Some brief transport stuff from this week

A post in an occasional series wrapping up a few brief transporty things from the last week or two.

The new train design

This might be the least crowded train I’ve ever caught. That’s because it’s a pretend train, a mock-up of a carriage and a half, somewhere in a warehouse in outer-suburban Melbourne. I got to see it last week on behalf of PTUA — we’ve been included in stakeholder consultations this year on the design.

New train mock-up

It looks pretty good, and has more places standees can hold on than the current Siemens and Comeng fleet, but could do with more still.

There’s photos of the mock-up over on the PTUA web site — take a look (and please consider joining if you’re not already a member — the PTUA’s work is only possible thanks to member subscriptions).

Busway knocked back

A few weeks ago The Age reported on Transdev’s plan for a busway from Doncaster to CBD.

  • Dedicated bus lanes along middle of Eastern Freeway (in the median originally designed for rail), with stations at interchanges, including pedestrian access from overpasses
  • Busway would continue along Hoddle Street, Victoria Parade and Lonsdale Street, to a new terminus underneath Southern Cross Station
  • Double-articulated buses with doors on both sides to allow centre platform stops along Hoddle Street in a centre median
  • Every 3 minutes in peak, every 5-6 minutes off-peak
  • $500 million build cost
  • Transdev wanted it to run as a PPP for 30 years, effectively locking them in as the operator for that time
  • Off-board payment with Myki readers on platform stops, to speed up dwell times

It would have been cheaper/more achievable than Doncaster rail, remembering that a lot of benefits of Doncaster rail would be gained by first doing the cheap easy bit: rail to Bulleen, and feeding all the buses into there.

The plan has officially been knocked back.

The question is: can the problems of greater capacity (to cope with crowding) and speed (to encourage more people out of cars) be resolved another way?

Better traffic priority along Hoddle Street, Victoria Parade and Lonsdale Street is the key: both bus lanes where missing, and traffic light priority.

More articulated buses would help with capacity. There seem to have a handful now, but not many.

Skyrail under construction near Murrumbeena station

Can Skyrail carry freight?

I’ve been asked about this twice this week alone, once online, once in the barber shop this morning.

Can the Skyrail (under construction from Caulfield to Dandenong) handle freight and V/Line trains? The rumour that it can’t persists.

It’s not an entirely silly question. Freight trains in particular can be heavier than passenger trains, and the diesel locomotives used for freight and long distance V/Line services to Bairnsdale are heavy beasts.

The answer is an emphatic yes, they will run on the Skyrail — just as they run on the 1970s era viaduct between Flinders Street and Spencer Street stations.

Here’s the official answer from the Level Crossing Removal Authority:

WILL YOU CONTINUE TO RUN DIESEL TRAINS ON THE OLD TRACKS UNDERNEATH THE NEW RAIL LINE?

The new elevated structure will be designed to safely carry both Metro passenger trains and diesel freight trains. Just as passenger and freight trains share tracks currently, they would continue to share tracks in the elevated design. The tracks underneath the elevated structure will be removed to create new community spaces.

It’s fascinating that this rumour continues to do the rounds.

And it’s certainly not helped that this completely discredited Railpage article from five months ago has never been corrected.

By the way, now that construction is in full swing, the photo above, and the one below show just how close the elevated rail will be to some people’s homes/gardens. It’s not hard to see why some residents aren’t too happy about it.

New timetables on 27th August, as Southland Station nears completion

New public transport timetables kick in on August 27th. Last week (or maybe it was the week before), PTV released details, including full timetables for the routes affected:

Altona Loop users rejoice! (A bit)

There will be no more Altona Loop shuttles. Weekday Altona Loop services will run through to Flinders St.

This also means Werribee trains will run express Newport-Footscray-North Melbourne, so both Altona and Werribee people win from this.

Of course the mostly single track through Altona means bypasses are set to continue. At least we now know the Kororoit Creek Road grade separation will include some duplication. Hopefully that makes a difference.

There hasn’t been a wholesale re-write of the timetable, so peak Williamstown and Altona services remain at every 22 minutes, while off-peak is 20!

V/Line V/Locity train on viaduct between Flinders Street and Southern Cross

More Geelong trains

The Geelong line will go to every 40 minutes on weekends. With constant overcrowding on the current hourly trains, this was only a matter of time, though heaven knows why they didn’t push the upgrades a little further to half-hourly, which would have meant more trains, a clockface timetable (40’s alternating hours has always been problematic) and preserving the bus connections, many of which are every 30-60 minutes.

As it is, bus connections will break. The premier Geelong bus service, route 1 from North Shore to Deakin, is every 30 minutes on weekends, and will remain so. It doesn’t take a genius to see that buses every 30 minutes don’t interface well with trains every 40 minutes.

V/Line have said in response to queries that it’s because the Sunbury line is every 20-40 minutes on weekends, and the Bendigo line is tied in with that, because they share some tracks… and the Bendigo line in turn interfaces with the Ballarat and Geelong lines. V/Line claims this prevents the Geelong line going to every 30 minutes.

But then, this is the organisation that has three out of four hourly services currently meeting at Deer Park Junction within a few minutes of each other, so I don’t think it’s unfair to say that their timetabling leaves something to be desired.

So has that been fixed? Well, yes and no:

  • Ballarat line at Deer Park, inbound: 15 past the hour. Outbound: 34
  • Geelong line at Deer Park, inbound: 12 and 52, or 32. Outbound: 07 and 47, or 27

So if the inbound Geelong train is 3 minutes late, every second hour it’ll delay an inbound Ballarat train. If it’s even later, it’ll delay an outbound Ballarat train as well, thanks to the flat junction.

You’d think they could have figured out better spacing between the Geelong and Ballarat trains. Aside from junction conflicts, Deer Park passengers will have 2-3 trains per hour: either at 12, 15, 52 past the hour, or at 15 and 32. Hmmmmm.

It remains to be seen whether V/Line continues to run their daily game of Mystery Platforms at Southern Cross.


Southland

The August 27th timetable for the Frankston line already includes Southland times:

Frankston line timetable showing Southland times

For those wondering about stopping patterns, the full timetable shows peak expresses will still run to/from Cheltenham, not stopping at Southland.

On Sunday afternoon I went and had a quick look at the station. It’s looking good. These views from the top of the shopping centre carpark.

The platforms are looking close to complete. Even some signage is now up.
Southland Station under construction

View looking towards the City. I’m guessing the structure closest the camera is the PSO pod and/or toilets. There seems to be plenty of coverage on the citybound platform; less so on the outbound platform.
Southland Station under construction

View looking towards Frankston. The southern ends of the platforms (as well as the entire citybound platform) are adjacent to houses, but it appears you won’t be able to see much from the platform. A few better view from the top of the Southland carpark :-/
Southland Station under construction

It’s good to see the pedestrian route through the carpark has been modified recently; it now heads more-or-less directly to the station entrance.
Southland Station - shopping centre car park

I’m not sure you’d say the station looks beautiful. I guess we’ll see what it looks like when it opens.

The station may look close to completion, but that is not to say that it is opening imminently. While the structure looks more and more functional every week, I’m hearing November is the likely opening date, with electrical and signalling works still underway.

I suppose until the station actually opens, the extra minute or two allowed in the timetables will be one less excuse Metro has for train delays.

It’ll be good to finally have it open – hopefully in time for the Christmas shopping rush.

Other timetable changes

Other changes on August 27th include additional trains on a number of lines: Werribee, Craigieburn (with all peak trains now via the Loop), Sunbury (some peak trains direct via Southern Cross), and some trains extended to Eltham.

There are also more V/Line services to Shepparton, Traralgon (approaching hourly on weekends, but not quite there yet), Bendigo, and Ballarat/Ararat. A number of local buses, both in metropolitan Melbourne and around Victoria, also have timetable changes.

All in all, some good upgrades. Enough? No, of course not – missing in action is any hint of a rollout of PTV’s 10 minute suburban train plan – but this is a step forward.

The week in transport

This is an occasional series, when a few things happen during the week and I want to put a word in…

ABC: Ticket inspectors taking tram user’s phone to seek proof of identity unacceptable, PTV says

This is a concern, but context is important. It’s a matter of degrees. I think whether it’s acceptable or not depends on how they do it.

If the AO has to verify an ID, and no other proof is able to be presented and they say “Hey are you able to show us your name and address from an app, otherwise we’ll have to wait for police to attend”, and the passenger agrees, then I don’t see a big problem with it.

On the other hand, if the AO demands to see it, and/or grabs the phone and/or intimidates the person into logging on, and/or watches them do so (eg observes their pass code) then that’s definitely a problem.

Authorised Officers at a tram stop

Age: Level Crossing Removal Program business case released: the Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) is 0.78

As the business case documents reveal, the problem is that the standard methodology used for BCRs uses a discount rate that may not be appropriate, and also doesn’t count many of benefits that are commonly associated with level crossing removals.

The core benefits anticipated as a result of the program include travel time savings, reduced vehicle operating costs, road travel reliability benefits, public transport user benefits and avoided collisions. As a standalone program, the LXRP is expected to deliver a Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) of 0.78 using a 7 per cent discount rate. Using a discount rate of 4%, the BCR is 1.34.

The BCR has been calculated using a standard appraisal methodology. This excludes other significant benefits that the LXRP can be expected to deliver, including:

  • Wider economic benefits (WEBs), such as agglomeration benefits and additional tax revenue from increased
    labour supply, which are expected to be $555 million using a 7 per cent discount rate
  • Additional Benefits – such as improved network resilience to incidents, reduced perceived congestion benefits
    and the related benefits and costs of land use changes occurring as a result of the project – are expected to be
    $175 million using a 7 per cent discount rate
  • Local amenity benefits, increased activity centre connectivity/ consolidation, and benefits for emergency services.
  • Avoidance of wider social impacts (ie. to families and communities) caused by accidents at level crossings

There’s a heap of other interesting stuff in the report… I haven’t read it all yet, though I did find a familiar photo, originally used in this post.

Not hard to see why pedestrians, cars, buses, ambulances get delayed in Clayton. Grade separation needed!

Leader: Westfield Southland shopping centre will introduce paid parking in preparation for the opening of the station.

Charging after 3 hours not unreasonable. As I understand it, at other Westfields such as Doncaster, they charge beyond 3 hours, but you can get parking validated at the cinemas and so on so you’ll still be able to see a long movie and not get charged.

Something had to be done — either a hard limit, or charging — before the station opened, or the shopping centre car park would inevitably fill with commuters’ cars.

Leader: City of Port Phillip is to ban motorcycle parking along parts of Acland Street.

Good. The current laws, which allow motorcycles to be parked basically anywhere on a footpath, are getting out of control. Motor vehicles take up too much space to be allowed in busy pedestrian spaces. Commonsense guidelines are not communicated to riders, and are unenforceable, and thus widely ignored. The lesson for the council here is to ensure that there is plenty of signage for the ban, and that it’s enforced — unlike similar bans in the City of Melbourne.

Age: New Metro train timetables in August.

The government had already announced that V/Line would get a boost. Geelong trains will run every 40 minutes on weekends (currently hourly) should help relieve crowding, though it looks set to mess up bus connections (if they don’t get a wriggle-on and re-write those timetables to match), and really, who decided the non-clockface frequency of 40 minutes is a good idea? Half-hourly would have been better.

The Bendigo and Ballarat lines will also get more services, including an upgrade to hourly on weekends, and there’ll also be more trains to Ararat and Shepparton.

Train arriving at Bentleigh

The Metro changes include an end to the much-hated weekday off-peak Altona shuttles — these will now run all the way into the City. It’s not clear yet whether the Werribee trains will continue to stop all stations, or if these will run express part of the way; otherwise all the stations from Newport in will have 9 trains per hour, which is probably overkill for off-peak.

There will also be a handful of extra peak services on the Craigieburn, Werribee, and Sunbury, though much of the capacity freed up by Regional Rail Link on the latter two will remain unused.

Full details of Metro and V/Line timetables will be released in July.

The month in transport: Night network, tram bustitution, train crowding, Punt Road

Covering the last few weeks, which started off pretty quiet, so let’s see how this goes as a monthly post. But I’ll post on V/Line issues and elevated rail separately.

Night Network performance

This seems to have been pretty good in the first few weeks.

Overnight/early morning services on the 2nd and 3rd of January reportedly attracted about 10,000 touch-ons, which is about three times the use of Nightrider on a weekend in 2015. So off to a good start, though a long way from where you’d want it to be on an ongoing basis.

The second weekend (9th and 10th of January) the government says 15,000 people used the services, so around five times a Nightrider weekend… bearing in mind the weather in October generally isn’t as nice as in January.

It’s not perfect: some temporary signage is still in place:

…and it was unclear where Nightbus 978 ran during the closure of North Road for level crossing works, with no information online, no signage up at stops, and the operator apparently unaware it was happening.

Overall though it seems Night Network is off to a good start.

What will be interesting to see is how the government tweaks it to improve the service and its cost-effectiveness.

  • Update: Herald Sun on 4/2/2016 reported 19,400 users on the weekend of 22-24 January

Tram bustitution mess

Extensive works at Port Junction to install platform tram stops (and, it appears, upgrade track and overhead wire along Clarendon Street) ran overtime earlier in the month, with routes 12, 96 and 109 continuing to be replaced by buses for some of their length for an extra day or two.

Some excellent information and maps were provided by Yarra Trams:
Yarra Trams tram disruption map

Apart from running about a day overtime (which as I understand was due to a workplace safety issue), unfortunately what let it down was the bus replacement routes.

I unhappily experienced the tram 96 buses one Friday afternoon, on my way to Albert Park. The tram terminated at Batman Park, just south of the river. From there we had to walk back to Flinders Street, then wait for a bus, which we piled onto. From there it did a U-turn east down Flinders Street, left into King Street, right into Flinders Lane, right into Queen Street, then across Queensbridge, south past the Casino and then right into City Road, then under the tram 96 bridge and left into Ferrars Street and finally able to parallel the tram route from there.

There was heavy traffic, which could be reasonably anticipated on CBD streets, so it probably added half an hour to the journey, which is pretty horrible for a short trip. In retrospect it would have been quicker to walk from Batman Park south to the temporary route 12 tram terminus at City Road and use the 12 from there, but that information was sadly lacking.

It beats me why they came up with such a poor bustitution route, particularly outbound. I’d have thought taking the Charles Grimes Bridge and Montague Street would be much quicker, at the possible expense of missing the City Road stop by a couple of hundred metres.

There’ll be plenty more of this kind of thing as more tram stops get upgraded for level access. They really should do better.

Yarra Trams route 96 bustitution

Metro crowding

The Greens FOI’d the raw data from the PTV Metro load survey from May 2015, claiming that the government had understated crowding, because figures during cancellations and long delays are filtered out.

The figures perhaps have no real surprises: the strongest train passenger growth is in Melbourne’s growth corridors to the south, southeast, west and northwest.

As for the massaging of data, I think it’s valid to look at the raw data, and the extra attention on crowding issues was welcome, but it’s also important to remember why the load surveys exist in the first place.

They are not to measure crowding for the sake of measuring crowding. They’re to use as a planning tool to work out where and when to schedule extra trains.

We don’t need a survey to tell us that crowding occurs when there’s a cancellation. That’s obvious — and it’s a different problem — one of service reliability (which might be improved by better maintenance, more resilient infrastructure, stabling security, etc).

Packed Comeng train

The primary point of the load survey is to say: when the network is running more-or-less to time, where is there still crowding/unmet demand? Which lines need more services — and thus, investment in fleet, stabling, better signalling, upgraded power supply, and so on?

Punt Road clearways

Punt Road to become a 24 hour clearway.

I suspect it’ll have some short-term traffic flow benefits. Long term? We’ll see. It’s better than widening the road.

Long term a boost to the 246 bus (including bus priority) and nearby routes would help.

The government statement claiming it would improve things for people driving to the footy is a bit odd.

“When you go to the footy finals this year, you’ll no longer be frustrated by being stuck behind a parked car on Punt Road.” — yeah, you’ll be stuck behind a stopped car instead of a parked car. And why would we want to encourage people to drive to the footy?

Also a bit odd is the idea of a 6 week consultation period, after which they’ll go ahead and do what they’ve already announced.

The week in transport

The experiment continues. This time it’s turned out to be short posts, rather than a ream of news.

Southland Station delayed

Monday 2015-12-21Southland construction pushed back into 2016. Completion is now expected in early 2017.

The Opposition said the construction should have been at the same time as the North/Mckinnon/Centre level crossing removals, but that might mean large sections of the line out of action all at the same time. It’s probably less pain for passengers to stagger it.

Outer end of Belgrave line closed on Code Red days

Monday 2015-12-21 — Apart from hot weather policies from Metro and V/Line imposing speed restrictions, it was announced that Metro intend to completely close the outer section of the Belgrave line (beyond Bayswater) on code red days. Replacement buses will run as far as Ferntree Gully, but the four outer stations will be left with no services.

A PTUA member was told by local bus company Ventura that similar policies apply to them on Code Red days.

This is a difficult one for Metro and the other operators. The official advice for a Code Red day is: “Leaving high risk bushfire areas the night before a Code Red Day or early in the morning of a Code Red Day is the safest option for your survival – do not wait and see”

…So basically it means everybody except emergency services should be evacuating the area due to extreme fire danger, so in that context, it’s not unreasonable to abandon public transport services. But will people know about it? How do those dependent on PT get out? And assuming no services run at all on those days, it’s a little out of whack with official advice allowing for leaving early in the morning.

PTV rejects regular Flemington trains

Wednesday 2015-12-23 — A plan for 1136 apartments close to Flemington Racecourse railway station raised the prospect of running trains full time, rather than just during special events. But PTV rejected the idea, citing the connected Craigieburn line as already too full.

There are actually a few questions here:

  • Can it be done operationally? They manage Royal Show services, including during peak hour, every September without impacting peak services (though these don’t run during AM peak). Oaks Day race services are similar, but have impacts some lines — in part to free up drivers and trains. It’s unclear if this is also for track capacity reasons.
  • Would there be enough demand to warrant a train? Arguably not. It’s not like adding a stop to an existing train service (see Southland) — a service to Flemington, even if it also served Newmarket and Kensington, would have limited catchment. High-frequency bus or tram connections to an existing rail line might work better… but PTV doesn’t seem to have considered or proposed any of this.
  • Is it a good spot for a major development like this? Ideally it would be adjacent a railway station with an existing service. But it’s not like PTV/government would get away with no transport impacts then — for instance the apartments around South Yarra have added to crowding on trains there. And density aside, 1100 new homes in a built-up area is better than putting them on the fringes, as with many other new developments. (Head out of Melbourne by car and you’ll see all the signs for the various remote estates being created.)

Frankston line, 11:50pm Friday night

24-hour PT brings a 24-hour city

Thursday 2015-24-12This article is an interesting read: Some experts believe that Melbourne’s after dark culture will permanently change when the all night public transport system begins next week.

It’s worth noting that the Night Network is weekends only, and of course Nightrider has operated for more than 20 years. But this is a more comprehensive network, with all suburban trains running, even though the frequencies are mostly only hourly.

Is there something about rail (tram and train) that will get people on board where buses couldn’t? Perhaps there’s something about the predictability of already-popular services running 24 hours that will get people on board where the unfamiliar Nightrider routes couldn’t?

It can be a bit hard for some of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s (and earlier) to understand, but there’s a sizeable (and growing) part of the population who are used to life without cars, and this will open up late-night (and early Sunday) options.

Night Network is a trial for a year only, but it’ll be fascinating to see how it runs.