After about a year of construction, the Burke Road (Gardiner) level crossing was finally removed in January. One of four train/tram crossings (tram squares), it had long caused delays to both, as well as pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles.
I went and had a look a month or two back. The design isn’t outstanding. In particular the train/tram interchange is stuffed — they’ve managed to engineer it so that you have to cross two sets of lights to get between them. You could easily see your tram depart while waiting to cross from the station.
This means that for changing between trams and citybound trains, it’s actually worse now than it was before.
This sort of stuff shouldn’t be hard. The Brits, who we often seek to emulate, can manage it. I recall seeing the new “TramLink” light rail system at East Croydon station (circa 1999) in south London — they’d engineered it so the tram stops are right outside the station.
Given the Burke Road tram comes around the corner at Malvern Road, it shouldn’t have been difficult to run the tram along the western side of the road as far as the station, but instead the tram is in the middle of Burke Road — separated from you by the traffic. At the very least the tram stop should be directly adjacent the station so there’s only one road to cross.
Very disappointing, but unfortunately hardly surprising — even outside our biggest stations such as Southern Cross, the trams are multiple lanes of traffic away from the concourse.
Snooping around the station I was also struck by the lack of shade on the outbound platform while I was there. Hopefully in the morning on the citybound platform (when people are more likely to be waiting) it’s a little better.
One bit of good news; when I was there, the platform Passenger Information Displays were the typical suburban two-line LED jobs, but the display on the concourse shows the next two departures in each direction. If they can just get similar information onto the platforms so you know when it’s worth waiting for the next train rather that squeezing onto the one that’s arrived first.
Effects of grade separation
Anyway, to the point of this post: I’m hearing on the grapevine that motor traffic has already increased by 20% (3000 cars per day) since grade separation.
But has it helped the trains and trams? They both used to crawl across there, and trams would get held up whenever trains were approaching.
Taking a look at Track Record punctuality figures, what do we see?
There’s a slight trend upwards on the trains, at both peak times and across the day. That might reflect the higher speeds they can achieve without the tram square speed limit, which can be as low as 10 kmh.
On the trams, there’s surprisingly little difference.
(I’ve excluded the tram figure for January itself; at 86.7%, almost 10% higher than December, it’s clearly an outlier, probably due to quiet holiday road traffic along the route and altered operations while the crossing work was happening.)
Perhaps the increased traffic, and/or adjustments made to nearby traffic lights, means any gains for the trams haven’t materialised?
There are no doubt some lessons here in terms of better interchange, better on-road priority for trams and buses to weigh against the huge benefits to motorists, and some level of control (such as plenty of responsive pedestrian crossings, especially in busy shopping centres) so that grade separated roads don’t become high speed traffic sewers.
As we know, level crossing removals benefit pedestrians and public transport users, as well as motorists, cyclists and emergency vehicles. But at Burke Road, it appears the benefits for tram users aren’t obvious just yet.
- Footnote: the graph was done in Google Docs. I’m amazed it can do it at all — quite impressive — but it’s certainly not as customisable as graphs in Excel.