Bombardier’s standard gauge VLocity trains will run on the North East rail line, first to run on Victoria’s regional rail network. Credit: Bombardier.
The project involves rail line upgrades from Melbourne to Albury/Wodonga in Victoria. Credit: ARTC.
The first 100km of track upgrades was completed in June 2020. Credit: ARTC.

The North East rail line upgrade project enhanced the rail line from Melbourne to Albury/Wodonga in Victoria, Australia, transforming it into a ‘Victorian Class 2’ performance grade track.

The A$235m ($160m) project was delivered by the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) on behalf of the Australian and Victorian governments and was supported by the state transport agencies V/Line, Public Transport Victoria, Transport for Victoria and Rail Projects Victoria. The Australian Government funded the project through the ARTC.

The rail upgrade was a part of the A$1.75bn ($1.13bn) regional rail revival programme, a joint programme between the Victorian Government and the federal government to upgrade all regional railway lines in the state.

Early work on the project began in 2019 and main work began in early 2020. The project was completed in March 2021.

North East rail line details

The North East rail line is a 316km-long rail line between Melbourne and Albury and forms part of the Sydney-Melbourne rail corridor. It serves approximately 1,800 people daily via ten scheduled trains, with five in each direction.

The rail route did not have a track standard equivalent to that of other regional passenger lines in Victoria, resulting in a steady decline in passenger demand due to delayed trains, as well as a lack of reliability and comfort.

The line faced competition from the more-improved Hume Highway, which was preferred for its reduced travel time and convenience.

North East rail line upgrade details

The North East rail line upgrade improved the track quality, thus reducing delays and improving train punctuality and the quality of the ride.

The project involved the removal of mud holes, improvement of the tracks and signalling, and enhanced drainage. The upgrades enabled faster travel speeds while allowing the introduction of new and improved rolling stock.

Work included track resurfacing for a smoother track surface, new underground wires, implementation of backup and solar power supplies, and ballast depth improvements. Approximately 100 level crossings and rail bridges were also upgraded as part of the project.

The project also reduced the number of temporary speed restrictions imposed by ARTC due to track condition issues, and the V/Line speed restrictions for passenger service, which affected 62% of the line.

The route incorporates six new modern and faster VLocity trains into the standard gauge line.

Rolling stock for North East rail line upgrade

The VLocity trains feature a design that supports long-distance journeys with improvements such as comfortable seating, extra storage space for luggage and bikes, a modern catering facility, built-in USB chargers and mobile boosting technology, fold-down tray tables with cup holders, and six wheelchair spaces with accessible toilets.

The new VLocity trains are a combination of broad and standard-gauge vehicles. They will be the first standard-gauge VLocity trains to run on Victoria’s regional rail network.

The first three standard gauge Vlocity trains are being tested to demonstrate the safety and reliability of the new design of the trains. The addition of the new three-car VLocity trains will bring the entire VLocity fleet to a total of 106 three-car trains, increasing capacity and dependability on the regional rail lines.

The new trains are part of the Victorian Government’s budget investment to meet increasing demand.

The network testing of the first Vlocity train on the North East Rail Line began in September 2021.

Construction of the North East rail line

Early works included site investigations, tamping, full renewal of both the tracks at Summers Road level crossing, removal of over 2km of mud-holes, and distribution of 6,500t of fresh ballast until the end of 2019.

Major works started at Wodonga in February 2020. The project reached a construction milestone by completing the first 100km of track upgrades in June 2020. More than 150,000t of ballast was dropped, 105km of tamping was delivered, and approximately 100km of drainage was reinstated by June 2020. The renewal of 17 level crossings, the replacement of six bridge decks, and the improvement of four pedestrian crossings were also completed.

A A$14m ($9.1m) signalling improvement project was also completed in metropolitan Melbourne as part of the upgrade.

Contractors involved

John Holland was appointed to deliver major works for the project in December 2019.

Vlocity trains are being manufactured by Bombardier at its facility in Dandenong, Victoria, supporting 500 local jobs.

The project directly engaged ten subcontractors and 32 North East Victorian suppliers. Railroad contractor TENEX Rail is also part of the project.