#EWLink: What is it? What is it For? Why it won’t die easily? – Sophie Sturup on mega projects

I and others have been known to call the East-West Link tunnel a zombie project — you can fight it off (as was done in the 70s) but it will never truly die.

Last year at the launch for the Trains Not Tollroads campaign, Dr Sophie Sturup gave a great speech on mega projects. She made some really good points about how these multi-billion dollar mega projects get up, and about EWLink specifically.

She’s given variations on the speech elsewhere… these are summary notes from a similar speech given to the Carlton Residents Association meeting on 14 March this year. Reproduced with permission. Hopefully they’re as compelling in written form as they are spoken.

Victorian government advertising their "second river crossing"

What is East – West?

East – West project is a mega project and a road project. That is why my research on the mentalities of mega projects has some relevance to it.

From my research, a mega projects have a couple of salient features:

1. Power is in mega projects is based on sovereignty – which is to say that these projects rest on the fact that someone with the authority to do so has declared that they will be done. Thus the legitimacy of the project is directly linked to the people who said it would happen. To question the legitimacy of the project is to question the right of the ‘sovereign’ to decide things, and this is generally confused with the legitimacy of the sovereign at all. The other thing about this is that everyone operating in the project is able to do so because of the sovereign decision. Thus they cannot question the project’s legitimacy either without removing their ability to operate in the project at all.

2. Process in the project is dominated by project thinking. Project thinking is about deciding what needs to be done, and then creating boundaries around that so that it cannot be interfered with. That is, making the project manageable. This is one of the reasons why consultation looks pretty weird in these projects. By the time the community gets talked to about the project, the project has already been decided upon (see 1) and the fact that it is happening cannot be questioned. The project thinking means that the only questions of relevance are those which will ‘improve’ the project either by reducing its costs or reducing the impact on the community. And the reduction of impact on the community can only be accommodated if it reduces costs or the time taken in the project (which also costs money).

3. Mega projects do not come about as a result of identification of a problem, and then the application of a solution. The process of creating a mega project includes the problem and solution being jointly conceived. This happens as the stories or rationales for the project, and what can be conceived as being done jointly emerge – this lets you get at the next item on this agenda which is why has this project happened?

EWLink interchange to Citylink at Royal Park

What is the project for?

The rationale for mega projects needs to make sense if the project is going to be a success. In this sense East-west is a failure waiting to happen. It won’t be a failure because it isn’t built on time and on budget. The Linking Melbourne Authority has the competence to ensure that that happens. Unfortunately that isn’t what constitutes success in mega projects.

One of the key findings of Omega Project 2, a research project looking at 32 mega transport projects across 10 countries (run by the Omega Centre, Bartlett School of Planning, University College London and funded by Volvo Education and Research Foundation (VREF) was that mega projects are context specific and where they don’t have an open and exploratory relationship with the context they work out as a failure.

My own research which focused the Australian cases of Melbourne’s City Link, the Perth to Mandurah Railway and Sydney’s Cross City Tunnel, found in Australia we define success as occurring when projects meet their stated outcomes (in transport projects that means traffic numbers) and the companies which build them are successful in financial terms (which of course is related to the traffic numbers being correct).

The reason that East – West will be a failure is therefore that the stated goals are:

a) Fluffy

b) Not agreed on

c) Based on inducing traffic, so there won’t look like any kind of benefit. For example the modelling shows that the traffic in Alexandra Parade will reduce a tiny bit briefly, but be back at the same level by 2020 2030. This will not look like 30% reduction in traffic on the Eastern Freeway, unless of course the traffic numbers projected to be induced doesn’t’ happen in which case there won’t be enough traffic to meet that modelled expectation. Similarly the changes on Bell St or reduced traffic on M1 will not be noticeable by the people who are near enough to the tunnel to make a difference.

The fluffiness of the dialogue on the purpose of the project is thus such that if they succeed in getting the numbers they predict the Eastern Freeway will be horrible and the numbers on Alexandra Parade the same so the predictions will be wrong because there will not be a 30% reduction in traffic. Or alternatively they won’t get the numbers of induced traffic in which case the tunnel will be seen as a failure because it isn’t able to pay for itself (and therefore wasn’t really needed).

This leads to the conclusion that whatever the stated objectives in the media (primarily ‘reduce congestion’) that probably isn’t what it is really for. So what is indicated in the objectives which isn’t quite so fluffy?

The objectives which appear to have teeth are:

a) Induce traffic onto the eastern freeway – in the form of trucks. This makes sense. After turning the section of Freeway between the City Link tunnels and the Bolte Bridge into freeway spaghetti, it is not surprising that B-double truck drivers are less than happy with that route. City Link changed the location of key freight logistics hubs and helped the development of a major one out at Lyndhurst/Dandenong. East-Link was built to facilitate this development (among other things). However the trucks (which represent several cars in terms of counting traffic) have failed to use the road to come to the Eastern Freeway. Why? Because there is nowhere for them to go when they get there. Thus one logic for this road which makes sense is to create a new link for trucks trying to access the port from Lyndhurst. This will have the effect of reducing the cost to the state of East-Link (because of increased toll revenue), and thus obliquely help pay for the East-West. It will also keep the truck moguls happy, and reduce the truck traffic on the M1 (which is of course Liberal heartland). It is possible to observe this as a source of equity, it will share the truck traffic, and hence the enormous danger to health and life they present, around the city more. Bringing large numbers of B-doubles and their pollution into those eastern suburbs which are almost truck free.

b) As speculation, another source of possible logic for East-West is to grant access to the Liberal swinging voters in the east to some of the jobs that are coming from the west in particular the Airport. Obviously this isn’t one of the things discussed widely in the media. This would explain why ‘improving access to the airport for those in the eastern suburbs’ might make a type of sense. Certainly spending $8 billion on a tunnel so “George” can go to the airport twice a year more comfortably doesn’t.

c) A third logic which makes sense is that this project is getting funded by the Federal government and there is no money on the table for anything else. It is against all logic in public service not to take up money when it is offered even when it only represents 18% of the cost of $8 billion.

d) Finally the logic of keeping car driving alive and well in the city is also relevant here. Tony Abbott has clearly expressed the view in various publications including Borderline what in his view we will have failed as a society if freely available car transport isn’t provided.

The other reasons why the road is occurring are largely borrowed from the Eddington report which was based on dealing with an accessibility and equity problem that was real – the issues of the disadvantaged West and the actually congested Westgate Bridge. The rationale in Eddington doesn’t make much sense for the East-West stage 1 because it comes from a study which had the centre of it’s study area in Laverton, and only at the very edge reached the end of the Eastern Freeway. An example of such nonsense statements is the one which came out in the second news letter from LMA (before the second half of East West was announced) which stated that the project was required because by 2031 almost 440,000 cars would be crossing the Maribyrnong by road (none of course would be in the East-West stage 1 as that project does not cross the Maribyrnong).

Why this project won’t die easily

One of the main reasons is that both sides of politics have a vested interest in maintaining the legitimacy of their right to make sovereign decisions. The major parties like to make decisions on these things and then deliver them it removes all that messy business of democracy. If the Labor Party was to revoke the contracts it would not only be expensive by they would essentially be admitting that these things should only happen after consultation (which is likely to make it very difficult to get anything done).

Secondly the Labor party has linked their policy to jobs. Because of the time it takes to get large projects up and running, they will not meet their targets without East-West. Therefore they will not revoke contracts unless forced.

Why do I care?

I believe that we probably do have an infrastructure crisis in this country. Apart from new projects much of our infrastructure is aging and needs to be replaced. Also I believe we need to massively retrofit our cities for sustainability and even to just accommodate more people. We probably need mega projects to do that.

The problem with this project is that every failed mega project inflates the cost of the next one. You can already see that with the massive cost increases between Cross City Tunnel, the Brisbane tunnels and this project.

The other problem that this project exposes is the degree to which government has come to the conclusion that the community cannot be consulted with. I don’t believe this is just ideology, it has also come from bitter experience. If the community is going to insist on being consulted, then it is up to us to figure out how to do that in ways which are productive.

More reading/viewing:


Helping out at M+J’s house yesterday: The perils of paint rollers… splattering paint.


Makes me wonder if my own house needs painting… Being weatherboard, the outside probably needs it more than the inside.

I’m also moderately impressed at the amount of detail from the phone camera.

Rebranding number 6 (in 20 years): Can we stick with “PTV” for a while please?

Do I win a prize? Following on from my photos a couple of years ago of a train, tram and bus in one shot, I’ve managed to get another (at the same location) of the three of them in the PTV livery.

PTV-liveried train, tram and bus

Common livery is not the most important thing in a public transport network, but it is important. It’s a reminder that while the system may be run by lots of different companies, it is meant (in theory at least) to be one network.

The tickets and fare system are common, the routes should be designed to connect not compete, the timetables should complement each other and co-ordinate where possible.

The biggest change is in buses, where a myriad of colour schemes are coming together as one, with the operator name/logo reduced in size so it’s no longer significant — reflecting the practice in cities like London, but also closer to home in Adelaide and Perth.

Mind you it can also add to passenger confusion, in areas where passengers are used to differently coloured buses running specific routes.

Edit: This confusion can be reduced if route numbers are clearly displayed, not just on the front of the bus, but also on the side and back. Some buses have this already. It should be standard.

It sounds like only the (multi-company) Smartbus fleet will retain its distinctive bus colours.

I didn’t manage to get one of the few V/Line PTV-branded carriages into this photo. I guess that’s the next challenge (and to show the distinctive side design on a bus more clearly, rather than just the plain white front). You can see it in this snap a few seconds after the above photo… though the exposure was too short to properly show the tram LED number display. (In all honesty, none of the LED display showed in the above photo — I photoshopped it from another snap a moment later.)

Bus, train and tram

Hopefully, having completely branded everything to PTV in the coming months, the powers that be will stick with that for many years to come.

Given some of the trains in particular have gone in the last twenty years through The Met (2 versions), Bayside/Hillside Trains, Connex/M>Train, Connex, Metro, and now PTV, I think everybody’s had enough rebranding for now.

My precious umbrella is gone.

My precious Senz umbrella is gone. Left on the train to Frankston on Friday night.

We’d had a delicious dinner at Shakahari in Carlton. Good food and laughs galore, and caught a tram back to Flinders Street. The train had just gone — 20 minute wait, so we took a quick walk around Fed Square and the river.All that's left: the umbrella cover

It started to rain, so the brolly came out. When we caught the 10:15 train, I put it under the seat.

20 seconds after getting off the train, I realised it had been left behind. I ran back but the train was leaving. Argh. If you recall how long it took me to find a good umbrella, you’ll understand my frustration.

The Senz Mini had been good, but not actually 100% perfect. Last year one of the metal bits bent out of place. I contacted customer service, who asked to see a photo. They reckoned it was defective, and sent a free replacement. It was an improved model, and worked well. Until I left it behind that is.

Just off the train, I tweeted to Metro, not even knowing if there’d be a response. They replied pretty quickly and said they’d get someone at Frankston to check in the train when it arrived there, and gave me the number to ring after 11:30. Excellent.

I rang, and the bloke was very helpful, and said they’d checked, but couldn’t find it. As he pointed out, it was a rainy night, and someone else may have founded it and used it.

Metro let me know I could try Lost Property next week, it might turn up. Even if it never turns up, that’s great service from them, and I hope anybody, resources permitting, would get that kind of response on losing something on the train. (It does appear so.)

Check the WTT

Gunzels know about the Working Timetable (WTT). Squirreled away on Metro’s web site, it forms part of documents released to allow other train operators (such as freight carriers) to run trains on Metro’s tracks. The WTT shows every scheduled train service, including the ones that don’t take passengers. It also shows where a train goes when it finishes its run.

I had a plan: check the WTT, and see if the train I’d been on goes back into the city. Sure enough: the 10:15 Flinders Street to Frankston arrives at 11:17, and then at 11:25 departs back to Flinders Street, going through my station Bentleigh at 12:01am.

Yep, I was going to jump in and check, just in case they had missed the brolly under the seat. The timetable said if I rode the train one stop to Mckinnon, I’d only have 5 minutes wait for a train back.

I got down to Bentleigh station at about 11:55. The new realtime Passenger Information Display didn’t inspire confidence — it curiously said the next train to the city was at 12:17, and not taking passengers.

The PSOs asked if I wanted a citybound train. It was delayed, they said, and checked with the Metro staffer behind the counter, who said it was currently held at Mordialloc, for an unknown period.

It was all too hard. Wait for an indeterminate time for the Lost Brolly train, then again for a train back (or walk, possibly in the rain).

I thanked them and went home. I’ll try Lost Property during the week, but if it never turns up, I’ll get a replacement.

And hopefully whoever found it is able to make good use of it. It’s a great umbrella.

Some big public transport changes coming on July 27th

The July 27th public transport network changes are pretty big. Some of the information is a bit vague, so here are some points I’ve gleaned from looking around, as well as chatting to Transdev, who run a lot of the bus routes that are changing.

V/Line train approaching Clayton station


The big thing in rail is V/Line trains from Ballarat and Bendigo will start using the new Regional Rail Link tracks from Sunshine into the City. This will mean they no longer stop at North Melbourne, because unfortunately RRL has no platforms there.

You’d expect the new dedicated tracks would help running times, but that doesn’t seem to be universal. For instance the 8:13 arrival from Bendigo took 12 minutes from Footscray into Southern Cross in the old timetable; the new one has it taking 17. The 8:25 arrival from Ballarat took 22 minutes from Sunshine in the old timetable; the new one has it at 21 minutes. In many cases V/Line trains take substantially longer than comparable Metro trains.

It’s quite possible the V/Line timetables include some padding to allow for delays (though they still consistently miss their punctuality targets). And the RRL project isn’t actually finished yet, so there might be improvements when it is.

Where V/Line timetables have changed, their connecting buses have got modified timetables — same for those metropolitan bus timetables which provide timed connections to Metro trains. This is why all the changes are coming on one date.

PIDs at Malvern - why on platform 3?


The Dandenong line is going to every 10 minutes on weekdays, which is very welcome given the number of passengers and destinations along the line. Most trains will no longer stop at Malvern, matching the weekend pattern. Curiously they recently put in realtime information on platform 3 there — which will barely get used. It really should have gone onto platform 1.

This also means the Cranbourne and Pakenham ends of the lines go to every 20 minutes — much better than the current half-hourly service.

Another big change is that peak Pakenham trains will now stop between Oakleigh and Caulfield where currently they run express. It won’t make much difference to running times as the line is so congested anyway. On the up side people at those stations will have more trains… but possibly it’ll result in more crowding on those services, which are often pretty packed.

The Frankston line gets a few changes, including — at last — removal of the incredibly confusing afternoon peak-shoulder timetable which currently has three completely different running patterns.

Morning Frankston line trains are also altered, with the two-tier timetable extended to until the off-peak timetable kicks-in. The anomalous 8:35 limited express from Bentleigh into the City no longer stops there, but there’s an additional service originating at Moorabbin to make up for it — which should mean overall more seats available for passengers at the zone 1 stations, as well as a faster ride for those coming in from zone 2.

(The government is claiming Frankston has two extra morning peak services. I might be counting them in a different way, but I’m not seeing that. I can see two extra expresses, but one less stopping train.)

It’d have been nice to see some other upgrades come through — more lines are richly deserving of ten minute services, for instance.

Platform 1, new Springvale station, April 2014

Trams: some route changes

Route 112 is being split back to similar to how it used to be: the 11 from West Preston into the City (and Docklands), and the 12 from St Kilda into the City and then out to Victoria Gardens. This should allow them to run the bigger trams on busy route 11 (including adding space on incredibly busy Collins St/Docklands routes), without wasting that capacity on quieter route 12.

Some part-time city routes such as 24, 31 and 95 won’t run anymore. Other fulltime routes cover that ground.

Likewise, the long-running part-time route 79 will no longer run, replaced in the evenings and weekends by its weekday cousin 78… which will mean people heading from Chapel Street to St Kilda Beach will need to change at Carlisle Street onto a 16 (or, on weekends, a 3a).

There are big question marks over what will happen when CBD trams are free from January. Some routes are swamped at present… one wonders if there will be a need to reinstate those part-time city routes to boost capacity. You’d hope PTV and Yarra Trams are feverishly working on the forecasts for that. (Ditto the abolishment of two-zone fares in Melbourne from January.)

Hey tram fans, is this the first C-class tram in the new #PTV colours? #yarratrams

Buses: northeast

Lots of changes on the buses in the Manningham area, particularly those run by Transdev, whose contract stipulates they need to re-design their routes and increase patronage — but without increasing resources. In other words, badly-needed route reform.

DART/Smartbus 908 will no longer go all the way into the city outside peak hours. It’ll terminate at Doncaster Park+Ride instead, with connections into the City. This should be okay inbound, and outbound on weekdays during the day, when the services you’re connecting to will be frequent. There might be some waiting involved outbound on weekends and evenings.

This one is controversial: route 303, which runs 4 services per day in each peak direction, is getting cut.

In general the theme is one of removing duplication, particularly part-time routes, and consolidating services by bumping up frequencies to compensate. For instance routes 200, 203 and 205 have been combined into a single route 200, which should be less confusing.

In many cases another similar route isn’t too far away from a removed one.

It does mean some trips that were a single seat ride all the way will require changing to another bus or a train, but the pay-off is a more cohesive network that provides options for more journeys, and in some cases overall a faster trip.

So, as is almost inevitable with route reform, some inconvenience to some, but overall should result in a more legible, simple, usable network… which in other areas has been shown to pay off in terms of getting new passengers on-board.

Smartbus in Lonsdale Street

Other bus changes

The 401 North Melbourne to Melbourne University shuttle gets extended to 10pm, with services every 10 minutes after 7:30pm. Excellent.

Local bus routes around the airport get a shakeup, with the main connection now being the Smartbus from Broadmeadows station, which makes sense as it’s more frequent than the other routes.

Non-Smartbus airport area routes such as 478 and 479 are re-focussed on connections from Sunbury and Airport West, for the benefit of local trips (such as workers) to the airport. The ridiculous 479′s one service per day on the weekend into the CBD has been removed. What a total waste of resources that was.

Routes 216/219/220 get a slight cutback from every 15 minutes to every 20 on weekday evenings. This probably makes sense at the southern end, as demand is light, and resources are better used elsewhere — I understand the whole timetable has been re-written for the first time in decades to better reflect traffic conditions. Hopefully the slight reduction in frequency doesn’t mean crowding at the western end of the route. Apparently it will get more substantial changes next year, along with other long routes such as the orbital Smartbuses, which have also had just timetable adjustments this time around.

The Brimbank area gets an overhaul, with some good reform which has irritated some current users, but should result in a more usable network overall. While some are saying they are negatively affected, some locals I’ve spoken to say they welcome the more direct routes.

The Port Melbourne area will also get revised, with simpler routes, and some routes such as 250/251 which formerly ran through the city to Port Melbourne, have been split to improve reliability.

The 232 Altona to city bus over the Westgate Bridge will no longer stop in Port Melbourne — despite little difference in timetabled running time in peak, it’ll stick to the freeway.

In the outer suburbs such as Cranbourne and Frankston, there are some extra services on some routes.

Impacts on journeys

I’m not across all the changes: you should really go to the source. (Initially the information on the numerous bus changes was pretty vague, but it’s improved a lot in the past week or so, with a lot of detail on specific areas.)

Those in areas affected by some of the bigger changes should take a look at the Journey Planner, and check the alternative routes available. Despite the protests at the changes, the new routes actually make a lot of sense. In many cases I’ve seen, people might face a slightly longer journey on the bus, but gain higher frequencies, longer operating hours (eg full-time routes instead of peak only) and in one case I looked at, a shorter walk to the bus stop.

In other cases I’ve looked at, a change to another bus or a train will now be required to get into the city, but the overall trip is faster.

Transdev have also said they’re willing to help passengers on their routes with looking at their specific route changes.


Overall it looks like a pretty good package. The continued rollout of RRL infrastructure as the project nears completion; some good upgrades to the Dandenong line; cleanup of the incredibly messy Frankston line timetable, and perhaps most significantly, widespread bus route reform to remove duplication and part-time routes, replaced by more frequent, fulltime routes — these sorts of changes are vital to untangle Melbourne’s bus spaghetti.

Some areas miss out of course. I for one am really hoping a significant upgrade to western suburbs lines (Werribee/Altona/Williamstown, and Sunbury) when RRL is completed.

But it’s good stuff. If they gave us a package this significant every year, the government would be kicking goals.

I’d be interested in comments on other changes people have noticed… and how their trips are affected.

Update Tuesday 15/7/2014: Some great comments being submitted – keep them coming.

I wanted to particularly note that passengers on bus route 303 have been active in calling for their route not to get cut. While I have reservations about peak-only routes because it can be confusing for potential users, particularly where they largely duplicate other routes, some users have shown evidence that suggests the buses have more than the 20-24 people per service the stats say they have.