Impacts of proposed tram and train strikes

Today’s tram strike

Some media is saying trams will start heading back to depots from 8am — but Yarra Trams tells me 9am. They also tell me trams will come back out of depots right on 2pm, but it may take until 6pm for things to be completely back to normal.

Tram replacement buses during industrial action 27/8/2015

Options during the tram stoppage:

Yarra Trams has a list of alternative service — both regular scheduled bus/train services, and special replacement buses on a few routes.

(I think it’s a pretty good effort to put on some replacements. Can you imagine trying to organise bustitution for the World’s Biggest Tram Network(tm) for 4+ hours?)

PTV also has an information page.

For getting around the CBD, walking often isn’t that much slower than tram for trips of less than a few blocks, though the weather may not be the best for it.

You can use the City Loop: the direction changes are confusing, but PTUA has a map of it.

Frequent buses run along some streets in the City and inner suburbs — some of them include:

  • Crown Casino (Queensbridge) via Queen Street to Lonsdale Street: 216, 219, 220
  • Queen St/Collins St along Queen St then along Lonsdale St, Russell St, Lygon St: 200, 207
  • Victoria Market via Queen St, Collins St to Southern Cross, Docklands (Collins St), South Wharf: 232, 235, 237
  • Lonsdale St/King St along Lonsdale St, Victoria Parade, Hoddle St: 905, 906, 907, 908

All of these buses have realtime information via the PTV app and other apps such as Bus Tracker. Remember none of these will be free like CBD trams.

Tram/bus stop, Queensbridge Street, Casino East

Next week’s possible train strike

Some of the actions proposed next week are harmless, some less so.

> Refusing to wear company uniforms

Who’d notice? The trammies did it a few days ago, and nobody noticed.

> A ban on inspecting mykis

The problem comes when there’s confusion over which days/modes it applies.

> A ban on short arrivals and short departures [when trains do not run to the end of the line]
> A ban on station skipping between 9am and midnight

Sounds good? Well, perhaps not. Those changes (along with skipping stations) are sometimes to get delayed trains into position for a peak run. If they are banned, it may mean more delays in peak hour.

> A one-hour stoppage between 3am and 4am Thursday
> A four-hour stoppage between 2am and 6am Friday

No trains run before 4am, but even the 3-4am stoppage would cut into train prepping time, affecting early morning services and morning peak hour. A 2am-6am stoppage even moreso; that would affect a lot of services.

Many of them sound harmless at first, but have real effects on services which may not be immediately obvious.

Hopefully, on both trams and trains, a settlement can be reached without further impacts on passengers.

Metro rail tunnel ads

Remember the ads for future transport projects that we saw in 2010 and 2014? They’re baaaaaack.

Advertising for Melbourne Metro rail tunnel in a train

The metro rail tunnel isn’t fully funded.

But the ads are a bit different from the ones we saw last year for the proposed (but now scrapped) Melbourne Rail Link (the Coalition’s then-alternative tunnel plan) and the airport rail link (on ice for now).

Although not yet fully-funded, work on the metro rail tunnel project has actually started. There has been test drilling along Swanston Street and elsewhere, as well as a lot of planning work.

Labor is clearly pushing to have major construction started before the 2018 election. This isn’t unreasonable — unlike the Coalition’s East West Link, Labor went to the 2014 election promising it. And of course Labor would be hoping to use the sight of bulldozers and tunnel boring machines as a springboard to re-election.

Hopefully this also locks in the project for completion, no matter who wins in 2018.

Obviously they’ll be hoping for Federal funding. Tony Abbott’s Coalition is highly unlikely to provide any, but if leadership of the Coalition falls to someone else, and/or the Coalition is defeated at the next Federal election, funding is more likely.

And if not? Well it’s a ten year project (by the time it’s finished, we’ll certainly need it), with a cost of about $10 billion. It would obviously be a lot of money, but $1 billion a year wouldn’t be beyond the capabilities of the state… though of course the tunnel will only really work well as part of a suite of train, tram and bus upgrades, for which funding is needed. And of course money is also needed for other projects (transport related and elsewhere).

Metro test drilling

So is this round of ads as extravagant and ill-conceived as those from Labor in 2010 and the Coalition in 2014?

I think not quite. These ads (from what I’ve seen so far) are lower-profile/cheaper, and not as directly/blatantly aimed at re-election.

And at least they have a purpose: to inform of a project that is actually underway, point people towards the project web site, which in turn points people to the online survey.

And of course, I’d encourage everyone to look at the survey and give them your views of the project!

Regional Rail Link funding: a short history lesson

It must be difficult for Tony Abbott’s loyal MPs to defend him in matters like public transport, where he refuses to fund it, while heavily funding motorways.

But of course they try. What’s fascinating is when they get their basic facts wrong. This morning there was a discussion on Twitter about a Coalition-run forum about Geelong area public transport:

One of the forum organisers, member for Corangamite Sarah Henderson, responded:


Regional Rail Link opened in June 2015. Despite its name, the entire project was within metropolitan Melbourne. It was indeed part funded by the Federal Government — the project web site says: “The $3.65 billion project was jointly funded by the Australian and Victorian governments.”

The only problem with Ms Henderson’s claim is that the Federal funding came some four years before Mr Abbott became prime minister.

As this statement from May 2009 says: “The Federal Government will invest $3.2 billion in this important project.”

Being 2009, that was Kevin Rudd’s Labor Federal Government.

(Amusingly it also refers to the metro rail tunnel as the “East west rail tunnel”)

Tarneit station, evening peak

Essentially, RRL got funding from the Feds (and the state) because it ticked multiple boxes: boosting rail capacity, urban development in Melbourne’s outer west, and as economic stimulus to help fight the GFC. The project had undergone several years of early planning previous to that, and while it had a haphazard start, the project was able to get underway pretty quickly. The first rail closures for major works occurred in mid-2011.

Mr Abbott wasn’t PM until September 2013. Happily for the RRL project, by then the work had been underway for some years — and he couldn’t claw back the money. But he did pull money out of numerous other public transport projects in Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and elsewhere.

Coalition Infrastructure plan - no rail

Note that under Abbott there hasn’t been zero funding for public transport. Indirectly, Canberra’s light rail has got funding via the Federal Coalition’s asset recycling policy. The Gold Coast light rail extension may get funding as part of Commonwealth Games preparations. Any others? I’m not sure.

Ms Henderson may disagree, but given Abbott’s strong anti-PT stance, I sincerely doubt Regional Rail Link would have got any Federal funding at all under his government.

To claim Abbott actually funded it is a distortion of the truth.

Happily, Abbott’s stance doesn’t seem to be shared by his colleagues. Malcolm Turnbull is well known for his support for public transport, and Warren Truss seems to have been supportive of the metro rail tunnel. So even if the Coalition stays in power, things may change for the better, as long as it’s not Abbott who’s still in charge.

  • Crikey 26/8/2015: … While Henderson was right that the government was honouring a previous commitment, it’s not like it enjoyed it — Abbott has long said he is against federal funding for public transport infrastructure. … So they won’t commit any money to rail projects, but will take the credit when they hand over the money of someone else’s promise.

What if the train lines were given letters?

If you haven’t heard, the train and tram stoppages for Friday have been cancelled.

Say you know which line you want, you’ve found the correct platform, but a train comes in with some obscure station on the destination sign — how do you know if you can catch it?

Carrum train arriving at Flagstaff

You might have only a few seconds to work out if it’s on your line, and if so, whether it stops at your station. If you’re lucky your station is on the screen, and you have to quickly scan through dozens of place names to find it… but if you’re unlucky, there’s no screen, just a two-line LED display (which may or may not be close enough to read) with the unfamiliar destination and “Stopping all stations”.

With Melbourne’s notoriously inconsistent train operations, this can be quite a challenge.

One way some cities get around this is to use labels that apply no matter how far along the line the train is going.

London uses names that aren’t generally place names — some are cultural references (Jubilee), some reference the central locations they serve (Bakerloo), or have various other names.

Many system maps use colours to distinguish their lines (ours will soon), but some cities such as Chicago and Washington DC use colours as the names for their lines.

New York City uses letters and numbers.

Paris and many other cities use just numbers for the Metro (in Paris they also use letters, for the RER suburban system).

Sydney is hedging its bets – for the moment they have the old names for individual lines and also new numbers (eg T1, T2, T3…) to group the lines.

What is a “line”, anyway?

Perhaps we need to step back a bit and decide what is a train line? Are Pakenham and Cranbourne separate, or one?

I’d tend to go with: if they share most stations and a level of timetable coordination (for instance to ensure even frequencies), as well as sharing tracks, then it’s one line.

That makes Dandenong a line, with branches to Pakenham and Cranbourne. Frankston is a separate line; most stations aren’t common, they mostly use separate tracks, and their timetables aren’t co-ordinated (much).

But South Morang and Hurstbridge are separate lines because they don’t share most stations. Werribee and Williamstown? Perhaps.

Letters for Melbourne?

So… bearing in mind the aim is to help with navigation and being able to quickly work out if you can catch that approaching train, what if Melbourne’s train lines were given letters? Something like this, going anticlockwise…

B = (Brighton and) Sandringham

F = Frankston

D = Dandenong (Pakenham and Cranbourne)

G = Glen Waverley

R = Ringwood (Belgrave and Lilydale)

A = Alamein (because most of the time it’s a shuttle)

H = Hurstbridge

M = South Morang, soon Mernda.

U = Upfield

C = Craigieburn

S = Sunbury

N = Newport (Werribee, Williamstown, Altona Loop).

What about variations? They could be described with a second small letter – Rb for Belgrave, Rl for Lilydale, Dp for Pakenham, Dc for Cranbourne.

Stopping patterns? Fx for Frankston express, perhaps?

Oh, but what about Werribee and Williamstown? N1 and N2? Altona Loop? Na?

Or given most Werribee and Williamstown will be through-routed to Frankston, perhaps you give them a different name? Within Metro they’re known as the Cross-City group, but maybe you could call them Bayside or something?

What happens when a line gets extended? Do you change the name? We do in Melbourne, but in Perth they still call the Joondalup line that, even though it now runs further.

Once the metro rail tunnel opens, Dandenong will connect through to Sunbury, and eventually the Airport. What do you call it then? Call it P for the Parkville line? Or stick with D for Domain perhaps?

In the short term, colours are likely to get more emphasis, as the new map and associated station signage rolls out.

Perhaps the naming is all too hard. But with outbound trains towards Frankston having head boards of “Frankston”, “Carrum”, “Mordialloc”, “Cheltenham” or “Moorabbin”, clearly there’s scope to make things clearer.

Promoting “Turn up and go” public transport

Nothing makes public transport more usable than frequent services, where you don’t need a timetable, you just “turn up and go” — in transport planning circles this is actually known by the TUAG acronym.

Regular readers might know: the Frankston and Dandenong lines now have TUAG trains every ten minutes every day for much of the day. The Ringwood line is every ten minutes at weekends, fifteen on weekdays (inter-peak).

But people don’t know about it. How would they? There’s been virtually no promotion, and I’ve rambled on about this many times.

At last it seems someone is listening — large billboards are popping up prominent locations close to the lines with the frequent services. These three billboards are at Moorabbin, close to the Frankston line.

Frankston line: Turn Up And Go advertising at Moorabbin

Frankston line: Turn Up And Go advertising at Moorabbin

Frankston line: Turn Up And Go advertising at Moorabbin

I’m told billboards are also up along the Dandenong line, and similar posters are starting to appear on stations:

I do wonder if the non-public-transport-using layman will quite register what “Turn up and go” means if they don’t read the smaller “every ten minutes” message. I’d have put the latter in big letters across the sign. (But I’m no advertising expert.)

In any case it’s great to see them taking this seriously. Previous attempts have either been far too vague, or too short-lived and sporadic to get into people’s heads. (There were a few TV ads, for a short time.)

Trains every ten minutes every day is a genuinely good service, and makes the train service much more useful for people. It needs good promotion so that more people know about it.

Of course, it would help if it were backed-up by their own automated signage.

This sign and others like it would be great advertising — by showing to passers-by that the next train is rarely more than 10 minutes away… but for some reason the train information they show on the platforms can’t make it onto a sign 50 metres away on the street.

Bentleigh station automated signage

I’m not holding my breath for that one to be fixed. It’s been this way for more than four years. (Yeah I know it’s not quite identical information — in the station you want to see the next train on that platform; on the street you want to see the next train in each direction.)

Perhaps they’ll fix this when the station is rebuilt.

But in the mean time, advertising to better promote good things is worthwhile.

Most people know roughly where the trains go, but making them aware of the existence of services every ten minutes should hopefully get more people on board. Some promotion to help build awareness and patronage will help ensure similar frequency upgrades can spread across the network.