The curse of dead running – enemy of the passenger

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

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

This is dead running.

Out of service bus

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

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

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

703 bus stop, Bentleigh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s included?

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

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

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

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

Springvale grade separation under construction

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

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

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

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

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

Dandenong line, 6pm

What’s not included

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Train passing signal

The verdict

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

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

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

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

See also:

Safety around trams

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

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

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

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

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

Melbourne Metro tunnel station artists impression

Origins

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

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

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

Metro 1 and Metro 2

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

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

–Victorian Transport Plan, 2008

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

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

–Victorian Transport Plan, 2008

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

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

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

melb-metro-2008-2020

One tunnel to link them all

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

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

Infrastructure Australia submission from the Victorian government, 2012

Metro tunnel plan

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

PTV rail network: Stage 4

The latest name: Metro Rail Capacity Project

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

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

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

PTV

And now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inevitably though, the tunnel has to be built.

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

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

Smoking banned completely from railway stations and tram platform stops from 1st March

From next Saturday, 1st of March, smoking will be banned from the entirety of all railway stations and tram platform stops.

The new arrangements will extend the existing smoke-free zones, which currently only include covered areas of railway platforms and inside covered tram and bus shelters.

“Extending smoke-free areas is good news for public transport passengers and supports other government initiatives that aim to reduce the impact of tobacco and second-hand smoke on the community,” Mr Mulder said.

Government press release

I think this is a good move.

Some people are saying it won’t work, because there’ll be little enforcement. I’m not sure I agree with that. It’s rare to see smoking inside of public transport vehicles, despite little enforcement.

The problem with the current smoking ban in covered areas is that signage is rare, and often so small it’s almost impossible to see — for instance:

Smoking in a bus shelter

The key will be properly promoting the ban, including news coverage (which in evidence today) and much more prominent signage. Enforcement can back these up, but fundamentally if people know the ban exists, I expect in time most will respect it.

I haven’t noticed any in the wild yet, but here’s what the poster for railway stations looks like. Leaving aside the way they’ve mixed their tenses, hopefully signage will be just as prominent on tram stops, and will be improved at bus stops.

Smoke Free poster for railway stations

There is a possible caveat however: it’s unclear if it applies to tram stops which are accessible, but not via a platform — this means Easy Access Stops, including the stops along Swanston Street. And the publicity indicates the ban doesn’t include non-covered areas of bus and non-platform tram stops.

This bill from November 2012 appears to indicate the original intention was a complete ban within 4 metres of any railway station, tram or bus stop, ferry/punt landing or taxi rank (unless just passing by). Maybe any lawyers reading can advise on the status of those clauses.

Update 23/2/2014: Thanks to Mark (see comments), who checked and found the bill above was defeated. Kind of a shame, but perhaps it was scene as not clear enough where the smoke ban would take effect.

In any case, hopefully the change will mean an end to that super annoying habit of some smokers (you know the type) exhaling from their extinguished cigarette after they board the train.

Some local PT issues in Bentleigh #SpringSt

The Public Transport Not Traffic campaign held their PT To Parliament event on Thursday morning. Locals were encouraged to invite their local MPs to catch public transport with them into Parliament House, and discuss PT issues with them along the way.

My local MP, Elizabeth Miller, was sadly unavailable. So we invited ALP opposition candidate Nick Staikos instead. (As I understand it, the intent wasn’t for a single local group to invite multiple opposing candidates — that may have just descended into a debate/shouting match on the train!)

Terry K, Nick Staikos, Danita T, Daniel B at Parliament

Since Elizabeth couldn’t make it, I emailed over to her a list of some local PT issues, which she was happy to receive. Here’s that same list, for wider distribution and discussion, in no particular order…

Smartbus 703 (Centre Road) is quite crowded at peak times. Part of the problem is delays on the route due to a lack of bus priority. Also the shortened operating hours and poor frequencies (compared to other Smartbuses) in the evenings and on weekends (including part of the route not running on Sundays) continue to mean patronage is not what it could be, which contributes to weekday parking issues at Bentleigh station.

(Inadequate bus connections are also an issue at other local stations serving the electorate, particularly Moorabbin, Mckinnon and Ormond. The 630 in particular would be a good candidate for Smartbus services — where buses have been upgraded, they get lots of passengers.)

Bus 822 – this currently diverts along side streets between North and Centre Roads, but has long been proposed that it be moved to run down East Boundary Road, to speed up travel, and better serve GESAC (though it already stops nearby, out the back). It’s a mystery to me why this hasn’t happened.

(One local told me he’d heard the bus was diverted out of East Boundary Road many decades ago due to major works, but never put back afterwards! I don’t know if that’s true or not.)

Summer train timetables in the past few weeks caused a LOT of crowding on the Frankston line. Thankfully this is over for now, but this left a lot of regular users very angry.

Signage – several years after it went out of service, the automated sign for train times outside Bentleigh station still does not work. It’s a little thing, but easily seen as a sign of inaction.

(It’s unclear if this will be resolved as part of the $100 million Bayside rail improvements package, which does include signage upgrades.)

Southland station – still no visible progress. I think it’s reasonable to say people had expected more on this by now.

And one more thing with a little twist…

Ten minute services – the Coalition has presided over improvements on the Frankston line such that we now get a train every 10 minutes for much of the day, 7 days-a-week. But there has been almost zero publicity around this, and many locals remain unaware of it. I dare say that better promotion of this fact would not only boost patronage, it would also be a genuine good news story for the government.

(And it being a success is the only way we’ll see it spread to other lines. And even the Frankston line timetable could do with some tweaking, to fix the confusing shoulder-peak mess.)

There are bigger issues at the statewide/citywide level, of course, which I’ll aim to cover in a future post. But these are the local transport issues that sprang immediately to my mind. And note — none of them are mega-projects. The most expensive is Southland Station, in the tens of millions of dollars range. Fixing the other issues would be relatively cheap.

And other areas have local issues… The PTNT campaign is going to launch something on that soon.

But in the meantime, any other locals care to contribute their thoughts?

PTV’s plans for in-cab signalling – could boost track capacity by 50% #MetroTrains

A while back I had a read through the PTV rail network plan looking to summarise their view on the rollout of high capacity (in-cab) signalling. Sorry this post has been so long in coming.

This short (three minute) video explains it nicely, but one analogy is that the current system is like driving around the burbs using nothing but traffic lights to determine when to stop or go. This of course would be extremely inefficient — you could only have one car per section of road between traffic lights. So of course we drive mostly by sight, simply keeping a safe distance from the car ahead.

For trains, the stopping distances are too long to be able to drive by sight, but in-cab signalling provides the signals inside the driver’s cab instead of trackside, with the system advising how fast the train can go while still keeping a safe distance from the one ahead.

The PTV plan’s intro text on the topic describes the impact of an upgrade:

Most of Melbourne’s signalling system, known as an Automatic Block system, currently uses coloured lights next to train tracks to advise the driver of what speed it is safe to travel – essentially the same technology introduced a century ago. The signalling capability in the city and inner suburbs, where two or more lines share tracks, typically allows for average two to three minute headways (the time between trains), extending to three to five minutes on each suburban line.

Safe distance between trains is ensured by providing a signal sighting / driver reaction time, a minimum breaking [sic] distance and a safety margin.

The existing system typically operates at around 15 trains per hour and could operate at up to 24 trains per hour in an ideal operating environment. In reality, a frequency of 22 trains per hour is seen as the practical achievable capacity to ensure an acceptable level of reliability can be attained.

In-cab signalling in systems overseas sees around 33 or more trains per hour running, so obviously you get a big benefit from increased rail line capacity — if you’re going from 22 to 33, then that’s around 50% more trains. Coupled with upgrades providing more capacity in each train, you can move a lot more people.

The costs?

So how much do you need to spend to get this big increase in rail capacity? Perhaps not too much actually.

A UK tender from a couple of years ago outlines the costs for this upgrade for part of the London Underground:

The contract, valued at approximately £354 million GBP (approx € 402 million euro / $ 577 million US), is a part of London Underground’s SSR Upgrade Programme (SUP). Bombardier will provide the proven CITYFLO 650 ATC system, its innovative communication-based train control (CBTC) technology, similar to that running successfully on the Metro de Madrid in Spain.

Bombardier will equip the 310 km of track line (40 km in tunnels), 113 stations, 191 trainsets, 49 engineering trains and six heritage trains by 2018, followed by a two-year warranty period.

Bombardier press release, 14/6/2011

This portion of the London Underground is roughly 40% of the size of Melbourne’s entire rail network, in terms of track length and number of trains (but with much less track in tunnels). On that basis, performing the same upgrade for the entire Melbourne network would cost about £885 million GBP, or about A$1620 million.

It’s worth noting however that Bombardier and London Underground have scrapped that particular contract, citing incompatible equipment. Obviously it’ll be interesting to see if they can re-let the contract to another supplier for a cost in the same ballpark.

Even if you took the rough Melbourne figure and added 50%, you’re still looking at around $2.5 billion, which is a bargain for being able to put about 50% more trains onto the tracks — the equivalent carrying capacity of scores of motorway lanes, but with nothing like the impact. (And the induced traffic would be train passengers, not motor vehicles.)

The plan

So what’s PTV’s plan to roll new signalling, once they get the money? In summary:

Stage 1: Sandringham trial (in part because that line is relatively self-contained)

Stage 2 (which includes the metro rail tunnel): Sandringham (full installation), City to Clifton Hill, and Sunbury to South Yarra (eg via tunnel)

Stage 3 (which includes Clifton Hill to Flagstaff tunnel): Werribee/Williamstown, Craigieburn, Upfield (including re-routing of Seymour trains via that line), Dandenong lines

Beyond stage 4 – rest of network

Also note their video includes a glimpse of in-cab signalling, at about 3 mins, 5 secs in:

So what happens now?

The plans are in place… but one of the options must surely be to roll out the new signalling before the rail tunnels, providing a big capacity boost across the network more quickly.

Either way, nothing happens until the government provides funding.

And at present, they’re a bit busy pouring money instead into the East West tunnel, despite that nobody asked for it.

Are the PSOs having an effect? Survey suggests no, but anecdotal evidence suggests yes.

Interesting article: PSOs do little for train passenger confidence:

Data from a survey conducted by the Australia New Zealand Policing Advisory Agency shows in 2012-13, 24.2 per cent of Victorians reported feeling safe or very safe on public transport at night. This was a small increase on the previous year, in which 23.7 per cent of Victorians said they felt safe. But the proportion of Victorians who said they felt safe on public transport at night in 2012-13 is significantly lower than the number who reported feeling safe in 2008-09 (27.9 per cent) or in 2009-10, (25.8 per cent), prior to the introduction of protective services officers.

In contrast to the research (and it appears it was not limited to the stations which actually have PSOs) the anecdotal evidence I’ve heard from around the place is that many people do feel safer with them around.

From what I understand, Labor now considers the PSO deployment so far gone and so popular that they won’t be rolling it back.

Perhaps we’ll see a change in survey attitudes when the rollout is complete and there’s a consistent presence of PSOs on every station after 6pm.

For me personally, I’ve used the trains at night for many years without incident, and while I’ve never felt unsafe, everyone’s aware that incidents can and do happen from time to time. To me, the presence of PSOs has made little difference, though at otherwise unstaffed stations, it’s nice to know there is now an official presence one could turn to if help was needed.

And certainly as a parent with a kid old enough to be heading out at night, it’s nice to know more stations now have a stronger staff presence at night.

PSO at Richmond station

But more broadly, there are still questions to be answered:

Is the PSO rollout leading to more people being willing to use trains at night? I recall the Coalition saying before the 2010 election that they expected to see a patronage/revenue jump as a result of it. Has that happened? Or are other factors (generally low frequencies, and very poor connecting services after dark) holding back growth?

Is it reducing crime? The article notes that crime stats are up, but given there’s been no widespread reporting of crimes against the PSOs themselves, the logical conclusion is that more crimes are being reported.

These are the sorts of questions that need to be properly answered before we will know if the program is truly worth the $212 million (over four years) cost to the taxpayer.

Until then, I continue to take the view based on the assault statistics — that some stations need a security presence, not just at night, but from first train to last. And that at other stations, two armed guards from 6pm onwards is over-the-top — the funding for those positions is better used for more regular staff (who provide passive surveillance and customer service), and more train drivers and the other personnel needed to run more frequent public transport, including more trains running more often.

After all, it doesn’t matter how safe you feel, waiting 29 minutes for a train — after dark or in broad daylight — is still not fun.