Melbourne Rail Link: has it been properly planned?

As I’ve written already, both the Metro Rail Tunnel and the Melbourne Rail Link provide similar benefits in terms of rail capacity in the central part of Melbourne’s rail network. In those terms, they are roughly equivalent.

But MRL does have problems. For example, I think it connects the wrong lines.

Connecting lines

Both MRL and the Metro Rail Tunnel (I’m going to abbreviate it as MRT, in lieu of another convenient acronym) create an extra track pair through the city, connecting two existing lines together, freeing up capacity elsewhere. The whole idea is to isolate rail lines, to let them run independently.

MRT does it by connecting the Sunbury and Dandenong lines through a tunnel via Domain and Parkville, creating a cross-city connection.

MRL does it by connecting the Frankston and Ringwood lines through a tunnel via Montague and the City Loop, creating a connection from the south to the east, via north and west of the CBD.

Such a connection has obvious impacts on passenger movements. Let’s look at one example: Richmond.

Interchange at Richmond

Does anybody want to take the long way around?

Richmond is a major interchange, but isn’t significant as a destination at peak hour. It is during big events in the sporting precinct. As such the handling of big crowds is a huge issue, to the point where special measures are often in place to deal with the large numbers of people, particularly just after events conclude.

The current trip from South Yarra to Richmond is 2 minutes. Via MRL it could easily be 15 minutes or more. And remember, it doesn’t just affect the Frankston line — it also affects passengers at the MATH stations (Malvern, Armadale, Toorak, Hawksburn), who in the future are likely to not have Dandenong line trains stopping at their stations.

A trip from Malvern to Richmond is currently 8-11 minutes, depending on stopping patterns. Via MRL it’ll be around 21-24 minutes or more.

So then, what is the consequence of this?

Is this extra travel time enough to prompt large numbers of people to try and change to another train to avoid going all the way around?

At times of big sporting events, when the train system is trying to shift the bulk of a 100,000-strong crowd out of the MCG, will the Dandenong and Sandringham lines be completely swamped by Frankston line people trying to get home as quickly as possible?

Will people who are actually trying to make a connection from the south to the east be happy to take the 15 minute detour (say, students heading to Swinburne in Hawthorn), or will they also want to use the other lines to cut their travel time? What effect on dwell times (and thus, track capacity) would there be from large numbers of people changing trains at Richmond and South Yarra?

I don’t know what the answer to these is, but you’d hope they’ve been looked at.

Flagstaff station, peak hour

Lots of other issues – have they been studied?

This is only the tip of the iceberg. There are questions about how they’d build extra platforms at/under South Yarra (something MRT never resolved, and so ruled out).

How will it get under the river? Where will the extra platforms at Southern Cross be? I expect there are solutions to these (including the sewer), but have they been worked out, and costed?

Is Montague, with scads of potential users, really more important than Parkville, which has scads of users now? If the rail tunnel can’t run north-south to relieve St Kilda Road trams, what will be done to help them cope? I can think of lots of potential ideas on that one, but it’s unclear if this has been properly thought about and measured against prospective demand.

All trains not serving all CBD stations is inevitable, but what is the likely passenger demand from the Frankston and Ringwood lines for Flinders Street, and where are those passengers likely to change? Are the Frankston and Ringwood lines likely to be well-matched as far as future passenger/train demand goes? Ditto the other pairs: Sandringham and Newport, Sunbury and Dandenong.

And this is the real problem: the Metro Rail Tunnel project has its faults, but has had years of study (much of it published) done into it, part of a broader network development plan that studied not just where the tunnels would go, not just the number of trains flowing through, but also the effects of different upgrades on where and how passengers travel.

MRL in comparison has come from nowhere. There’s a complete lack of evidence that it’s gone through the kind of thorough study and planning that a multi-billion dollar project should have to get to a point where the State Government is funding it*.

Maybe in the few months since the project materialised, all these questions have been resolved. Maybe. But it doesn’t look like it.

That doesn’t bode well for avoiding cost blow-outs, nor for Melbourne getting the best solution for the billions that will go into it.

  • *The State government might claim MRL is fully funded, but the budget allocations so far are minimal — $40m this year, $50m in 2015-16, $140m in 2016-17, $600m in 2017-18. So around 90% of the cost of it is as-yet unfunded. It could easily slip off the funding radar after a couple of years, in the same way the Metro rail tunnel has.
  • In comparison the East West Link, you know, the road they said before the last election they weren’t even thinking about building, is being pushed along. For instance, the western section has $3.2 billion against it by 2017-18.

Photos: the loveliness of elevated roadways

It’s easy when looking at aerial pictures to see the vast amounts of land taken up by freeway interchanges.

South Melbourne freeway interchange (Google Maps)
(Pic: Google Maps)

What is sometimes forgotten is the impact at ground level from elevated roadways. Here are some snaps from around South Melbourne — which of course being inner-city, has some of the most valuable land in the country.

I suppose there’s a certain grace to the roadway structures themselves, but underneath it’s certainly not pretty.

Car park below Westgate Freeway

Tram line below Westgate Freeway

Beside the Westgate Freeway

Tram stop below Kings Way

It really does seem that the only use for the land underneath roadways is parking — mostly for cars, but some for trucks/hire companies.

Car park below Westgate Freeway

Car park below Westgate Freeway

I only saw one exception: McDonalds seemed to be the only other business willing to be located underneath the freeway.

McDonalds below Westgate Freeway

Of course, elevated railway bridges also have an impact at ground level. But the carrying capacity for the space taken is much higher with rail, and “interchanges” (eg stations) don’t have the huge footprint, as humans alighting trains don’t need the big turning circles found on freeway interchanges.

East West Link

It’s important to note that while some is proposed to be tunnels, a big aspect of East West Link is elevated roadways. Both the western and eastern sections will involve new elevated sections. The Clifton Hill interchange will involve connections up high above the railway line, and the interchange from the eastern section to Citylink includes elevated roads — infamously surrounding the newly built Evo apartments, as well as from a tunnel portal in the middle of Royal Park. The new elevated sections won’t be just at the interchange itself, but also providing an expansion of lanes along the existing Citylink in both directions — north and south.

EWLink interchange to Citylink at Royal Park

That is, of course, if it’s ever built.

I’m told that the expansion will take the northern end of Citylink near Bell Street up to a total of fourteen lanes. Maybe one day we’ll stop pretending that motorways are an efficient form of transport for big cities.

Transport news: Extra services in July / Rally tomorrow / 2 hour fares

Some bits of transport news worth noting today:

July: new services

The Herald Sun has the scoop on public transport service upgrades from late-July: Work commute eased as new train, tram, bus services announced (a very narrowly focussed headline given the upgrades benefit a lot more than 9-5 workers).

Details are still a little sketchy, but what we do know is:

  • Around 4000 extra services a week
  • About 200 of those are train services, including the very welcome move of making the Dandenong line run every 10 minutes during the day on weekdays (39 per day = 195 per week), and a couple of extra Frankston AM peak services (10 per week). By my count, that’s all for this time around.
  • Extra V/Line services on all main lines, with the Ballarat and Bendigo lines to make use of their new tracks from Sunshine to the City. It’ll be interesting to see how much faster they are. V/Line bus changes to co-ordinate with their new train timetables.
  • 3260 new bus services per week, but there’s very little detail other than that there are some major route changes in Brimbank (flagged earlier this year), Port Phillip, Manningham and Bacchus Marsh. Minor changes in other areas, and a new route in Cranbourne East.
  • 471 tram services per week, with some route changes, including the long-awaited splitting of route 112 back to two routes: 11 (West Preston via Collins Street to Docklands), and 12 (St Kilda via Collins Street to Victoria Gardens). Route 78 will become full-time, which means no more evening/weekend route 79 to St Kilda — inconvenient for some, but more consistent and less confusing.

More detail, particularly of the bus upgrades, will be very welcome.

My initial impression is this is a good worthwhile upgrade package — if the government rolled something like this out each year, instead of each election cycle (sharing the love around to address upgrade needs in different areas, of course) then they’d really be kicking some goals.

I’d have to check, but I don’t recall a big increase in service kilometres being flagged in the Budget. I wonder if the government’s pushed this through to try not to look so roads-focussed. Speaking of which…

Rally this Saturday

Secondly, aiming to remind the government that they were elected on public transport promises, not to build motorways: A big rally tomorrow at 1pm, State Library.

If you feel, as I do, that billions shouldn’t be wasted building more motorways that just result in more traffic, this might be your best chance this year to make your view felt (with the possible exception of the ballot box in November). See you there!

Trains Not Tollroads rally flyer

2 hours becomes 2 hours only

This one has flown under the radar a bit: from July 1st, two hour fares become exactly two hours, rather than being rounded up to the next hour.

Hopefully this won’t result in too many people hanging around station entrances for the train to arrive before all trying to simultaneously touch-on.

Remember, if you’re planning on travelling in multiple two hour blocks across the day, it makes zero difference thanks to the daily cap. It’s only important if you were trying to squeeze all your travel in a day onto one 2 hour Myki Money fare.

One more thing

Android users: the PTV Android app is now available, to accompany the updated iOS app released a few weeks ago.

Update: The July timetable changes are now all online

Plea to stay safe – from a Melbourne train driver

This was posted on Facebook by a Melbourne train driver last week. It’s well worth a read. Given he says “please share this” (and other copies doing the rounds are screen dumps, making it difficult to read, especially for those with vision issues), I’m posting the text in full here:

I try to keep my posts upbeat, but right now, I need to vent. As most of you know, I am a train driver. Today, in the space of ten minutes, I had no less than ten people stupidly risk their lives, either trying to catch my train, or save one minute on their journeys.

Running an Upfield train to town, the first station after departing Upfield is Gowrie. The pedestrian crossing is at the approach to the station and is fitted with gates and a very noisy alarm. Four people bypassed the safety gates and ran across in front of my train as I approached the station at 55km/h. The tracks were wet. The train weighs around 250 tonne, not counting passengers. The wheels are made of steel and so is the track. There is no “instant gratification” when you hit the brakes. This time they were lucky.

Next station is Fawkner, right in the middle of the cemetery. Two more did the same dash, they were lucky, also.

Merlynston Station. A woman is held back by the safety gate. She looks at the train. She acts agitated. She waits, but just as I depart, pushes through the bypass gate and only a long loud whistle from me causes her to retreat. She then walks back, pulls out her phone and hides her face as I drive past.

Batman Station. Level crossing, boom gates dropping into position, lights, bells – everything warning “Do Not Cross”. Cyclist decides to beat the booms, rides across on the wrong side of the road, looks at me defiantly and nearly gets knocked of his bike as the boom on the other side reaches it’s lowest point.

Coburg Station (Getting a pattern here?). Level crossing. Two more cyclist. one, a MAMIL (Middle Aged Man in Lycra) edges up to the crossing on the wrong side of the road, and looks at me, calculating whether he has time to get across before I depart. He is joined by a lady cyclist in her thirties in a dress. She looks, too. At the last moment, they look right and see another train coming from the other direction and pull their bikes out of it’s path with very little time to spare.

Needless to say, I wasn’t happy. This happens on a daily basis. Fatalities do occur. Lives are lost and others ruined. How do you educate the public? If you need to catch the 7.30 train, get to the station at 7.25. Don’t assume it will be late. If the gates are closed, the booms down, the bells ringing, the lights flashing, it’s not the starting gun for a race, it means stop and wait – seriously. Wouldn’t you rather be ten minutes late for work instead of early for your funeral?

I was just going to put this behind me, but as I was cooking tea tonight, the news had a story of an 86 year old man, who “misjudged the speed of a train” at Edithvale, pushed his bike through a crossing and is now no longer with us. It was three thirty in the afternoon and the train was full of school kids. I had a fatality about five years ago, at Aspendale, one station closer to Melbourne. You see it happening. You can’t stop your train. You hear the thump. You live with it forever. You are angry that people can be so careless with their lives.

Think. Act.

Please share this if you think even one person might learn from it.

Rant over.

(Found via Reddit. Original Facebook post.)

International public transport infographic

I was passed this infographic on public transport from some mob from Ireland called HoogleIt. They seem to be sending it around to various bloggers to get it posted around the place as a promotional tool.

Fair enough. It has some interesting factoids on it.

Public transport infographic

Anything about Melbourne in here? Indirectly. The photo illustrating “liveable cities” is Melbourne, snapped from the Arts Centre on St Kilda Road.

There are a few typos here and there, but some good information.

Some notes from me:

  • In Europe, overall travel seems to be down in 2009-10, including bus and coach, but railway travel is up, and metro is steady. Perhaps this is an effect of the Global Financial Crisis?
  • The GFC might also account for the blip in 2010, but it does appear that in the USA, rail travel is up. It’d be nice to know what “all other” means here — presumably it includes light rail (trams), and ferries, but what about subway systems?
  • The Asia bit isn’t really about Asia; it includes some western cities. It is interesting though to see that very dense cities like Tokyo and Hong Kong are way ahead of cities in Europe that we think of as having pretty good (and well used) public transport such as Berlin. LA’s figure unfortunately leaves out buses, which are a major part of their system.
  • It appears Oslo has the most expensive fares of the cities surveyed, though their ticket includes transfers for an hour (unlike, say, Sydney where the train fare doesn’t let you board a connecting bus). And there was me thinking London might take the Most Expensive gong. Of course, regular users often get discounts, via smartcards or periodical tickets — but these are hard to compare, as all cities have different systems. Oslo’s 30 day ticket, for instance, costs about the same as 21 single tickets, or 10 days of travel if you make two trips per day. That’s about half the comparative cost for a 30 day ticket in Melbourne.
  • The fares data is from Business Insider which in turn sources it from a report from Swiss bank UBS. Hopefully UBS fixed their methodology — in the 2009 of the same study, they incorrectly claimed Sydney was second-highest in the world — seemingly equating the then A$3.80 fare with US$3.82 due to a currency mix-up, despite the Aussie dollar being nowhere near parity at the time. I guess it just shows you should always check the source data when presented with a surprising “fact”.

It makes me ponder what Melbourne-specific transport facts might be good to present in similar graphical form to make them clearer.