Ten years since “Meeting Our Transport Challenges”

Ten years ago today, the Bracks Government’s “Meeting Our Transport Challenges” plan was released. MOTC for short.

It wasn’t the first of the 1999-2010 Labor Government’s transport documents, nor would it be the last. It came following a stinging assessment of Melbourne’s public transport a few months earlier by Professor Peter Newman for the Metropolitan Transport Forum, and a sustained push for some kind of government strategy to provide some genuine solutions to car dependence.

The MOTC launch itself was perhaps symptomatic of the plan. The Premier Steve Bracks, Treasurer John Brumby and Minister Peter Batchelor all arrived by train in Frankston for the event — but they had only hopped on two stops before at Seaford. (It was a similar story a year later when the Craigieburn electrification opened.) The rest of their journey was by government car.

But it was the content of the plan that didn’t get people as excited as the government had perhaps hoped.

Following the launch, the PTUA called for Batchelor to resign. OK, I was the one that said the words for the cameras, but like all PTUA views, this was based on an agreed committee position: if by a fair assessment we judged that MOTC failed to provide substantial relief from car dependence, it was to be declared a flop.

Towards the end of the year, Batchelor, who had presided over the conception of the Myki project and the scrapping of trains (only to be bought back later when patronage surged), was replaced by Lynne Kosky in a reshuffle following the 2006 state election. (Only after that did the government start inviting PTUA to events again!)

So what was in the MOTC plan itself? Here I’ve gone through the Actions from the summary section of the document:

DELIVERING FOR THE FUTURE — The MOTC Reserve fund of $5.9 billion over ten years, to ensure transport funding was available into the future. At the time, Batchelor described it a bit like Abbott’s “locked box”. Perhaps this is still down as a line item in some obscure part of the budget, but as far as the public goes, it has disappeared.

CREATING A CROSS-TOWN TRANSPORT NETWORK FOR MELBOURNE — the Smartbus crosstown orbital network. Three of the proposed routes were delivered, now the 901, 902 and 903. The fourth was to have been the 904 (hence the gap in route numbers), but never happened. This would have run from Sandringham via Elsternwick, Punt Road, Clifton Hill, then across to Brunswick, Footscray and Williamstown, amalgamating routes 246, 472 and others, providing frequent inner-city connections to make cross-town trips faster and take pressure off CBD services. See the map here. PTUA and PTNT are still pushing for this route as part of a package of better bus services.

BOOSTING MELBOURNE’S RAIL NETWORK — capacity upgrades on the City Loop, Dandenong, Clifton Hill and Northern Group, and stations at Point Cook, Cardinia Road, and Lynbrook. The stations got done. Various works have occurred on most of the lines mentioned, such as duplication from Clifton Hill to Westgarth, and duplication of the Epping line north of Keon Park, all done as part of the South Morang line extension.

The Dandenong line proposal was a third track — a plan now dumped (and not just because four tracks are better than three) in favour of grade separation, longer trains and better signalling.

But the plan also included relatively minor upgrades which haven’t happened, such as an extra platform at Sandringham. At least the new stations have been built.

IMPROVING METRO TRAIN AND TRAM SERVICES — extra peak and late-night services. They’ve largely happened, at least on the trains — the late (to 1am) Friday and Saturday night trains and trams were implemented pretty quickly. Peak train services have increased on many lines, but there’s been less movement on trams.

This item also flagged better control and comms systems — work that is still underway — and improved traffic priority for trams and buses, which has been… well, subtle or non-existent on much of the network.

New Years Eve trains, approx 1am, 1/1/2006

DELIVERING FIRST CLASS PUBLIC TRANSPORT FOR PROVINCIAL VICTORIA — including upgrading the Mildura line (for freight only) and new trains.

BUILDING BETTER ROAD CONNECTIONS — including numerous highway and arterial road upgrades.

DELIVERING A BETTER LINK BETWEEN THE EAST AND WEST OF MELBOURNE — this included the East-West Link Needs Assessment (eg study), but did not flag actually building it. The fact they wanted a study shows just how keen the road engineers in government must have been, despite the early results from the 2003 Northern Central City Corridor Study only a few years before having shown it was totally pointless, which appears to have prompted the government to cancel the NCCCS study itself to try and prevent it being released.

This item did include Westgate Bridge strengthening and a package of Monash-Westgate improvements, which I’m guessing morphed into the $1 billion+ package of widening works done around 2010… since completely swamped by extra traffic, and now subject to more widening works.

PROMOTING SMARTER, HEALTHIER TRAVEL CHOICES — programs such as TravelSmart, to try and encourage people to think about not just hopping in the car for every trip.

CREATING ACCESSIBLE, CONNECTED COMMUNITIES — a mix of accessibility projects, park and ride (which it turns out was enormously expensive, at something like $15,000 per space), interchange upgrades and “Transit Cities”, which resulted in urban renewal in places like Footscray and Ringwood.

Bourke Street, Melbourne (2005)

BUILDING A SAFER, MORE SECURE NETWORK — the wording is a bit vague as to what this actually means, but it may have been about more CCTV, better comms systems and the like.

Some of the actions were flagged to commence as far off as five years later, when the government had no certainty that they’d still be in power — indeed, they weren’t.

Not getting much attention at the time (I can’t even see it in the Actions list) was something that has made a huge difference to many suburbs: the upgrade of hundreds of bus routes to include Sunday and evening services. Before this, many buses finished by 7pm on weekdays and 1pm on Saturdays (despite typical shopping hours extending to 5pm), with no Sunday services. Nowadays most routes have 7-day services. They may only be hourly on weekends, but it’s better than nothing. They’re never going to get people out of their cars, but for those without cars, it has made a huge difference.

Just two years after MOTC, the plan was superseded by the Victorian Transport Plan in late-2008. By that point, the political climate was changing. Patronage had been booming, resulting in high-profile over-crowding problems and infrastructure failures. The government was finally starting to realise — too late given the lead times involved — that more significant investment was needed.

Labor was voted out in 2010, but came back in 2014, and given the current push on some big projects, seem determined not to make the same mistake twice.

In-cab signalling and platform doors – two pieces of the puzzle

Last Thursday the state government announced more details around the Metro rail tunnel, and related projects.

High Capacity Signalling

Upgrading existing rail lines to High Capacity Signalling (HCS) has the potential to boost track capacity by up to about 50%, though to reach that, you would need to remove level crossings too.

Originally HCS was to have been trialled on the Sandringham line. The Napthine government proposed putting it straight onto the Dandenong line (without a trial) but on Labor getting back into government in November 2010, the plan reverted to the Sandringham line.

This has now been amended again: they want to trial it between Lalor and South Morang.

In-cab signalling (from a PTV video)
(Artist’s impression of high capacity in-cab signalling, from a PTV video)

As I understand it, the overall HCS project after the trial includes doing the busiest parts of the Sunbury and Cranbourne/Pakenham lines as well — from Watergardens through to Dandenong, allowing 30 trains per hour through the rail tunnel — though from day 1, it’ll be more like 19, increasing over time.

They are aiming at a system whereby conventional and high-capacity (in-cab) signalling can co-exist, enabling V/Line and freight to continue on those lines even if not equipped for in-cab. Equally, for the South Morang pilot period, trains won’t necessarily run all the time using the new signalling.

But why trial it at South Morang? According to the government:

  • The X’trapolis fleet (used almost exclusively on the South Morang line) is better suited to being equipped for it
  • Greater scope to roll it out on the remainder of the Clifton Hill group, with big benefits on the inner portion — more beneficial than the Sandringham line.

My wild additional speculation reading between the lines:

  • Outer end of the line means less impact if it goes wrong
  • Greater scope for patronage/service growth in future, since the South Morang line serves a growth corridor (unlike the Sandringham line)
  • This section got new signalling just a few years ago when the line was duplicated beyond Lalor. Can we hope that the infrastructure is more easily upgradable than that on the Sandringham line?

Platform screen doors

But what really got attention was something probably less important, but more prominent and visible: platform screen doors.

These are common in Asian cities, and in some parts of Europe.

There’s an obvious safety benefit, but they also have significant advantages in reducing dwell times. Passengers know precisely where to queue to quickly board the train after others have disembarked.

Most Melbourne peak hour commuters already know that at busy times, you try and wait alongside the doors, so those alighting can walk straight out, and then you board. But it’s always a bit of a lottery as to where the doors will come to a stop. Platform screen doors and line markings on the platforms could help this, including outside peak times, when the system can still be quite busy.

Boarding a peak hour train at Flinders St

Platform screen doors mean it’s predictable. And the quicker the loading, the more trains can run.

It’s only possible if the trains have consistent door positions — which Melbourne’s current various trains don’t. The way this will be solved is by only running the new High Capacity Metro Trains (HCMTs for short) through the tunnel. The government recently expanded the number to be ordered to provide enough trains for the full Cranbourne/Pakenham to Sunbury service. The other train types will run on other lines… once again, elements of Metro’s “five group railway” come into play.

Pieces of the puzzle

It’s been a mixed bag in recent years, with different rail projects working at cross purposes.

Caroline Springs station in Melbourne’s west has almost been completed, but funding has just come through to duplicate the line, so the station’s going to have to be partly demolished and modified (to an island platform layout) before it’s even opened. A prime example of the poor planning we often see in Victoria. When the station was funded, some of us wondered if the duplicated track should be extended a few hundred metres to meet it…

Sadly, a similar thing happened with Footscray station. The brand new bridge had to be partly rebuilt for Regional Rail Link.

RRL’s new West Footscray station is also to be modified, to get an extra platform. The government claims the station was planned to be futureproofed, though it’s unclear if they knew this specific upgrade was coming.

Who knows how much money is wasted by rebuilding brand new infrastructure.

Thankfully in some areas they seem to be getting a little better organised. This diagram (appendix 3 “Scope of works” from the Melbourne Metro business case) lays out how the tunnel project fits with the various other projects completed, planned and underway — Regional Rail Link, the new HCMT fleet, various track duplication/amplifications. As you’d hope, these all largely fit in with the 2013 PTV rail network development plan. Consistency is good. This is precisely what’s needed for effective future planning.

Melb Metro business case - related projects

Click through to see this larger. Credit to Alistair Taylor at Urban Melbourne for finding this. I’m planning to explore this in more detail later; there’s a lot to digest.

“Throw away the timetable”

The Premier and the Public Transport Minister were throwing around the “throw away the timetable” rhetoric again on Thursday.

It’s good that there continues to be official recognition of the importance of a Turn Up And Go service at the highest levels.

Of course, an all-day ten minute service is possible right now on much of the rail network, without a rail tunnel, and without fancy new signalling. It shouldn’t be about peak hour only — I bet few people use timetables when using trains on the busiest, most frequent lines currently.

Three lines — to Frankston, Dandenong and Ringwood (as well as shorter sections to Clifton Hill and Footscray) already run every ten minutes on weekends (and most of them during the day on weekdays too), and patronage seems to be slowly growing, despite an almost complete lack of promotion.

But what of the rest of the network? Even the service plan post-2031 (as seen in Appendix 3 of the Business Case) has a disappointing 3 trains per hour outside peak times beyond Sunshine, as well as beyond Newport. For many stations that means no extra trains at over today’s off-peak timetable — you’ll still wait 20 minutes for a train. You’ll still want to be checking your timetable for that.

Sure, this is a limitation of trunk lines branching to different destinations (at Newport Sunshine to Sunbury/Melton, and at Newport to Williamstown/Altona Loop/Werribee), but you’d hope they could do better than this.

But the infrastructure will support more frequent timetables. I sense a continuing campaign for more services outside peak.

And these issues aside, after so much lack of investment over decades, it’s encouraging to see a state government taking on some of these big ticket rail projects.

Barred from Bayswater – that escalated quickly

I’d been reading this article about the proposal to narrow a section of Mountain Highway through Bayswater when the level crossing is removed — from 3 lanes in each direction down to 2.

Bayswater state Liberal MP Heidi Victoria has submitted the petition against the plans to State Parliament and urged the Government to intervene.

“Those of us who live and work in Bayswater know the traffic congestion is already at an all-time high,” Ms Victoria said.

“The community do not want this; local businesses do not want this.”

I don’t know the area well, but given Mountain Highway is 2 lanes east of the nearby intersection, and the removal of the level crossing would cut the major delay factor for cars, and the area just west of the station is a retail precinct, I thought the idea shouldn’t be automatically rejected.

Closer to my neck of the woods, Ormond is 3 lanes each way, and is quite pedestrian hostile. The noise of the traffic is near-constant, and unlike nearby Mckinnon or Bentleigh, it’s very difficult to cross the road to points of interest.

Mountain Highway, Bayswater (Pic: Google Maps)

Looking at the Google StreetView imagery, there are similarities. It’s hard to tell what day of the week and time the pictures were taken, but the businesses all look open, yet there is an absence of shoppers. Many of the street car spots are free, suggesting that local shops don’t do spectacularly well.

Removing a lane, widening the footpaths and reducing the speed limit might improve things, and appear to be ideas supported by the local council.

Judging from the comments in the local paper, the most vocal locals don’t care much for Bayswater other than as a place to drive through as quickly as possible.

But area is marked as a pedestrian priority route under the Smartroads strategy, so it’s understandable where the council and Vicroads are coming from.

So I pondered on it Twitter:

Note that I didn’t say it was a wonderful thing. I just said it shouldn’t automatically be rejected.

A few hours later, this furious response from the MP for Bayswater:

Well, that escalated quickly. Is this really the standard of public discourse that one should expect? I know the limited form of Twitter posts isn’t great for nuance, but that just seems ridiculously over-the-top.

Apparently I’ve been barred from going to Bayswater by the local MP. There goes any chance of getting to know the area better. Is this like the opposite of being presented with the keys to the city?

Happily, other locals are more welcoming.

It’s hard to tell, but I would assume that Ms Victoria (and anybody else getting into a debate about traffic and roads) is aware of the term “traffic sewer” (meaning an environment that encourages lots of traffic to move through at speed, to the detriment of other local activities such as walking, cycling, shopping), and knows that it’s definitely not the same as calling a place a sewer.

Assuming she knows that, she appears not to consider that a six lane road through a shopping centre doesn’t actually result in a great urban and retail environment.

My guess is the level crossing can result in long delays and frustration for motorists. Removing it will drastically cut delays, especially long unpredictable ones. Removing the third lane each way (matching the road further east) may still mean overall fewer delays for motorists, while drastically improving conditions for walkers and shoppers. One would hope Vicroads has done modelling on this.

Perhaps for some — a bit like Skyrail — any hint of even considering any evidence has gone out the window, because outright rejection is seen by the Opposition as the best way to make a political point.

I’d hope for a more considered response from the Member for Bayswater, but perhaps I got off lightly.

Bentleigh/Mckinnon/Ormond level crossings: update and Q+A

OK, back to level crossing removals. My local ones are going full bore, and I thought I’d post an update and provide a Q+A opportunity.

The project summary

  • Originally removal of just the Ormond level crossing was funded by the Coalition. The project was expanded to include adjacent crossings at Mckinnon and Bentleigh after Labor came to power in November 2014 with a pledge to start removal of 20 crossings by 2018.
  • Project works commenced in 2015, and an accelerated schedule will see it wrapping up by the end of 2016.
  • Each will be rail under road, with all three stations rebuilt.
  • All stations will sit under the roads. Ormond will get entrances on both sides of North Road. Mckinnon and Bentleigh stations will only have entrances on the northern side. All three to have pedestrian crossings right outside. In most cases bus stops will be moved to be outside the stations.
  • Unfortunately no additional pedestrian crossing points or access or is currently planned.
  • Bentleigh (Premium) will have fare gates. Ormond will have provision for future Premium status, including provision for gates.

My long post last year has a lot more on this (though some details have changed since).

Bentleigh station during level crossing removal works

Removal of Ormond station, Mar-Apr 2016 for level crossing removal works

And so to some updates and questions I’ve been asked:

Currently

Last year all the palm trees were temporarily relocated. Apparently this is thanks to their root system; most other types of trees are difficult or impossible to move with any great success, and have been cleared from the corridor. Some trees on adjacent private land have been affected by this too.

The “up” (westernmost) track has been ripped up and works continue. Digging has started at some locations. They’ve had to investigate what is being dug up for contamination. In some cases asbestos has been located and safely removed — but don’t panic! Importantly, none of it was in the unsafe fibre form.

With only two tracks in service, all trains continue to stop at all stations. For passengers between Highett and the City, this has actually been better — effectively doubling the peak hour service frequency. For some of us, it’ll be sad to see it go.

Mckinnon and Ormond stations closed in March. Bentleigh will close in early June. All three will open at different stages during August once the major works are complete.

Buses are running between Caulfield and Moorabbin for passengers going to/from those stations.

Despite the PTV web site showing the buses as not stopping at Glenhuntly or Patterson, I’m told they are officially “stopping all stations” buses, so for instance a passenger from Glenhuntly to Mckinnon doesn’t have to double-back via Caulfield or Bentleigh… though the timetables (which also drive the Journey Planner and Google Maps) say they do.

There are other quirks with the buses. On weekends they run every 7 minutes during the day, despite the trains being every 10 minutes… this is okay given the combined frequency at the Caulfield end (where most passengers need to change) is 12 trains per hour. It’s a similar story after 10pm on weekdays.

And curiously on Friday and Saturday nights the all-night trains run every 60 minutes, but the replacement buses run every 30 minutes, probably to better connect at both Moorabbin and Caulfield. So if you are coming home late (after 1am) on the weekend and live on that part of the Frankston line, catch the first train to Caulfield, and if it’s a Dandenong train, change to the bus — you’ll save about half-an-hour (less any walking time from the bus stop) by not having to wait for the next Frankston service.

Apparently some of the equipment on the project is being used in Australia for the first time, including the “silent piler” used for some of the piling. It would seem the government’s commitment to fifty level crossing removals is already paying off — it’s worth the contractor bringing in the best gear in the world if they know more projects are coming, and it’s likely they’ll win some of them.

Bentleigh station during level crossing removal works

What’s happening during the big shut?

Before the big shut there are two more weekend shutdowns: 14-15 of May, and 4-5 June.

From the start of the June/July school holidays, the rail line will close for 37 days for major works, with no trains between Caulfield and Moorabbin for that time. Obviously the first part of that covers the holidays, but 3 weeks or so will be normal weekdays.

Expect lots of buses running up and down. For previous shuts, up to 100 have been in action during peak periods, and they were mostly during school and/or university holidays.

Apparently roughly a third of the buses will be stopping all stations, and two-thirds express, reflecting the overall travel patterns on the line. For the express buses they’ve been trying different routes to spread the load a bit, which has worked out well — though for the major works period there may be a lot of truck movements to deal with as well.

Digging out the trenches will take roughly the first third of the shutdown period. Apparently they’ll move about 240,000 cubic metres of earth, and each truck carries 14 cubic metres. By my calculations this means a staggering 17,142 truck movements in 12 10 days, or about 1400 1700 a day. Yikes! So expect to see a lot of trucks. Edit: It’ll be in the first 10 days, not twelve.

During major works, a viewing platform is likely to be set up at Ormond, and cameras were set up some time ago to film time-lapse video for later publication.

Part of Gunn Reserve in Glenhuntly has been set aside for dumping earth, but this will used for contingency purposes if they can’t move stuff off-site quickly enough.

Roughly the second third of the 37 days will be structural works.

The last third will be station works and so on. All being well, the line will re-open on Monday 1st August, with Mckinnon station also opening then, though Ormond and Bentleigh stations won’t re-open until late August.

Mckinnon station - Level Crossing Removal Authority render of station entrance design

Will pedestrian crossings at Centre Rd & McKinnon Rd be right outside the station plazas, and be programmed for minimum pedestrian wait time?

The plans I’ve seen show crossings directly adjacent the station entrances at all three stations.

I’m told by Vicroads that they will be designed to prioritise pedestrians, while still keeping road traffic moving. (Under their Smartroads strategy, Centre Road is a “pedestrian priority” and “bus priority route”. Mckinnon Road is considered a minor road. North Road overall is a “preferred traffic route” and “bus priority route”, but the shopping centre is marked for “pedestrian priority”.)

How well this works in practice remains to be seen — I’d imagine this will be easier at Centre and Mckinnon Roads, given they are narrow and not priority traffic routes. The balance may be more in favour of cars at North Road, which given the plans for Ormond station to have entrances on both sides of the road, is not a huge problem, at least for most station users.

Will McKinnon and Bentleigh stations be accessible from north approaches, and if so, will there also be pedestrian bridges at the northern ends?

It seems not. As with now, access will only be via the main roads.

Have any locals given feedback that they’re getting cold feet about the rail-under design, now that works are under way?

There is certainly a lot of angst from traders about the closures and their effect on passing trade and revenue, particularly during the periods involving road closures.

To an extent there has been a backlash to these complaints — from what I’ve seen, cafes do okay under these conditions, including from the construction workforce. But I suspect some traders such as The Paint Spot in Bentleigh, which inherently rely on nearby parking and have lost most of it temporarily (and all of it for some periods), are badly affected.

If Bentleigh had got skyrail, the closures and disruption and noise would have been far less.

(Dandenong skyrail early works started this weekend just gone, causing some complaints from residents.)

Bentleigh level crossing works - pipes

Everyone wants to know the differences in cost and noise between trench and viaduct methods. Are there any reliable, public, referenceable figures?

I don’t think so. Obviously skyrail/viaduct requires fewer underground services to be moved. In the case of Bentleigh (near Centre Road) and Mckinnon (Murray Road), two sets of major water pipes are being moved. For Bentleigh, they actually got in a tunnel boring machine for this purpose — I got the impression that these were only normally used on major tunnelling jobs.

Along much of the corridor they’re having to move the water table down by several metres, to help ensure water won’t flow into the trench in the future. To my untrained ear this sounds like messing with nature, but apparently from an engineering point of view, it’s straightforward if carefully designed. It just costs a bunch of money to do it.

One view I’ve heard about the Dandenong proposal is that a bunch of money is saved not moving services, and with reduced closures and savings from bus replacements — these funds are then put into better station and urban design, for instance escalators at all the stations, and all-over covering (though in the concept designs this does not include the entirety of the platforms). I haven’t seen any publicly available figures for just how much money we’re talking about.

Got more questions?

Ask them in the comments and I’ll try and get them answered in the coming days.

(However if it’s something critical, such as concerning local resident impacts, you should talk to the Level Crossing Removal Authority.)

Some questions from the comments…

yog: Do you have any idea of a detailed timeline for the Grange Road level crossing removal, as well as the others on the Dandenong line?

I don’t have anything detailed, other than you can expect them to push ahead with it pretty fast. One of the reasons they brought the Bentleigh area crossings forward by six months was to avoid having closures on both lines at once.

You can also expect them to be done and dusted by mid-2018, because this government is being very smart about project staging, and they know it would be electorally risky to not have it finished before the 2018 election period.

Me again: Are there any more indications of station design beyond the one image per station on the LXRA website?

I haven’t seen very much out there publicly, which is a shame, as there are some very detailed designs being used by the project teams. I’ll see if I can coax them into publishing more detail.

There were some not-very-detailed plans published in May 2015 for Mckinnon and Bentleigh only. These may have changed.

Mckinnon:
Plan for new Mckinnon station (as at May 2015)

Bentleigh:
Plan for new Bentleigh station (as at May 2015)

Steve: Do you know if the Glenhuntly tram square ‘upgrade’ that was supposed to have been done last year as part of the Bayside rail project will be done during the long shutdown?

I haven’t heard, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they do it at the same time. They’re getting smarter about piggybacking works… but I’m told this won’t be included during the shutdown.

Me again: What are the weekend shutdowns for? (Presumably rail-only)

As I understand it there’ll be no more road closures as part of this project. I’d assume the weekend shutdowns would be relatively minor works that have to be done in the rail corridor in preparation for the major works period.

DD: I wonder how many minutes per hour in the peak North Rd traffic can expect to be stopped for pedestrians in future? And whether the crossing lights at the station will be coordinated with those at the pedestrian crossing a few hundred metres to the east?

Hopefully they’ll be coordinated with the four (I think?) existing crossings between Booran/Wheatley and Grange/Jasper Roads. In any case, for traffic, the delays will be far fewer and shorter than the somewhat unpredictable boom gate down time experienced now. (I don’t know if an emergency vehicle has ever had to wait as a train driver struggled with a difficult ramp to unload a wheelchair passenger, but given the proximity to the Ormond fire station, I’d be surprised if it hasn’t happened.)

Thanks for the comments, keep them coming.

11/5/2016 – Some more Q+A

Gene: Any word from the LXRA about leaving trench space for a 4th track from Caufield to Moorabbin to later account for a sprawling Bayside corridor plus upgrades and electrification from Frankston to Baxter according to Laborís Anthony Albanese?

Electrification to Baxter is a good idea, because it would help serve the Peninsula (Leawarra) campus of Monash Uni, and it provides a chance to move the Frankston stabling yards out to Baxter, freeing up land for urban renewal.

Baxter is also a better location for a Peninsula Park And Ride.

I don’t know if it would necessarily result in a huge increase in passenger numbers, making four track express running necessary on the inner part of the line, but the LXRA has consistently said the project has passive provision for the fourth track (which basically means not doing much to provide it, other than not putting anything huge in its way). My assumption is it would result in demolition of platform 3 between Glenhuntly and Patterson, so the fact that the rebuilt stations are getting a third platform certainly indicates the fourth track won’t be happening any time soon.

Warwick: Why does a station need to be staffed to have gates? Is it for wheelchairs and the like?

Yes. One of the options I hope they’re exploring for Bentleigh (and in future for Ormond) is having the wide gate adjacent the booking office, so it can be monitored and opened by staff from within the office. This is commonly used around the world to minimise additional staff requirements, while still ensuring gates are kept closed.

They have used this design at modified setups at Parliament (northern end) and Flagstaff, though I don’t know if they make use of it yet.

(I’ll take your other points as comments!)

Michael (off-blog): Will any noise abatement treatments be applied to surfaces of the cuttings?

Based on what the project team has told me, apparently not.

D (off-blog) wanted to know what would be provided: Lifts, escalators, ramps, stairs?

Stairs and lifts for each platform, with an additional set at Ormond for the entrance on the south side of North Road.

Correction: Bentleigh and Mckinnon will have stairs and lifts. Ormond will have stairs and two lifts for each platform (eg one on each side of North Road), but no ramps.

It sounds like they’ve learnt lessons from Laverton and Epping, where stairs and lifts were provided, but at the former the lifts aren’t big enough to fit ambulance stretchers, and at both they have semi-regular problems due to power failures. These will have additional failsafes such as battery backup.

At Springvale and Mitcham, ramps were also provided, but these are problematic — for DDA compliance, the gradient has to be very slight, with regular flat rest areas, meaning they take a lot of space, and barely anybody uses them.

Keep the questions coming. There’s also an official Community Information Session next Monday 16th May 2016 from 2pm to 8pm (drop in at any time) at the Bentleigh Club, 33 Yawla Street.

State Budget 2016

Wednesday’s State Budget has a lot of good rail projects funded. It seems the State Government is serious about upgrading the rail network to cope for the future.

Going through the press release and also the Budget Papers (Budget Paper 3 “Service Delivery” has always been my favourite; it has all the juicy stuff in transport), I’ve tried to summarise the new spending below… hopefully I haven’t missed anything, or doubled-up.

Project Cost Notes
City Loop security upgrade $134m Recommendations from the Victorian Ombudsman. By the way, the “platform barriers” are to try and stop people getting into the tunnels, not to stop them falling on the track, which would be almost impossible to implement given non-standard train doors and no automation to ensure trains stop in the right spot.
Ballarat line duplication out to Melton, platforms, stabling $518m Means Caroline Springs has to be modified with an extra platform before it’s even opened! And it’s only duplication, not electrification.
Hurstbridge line duplication Heidelberg to Rosanna $140m In addition to level crossing removal projects
South Morang to Mernda rail extension $588m Great to see this fully funded
28 additional High-Capacity Metro Trains $875m On top of the 37 funded last year. Includes running costs ramping up to $25.4m/year
27 V/Line V/Locity carriages and stabling $280.4m Relieve V/Line overcrowding, especially since RRL opened last year
5 X’Trapolis trains $105m Seems to be a stopgap order while the HCMTs are designed and tendered
V/Line North-East line upgrades $15m An additional carriage to change from 3 x 5 car trains to 4 x 4 car trains; refurbishment of other carriages
V/Line next generation train planning $10m The V/Locity design is great, but well over ten years old
Other upgrades for V/Line $198m  
V/Line major maintenance $141m Seems to be directed at the kind of proactive maintenance intended to prevent a repeat of the wheel wear debacle from earlier this year
1500 commuter car spaces across Melbourne and regional areas $19.9m Not clear if this is included in one of the other buckets. Note the average $13266 cost per space. There are cheaper ways of getting people to stations – without them having to own a car.
Frankston station precinct upgrade $50m  
Metro rail service improvements $35m Additional services, but not detailed precisely what. Hopefully more 10 minute services.
Minor regional rail improvement works $23.6m  
Bendigo and Eaglehawk station improvements $15.8m  
Gippsland line station improvements $9m  
Business case for future improvements for Bendigo, Gippland, Armstrong Creek (Geelong) $7.6m  
Upfield to Somerton upgrade business case $5m Future planning for re-routing Seymour trains via Upfield line, which has more capacity than Craigieburn
Planning for Regional upgrades $5m Linked to imminent release of Regional Network Development Plan
South Geelong to Waurn Ponds duplication business case/detailed design $3m Would help increase train frequencies south of Geelong
Bus improvements $25.2m Numerous local bus improvements, including those pledged in Labor’s 2014 election commitments.
Metro rail tunnel funding $2.9b $2.9b over four years (the “forward estimates” period) with more to come later
Bridge strengthening for E-class trams $1.8m The only extra tram spending I spotted; so insignificant it’s not mentioned in press releases.

V/Line North Melbourne flyover

Worth noting:

  • V/Line gets a handful of extra services on the Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong and Gippsland lines every day, and three more to Wyndham Vale on weekdays as well. They also get extra services to Shepparton (extension of an existing service everyday) and Warrnambool (Sundays only it appears), and a bunch more services to Geelong on weekends (this might fix the dire hourly service)
  • The Budget Papers have some amusing references to V/Line’s “Classic fleet” of older carriages – the N and Z-class carriages are getting aircon and seating upgrades.
  • There’s continued funding for Melbourne Bike Share ($2.5m per year) and the Westgate Punt ($300,000 per year) — again, not flagged in the press releases. Interestingly the Bike Share seems to be being funded a couple of years at a time.

I’m not going to dwell on the road upgrades, other than to say it’s a relief that the government haven’t sprung a new major road project on the community. One (Western Distributor) is plenty — yet two days later there are already noises about the NorthEast Link. Obviously this is on the agenda for coming years.

In some ways the big surprise is full funding of the Metro Rail Tunnel, assuming the Commonwealth still refuses to provide any funding. I suspected this might happen — yes at $11 billion it’s a huge project, but construction is over 10 years, making it a bit over an average $1 billion per year — it’s within the state’s capabilities, though it probably means other needed projects may not happen during this time if the Feds don’t contribute.

Also somewhat surprising is the large amount of money for V/Line — it’s worth remembering that the regional train network (including the suburban sections of RRL) carry less than a tenth the number of passengers that the metro rail system carries (though over longer distances). But it’s also a natural response to the dire problems the service has had, and also a good strategy to support a vital service in regional Victoria, and better link country towns to Melbourne. Hopefully the investment in V/Line helps bring the service back up to standard, and get more passengers on board.

And plenty of improvements funded on Metro as well, including the logical expansion of the new train fleet to eventually support the entire Cranbourne/Pakenham to Sunbury line when the rail tunnel opens — and of course remembering the already substantial investment in level crossing removal and station rebuilds.

While there’s not much for buses, and even less for trams, but overall it’s good to see so many rail upgrades coming through, including sometimes forgotten but important upgrades like track duplication.