The four circles of bustitution

Good news! The shiny new Bentleigh and Ormond stations open on Monday.

This means after three and six months respectively of bus replacements, we can — if you’ll excuse the phrase — see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I’m hoping lessons and experience have been gained through the level crossing removal project that can be applied to the rail infrastructure projects to come. I’m told that the project team will write up their findings, and present them to the government, to inform later project teams. Whether these documents are public or not seems doubtful.

As far as bus replacements go, what have we learnt?

For a start I think there are four levels of bustitution, with varying levels of chaos.


Level 1: Planned, small scale

  • Buses are replacing trains at Bentleigh and Ormond, right now until Monday — I’m finding that in contrast to the level 2 chaos during the 37 day main shutdown, the bus service can cope okay.
  • Carnegie and Murrumbeena, coming up in September for early “skyrail” works — they seem to have plotted bus routes that avoid the level crossings which is wise. Hopefully this’ll run fairly well. It’s only for a month, then “temporary” stations will be in place for the rest of the Dandenong skyrail project. (That said, Carnegie closes again for a few weeks in November.)
  • Knox Tramlink — when the extension of the 75 tram (originally planned to run to Knox City) was curtailed to Vermont South, a bus replacement was put in. Extra services on bus 732 basically meet every tram (except overnight on weekends), and have done so for over a decade. I’m sure the buses cope with the loads, but I doubt the route reaches its full patronage potential, and I doubt it’s good efficient use of buses and drivers.

Small scale bustitution (perhaps serving 1-3 stations) means the demand is not too great.

Don’t get me wrong, it can get busy, but you’re talking hundreds or thousands of boardings per day, not tens of thousands.

This means it’s practical to serve these journeys by bus. They’re not as fast, or comfortable, but it’s manageable if they’re resourced properly, which the Bentleigh/Ormond ones have been, though of course all those buses and drivers and despatch staff come at a cost.

Crowded bus #bustitution

Level 2: Planned, large scale

  • The recent 37 days of fun between Moorabbin and Caulfield, replacing all trains
  • Numerous weekend and evening closures on the busier lines such as Clifton Hill, Ringwood, Dandenong and Frankston

Large scale, taking out an entire busy train line, means there are likely to be tens of thousands of passengers per day.

Peak hours are a particular issue, with crowds testing the limits of bus routes, even with significant resources put into drivers, vehicles, road modifications (eg parking bans to maximise road network throughput) and despatch staff.

With adequate advance notice, some people will avoid it by driving or catching buses to other lines. The Sandringham line and the Nepean Highway bore the brunt of the Frankston 37 days, with extra Sandringham trains running. Some people migrated over to the Dandenong line as well.

The remaining people squeeze onto buses, and provided it runs smoothly, it’s bearable, though not necessarily pleasant. When any little hiccup occurs, such as traffic congestion affecting bus throughput, long delays can easily happen.

Queue for buses #bustitution

Level 3. Planned, large scale, largely unannounced

  • Last Monday August 15th, Frankston line.

Despite Metro being warned numerous times to properly warn people, only template-conforming emails and posters were out there, with the key detail “THIS AFFECTS PEAK HOUR!!!” lost in the noise.

The result was almost nobody knew about it. Those who would normally avoid it were caught up in it instead, resulting in long queues for both stopping and express buses.

The photo below was an example: as our bus arrives at Glenhuntly, it’s already full. A huge crowd was waiting; most of them couldn’t board the bus. I saw another bus pull up behind, but who knows if they could squeeze onto that either.

There were numerous horror stories for express bus users as well, with waits of 25 minutes or more at Moorabbin to board buses.

Level 4. Unplanned

  • On Friday 5th August the Sandringham, Frankston and Dandenong lines were shut between the City and Caulfield/Elsternwick during evening peak. No buses were provided; advice was to use nearby tram services instead, which were overwhelmed.

All too common when an unplanned rail outage occurs; caused by equipment faults (such as last night on the Upfield line) or trespassers or accidents.

Almost inevitably it’s chaotic because it’s difficult to call up buses at short notice. It can be particularly bad in peak hours when large numbers of people are travelling, and most buses being busy with normal runs.

The situation is often made worse by some lines having very few places to turn trains around, meaning replacement buses have to cover a lot of ground.


Some thoughts…

  • Routing buses along main roads made more sense than trying to get them right to the stations via crowded side streets. (This is not a new Metro thing. Connex plotted out lots of main road bustitution routes, but as far as I can tell, few if any were ever used during their time running the network.)
  • The temporary shelters (pictured above) worked quite well, both as shelter and to make it easier for passengers and bus drivers to find the stops. Not as good as station cover, but better than nothing.
  • Running express buses on a separate route to stopping buses helped reduce delays and share the load on different roads. It also helps reduce frustration for people waiting at the skipped stops, which is why I think if possible they should do it all the time, not just in peak hours.
  • It appeared the despatchers worked pretty hard at times. Overhearing two-way radios made it clear they weren’t just resting on their laurels.
  • Despatching buses outbound in evening peak is pretty simple if you have enough buses. Just wait for arriving passengers to fill them up, and send them off.
  • Morning peak and off-peak/counter-peak times, you need to keep a steady flow of buses moving through the system to keep waiting times to a minimum.
  • It helped a lot that the buses terminated at Caulfield, which has lots of train connections, cutting interchange times. No wonder they use this as a bustitution hub for the Frankston, Dandenong, Sandringham and Glen Waverley lines.
  • There remains confusion about fares. Replacement buses are basically free, but the signage and the official rules don’t adequately reflect this.
  • All door boarding can speed things up a lot, but there seems to be no official policy on it. Some bus drivers would open both doors, some wouldn’t. I saw one shut the back door while people were trying to enter it.
  • Traffic changes help but often aren’t perfect. Temporary clear ways can keep buses moving, but delays are often experienced at intersections which could be overcome by traffic light alterations (made for the 37 day shut to benefit trucks) and/or traffic controllers prioritising buses.
  • Disabled access is a problem. Old high floor buses are often used. There need to be plenty of accessible buses in the mix, or despatchers need ready access to maxi cabs.

Huddling in the shelter #bustitution

The biggest lesson of all? Buses aren’t trains. They struggle with train loads of people, and they struggle with traffic, even when very well resourced.

Which means: Avoid large-scale bustitution wherever possible.

It’ll be good to have our trains back and our new station open next week.

A look around Bombardier’s Dandenong train factory

I was lucky enough to get to look around Bombardier’s Dandenong factory a few weeks ago.

As these publicity photos off their web site make clear, the company builds trains for (clockwise from top-left) Victoria (V/Line), Brisbane (Queensland Rail), Adelaide (Adelaide Metro), and Perth (Transperth) — EDIT: though these are not all built at Dandenong.

Bombardier publicity photos: from top-left, clockwise: Victoria, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth

They also build the E-class trams for Melbourne, though only the V/Line and tram jobs are running at the moment.

The factory is close to the junction of the Cranbourne and Pakenham lines, and they have a test track alongside the Cranbourne line.

V/Locity trains

When I was first looking around, a V/Line V/Locity carriage rolling along sideways on a traverser, which can move carriages between tracks. They use it to move them between the various areas of the factory.
V/Locity carriage being moved on a Traverser

These photos aren’t actually in order, but here we go…

V/Locity cab front:
V/Locity cab fronts

V/Locity carriage side. Almost all the components of the carriages (and trams) are made here, or provided by local suppliers. This is quite unlike the X’trapolis trains, which are largely imported and then fitted out and maintained locally.
V/Locity carriage side

V/Locity carriage base.
V/Locity carriage base
V/Locity carriage base

The bits being stuck together
V/Locity carriage being built
V/Locity carriage being built

Once finished, the new carriage goes out on the traverser (see above) and gets tested.

In another area of the factory, V/Locity carriages come back to base for regular servicing.

V/Locity carriage being serviced

Other maintenance is done at Bombardier’s Ballarat facility. My PTUA colleague Ben got a tour of it, and posted some pictures too:

E-class trams

So far they’ve built 40 of the 70 E-class trams on order. The government has options for more.

E-class tram frame being built:
E-class tram cab

E-class tram base. Looks pretty solid.
E-class tram base

The doorway ramp has been a bit controversial. Many tram users have commented on its problems. This is because the trucks (wheel bogies) underneath the tram body are especially built up to withstand the sometimes varying quality of Melbourne’s trackwork. Apparently they were based on an East German design!

Thus you should generally get a smoother ride on an E than a C or D, both of which were designed for smoother more modern tram networks typically seen in Western Europe.

V/Locity Tram wheel set:
V/Locity wheel set

Building up the tram…
E-class tram under construction

E-class door mechanism. Amazing the amount of wiring that goes into these trams.
E-class tram under construction

Where the sections of tram join together.
E-class tram under construction

Stick the cab windscreen on the front, and it’s almost built. It just needs a bumper bar…

Ah, here’s one we prepared earlier:
E-class tram bumper bars

Outside there are some E-class prototype sections. I forgot to ask what the one further from the camera is. Anybody recognise it?
E-class tram prototype

For the history buffs, there are a few plaques around the site. An earlier incarnation of the factory was Comeng (Commonwealth Engineering), which of course made the Comeng trains, as well as many of Melbourne’s trams.
Comeng plaque from 1983

The first V/Locity carriages were built back in 2004, as part of a fairly small order, which meant the refinements and innovation that could have gone into the design didn’t really happen at the time. This did happen with the E-class trams — that’s why they took a while for the first to be delivered.

Where possible they also do incremental improvements to the design as they go. Tweaks for the E-class trams are already being made.

But at some point, especially for the V/Locities, a whole new design is going to be needed — one that doesn’t date back 12+ years.

If there was one message I got from the guys at Bombardier, it’s that larger orders help ensure that time and resources go into improving the designs, as well as secure the local workforce. It was no surprise to learn that they’re bidding for the new High-Capacity Metro Trains tender, and were shortlisted.

The government’s rolling stock strategy is a good move in this direction, but obviously it helps if the actual funding for orders comes through as well – it’s looking like the HCMT order will do this.

With the demise of the local car industry (and local manufacturing generally), it makes sense for the government to ensure the local rolling stock industry has a strong future. So far, things are looking pretty positive, but it’ll be interesting to see where it goes from here.

Many thanks to Bombardier for the tour.

  • Update: Later the same day as this blog was posted: Herald Sun: New trains for Melbourne could be made in China (Paywall) — The Herald Sun has learnt of widespread industry concern the 65 new trains would be manufactured in China and assembled in Victoria, under a consortium backed by Changchun Railway Vehicles, a Chinese state-owned manufacturer. — The Victorian government noted there is a 50% local content requirement, though this apparently includes maintenance. Changchun was part of one of the shortlisted bidders, and apparently the only one that proposed significant off-shore manufacturing.

Photographing the moon

(No time to write a new blog post; scrabbled around and found a draft I never completed.)

There’s been a full moon again this week. It was very impressive last night. I didn’t snap it, but here’s a photo from last year when I was first dabbling with my (then new) DSLR camera:

The moon

It requires a bit of fiddling to get good photos of the moon. This page summarises what’s needed.

My first go isn’t bad, but doesn’t show the detail of professional shots. One of these days I’ll buy myself a better zoom lens and try it again.

Old photos from August 2006

Another in my series of photos from ten years ago.

This rather cool Warholesque tram design was marking 100 years of Melbourne’s electric trams. Well, 100 continuous years. (The Box Hill electric tram ran from 1889 to 1896. The Victorian Railways St Kilda trams ran from 1906. Read all about it here.)
Siemens Warholesque tram design celebrating 100 years of Melbourne's electric trams (August 2006)

Siemens train paralleling an X’Trapolis train.
Parallel trains (August 2006)

Bourke Street at King Street, back when there were tram stops. (Now the trams still usually stop there, due to the unfavourable traffic lights). The distinctive Southern Cross Station steps can be seen in the background, as can the old tram stop, now replaced by the totally unsuitable platform stop. The second tram seems to be shunting, heading back east.
Bourke and King Street tram stops, before they were removed (August 2006)

For my own interest mostly… my lounge room ten years ago. The TV has changed. The poster is gone (it fell off the wall one day). The horrible brown speakers, hi-fi receiver and DVD player are all gone and replaced. The VCR and the old XBox is gone (though we keep both in the cupboard as I still have tapes and old games that occasionally get played). The couch and chair have gone. The light fitting (the only repro one in the house) was replaced by a combined light and ceiling fan. The photos on the mantelpiece have multiplied. That old scrappy blue rug, which I’ve been intending to replace since I moved in, is still there.
My lounge room (August 2006)

And nearby, the computer desks. All the computery bits have since been replaced, and the chairs as well. Alas, the clutter, if anything, has increased.
My desks at home (August 2006)

Queen Street bus stop timetable. In 2010 route 301 was replaced by “Doncaster Area Rapid Transit” Smartbus routes, which improved service frequency, especially outside peak times — the 302 and 305 still exist, though have also had extra services added, particularly on Saturdays.
Queen Street bus timetable, before Smartbus took over (August 2006)

The official Neighbours Ramsay Street tour bus, catering for visiting fans of the TV show. Looks like this is still in operation.
Neighbours tour bus (August 2006)