Smoke, steam, nostalgia: Steamrail Open Day 2014

The Steamrail Open Day a couple of weeks ago was good fun, though in some ways very similar to the previous one in 2012… But I’ll post some pics anyway.

This is a Tait train (“Red rattler”) — dating back to the 1910s, and very common when I was growing up, but phased-out in the 1980s.
Tait train (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

If you’ve ever wondered what the destination signs looked like from the inside, here it is. I was fascinated by these as a kid. Note the mirror allowing the operator to verify what was on the sign. These old painted canvas rolls are, of course, way more legible than most of the modern LED dot matrix varieties… and representations of them are now very common in home decorating. (You know, those big signs with white writing on a black background, and lots of words, not necessarily place names, all in a row.)
Tait destination roll (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

Sometimes it’s only by seeing things in the flesh that little details come back to you. In this case, I’d completely forgotten that the old red train manual doors had a catch, so it was easy to fix them in a position that let the air in, but wasn’t big enough for someone to fall out of.

Inside the old carriages you’ll find notices about the railway bylaws… in principle not so different from today’s.
Railway bylaws (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

Also of note, and in use until the 70s, are the Smoking and No Smoking sections. (This was from a diesel rail car.)
Smoking/No Smoking sections (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

Old and new (1)
Old and new (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

Old and new (2)
Old and new (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

I’m all for nostalgia, but it’s not hard to see that air pollution may have been one factor in phasing-out coal out of regular use on the railways (though I’m sure economics was the main driver). Well, kind of phased-out… it still powers our electric trains of course.
Smoke and steam (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

On the way home, the platform mirror at Footscray was in just the right position to catch this scene.
Platform mirror, Footscray station

We could have a vastly more usable PT network; PTV has a plan. It just needs funding.

Getting around Melbourne’s inner-suburbs without a car is pretty easy, thanks to a reasonable network of frequent trams. In some areas, such as around Prahran, the trams, trains and buses form a grid, making almost any local trip within that area very easy.

Getting around Melbourne’s middle and outer-suburbs without a car is generally a nightmare. There are some rail lines, but for most trips it’s buses, and they are hopelessly infrequent — generally only hourly on weekends, and only half-hourly on weekdays.

Queueing for the 703 SmartBus at Bentleigh Station

It’s no secret then that areas of good public transport tend to have lower rates of car ownership — the excellent Charting Transport blog explored this in detail a while back.

Of course, there are other factors such as urban planning — are the things you want/need easy to get to without a car, including by walking?

But most of Melbourne currently misses out on frequent services of the type that you can use without looking at a timetable, and without a long wait (particularly if connecting off another service).

A few Smartbus routes have been a step in the right direction, and they’re popular, but still leave huge gaps in the frequent network.

PTV plan: bus service standardsPTV has a plan to fix this problem. As The Age reported on Tuesday:
A network of more than 30 bus routes running every 10 minutes would criss-cross much of Melbourne within less than a decade under ambitious plans produced by Public Transport Victoria.

This kind of upgrade is really important: along with train and tram upgrades proposed, it gives way more suburban areas a much more useable network.

The information has come out in a documentwhich is part of East West Link travel forecasts. It’s a bit vague because the details are in tram and bus plans prepared by PTV but not released — only the train plan has been made public.

But what we do know is this:

  • Most trains running every 10 minutes, 7 days-a-week
  • Most trams running every 10 minutes, 7 days-a-week
  • Some tram route changes to better organise the network (though little in the way of expansion, alas)

The most interesting bit is around buses. Remember that many areas of Melbourne will never have trains and trams, not even under the most ambitious expansion plan imaginable.

A LOT of suburbs will remain beyond walking distance to stations and tram stops, and need frequent bus services.

The plan sorts buses into several categories, and attaches minimum standards to each.

  • Smartbus – at least every 10 minutes – 43 routes by 2021, 49 routes by 2031
  • Direct – at least every 20 minutes on about 70 routes by 2021, at least every 15 minutes on about 75 routes by 2031
  • Coverage – at least hourly – about 180 routes by 2021, about 190 routes by 2031
  • Commuter – a dozen routes by 2021
  • Special – every 4 minutes on two routes – eg the existing 401 and 601 university shuttles
  • InterTown – about 20 routes on the urban fringe
  • Telebus – a handful of routes, but with many variations, on request routes
  • Hybrid – routes which fall into multiple categories, presumably with differing service standards

Yes, by 2031, the proposal is to have over 120 Melbourne bus routes running every 15 minutes.

This is critical for the overall public transport network.

The mass introduction of Smartbus and Direct routes every 10 and every 15 minutes would vastly expand the “turn up and go” anywhere-to-anywhere network across Melbourne, making it possible to use public transport for a lot more trips than at present.

Here’s how my neck of the woods looks at present: 7-day 15 minute services (all modes) — the current situation on the left, and if the PTV plan were implemented on the right.

7 day 15 minute services: 2014 7 day, 15 minute services: proposed by 2031
(Because the detail is vague, I’ve assumed only 822 would change in its upgrade to Smartbus. I’ve also assumed South Road buses 811/812/824 would run frequently on those sections — they’re actually slated as “hybrid”. And it’s quite possible I’ve missed some other proposed routes. Would need to get the full report to get all this cleared-up.)

At present, if your trip isn’t entirely along a tram or train line, you’ve probably got a long wait ahead of you. Going to most areas, it’s hopeless — so most people drive, and will often pack their driveway with one car per adult, putting a big strain on household budgets.

With the PTV plan implemented, a lot more journeys are possible without long waits, because a lot more areas are within walking distance to a frequent service.

This includes being able to easily get to your nearest shopping centre and/or railway station without having to drive.

As Jarrett Walker is fond of saying: “Frequency is freedom.”

A frequent network is the type of thing needed to let households really reduce their car ownership and usage.

It would bring Melbourne more into line with other big cities around the world, particularly in Europe, where the fast frequent backbone (principally heavy rail) is supported by connections to a network of frequent buses and trams across urban areas.

And a lot of it is achievable in the short term by making better use of fleet and infrastructure, in particular by getting the large number of vehicles currently in depots outside peak hours and getting them out into service more of the time.

The only question is when will the politicians take note and fund this?

Spot the difference – transport advertising in the lead-up to elections

I was thinking the government ads about transport upgrades back in 2009-10 (Labor) are pretty similar to 2014 (Coalition).

How would it be if I got them both and dubbed the audio of one over the video of another?

The 2010 version is mostly about trains; the 2014 one has been chopped a tad to remove around 15 seconds that was about East West Link. But it’s surprising how well they fit. (The full unedited versions are shown below.)

This time around, Channel 7 reports ads like this have cost at least $3.2 million so far.

Comparing 2010 to 2014

Let’s play a little game of Spot The Difference.

2009-2010 – Labor 2013-2014 – Coalition
Advert for new Smartbus route 903
Advert for a measly 6 extra services on bus route 630
moving-victoria-ad-20140301
Nice placement: Advertising, Cheltenham station
Victorian Transport Plan advertising, December 2009
Myki billboard advertising, February 2014
Bayside Rail Imorovements poster, Bentleigh, February 2014 (cropped)

Opposition transport spokesman Terry Mulder said the ad campaign should now be considered “electioneering” and withdrawn immediately. He vowed to cut advertising spending in the transport portfolio if the Coalition won government in November. “If I’m the transport minister, the money I have available to me will be going into nuts and bolts business, not self-promotion,” he said.

The Age, 1/9/2010

Rather than invest in public transport Napthine Govt invests in advertising 2 tell us how good it is. But you can’t spin lived experience!
Jill Hennessy, Labor Public Transport Spokesperson, 28/2/2014, Twitter

Denis Napthine will fight for his survival with the last dollar of your money #springst
Martin Pakula, Labor Spokesperson for Scrutiny of Government, and Transport Minister 2010, 1/3/2014, Twitter

Is advertising ever justified?

Yes, sure it is. Public transport is a product which competes against other modes of travel, particularly cars.

But it the ads should be informative, or at the very least should tell you why (even at a high level) you should be using the product.

Some of the ads have been informative at some level. From the sample above (and it is only a sample), Labor’s newspaper ads and the Coalition’s billboard/noticeboard ads have some level of useful information in them.

Amazingly, none of the Coalition’s ads spell out a huge improvement they’ve delivered in the last couple of years, but almost totally failed to promote: frequent weekend trains on much of the network.

And the TV ads in particular, placed by both sides of politics over the years, tell you very little — they seem purely design to try and convince you that your Government is doing Good Things with your money.

The curse of dead running – enemy of the passenger

One of the issues in public transport is “dead running“. This blog post cites a local example, but it’s a widespread issue.

At various times of day, trams trains and buses move out of service between their runs and their depots or stabling. This is dead running.

This is dead running.

Out of service bus

Sometimes this is taken to extremes. Most route 600/922/923 buses run out of a depot in Sandringham, but apparently because of lack of space, some buses run Out Of Service right across town to/from another depot in Footscray! (At least they did when the route was run by Melbourne Bus Link. It’s recently been taken over by TransDev, who may have changed it.)

My local route the 703 is run out of Ventura Buses’ South Oakleigh depot. The route runs from Brighton to Blackburn. In the 703′s case, Dead Running to and from Brighton is along the most direct road, which also happens to be along the route: Centre Road. I would think this is a pretty common scenario.

Thus we get sights like this: people in the morning peak waiting at Bentleigh station for a bus to Brighton… perhaps their bus is delayed thanks to the long run from Blackburn (troubleprone despite the theoretical traffic priority Smartbuses are meant to have). Often when a bus turns up, it’s going to Brighton all right, but it’s not in service — yes, they do dead running in peak hour.

703 bus stop, Bentleigh

Likewise eastbound in the evenings there’s a big gap in the service between 7:33pm and 8:41pm… there’s a bus in between (at about 7:51) which runs out of service back to the depot.

The most obvious solution is to run more of these buses in service.

Stopping to pick up and drop off passengers would add to the run times of course, so you wouldn’t want to do it across the board — there will be times when it’s necessary to get vehicles to and from their runs as quickly as possible.

But if there are known gaps in the schedule, due to the timetable or regular delays, then it’d help those passengers a lot, even if it meant extending the run time slightly. Big benefit for little cost.

I was told some years ago by a senior bus planner that in regional cities, Myki had reduced the number of cash transactions on buses, and sped up run times — and that was before sales of individual tickets were scrapped. The silver lining in the cloud that is Myki is that we now have vastly reduced numbers of transactions on buses.

Theoretically bus run times should be faster now than in the Metcard days. And making Out Of Service buses run in service may make little difference to running times in many cases, thus almost no extra cost for those extra services.

It’s time those waiting passengers saw some benefit from that.

The Dandenong line upgrade: What’s included, what’s missing?

To the surprise of many, the state government yesterday announced a major $2 billion upgrade of the Dandenong/Pakenham/Cranbourne lines — they’re saying it’ll be enough to boost capacity by about 30%.

The government’s press release is here, or you can watch a video:

What’s included?

25 new high-capacity “next-generation” trains. They’ve been talking about this for years. The newest trains on the Melbourne are basically a 10 year-old design with some tweaks. If the talk has been correct, this new batch will have more doors (to cut dwell times at stations), fewer seats, walk-through passenger areas, no middle cabs (pointless as almost all services now run as full 6-car sets) and lots of handholds. Probably a tad longer (perhaps even a 7th carriage) — overall carrying about 20% more passengers per train.

In other words, they’ll be similar to the sorts of high-capacity trains you see in other big cities around the world. Of course squeezing more people in needs to be balanced out with enough seats so that people travelling long distances don’t have to stand all the way. (See also: How many seats do we want on our trains?)

Grade separation of four crossings. They’ll hit the worst of the remaining ones: Clayton Road (where the level crossing often causes long delays to buses and ambulances), Centre Road (so close to Clayton Road you’d pretty much have to do it at the same time), Murrumbeena Road (infamous for long delays to road users) and Koornang Road. In the process there’ll be new stations at Carnegie, Murrumbeena and Clayton.

Early works on more. Planning and early works funding for the grade separation of Grange Road (Carnegie), Poath Road (Hughesdale), Corrigan Road, Heatherton Road and Chandler Road (Noble Park). When these are eventually done, and given the Springvale grade separation is currently underway, the entire stretch from Caulfield to Dandenong will have no level crossings, making it possible to run a lot more trains, without causing a ruckus by blocking up road traffic — as in fact happened yesterday when following a disruption, some motorists waited up to an hour.

Springvale grade separation under construction

High-capacity signalling. As I explained a few weeks ago, “moving block” signalling makes it possible to run a lot more trains along a line. Presumably this will include at least the busiest section, from the City Loop to Dandenong, but it may also include the full lines, out to Pakenham and Cranbourne. It will also need all trains running on the line to be fitted with in-cab equipment, including V/Line trains.

Maintenance depot at East Pakenham. At a guess, this is where the new trains will be serviced, and I’d hope some extra track for this facility will also allow Pakenham suburban trains to shunt out of the way of V/Line trains.

Power upgrades to make sure there’s enough juice for all these new trains.

It appears the package is fully funded, not an election promise. It’s not clear where the money came from, but according to the government it is actually funded: The $2.5 billion for the Cranbourne-Pakenham project will be included in the Budget and is “all new money”, Dr Napthine said.

The project is scheduled to start in 2015, with completion in 2019.

Dandenong line, 6pm

What’s not included

Duplication of the Cranbourne line. I’m very surprised not to see this listed, though the rumour is that works will address at least some of it. I hope so, because the cost of it would be tiny in comparison to the rest of the package, and having a single section of track will hamper efforts to get the most capacity out of the project.

Third or fourth track to Dandenong. With little CBD stabling capacity, you wouldn’t go to the expense of a third track unless you are also building a fourth. This package doesn’t appear to include this, though it’s said to be in the longer term plan for the line, particularly if the Port of Hastings is eventually developed. Hopefully the grade separations and new stations are being built with this in mind.

Metro rail tunnel. This is commonly seen as a solution to rail capacity at the CBD end, but actually it doesn’t matter that much yet. Two tracks from Dandenong into the City Loop means that, provided no other trains share that loop tunnel, capacity shouldn’t be an issue. This could, of course, mean bye-bye to Frankston loop services.

Enough new trains for the whole line. If you have peak services every, say, 3-4 minutes, and a round trip of about 140 minutes, you’d need about 40 trains, plus a small number of spares. Obviously there’s scope to expand the order later, but for consistent loads and running times to maximise line capacity, ideally you’d want every train to be the higher capacity model.

In practice they might decide they’ll target them at the “peak of the peak” hour, or on the busiest of the two lines, until they eventually have enough bigger trains.

Connecting buses. No doubt they’ll benefit from the removal of level crossings, but there’s no word on service upgrades. Getting the trunk route to the south-east working well is great, but its potential is so much greater if there is a network of frequent connecting services for the benefit of people travelling to or from locations beyond walking distance of stations — at present many connecting buses are hopelessly infrequent. Smartbus routes are a good model here, and can be provided on more routes and services boosted, particularly on weekends.

It’s also unclear if quirks in the train timetables will be fixed: late Sunday starts, infrequent services early on weekends, 30 minute waits after 7pm on weekends (and after 10pm on weekdays). Hopefully these will be included in the service upgrades to accompany the infrastructure and fleet improvements.

Train passing signal

The verdict

Overall it’s a great upgrade. It will bring the Dandenong line into the 21st century, with modern trains and signalling, providing a big boost to capacity… it will bring the operation of the line much closer to world’s best practice.

There’s one glaring exception: the remaining single track on the Cranbourne line. Surely if you’re throwing a couple of billion dollars into the line, you’d have to fix this. Hopefully that is the case.

V/Line passengers may be unhappy that they’ll still sit behind suburban trains for the metropolitan portion of their trip. That’s an annoyance, but they alone aren’t reason enough for extra tracks… V/Line’s figures indicate for the entire morning peak, the 5 trains arriving in Melbourne between 6:59am and 9:28am carry 856 passengers — about one suburban train load. Certainly something needs to be done to improve travel times for regional passengers (and attract more of them off the road), but the immediate concern is suburban capacity. And the new signalling and measures to reduce suburban train dwell time delays will help.

It does make sense to target one line with a package of upgrades to ensure its performance will be humming as demand continues to grow. But it begs the question of when other lines and other public transport users around Melbourne will benefit from this kind of modernisation.

See also:

Safety around trams

This short safety video was produced for the new “GoldLinq” light rail system on the Gold Coast, which opens this year… but the tips in it are just as relevant for Melbourne.

Of course for our local ads, we’ve got skateboarding rhinos.

PS. In light of two newspaper polls over the weekend (they’re like trams/buses, you wait for ages, then lots turn up at once), I’ve updated this article from last year: What do people want prioritised? PT or roads? Every survey says PT.

See something newsworthy? Get the footage!

OK, so you’ve seen a big problem, and since you carry a very capable camera in your phone everywhere you go, you’ve decided you want to get footage of it so the world can find out about it.

Great! This really helps activists, and can get problems fixed.

When you’re filming or snapping photos, here are some tips to consider, some based on a chat with a Channel 7 journo following a previous foray into this. Obviously these thoughts are in the context of my particular campaigning interests, but hopefully they’re useful more broadly.

Mind you, many of these pointers are also relevant to simply getting photos and video of any newsworthy event, not necessarily just one that highlights a problem to be fixed.

Show the problem. Show the scale of the issue; some context. A crowded train doorway on its own isn’t a problem. The entire carriage being packed, and people giving up and waiting on the platform is a problem.

Make notes about what it is you’re showing, and post those (even if brief) with the material. Are we looking at a tram that’s packed because the three before it were cancelled (so the problem is service reliability) or it’s packed despite everything running smoothly (so the problem is service frequency and the number of trams)? Why is this significant? Is it part of a wider problem?

Don’t mislead. If you’re aiming to get a problem fixed, your photos and video are only part of the evidence — it may be what sparks further investigation, but fundamentally you’ll be wasting your time (and quite possibly set your cause back) if it turns out you implied something which didn’t really happen.

Don’t be creepy or irritate people — when I’m trying to film packed PT, I’m not trying to film individuals, I’m filming crowds. Occasionally I’ll get stares, and I’d be happy to explain what I was doing if ever asked, but do I think there’s a way to film in a crowd while not lingering on specific people, and not giving the impression of creepiness.

If possible, be prepared. Sometimes things happen spontaneously, and it might be a struggle to whip out your phone camera in time and snap a pic or shoot some video. Other things are regular events. For the summer timetable crowding, I knew it was happening every day, so took along a proper camera and positioned myself at the end of the carriage to be able to get good shots.

Be safe and considerate. Don’t do anything silly to get a good shot, and don’t get in the way.

For videos

Hold that shot. You’re aiming for footage in a news report, not a music video, so don’t wave the camera around too much. Hold it still and steady, and get shots of at least 5 seconds each, preferably a bit longer.

Vary the angles. For television footage, they’ll need to chop up your video so it works well for viewers. Be sure to provide a few different angles. For January’s crowded train footage I included a shot through the end-of-carriage door into the next carriage. It was a bit arty, but worked well — they used it — and helped show context as well — it wasn’t just my carriage that was sardine-like.

Video is, of course, better for TV, but photos also sometimes get a run on TV, and online and in newspapers. A mix may be good, if you can manage it!

Don’t talk over it. If you’re trying to be a reporter, rather than a witness (if you know what I mean) then don’t talk over the vision. The noise from the event itself may be more important than a commentary, which can be added later. That said, spontaneous commentary can work okay.

Finally… but critically…

Shoot video in landscape. It seems to be way too easy to forget that whether it’s on the TV news or Youtube, most video is better viewed landscape, not portrait. Turn your phone 90 degrees before you start shooting – it makes much better use of the camera’s resolution.

The very worst crime in this category I ever saw was someone had filmed something off a widescreen television in portrait mode. For heaven’s sake, isn’t it blindingly obvious you’d turn your phone to match the TV screen?

Turns out there’s an iPhone application to force filming in landscape, but of course the people who most need this type of app will never install it.

More on this topic in this amusing video:

Where to take the footage?

Okay, this is easy for me because I’ve built up contacts in the PT world.

But all media outlets these days look for contributions, because good photos and video are invaluable. Contact the newsroom at your preferred outlet, explain what you filmed and why you think it’s important.

For a story to get a good run, it may be better to initially give it to only one outlet unless it’s utterly explosive (perhaps literally).

And be prepared to be interviewed/quoted, though depending what it is, they may be prepared to take it anonymously, or at least not identify who had the camera.

Does this work? Do things get fixed?

A picture tells a thousand words, but it’s also a thousand times more convincing to sceptical authorities who are likely to deny there’s a problem.

I suspect it’s rare to see a direct correlation from this kind of publicity to a real fix (as in New Year’s Eve), but often strong media coverage can be the thing that gets the ball rolling.

The 2006 weekend train overcrowding footage highlighted that 3-car trains were no longer adequate on weekends. Apparently this was news to Connex. Perhaps it would have happened anyway, but a subsequent upgrade led to almost all weekend trains running as full 6-car sets.

Why is the government on the back foot over White Night public transport? Partly because the media picked up a PTUA press release based on photos posted on Twitter on Saturday night, some of which were posted in response to a request for people to snap them.

Happy hunting!

Anybody got extra tips? Leave a comment!

Metro 1/Metro 2/Metro Rail Capacity Project – The Metro rail tunnel’s many names

There seems to be a little confusion over the various names of the Metro rail tunnel — for instance the name Metro One pops up regularly, especially out of the City Of Melbourne. The confusion is not surprising, as the name and design of the tunnel has changed a bit over the years.

Melbourne Metro tunnel station artists impression

Origins

The first glimpse of the idea came when Professor Graham Currie raised it back in 2005, I suspect helped along by ideas out the transport bureaucracy. Back then it didn’t have a name, but was compared in the media reports to the London Tube.

Professor Currie said the tunnel would link Melbourne University in the inner north to South Yarra station in the south, running for several kilometres under the central business district and St Kilda Road.

– The Age, Call for ‘tube’ line underneath Melbourne, 7/11/2005

Metro 1 and Metro 2

By the time of the Victorian Transport Plan in 2008, the tunnel was official government policy, an eventual 17km long tunnel linking Footscray with Caulfield, and to be built in two stages.

The Melbourne Metro – Rail Tunnel Stage 1 has an estimated cost of more than $4.5 billion. Stage 2 of the project will connect St Kilda Road (Domain) to Caulfield following the completion of Stage 1. Subject to Commonwealth support, development of Stage 1 is expected to start in 2012 and be completed by 2018.

–Victorian Transport Plan, 2008

Around that time they seemed to have a fascination with the word Metro, ensuring that it was also adopted as the name of the rail system itself when the new operator took over from Connex in 2009.

Metro rail systems are designed to run higher capacity trains from end to end of lines using dedicated tracks – the trains can run at higher frequency without interfering with other routes. The focus is on simple timetables, frequent services and consistent stopping patterns. Metro systems like those in London and New York have key interchange stations to allow people to change trains easily or switch to trams and buses to get to where they want to go.

–Victorian Transport Plan, 2008

This all makes sense, and it’s in that context that the rail tunnel has been emphasised — separating out rail lines and building extra CBD capacity to allow more lines to run independently.

So “Metro 1″ was just the first stage, from Footscray to Domain, serving the Sunbury line. “Metro 2″ was the remainder, to Caulfield, hooking up with the Dandenong line.

The big problem with building stage 1 and then waiting a while for stage 2 was that the capacity of the Sunbury line into Domain, and then having to reverse back out, 14 trains per hour, isn’t hugely greater than capacity of that line into the City Loop will be after Regional Rail Link is completed.

melb-metro-2008-2020

One tunnel to link them all

By 2012, the plan had been revised, with the tunnel shortened to run from Footscray to South Yarra, and to be built as a single project, and including a station to allow for urban renewal at Arden.

This submission builds on previous submissions to Infrastructure Australia – Melbourne Metro 1 (Ready to Proceed) and Melbourne Metro 2 (Real Potential). It is an interim step towards a submission defining a single project that will deliver the benefits of the two metro schemes. In doing so elements of the previous two submissions are combined and the project scope is being
refined in an effort to reduce costs.

Infrastructure Australia submission from the Victorian government, 2012

Metro tunnel plan

The Metro tunnel was worked into the (very interesting) PTV Network Development Plan for rail, released last year. It also included a second tunnel, eventually to divert the South Morang line via Parkville and Flagstaff, then to Southern Cross and out to Fishermens Bend.

PTV rail network: Stage 4

The latest name: Metro Rail Capacity Project

A couple of months ago the project was officially renamed… which makes sense as the rail tunnel is just one component of a multi-faceted push to increase capacity across the rail network, including on lines that won’t get served by the rail tunnel(s).

Mind you, I can’t see this new name really catching on in popular usage because if the tunnel ever gets built, it’ll be the most expensive, most visible component.

In November 2013, the Melbourne Metro project was officially renamed as the Metro Rail Capacity Project. The new name better reflects the significant capacity benefits that the project will provide to the Sunbury, Upfield, Craigieburn, Pakenham, Cranbourne, Sandringham, Frankston, Werribee and Williamstown lines. On day one the project will enable an additional 20,000 passengers to travel on Melbourne’s rail network in the peak hour, as well as relieving congestion on St Kilda Road trams.

PTV

And now?

Reports in the past week or two indicate the state government seems to be fumbling the project. The Premier has actively talked it down, suggesting it could result in Swanston Street being dug up for two years.

Various wild ideas have been thrown around, some trying to merge the original North-South Metro tunnel and the South Morang/Flagstaff/Fishermens Bend one:

  • Footscray to Parkville (or possibly skipping that altogether), then via Flagstaff and Southern Cross to terminate at Fishermens Bend — thus missing the busiest part of the CBD — not much of a boost to capacity then is it, if it doesn’t go where the passengers want to get to
  • Footscray to Southern Cross, then Fishermens Bend, Port Melbourne, Domain and South Yarra — successfully bypasses most of the CBD, yet likely to be just as expensive (possibly more so) than the original plan. This one has no specific status; it was floated by the anonymous SpringStSource
  • Footscray, Parkville, then through the CBD under Russell Street, Domain and South Yarra — no doubt this would involve less surface disruption, as Russell Street isn’t as busy as Swanston street. But making people walk a full city block to interchange to trains and most trams would be far from ideal. This one was reported by The Age, but it’s unclear where it came from — it appears to be an idea from within PTV.

From what I can see, the 2012 plan is better than any of these, given it serves Parkville, Domain and busy Swanston Street — the only caveat being that it actually excludes an interchange at South Yarra, and is unclear about increased capacity from South Yarra to Caulfield. (Also to fully use the capacity, the Dandenong line needs to be sorted out, especially with regard to level crossing eliminations.)

Frankly I don’t trust reports that cut-and-cover has to be used all the way along Swanston Street, with two year long closures of the entire street, particularly as the tunnel has to be quite deep to get under the existing City Loop and Yarra River.

While they sort out when the tunnel will be built and where it should go (they’re a bit distracted by that other tunnel — the one nobody voted for), it’s once again worth mentioning that upgraded “moving block” signalling will provide a heap of extra train capacity — and there’s a heap that can be done to improve the tram corridor as well, with proper traffic light priority, especially along St Kilda Road. These upgrades can buy a few more years of capacity for a much smaller capital outlay.

And remember, “metro”-like frequent trains, every 10 minutes or better on all lines all day every day is largely possible right now, with existing infrastructure — and would be a huge boost to public transport network usability.

Inevitably though, the tunnel has to be built.

The CBD is growing, and getting busier, and suburban growth is concentrated on the Dandenong corridor and the western suburbs, which the tunnel will serve.

When it comes to public transport, those agglomeration benefits they talk about aren’t imaginary. Mass transit capacity is critical to continued accessibility and economic growth of central Melbourne, and thus the state.