EWLink zombie is dead, buried, cremated – some thoughts

East West Link is now that it’s dead, buried and cremated (to coin a phrase). Though I’m not sure that’s how you destroy zombies.

Zombies

Some closing thoughts on the project…

The $339m payout is less than a single year of the expected $345m annual Availability Payments that would have been paid if it had been built — let alone the billions in other costs. So yes it’s a lot of money, but given the <1 Benefit Cost Ratio, we the taxpayers of Victoria really dodged a bullet here.

Part of the problem is that for the huge cost, the tollway would have provided some traffic relief… but only for a short time. Studies by the Linking Melbourne Authority showed traffic on Alexandra Parade would have returned to the previous levels by 2031, just 12 years after opening.

Given it won’t be built, the Eastern Freeway will continue to finish at Hoddle Street. It was planned that way. In 1973, Premier Hamer cancelled the forerunner to the East West Link, an inner-north surface freeway across, and but pushed ahead with building the Eastern, knowing it would finish at a dead-end, which the road lobby happily accepted at the time. So the current situation is by design.

Being a zombie, it came back. Salami tactics.

Where traffic from the Eastern Freeway goes

East West Link wouldn’t have helped unclog the Eastern and Hoddle Street, because most cars are headed for the CBD and inner city, not across to Flemington and the airport. You can actually see this when driving east to west: the traffic moves faster in the 1-2 lane sections from College Crescent to Elliot Avenue than it does in the 4-5 lane sections further east.

In fact, current traffic levels are falling. Vicroads data shows traffic fell up to 15% on Alexandra Parade (depending on where you measure it) between 2002 and 2012.

Of course, more traffic would head east-west if there was a motorway provided to do it. This is why the road wouldn’t have provided more than a few years’ relief. More traffic would be induced.

We’ve spent seventy years trying to solve traffic congestion by building more road space for cars. Sooner or later we’re going to have to accept that it doesn’t work.

Broadly, transport is supply-led. You build more roads, you get more cars. You provide more (usable) public transport, you get more people using it.

But the scale of PT capacity is vastly bigger, because each person isn’t bringing 2 tonnes of rubber, metal and plastic with them, so it takes a lot longer to fill up again.

Want to shift 2000 more people per hour along a road? You’ll have to widen the road all the way along and add a lane. Example: the M1 widening, 2007-2009, cost $1.39 billion. And now it’s full again.

Want to shift 2000 more people by train? That’s just 2-3 extra trains; about 10% of a rail line’s capacity.

So, more capacity can often be squeezed out of existing lines, but even if we have the expense of a new rail line, it will take decades to fill up again.

Despite red herrings like “tradies!!”, most people can use PT if it’s provided and competitive with driving.

So now Labor’s pushing ahead with the metro rail tunnel instead, which (along with level crossing removals, signal upgrades, fleet upgrades, and the one thing they haven’t announced yet: duplication of single track) enables a lot more people to be moved through our busy city. Now they just need to figure out how to pay for it, given the Feds under Abbott won’t.

The political implications of all this are obvious. The Coalition went into the 2010 election and won it on the back of public transport issues — reflecting survey after survey that said people wanted PT ahead of big roads.

(A few surveys conclude people want motorways, but only when they’re not offered a choice. But money is limited. Choices have to be made. We can’t afford every multi-billion dollar project that’s thought up, especially not the ones with poor returns on investment.)

Then in late-2011 the Coalition completely changed tack and tried to ram through the East West Link ahead of the 2014 election.

Tony Abbott declared the 2014 election to be a referendum on the East West Link. Well if that’s true, the people voted it down.

Will this zombie come back? Perhaps.

But the lesson here is clear. If you’re determined to embark on the largest infrastructure project in the state’s history, seek a mandate for it.

PS. When I put in the Shaun Of The Dead references, it was just for a cheap laugh. But that specific point about destroying the brain is a reminder that these issues about how we want our city to develop, and whether we want to pursue policies prioritising private cars or mass transport are not primarily about engineering, but ideas.

More reading:

Corrs Lane, Melbourne’s narrowest public laneway?

Corrs lane is a handy shortcut between Little Bourke Street and Lonsdale Street, just east of Russell Street.

At the northern (Lonsdale Street) end, it’s so narrow that you could easily walk past it without noticing. It’s all a bit… I dunno, Platform 9 3/4.

Corrs Lane, Melbourne - at Lonsdale Street

I noticed yesterday snapping pics that there seems to be one property entrance in this narrow section, which still gets mail deliveries.

It’s narrow enough that two pedestrians can just pass each other. If a wheelchair user squeezed in, you’d have problems getting past.

Is it the narrowest laneway in the CBD? I don’t know… anybody know?

Corrs Lane, Melbourne - at Lonsdale Street

After a little way, the lane soon widens out to a more standard width, with various Chinatown restaurants prominent.

Corrs Lane, Melbourne

It was one of these restaurants (since disappeared/changed hands from the looks of it) which a group of us, all of whom worked at various places in Lonsdale Street, used to eat at regularly around the turn of the century. Partly based on its small size, and partly based on the tiny lane to get there, Josh dubbed it “The hole in the wall”, though I’m sure it had a real name.

At the time the lane had no markings at the northern end, and in fact I totally failed to direct someone to the restaurant by phone once, as I couldn’t remember where he needed to look to find the lane.

At the southern end, it seems extra wide thanks to the presence of one of the last single level car-parks in Melbourne’s CBD, with some bonus Melbourne street art to brighten the place up.

Corrs Lane, Melbourne

I had a quick search around, and couldn’t figure out what or who Corrs Lane is named after, but couldn’t find anything — it’s not in this excellent list of names from the Royal Historical Society of Victoria. Maybe better researchers than I will have more luck.

Photos and video from April 2005

OK, here we go with another set of photos (and video this time) from ten years ago.

In a blog post back in April 2005, I posted this photo of Brighton Beach station:
Brighton Beach station, April 2005

Here it is in the present day: notice the fence along platform 1 for the purposes of securing the sidings, where trains are now kept when not in use. If you look closely, you’ll also see an additional exit on platform 3. And the small shelter (designed for wheelchair passengers) that was under construction in 2005 is now there, as well as a PSO pod (aka “Baillieu Box”).
Brighton Beach station, April 2015

Clarendon Street, South Melbourne, after a somewhat half-baked “Think Tram” solution was put in to include hook turns, departure-side tram stops (but with inadequate markers and barriers, so motorists ended up parking in them). However the hook turn automated signage has appeared at numerous other intersections, in the CBD.
Clarendon Street, South Melbourne, April 2005

Nearby Kingsway. I must have been snapping the petrol price, but note the mass of cranes in the background — perhaps Crown was being expanded at the time, or perhaps it was north of the river?
Kingsway, April 2005

The Nylex sign being renovated (see this blog post from the time). That didn’t go so well — the clock was switched back on in mid-2005, broke down in 2006, and then switched off when Nylex went bust in 2007. It was restarted for a day or two earlier this year.
Nylex sign renovation, April 2005

A tram in the old battleship grey colour scheme passes Flinders Street station.
Tram passes Flinders Street station, April 2005

The same day I snapped that, I also took some photos of the 7 News ticker above Young And Jacksons. The insertion of “7” between each headline made for some amusement.

Southern Cross, I mean Spencer Street station under construction. Also note to the left, the empty site now taken by The Age building.
Southern Cross station under construction, April 2005

Another snap, looking north up Spencer Street towards Bourke Street, shows some of the size of the project:
Southern Cross station under construction, April 2005

The two photos above are from a panorama that I posted back at the time. Use the scroll bar to move across:

(Another view, from the Collins/Spencer Street corner, was included in pics from December 2004, and a view from the Docklands side from November 2004)

Finally, something for the gunzels — a couple of bits of video of trains of the time, one approaching Spencer Street, the other on Richmond station. Note the old colour schemes (it had been about 12 months since Connex took over from M<Train), especially how dull the old Siemens livery was before it went to the Connex scheme:

Peak hour trains 1939 vs 2006 vs 2015 – line by line

Here’s a quick followup to Tuesday’s post… that had a summary of 1939 vs 2006 vs 2015 timetables in the 5-6pm peak, but here’s the line-by-line breakdown.

to 1939 2006 2015
St Kilda 10    
Port Melbourne 5  
Williamstown 7 3 3
Altona/Laverton 2 See Werribee 3
Werribee 1 4 5
St Albans/Sunbury 2 5 9
Broadmeadows/Craigieburn 8 6 9
Fawkner/Upfield 6 3 3
Clifton Hill/North Carlton (Inner Circle) 3    
Thomastown/South Morang 8 4 7
Hurstbridge 7 8 8
Kew 4    
Ringwood/Lilydale 3 7 7
Upper Ferntree Gully/Belgrave 2 7 7
Box Hill/Blackburn 7 5 5
Ashburton/Alamein 4 4 4
EastMalvern/Glen Waverley 5 6 6
Oakleigh/Dandenong 8 10 14
Frankston stopping 11 9 11
Sandringham 13 6 8

St Albans, Broadmeadows, Fawkner, Thomastown and Upper Ferntree Gully, Ashburton, Dandenong have all been extended (or electrified out further) over the years. Numerous lines have also been duplicated; in days gone past extensive sections were single track. Of course, some remain partly single track.

Services beyond about 10km of the city were pretty sparse in 1939, reflecting that back then there just weren’t that many people living that far out. Somewhere I’ve seen figures suggesting the average train journey distance has roughly doubled since then.

Some lines, especially to the west, were far less frequent than today.

Tait train (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

Williamstown — far fewer trains nowadays in that hour, though most of the stations (between the city and Newport) are served by other lines now. Back in 1939 a few trains ran a little further, to Williamstown Pier, now closed.

Altona/Laverton and Werribee — in 1939 what is now the Altona Loop ended at Altona, and Werribee was a separate line.

By 2006 the Altona line had been extended via Westona to Laverton, to connect to the Werribee line, but had no dedicated services of its own — most Werribee trains ran via Altona.

This changed in 2011 with the Laverton turnback enabled Altona Loop trains to terminate there — in peak they run from the city, but on weekdays interpeak they have the much-hated shuttle. On weekends and in the evenings the old operation still exists — all Werribee trains run via the Altona Loop.

St Albans — in 1939, some trains terminated at Sunshine.

Broadmeadows — in 1939, about half the trains terminated at Essendon.

Upfield — back in 1939 about half the trains terminated at Coburg.

Thomastown (now South Morang) is now double track all the way. In 1939 much of it was single (something only fully rectified in the past decade), and most trains actually terminated at Reservoir. Only a few continued to Thomastown (just 1 in the 5-6pm peak hour). The line went beyond, to Epping, South Morang, Mernda and Whittlesea, but wasn’t electrified, and only a handful of trains (rail motors) each day went that far.

Hurstbridge — in 1939, most trains terminated at Heidelberg, only some extending to Eltham (2 in the 5-6pm peak hour), and even fewer to Hurstbridge (1).

Box Hill/Ringwood/Lilydale/Belgrave — in 1939, about half the trains terminated at Box Hill, some extended to Ringwood, fewer beyond. On the Belgrave line, electric trains terminated at Upper Ferntree Gully. Beyond that it was a bus or Puffing Billy!

Glen Waverley — in 1939, most trains terminated at Eastmalvern

Oakleigh/Dandenong — in 1939, fewer trains ran out as far as Dandenong, with about half terminating at Oakleigh. Nowadays almost all run as far as Cranbourne or Pakenham.

Frankston — in 1939, there were a few express trains, including one in the 5-6pm peak that ran all the way to Stony Point, with a connection to Mornington. This was run by what was known as an “E” train — a set of country carriages pulled down to Frankston by two electrified carriages, then hooked up to a steam engine for the rest of the trip. The issue with doing this sort of thing nowadays is the passenger load would be heavily skewed towards the suburban part of the journey, and it’s impractical to skip all the suburban stations due to track congestion. (You end up with similar problems as to when V/Line served Sunbury.)

(There was also a once-a-day morning train connection to Red Hill, and back in the evening.)

The third track along the Frankston line was built in the 70s and 80s, enabling express trains along part of the route to overtake stopping trains. Yet in the 2006 timetable, there were only a few each day that did that. There are a lot more in 2015.

Sandringham — in 1939, some off-peak trains terminated at Elsternwick, and some in peak at Brighton Beach, though most went all the way to Sandringham.

The Kew, Inner Circle, St Kilda and Port Melbourne lines no longer exist. Note that the St Kilda line was basically as frequent as the 96 tram is now, but run by trains (short ones though I think).

(I’ll look at off-peak services in another post. There’s quite a contrast.)

How many trains in peak compared to the past? And how full are the tracks?

This video is inspired partly by a shot in the House Of Cards titles, and partly by something my dad used to tell me — that you could stand at Richmond station in the evening peak and see trains on every track coming out of the city.

He may have been exaggerating a tad, but it’s often been said that in decades past the rail system had more trains running on it than at present.

That’s true to an extent. The inner part of the network was probably more intensively used in the past, though the outer sections of the network are busier than before.

For instance in 1939 in peak, trains out to Oakleigh were every 5-10 minutes, but out to Dandenong only about every 15-20 minutes — today they’re about every 5 minutes all the way.

And there’s been substantial growth in train numbers in the past ten years.

1939 vs 2006 vs 2015

How does the network compare overall?

I compared the 1939 timetables with 2006 (just as patronage, service growth and fleet expansion began to take hold) and also with the current 2015 timetables (last revised in 2014). I used departure times at the cordon stations (Richmond/North Melbourne) in the hour 5-6pm. (Note I’ve moved the range slightly where excluding a train a minute or two outside it would have given an artificially low or inconsistent figure.)

The verdict? More trains ran in 1939 than now, but not if you discount the Port Melbourne and St Kilda lines, which were converted to tram lines in the 1980s.

  • In 1939 it was 116 trains in that hour, but 15 of those were on the St Kilda and Port Melbourne lines (and another 7 were on the Inner Circle and Kew lines which no longer exist; but those trains also serve some stations that do still exist). So a reasonable figure to use is 101.
  • In 2006, the number had dropped to 87.
  • But by 2015, it had risen again to 109, about 8% higher than in 1939.

But the balance of trains has changed.

Melbourne PM peak hour trains, 1939 vs 2006 vs 2015

In separating them out into the graph, I’ve used the old line groupings, because it more clearly shows the changes:

  • Northern (eg lines through North Melbourne, including western suburbs) is up, though individual lines have changed in different ways. In 1939 the Williamstown and Upfield lines had a lot more trains than at present. This is countered by huge growth in the Werribee and St Albans/Sunbury lines — a fourfold increase in both, reflecting that they now serve growth corridors.
  • Clifton Hill is now about the same as in 1939 (if you exclude the Inner Circle), showing growth since 2006 primarily on the Thomastown/Epping/South Morang line, which almost doubled in peak services between 2006 and 2015, though that line is still slightly short of the 1939 number.
  • Burnley lines are up, 25 to 29 — Kew trains have been replaced by other services. There’s been basically no change since 2006, which reflects that patronage has grown more slowly. Almost all the other lines on the network serve growth corridors.
  • Caulfield is slightly up, though Frankston and Sandringham line numbers are about the same now as they were in 1939. The real growth is on the Dandenong line, which even just since 2006 has grown by 40%.

Update: This July 2008 paper from Paul Mees notes that in 1929, 113 trains ran in the busiest hour (including the Port Melbourne and St Kilda lines) — slightly fewer than in 1939. It was 108 in 1964 (also including those lines), and a 1969 prediction forecast 181 trains in 1985 (including the Doncaster line).

How full are the tracks?

The bottleneck in the CBD is basically the number of tracks emerging from the City Loop and direct from Southern Cross and Flinders Street.

How full are those tracks in that hour?

“Full” is hard to measure. A rail line signalled for 2-minute headways (which the City area is) could be considered full at 80% of that, eg 24 trains per hour. But loading times at stations, junctions along the way (especially flat ones), level crossing gate closures, and signal/track capacity further out all reduces that. And if we’re measuring outbound trains, then how many inbound trains can we feed in from the suburbs (given little stabling in the City area)?

  • Northern direct tracks to Newport (Werribee, Williamstown lines): 11 trains, but these tracks are used by 5 Geelong trains in that hour as well. Regional Rail Link will help free them up for more suburban services. Then the problem will become the single track through Altona (often the cause of delays and bypasses), flat junctions (principally at Newport), and level crossings (at locations such as Yarraville, the gates have been known to close for almost 20 minutes at a time).
  • Northern Loop (Sunbury, Craigieburn, Upfield lines): 21 trains (plus 2 more trains to Seymour mix in at North Melbourne). This shows the value of having moved the Werribee line out of the Loop back in 2007 — allowing more trains to run in peak on all these lines. But the tunnel is close to capacity — one proposal sees Upfield line trains run direct from Southern Cross instead, and longer-term, if the metro rail tunnel is built, Sunbury line trains would use that. Of course, the single track on the northern section of the Upfield line may pose problems until duplicated, though ten minute services were provided as far as Coburg during the 2006 Commonwealth Games.
  • Clifton Hill Loop (South Morang, Hurstbridge lines): 15 trains. Some trains run express Jolimont to Clifton Hill, which reduces capacity somewhat, though the flat junction at Clifton Hill also makes it difficult to run trains through it at a consistently high frequency (outbound Hurstbridge trains may have to wait for inbound South Morang trains, and vice versa). Ditto single track on the Hurstbridge line.
  • Burnley Loop (Lilydale, Belgrave, Glen Waverley lines): 20 trains. Mostly expresses to Glenferrie, Camberwell, Box Hill and then out beyond Ringwood, but also 6 Glen Waverley trains. This Loop is also therefore close to capacity. Single track on the outer ends of the Belgrave and Lilydale lines can lead to delays.
  • Burnley direct (Alamein line, Blackburn and Ringwood stopping trains): 9 trains. It’s not hard to see why in the long term, the plan seems to be to move Glen Waverley trains out of the Burnley Loop, and allowing more trains to run both to there (direct from Flinders Street) and also to Lilydale and Belgrave.
  • Caulfield Loop (Dandenong line, Frankston stopping trains): 20 trains. Approaching capacity. 2 V/Line trains mix in with the Dandenong line trains at Richmond. The Dandenong line upgrade should help resolve level crossing issues, though duplication of the Cranbourne line is not currently in scope.
  • Frankston direct (Frankston express trains): 5 trains. Clearly scope to move more Frankston trains to run direct, replacing them with Dandenong line trains, but it would be a fine balancing act to ensure large numbers of Frankston line passengers wanting the Loop were handled well.
  • Sandringham direct: 8 trains. It’s not a growth corridor, but peak patronage does continue to grow, probably reflective of demographics (lots of CBD-based white-collar jobs). So there is scope there for an increase in services, though at some point the single platform at Sandringham becomes an issue. The old solution of terminating some trains at Brighton Beach might be the solution, unless Sandringham is upgraded with a second platform.

Belgrave train arriving Southern Cross

Other things to bear in mind

Trains in 1939 didn’t have the same capacity as those running now. 6-car trains now are slightly longer than the old 7-car Tait trains (which necessitated minor platform extensions as newer trains were introduced) and have more standing space, so the overall capacity of each train would be higher now.

Old-timers sometimes say that automation and modern technology has reduced capacity: for instance, they say that Tait trains with 9 (small) doors per side could load and unload quicker than modern trains with automatic locking doors, and blokes throwing switches for signals and points could respond more quickly as trains went past than the computers now controlling the infrastructure.

Required capacity on each line is reflective not only of population growth, but also of the number of people employed or attending education or other activities in the inner city and CBD, and needing to travel during peak hour.

As noted above, capacity of individual tracks has many factors, including signalling, dwell times at stations (which worsens as crowding gets bad), stopping patterns (consistent = good), train acceleration/deceleration, level crossings, junctions (preferably grade-separated, and the fewer the better), and even less visible factors such as capacity of the power supply.

In some ways the City Loop didn’t add greatly to CBD rail capacity. It helped distribute passengers around to more stations, and reduced the need to reverse trains. And associated upgrades (such as the “new” viaduct from Flinders Street to Southern Cross) did expand capacity. But ultimately the number of tracks out of the city stations to North Melbourne, Jolimont and Richmond is what determines track capacity in the City area — which is part of why Regional Rail Link went ahead, and why the metro rail tunnel is being pushed.

Average trip lengths are now longer than they were in the past. This means more demand for express trains (which burns up capacity if provided), as well as a bigger fleet and more staff needed to run the same frequency of service. More longer trips may also emerge via the fare cuts that took effect in January.

Where to from here?

With expansion of the CBD and Docklands, and a strong and growing economy (particularly the “knowledge economy“), demand for train travel into the congested core of the network is likely to continue to grow into the future.

PTV’s Network Development Plan’s proposals show the way forward, in terms of expansion of signal upgrades to High Capacity Signalling, high capacity trains, and re-organisation of lines through the city area to form dedicated high-frequency lines (including capacity expansion such as the metro rail tunnel).

All of which is expensive, but it’s got to be done — more than ever the rail network underpins Melbourne’s economic growth.

And remember that expanding evening, weekend and inter-peak into a 10 minute all-day service can be done far more easily, by making use of track and fleet capacity already available. This can help spread peak loads, by providing a much more usable service outside peak times, and helps to grow patronage when there is more spare capacity on the network.

(What have I missed? Leave a comment!)

Followup post: Line-by-line detail.