The four circles of bustitution

Good news! The shiny new Bentleigh and Ormond stations open on Monday.

This means after three and six months respectively of bus replacements, we can — if you’ll excuse the phrase — see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I’m hoping lessons and experience have been gained through the level crossing removal project that can be applied to the rail infrastructure projects to come. I’m told that the project team will write up their findings, and present them to the government, to inform later project teams. Whether these documents are public or not seems doubtful.

As far as bus replacements go, what have we learnt?

For a start I think there are four levels of bustitution, with varying levels of chaos.


Level 1: Planned, small scale

  • Buses are replacing trains at Bentleigh and Ormond, right now until Monday — I’m finding that in contrast to the level 2 chaos during the 37 day main shutdown, the bus service can cope okay.
  • Carnegie and Murrumbeena, coming up in September for early “skyrail” works — they seem to have plotted bus routes that avoid the level crossings which is wise. Hopefully this’ll run fairly well. It’s only for a month, then “temporary” stations will be in place for the rest of the Dandenong skyrail project. (That said, Carnegie closes again for a few weeks in November.)
  • Knox Tramlink — when the extension of the 75 tram (originally planned to run to Knox City) was curtailed to Vermont South, a bus replacement was put in. Extra services on bus 732 basically meet every tram (except overnight on weekends), and have done so for over a decade. I’m sure the buses cope with the loads, but I doubt the route reaches its full patronage potential, and I doubt it’s good efficient use of buses and drivers.

Small scale bustitution (perhaps serving 1-3 stations) means the demand is not too great.

Don’t get me wrong, it can get busy, but you’re talking hundreds or thousands of boardings per day, not tens of thousands.

This means it’s practical to serve these journeys by bus. They’re not as fast, or comfortable, but it’s manageable if they’re resourced properly, which the Bentleigh/Ormond ones have been, though of course all those buses and drivers and despatch staff come at a cost.

Crowded bus #bustitution

Level 2: Planned, large scale

  • The recent 37 days of fun between Moorabbin and Caulfield, replacing all trains
  • Numerous weekend and evening closures on the busier lines such as Clifton Hill, Ringwood, Dandenong and Frankston

Large scale, taking out an entire busy train line, means there are likely to be tens of thousands of passengers per day.

Peak hours are a particular issue, with crowds testing the limits of bus routes, even with significant resources put into drivers, vehicles, road modifications (eg parking bans to maximise road network throughput) and despatch staff.

With adequate advance notice, some people will avoid it by driving or catching buses to other lines. The Sandringham line and the Nepean Highway bore the brunt of the Frankston 37 days, with extra Sandringham trains running. Some people migrated over to the Dandenong line as well.

The remaining people squeeze onto buses, and provided it runs smoothly, it’s bearable, though not necessarily pleasant. When any little hiccup occurs, such as traffic congestion affecting bus throughput, long delays can easily happen.

Queue for buses #bustitution

Level 3. Planned, large scale, largely unannounced

  • Last Monday August 15th, Frankston line.

Despite Metro being warned numerous times to properly warn people, only template-conforming emails and posters were out there, with the key detail “THIS AFFECTS PEAK HOUR!!!” lost in the noise.

The result was almost nobody knew about it. Those who would normally avoid it were caught up in it instead, resulting in long queues for both stopping and express buses.

The photo below was an example: as our bus arrives at Glenhuntly, it’s already full. A huge crowd was waiting; most of them couldn’t board the bus. I saw another bus pull up behind, but who knows if they could squeeze onto that either.

There were numerous horror stories for express bus users as well, with waits of 25 minutes or more at Moorabbin to board buses.

Level 4. Unplanned

  • On Friday 5th August the Sandringham, Frankston and Dandenong lines were shut between the City and Caulfield/Elsternwick during evening peak. No buses were provided; advice was to use nearby tram services instead, which were overwhelmed.

All too common when an unplanned rail outage occurs; caused by equipment faults (such as last night on the Upfield line) or trespassers or accidents.

Almost inevitably it’s chaotic because it’s difficult to call up buses at short notice. It can be particularly bad in peak hours when large numbers of people are travelling, and most buses being busy with normal runs.

The situation is often made worse by some lines having very few places to turn trains around, meaning replacement buses have to cover a lot of ground.


Some thoughts…

  • Routing buses along main roads made more sense than trying to get them right to the stations via crowded side streets. (This is not a new Metro thing. Connex plotted out lots of main road bustitution routes, but as far as I can tell, few if any were ever used during their time running the network.)
  • The temporary shelters (pictured above) worked quite well, both as shelter and to make it easier for passengers and bus drivers to find the stops. Not as good as station cover, but better than nothing.
  • Running express buses on a separate route to stopping buses helped reduce delays and share the load on different roads. It also helps reduce frustration for people waiting at the skipped stops, which is why I think if possible they should do it all the time, not just in peak hours.
  • It appeared the despatchers worked pretty hard at times. Overhearing two-way radios made it clear they weren’t just resting on their laurels.
  • Despatching buses outbound in evening peak is pretty simple if you have enough buses. Just wait for arriving passengers to fill them up, and send them off.
  • Morning peak and off-peak/counter-peak times, you need to keep a steady flow of buses moving through the system to keep waiting times to a minimum.
  • It helped a lot that the buses terminated at Caulfield, which has lots of train connections, cutting interchange times. No wonder they use this as a bustitution hub for the Frankston, Dandenong, Sandringham and Glen Waverley lines.
  • There remains confusion about fares. Replacement buses are basically free, but the signage and the official rules don’t adequately reflect this.
  • All door boarding can speed things up a lot, but there seems to be no official policy on it. Some bus drivers would open both doors, some wouldn’t. I saw one shut the back door while people were trying to enter it.
  • Traffic changes help but often aren’t perfect. Temporary clear ways can keep buses moving, but delays are often experienced at intersections which could be overcome by traffic light alterations (made for the 37 day shut to benefit trucks) and/or traffic controllers prioritising buses.
  • Disabled access is a problem. Old high floor buses are often used. There need to be plenty of accessible buses in the mix, or despatchers need ready access to maxi cabs.

Huddling in the shelter #bustitution

The biggest lesson of all? Buses aren’t trains. They struggle with train loads of people, and they struggle with traffic, even when very well resourced.

Which means: Avoid large-scale bustitution wherever possible.

It’ll be good to have our trains back and our new station open next week.

A look around Bombardier’s Dandenong train factory

I was lucky enough to get to look around Bombardier’s Dandenong factory a few weeks ago.

As these publicity photos off their web site make clear, the company builds trains for (clockwise from top-left) Victoria (V/Line), Brisbane (Queensland Rail), Adelaide (Adelaide Metro), and Perth (Transperth) — EDIT: though these are not all built at Dandenong.

Bombardier publicity photos: from top-left, clockwise: Victoria, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth

They also build the E-class trams for Melbourne, though only the V/Line and tram jobs are running at the moment.

The factory is close to the junction of the Cranbourne and Pakenham lines, and they have a test track alongside the Cranbourne line.

V/Locity trains

When I was first looking around, a V/Line V/Locity carriage rolling along sideways on a traverser, which can move carriages between tracks. They use it to move them between the various areas of the factory.
V/Locity carriage being moved on a Traverser

These photos aren’t actually in order, but here we go…

V/Locity cab front:
V/Locity cab fronts

V/Locity carriage side. Almost all the components of the carriages (and trams) are made here, or provided by local suppliers. This is quite unlike the X’trapolis trains, which are largely imported and then fitted out and maintained locally.
V/Locity carriage side

V/Locity carriage base.
V/Locity carriage base
V/Locity carriage base

The bits being stuck together
V/Locity carriage being built
V/Locity carriage being built

Once finished, the new carriage goes out on the traverser (see above) and gets tested.

In another area of the factory, V/Locity carriages come back to base for regular servicing.

V/Locity carriage being serviced

Other maintenance is done at Bombardier’s Ballarat facility. My PTUA colleague Ben got a tour of it, and posted some pictures too:

E-class trams

So far they’ve built 40 of the 70 E-class trams on order. The government has options for more.

E-class tram frame being built:
E-class tram cab

E-class tram base. Looks pretty solid.
E-class tram base

The doorway ramp has been a bit controversial. Many tram users have commented on its problems. This is because the trucks (wheel bogies) underneath the tram body are especially built up to withstand the sometimes varying quality of Melbourne’s trackwork. Apparently they were based on an East German design!

Thus you should generally get a smoother ride on an E than a C or D, both of which were designed for smoother more modern tram networks typically seen in Western Europe.

V/Locity Tram wheel set:
V/Locity wheel set

Building up the tram…
E-class tram under construction

E-class door mechanism. Amazing the amount of wiring that goes into these trams.
E-class tram under construction

Where the sections of tram join together.
E-class tram under construction

Stick the cab windscreen on the front, and it’s almost built. It just needs a bumper bar…

Ah, here’s one we prepared earlier:
E-class tram bumper bars

Outside there are some E-class prototype sections. I forgot to ask what the one further from the camera is. Anybody recognise it?
E-class tram prototype

For the history buffs, there are a few plaques around the site. An earlier incarnation of the factory was Comeng (Commonwealth Engineering), which of course made the Comeng trains, as well as many of Melbourne’s trams.
Comeng plaque from 1983

The first V/Locity carriages were built back in 2004, as part of a fairly small order, which meant the refinements and innovation that could have gone into the design didn’t really happen at the time. This did happen with the E-class trams — that’s why they took a while for the first to be delivered.

Where possible they also do incremental improvements to the design as they go. Tweaks for the E-class trams are already being made.

But at some point, especially for the V/Locities, a whole new design is going to be needed — one that doesn’t date back 12+ years.

If there was one message I got from the guys at Bombardier, it’s that larger orders help ensure that time and resources go into improving the designs, as well as secure the local workforce. It was no surprise to learn that they’re bidding for the new High-Capacity Metro Trains tender, and were shortlisted.

The government’s rolling stock strategy is a good move in this direction, but obviously it helps if the actual funding for orders comes through as well – it’s looking like the HCMT order will do this.

With the demise of the local car industry (and local manufacturing generally), it makes sense for the government to ensure the local rolling stock industry has a strong future. So far, things are looking pretty positive, but it’ll be interesting to see where it goes from here.

Many thanks to Bombardier for the tour.

  • Update: Later the same day as this blog was posted: Herald Sun: New trains for Melbourne could be made in China (Paywall) — The Herald Sun has learnt of widespread industry concern the 65 new trains would be manufactured in China and assembled in Victoria, under a consortium backed by Changchun Railway Vehicles, a Chinese state-owned manufacturer. — The Victorian government noted there is a 50% local content requirement, though this apparently includes maintenance. Changchun was part of one of the shortlisted bidders, and apparently the only one that proposed significant off-shore manufacturing.

It wasn’t just a 37 day project

What they got done at Bentleigh, Mckinnon and Ormond during the 37 day shutdown of the Frankston line to remove the level crossings was very impressive, and I’m told the project team are (rightly) proud of the results.

But… particularly when evaluating different methodologies and plans for future projects, one needs to be very careful to get all the facts.

It’s simply incorrect to imply that 37 days was the full extent of disruptions.

The full scope of interruptions to trains has been far greater.

View from Brewer Road, 5/7/2016
View from Brewer Road, 6/8/2016

Here’s a list of the extended station closures and service alterations:

  • Third track closed, resulting in no peak hour express trains from Mon 16/11/2015 until Sun 4/9/2016 — 10 months. This was clever thinking, because it’s provided construction access in a narrow corridor. This might not be available on other projects.
  • For the same ten months, several planned regular peak hour cancellations, obviously adding to crowding on other trains.
  • Closure of Ormond station 25/3/2016 to late August 2016 — 5 months
  • Closure of Mckinnon station 25/3/2016 to 31/7/2016 — 4 months
  • Closure of Bentleigh station from 4/6/2016 to late August 2016 — 3 months

And the rail closures (not including an accidental disruption due to a gas leak early in the project):

  • Last two trains after midnight, Fri 13/11/2015 — this was before Night Trains started
  • 1am Sat 21/11/2015 to last service Sun 22/11/2015 — 2 days
  • 1am Sat 28/11/2015 to last service Sun 29/11/2015 — 2 days
  • 1am Sat 12/12/2015 to last service Sun 13/12/2015 — 2 days
  • First service Sat 23/1/2016 to last service Sun 31/1/2016 — 9 days
  • 8:45pm Fri 12/2/2016 to last service Sun 14/2/2016 — 2 days
  • 7pm Fri 4/3/2016 to last service Sun 6/3/2016 — 2 days
  • 9pm Fri 19/3/2016 to last service Sun 21/3/2016 — 2 days
  • First service Fri 25/3/2016 (Good Friday) to last service Sun 3/4/2016 — 3 days
  • First service Sat 25/6/2016 to last service Sun 31/7/2016 — 37 days — including normal weekdays
  • 1am Sat 13/8/2016 to last service Mon 15/8/2016 — 3 days — note this includes all of Monday, a normal weekday
  • 1am Sat 27/8/2016 to last service Sun 28/8/2016 — 2 days — a planned closure on the Monday has thankfully been avoided
  • 8:45pm Sat 3/9/2016 to 6am Sun 4/9/2016

(In most cases, rail closures were confined to Caulfield to Moorabbin. In some cases this was stretched to Mordialloc, mostly for other projects such as Southland station, though early on this was done as part of work to isolate the power at Moorabbin.)

So in fact there have been substantial disruptions in addition from the 37 days: 10 months of service alterations/cancellations, stations closed for up to 5 months, and so far (that we know about) 29 full days of closures — eg a full total of 66 days with no trains.

Weekend closures are less disruptive than weekdays, but still affect a large number of people, especially on weekends with major sporting and cultural events.

The full project spans over a year of works.

Preparatory work was required, such as moving existing services, ahead of major works. Further (mostly relatively minor) work is required to bring the project to completion.

It’s like when you go in for a short surgical procedure. There’s all kinds of preparation before the actual event, and recovery time afterwards. It’s not just a half-hour thing, it can take all day.

I’m not saying the project should have been run differently. Actually it’s been a really good strategy to isolate the main disruption to a five-ish week period, and overall things have gone pretty smoothly.

But we need to be clear on what actually happened, and not assume it was just 37 days.

  • By the way, Marcus Wong has fact-checked the rhetoric: It’s unlikely the 37 days was the “biggest rail closure since the City Loop” (though it probably ranks in terms of numbers of passengers disrupted). And it’s not the first time three crossings have been removed simultaneously (though the recordholders are over 95 years ago).
  • In my view there hasn’t been nearly enough publicity about this coming Monday’s closure (as well as the weekend). The blaze of publicity about the line re-opening probably has people assuming there are no more weekday shutdowns. Not so! PTV notice here.

Update 23/8/2016: the new Bentleigh and Ormond stations will open on August 29th.

Mckinnon station is open

After the big 37 day Frankston line shut down, the trains are back, and the new shiny Mckinnon station has re-opened.

The other two stations, Bentleigh and Ormond, will open late in August.

Here are some pics from Mckinnon from the past month…

28/6/2016 – the station had been closed since 25th March, a couple of months before the line closed on 24th June. Four days later all traces of trains had been removed and the cutting was being dug out.
Mckinnon station, 28/6/2016

Mckinnon station, 28/6/2016

20/7/2016 – within a few weeks, the station entrance was starting to take shape.
Mckinnon station, 20/7/2016

23/7/2016 – the platforms being built.
Mckinnon station, 23/7/2016

31/7/2016 – by last night, the station was hours away from opening.
Mckinnon station, 31/7/2016

The Myki equipment was in, and the departure screen was on, showing “ghost” train times. Notably, the clock was 10 minutes fast.
Mckinnon station, 31/7/2016

1/8/2016 – opening day! Due to circumstances entirely unrelated to public transport (no, really — I’d rather have still been asleep — why does nobody believe me?), I managed to turn up at 6:20am. For an unstaffed station, it was looking pretty staffed.
Mckinnon station, 1/8/2016

The screen clock was still 10 minutes fast, and apparently there was no quick fix, so they put black tape over it. (It was fixed by 10am when I visited later.)
Mckinnon station 1/8/2016

The lifts and stairs aren’t finished yet; just the ramps provide access to the platforms. Completion is obviously a few weeks off, but there’s enough to make it usable.
Mckinnon station, 1/8/2016

Platform 2 is the citybound platform for now. Note the “Safety zone” floor signage is overlaid with tactiles, making it not very readable.
Mckinnon station, 1/8/2016
Mckinnon station 1/8/2016

Platforms 1+2 will normally get most usage. They also have more rain protection than platform 3, but there are some significant gaps. (The ramps also have no cover, but are unlikely to be used much once the stairs and lifts are opened.)
Mckinnon station, platform 2, 1/8/2016

Later in the morning. Still obviously some work on the building.
Mckinnon station, 1/8/2016

I didn’t plan it that way, but when I was passing, so were Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan and Member for Bentleigh Nick Staikos. (Source: Victorian government)
Jacinta Allan, Nick Staikos, Daniel Bowen at Mckinnon station, 1/8/2016

It’s an amazing achievement to get the rail line back open in 37 days, though a lot of preparatory work was done in advance, such as moving underground services.

Metro notes the works still to be completed:

McKinnon Station will be open and ready for customers to use with myki machines and readers, tactiles, and platforms with accessible ramps in place from Monday 1 August. Over the coming months, we will complete works on the concourse and platforms, including the installation of lifts, stairs, CCTV, passenger information displays and speakers. Other works include rebuilding the customer car park, taxi rank, bus stop, Kiss ā€˜Nā€™ Ride and bicycle facilities, the public toilet, and landscaping works. Thank you for your continued patience during this time.

I’m sure locals will be pleased the station is open. In a few weeks Bentleigh and Ormond will also open; in the mean time trains won’t stop there and the buses are still in operation. (I had today off, but on work days I’ll probably walk to Patterson or Mckinnon).

Only two tracks are in operation; the third will re-open in September, and express trains will resume.

“Value capture” development above Ormond station? Good idea… in theory

Although it won’t reopen until the end of August, Ormond station has been coming along… here’s how it looked on Saturday:

Ormond station under construction, July 2016

Under the station building facing North Road is the deck for the concourse, as can be seen in the plans:

Ormond station plan

But further north from that, a second deck is taking shape.

Ormond station under construction, July 2016

It’s actually easiest to see in this still from a Level Crossing Removal Authority video posted at the weekend.

Ormond "value capture" deck

In their 2014 election manifesto, the State ALP noted:

Victorian Labor will also pursue all appropriate “value capture” opportunities to best use the space around level crossings.

— Project 10,000

It hasn’t been obvious until now, but at Ormond, where the level crossing is being removed and the rail line and station being put below ground level, they’ve built the extra deck for precisely that type of value capture. It’s planned for residential and retail development.

Nothing’s been officially announced, but The Age got confirmation of this today: High-rises to soar over suburban stations to help fund level crossing removals

In theory, this is a great idea.

If there’s one place you want urban renewal, and higher densities, it’s around public transport, especially around railway stations.

And this particular railway station is served by frequent trains every day of the week — every 10 minutes during most daylight hours.

This means that apart from good access on foot to around 200 local shops, as well as train to the CBD, in the next year or two Southland station will open, meaning also good access to a major suburban centre about ten minutes down the line.

Ormond station under construction, July 2016

But… the devil is in the detail.

The Age reports the development may be up to 13 storeys. This will make it by far the tallest building for miles around. Will it be beautiful, or an eyesore? Is 13 storeys too much for the area?

As respected Danish urban planner Jan Gehl notes in this great podcast from 2014, “You can normally achieve a fantastic density with buildings that are 5, 6, 7 stories… The tower is the lazy architect’s answer to density.”

There are precedents in suburban areas around Melbourne. Camberwell has towers of around 12 storeys. Ringwood seems to have developments of about ten storeys. Mind you both of those centres are larger than Ormond, with more public transport services and a lot more shops.

And in Melbourne it’s very rare to see development above railway lines.

It’s immediately adjacent low-rise residential properties. The southern end of the deck is next to the station and busy North Road, but it extends up well into the nearby residential area. All the areas surrounding it are residential “GRZ1”, with a height limit of 10.5 metres, or 3 storeys.

Ormond station deck

The north-south public transport is good, but east-west isn’t. Bus route 630 along North Road to Monash Uni Clayton (a significant education and employment destination) are okayish on weekdays (every 12 minutes peak, 20 off-peak, but not frequent in the evening or on weekends), but the local 626 route to Elsternwick and Chadstone is pretty hopeless (every 30 minutes weekdays, hourly on weekends and evenings).

It’s a similar story with local bike paths; north-south are there (or will be once the level crossing project is complete), but east-west means mixing it with heavy traffic.

Peak PT can be very crowded. If several hundred new residents move in, and the bulk of them want to head into the city in peak, what will it do to train crowding? Perhaps it’s not a huge increase in the grand scheme of things, but continuous capacity increases are needed to stay ahead.

How much car parking will be provided? The less the better I think. The last thing you want is lots of people moving in and adding to traffic congestion in an already busy area. Providing viable PT, cycling and walking options is important.

Speaking of parks, there’s not much green space in the area either. The closest park would be Gunn Reserve, a good 10-15 minute walk away.

This development could be great. But it’s too early to tell.

And why the big secret?

  • See also: Marcus Wong: Apartments and secrecy at Ormond station
  • Alan Davies makes some good points here: Is “the suburbs” a useful idea anymore?
  • Urban Melbourne: Context matters: Glen Eira’s level crossing removals & ‘value capture’ redevelopment
  • This Leader story mentions in passing: Mr Donnellan said an independent planning panel would take public submissions before a recommendation on the project was made to the planning minister. It is believed smaller scale developments could also be built next to Bentleigh and McKinnon stations.
  • Update 26/7/2016: I’m told that the 13 storeys will face onto North Road, but staggered down as it gets closer to the residential areas. Makes sense; similar designs have been seen elsewhere.
  • Also, already there are rumours flying around about huge developments in Mckinnon and Bentleigh; I’m told any development there will be of a smaller scale. As noted in The Age’s article: The government said developments at those two stations would be smaller in scale, in keeping with the village atmosphere.