Well, this is a bit out of the blue. Since at least 1969 they’ve been talking about a (heavy) rail line from Huntingdale via Monash Uni to Rowville.
Today it turns out the State Government is proposing a tram line instead.
- Age: New tram line planned to run from Caulfield to Rowville via Chadstone
- State Government: New Tram To Connect City’s South-East
Would it work?
It’s been long assumed that a train line would run from Rowville into Monash University, then connect to the Dandenong line at Huntingdale, providing a one-seat trip into the City (and from 2025, Parkville, and out to Sunshine).
This idea seems to have come out of nowhere, and may be quite different to community expectations. Not that one should automatically reject an idea because it’s not in the 1969 plan!
Perhaps the government has been spooked by patronage growth and track capacity issues on the Dandenong line, and is looking for other ways to serve the corridor, along with the performance of the 900 Smartbus, which is busy but suffers from a slow convoluted route between Chadstone and Huntingdale.
This new proposed tram route wouldn’t serve Huntingdale at all, instead heading north to serve Chadstone, paralleling the Dandenong line until it connects at Caulfield.
If it’s intended to replace the 900 (probably logical) then Huntingdale to Monash Uni bus shuttles (already crowded) would need to be boosted to compensate.
Assuming standard tram operating hours, good train connections at Caulfield, and assuming that E-class trams to an adequate frequency would cope with demand — remembering that Infrastructure Victoria considered that Rowville area public transport capacity could be met with buses, though it’s unclear what mode shift they aimed for/assumed. (IV’s cost estimate for heavy rail also seemed ridiculously high, at $5 to 10 billion!)
Stop locations may be more flexible than heavy rail. It’s unlikely that a heavy rail line would include a station for Monash Uni, and another for the Synchrotron precinct.
Leaving those issues aside for a moment, the real question is: speed.
Would it be fast enough?
Would it be another of Melbourne’s suburban trams, trundling along at an average speed of under 20 km/h?
Or would it be modern light rail, with its own lanes along the entire route, and active traffic light priority to ensure trams never (or at least rarely) get a red light?
Unfortunately, traffic light priority for trams is something that Melbourne does really badly.
A quick calculation looking at Melbourne’s route 75 and 86 indicates they get average speeds of about 25 km/h on the outer sections where they have segregated tracks. They beat cars at peak times, but take up to twice as long at off-peak times. Route 96 from St Kilda Station to Clarendon Street with good priority over cars is a bit faster: 27 km/h.
In contrast, the Gold Coast Light Rail, which does have pretty good (not perfect) traffic light priority, but also shares some sections of its route with cars, and travels at low speed through heavily pedestrianised areas, has an average speed of about 27 km/h.
(The fully-segregated northern section from Helensvale to Gold Coast University Hospital is much faster, but seems to have few or no road intersections, and few stops, so isn’t a good comparison. The Hospital to Main Beach section is a better comparison, and seems to be an average speed of about 27 km/h.)
The Dandenong (heavy) rail line, with fewer stops than one might expect with light rail, but absolute priority over traffic, has an average speed of about 40 km/h.
So… my initial take? Speed will be the key to the success or failure of this new line. To get people out of cars, it needs to provide a fast journey.
And the key to that will be good traffic light priority.
Update: This Channel 9 story mentions that the government is aiming for travel time of 20 minutes from Caulfield to Clayton, and 20 minutes from Clayton to Rowville. This would make an average speed of 27 km/h, the same as the Gold Coast Light Rail.
— Nine News Melbourne (@9NewsMelb) April 10, 2018