Southern Cross renamed back to Spencer Street

I wrote years ago that it was stupid to throw away 145 years of brand recognition when they renamed Spencer Street station to Southern Cross.

Good news – it turns out they’ve just named it back!

This is a great idea.

The name “Southern Cross” is meaningless.

“Spencer Street” is meaningful, it tells you where the station is located.

Perhaps they’ve been planning this for a while. It might explain why the official station code got left as “SSS”.

I’ve got hold of a draft of the train map, which also has the North/West Melbourne name change included:

New train map including Spencer Street and West Melbourne

Just as with the renaming of North Melbourne soon to West Melbourne, bringing back the old name Spencer Street will help people find their way around Melbourne by train.

  • Update 1:45pm: Yes, yes, it’s April Fools Day. Thanks to my son Isaac for doing the video.
  • Also today: PTUA:

  • Skybus:

  • Marcus Wong:

Old photos from March 2008

Another in my series of ten year old photos; here’s March 2008.

ACMI’s Game On exhibition had some great old games to play. Here’s son#1 Isaac playing Pong.
Playing Pong at ACMI, March 2008

…but it was the 80s-era arcade machines that I really enjoyed the most, re-living my teenage years. (I’m still tempted to buy an old machine.)
Playing video games at ACMI, March 2008

The old post office in Emirates House, off Collins Street. Queue out the door again. Sigh.
Long queue at the post office, March 2008

Speaking of a queue out the door, 4/3/2008 was not a good afternoon for then train operator Connex. This is at South Yarra. Note the bloke with a Harry Potter book.
South Yarra Station, 4/3/2008
South Yarra Station, 4/3/2008

The 401 shuttle from North Melbourne to Melbourne University was announced in October 2007, and started service in this month, in March 2008. It quickly became one of Melbourne’s busiest bus routes, with about a million boardings per year.
Melbourne University 401 shuttle bus, March 2008

North Melbourne station (as of 2018, to be renamed West Melbourne in the next year or so). You can see in the background that construction of the new concourse was just getting started.
North Melbourne Station, March 2008

The outbound bus stops outside QV have been very busy at peak times for many years. This is before current operator Transdev took over from Ventura/National Bus. Note the parking sign – outside peak times, some of the bus stops are re-purposed for private vehicle parking, even those right in front of the bus shelters — surely a slap in the face for waiting bus passengers. Not sure that’s ever been fixed.
QV bus stop, March 2008

How long until the train? Sometimes you just want to sit.
Waiting for the train, March 2008

I think I took this photo because it was at a station that is not in Zone 2, at least not only in Zone 2. From the cream paint, I think it might be the pre-level-crossing removal Ormond station, which is in the zone 1+2 overlap. No GPS record on the phone photos from back then.
This station is in Zone 2? March 2008

Launch of the first wind-powered tram, 28/3/2008. In the crowd I can see the then-CEO of Yarra Trams, Dennis Cliche, and several journos, as well as Gavin Jennings, then State Environment Minister. More recently it was announced that all of Melbourne’s trams will be powered by solar by the end of 2018.
Launch of wind-powered tram 28/3/2008
Launch of wind-powered tram 28/3/2008

Trains bank up at Richmond station, well before it got weather protection right along the platforms.
Richmond station, March 2008

Richmond station from above, snapped from a brother-in-law’s then flat. Nice view, especially if you’re a trainspotter. There were some evening shots as well, but they’re all blurry – the old Nokia 6230i didn’t do at all well in low light.
Richmond Station, 28/3/2008
Richmond Station, 28/3/2008

Ten things about London Underground, and lessons for Melbourne

Britain is a place many Australians look to with fondness, with many of us having relatives there, and it being a top destination for Australian tourists.

As a result, London is sometimes seen as a city to emulate, especially as our cities get bigger.

Our current crop of public transport managers certainly have links to Britain — the current CEOs of PTV, Metro and V/Line are all Brits (though the current and recent Yarra Trams CEOs have been French).

London Underground (aka The Tube) carries vast numbers of people. Could Melbourne’s Metro be more like them? Well we seem to have copied some of the Tube map’s colours for our rail map.

Here are some things I’ve learnt about London Underground – both from last year’s trip, from recently reading Christian Wolmar’s book about the history of the system, and from other research – and how they might relate to Melbourne.

Earls Court station, London Underground

1. Underground, overground

Most of London Underground isn’t underground. Tunnels are very expensive. Mostly it’s the central core of the network, where there was no other practical choice, that’s underground. Outside the central core, for the older lines, there was space to go aboveground, though recent network expansion has mostly had to go under.

This map actually shows you where the tunnels are on the network.

Melbourne lesson: it’s only recent new lines in heavily built-up areas that have been or will be underground: the City Loop, Metro 1 (under construction via Swanston Street) and the proposed but not funded Metro 2. Other new lines such as Regional Rail Link and Mernda are aboveground, because they’re either in new areas or along existing reservations.

2. Oyster isn’t perfect

The popular narrative is that Myki is crap, Oyster is perfect. Oyster is terrific, but perfect? No.

On our trip, most of us used credit cards; one used an Oyster card. We found we couldn’t top-up the Oyster card online, because our account was linked to a non-UK address. Instead it has to be done in person.

Fares also aren’t fully integrated. You will pay extra to change between tubes, other trains, buses, trams, river boats.

And we (occasionally) saw Oyster readers not working, mostly on buses. And “heritage” Routemaster buses don’t accept credit cards.

That said, on all other services, the system’s terrific “contactless” capability to accept most Paypass/touch credit cards directly is a real boon for tourists.

Melbourne lesson: Myki has a way to go to improve, especially with regard to reader response times. Only the new model readers are fast enough — over time this might be resolved as older equipment gets replaced.

We probably won’t get credit card options anytime soon, but phone apps may be on the way.

London Underground station information

3. Branches and junctions

Conventional wisdom will tell you that a metro system has no branches — that trains run simple patterns from end to end.

Many of the more modern metros are like engineered like this. Singapore for instance, where each line is self-contained. Even getting to the airport involves changing to a shuttle service.

London Underground actually has lots of branches, which complicate operations, but are a legacy of it being such an old system.

And yet they’re replicating it on the new Elizabeth Line (aka Crossrail) — a central tunnel, with two branches in the east, and three in the west.

Even so, “flying junctions” and other infrastructure are used to avoid conflicts, and the interactions between lines are minimised. It helps prevent delays on one line quickly spreading to another.

Melbourne lesson: there’s been a gradual shift to separating out the lines, not just in terms of timetables but also maintenance and drivers.

But there’s a way to go yet. Currently in peak hour, the V/Line Gippsland and Dandenong lines share tracks, with the latter interacting with the Frankston line in the Loop, which in turn connects with the Werribee line, which (in the morning peak) also shares tracks with some Sunbury direct trains. The Sunbury line in turn shares tracks with the Upfield and Craigieburn lines, which share with V/Line Seymour trains. The Sunbury line also shares tracks with the Bendigo line, which in turn shares with the Geelong and Ballarat lines.

So during the morning peak, about half the rail lines in Melbourne and beyond (and many of the busiest) are actually interlinked! Sometimes you wonder how your morning train ever arrives on time!

The Metro 1 tunnel will help this when it opens in 2025, but timetable changes in the meantime would help minimise line interactions.

Line map on District Line, London Underground

4. Some Tube lines are quite long

Conventional wisdom also says that metro lines are fairly short, which is why it’s okay if carriages are designed for high capacity, with most passengers standing.

The longest one seat ride on the Tube is 34 miles (54 km) from Epping to West Ruislip on the Central line, taking 82 minutes.

That said, this would take you through Central London and out the other side, which is probably not a common trip.

Still, a trip from Piccadilly Circus in Central London to Heathrow Airport is about 50 mins on the Tube, so there are some long trips being made.

Melbourne lesson: Flinders Street via the Loop to Pakenham is 80 minutes. Some have said this is too long for trains with few seats. The new High Capacity Metro Trains will have more standing space, but with more carriages as well, and an overall slightly higher number of seats than the current train fleets. Hopefully this is a good balance between seats and capacity, so most people won’t be standing for too long.

Canary Wharf Underground Station, London

5. Different lines, different trains

While the whole Tube network is standard gauge, different lines are built to different load gauges, in other words, how big each train is.

Deep level tunnels on the older lines are much smaller than some of the “subsurface” lines, and have noticeably smaller trains. Victorian era engineering wasn’t up to the task of building larger deep level tunnels.

This means the fleet is segregated, with many trains unable to run on certain lines.

Melbourne lesson: You wouldn’t deliberately design it like this.

It does may make sense to run trains of one type on a line (same acceleration/deceleration characteristics can help with punctuality and timetabling, and dedicated fleets running to specific depots mean easier maintenance and repairs).

But you wouldn’t want this on a permanent basis, as it’s useful to shuffle the fleet around as newer trains arrive — just as is happening on Melbourne’s trams with the Cascade Plan.

London Underground District Line train

6. The term “metro” may have come from London, not Paris

The term “metro” is now used around the world.

It originated with the Paris Metro, which came from the original operating company name: La Compagnie du chemin de fer métropolitain de Paris (Paris Metropolitan Railway Company). It’s unclear, but some believe the company name was inspired by the London Metropolitan Railway, which had opened about 40 years earlier.

Melbourne lesson: Well, you probably know this bit. In 2009 or thereabouts the State Government chose to call the suburban rail system “Metro” for the new operating contract that started that year.

Yes, the government owns the name, not the operator, so hopefully it’ll stick around now.

That still hasn’t stopped them partly rebranding again since then, when the umbrella “Public Transport Victoria” (PTV) brand took over from Metlink. And now we’re seeing an even bigger umbrella brand “Transport For Victoria” over the top of that, though thankfully so far that’s only appeared on printed material, not all over the system itself.

Earls Court Station, London Underground

7. Much of the Tube is not accessible

Many of the stations were built before accessibility was seen as important, and 19th century engineering certainly didn’t prioritise something extravagant as ramps when building entrances to underground stations.

At the time, lifts were an emerging technology, not ready for prime time. So many Tube stations are still not step-free, though they’re slowly upgrading them.

Melbourne lesson: Thanks to enlightened thinking from the 1890s, and no underground stations at all until the 1970s, thankfully almost all our stations are step-free, though many are not compliant with DDA, and only some of these will be resolved via level crossing removal-related upgrades.

London Clapham Junction

8. The Tube is only part of London’s rail network

London Underground comprises 11 lines, but numerous other railways also serve London.

In the rejuvenated Docklands area, there is the Docklands Light Railway, an automated mostly elevated system runs.

Privatised “National Rail” operators run services from beyond London, including many commuter routes. This causes some issues, with some long distance trains running with moderate loads until they reach the commuter belt, where they get crowded.

Some suburban routes have been taken over by Transport For London and are being upgraded and run as “Overground” services, offering high(er) frequencies, thus becoming more like The Tube.

Melbourne lesson: The issue of long distance trains serving commuters is a well-known problem on V/Line’s Ballarat and Geelong lines, where passengers from Caroline Springs, Tarneit and Wyndham Vale (and to a lesser extent, other stations on other lines) add to capacity pressures for those from further out.

There’s little question that something will need to be done to serve both demographics better. More short-run services in the short term, and better track separation and Metro services to growing suburbs in the medium to long term.

Melbourne’s rail network is of course supplemented by its trams and to a lesser extent, buses. London has a small number of trams, but a very extensive bus network as well.

London Transport Museum: original Metropolitan Railway timetable

9. Frequent since opening

The Tube has run frequent services from the start. Wolmar’s book talks about 4 trains per hour on lines from day one — also shown on this timetable (above) from the opening of the Metropolitan line.

This reflects that the first lines served mostly busy built-up areas, not empty paddocks. Mind you, later some lines did expand in an effort to prompt residential development.

Melbourne lesson: A parallel might be the trams, many of which were built in already established areas, and were mostly reasonably frequent as soon as they opened (and still are today) whereas the trains ran farther afield, originally beyond the metropolis to developing areas, and were (and mostly still are) not terribly frequent – every 20 minutes is typical outside peak.

We need to catch up. There’s huge scope to run Melbourne’s trains at least every 10 minutes all day on most parts of the network, vastly improving the experience for passengers whether it’s a one seat ride, or involves connections.

London Victoria Underground station disruption, Saturday lunchtime

10. Less peaky = busy all day

Melbourne’s rail network is very peaky. The most extreme case might be the Ringwood (Belgrave/Lilydale) line, where the number of trains through Camberwell in peak hour (approaching 20 per hour) is ten times the number in the late evening (2 per hour).

Peaky means we’ve built substantial infrastructure and fleet which only gets a workout for a relatively brief period every day. There are probably quite a few trains in the fleet that only run two services everyday – once every peak hour. This might be a product of demand, but it also means that outside peak times, passenger wait times are much longer, which suppresses public transport demand, even though overall travel demand is strong.

London Underground’s service, at least measured by trains per hour, is much flatter, with for instance the Piccadilly line running 21 trains per hour at most times of day, though the weekend Night Tube (overnight service) is “only” 6 trains per hour.

And this is reflected in passenger journey figures. A quick comparison:

  • Route length: London Underground about 400 km / Melbourne also about 400 km depending on how you count it
  • Train service kilometres per year: Underground 84 million km / Metro 23 million km
  • Total passengers per year: Underground 1.37 billion / Metro 233 million

So it’s not that London Underground is a bigger network with longer routes; Melbourne’s rail network is a similar size (but not as well supported by other related systems like London’s DLR and National Rail, as noted above).

The key is that London Underground is a far more intensive network, with more frequent services, and far more passengers.

It also means that unlike Melbourne, London’s system better reflects overall city travel demand, not just CBD peak hour demand. Outside peak hour, travel demand (in both cities) is substantial, but the broader Melbourne public transport network’s lack of all-day frequent service isn’t good at capturing it — trams do okay, but trains and buses (which fill the gaps) are an issue.

Handling billions of passenger trips every year means making use of the latest technology. London Underground uses platform screen doors at some of the newest stations, as well as in-cab (high capacity) signalling to allow very high frequencies on the busiest lines. We’ll start to see those rolled-out when Metro 1 tunnel opens.

Peak hour at South Kensington Underground Station, London


London is a bigger city than Melbourne, about twice the population. It’s got a 1900 year head start.

But Melbourne is growing fast. Our transport system needs to mature, and any sane policy should dictate that the backbone of the transport system should not be moving individuals in cars, but by mass transit.

City planning will also play a role, by concentrating development around public transport.

We might never have such an extensive rail network as London, but we can do a lot better than we are now — starting to adapt some of the best practices and technology from London and other big world cities would be a great start.

Transport is supply-led

One of the fundamental problems with transport planning in Australia is that politicians see it as demand-led, when basically transport systems are supply-led.

Demand-led thinking has them looking at congested roads and thinking “we need to build another one”.

Another one gets built, and it fills up. Rinse and repeat. (More people in cars = Bad outcome)

Or a train line is crowded and they put on more trains, and more people use them as well. Rinse and repeat. (More people in trains = Good outcome)

Supply-led is why they fill up. Provide options and people will use them. In general they’ll use the easiest/quickest option available. Built it and they will come.

This is how transport systems work: through induced demand.

Sunday afternoon traffic on M1 exit to Kingsway

It’s easy to see why demand-led thinking motivates action and funding. It’s very visible. Road congestion is obvious when you see it. Public transport crowding is obvious when you see it.

And it’s also easy to see why politicians feel they have to try and fix those issues. The problem comes in how they try and fix them: providing more of the same is not always the best answer.

A letter in The Age yesterday claims that if the West Gate Tunnel is built, “a great many west and north-west Victorian citizens travelling to the south and east of Melbourne will have significantly reduced travel times.”

Experience around the world shows this isn’t true. Travel times from road expansion don’t last — see Citylink Melbourne.

“But we have to drive!” they say. Yes, you have to drive because 80 years of investment in roads, with peanuts for alternatives has given you little choice. Every new investment in major roads makes this worse, and misses an opportunity to provide alternatives to give you choice.

The State Government could be funding Metro 2 (the rail tunnel linking Newport and Clifton Hill via Fishermans Bend and the City) and related projects such as fast frequent feeder buses, to massively boost public transport services from the west (alongside the logical, relatively small truck route they took to the 2014 State Election), but instead they now want the Transurban-led West Gate Tunnel.

Westgate Freeway, Sunday morning

Major roads are, by their very nature, inefficient. Vicroads data shows that lane occupancy is just 770 people per hour in AM peak, around 840 in PM peak — though this doesn’t show separate figures for motorways. For the sake of argument, let’s assume motorways are about double that, with 1800 — closer to a theoretical perfect driving scenario of a vehicle every 2 seconds.

Even 1800 is not very many people. If you try to solve congestion with another road, or more lanes, it doesn’t take many vehicles to clog it up again, and you’re back to square one.

Rail can’t move everything, but it’s far far more efficient for moving people, which is what accounts for most vehicles on the roads. Adding 1800 people is just two additional trains — about a 10th of the capacity of a rail line with old conventional signalling.

This means rail expansion is long-lasting. If managed well, extra tracks or a new line can handle huge numbers of people.

Roads get less efficient the more people use them: more space encourages more people, and congestion slows everybody down. If the response from government is more roads, we have a vicious cycle.

Public transport gets more efficient the more people use it: more passengers justifies more frequent services, which cuts waiting times and makes connections easier, and encourages more users. A virtuous cycle.

So the next time a politician talks about transport, consider whether they’re just bleating rhetoric, or they’re showing an understanding of how transport systems work.

We have to build more roads because people are driving! No, people are driving because we build more roads.

We have to build more roads because of population growth! No, we only have to build more roads if we want more people to drive. If you want them to walk/cycle/PT, then provide that instead.

This motorway will be city-shaping! Yes, but unfortunately the shape it will be is more car-dependent.

This motorway will be a congestion-buster! No, it will just generate more traffic. They always do.

Old photos from January 2008

Another in my series of ten year old photos.

In late-2007/early-2008 there was a stoush around the banning of bicycles in zone 1 during peak hours. In February 2008 the ban was reversed. Notice that this sign is ambiguous: are the bikes banned on any train that serves zone 1 during peak, or just banned on the part of the trip within zone 1? (It was the latter.)
Suburban train zone 1 bike ban, January 2008

Banksy had visited Melbourne in 2003 and drawn “Little Diver”. Later in 2008 it was destroyed.
"Little Diver" by Banksy, off Flinders Lane, Melbourne, January 2008

The Elizabeth Street tram terminus nearby, still with “The Met” markings, some 8 years after privatisation. The Metcard warning about coins only was introduced after a court case where a passenger claimed it wasn’t common knowledge that you couldn’t pay with notes. Of course nowadays you can’t board (outside the Free Tram Zone) without a pre-loaded Myki card.
Elizabeth Street tram terminus information booth, January 2008

We had a ride on Puffing Billy — come to think of it, this was the last time I went on it. Maybe time for a return visit?
Puffing Billy, January 2008

Crowded at Belgrave when the train got back
Belgrave Station, Puffing Billy, January 2008

Railway staff at Belgrave
Belgrave Station, Puffing Billy, January 2008

More proof (if it’s still needed) that actually it’s possible to carry a fair amount of stuff on public transport if you put your mind to it.
Glenhuntly station, January 2008

The beginning of the end for Dick Smith Electronics? Their Carnegie “Powerhouse” decided to stop selling electronics — at least, electronic components. This trend continued — by 2016 they’d closed their retail stores and the brand name was sold to online retailer Kogan. Jaycar moved into the space, taking over some old Dick Smith stores.
Dick Smith Powerhouse stops selling electronics, January 2008