Related coverage: V/Line service frustrates Bendigo commuters
WHEN Richard Cooper moved from St Kilda to Kyneton six years ago he did so confident the fast V/Line train would help him get to his South Melbourne graphic design job with ease.
But a few weeks ago Mr Cooper ditched the train and started driving to work along the Calder Freeway, no longer willing to spend hours commuting on a rail service that has become progressively slower since he started using it.
''I drive now, which I think is really terrible,'' he says. ''I kind of feel like I've been forced on the road.''
Mr Cooper says many in Kyneton falsely hoped the $270 million Sunbury electrification project would lead to a faster commute, not slower. But when Metro services were extended to Sunbury on November 18, travellers further along the Bendigo line in towns such as Kyneton and Castlemaine also saw their journeys extended, by more than 10 minutes on some peak services.
Sunbury, a growing suburb on Melbourne's north-western fringe, saw its services boosted by more than a third, but at the expense of travellers further along the line. Each change to the Bendigo line timetable in recent years has padded out the journey, particularly on peak services.
In 2009, the 5pm weekday train from Southern Cross Station to Kyneton took an hour and 13 minutes. Today it takes an hour and 40 minutes - 27 more than three years ago.
The flagship morning express from Bendigo and Castlemaine to the city takes 18 minutes longer, partly because it now stops at Gisborne.
One Castlemaine resident, Heather Holst, has watched her 6.21am express train turn into a 6.15am and now 6.02am service, without getting her to work any earlier. The housing services worker says she is now seriously considering renting in Melbourne mid-week rather than commute each day.
The former Bracks government spent $750 million upgrading Victoria's Geelong, Bendigo, Ballarat and Traralgon lines into fast-rail services. Completed in 2006, the travel improvements have been credited with helping to drive a regional boom that has turned Kyneton and Castlemaine into thriving commuter towns.
Kyneton resident Graeme McLindin worries some of the progress enjoyed by towns on the Bendigo line could be lost if they again become less accessible by rail.
''Ten years ago when I came up here there weren't many people commuting and suddenly there's hundreds of people commuting and you've got cafes now and employment opportunities,'' Mr McLindin says.
''All that has come about because it was made into a commuter town. It has created a fantastic mix of people who have come up here and have similar sorts of lifestyle aspirations. But suddenly it has become quite a difficult commute.''
A spokeswoman for Public Transport Minister Terry Mulder said some train journeys had become longer because more than 1000 services had been added to the network since May 2011, creating ''greater interaction between regional and metropolitan trains''.
''This highlights the importance of the Regional Rail Link project, which will remove major bottlenecks and create extra capacity for both networks in Melbourne's west and regional areas,'' she said.
Journey times would speed up again once the regional rail link opened, expected in 2016.