That anachronistic level crossing regulation came up for review. It hasn’t been changed (yet)

It’s Rail Safety Week, an annual event to highlight the importance of staying safe around trains. It’s an important issue, and the official video is well worth a look:

Back in 2012, The Age highlighted the issue of level crossing regulations which are illogical, and out of step with engineering practice as well as public perception.

Basically, many level crossings adjacent to stations with island platforms have independently operating pedestrian gates. The gates only close if a train is approaching on that track. The regulations say that it is illegal to cross through an open gate. The signage is similarly anachronistic.

So this is perfectly safe, but technically illegal:

Crossing safely as a train passes on the other track

For Rail Safety Week, there is been an increased police presence at numerous level crossings. On Wednesday morning at Bentleigh, two police were watching pedestrians cross. Thankfully in line with common sense, they did not book people for crossing through an open pedestrian gate when another road boom gates were closed.

But as the 2012 Age article noted, some people have been fined for it in the past.

The law still needs reform. Obviously it should continue to be illegal for dangerous acts, but it shouldn’t be illegal to cross in a safe manner.

And in fact the government just did a review of precisely these regulations: the Transport (Compliance and Miscellaneous) (Conduct on Public Transport) Regulations. The revised regulations took effect in June.

The PTUA and other organisations submitted comments to the review — you can read a summary of the comments and responses from the department here. The PTUA specifically suggested this regulation be modified…

From the response, it appears they now understand there’s a problem, but are still trying to figure out how to change the regulations.

Regulation 22(2)

Even recognising the issue is progress. I guess the wheels of government move slowly.

Other notable points as I read through the regulations and the notes on the changes:

  • Apparently until now it has been technically illegal to exit a tram from the right hand side, despite numerous tram stops requiring you to do so
  • The government is still trying to figure out what they think about eCigarettes. (They may not be as dangerous to others as regular cigarettes, but personally I don’t like them.)
  • It’s now an offence to board the first door of the first carriage of a metropolitan train with a bicycle (regulation 11). As most would know, that space is for those with mobility aids — there’s increasing signage to reflect this.
  • Crossing between tram platforms on a street, while common and nowhere near as unsafe as crossing between railway platforms, is still officially verboten — and incurs the same fine (20 penalty units) (regulation 22)
  • There’s a bunch of rules that are quite specific about car parking in Designated park and ride facilities as part of a trial at these stations: Box Hill, Burwood, Camberwell, Heidelberg, Highett and Murrumbeena (Schedule 1)
  • As part of this, it appears to be legal to use public transport car parking without using public transport as long as it’s outside the hours of 6am to 7pm (regulation 51). You can also park there at those times for up to an hour if you don’t leave the car park (regulation 52) — eg to wait to pick someone up.

Getting around without trams and/or trains

Updates below

If you’re keeping up with the news, you’d know that the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) is in dispute with both the tram and train operators.

At this stage, there is a threat of industrial action, which could be anything from refusing to wear uniforms to refusing to check tickets to disrupting services for several hours, or even longer.

Obviously if services are stopped, even outside peak hour, this will cause a lot of disruption for passengers, who will have to defer their trips or find alternative methods of getting around.

Bus in Queen Street

A couple of brief points on this:

Stay informed. It’ll help a lot of you know when (and if) any service disruptions are occurring.

Be aware particularly that if the RTBU says there’s a four hour (10am-2pm) shutdown of trains, this probably means services begin winding down just after 9am, and won’t be back to normal until 3pm or later. Check how your trip is affected before you find yourself waiting on a station platform.

Plan your trip. If you have to travel at a time of disruption, plan ahead. If you can walk/cycle/drive to another service, that might work.

Look at the PTV Journey Planner — it’s a long way from perfect, but fortunately the web and app versions has the option to switch off specific modes. (Here.com, which can also plan Victorian PT trips, has this option too. Bing doesn’t.)

PTV Journey Planner preferences

This is useful for everyday use as well. The walking speed is something I always tweak, as the default is quite slow.

Some people going to the airport like to switch off the Skybus option to avoid the premium fare.

Always carefully check the results; the PTV web sites and app don’t show a map, so be sure it’s worked out precisely where you’re going correctly.

And of course one should be cautious in the context of a big train or tram disruption, as during a strike there’s likely to be delays to street-based public transport due to increased traffic. This is problematic when relying on buses in particular — a missed connection could easily mean a 30 minute wait.

In my testing on a trip from the Flinders Street Station to Box Hill Station, the default told me a train would take 23-27 minutes. Switching off trains recommended a tram instead, taking 58-64 minutes. Switching off trams as well worked out a bus trip, catching 2-3 buses and taking 67-80 minutes. Slow, but at least it is possible.

But at least in many cases there are options.

  • Dealing with individual railway lines suspended is a different matter — that’s about knowing alternatives to your line, generally connections from parallel lines — see this great resource
  • At this stage it’s unclear if V/Line services will keep running if Metro is disrupted.

Update: Four hour tram and train shut down on Friday 21st August 10am-2pm

The shut down has been confirmed for Friday week — remember, services disruptions will be wider than just those four hours.

The Age has an article that goes more widely than this one: How to get around on public transport strike day

Update 21/8/2015: the Friday tram and train stoppages were called off, but there is now the threat of a tram stoppage next Thursday.

Learning from elsewhere

Once in a blue moon I’ll buy a copy of Modern Railways. It’s a Brit magazine which — although it does feature full-colour photos of trains — isn’t really a trainspotter mag. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

It highlights developments in railways in Britain, and the other week I noticed the May edition in the newsagent, and bought it thanks to several relevant articles that looked worth reading, with lessons for Melbourne.

Modern Railways, cover May 2015

Double-decker trains — an interesting article looks at the pros and cons, and concludes that they are best used where dwell times are not a big concern, such as railway lines that are not high frequency, where there are a limited number of stops.

Alliance — explains this method of project management (at least, as used in the UK), which is relevant because it’s being used a lot here.

Would you believe it’s got a centrefold? Yep, of London track diagrams — for the Underground and National Rail lines. It’s a sampler from a full London rail atlas, but covers most of inner London. Very cool. It’s interesting to see how segregated the Underground lines are, but that cross-platform transfers are provided in a number of places. They also wisely have numerous locations where they can reverse trains.

London sub-surface resignalling delay — problems implementing CBTC (communications-based train control, also known in Melbourne as high-capacity signalling). The original contract with Bombardier has been cancelled, and Thales are stepping in instead, at a higher price. (Read about it here or this report from this week.)

We can learn from other jurisdictions — not just in the English speaking world, I might add — so it’s useful to keep an eye on what’s happening elsewhere in the world.

At least, that’s my excuse for buying a magazine with trains on the cover.

How do people get to the station?

Last week’s Age reported that Metro proposed multi-storey car parks at some stations.

When it comes to how people get to the station, Park And Ride gets a lot of attention, probably because it’s so obvious. In terms of land taken up, car parks often dwarf the stations they serve.

But it’s important to remember that park and ride doesn’t actually cater for the majority of train travellers.

Tarneit station car park

The PTV’s station patronage data is a couple of years old, but it shows that even in zone 2, where feeder services are often lacklustre, park and ride users are in the minority, though it is a sizeable minority.

Of course, the number of park and ride users isn’t always limited to car park spots at the station. Often they fill local streets, causing headaches for councils, with parking restrictions being a common result for the streets immediately around the station.

I’ve pulled out the stats to compare zone 1 (which often has good quality feeder tram services, and sometimes very little parking) against the zone 1+2 overlap (where feeder services are often not that great, and until this year many people would drive to avoid paying a two zone fare) against zone 2-only stations.

Station access 2013-14 (PTV data)

  • I have excluded CBD stations from these figures, as I’m more interested in suburban station access. CBD access is heavily skewed towards walk and tram.
  • The total number of boardings (excluding CBD) was 474,820, which gives an indication of how many individuals use the train system each day, though of course people heading to some locations outside the CBD would be counted at least twice.
  • Access to the station by train means people changed from another train service. It’s interesting to see the large number of train interchanges in zone 1 but outside the CBD.
  • Unsurprisingly the number of people driving to the station in zone 2 is higher than in zone 1, but even in the outer suburbs, the non-car modes outstrip car.
  • Bus access is quite low in zone 1, perhaps reflecting that many feeder services tend to be trams.
  • Tram usage barely rated in zone 2, but wasn’t actually zero — there were 363 people counted, all at Box Hill! Due to the way the zones worked, most of these people might have been catching a train outbound from home.
  • Unfortunately it doesn’t distinguish between those who drove to the station themselves, and those who were dropped-off (“Kiss and ride”)
  • Not sure what “other” is — rollerblade? Skateboard? Motorbike perhaps. (The source data says “car”, not “motor vehicle”)
  • While car is a minority mode overall, it’s still a substantial number, and at some stations it is more than 50%. Highest was East Malvern with 84%, then Merinda Park with 73%, Sandown Park 73%, Brighton Beach 67%, Officer 67% (but that’s only 63 people!), Laverton 65%
  • These numbers are for 2013-14, before the 2015 zone changes. I’ve known friends who could have walked to a zone 2 station but chose to drive to zone 1, so it’s likely that these figures will need an update once newer data is available.
  • Feeder services into zone boundary were also disadvantaged. Often the train fare to the City was zone 1, but the connecting bus was zone 2. This is no longer an issue.
  • Some early figures available from PTV suggest this has led to a drop in patronage at zone boundary stations, in favour of those further out, as they no longer cost more for the trip into the city. For instance, Laverton dropped by 22%, with Aircraft up by 56%, though I’m told by locals other stations have jumped in patronage too.

Exiting Bentleigh station

It’s worth remembering that Park And Ride is extremely expensive to provide. Ground-level spaces cost on average around $17,000 per space.

Multi-level is extraordinarily expensive, with Syndal station’s new multi-level car park coming out at $43,200 per additional space provided. That’s 5,744 daily fares, or, based on 250 trips a year (which might be typical weekday usage), 23 years worth. That of course doesn’t count any additional revenue to run or improve train services. Metro’s idea of prefabricated structures might being the cost down a bit, but it’s likely to still be an exorbitant way of getting extra people onto the trains.

Some park and ride will always be needed in the outer suburbs, particularly for stations that serve passengers coming a long way from home just to be able to catch a train.

But many passengers are only coming a relatively short distance to the station, and to serve them it would be far better to improve feeder services from the surrounding areas, as even the biggest car parks fill up at morning peak hour. Better feeders all day mean even those travelling after peak hour can get to the station. And indeed, those who don’t or can’t drive.

And after all, you shouldn’t need to be able to drive to be able to use public transport.

The Five Group Railway – good or bad for passengers?

The “five group railway” is something that’s been on the cards for a while. The Age highlights it today in this article: Metro plan to split Melbourne rail network into five lines hangs on union fight

It has its origins last decade — the 2008 Victorian Transport Plan talked about “creating a Metro system”, in the context of strong patronage growth and the evolution of Melbourne’s commuter railway into one that can cope with far more passengers than it can currently handle, reflecting Melbourne’s growth, and in particular the CBD and inner-city.

Melbourne’s railway system was designed as an old style commuter railway, carrying people to and from the city with branches, junctions and single track lines to maximise reach. The City Loop was a major boost to the rail system at the time but the four tunnels have to cope with trains from 10 separate inbound lines

The operation of this sort of railway is complex, the capacity of lines is not maximised and reliability of the service overall falls. One delayed train can affect the whole system.

Melbourne will soon be at the point where we cannot run more train services on key lines. 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.

PTV’s plans for this have also developed over the years. It’s reflected in the 2013 Network Development Plan — this map shows the rail network as it is now (apart from delayed Southland station), with the opening of Regional Rail Link. As you can see: five groups. (Yes, they left Stony Point off the map… I assume because it doesn’t go into the City.)

PTV rail Network Development Plan - stage 1

Metro (to be precise, the current operator, Metro Trains Melbourne, MTM for short) has gone in hard supporting the idea, and bit by bit, is splitting the network into the five groups. The first four are named after the four Loop tunnels, though not all trains would use the Loop:

Northern — the Sunbury, Craigieburn and Upfield lines, all using the Northern Loop.

Clifton Hill — the Hurstbridge and South Morang lines, all using the Clifton Hill Loop.

Burnley — the Belgrave and Lilydale lines, using the Burnley Loop, and also the Glen Waverley and Alamein lines, running direct to Flinders Street.

Dandenong — the Pakenham and Cranbourne (eg Dandenong) lines, using the Caulfield Loop.

…and the fifth…

Cross-city — the Frankston line running direct to Flinders Street then out to the Werribee and Williamstown lines. And also the Sandringham line, direct to Flinders Street and likely to be fairly independent. (In practice some Craigieburn trains share the Cross-City tracks into Flinders Street.)

Independence is the key. At present trains and drivers move from line to line across the day, meaning a delay on one line can quickly flow to another. In fact MTM claim in peak the reduction in interdependencies could mean a punctuality improvement of up to 10%.

From that point of view, separation makes sense for passengers.

Taking it further

Behind the scenes, PTV and MTM seem to be moving towards partial segregation of the train fleet. The High Capacity Metro Trains project will see Dandenong line get its own dedicated fleet of trains, with a maintenance centre at Pakenham, though the same model of train is likely to roll out to other lines later on. More on this in a minute.

But MTM want to take it further, and this is where it starts to get controversial.

Complete operational independence of the groups, including separate stabling and maintenance facilities

Removal of some points that provide connections between groups of lines, which Metro says will speed up services (though in some cases only by ten seconds or so), and reduce track faults
This could help, but of course it comes at the expense of flexibility, such as being able to route trains around obstructions, and limiting the places trains can be terminated during disruptions — leading to longer-than-otherwise sections of line replaced by buses. They wouldn’t want to go too far.

Fleets dedicated to specific groups: in 2013 the plan was for Cross-City to be Siemens, Comeng for Dandenong and Northern, X’trapolis for Burnley and Clifton Hill. Since then the plan has changed to get X’trapolis trains onto the Cross-City lines as part of the Bayside Rail project, which means more Siemens will presumably move onto the Dandenong and/or Northern lines until the new fleet arrives
Provided they don’t actually take steps to make parts of the fleet incompatible with some lines, or with each other. Over time, trains will need to be cascaded through the system as new ones come into service, this makes some sense, as it means more consistent performance (eg acceleration) on each line, and should simplify maintenance.

Restriction of most drivers to specific groups… including not training them to drive on the other groups (thus cutting training costs and time). Drivers don’t like this, though it’s not unusual on networks overseas. MTM would keep a central pool of drivers qualified for all routes for disruptions and other operations.
While getting drivers trained would be quicker, perhaps meaning they can ramp up additional services more quickly, for passengers this could be a problem if the central pool of fully-qualified drivers isn’t sufficient, leading to worsened delays during disruptions. Perhaps the answer is to simply not swap drivers between groups on a particular day? Not sure.

Driver de-centralisation, where most drivers start duty at outer termini rather than changing over at Flinders Street, including complete segregation of staff within line groups.
Again, controversial with drivers, but it’s not hard to see the benefits of cutting delays at Flinders Street, though theoretically it should be possible to swap drivers there pretty quickly. It largely happens today on the Clifton Hill group.

Some claim that MTM wants to run each group as a separate company — in fact Labor claimed that the original 2014 Dandenong line upgrade proposal was basically geared to be a PPP whereby MTM gained control of the line long after their contract for the rest of the network might have ended.
This of course makes no sense to passengers — we’ve seen the problems before of separate companies running separate lines, leading to competition between operators, fleets made incompatible with some lines, and unnecessarily inflexible operations.

Belgrave train arriving Southern Cross

Controversial

Many drivers are campaigning against some of these changes, as seen on the MTM Memes blog, for instance this post: Bungled timetable or saving us from Liberal deceit? — I don’t necessarily agree with everything in it, but it raises some interesting points.

I suspect there’s a balance to be found here. Day to day operation, including high frequencies, predictable patterns and reducing the cascade effect of delays across lines would absolutely benefit from operational separation.

Less useful to passengers might be the kind of organisational separation that MTM seems to be pushing for.

It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out.

PS. Thursday morning: This blog post a couple of years ago talked about limiting drivers to specific lines. Note the extensive comments from a train driver. Also worth noting, there are currently limitations on how many times a driver can drive a train on the same section of track each day, for safety. But two things make me question the safety reasoning: firstly it doesn’t apply to shuttle runs, and secondly I’ve been told this was only introduced in the 1980s, with the opening of the City Loop. It’s not some long-held standard. It’s not hard to see how it restricts operations, and to me it would make sense for it to be reviewed.