Transport podcasts

I’ve stopped listening to music while I run, and instead am listening to podcasts, particularly transport-related podcasts, ‘cos obviously that’s a particular interest. And I’m trying to only listen to them while I run, as an incentive to keep running.

Here are some I’ve listened to recently:

The Conversation: Politics Podcast

Jamie Briggs on the infrastructure needs of Australian cities (September 2015) — Jamie Briggs seems to know what he’s talking about, and refrains from Labor-bashing as Michelle Grattan asks him about the new Cities and the Built Environment portfolio, and funding for public transport as well as roads. Well worth a listen to get a sense of Briggs’ and Turnbull’s thinking on these issues.

Critical Transit

The Critical Transit podcast is run by a guy based in Boston, and has a lot of interesting stuff, though occasionally he gets quite ranty and (in my view) extreme. For instance in one he reckons any motorist who hits a deer is automatically to blame. I don’t think this is very helpful, and while I haven’t driven in the presence of deer, I know kangaroos can behave unpredictably, and may not be visible after dark. There’s pretty much no safe speed you could drive at to be completely sure of avoiding an accident.

But this podcast has a lot of good material, and he gets an excellent dialogue going with quality guests.

Episode 44: Transit Data, Marketing & Communication with Aaron Antrim (January 2014) covers a lot of good stuff about Google Transit and other users of PT-related data.

Episode 43: Traffic signals with Matt Steele (January 2014) notes that sometimes increased signage and traffic lights don’t help safety. Other measures are needed to make drivers more cautious and slow down.


Episode 41: Rail Transit Safety with Marc Ebuna (December 2013) has a great discussion about rail safety, and automation, and a fascinating bit on the refusal of US authorities to accept standards from elsewhere in the world, causing problems for US transit agencies trying to invest in rail signalling and fleets.

Episode 38: Americans for Transit & debunking the small/electric car delusion (November 2013) has a bit at about the 19 minute mark which is podcast gold for advocates, talking about how operators, advocates and employees (unions) need to work together to campaign for better public transport.

Episode 37: Community Transportation with CTAA, another BART strike, and the government shutdown. (October 2013) — Community Transit isn’t something we have a lot of here – the closest equivalent might be low-frequency specialised services such as the City of Port Phillip’s Community Bus. But this episode touches on a number of relevant points, and guest Scott Bogren drops some golden quotes, a couple of which I’ll transcribe here:

“We’re ending the Eisenhower highway era right now…” [27:20]

“From young people, clearly driving less, are less apt to want to get that driver’s licence right away, and want to live in communities that have mobility options, to the growing population of seniors, who for safety and other reasons ought not to be driving, to the health care issues, there’s environmental issues… all of these things are driving passengers to the doors of the nation’s buses and trains.” [31:20]

One of the core points in the discussion is that mass transit doesn’t necessarily serve everybody, and community transit fills those gaps. Bogren also makes the point that for those users, speed is less important, and social contact with the driver(s) and other passengers is important. In a Melbourne context this underscores that such services could and should be considered. I was never sure that Hope Street in Brunswick, wedged between two main bus routes, should have its own bus service every 20 minutes, but a Port Phillip-style community bus might well be the answer there. (The government has instead chosen to resurrect the 509 as an hourly off-peak service which will place less demands on scarce bus+driver resources, while hopefully still assisting those with mobility issues who can’t use the nearby parallel bus services.)

The Infrastructure Show

The Infrastructure Show is a little more polished/edited, based out of Northwestern University in Illinois. Unfortunately their MP3 server is a bit dodgy, and sometimes the downloads fail (from mobile at least). But they cover a lot of interesting stuff, and again, have good guests.

Unfortunately I can’t link to individual entries, but some episodes I’ve listened to include:

Measure R – the innovative transportation funding process that benefits Los Angeles County (November 2014) — we have a completely different way of getting funding, but it is tied to electoral cycles. One lesson here was that to gain popular support for projects, you have a long term plan, you don’t just spring big new ideas on people (hello East West Link!), but build up support over time (hello Metro Rail Tunnel!).

Bus travel in the suburbs – the challenge of providing seamless transportation for riders (August 2013) — there are challenges for US authorities and users which are pretty much unknown in a Melbourne context, for instance a complete lack of footpaths in some areas. So even if they can build a bus stop, there might be no safe way for people to get to it.

London’s congestion charge — on its 10-year anniversary, a look at lessons learned (March 2013) — very interesting, and with lasting effects. Makes me wonder if such a thing could ever work here. One of the points was that the charge for most people is avoidable, because London already had an extensive public transport system in place. They also point out that the western extension (since scrapped) took the charge beyond the central city core, which was very unpopular, but it’s now accepted that the charge is here to stay in the central city.

The Eagle P3 East Rail Line – a public-private partnership that will connect Denver’s downtown and airport (August 2012) — Denver Airport is the world’s 11th busiest. The Eagle acronym stands for EAst Gold Line Enterprise. And it’s a PPP. It’s a similar situation to Melbourne: they have express buses to Denver’s airport (but only every 15 to 60 minutes), but they get caught in traffic, and they wanted a reliable service that wouldn’t degrade in reliability as time goes on. The result is a brand new rail line under construction, to run every 15 minutes and do the trip in 35 minutes. It’ll serve suburban commuters as well as the airport, opening in 2016.

Much of the episode talks about the PPP, using an availability model over a 6 year construction + 28 year operating contract. The state sets and collects fares. They talked about the concessionaire bringing innovative ideas to the table: lighter rail given no freight carrying requirement; off-the-shelf trains instead of custom-built — these sound logical. Making part of the line only single track… I wonder if that’s a good idea in the long term.

Monash University – Art Design and Architecture

Public Transport User Experience — This is material for an assignment, but makes some really good points about the design of PT maps and signage.

I’m sure there are other good podcasts out there in this area… it’s a shame some of them don’t make it easy to download audio via a web browser; instead they want you to use iTunes.

But I’ll keep digging around for more to go running with. Any suggestions for others I should give a go?

Maybe I should seek out podcasts on other topics that interest me as well. Geek/programming, sci-fi… I’m sure there are plenty out there.

The metro tunnel will cater for single deck trains only

It’s important to have a long-term plan. PTV has one for rail which is published here:

PTV Network Development Plan – Metropolitan Rail

— I’ve blogged about this plan when it was released.

Upgrades such as the Melbourne Metro Rail Tunnel and the new fleet of trains tie into this plan, and complement each other: the tunnel and its stations will be designed for the longer trains that the new fleet will deliver.

Here’s one snippet of information I had been asked about, and was wondering about, but was able to confirm with the project team recently: The metro rail tunnel will NOT be built to cater for double deck trains.

Obviously long tunnels are expensive. A decision has to be made about their size, and the smaller the better. In this case, they are not willing to invest the extra cost for provision for possible future double deck trains.

Sydney train approaches station

We’ve tried double deck trains before

The City Loop does cater for them. In the 70s when it was built, there were no definite plans for double deck trains (Hitachi trains were coming into service at the time), but they were considering it for the future.

A trial of a double deck train (the Federally funded “4D” — Double Deck Development and Demonstration Train) was done in the 1990s. Here it is in operation at Parliament:

It was modelled and based on Sydney’s double deck trains, but seemed to have continual reliability problems. It mainly ran on the Belgrave and Lilydale lines, but some other lines had the requisite bridge clearances. No doubt if a further rollout was planned, more bridges would have been modified.

Reliability aside, the authorities decided that such trains were not the way of the future. No more were built. The train was eventually sold to RailCorp NSW for spare parts, and scrapped in 2006.

The policy of staying single-deck is, when you look around, reasonably obvious: the recently rebuilt Springvale station doesn’t have a lot of space to spare above our current single deck trains.

(By the way, as I understand it, double stacked containers are not compatible with overhead wiring, so we won’t see them on our suburban tracks.)

Platform 1, new Springvale station, April 2014

There have been other Melbourne trials of new public transport vehicles. Marcus Wong has a great blog post about various tram types tested and rejected here. At least one test was successful: the initial B-class trams (2001 and 2002) in 1984-5 was followed by over 100 more brought into service in the late 80s and early 90s.

Is single deck or double deck better?

Arguments about this will rage forever I suspect, but there are pros and cons to each.

For a higher carrying capacity, single deck trains need to be longer, providing more doors, and theoretically faster loading and unloading. Faster loading means you can push more trains down the line, and helps counter some or all the capacity benefits of double deck.

Longer trains have an obvious cost: longer platforms and it may have other impacts such as on signalling and stabling. This is where Melbourne is going — the new fleet will start at 7 cars and extend to 9 or 10.

Double deck trains have higher capacity for the length — about 50% more. But they are obviously higher, meaning some existing tunnels and bridges need modification (which may or may not be practical) and extra cost when building new track, especially tunnels.

The power-to-weight ratio of the train could be an issue. Double deck trains obviously concentrate a lot more weight per carriage, while single deck trains that spread the load out over more carriages and wheel sets may assist good acceleration.

Some people will cite security issues, as the decks mean it’s not possible to look along the length of the train. Some also cite risks with level crossings, as the lower deck is vulnerable to a motor vehicle impact, though I’m not sure if that risk has been quantified.

Sydney train

Most cities have stuck with single deck for their high-capacity, short trip urban and metro networks, though the Paris RER is a prominent example of double deck high-capacity suburban operation, and they’ve designed double deck carriages with a third doorway, presumably at the cost of capacity. But I’m not sure any new lines or networks are being designed for double deck operation.

A number of European countries including Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland use them, but primarily for longer distances, where dwell times are less important.

NSW is moving to single deck for their new metro line. Meanwhile the UK is considering double deck for its commuter lines (eg NOT the Tube, which has tunnels that are very space-constrained).

No double deck for you!

The metro tunnel decision means for better or worse, Melbourne is sticking with single deck.

I don’t have a major problem with this.

It’d be nice to see the findings from the 90s trial out in public, but as long as the reasons for the decision have been thought through, carefully considered, and are understood, the focus can be on optimising the network for single deck operation.

Getting to the airport

A short trip coming up soon. Two nights away. Up on a Saturday at lunchtime, back on Monday evening.

Options for getting to Melbourne airport and back, for the three of us:

Train plus Skybus. About 70 minutes each way. Train fares each way $3.76 + 2 x $1.88. Skybus fares each way 3 x $18. No discount for the return leg. Skybus fares add up to $108. Return trip total $123.04

(Because my boys are now both over 16, we’re all adults now according to Skybus, even though the boys are fulltime students with the requisite concession cards, thus eligible for concession Myki fares. This seems illogical to me, and what prompted me to look at the various options. Skybus also offers no discount to Seniors or other concession holders — it appears to aim at being a premium service.)

Train to Broadmeadows plus 901 Smartbus. About 100 minutes each way, but varying according to connection times. Frequency of Smartbus on weekends and evenings is only half-hourly. Same as the train fare only. Return trip total $15.04.

(Evening 901s from the airport arrive at Broadmeadows every half-hour: 9:08, 9:38, 10:08, 10:38. Train to city is scheduled to depart one minute later. Genius. Any little bus delay, and/or if you’re not an Olympic sprinter, and you’ll have to wait half an hour for the connection. Not very Smart.)


Taxi to airport. About 50 minutes each way. About $85 each way says the Taxi Fare Estimator. Return trip total $170.

Train to Essendon, then taxi to airport. About 70 minutes depending on train connections. Train fare as above, plus taxi fare about $32.77 each way. Return trip total $80.58. Is there a taxi rank at Essendon? All I could find on Google Streetview was a paltry one space rank.

(Moonee Ponds might have more chances of getting a taxi quickly. Other options might be staying on the train to Broadmeadows, or instead going to Footscray, which is further away, but generally doesn’t involve a change of train on weekdays.)

Train to City, then taxi to airport. About an hour. Train fare as above, plus taxi fare about $55 each way (so, about the same as Skybus, but less environmentally friendly).

UberX to airport. About 50 minutes. $71-93 says the Uber fare estimator, depending on demand. You can’t get UberX from the airport. So comparing apples for apples, the return trip would be a cab.

(UberX from Southern Cross to the airport is estimated at $46-61. Essendon Station to the airport $27-37. So pretty consistently, UberX is from 20% cheaper than a cab, to 20% more expensive than a cab.)

Private Airport bus (Frankston to Tullamarine). Pick-up point in Moorabbin, with a travel time of 80 minutes, so including getting to Moorabbin plus the bus time is about 95 minutes. Fare is $59 return per adult, so $177 total plus train fares — perhaps $20 less depending on their definition of a child. But this isn’t really an option coming back as they have no trips back from the airport after 6:55pm.

Drive to airport. About 50 minutes + perhaps 15 for the bus from the long term car park. Pre-booked parking for 2.5 days is $34, plus $7.35 in tolls (using an eTag) each way plus petrol. It’s 40 km each way. If we use say 5 litres of petrol each way (which is probably over-estimating) at $1.40/litre would be about $7 in petrol. So a return trip total of $62.70 excluding wear and tear on the car, and the fixed costs of owning it.

(The costs of owning a car are not insubstantial, but I have it already. It’s paid for. Whether it sits in the driveway or sits in the airport car park makes almost no difference. This, of course, is not an unusual consideration people make. That said, all things being equal, I’d prefer to have my car in the driveway when I’m away from home. I’m not the paranoid type, but I wonder if it helps discourage burglars.)

What options have I missed?

Car and taxi options are basically a fixed price for fewer than 5 people. Car parking obviously varies according to how long you leave your car in the carpark. But public transport options can multiply up quickly as your party gets bigger unless discounts apply for groups — Skybus has a Family option, but over 16s don’t count as kids.

Ultimately the issue is that my default choice, Train plus Skybus, a nice balance between quickest and most environmentally friendly, is a good option when 1-2 people are travelling, or with children under 17… but once you have 3 “adults” (even though for other public transport they are considered concessions) the cost is substantial.

I don’t know yet which option we’ll take, but I’m sure I’m not the only one put off by the price.

Moving 70 people

Here is about 70 people on a freeway. It was running at more-or-less full speed, though on the verge of getting congested. It was a Saturday, so vehicle occupancies were probably higher than average.

70 people on a freeway

And here’s about 70 people in a single train carriage. It wasn’t crowded, though certainly getting there. (The same number would fit into a conventional bus or small tram.)

70 people in a train

Note the space taken by each. A four lane freeway has a capacity of about 10,000 people per hour (assuming a level of car occupancy well above what’s normal). A conventional railway has a capacity of at least double that (triple if you assume good signalling, and trains reasonably full).

Of course it’s not a simple thing to get people to switch from one to the other.

For the highest capacity public transport mode — rail — you first need to get people to the station before they’ll get onto a train — and it needs to be easy for them to get where they’re going at the other end.

On the carrot side that’s a mix of good urban planning (for instance homes and destinations both close to stations) and good feeder services (bus or tram or bicycle or an easy walk to the station — preferably not park and ride, as it’s very expensive and space-inefficient). On the stick side, regular congestion and expensive or hard-to-find parking (all by-products of a growing city) contribute too.

But ultimately we need to decide what we prioritise — continuing to encourage (and even force, through lack of real choice) car travel, or more efficient modes.

  • Note: the numbers were estimates. I zoomed up the photos to count as accurately as possible, but it was hard to see any people in the back seats of cars — however I erred on the high side. The train carriage number is based on doubling the number in the half of the carriage you can easily see.

Level crossing removals progressing

On Thursday the state government announced two more level crossings in their first term batch of 20: Scoresby Rd and Mountain Hwy, either side of Bayswater station. This provides some interesting challenges due to the adjacent train maintenance facility, which presumably can’t be moved. The press release notes:

They [the crossings] will be removed through a combination of lowering the rail line and raising Mountain Hwy and Scoresby Rd, which will enable trains to continue to access the maintenance yard between the crossings.

With these two, they’ve now started work on 19 of the 20 pledged:

  • Gardiner and St Albans (both initiated by the former Coalition government)
  • three on the Frankston line (Ormond was initiated by the Coalition) — more about these below
  • Blackburn and Heatherdale
  • Furlong Road, St Albans
  • the nine between Caulfield and Dandenong
  • the two at Bayswater

So they only need to fund and start work on one more and they’ll be hitting their first term target… though of course for economy they should be trying to continue to group the crossings where possible.

Bentleigh level crossing

Ormond-Mckinnon-Bentleigh aka North-Mckinnon-Centre

My local crossings are continuing apace.

The project timetable has been altered — the major works will now take place in mid-2016, instead of in the January 2017 holidays. Obviously this has implications in terms of the number of people travelling, especially students for 3 of the 5 weeks — though bear in mind most people are back at work by mid-January, so perhaps the main difference is the presence of students.

Obviously how well this goes depends on how well replacement bus services are run. More on this below.

Saving Dorothy

For residents north of Ormond and those who use the E.E.Gunn reserve, the project team has confirmed that the Dorothy Avenue underpass will retain access for cars:

Following detailed design, and extensive community consultation, we can now happily confirm that the Dorothy Avenue underpass in Ormond will remain open to pedestrians, cyclists and cars following completion of the level crossing removal works.

Through the detailed design process, the rail gradient has been improved to allow the necessary clearance for pedestrians, cyclists and cars. — October update

Apparently they sought and got dispensation for the usual (for freight trains) maximum 2% gradient between North Road and Dorothy Avenue. It’s closer to 2.5% (the normal limit for suburban trains), but this has been ruled okay for freight for short distances.

The result is that the works won’t need to touch the overpass at all. One team member described this as “Saving Dorothy”, which to me sounds like it could be a sequel to The Wizard Of Oz.

It’s good that this was achievable, and I think this makes sense — if it were closed, every time there was an event at the reserve, there’d have been a lot more traffic in the surrounding streets. And given North Road won’t have its level crossing, the number of rat-runners should reduce.

Train alterations

As I flagged in this blog post, Frankston express trains will stop all stations from mid-November. PTV were very slow at loading the timetable, but it’s there (at least for the first week) now.

A handful of trains won’t run each day, but most will. This is perhaps understandable given longer running times, but may result in crowding.

As now, some trains will run direct, some via the Loop. (I’m writing this on a train. I can overhear someone on the phone claiming they will all run direct and he’ll have to change for the Loop with heaps of other people. He’s in for a pleasant surprise.)

PTV has a brochure about service changes, though there are multiple errors in the map (they show the old 626 route, and show tram 64 curtailed at North Road). Confusingly it also has the Sandringham line shown in grey — blue would make more sense, since it’ll still be running. The car parks are in the wrong positions, as well.

I’m told a new version will be out shortly; hopefully it fixes these problems.


After the taster of bus replacement services a couple of weekends ago, the arrangements are being reviewed. Bus stop locations are being reconsidered — some apparently were put in without much time available. Sounds like many will move closer to the main road intersections, which was the main problem with them.

They’re saying that during the peak of replacement services, some 100 buses will be deployed between Caulfield and Moorabbin, with 75 normally in service, and 25 on standby. That should be quite a sight to see, but it indicates the scale of moving the usual Frankston line peak loads, and how many cars a rail line keeps off the roads in peak hour.

Instead of express and stopping buses, all buses will stop on demand (eg press the buzzer for your station). I think this makes sense — it will speed up loading and despatch considerably — just fill and despatch the buses as people arrive — and prevent passenger confusion. When I sampled it, the express buses were only seconds faster than the stopping buses.

Apparently overall the main road route has been well-received, as it’s much more efficient, though there are some concerns about those with mobility challenges getting from the station. Some kind of on-demand taxi service is being considered.

They’re also working on more traffic light green time for buses (particularly a problem southbound at North and South Roads) and temporary clear ways.

Some traders are worried about the reduction in activity around the stations during this time. This hasn’t been very apparent on weekends, but I suppose weekdays are a different story.

Level crossing removal works near Ormond

New stations coming soon

A few other design issues are moving towards a conclusion, for instance the Murray Road issue and whether a south side entrance can be provided at Ormond Station (hopefully at least for platforms 1 and 2 — platform 3 isn’t nearly as important, as under normal circumstances it is barely used, and providing it may be difficult due to the local streetscape).

It’s great to see this project progressing. For locals, remember to stay up to date via the official web site.


Honestly, sometimes I despair. No wonder the bloke on the train thought there will be barely any Loop services during the level crossing works — this poster (snapped by Andrew at Mckinnon this morning) purports to show the modified timetable. What it instead shows is just the modified express trains. This means about half the services are missing — almost all the Loop trains.

Incorrect Frankston line works timetable seen at Mckinnon Station

You just wonder sometimes if anybody checks this stuff before it goes out.

I’ve passed this back to the project team to get it fixed.

Update 10pm — another, similar poster seen at Flagstaff at 6pm implies Frankston line trains won’t run through the Loop during peak.

Incorrect poster for altered Frankston line services during level crossing removals

I’m told the Mckinnon poster has been removed already… not sure about other stations.

In some ways this issue isn’t new — I’ve seen other notifications in the past that focus solely on the additional/altered/removed services. But passengers don’t think like that. They need to see the changes in context. Displaying timetables like this which only show half the services is just pointless and misleading.

Update 9/11/2015 — Metro continues to display these misleading posters — they’ve appeared at more stations and online over the weekend. I’ve heard multiple reports of people (including Metro staff) reading them and concluding that they show the train timetable whereas they actually show just the altered services.

After all, if it looks like a timetable, it must be a timetable, right?

Apart from missing all the short services originating from Carrum, Mordialloc, Cheltenham and Moorabbin, it doesn’t even show all the trains departing from Frankston: the 7:07 and the 7:30 aren’t shown, because they’re not altered.

And just to underscore the lack of thought that went into this, the fine print at the bottom adds this irrelevancy: the disclaimer about bicycles, surfboards and dogs not being permitted on buses. What buses?!

As I said: useless and misleading.