Park and ride is not as significant as you might assume

It’s unsurprising that the closure of station car parks along the Dandenong line for the “skyrail” level crossing removals was highlighted by the media on Wednesday; at this stage it’s the major disruption impact that’s expected.

But – perhaps because of the amount of space it takes up – it’s often incorrectly assumed that Park And Ride accounts for the majority of train users in Melbourne. The stats tell a different story.

Car spaces closing

PTV says the following car spaces will be lost during the project, and I’ve compared that with the total number of train users at each station.

Station Users Car spaces closing % affected
Carnegie 3,140 166 5.29%
Murrumbeena 2,760 292 10.58%
Noble Park 3,790 up to 331 8.73%

This assumes one passenger per car space, which is probably not far off how it works. I’ve also assumed all Noble Park parking is closing, though so far they’ve only said the Mons Avenue car park is closing.

So a total of about 8% at those stations would be directly affected by the car park closures.

Extra spaces opened

To counter the closures, extra spaces will be provided at nearby stations – some also on the Dandenong line, some on the Glen Waverley line.

  • East Malvern 172
  • Holmesglen 170
  • Huntingdale 92
  • Sandown Park 166
  • Clayton 238 (from September)

I make that a net loss of just 49 spaces. (Have I missed something?)

It should be obvious that car park closures have less impact than closing the stations and rail line altogether – as is happening on the Frankston line now.

Car users are the ones most able to adapt their travel patterns to use another station. For instance East Malvern is only 1.5 km from Murrumbeena; only a few minutes drive. That said, if coming from the south side of the line, you’d have to anticipate a delay at the level crossing. And many of the extra spaces created are further out from the inner stations.

In contrast, those who walk or bike to the station are least easily able to switch to another station.

Murrumbeena station

How many Dandenong line passengers use Park and Ride?

Okay so it’s a net 49 spaces removed. But the worst case scenario is that during the project, all spaces at all the stations being rebuilt are removed.

And a lot more people drive to the station than park in the car parks – some of them may be sharing rides, but many would park in nearby streets. Those streets might be affected by parking restrictions during construction.

But even if we assume the worst case scenario, it’s still a minority of the people using these stations.

PTV figures show the following passenger numbers at the stations to be rebuilt.

Station Weekday entries Access by car %car
Carnegie 3140 576 18.34%
Murrumbeena 2760 860 31.16%
Hughesdale 1870 439 23.48%
Clayton 4920 1289 26.20%
Noble Park 3790 1174 30.98%
Total 16480 4338 26.32%

So perhaps 4338 people (26%) affected by car park closures, if all the car parks close, and if nobody can park anywhere in surrounding streets within walking distance… unlikely.

Looking at the entire line

In contrast, how many would be affected if the line closed completely for weeks or months at a time? Not just those at the closed stations, but also all of those coming in from further out, who would face a train/bus/train trip.

As the figures below show, assuming they all come through the sections to be closed, it’s about 64,000 people per weekday — fifteen times the number affected by the car park closures, and more than double the number affected by the Frankston line closure.

The figures also also show that while a minority drive to the stations slated for rebuilding, the amount of Park And Ride increases as you get further out.

Weekday entries Car %car
Carnegie 3,140 576 18.34%
Murrumbeena 2,760 860 31.16%
Hughesdale 1,870 439 23.48%
Oakleigh 6,780 1,701 25.09%
Huntingdale 6,260 2,165 34.58%
Clayton 4,920 1,289 26.20%
Westall 1,980 724 36.57%
Springvale 4,690 1,287 27.44%
Sandown Park 1,900 1,383 72.79%
Noble Park 3,790 1,174 30.98%
Yarraman 1,010 466 46.14%
Dandenong 8,300 2,222 26.77%
Lynbrook 1,270 491 38.66%
Merinda Park 1,160 847 73.02%
Cranbourne 2,130 1,036 48.64%
Hallam 2,310 1,439 62.29%
Narre Warren 2,830 1,612 56.96%
Berwick 3,190 1,603 50.25%
Beaconsfield 840 545 64.88%
Officer 70 47 67.14%
Cardinia Road 900 462 51.33%
Pakenham 1,910 1,193 62.46%
Total/Average 64,010 23,561 36.81%

So basically the further out you go, the higher the proportion of park and ride users. Which probably reflects the overall walkability of those suburbs, and of course the number of residences within walking distance of the stations.

It is a lot of people, but it’s still a minority across the entire rail corridor.

Bus at Murrumbeena

More park and ride? Or better feeders?

Of course station car parks are expensive to build (tens of thousands of dollars per space) and not a great use of land – the space they take up certainly doesn’t enhance walkability.

This article about a US survey of park and ride notes numerous problems (though under-utilisation isn’t really an issue in Melbourne).

There is huge scope to improve local feeder buses. This goes doubly for the railway stations having their car parks temporarily lost – rather than spending up big extending car parks elsewhere, they might have done well to fund additional feeder bus services, particularly in peak hour. (The Murrumbeena bus used to run twice as often in peak hour.)

The removal of the crossings provides a great opportunity to upgrade buses. With far fewer delays at crossings once they are removed, bus punctuality and efficiency will improve a lot. PTV and the government should take the opportunity to give more people a way to use public transport without having to own a car.

  • Update: Quite possibly affecting more people at Murrumbeena than the car park closure is the closure of the pedestrian footbridge, which is used by many to cross the tracks (either in the morning or the evening) to avoid the level crossing. This morning we’ve learnt: Murrumbeena ped bridge will close mid-August and will be demolished shortly after.

What can Melbourne learn from Singapore’s skyrails?

While I was in Singapore for my holiday, I had a good look at the MRT, and I wanted to specifically post about the MRT’s elevated sections.

I’m not the only one to ponder a comparison to the proposed Dandenong line skyrail… Channel 9 recently featured this story, which is worth a look:

Apparently about 30% of the Singapore rail network is elevated. Most of the rest seems to be underground; I didn’t explore all of the network, but I didn’t see any ground level lines; it was either above or below.

The network has only been built since the 1980s, so it’s not like Melbourne where some sections of elevated rail have been there for a century — eg around Glenferrie, Balaclava, Collingwood and other inner suburbs.

That said, in some areas of Singapore, the rail line came first, before surrounding development. In others, it was inserted into existing suburbs.

Of the initial lines authorised in 1982, the plan was for 42 stations, of which 26 were planned to be elevated. With a current focus on more lines through the central city area, some of these have been all underground, but other suburban line extensions and stations continue to be built as elevated.

How does it look? Here’s a short video:

Elevated structures and trains

In most cases they seem to have designed each individual track on its own structure. Melbourne is planning this too, to maximise the amount of light and rainfall that can benefit flora below.

A key difference is that Singapore trains are powered by third rail, so there is no overhead wire and stanchions as we will need in Melbourne. This reduces the overall visual impact when trains aren’t passing. (Singapore does have a high speed rail line to Malaysia planned; this will have overhead electric power, but I’m not sure if it will have elevated sections.)

Singapore has no diesel passenger or freight trains, though they do use diesel powered maintenance trains.

Near Redhill station, Singapore

Looking around Redhill, just east of the station the train goes underground, and the clearances here over parkland weren’t particularly high. On the other side of the station, double decker buses could get under the track, so I assume it meets some kind of minimum standard.

Melbourne’s planned elevated lines are planned to be much higher than the standard 4.3 metre road clearances, partly to allow more light, and also presumably to be clear of the existing tracks they are replacing, to minimise service disruptions during construction.

Near Redhill station, Singapore

Picnic under the tracks, near Redhill station, Singapore

Parkland

At Redhill, there is parkland around the station. A few hundred metres away is high-rise residential (common in Singapore, but quite unlike most Melbourne suburbs).

It was Sunday, and in the park I actually saw one group having a picnic very close to the rail line. Other groups were using the park nearby. Evidently the trains are just accepted; it doesn’t stop people making use of the space.

There was no litter and no graffiti on the concrete structures. But the whole of Singapore is like that.

It may have been clean, but I’d have to say it didn’t look beautiful — unless perhaps you’re a fan of concrete.

Redhill station, Singapore

In this location, apart from growing grass underneath, little had been done to beautify the area. Plain concrete and (on parts of the station structure) metal and glass. It was a similar case at other stations I saw: functional but not beautiful.

They do better if they try. Elsewhere in Singapore, murals and tree planting has occurred to minimise the visual impact of rail construction.

Notable at Redhill was a playground underneath the tracks. Nobody was using it when I went past; signage indicated it was a private playground linked to nearby condominiums.

Playground under the tracks, near Redhill station, Singapore

Redhill station, Singapore

Redhill station, Singapore

Stations

As far as I saw, Singapore station design (whether elevated or underground) is almost universally island platforms. This is particularly useful at terminal stations where the next train departing might use either side. It also makes better use of space when coping with tidal peak loads.

At all the stations they seem to provide full rain coverage (they’re dealing with tropical weather, remember, but this would benefit Melbourne too on rainy and stinking hot days) and platform screen doors (which were retrofitted last decade). Fans were fitted to many station ceilings to provide some level of cooling.

Access to/from the platforms was mostly by escalator, with lifts and some stairs also provided.

Redhill station, Singapore

Tanah Merah station, Singapore

All stations appeared to be staffed, with station offices and fare gates at ground level. There was rarely a staff presence on the platforms, though CCTV was common.

The concourse levels generally were pretty open, maximising visibility, with retail such as convenience stores. Some stations had other small retail outlets built into them. Toilets seemed to be provided at all stations.

Singapore MRT: Redhill station

Redhill station, Singapore

No stations that I saw seemed to have any car parking at all – in Singapore, cars are an expensive status symbol, not a virtual necessity as they are in many Australian suburbs.

Bus interchanges and bike parking were prominent. The distance from the station entrances to the bus stops varied – for some only a short walk, for others a bit longer.

Not that it seemed to matter; the bus/train combo seemed very popular, though given surrounding residential towers, I’d bet the majority of passengers walk to the station. (They do in Melbourne too.)

Pasir Ris station, Singapore

Pasir Ris station, Singapore

Development around elevated lines

At Redhill there were roads and parklands providing a buffer between the railway line and nearby residential towers.

But at the eastern end of the line between Tanah Merah and Pasir Ris it’s a different story – a mix of high-density residential towers and medium-density houses – a fair way from the suburban density common in Melbourne suburbs, but closer to it. And many of those homes are very close to the railway line, separated only by a walking path, similar to that planned for the Dandenong skyrail.

In these sections there is some use of privacy screens, though it’s not universal. Where they are in place they seem quite effective at blocking the view to the immediate area.

Elevated track and privacy barrier, East West line, Singapore

Pasir Ris station is a terminus. Beyond the platforms at ground level is a bus terminus and bus parking, but the tracks actually extend beyond this, providing a small amount of stabling. This extends across a road into a nearby park, with maintenance cranes at the very end of the track.

It looked like a bit of an odd addition to the park; none of this was in use when we were there; I wonder how often it gets used?

Maintenance facility in peak, near Pasir Ris station, Singapore

Pasir Ris station, Singapore

Conclusion

At first glance the Singapore designs are far more similar to the proposals for the Dandenong line than the existing Melbourne elevated rail sections, which tend to be embankments with little or no access underneath.

There are key differences of course; Singapore has no overhead wires and no regular diesel services.

Singapore also has little serious political opposition to the government — in the current parliament the government holds 83 of the 101 seats. This is obviously quite different in Melbourne.

That said, in Singapore they can’t get away with anything — I was told there is a lot of political pressure around train crowding. But they probably have more leeway to push through projects that negatively affect a minority of people, as long as the majority benefit. In Melbourne this is a much harder sell.

And certainly the older Singapore elevated rail sections aren’t beautiful. For it to work in Melbourne, it needs to be much better than this.

Near Redhill station, Singapore

Lots of other cities have elevated rail (including Melbourne), and some of it is quite new. To claim it is outright “the wrong way” to grade separate level crossings is, in my view, completely wrong.

The trick for Melbourne will be for the government to ensure the project lives up to its promises: to minimise construction disruption, minimise tree removal, reduce train noise, ensure resident privacy, prevent vandalism and graffiti (a far harder task than in Singapore) and deliver the best project possible…

And politically, they need to show the broader community the benefits of getting this done — the reduced delays to motorists, pedestrians, cyclists, buses, emergency vehicles, and the increased rail capacity it can bring — before the November 2018 election.

Frankston line: the big dig

So this is what it looks like when hundreds of millions of dollars worth of infrastructure gets built rapidly in your neighbourhood.

Here are some photos and video of the first week of major works on the Bentleigh/Mckinnon/Ormond level crossings.

(Click any photo to view it larger at Flickr — or click here to view the entire album of photos as a slideshow.)

The end result will be three stations below road level, but first all the dirt has to be dug out.

150 (double) dump trucks are doing an hourly circuit between the work sites and a quarry in Dingley, taking away the dirt. Here a queue of trucks on the north side of Ormond station.
Ormond station, 28/6/2016

The view on the south side of North Road, digging out the rail line between Ormond and Mckinnon.
Ormond station, 28/6/2016

Loading up trucks between Ormond and Mckinnon.
South of Ormond station, 28/6/2016

Some people want a crossing at Murray Road, midway between Ormond and Mckinnon. For now, there is one, for loading up more trucks. This is smack bang in the middle of a residential area. Accommodation has been offered to those most affected by the works.
Murray Road, 28/6/2016

Temporary traffic lights are up at the end of Murray Road, to stop traffic so trucks can turn onto Jasper Road. Gotta keep the trucks moving.
Temporary traffic lights at Murray Road/Jasper Road, 28/6/2016

The hole in the ground formerly known as Mckinnon station, on the north side of the road.
Mckinnon station works, 28/6/2016

No shortage of interest from the locals, and from what I hear, many visitors from elsewhere around Melbourne are coming to have a look.
Onlookers watch the Mckinnon station works, 28/6/2016

Some shops have been affected so badly by the works that they’ve virtually given up.
Mckinnon shop, 28/6/2016

The view from near Mckinnon, looking south down Nicholson Street towards Bentleigh.
Nicholson Street, Mckinnon, looking south 28/6/2016

Nicholson Street, parallel to the railway line, is currently One Way so trucks can enter from the north, be loaded up with dirt, then head south and then east down Centre Road. I wonder how the garbage is being collected? Wouldn’t the garbage trucks only have claws on the left hand side?
Bin day on Nicholson Street, 28/6/2016

At Bentleigh station.
Bentleigh station, 28/6/2016

Part of the deck at Bentleigh station was built after the third track closed and the old station was demolished.
Bentleigh station looking north, 28/6/2016

Bentleigh station, 28/6/2016

Traffic controllers stop westbound cars on Centre Road to allow the trucks (with their large turning circle) to turn out of Nicholson Street (north side) and Burgess Street (south side) to turn in and head towards the quarry.
Centre Road, Bentleigh, 28/6/2016

The trucks come through every few minutes on the truck routes. Here a convoy comes through Bentleigh shopping centre, where parking “adjustments” (eg restrictions) have been in place for about a week, as have traffic light modifications to help keep the trucks moving.
Trucks rolling through Bentleigh, 28/6/2016

Despite the noise and road closures, the workers are getting on well with the locals. This bloke was asking the lady about her garden.
Burgess Street, Bentleigh, 28/6/2016

Queuing dump trucks in Burgess Street, south of Bentleigh station. I think if I lived here, I’d have taken the accommodation offer.
Burgess Street, Bentleigh, 28/6/2016

Nice to see a Hitachi on the rails again. The view from Brewer Road, south of the three stations, looking north.
View from Brewer Road, looking north towards Bentleigh 28/6/2016

On Wednesday night there were plenty of onlookers at Bentleigh. Some parents bring their kids out for an evening walk in their pyjamas to have a look. Buses aren’t currently diverted, but some overnight road closures have occurred.
Bentleigh station, south side, 29/6/2016

Looking south from Bentleigh towards Patterson.
Bentleigh looking south, 29/6/2016

Looking north from Bentleigh, as yet another truck passes by.
Bentleigh station looking north, 29/6/2016

North side at Bentleigh, where the station will be.
Bentleigh station looking north, 29/6/2016

The trucks are having a noise impact along the routes to Dingley:

We cannot sleep with the constant noise of trucks during the night. They need to stop these trucks during the night or reroute to alternate roads on every second night so that we can at least get a decent nights sleep occasionally. One day I was sitting at the East Boundary Rd. / South Rd corner traffic lights and counted 28 trucks going in all directions during a minute duration. It is unbearable!K Hills

And inevitably, dirt and dust is getting everywhere. The project team has promised they’ll clean up the roads… I wonder if that extends to cleaning cars as well?
A dump truck passes parked cars in Bentleigh, 29/6/2016

But the good news is that progress has been significant. If all goes to schedule, most of the digging should be finished early next week.

Finally, for all the construction geeks and their kids who love watching this stuff on Youtube, here’s 90 seconds of digging… view it full screen at Youtube to see it in all its glory.

See also:

Dandenong Skyrail debate continues

There are some incredible sights coming out of the Bentleigh/Mckinnon/Ormond level crossing removal works, and I’ll post some pictures (and hopefully video) tomorrow.

But in the mean time, early works on the “CD9” Caulfield to Dandenong 9 “Skyrail” crossings is also happening.

I don’t have a big update for you, but I recently bashed out this summary of the debate around this project on Reddit, and I thought I’d repost it here:

There’s the residents who live very close, many of whom don’t want an elevated line next to their houses (though some do not object as they see the advantages from the land opened up). Some of their concerns are perhaps exaggerated, but some are genuine and legitimate.

There’s the Liberals who sense this is a weakness of the Dandrews ALP government, and are exploiting it for all its worth.

For most other people, I suspect they just want the crossings gone ASAP, and with the least disruption possible. (For perspective, the Frankston line shutdown that has just begun is said to be the biggest since the City Loop was under construction, and involves 100+ buses at peak times. The Dandenong line is twice as busy and involves three times as many stations.)

Removing crossings doesn’t just benefit motorists. It also benefits pedestrians, bus users, cyclists and emergency services, and it enables more (and eventually, longer) trains on the most crowded line on the system, as well as improving safety/train reliability.

At least, that’s how I see it. What do you think?

The discussion on Reddit raised some interesting points, and is worth a look if you’re not offended by an occasional smattering of coarse language.

They’re never going to convince those most vehemently opposed to it, but it is important that the government keeps talking to everyone involved, and accommodates any reasonable request for information, or that can help minimise impacts from construction and from the final design.

PS. There have been some good discussions on Twitter about the project, but a small number of people have resorted to throwing insults and accusations around. I’m going to stop engaging with those people, and though I hate to do it, will block people who become abusive.

Bentleigh: boom gates officially gone

Major construction on my local level crossing removals has commenced.

The boom gates at Bentleigh, Mckinnon and Ormond have delayed their last ambulance, bus and pedestrian.

The last trains ran on Friday night, and over the weekend workers were busy taking out the rail line: overhead wire, track, signalling, ballast.

Level crossing removal works near Ormond, 25/6/2016

Level crossing removal works, Ormond 25/6/2016

Digging out the old station at Bentleigh, 26/6/2016

And the boom gates of course. On Sunday morning there was a media/photo opportunity to proclaim the crossings gone, though of course trains won’t be running again until the end of July.

Kevin Devlin (LXRA), Jacinta Allan (Public Transport Minister), Daniel Andrews (Premier), Nick Staikos (MP for Bentleigh) at Bentleigh 26/6/2016

The boom gates were loaded up on a truck and taken away.

Allan: “I think we need some more help with this.”
Andrews: “I’m sure Daniel will give us a hand.”
Lifting the boom gate for the last time - Jacinta Allan, Nick Staikos, Daniel Andrews at Bentleigh 26/6/2016

Boom gates are taken away by truck, 26/6/2016

Nearby, various machinery was taking out the railway line on the crossing itself, leaving the road bridge (built earlier in the year).

Level crossing removal works, Bentleigh 26/6/2016

As of this morning, the crossings are all open to road traffic, and digging and tunnelling (including under the roads) will happen over the next 10 days or so, with trucks removing the spoil to a quarry in Dingley which is being filled in. Then they’ll get to work building the new rail line and stations.

Some local traders are able to take advantage of the huge workforce present for the project, with cafes opening for extended hours. Apparently Brumbys Bakery is open 24/7.

Other traders are feeling the squeeze due to construction impacts, including closure of the stations.

Local residents are being urged to shop local to offer their support. This Level Crossing Removal Authority web site highlights local businesses.

And of course five weeks of bustitution for the Frankston line has just begun, and it’s good to see shelter has finally been installed at all the stops.

When I spoke to Metro CEO Andrew Lezala at the boom gate event on Sunday morning, he said he was off to catch a bus, to see how they were running.

Of course, the real challenges are during peak hours. Good luck, fellow passengers.