Apartments for trainspotters (part 2)

Longtime readers of this blog may recall that back in 2010 an apartment block was being advertised at Caulfield, smack bang between where the Frankston and Dandenong lines diverge.

It was never built. Google Street View shows by 2014 the site was still empty, and the advertising sign was covered in graffiti.

Around 2016 the site was taken over by the Level Crossing Removal Authority for use during the Caulfield To Dandenong “skyrail” project.

But most of the land is now clear again, and in the past month or two, an advertising sign (only visible to passing train passengers) has gone up.

East Apartments, Caulfield - site

It looks to me like part of the land has been used for the skyrail tracks, which were placed slightly to the south of the old ground level tracks, leaving the development site smaller than before.

A sales office is on the site, and their web site is eastapartments.net.au.

East Apartments, Caulfield - artists impression

In nine years, the price seems to have gone up by about $100,000.

This development wouldn’t be the first homes on the site. Street View shows much older houses there in early 2010.

As I said in 2010, hopefully the new buildings’ soundproofing is good.

Thirty years on

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

This is especially so for school reunions. My eldest son is pondering whether to even go to his – the people he wants to stay in touch with, he does via Facebook.

Fair enough.

I however do go to my school reunions. Melbourne High School has an active Old Boys Association which is very well organised for them.

The 30th (gulp) reunion was on Friday night.

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The old school. 30 years on #gulp

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Those of us who got there by 5:30 got to have a tour of the school. Much of it looks about the same, but most (but not all) of the old portable buildings have been replaced. Overall the grand old school building is looking good, though a little shabby in places. There’s never enough funding for as much maintenance as they’d like.

And… gasp… we got to go to the top of the tower. I never got to go up there as a student.

The view was spectacular.

View from the tower at Melbourne High School, looking west across the city

View from the tower at Melbourne High School, looking northeast

View from the tower at Melbourne High School, looking east

The reunion proper was down in the pavilion as usual. Of the 300-odd-strong cohort, about 60 attended, perhaps not too bad after this long.

Some speeches, a flood of memories, some reflection on those who didn’t make it to thirty years, then some raucous singing.

The song “Forty Years On” might have been specifically designed for school reunions, and it’s damn devious of the school to implant it in our brains while when young so we can belt it out in our senior years.

Most valuable was some good chats with old friends who I hadn’t seen in a while.

One bloke I was with at primary school too. We had a strong bond in grade six (what’s that, 36 years ago?), but we lost touch in high school — and having thought about it over the weekend, I think that was my fault.

Melbourne High School at dusk

So it was good to catch up, have some laughs and reminisce over old times.

Great to see them all in person. Better than Facebook and Linked In.

And the view from the tower was better in person, too. Well worth going.

How big events can be a catalyst for better public transport

Despite living in a sports mad city in a sports mad country, I’m not the world’s biggest sports fan.

But as a public transport advocate, I embrace big sporting events, because it’s amazing the things they can help get done in transport.

This is only natural. Such events are often a showcase, particularly in Melbourne, and governments are keen to ensure they can get spectators in and out of the arena/venue as efficiently as possible, and while ensuring that the rest of the city continues to function.

When a hundred thousand people need to converge on a venue, you don’t want to be doing that with private vehicles.

Richmond station, Swan Street entrance, before an MCG game

This isn’t new. Historically, all of Melbourne’s football grounds and racecourses were close to railway stations. (Yes, even Princes Park, and the Brunswick Street oval in Fitzroy. No, not VFL Park.) But I’m thinking of bigger events than just regular football or cricket.

Just as events such as the Olympics leave “legacy” infrastructure, sometimes big events have helped to shake up public transport services.

The Melbourne Formula 1 Grand Prix started in 1996. Someone twigged that the then Sunday timetable of trains every 40 minutes on most lines wasn’t going to cut it, and they instead ran Saturday timetables (every 20 minutes) on GP day. Double the usual train frequency? Unheard of!

Subsequently in July 1999, 20 minutes became the standard Sunday train frequency between 11am and 7pm.

Up in Brisbane, for the 2018 Commonwealth Games they got a tram network extension built in time for the event, with trams running 24/7. The Brisbane Queen Street bus interchange was refurbished. And they ran the Gold Coast rail line 24/7, including 6 or more trains per hour most of the day. Mind you, it was at the expense of some other rail lines.

Speaking of the Commonwealth Games, let me focus on Melbourne 2006.

Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games - public transport summary

Melbourne’s 2006 Commonwealth Games

A raft of temporary public transport upgrades were brought in to help people get to venues, and some of them were subsequently made permanent.

Suburban public transport was included free with all event tickets, which also allowed discounted V/Line travel. PTV has a mechanism for free PT with event tickets as part of their event planning, though it’s not often used outside hosting big international conferences.

Evening trains ran every 20 minutes on all lines (normally 30 minutes) to encourage people to travel after the PM peak — subsequently many lines have been upgraded permanently until about 9:30pm

6-car trains ran from first to last train — at the time, most evening and weekend trains were 3-cars, but 6 is now standard. The new HCMT fleet is being built without intermediate driver cabs, which will allow more passenger space.

The Upfield line ran every 10 minutes as far as Coburg to support events at Royal Park

Trams and trains were extended to 12:30am every nightlater in 2006 as part of MOTC, services were extended permanently to 1am on Friday and Saturday nights, and more recently all night on some trams and all trains, which also fixed issues with Sunday trains starting too late for fun runs.

10 City bus routes ran extended hours, including the services that subsequently got upgraded to the DART Smartbus routes.

51 suburban bus routes extended to around 1am on weeknights to meet trains until the last service, to help relieve suburban station carparks

Skybus ran every 10 minutes at peak times – upgrades since then mean Skybus is now every 10 minutes throughout the day, every day until midnight

Nightrider buses ran every night of the week, not just during weekends.

Note the confusing wording in the official publication shown above — “Normal fares apply for Nightrider services” but also “Nightrider buses do not accept Metcards.” Most people would read “normal fares” as standard tickets, but I think what they meant was that old premium fares applied, though other information clarified that Games tickets included Nightrider travel. Later changes introduced standard Metcard fares for Nightrider, and nowadays, standard Myki fares apply to weekend Night Network services.

Authorities postponed retiring some old Hitachi trains – for pretty much the first time it was recognised that the fleet had to grow. Memorably they ended up buying some back from a collector.

Importantly, there was no car parking at venues, including the MCG. Many would still like to see this happen.

Some upgrades like these can’t easily be made permanent, at least not immediately, because they stretch the assets and staff too much.

But these types temporary changes prove what is possible.

The PTV Annual Report notes more than 1100 special events in 2016-17 — and as in any big city, these are alongside smaller everyday events and activities that don’t make the headlines.

Richmond station, Commonwealth Games 19/3/2006

Getting occasional users on board

Big attractions get occasional users onto public transport, using the system to avoid event traffic snarls and car park hassles, even if those people normally drive everywhere else.

An ABS survey from 2011 showed that 38% of Melburnians had used public transport in the last month — far higher than the typical metropolitan-wide mode share (18% for Journey To Work), indicating a lot of people use it for some trips, but not necessarily their daily commute. Part of that would be attending events.

Occasional use like this means more people become familiar with using the system: how and where their most convenient station is, how to use a Myki card, and indeed more likely to have a Myki card in their wallet — the Herald Sun reported in January that there are 15 million active cards out there. This means one barrier to switching to public transport more often is gone.

How significant this is, I’m not sure, but it’s interesting that the huge upturn in Melbourne’s public transport use last decade occurred pretty much straight after the Commonwealth Games.

Alongside other events such as New Years Eve, it added to the sense that public transport is of huge benefit to mainstream society, and is worth investing in.

Extra event services (when they supplement, rather than disrupt/replace regular services) can help all passengers by cutting waiting times and relieving crowding… though any regular footy goer will tell you that in many cases they need to further improve service frequencies and crowd control.

And in the longer term? While regular commuters may be grumpy at occasionally sharing their crowded train with footy fans, big events can be a catalyst for upgrades, ultimately helping in the quest for a better public transport network for everyone.

More thoughts on the suburban rail loop (Metro 3?)

Some more thoughts on the Suburban Rail Loop — which in this post, I am going to cheekily call Metro 3 for short, since it’s been proposed after Metro 1 (currently under construction) and Metro 2.

A week and a half on, many questions remain, but the idea still looks like an incredibly forward-thinking, positive concept, built on a vision of providing more people getting around an ever-busier city with viable public transport options.

And the community seems to agree. There’s been broad public support for the project.

Time and time again, it’s been shown that most people want public transport prioritised over roads, and I suspect most people are pleased to see such a forward-looking, big-thinking idea floated.

I had an impromptu chat with a senior elected figure who actually uttered the sentence many of us have been repeating for some time now: that in a big city like ours, “you can’t just keep building roads.”

Maybe, despite the current plans for two massive tollways (WestGate Tunnel and North East Link), there is finally recognition that our mass transit system is way behind where it needs to be for a city of this size.

Embankment station, London

The initial announcement was on Facebook, and reaction has been largely positive. As I see it, this is arguably the biggest city-shaping infrastructure initiative in decades. Making public transport competitive for so many more suburban trips will get more people out of cars like few other projects could.

Even the State Opposition isn’t attacking the idea, but rather questioning the ability of the government to deliver it.

There is some dissent from those who think trams or buses should be boosted instead. I’ll talk about that below.

Whether for or against, I don’t remember the Vicroads plan for a 100km long orbital outer ring road attracting this much attention.

Labor orbital rail plan

Cost

The Suburban Rail Loop Metro 3 is undoubtedly a hugely expensive project.

It’s also the type of project that probably wasn’t feasible when Melbourne had just 3 million people, but has become more viable (and arguably essential) now we’ve tipped over 5 million and we’re still growing.

Cost estimates have varied wildly. Most seem to be quoting in the region of $50 billion, but the new Federal Minister for Cities Alan Tudge claimed it could be $100-150 billion — on what basis? Not sure.

Here’s a back of the envelope costing: The Metro 1 tunnel now under construction is 9 kilometres of twin tunnels and 5 stations, costing about $10 billion. Let’s assume for a moment that each station costs $1 billion, and tunnels cost $0.5 billion per kilometre.

Metro 3 as initially envisaged is 90 kilometres and 12 stations (though I would strongly argue for at least a handful more stations). Based on that rule of thumb, we’d be looking at $45 + $12 = $57b. So about $50b or less might be close to the mark, assuming some economies of scale from the bigger project, and remember that some of the route won’t underground.

Certainly land acquisition and perhaps other costs should be cheaper than in the middle of the CBD, and the Metro 1 tunnel will incur costs when train passengers are diverted around works near the tunnel portals; Metro 3 won’t have these.

There’s also talk of re-using some of the construction equipment from Metro 1 on this project.

Thomson-East Coast Line MRT, Tunnel boring machine, Orchard station, Singapore

It didn’t go through Infrastructure Victoria

Many have pointed out that the project hasn’t yet been evaluated by IV. Nor is it part of a transport plan, as required under the Transport Integration Act — at least not one that’s been published.

There has been a fair bit of planning work done on it despite this — evidently for about a year.

Technology

They haven’t really talked about the technology that could be used. If it’s a new standalone line (assuming it shares some of the alignment with airport rail, but not the tracks), there’s arguably no real reason to use the existing trains or technology.

You could do standard gauge instead of broad. You could do modern 25 Kv AC power instead of the old standard 1.5 Kv DC, which has benefits such as the number of substations required.

You could even do… driverless trains. The technology is mature, used in many cities (Singapore is shown below), and the line will be completely segregated from road traffic and — presumably — other rail traffic.

Singapore MRT: Little India station

It needs a few more stations

The western section of Metro 3 needs some detail fleshed out. At present there’s Melbourne Airport, Sunshine, and Werribee, and nothing else in between. The government’s view is that scoping out additional stations may take a little time, as that whole area is developing.

This calls for integrated transport and land use planning. In the east, the activity centres being targeted for stations are very well established. Not so in the west.

The government should be taking the lead here and mapping out where the western suburbs’ next big education campuses and shopping centres should go. Werribee East is one – where will the others be in coming decades? They should either be near existing railway stations, or planned stations on the new line.

Even in the eastern suburbs, there are some very big gaps, which means there’s potential provide more stations. Cheltenham to Clayton, for instance, is about 7 kilometres.

Where the gaps are larger than about 4 km, it would be something of a waste not to look potential additional station sites – the retail/industrial area of Moorabbin East/Heatherton at Warrigal Road would be a candidate for a station and subsequent dense development. There are similar opportunities along most of the route.

Inbound Metro train at Clayton station

Is Glen Waverley too far out of the way?

I wonder if Glen Waverley is too much of a diversion, given it already has a station, and the centre there isn’t as large as some (though it has potential to grow). Is there a more direct spot on that line it could intersect?

You can’t hit all of the major centres out that way of course. Deakin Burwood, or Knox City? The plan is for Deakin. But this raises another topic.

One ring to rule them all?

One new ring metro line won’t solve all of Melbourne’s problems. Good connections to nearby locations are vital.

Knox City is a good example. It’ll miss out because it’s too far off-course. Extending tram 75 to the centre, and upgrading the Burwood Highway section to proper light rail with Gold Coast-style traffic light priority would help a lot.

Like wise, the rail line will miss Chadstone, which is in dire need of better public transport. The government’s Chadstone-Monash light rail idea could work, again, if it’s designed for speed, frequency and capacity, with good rail connections.

But certainly the new orbital line will make cross-suburban trips more viable, in a way that the Smartbus routes haven’t been able to doand probably can’t do without dedicated lanes all the way. Upgrading the buses would be cheaper, but the politics are really difficult. The government is actually removing bus lanes along route 903 in Fitzsimons Lane.

Yes, it seems that perhaps finding billions for rail tunnels is easier than navigating the politics of bus lanes.

The importance of connections

Right along Metro 3, good connecting services will be needed to help people access the stations. This goes not just for the existing rail lines it will connect to, but also connecting bus and tram services.

Trains along an orbital route bring huge time advantages, but only if end-to-end travel time is competitive.

So frequency needs to be good, and the physical connections also need to be well designed.

Station exits

It’s obviously early days, but you can already see that they’ll need to be clever with how they design the stations and their exits.

At Monash University for instance, it would make sense to try and design it for an exit into the main part of campus, near the bus loop (hello intermodal interchange!) as well as an exit near Blackburn Road for the employment centre.

Likewise at Clayton. One exit for the station and shopping centre, another for the medical centre.

At the Airport, it’ll be important to have good connections to the Airport-City line and connecting bus and coach services, as well as exits well-placed for the terminals.

Monash University Clayton

Why not buses/trams/monorails?

There are three key things a strong orbital route needs: good travel time (speed and frequency) and capacity.

Frequency is a must. If running frequently, buses and trams might meet the capacity requirements right now, but would probably be lacking in the future. You can do intensive high frequency operation with articulated buses and trams, but it becomes very expensive in terms of drivers.

Speed: A Brisbane-style busway or light rail on a dedicated route might be able to get to 100 km/h, but not the top speed of 130 that’s being talked about. How much that matters depends on the route and the number of stations. But busways often aren’t that much cheaper than rail.

Monorails, assuming underground, wouldn’t save any money over heavy rail, and capacity wouldn’t be as good.

Remember, we’re talking about catering for demand in a city of 8 million or more people in decades to come.

Nobody ever seems to talk about ride quality, which comes into play at high speed, particularly for people travelling long distances. Well-constructed heavy rail trumps all other modes for this.

Possibly there’s an argument for a Brussels-style pre-metro line that is light rail built in heavy rail tunnels, pending a later upgrade, but it’s unclear how much money that would save.

It seems to me that only heavy rail is sufficiently future-proof for the capacity needed as the city gets more populous… you can build a rail line for long trains, but start with short ones running frequently, and build up train lengths over time.

And heavy rail is the only mode that really measures up against the main competition: motorways.

Premetro station, Brussels

Does it all have to be underground?

It sounds like the Airport to Sunshine section would share the alignment (but perhaps/hopefully) not the tracks, so wouldn’t need to be underground.

Skyrail along arterial roads would also save some money compared to underground, but most of the planned route isn’t aligned to such roads.

Can it go a bit further?

Metro 3 is promoted as connecting all major rail lines, but misses the Sandringham line. Should it also connect there? Arguably.

At the other end, if it serves the Werribee East precinct, there’s probably a case for it going a little further to connect Point Cook to the rail network.

Staging anticlockwise from east to west

Given the prime targets for stations have been identified in the east, but the west is still evolving, one can understand the prioritisation, though starting with Cheltenham to Box Hill seems to overlook that the strongest patronage is expected further north, between Clayton and Fawkner. This may be down to practicalities: Clayton may not be envisaged as ever being used as a termination point, so you wouldn’t want to build unnecessary infrastructure.

Then again, if including Sandringham, Clayton probably is a logical point for terminating trains during disruptions and works. (Hopefully there are a few such locations planned.)

Suburban Rail Loop demand - 2051 - from Strategic Assessment document

Would it really take 30 years to build the whole thing? I suppose we’ll know more when detailed planning has been done. But comparisons to the 118km London Crossrail might not be fair – as much of that line is pre-existing railway.

Travel times

The government is spruiking the speed of the trains (130 kmh) and travel times, quoting:

  • Cheltenham to Airport 45 minutes
  • Box Hill to Airport 25 minutes
  • Monash Uni to Latrobe 25 minutes
  • Broadmeadows to Monash Uni 35 minutes

Even if times are slightly longer than claimed, something close to this opens up a myriad of opportunities. For example, when my sons were considering their university options, Latrobe and Deakin were ruled out as too hard to get to by public transport. A fast frequent orbital line with good connections to existing rail lines would make them manageable.

No doubt, this project is going to cost a fortune.

If it goes ahead, and they get it right, and it’s accompanied by lower-profile (but equally important) upgrades to existing services, this could revolutionise public transport, making it a better option for a lot more trips across Melbourne – and opening up more opportunities for education, recreation and employment – and that’s got to be a good thing.

Old photos from August 2008

Here’s my monthly post of photos from ten years ago.

For a while I was waging war on ghost tram route numbers via this blog post and then this Age article.

Numbers like 7 and 9 were pointless because nobody outside a few gunzels knew them. This was tram route 7 to Malvern Depot.

In 2011, all the obscure route numbers got renumbered to something people can actually understand.

Route 7 followed route 6 as far as Malvern Depot, so today it would be called a 6d.
Tram route 7 in Swanston Street

Here’s route 9 to Thornbury. Today I guess this would now be an 11d.
Tram route 9 in Collins Street

Banksy’s “Little Diver” had appeared in 2003 just off Flinders Lane. The building’s owners put some perspex in an effort to protect it, but it was subsequently destroyed a few months after this photo was taken.
Banksy "Little Diver" picture, Melbourne

Massive Spirit Of Progress poster advertising the Art Deco exhibition at NGV.
Matthew Flinders

Bentleigh station: Some kind of work in preparation for Myki equipment installation. Note the mounting poles. The system eventually got switched-on in Melbourne at the very end of 2009.
Installing Myki equipment at Bentleigh station

Back on the trams, this holding siding had just been built on St Kilda Road. At first, some drivers seemed not to slow down sufficiently, so the trams would lurch in and out of the points. Hopefully they’ve improved since then.
New holding siding, St Kilda Road, August 2008

The same project included this triple track at the corner of Southbank Boulevard, allowing route 1 trams (turning right) to wait for their traffic light without delaying other trams. (Perhaps a cheaper option would have been to fix the traffic light so none of the trams got delayed?)
Then new superstops outside NGV, August 2008

In August 2008 I got my “new” (2000-model) car. First order of the day was to put a PTUA sticker on it, something I did last month with the brand new car that replaced it.
The new car, August 2008, with new sticker

Back in December 2007, we’d gone to Spamalot, the musical. From this photo, it seems I subsequently found a can of Spam commemorating the show, though according to Wikipedia it had closed back in April.
Spamalot spam can, August 2008