Rail plan leaked

Channel 9 and The Age got hold of a previously unpublished rail plan, or at least the summary maps from it.

Age: Leaked rail plan shows few extra services for regional commuters

Channel 9: I assume the headline-writer got a little carried away. Metro 2 isn’t really a secret.

The stages

The staging appears to be very similar to the PTV plan release back in 2013; it’s obviously evolved over the past five years. (Let’s assume that the swap of Spotswood and Seddon is an error.)

To me it all seems reasonably sensible. Channel 9 has a good summary of the projects involved, which is well worth a read.

Here’s how things will sit when the Metro (1) tunnel opens. Dandenong and Sunbury are connected via the tunnel. Frankston takes the Caulfield Loop. Sandringham is connected through to Newport.
Victorian Rail Plan - leaked version October 2018 - Metro 1 tunnel

Also by this point, the Upfield line has been extended to Craigieburn, with Seymour/Shepparton/Albury trains using it instead of the Craigieburn line – does this mean the Albury line would be converted to broad gauge? Not sure.

By stage 4, the western portion of Metro 2 (Werribee line, Newport, Fishermans Bend, Southern Cross, Flagstaff, Parkville) is in place, as well as electrification to Melton and Wyndham Vale (planning works for these were pledged by Labor yesterday).
Victorian Rail Plan - leaked version October 2018 - Stage 4

By this point the Frankston line has been extended to Baxter, and the Cranbourne line to Clyde. The other big change is the City Loop is re-configured to route the Frankston/Baxter line through to Craigieburn. Glen Waverley is running direct and is routed through to Upfield/Craigieburn, which has an extension to Wallan. The Airport line is in place via Sunshine, and there’s a connection from Werribee to Wyndham Vale. Laverton (Altona Loop) and Williamstown trains are disconnected from the Werribee line, and continue to run via Footscray.

Also note the annotations showing the number of peak trains. This is the catalyst for The Age’s headline. Some people on Facebook have assumed that’s an all-day frequency. It clearly isn’t — the Dandenong line is not going to have 22 trains per hour all day.

Stage 6 completes the Metro 2 tunnel, connecting Parkville to the Mernda line, which also has a branch north from Lalor to Wollert. This line is connected through to Werribee and an electrified Geelong line, with Warrnambool passengers changing at Geelong.
Victorian Rail Plan - leaked version October 2018 - Stage 6

A big change here is the Cranbourne/Clyde and Pakenham lines have been separated. Clyde now runs via the tunnel, then via Chadstone, with a branch at Huntingdale to Monash Uni and Rowville. This obviously differs from State Labor’s view of light rail serving Caulfield/Chadstone/Rowville. Additional tracks from Huntingdale to Dandenong (where the alignment is wide) allow Pakenham and V/Line trains to run express. At the city end, Pakenham is connected through to Wyndham Vale, if I’m reading the fuzzy out-of-focus lines correctly.

There’s some final twists in the “Long term” vision.
Victorian Rail Plan - leaked version October 2018 - Long Term

Seymour/Shepparton/Albury trains now run via the Airport instead of via the Upfield/Wallan line. The suburban Airport line no longer connects to Sunshine, but runs direct to somewhere near South Kensington – but without any intermediate stations, which seems a waste.

Also note the City Loop configuration. It appears the Hurstbridge line would run via the Loop then out to Ringwood. By this point, no metro services would terminate in the City – they’d all be connected through to other lines.

So what’s not in here?

The Suburban Rail Loop is the obvious one. It was prepared separately from the rest of this plan before being announced last month. It does have limited interaction with the main network, particularly in the east, though there’s talk of it sharing parts of the Airport and/or RRL alignments.

The other glaring omission is the Doncaster line.

The focus for service frequencies is all based on the maximum. I know there’s good work going on to move towards frequent all-day services, and you’d hope that a full plan (with explanations for these leaked maps) would detail that.

Despite the leak, I don’t expect the full plan to be released this year. But hopefully in coming years, well after the dust from the election has settled, and the bureaucrats have had time to properly digest and incorporate the plans of their political masters.

Forward planning is vital, and the enthusiasm for rail from the politicians is very welcome — it’s vital as our city continues to grow. Let’s hope that whoever wins in November, things can move forward in a coherent, logical manner.

Passenger Information Displays (PIDs) at stations are evolving

Just a quick post while I work on something more substantive.

I want to talk about Passenger Information Displays (PIDs for short) at Metro stations.

For a while, it looked like suburban stations would all be getting two line LED PIDs.

They show the scheduled time, destination, minutes to departure, and a summary of the stopping pattern, but no individual stations are listed.
Station PID taken with DSLR with Time Value setting on 1/30 second

Around 2016 with many stations being rebuilt, more elaborate flat screens started to appear, which add every station the train serves, and the following two trains, as well as the current time. (Larger versions of these appear at central city stations.)
Bentleigh station platform 2

More recently, at some stations the two line LEDS (only installed in 2014) have been replaced by the screens… with a twist. Some of them have been switched to a different design, which shows less detail, but in a larger font size.
Armadale station, platform 2

This makes sense, particularly where there’s only one screen per platform. They are far easier to see from a distance.
Armadale station, platform 1

They still show more information than that two line LEDs, including the current time and the following train, and can be switched to show different messages when relevant.
Armadale station, platform 3

Here’s a comparison with Sydney, where they’ve gone for a two screen display, which shows the next train on one screen, complete with a full (scrolling) list of stations, and following trains on the second screen. Overall it’s got more information, but I think (partly due to the colours used) is less readable, particularly from a distance.
Sydney station platform PIDs

By the way, most of the above pictures are from Armadale. It and the other MATH stations have another older type of display on the concourse listing departures from all platforms:
Armadale station, concourse

Good accurate timely information is important on the public transport network, and while apps now mean a lot of this is now available on smartphones, it’s good to have it displayed around the stations.

Getting details of the following train is particularly important in morning peak, when the train at the platform may be delayed and packed. People may choose to let it go if they know the next one is only a few minutes away.

Not including a list of all stations… perhaps that’s okay at suburban stations, though unfamiliar users may still have issues, particularly outbound — for instance, a Frankston line train may be terminating at Frankston, Carrum, Mordialloc, Cheltenham or Moorabbin — it’s high time major interchanges like South Yarra and Caulfield got screens with all the stations listed.

But at least each new version has been an improvement. No doubt the PIDs will continue to evolve and improve.

PT crowding increasing – but we can do better

The May 2018 Metro and Yarra Trams passenger load surveys were released last week.

Media coverage: Herald Sun (paywall); The Age

It’s worth noting that load surveys are measuring what happens when the service is running as planned. It’s not designed to look at crowding during disruptions, it’s designed to guide future investment.

Trains

Here’s the TL;DR for Metro: After a reduction in the past couple of years, crowding is on the rise again. 9.8% of AM services are above the threshold, and 4.8% of PM services.

To me, this indicates that patronage has kept increasing, and the reduction in crowding in 2017 was thanks to the removal of some seats to increase standing space. Unfortunately on some lines there hasn’t been a huge number of new services added to the peak timetable in some years — only 5 across the networkwide AM peak between May 2015 and May 2018 according to the graph.

Metro load survey May 2018

Here’s a summary of the state of the lines. Rather than use the figures concerning the number of trains that are overcrowded, I’ve pulled out the percentage of peak passengers travelling on overcrowded trains:

Line AM peak PM peak Notes
Alamein 0.0% 0.0% Steady since 2012
Glen Waverley 0.0% 16.6% Crowding increasing
Ringwood 7.4% 6.8% Crowding increasing marginally in AM peak
Dandenong 16.8% 10.8% Crowding dropped markedly from 2016 to 2017, but is on the rise again
Frankston 16.1% 5.3% AM peak has been consistently more crowded since 2012. Dropped between 2015 and 2017, but rising again
Sandringham 0.0% 0.0% In the past has been consistently more crowded in AM peak, but has improved a lot since 2016.
South Morang 24.0% 27.2% This survey was before the Mernda extension opened, though that added extra services: AM peak increased from 15 trains in May to 20 now.
Hurstbridge 22.1% 0.0% Increased crowding in AM peak. Continued duplication of the line will help run extra trains.
Craigieburn 23.6% 10.7% Peaked in 2016 and has been dropping, but clearly still very crowded
Sunbury 18.4% 0.0% Peaked in 2016 but has improved… for now.
Upfield 0.0% 0.0% Crowding has dropped since 2016 despite no extra services; not really clear why. (The AM peak switch from 20 minute frequencies to 18 minutes was in 2012.)
Werribee 17.6% 5.7% Similar to the Dandenong line; crowding had been improving, but has increased recently
Williamstown 0.0% 0.0% As with Alamein, no crowding recorded since 2012

Basically, crowding on the lines serving the growth areas of Melbourne (especially Sunbury, Dandenong, Werribee and South Morang/Mernda) can be expected to worsen over coming years if nothing is done.

Also worth noting: the focus is on peak hours, but there are now real problems outside peak hours, including weekends. Some lines run as little as every 40 minutes on Sunday mornings, and are packed. This should be an easy win to fix, but seems to be a blind spot for the government.

The load survey notes say that counts are actually done between 6am and midday, and 2pm and 7pm. It’d be interesting to see the data from the middle of the day, when some lines see a big service frequency reduction.

Crowding on tram 48

Trams

Tram crowding has also worsened, with load breaches primarily on Swanston Street/St Kilda Road, and Elgin/Lygon Street (routes 1 and 6), particularly in the morning peak.

Other hotspots in the AM peak include Wellington Parade (routes 48/75 — I’m betting mostly the 48, which usually uses small trams), and on Clarendon Street (route 12, another with small trams).

And there’s a twist: for the first time, they measured a “non-cordon” (eg non-CBD) location: route 82 at Droop Street and Ballarat Road — and found that too is overcrowded in the AM peak.

Perhaps this should be no surprise: despite huge urban renewal around Maribyrnong, this route is one of the least frequent in Melbourne (only every 15 minutes in peak) and runs all small trams.

Crowded train, Richmond

Decentralisation?

One can understand where the debate about population and decentralisation is coming from – prompting talk of (among other things) fast rail to the regions.

But if decentralisation just means fewer people moving into Melbourne (which at least has some semblance of a public transport network) and more moving into regional areas (many of which really don’t have any public transport, apart from a small number of buses and trains) then that’s not a good outcome. It just means more car dependence and sprawl in towns around the state.

Plus our local decision makers haven’t yet learnt that big cities can and do deal with congestion… just not by building more motorways. They can’t necessarily eliminate congestion, but they can ensure that more people can get around without being caught in it, by providing alternatives to driving.

Can PT cope?

You can argue that public transport in Melbourne and Sydney isn’t coping with our growing population.

But it’s incorrect to claim it can’t cope… because we haven’t really tried.

  • Australia has no metro systems (Sydney’s one line under construction doesn’t make a system) — frequent services all day until midnight, with dedicated routes? Suburban rail can transition to it, but it’s a frustratingly slow process
  • There’s almost no proper light rail with real on-road and traffic light priority — the Gold Coast is the only example in the nation.
  • Frequent buses with priority? Very rare. Brisbane is perhaps the only city doing this seriously, and even there the busways are arguably doing the job that should be done by trains.

Meanwhile, Melbourne’s recently opened major rail projects were very welcome, but:

  • Tarneit/Wyndham Vale/Caroline Springs/Melton etc need a metro or a suburban service, but got a regional train service which is predictably struggling
  • Mernda got a “Metro” connection that runs as little as every 30-40 minutes

None of this is good enough in a city of 5 million people and growing.

Waiting to board a Geelong train at Southern Cross, PM peak

While successive Victorian governments haven’t really tried in a serious way to fund high frequency high capacity public transport, they’ve tried everything they can to get the motorways to cater for growth.

More and more lanes, “managed motorways” (metering aka traffic lights, dynamic speed limits, automated lane signage).

It doesn’t work. Ultimately, moving millions of people around in their own metal boxes simply doesn’t work… which is why the smartest big cities have fewer motorways than we do.

The time has come for proper, turn-up-and-go, big city public transport. Our government must do better.

  • On Wednesday I participated in a forum on ABC Radio. The full audio is here. Transport is the middle section, but the whole thing (also covering housing and crime) is worth a listen.

Coalition pledges faster regional trains

On Wednesday the Coalition announced a pledge to upgrade all the main regional rail lines to 200 km/h, cutting travel times.

ABC report: Coalition promises 32-minute trips from Geelong to Melbourne under regional rail upgrade

This is a really interesting policy. Given the ALP has pledged to investigate fast rail to Geelong, and is upgrading other lines, it’s great to see both sides talking about regional rail.

Coalition's plan for high speed rail, October 2018

“European” high speed rail

The talk from the Coalition is of “European-style” high speed rail. I’m not sure that analogy stacks up. The Europeans are running electrified trains at 250-320 km/h, not diesel trains at 200.

The plan is closer to the British main line railways with their large fleet of diesel-powered InterCity 125s (eg 125 mph = 200 km/h). However these were developed in the 1970s (with swing doors!) and many (but not all) are starting to be phased out as part of a huge upgrade, in favour of electric or bimodal trains on the main lines.

In fact in a lot of the world, high speed rail is not a term applied to trains that run at 200 km/h — this is known as “higher-speed rail“!

The other important aspect of European high speed rail is a good network of local services connecting high speed rail services to the suburbs of regional cities — this is something both sides of politics aren’t really talking about. For rail services to rely purely on walk-up catchments and Park And Ride is severely limiting patronage.

Timetables

Apart from proposed running times, the Coalition are a little vague on details of a service plan. Perhaps fair enough not to get into too many specifics without some detailed planning, though it’d be good to have a rough idea of what they have in mind. The current mostly hourly off-peak service doesn’t cut it.

The plan does specify hourly trains between Colac and Bannockburn (I admit I had to look it up; it’s northwest of Geelong on the line to Ballarat), and from Waurn Ponds to Werribee. That would make for a combined frequency of half-hourly between Waurn Ponds and Geelong, alongside the main service to Melbourne.

This is a clever idea, with a lot of potential, though the Werribee service could be more frequent if it’s going to attract people out of cars along the Princes Highway.

A short term change flagged is more express trains between Geelong and Melbourne, to immediately cut travel times down to 50 minutes.

In fact, the 17:33 weekday departure out of Southern Cross already does this trip in 50 minutes, scheduled to arrive in Geelong at 18:23.

Running more trains at this speed is possible, but difficult. You’d need to change stopping patterns around to make way for the expresses, which could lead to long waits and crowding at intermediate stations.

It would also further complicate the timetable, which already has an incredible 16 different stopping patterns in just the morning inbound services before 10am. More consistency would help cut delays and even out train loads.

V/Line North Melbourne flyover

Is 200 too slow?

After my UK trip last year, I thought upgrades to get Victoria’s main lines to 200 km/h would be a great idea. After all, the Brits did it in the 1970s. How hard could it be? Turns out it’s difficult — you need a new fleet, the V/Locities can’t do it.

It would also be wise to remove most level crossings, though it may not be absolutely necessary to remove the quietest/low-risk crossings.

Of course you’d also need to straighten out the curves, and particularly from Gippsland, additional track through the suburban area would be needed to drastically cut travel times. (The Rail Futures Institute suggests an elevated route along the Princes Highway for V/Line and Metro express trains.)

So the next question is: if you’re going to spend tens of billions on new fleets and rebuilding track, shouldn’t you be aiming a little higher than 200, up from 160? What about 250 or 300? This would require total grade separation, but for the money, would make a bigger difference to speed.

Or is 200 too fast?

Alternatively… it strikes me that in terms of bang per buck, if we’re not aiming for a top speed of well above 200, a better option would be to institute upgrades that help the V/Locity trains reach their full potential.

  • Duplicate the single track sections to cut delays and allow higher frequencies
  • Straighten and upgrade the main routes to allow longer stretches at 160
  • Sort out the hopelessly long run time into Southern Cross from Footscray, which is slower than Metro
  • And definitely run more trains across the day, not just in peak hour — at least every half-hour all day, every day, if not more frequent.

I’m betting all that would be a lot cheaper than $19 billion, and would bring huge benefits to overall travel times — in particular cutting delays and waiting times (especially to/from connecting services).

Amazingly, according to remarks in this video (go to 8 minutes in), the Coalition plan appears not to include full duplication of the Ballarat line, just “a slight extension of some of the passing loops on the western side of Bacchus Marsh”. This shows that — just as Labor did last decade with the disastrous singling of the Bendigo line — they’ve focused far more on speed and travel time, at the expense of frequency and reliability.

V/Line V/Locity train on viaduct between Flinders Street and Southern Cross

Reaction

Predictably, Labor has savaged the Coalition’s proposal for its lack of detail.

It’s clearly a very ambitious plan: Geelong fully upgraded by 2022, the rest by 2028. Is it possible? There’s an awful lot of cynicism about it, but at least the Coalition is thinking big.

Driving the overall policy is the Coalition aim of help decentralise Victoria’s population, which makes a lot of sense.

I don’t have all the answers, but it’s a great discussion to have, and it’s terrific to see both sides being ambitious around public transport.

Old photos from September 2008

How can it be October already?

It’s still September in some timezones, so here’s my regular post of photos from ten years ago, covering September 2008.

 

At Richmond station, I was probably trying to take a photo to help publicise the PTUA’s discount yearly tickets – but couldn’t get the ticket itself quite into focus on the old camera.
Richmond station, September 2008

Also at Richmond, one of those days when the glorious sunshine meant it didn’t matter half the platforms had no weather cover. Since then the platform shelters have been extended all the way along.
Richmond station, September 2008

As early as 2008, there were protests against the proposed road tunnel under Royal Park – what became the East West Link. This photo taken on my old mobile phone of the time, outside Docklands stadium where a corporate do. The tunnel had been proposed in the Eddington Study, released a few months earlier.
Protest against what would become East West Link, September 2008

A rather better photo taken by Cory Baudman, who clearly had a much better camera. I’m ranting into the microphone, but holding the loudspeaker is the late Julianne Bell from Protectors of Public Lands. I can also see Greens Upper House member Colleen Hartland in the crowd. (More photos)
Protest33

Two people showing things you can’t (or at least shouldn’t) do while driving. Note the clean wall of the Siemens trains – I guess this was before the period when they were regularly covered with tags.
Two things you can't do while driving, September 2008

As blogged at the time, some genius remodelled the street in 2008 such that the taxi rank was split into two, forcing taxis out into traffic to move up the queue. It was fixed sometime later.
Bentleigh station taxi rank, September 2008

Also in this month, my old car (a 1993 Magna) got taken away for scrap. Allegedly the engine was destined for the Sudan to work a pump in a village somewhere. Cool.
The old car gets taken away, September 2008

I believe it was also ten years since the last time I went to the Melbourne Show. Here are some of the pop culture show bags on sale at the time.
Melbourne Show, September 2008

This view over the Showgrounds also shows the city skyline in the background. Rather fewer skyscrapers than now.
Melbourne Show, September 2008

Younger son Jeremy riding the train home from the Show with one of his new acquisitions. That day also prompted a blog post about the lax attitude of Connex towards ticket checks.
Coming home from the Melbourne Show, September 2008

At Flinders Street station, then train operator Connex installed the first information centre. On the opening day I was there talking to a senior Connex manager (from memory it was then-CEO Bruce Hughes) when some footy fans asked us how to get to AFL Park (in Waverley). Thankfully we gave them the right directions. The centre itself got rebranded when Metro took over in 2009.
Connex information centre at Flinders Street Station, September 2008