One of the funniest pieces of rail-related humour I’ve seen was this — the Rail Replacement Bus Set, devised by Tim Dunn.
Rail replacement buses can either be bearable or miserable, depending on how well they’re organised.
This weekend is the first major shutdown on the Frankston line for the North-Mckinnon-Centre Road grade separations, though there are also Bayside Rail Project works — the line is closed between Caulfield and Mordialloc.
There’s a key difference compared to most previous shutdowns: in many cases the replacement buses aren’t directly serving the stations. They’re instead going down the nearest main road, for instance between Caulfield and Moorabbin, along Grange/Jasper Road, which is about 400 metres to the east.
This route is often used for express buses, but this time it’s being used for the “stopping all stations” buses as well.
There are several factors at play here:
- the layout of the road network in the middle suburbs
- at several locations the works are on the crossings themselves. This means road closures, disrupting traffic (this time mostly short but regular closures; long term closures are expected in coming months
- most of the stations are in the middle of busy shopping centres.
So bringing the buses all the way to each station would most likely make them intolerably slow.
Today there seemed to be plenty of signage, and staff out at the stations and on the way to the bus stops, pointing people in the right direction — all good to see.
But of course the down side of this is it’s a fair walk from the station to the bus stops, and for people coming from the west side of the rail line who might have already walked a fair distance, it will add a lot to the journey time.
Making it worse is that some of the stops are not at the nearest main intersection, but up to another 240 metres down the road. Presumably this was a matter of finding a suitable location where the buses can stop, but in some cases they seem to have insisted on using the closest regular bus stop. This means the total distance from the station entrance is quite long in some cases — 640 metres for Ormond station outbound buses.
In some cases the written directions are also illogical, as if someone’s copied it out of Google Maps or similar, rather than looking at a map and just working out the best path.
- Glenhuntly — it instructs you to go down two side streets, then (for outbound) cross busy Grange Road about 100 metres from the traffic lights, rather than following the main road and crossing at the lights.
- Moorabbin — it tells you to go the long, exposed (to the highway and the weather) way around to the bus interchange, instead of the shorter path direct from the station’s eastern exit
Is it working for passengers?
I hope they’ll be taking note of feedback from passengers on this weekend’s bus replacements, and whether it works for people.
I can understand the principle of running the buses along the main roads, but my thinking is that some of the bus stops need to move closer to intersections. And some of the directions need work.
One would also hope that they’ve considered running a few (inevitably slower) buses either closer to the stations, for the benefit of those who may not have an easy time walking the extra distance.
There are going to be a lot more closures on this line (and others) in coming months and years as this level crossing removal project and others ramp up, so they need to get it right.
Update Sunday: Trying it out
I didn’t get a chance to try it all out until Sunday afternoon. A few observations:
Bustitution can be a chore to use, but with dispatchers at each end, lots of buses in service and on standby, staff pointing the way to each stop, a mix of express and stopping buses, good signage… Operations like these are way better resourced than any regular bus route.
At Caulfield, they were running replacements for the Frankston and Glen Waverley lines. There was pretty clear signage pointing the way to each.
Signage at other locations was pretty good, but some signs stuck to poles ended up rotating (perhaps due to wind) to point in the wrong direction, for instance one I saw pointed east instead of south — potentially misleading. (I pushed that one back into position, but when I came back later, it had reverted back.)
Special trains were serving Caulfield to City, all stations (important given the Dandenong line is often crowded, and doesn’t normally stop between Caulfield and South Yarra.)
It takes a lot of buses to replace a ten minute train service!
The route itself seemed pretty good. Traffic wasn’t heavy, and the buses moved pretty quickly. On the stretch I used, the express buses barely saved any time compared to the stopping buses, though that could vary. The intersection at North and Grange Road may need tweaking for future operations; southbound doesn’t get very much green time, at least on weekends.
Despite being a relatively quiet time, there were quite a few people travelling in both directions. I probably missed the weekend peak.
Sensibly the Myki readers were switched off (to be precise, in “Ticket validation disabled” mode), though some people went looking through the bus hunting in vain for a working one to touch-on. It wasn’t helped by one bus I used having a piece of paper stuck over the front reader, making it look like just that one wasn’t working. It makes sense to make it free — most people would be paying for the train at either end, and given the big crowds at times, you need to keep the buses moving as quickly as possible.
Seems to me running down main roads works well, but they really need to move the bus stops to be closer to the main roads/stations. I saw many alighting passengers unsure which stop they needed or showing signs of anxiety that their station was being missed, because buses had to stop hundreds of metres down the road from the most logical spot. As I expected, this was particularly a problem at Ormond and Glenhuntly, and apart from sharing a southbound stop at Ormond, there was no obvious reason for the others.
But overall, not too bad.
The government has announced the works are being brought forward: the major shut down will now be in mid-2016. Obviously this has impacts on bus replacement services, as two weeks will cover school holidays, but three-ish weeks will cover “normal” term/working weeks.
Vic Govt Statement: Work Starts On Accelerated Frankston Line Crossings