Temporary track to minimise disruptions

I think this is quite clever.

When trains or trams are partially closed for planned works, generally the less of the route is disrupted, the better.

But this is always limited by the placement of turnaround facilities. Witness the current Sandringham line closure: the major works are at South Yarra, but because (despite what was said beforehand) the infrastructure issue at Elsternwick hasn’t been fixed, the whole line is closed.

Over on the trams, they have an ingenious solution: a portable, temporary crossover. It was in use in Swan Street in Richmond (route 70) for a few days this week while tram platform stops are built:

This enabled them to terminate trams at Richmond station, with disrupted passengers able to either change to a train, or walk 400 metres to where trams could resume.

Apart from placement of the temporary track, they also needed to install some overhead wire. Of course it’s made easier to manage in this case by the road closure.

But it’s smart thinking, allowing trams to run as far as possible, reducing disruption for passengers, and avoiding the mess and cost of replacement buses.

Temporary track is nothing new. Back last century it was a common occurrence around the tram (and train) networks. But that was in a bygone era, when I suspect labour was cheap.

For long term projects, it still sometimes happens. Over Easter, the Dandenong and Frankston lines near South Yarra were ripped up and rebuilt as part of Metro tunnel works, and will be ripped up again as the junction to the new tunnel portal is built. There have also been tram tracks relocated on St Kilda Road which may need to be relocated again as the tunnel works continue.

But overall, temporary track is less common in modern times, at least on short term projects.

If only it were this easy on the railways.

Illogical obsession

Saturday’s Federal Election result might have been unexpected by many, but it underscores the Coalition’s illogical obsession with East West Link.

Well, illogical from a transport planning perspective that is. Remember, it’s got a business case that says it will lose money – unless you include Wider Economic Benefits with which the Victorian Auditor General had, and I quote: significant issues (of) plausibility.

(This was also a reminder that you can’t always believe everything in business cases.)

It’s not really free money of course. It’s money from taxpayers. It should be spent wisely.

'Lies' #EWLink

Being a money-losing project didn’t stop the Federal Coalition making a pledge of $4 billion for East West Link during the election campaign. Despite their claims, that doesn’t appear to be enough money to pay for it.

The $4b is only the government contribution – as per the 2014 business case. But the amount required is questionable given five years have passed, and there’s been some scope creep thanks to overlap with the WestGate Tunnel, and (perhaps) a proposal last year from the State Coalition to build the eastern tunnel portal further east.

Anti-freeway protest, from "Mouth To Mouth" (1978)

There’s also the question of whether there’s construction industry capacity to build a third major motorway project (at the same time as WestGate Tunnel and North East Link), alongside numerous level crossing removal projects and the Metro tunnel. Heavy demand tends to drive up prices.

Obviously the Federal Coalition backed EWL yet again because of politics, but it’s not really clear why they remain so obsessed with it, since it didn’t translate into swings to them around Melbourne – apart from in Aston.

Everywhere else in Melbourne, there were swings away from the Coalition – maybe not enough to lose seats, but enough to move a good many electorates into marginal territory.

To be fair on the Feds, they also made a pledge for the Kooyong railway crossing removal – which amazingly isn’t on the State’s list. (The Coalition pledge also included studies for two others: Tooronga Road and Madden Grove). This is good – except that they insist it has to be rail under, because they’ve taken the State Lib line on skyrail… as if an elevated rail line will somehow spoil the view of the nearby elevated tollway.

If the Feds can get over their obsession with EWL – which of course they won’t – there are plenty of other projects they could be contributing to, including other level crossing removals and rail network duplication, which would provide huge benefits.

If they were feeling particularly mischievous, they could take on public transport projects that the State isn’t interested in, such as suburban tram extensions. Some, such as the 75 to Knox and Ferntree Gully, would even reach into the eastern suburbs electorates the Coalition is courting.

Equally there’s an argument that a spirit of genuine cooperation would see the Feds funding projects on Infrastructure Victoria’s short term priority list.

Punt Road traffic during evening peak

It’s not as if Melbourne doesn’t have already enough major road projects underway. Two new tollways is two too many.

Yes, these motorways all have short term travel time benefits, but history shows those won’t last. And there are ways of boosting access and economic activity that aren’t restricted to people who drive and can afford tolls, and don’t so easily get clogged if they are “successful” and people actually use them.

It’s worth noting that every time the EWL has been taken to an election, it’s lost: Kennett in 1999, Brumby in 2010, Napthine in 2014 (despite the side letter, which is what triggered the huge bill for cancelling it), and Guy in 2018.

And now 2019. It seems the Coalition hasn’t yet learnt their lesson.

Weekend traffic

A short rant.

It’s Saturday, and I’m driving in heavy traffic.

I’m making a trip that’s impractical using any other mode, alongside thousands of others, many also making trips impractical using any other mode.

It’s not about options along that particular stretch of road. It’s about the whole transport network, supporting people’s trips end to end.

On an overpass I see a train go by. It’s so crowded people are standing. Weekend frequency on that line: 20 to 30 minutes.

If a road suffered 20 minute delays, it would be shown on real-time maps as a major delay. On Melbourne’s rail network, that’s the standard wait between trains on Saturday on most lines, and has been for decades. And they’re crowded.

And 20 minutes is a good frequency on the weekend PT network. Most suburban bus routes are hourly. An hour in the car is a long trip, but it’s the wait just between buses for so many areas.

Weekend traffic

Decades of road building made suburbs car dependent. Decades of neglect and cutbacks in public transport left no other options. Weekend traffic congestion in our city is a totally expected outcome.

As I drive, I look at all the cars, my own included, stuck in the traffic, all burning energy. It just makes me angry.

Giving people viable options is not about billion-dollar infrastructure. Better infrastructure helps (especially in the areas of walking, cycling and tram accessibility), but the biggest change needed (whether money is spent on infrastructure or not) to just get PT running more frequently right through the day, every day.

All possible with the current assets.

As it stands, if they ran the road system like they do public transport, two-thirds of freeway and arterial traffic lanes would be shut outside peak hours.

Waits of 20, 30, 60 minutes are simply not good enough for a city of our size.

Fixing it in every suburb, not just some, will provide options, and more people off the roads.

But when will the decision makers do it?

Update Monday 11am: the Victorian Parliamentary Budget Office has published a cost estimate of a Greens policy: trains and trams boosted to every 10 minutes until 9pm, 7 days-a-week. For trains this came out at around $200m per year (less $50m additional fare revenue). For trams about $50m per year (less $10m additional fare revenue).

Nobody wants to doubt the PBO, but the train figure in particular is higher than some other estimates – for instance Infrastructure Victoria came up with $150-185m “on the basis of service kilometres alone”, but transport insiders believe it would be far lower.

Did the PBO simply try to extrapolate out existing per kilometre costs as IV did, ignoring that existing assets would be used, and some staff (for instance on stations) don’t need to be boosted to run more trains? Unfortunately it’s not really clear from the document.

Update Tuesday 7:30am: The Age: Trains, trams every 10-minutes on every line to cost just $200m a year

More information = good

Wednesday morning’s commute for me was one of those made easier via good quality real-time information.

My usual train was cancelled. I knew this before I left the house thanks to checking the PTV app.

The app also told me that other trains were delayed. It was going to be a messy commute. Bleugh.

Sometimes in morning peak when there is a cancellation, you can backtrack from Bentleigh to Moorabbin and pick up an express train that gets you into the City sooner than if you just waited at Bentleigh. (It’s a trick that probably applies at a few other places on the network, and incurs no fare penalty now that Zone 1+2 costs the same as Zone 1.)

The app lets you check departures at any station. Checking Moorabbin told me that no, this trickery wasn’t going to help today.

At Bentleigh station the screens and announcements confirmed the delays.

Bentleigh station train delays

The next train arrived – heavily delayed, and crowded as expected. Completely packed? No. But with another six stops before the City (not served by other trains) it’s not hard to predict that there were sardine times ahead.

Crucially – the screens on the platform confirmed what the announcements were saying: another train was 4 minutes behind it.

Some of us on the platform used this information to decide to wait and catch the following train, which was near-empty as it had just started its trip. Scored a seat! Much better than being in a crush-loaded train a few minutes earlier.

This kind of real-time information can make a big difference to your trip. So why isn’t it provided more widely?

New Passenger Information Displays at Moorabbin

The good news is: there’s progress. The design seen last year at some stations is now appearing at more locations – recently at Parkdale, Moorabbin, Balaclava, Malvern, some of the platforms at Caulfield, and no doubt others.

The app is helpful too of course – for trams and buses as well. And apart from the official PTV app, a few others have real-time departure information fed from the same API.

But even if you’re not inclined to check an app, hopefully the improved screens are coming to your station soon!

Good information can’t fix delays or undo cancellations, but it can help passengers make the most of a bad situation.

Old photos from April 2009

Another in my series of old ten year old photos.

This turned out to be a bit of a bumper crop – a few months before I’d got the Nokia N95 phone, my first with a decent camera, so perhaps no surprise the number of photos was increasing.

Melbourne’s first wind-powered tram had launched in 2008. Note the “Gone With The Wind” reference, and the pre-platform “safety zone” Elizabeth Street (at Bourke Street) tram stop.

Elizabeth Street tram, April 2009

Bentleigh – directional signage for bus drivers. This one for rail replacement buses inbound into the City.

Connex bus sign, April 2009

A trip down to Geelong one Saturday…

Geelong station, April 2009

…to visit the special Myki Shop in Ryrie Street, so I could try it for the first time.

Myki shop in Geelong, April 2009

I got to try out a Myki card, which you can read about here. I also came home with these amusing Myki wristbands, I guess to get The Kids on-side with the concept. Note the “scan on, scan off” messaging which later became “touch on, touch off” when they realised just how slow the first generation readers are.

Myki wrist bands, April 2009

Spotted in Footscray: a special bus stop for Regional Fast Rail project rail replacement coaches. RFR had finished about five years earlier.

V/Line bus stop sign at Footscray, April 2009

An excursion to the in-laws farm. Like many farm practices, burning off a field was a bit of an eye-opener for this city boy.

Burning off at the farm, April 2009

Federation Square. Note the pre-renovation mustard colour of Flinders Street Station.

Federation Square, April 2009

Flinders Street from another angle, showing the red Tourist Shuttle (not a shuttle) bus that was funded by the inner-city parking levy. When the bus was free, it could be quite crowded, but was virtually unused once they introduced a $5 fare.

Tourist shuttle bus, Flinders Street, April 2009

The Parkiteer cage at Brighton Beach Station was getting plenty of use, as was the fence outside. Prior to 2015, a lot of people from further out would use zone boundary stations like Brighton Beach to avoid paying a Zone 1+2 fare which was about 55% higher than just Zone 1.

Parkiteer bike cage, Brighton Beach, April 2009

The old Bentleigh station in the autumn fog.

Bentleigh station, April 2009

Also at Bentleigh station, where walkway crowding was becoming an issue, authorities made an effort to discourage bike parking.

Bentleigh station - don't park your bike here

Connex introduced its trial layout Comeng train, with a mini-launch for stakeholders one lunchtime. It had fewer seats; similar to later changes made across the fleet by Metro in 2015-16.

2009 Connex demonstration train layout
2009 Connex demonstration train layout

I got Connex’s Lanie Harris to introduce the new layout.

The students are revolting! I don’t recall how big this protest was.

2009 fare protest poster

One of the contenders for the prize of most confusing bus route was the 627. It has since been split into two separate routes, and is much easier to understand. This was one of few recommendations of the 2010 bus reviews that actually got implemented.

The old route 627 - confusing

Finally, this moron in Bourke Street.

Moron in Bourke Street