The bus to F/Staff Stat via Royal Bot Gdns

There are undoubted challenges to writing information that has to fit into a limited space.

Here’s one I noticed recently where perhaps they haven’t got the balance quite right.

Bus route 605 was recently changed at its City end, to run via the Botanic Gardens, Southbank and Queen Street to Flagstaff Station, instead of the old route via Flinders, Queen, Lonsdale and Exhibition Streets.

Bus 605 route map from 2017

What’s with the southern end of the map, going off in two directions at once? From the timetable it appears that outbound it goes along Gardenvale Road, and terminates near Nepean Highway. But inbound it starts on North Road, some distance away – presumably the bus runs empty from the outbound terminus to the starting point. Perhaps they kick all the passengers off on Gardenvale Road? It would seem more logical to run this, and show it on the map, as a loop, as at the City end.

Anyway, this modified route resulted in some interesting abbreviations on the destination display.

Citybound it’s going to “F/STAFF STAT”.

Is this very meaningful to people? I’d have thought simply “Flagstaff” means more to Melburnians. True that can mean the station or the gardens, but they are adjacent to each other.

You could also abbreviate Station to Stn, though this can be problematic if rendered in low resolution capitals – STN can be misread as STH (South).

(The terminating stop is actually half a block from Flagstaff Station, but that’s probably quibbling — more people would know where the station is than the County Court, which is actually where the stop is.)

Bus 605 at Queensbridge

In both directions, the bus is going via “ROYAL BOT GDNS”.

Reminding people that it runs via the Botanic Gardens would have been important when transitioning to the new route. But I’m not sure this is very clear.

Perhaps it should have said via “Botanic Gardens”? Or choose another nearby landmark and simply say “Shrine”?

Not that this bus route specifically should be singled-out.

For decades, southbound 78 trams proclaimed they were going to “Prahran”, which they pass through about 2km before terminating down in Balaclava. They now say “Balaclava via Prahran”.

Squeezing information that is meaningful yet brief is an ongoing challenge for public transport destination boards, so I’m sure there are other destinations and abbreviations around the place that are a little vague.

What potentially confusing ones have you seen?

Skyrail part 2: Clayton station open

The new Clayton station opened this morning, and I went down to take a look.

The design is very similar to Noble Park, which opened in February.

A ramp just west of the station (and Clayton Road) brings the trains up onto the elevated section.

From there, the track is entirely elevated as far as Centre Road, where it then drops back down to ground level before reaching Westall station.

Skyrail ramp west of Clayton station

The new track alignment is on the north side of the old one, with the old station building remaining in place for now. (The old outbound platform shelter was removed some time ago, and will be re-located somewhere in the station precinct in the future.)

New Clayton station on opening day

Skyrail looking towards city from Clayton station

Old Clayton station alongside new elevated station

There’s a lot of work continuing today, but the basics are in place: the main structure is there, along with temporary buildings at ground level for PSOs and Metro staff.

New Clayton station entrance on opening day

Fare gates (with the newer fast Vix readers) have been installed, as have screens at the entrance displaying train departures. They’ve had live music performers there this morning, as well as giveaways of coffee and snacks.

New Clayton station fare gates on opening day

To get to platform level you have a choice of escalators, stairs or lifts (one of the two is working today). I did encounter one lady who seemed very nervous about going up – she didn’t want to use the escalator, and also seemed reluctant to use the stairs or lift. Hopefully she can find a way to still catch a train here.

Lifts, stairs and escalators at Clayton station

Some signage would probably help educate passengers of the etiquette of standing on the left of the escalators.

Escalators at Clayton station

As at Noble Park, the island platform is pretty spacious. A wraparound structure gives a degree of weather protection, though I’d have to say it was pretty windy up there. (It was a windy morning. At ground level, the wind blew over one of the performer’s music stands.)

Inbound Metro train at Clayton station

The eastern end of the platform has less weather cover, though more is coming.

Inbound Metro train at Clayton station

Platform PIDs (Passenger Information Displays) were operating, though I noticed a glitch or two. Pretty sure this train wasn’t going to Traralgon.

Outbound Metro train at Clayton station

…and when a V/Line train did appear, “Not taking suburban passengers” was displayed, which is correct — but subsequent train departures disappeared off the screen, which is not ideal.

V/Line train inbound towards Southern Cross at Clayton

Having arrived by bus, I caught a train to Westall and then back again. The ride was pretty smooth, and it’s not noisy.

Outbound Metro train approaches Clayton station

V/Line train inbound towards Southern Cross arrives at Clayton

Skyrail is controversial, but the Clayton section, like Noble Park, is less so than the inner section around Murrumbeena, because there is some space around the tracks, reducing impacts on local residents.

As at Noble Park, the challenge at Clayton will be for the Level Crossing Removal Authority to beautify the area beneath the tracks and get it functioning.

This will include an access road so that passengers can interchange between trains and northbound buses without crossing any roads — which will make up a bit for the station itself not having exits on both sides of Clayton Road.

But the station itself is functioning, which is good. The benefits of the Clayton level crossing removal will be widely felt – ambulances to/from nearby Monash Medical Centre will no longer get held up, and we should expect to see bus punctuality in the area improve. (Already the 703 into Bentleigh from Clayton seems to have improved already.)

The old Clayton station design also meant that passengers had to regularly cross the tracks when using the station. No more delays, and disruptions due to incidents should disappear.

The inner section of skyrail (covering Carnegie, Murrumbeena and later Hughesdale stations) is expected to open after the winter school holidays.

Caulfield to Rowville tram – the need for speed

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.

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.

Monash Open Day 2012: Long queues for the bus to 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.

Trains: has there been progress in ten years?

Sometimes it’s easy to be cynical. Progress in public transport can be slow.

But there is some progress.

I found this from May 2007 — it was an email from me to a local politician who had asked about public transport issues in the southern suburbs of Melbourne.

I’ll intersperse my original points with some comments about progress in the past ten years. This focuses mostly on the Frankston line, but much is applicable to others.

Crowded platform at Flinders Street, March 2007

Peak hour

Frankston line – while the Dandenong line has been earmarked for extra services, the Frankston line is also very crowded during peak hours, to the extent that passengers regularly can’t board trains. This is in part because some stations only get trains every 15 minutes (eg Glenhuntly, Ormond, McKinnon) even in peak hours.

Progress! There was a shake-up of the peak-hour timetable in 2014. Frankston line trains are mostly every 8-10 minutes now in peak, with a two-tier service so the load is spread between stopping and express trains.

In 2007, there were 16 trains into Richmond from the Frankston line between 7:01am and 9am. Now I count 21.

Other lines still need upgrades. The Ringwood line had an AM peak revamp, but PM peak is still a mess of different stopping patterns, which is confusing, and limits capacity.

Network-wide load standard breaches in 2009 numbered 54 (“above benchmark”) in the AM peak, and 48 in the PM peak.

By 2017, these had reduced to 17 and 7 respectively, helped by additional services, as well as modifications to carriages to provide more standing room (aka fewer seats) which led to the benchmark changing from 798 per train to 900. Cheating? Perhaps, but reflects a shift: it’s more important to just fit onto the train than for a few more people to get a seat.

Thanks to patronage growth, particularly residential growth around stations, there is still crowding at peak times, to the point where (to my eye) it is causing load breaches. And of course reliability is an issue — a cancellation causes widespread chaos.

Southern Cross Station, June 2007

Peak shoulder and inter-peak

Additionally, trains fall back to half-hourly after 7pm, which increases pressure on peak hour services, as people don’t want to wait half an hour for a train. Running frequent services (including expresses) for longer would allow more people to travel outside peak hours, and would not require any extra trains or infrastructure.

Progress! The last Frankston express train used to be at 6pm; they now run until about 6:40pm.

Where there used to be just two trains per hour after 7pm (departures from Flinders Street: 7:15, 7:45, then every half-hour), the Frankston line now has 5 departures out of the city between 7pm-8pm, then every 20 minutes until 10pm.

Some other lines have also improved, though the busy Sunbury and Craigieburn lines drop back to every 20 minutes at 6:30pm, then back to half-hourly at 8pm.

Between the peaks (during the day) things have improved on some lines. Trains between the peaks have run every 10 minutes all day on the Frankston line since 2011, with the Dandenong line following in 2014.

Other lines still need upgrades. Many are still only every 20 minutes during the day.

Thursday night train to Frankston, 8:30pm

Evenings and weekends

Upgrades to evening and weekend services would also encourage more people to travel by train. At the very least, long trains should be used (overcrowding regularly occurs in evenings and weekends on the Frankston line and others), but more frequent services should also be provided.

Back then, most evening and weekend trains (when no football/cricket was on) ran as 3-cars.

Nowadays almost all services on all lines (except suburban shuttles) now run as 6-car trains, so the ridiculous situation of lots of people squeezing onto a short train rarely happens.

Evening frequencies: Many lines now run every 15-20 minutes until about 10pm, though on some it’s been implemented in a very hamfisted way. For instance Ringwood has the half-hourly service with 6-car trains, doing their old confusing Belgrave/Lilydale alternate through-train/shuttle arrangement, interspersed with extra 3-car trains to Ringwood. The timetable needs a complete re-write.

On weekends, trains out to Frankston, Ringwood and Dandenong have run every 10 minutes since 2012, doubling the previous daytime frequency. Most other lines still only get trains every 20 minutes.

After 8pm on weekends is pretty similar to how it was before; mostly half-hourly until midnight.

Southland station

Southland Station – this reached pre-feasibility stage in late 2004, and there has been no word on it progressing since then. Southland is a major activity centre, and serving it by rail should be a no-brainer.

Finally built and opened late last year! And from what I’ve seen, getting plenty of patronage.

Buses

Many bus routes need upgrading, to provide better feeder services into stations (thus relieving overcrowded station carparks) as well as being more time-competitive for other trips. For instance, route 623 serves major destinations such as St Kilda Beach and Chadstone, but does not run on Sundays, is only hourly on Saturdays, and finishes by 6pm on weekdays.

Some small progress. In the late part of last decade, as part of the MOTC plan, many routes got Sunday services and evening added.

But frequencies haven’t improved. Most routes are still just half-hourly on weekdays, hourly on weekends and evenings. Not going to cut it for most people.

Centre Road, Bentleigh, September 2007

Level crossings

While upgrades to level crossings have helped safety, the government should be looking at elimination of crossings, such as the one removed at Middleborough Road, Laburnham earlier this year. Removing crossings can help train reliability, aid pedestrian amenity and safety, and help buses and trams by reducing traffic congestion. A prime candidate would be Glenhuntly Station, where both trains and trams have to cross very slowly, causing delays.

Definitely progress! After only a few grade separations in the past few decades, it’s happening in a major way now, with dozens to be done in the next few years.

Connex train approaching Bentleigh, February 2007

There is progress

So there is progress, on some lines more than others.

Patronage has grown in this time: across Melbourne there were 162 million train journeys for 2005-06; this rose to 233 million in 2015-16 – an increase of 43%.

The upgrades are actually working, getting more people onto public transport. This is a good thing.

The question is: are these upgrades enough? Is the transport system keeping up? And is the rest of Melbourne getting what it needs?

Probably not. Many points of the rail network, and the greater public transport network, are under stress from crowding, and it’s not all at peak hour. The fast-growing western suburbs need particular attention.

On Wednesday, Julie Szego wrote in The Age that Melbourne is now a big city, with big city problems.

So while there’s been welcome progress on the trains in the last ten years, in the next ten we as a city need to see a lot more.

Big cities demand big city solutions. It’s not more motorways, it’s more mass transit, starting with frequent trains all day every day on every line.