find a best 22 slot.

This leaves Quinton Narkle and Darcy Fort as Geelong players who are yet to sign.

Midfielder Jack Steven announced his retirement last week.

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Rendell’s Trade Grades – Geelong

Former AFL recruiter Matt Rendell has delivered his assessments of each of the 18 clubs and their performances in the recent Trade Period.

The Cats were as busy as anyone across the two weeks, bringing in Jeremy Cameron, Isaac Smith and Shaun Higgins, though they paid a hefty price for the 2019 Coleman Medallist.

See Rendell’s Tyrepower Trade Grade for the Cats below:

Trade Grade: B+

Rendell says:
Would have been disappointed to give up 3 first rounders for a restricted free agent in Cameron, but received a future 2 back tied to Essendon, so not as bad as it seems. Smith and Higgins brought in and are class acts who have plenty of good football left. Lost 2 players who aren’t in their best 25 at the moment, although Cockatoo should be. Kelly out last year for Cameron in this year-seems like a fair trade. If they win the flag next year, Cameron would have come cheap.

Isaac Smith (from Hawthorn)
Shaun Higgins (from North Melbourne)
Jeremy Cameron (from GWS)

Lachie Fogarty (to Carlton)
Nakia Cockatoo (from Brisbane)

2020 draft hand:
51, 96

2020 season performance:

Wins: 12
Losses: 5
Position: Fourth (runners up)

Rendell's Trade Grades - 2020

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Geelong wins race for highly-touted former basketballer

Geelong has won the raced for highly-rated former basketballer Paul Tsapatolis, according to AFL Media’s Mitch Cleary.

Several clubs have shown interest in the 202cm teenager, with Sydney, North Melbourne, Melbourne and Adelaide all recently expressing their desire to sign him as a Category B rookie.

But according to the report, it was Essendon who also made a late play for the prodigious talent before he settled on the Cats.

Tsapatolis, 18, will reportedly sign a two-year deal with Geelong, providing important ruck backup behind Rhys Stanley.

Last year, Tsapatolis was part of the Australian side who won gold at the FIBA Under 17 Oceania Championships in New Caledonia.

As part of Category B rookie rules – which allows clubs to sign players who haven’t played football for at least three years – Tsapatolis will be paid outside of the salary cap.

He played junior football with the likes of Collingwood’s Jay Rantall and Melbourne’s Luke Jackson, before originally turning his attention to basketball.

It caps off an exciting off-season for Geelong, who recruited forward Jeremy Cameron, winger Isaac Smith and midfielder Shaun Higgins during the trade and free agency period.

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Geelong working on new contracts for five players

Geelong is working on new contracts for Quinton Narkle and Sam Simpson.

According to AFL Media reporter Mitch Cleary, the Cats have opened talks with Narkle over a one-year deal while Simpson is close to signing a two-year extension.

Narkle’s name came up in conversation during the trade period, but it’s now likely that he will remain at Geelong for at least another year.

The 22-year-old has played just 17 games in three seasons with five of those coming in 2020.

Simpson, 22, played nine games last season, including all three of Geelong’s finals matches. He finished with 12 disposals and two clearances in the Grand Final loss to Richmond.

Cleary also understands that Brad Close, Lachie Henderson and Darcy Fort are negotiating new deals with the Cats.

Geelong midfielder Jack Steven announced his retirement with immediate effect on Thursday.

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AFL 2021, Jack Steven, Geelong, contract, retirement, AFL, AFL squads, list sizes

Geelong midfielder Jack Steven has announced his retirement with a year to run on his contract at the club.

After winning four best and fairest awards with St Kilda, Steven made the move in the 2019 off-season to the Cats and added a further nine games to his previous 183 game tally.

During trade period, revealed St Kilda sources believed the Cats were considering offering Steven a payout.

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