Why shut down trains in December? Because there’s something even bigger coming in January

For the past five days — from 8:30pm last Thursday, to last night (Tuesday) — the Belgrave, Lilydale, Alamein and Glen Waverley lines were replaced by buses between the city and Camberwell/Darling.

Thankfully it’s over now. But it was a huge disruption, affecting passengers on a full quarter of the network.

PTV station boarding figures from 2014 indicate the affected stations have 113,700 boardings per weekday. Assuming most of those passengers travel into the area where trains weren’t running, and most make a return trip, we’re probably talking about more than 200,000 trips per weekday impacted.

The effects have been felt right across the eastern suburbs:

  • Long queues of passengers at Parliament and Camberwell, and long queues of buses in nearby streets
  • Extra passengers on tram routes in the area, including 70, 75, 109, 72 — to the point where many have been unable to board along the route — and to a lesser extent 5, 6, 3
  • Extra passengers on buses in the area, including 906, 907, 302 and 304, prompting some extra buses, but from what I hear, nowhere near enough
  • Extra passengers on nearby train lines including Cranbourne/Pakenham and Frankston
  • More private vehicles on the roads, slowing down buses and trams, as well as clogging up the Eastern Freeway

For those who braved the train replacement buses, there have been long delays, both at interchange hubs such as Camberwell, and on the buses themselves, which have been caught in traffic. On Friday there was the additional challenge of the weather.

Rail upgrade works are important; everyone knows they need to happen. And there are lots on at the moment, with level crossing removals, and plenty of other projects bubbling along.

Why in December?

The number one question people have been asking is:

Why such a big shutdown in December? Why not January, when there are fewer people travelling?

It’s because… there’s something even bigger coming in January.

Nothing’s been officially announced yet, but I’ve been told several times (and it wasn’t flagged as confidential) that major works will shut down the entire Caulfield group in early January.

Caveat: The details I have are sketchy, and the details may have changed, or I could be totally wrong in what I’ve heard. So take this with a grain of salt:

My understanding is that from the 2nd to the 7th 9th of January, all Cranbourne, Pakenham and Frankston trains will terminate at Moorabbin and Westall Caulfield (or possibly even Oakleigh, according to my scribbled notes), and my assumption is that Sandringham trains will terminate at Elsternwick.

Update 7/12/2017: Corrected the above, as official information has now been published. See the bottom of this post.

The entire inner-city section of those lines will be replaced by buses — though they may get creative and bus some people over to other lines, just as they’ve done with parts of the Glen Waverley line recently. You’d hope they’d put extra trains on other lines, and co-ordinate with authorities managing roads, trams and buses as well… given the past few days.

The affected stations on these lines to be closed account for 165,880 122,830 boardings per weekday, about 45% 8% more than the Burnley group of lines.

Trust me when I say that as a Frankston passenger, this is not going to be fun. Maybe I should book some annual leave?

Rail works, Patterson station, July 2016

Why don’t they give us longer notice?

Some of these projects are years in planning. It beats me why authorities don’t flag them further in advance more than a couple of weeks.

Even now, as people continue to ask why the Burnley group works didn’t wait until January, they don’t have an answer to share.

If people had more notice, some of them might be able to plan leave from work, to make things easier for themselves.

Workplaces might be able to adjust shift times, or organise car pooling or working from home.

At the very least people might be able to understand the context of the overall works plan, and why some projects are scheduled at particular times.

It’s perfectly possible to give 2-3 months notice… because it’s been done before.

Back in 2012, then-public transport minister Terry Mulder made the decision to flag major works up to 3 months in advance.

As you can see thanks to the Web Archive, this Department of Transport page from March 2012 listed major works up to the end of May.

This didn’t last long. As I recall, within six months, they were back to flagging works only a couple of weeks in advance, though Yarra Trams has a list that includes some advance changes, and sometimes the Level Crossing Removal Authority gives longer notice of major shutdowns.

Publicising major works well in advance wouldn’t help everybody, but it would help some. And the more people who can plan their holidays or travel around those disruptions, the better for everybody.

Update 7/12/2017 – Official info released

The day after this blog was published, Metro and PTV largely confirmed the January closure, though the details have changed a bit along the way.

This notice has appeared on the Metro web site: Buses replace trains: Flinders Street – Moorabbin & Westall, Tuesday 2 January – Tuesday 9 January 2018 (also on the PTV web site)

and: Buses replace trains: Caulfield – Dandenong, Wednesday 10 January – Thursday 25 January 2018 (all day in the first week, then in sections in evenings only after that — click through for details). (Also on the PTV web site)

It appears the Sandringham line will not be affected, however there will be express buses from Moorabbin to Brighton Beach, meaning many Frankston line passengers will be added to that line. There are also buses from Westall to East Malvern on the Glen Waverley line. Hopefully both lines both get additional services.

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21 Replies to “Why shut down trains in December? Because there’s something even bigger coming in January”

  1. Extra passengers on buses in the area, including 906, 907, 302 and 304, prompting some extra buses, but from what I hear, nowhere near enough

    ACTUALLY, Transdev cancelled a lot of buses on their own routes so they could pick up the contract for rail replacement services. There are lots of complaints on twitter about this!

  2. @Nick, some affected passengers flow from one group of lines to the other, so they wouldn’t want to do both at once.

    Waiting until mid-January badly affects big events such as the Australian Open (from 10th January).

    Doing it earlier affects New Years Eve, which is a huge event for public transport, especially trains.

    Christmas Day (free rides, but relatively quiet in my experience) to December 30th might be an option I suppose, but they’d also need to look at when Vicroads are planning major roadworks.

  3. The real reason was this was supposed to happen last year but mtm screwed up the project and certain people in mgmt are on xmas leave. This occupation was up unitl a month ago supposed to happen over easter. as well axle counters installed were removed due to them being reused for level xings and testing was showing massive failures of the TCMS system. Bad engineering also meant many the cable pits had to be redug and replaced. also metrol badly handled Friday with reports they were more than 50 busses short and crowding so bad trains werr stopped around 0800.

  4. As a fellow Frankston line passenger I am also feeling some consternation. However, some excitement too, as the possibility of some improvement in the reliability of services post-works is certainly welcome.

    Are we just expecting some signalling upgrades, or something more?

  5. Thanks for the heads up. I’ve just flagged possible annual leave with work.

    Why would they need to shut down the Sandringham line at the same time?

  6. So is that the in-cabin high-capacity signalling we’ve been waiting for? Or is it a replacement of the same type as what we’ve had, meaning we will now have another fifty years of trackside signals?

  7. No Philip – just change to LED signals in the Burnley area, decommissioning of BLY Signal box(area now controlled at Metrol) etc

  8. I’m really glad that I’ve booked in 3 weeks off over Christmas, so for me (selfishly) I hope it does take place before the 15th Jan when I’m back at work.

  9. I would say that all these works are for power and signalling for HCMTs (conventional signalling and not HCS). They’ve done the same for a lot of the Pakenham/Cranbourne lines over the last year and a half. Platform extensions are likely to happen, but I’d suspect they won’t get all of these works done in under a week, even the Burnley group had months of work taking place in preperation for the shutdown last week. I’d say this is just the first of several shut downs of corridor.

  10. Daniel, rather than taking annual leave, why not ride a bicycle to work? It would be about 16-18km from Bentleigh to the city but you’d be surprised how quickly you get used to that.

    And I would love to see your campaigning zeal lobbying for better cycling facilities!

    If you’ve never tried it and want to give it a test run then January during school holidays is perfect. But you need to give it a couple of weeks to get the routine going.

  11. @Rachael, my assumption is the upgrades would affect all the lines coming into the City via South Yarra.

    @Philip, in-cab signalling is still some years off. It’ll be a trial on the outer end of the South Morang line first, before we see it anywhere else.

    @Spinning Wheels, I have always been a nervous cyclist. I’ve tried it, but it’s just not my thing. In fact I ended up getting rid of my old bicycle a few years ago as I simply wasn’t using it. As for campaigning, no, I’m sticking to PT. Thankfully, plenty of others are campaigning on cycling.

    @Bramley, good find, thanks.

  12. The recent four or five day closure of eastern suburb lines was a disaster for the outer extremities of route 16 and 72 trams. It was not so much loading, although that was heavier, but much increased traffic, perhaps partly caused by the substitute buses. Stop and Go sign people were employed at Camberwell Station to get the buses out into Burke Road.

  13. #Spinning wheels. An amusing post. Daniel is a campaigner to get people OFF the roads. The last thing our bursting-at-the-seams road system needs is more users.

  14. The recent bustitution seemed to have lots of room for improvement given there should have been lots of experience from the level crossing removal program.
    * Station signage wasn’t great. In many cases, you had to pass bustition stops to get to stations, that only once in the concourse was it obvious it was closed. Many stations have only 2-4 easy access points – stick a $30 corflute facing OUT saying STATION CLOSED – BUSES —->>.
    Often there were corflutes that lead to the buses ok once you were at the station, but unless you had eyes in the back of your head, you didn’t see them until you were leaving the station!!
    It’s particularly galling to walk past the replacement bus stop (because they were mostly not on a corner, but up the street a bit) because there wasn’t signage “on the way” to the station. Again, for a $30 corflute…
    * No bus lanes. This has to be the biggest one. You’re shutting down an entire train line and it seems the impact is usually underestimated (does this underestimation of public transport capacity flow through to other transport planning??)
    – you have most of the train passengers to deal with
    – you have all the extra traffic from some people choosing to drive over the period, and we know even 5-10% extra demand can make a huge difference to the flow status of most streets.
    Needless to say it was a disaster, with exceptionally long travel times – 1.25 hours for 3-5km trips at times.
    The buses didn’t seem to use the tram lanes – as a dedicated PT corridor I don’t care what the vehicle type is, use it!
    Similarly, clearways could have been temporarily extended and actually properly enforced.
    While it might have been nice to have a specific route simply turned over as a busway for the duration, I think with the mix of stopper/express services this could have been tricky to implement, so longer clearways would probably have been more useful – an extra hour each side etc, and pretty easy to grasp for the public/traders, etc.
    * Rigidity of approach – the buses were split into express Parliament>Camberwell, and stoppers. However, much of the route is shared, and it was common to see express buses half-full passing stopper buses that were passing up passengers, resulting in long wait times at the stopper stations. There should have been some common sense applied and a few express buses with capacity asked to stop at one or more of Auburn, Hawthorn or Glenferrie, those stations that were on the ‘express’ route.
    * Demand on other PT services – this was also a predictable mode shift, but it appears that Yarra Trams and the local bus operators were either unprepared or unable to deal with the surge in demand. No extra services, plus delays from the extra traffic on shared roads (showing again why further separation might be useful). Surely the 75 or 109 could have borrowed a few extra trams, or run some D2s, or whatever. Bus operators were probably all out on account of the actual bustitution itself, but still.

    Let’s hope the January shutdown runs better!

  15. I understand why precise dates won’t be provided months in advance, but more information about scheduled works would be help people to plan.

    Apparently, the Noble Park section of Skyrail is currently scheduled to open on Monday 12 February – less than 4 weeks after the January shutdowns. I don’t expect confirmation of that date, but would it hurt to advise whether there will be any weekday shutdowns between January and the Noble Park opening?

  16. @Roger, but I’d prefer more cyclists than motorists!

    @Dave, that’s interesting, because the info on approach to stations has been fairly good on the projects run by the Level Crossing Removal Authority. I wonder if when planned for Metro projects it’s done by a different team?

    1.25 hours for 5 km? Literally faster to walk!

    @Kevin, that’s interesting. I didn’t realise it would move that fast. The official info says “Early – mid 2018 – Noble Park Station Operational”

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