More level crossing removals?

Things have been busy, so I’m a bit behind on blogging things. A few things in brief, then the big news.

Wednesday night delays

Last night saw major delays affecting the Mernda and Hurstbridge lines between about 4pm and 5:30pm, impacting peak hour. This was due to a track fault at Flinders Street, and it appeared that Metro re-routed those trains to other platforms, which caused flow-on effects onto the Burnley lines.

Big delays for tens of thousands of people.

But there was a silver lining in a very dark cloud: other lines (those via North Melbourne and South Yarra) were largely unaffected. This is a huge improvement from a few years ago, when the operational practices of sharing drivers and trains across line groups would quickly cause delays to snowball across the network.

The question of compensation has come up again, of course. My sense is that the higher priority is to invest to avoid these problems in the future, and that the compensation scheme needs a broad review. The current threshold of cancellations/delays across the entire network across each calendar month is not appropriate — it means any people affected by huge delays like last night’s invariably get nothing.

Paul Mees Award

Last week the PTUA presented the Paul Mees Award for contributions to the transport debate to Channel 9’s Andrew Lund and The Age’s Clay Lucas. Both doing sterling work. Well deserved.

Paul Mees Award 2018: Andrew Lund and Clay Lucas

More X’trapolis trains on the way

On Sunday the government announced that more X’trapolis trains are to be ordered for the Metro fleet. The design will be updated first, and I’m told they will be compatible with the existing carriages. Hopefully they will fix the worst of the problems, such as poor suspension, lack of stainless steel, and information displays blocked by handles.

It might also be logical to build them as semi-permanently coupled six-car sets, with no middle driver cabs, given these now rarely get used.

They will help bolster the fleet as the Comeng trains start to get retired next decade, and the government tells me they see benefit in having trains other than just HCMTs — probably makes sense given the large size of the fleet, the problems in the past when much of the Siemens fleet had to be taken out of service, and wanting to keep multiple rolling stock vendors with local facilities viable into the future.

Glenhuntly level crossing

Labor pledges more crossing removals

The big news: On Sunday the state ALP pledged to extend the level crossing removal program by another 25 sites if re-elected — on top of the 50 promised by 2022. (51 actually because Park Street, Cheltenham got added due to proximity to Charman Road.)

In my opinion, this is a good policy – there are numerous benefits to motorists and public transport users alike from crossing removal. And we’re finally making progress in getting rid of the worst ones.

The Coalition has re-affirmed that it will complete projects already started, but will not expand the level crossing program. It’ll stick to its proposal of road intersection grade separations.

In my opinion, this is a bad policy – these mini-spaghetti junctions (see St Kilda Junction for an example) will be disruptive and expensive to build, result in cyclist and pedestrian-hostile environments, won’t actually fix traffic congestion (because you’ll just end up queuing at the next set of lights) and in fact won’t get rid of traffic lights – they’ll still be needed for turning vehicles.

Traffic lights might be irritants, but are never as unpredictable as level crossings, they can be overridden/ignored by emergency vehicles, they can be overridden by controllers, and the major roads that would supposedly benefit from this idea already tend to have green lights synchronised along their routes.

I guess this means voters have a clear choice.

I asked my Twitter followers about it. They may lean a particular way, but even I was surprised at how one-sided was the result: 90% preferred level crossing removals.

Underneath the skyrail near Grange Road, Caulfield

For the Coalition’s list of intersections in their proposal, see this post from November last year when they announced it.

The extra level crossings on the ALP’s list

15 of the 25 have been announced so far. Many of them are grouped – I’m told a key learning is the benefits of doing adjacent sites.

  • Sunbury line: Gap Road, Sunbury
  • Werribee line: Old Geelong Road, Hoppers Crossing. Potential to do this at the same time as the two Werribee crossings already on the list, and avoid multiple train shutdowns
  • Mernda line: Cramer, Murray and Oakover Roads, Preston. Likely to be rail over road (eg skyrail). These are either side of Bell Street, which is already on the list, so presumably all four would be done at once
  • Frankston line: Neerim and Glen Huntly Roads, Glen Huntly, and Chelsea Road, Argyle and Swanpool Avenues, Chelsea. All likely to be rail under road.
  • Upfield line: Reynard and Munro Streets, Coburg. Also likely to be skyrail. Given the proximity to Bell Street, which is already on the list, one would hope all three are done as one project.
  • Belgrave/Lilydale line: Union and Mont Albert Roads

Glen Huntly Road? Hallelujah. This tram/train crossing delays trams, and forces trains to crawl across at 20 km/h, even when they’re expresses. It slows down journeys for every single Frankston line passenger. As a former local, I’m a bit disappointed it won’t be skyrail, as it could provide additional open space adjacent to the shopping centre, but I hope at least they’ll look at moving the station to between Glen Huntly and Neerim Roads, to improve connections to local buses as well as trams.

Citybound platform at new Ginifer station - Nov 2016

The government has also released a document showing how sites are prioritised. At least, it shows the methodology. What it doesn’t show is how each site comes out when evaluated in this way. But it’s still well worth a read.

On grade separation of level crossings vs intersections, the choice the major parties is stark. It’ll be interesting to see which way the election goes.

See more in this Age article: Here’s how your vote will shape Melbourne’s transport network

Vic budget 2018

One of the rituals of the Budget (both State and Federal) is the lock-up. That’s where you get to see the Budget papers before they’re all released, but you can’t leave until they’ve gone public.

For the State Budget, there’s a lock-up for journalists, and another for special interest groups/stakeholders.

I attended the latter this year. You hand in your mobile phone on entry, though you can keep iPads and laptop computers… I suppose there’s a certain level of trust that you’re not going to do anything too devious and send information to the outside world.

All the same, I was amused when someone pointed out that all the tables had signs advising of a Wi-Fi password.

Wi-Fi in the State Budget lock-up

Anyway, what was in the State Budget for public transport?

Some worthwhile upgrades, but I think it’s fair to say nothing really big, and in fact some of the bigger ones had been pre-announced. Some notable ones we hadn’t already heard about include:

Five new X’trapolis trains $103m – presumably to keep the fleet expanding while the HCMTs come online, and also to keep the Ballarat Alstom factory ticking over for a bit until the next tram or regional train order.

Essendon and Watergardens DDA, business cases for Broadmeadows/Pakenham, improvements Kananook and Seaford $16m — I’m a bit surprised Watergardens needs major works given it was only built in 2002. Does it suffer from capacity problems?

Enhanced security around the network including bus stops $17m — would be interested to know what this entails. Presumably specific projects in mind, as it’d be spread pretty thin across the entire network.

South Yarra station and tram stop upgrade $12m — will improve interchange between trains and the 58 tram, though will not include an additional concourse/exit — that may come later.

Shepparton rail upgrade stage 2 $313m — enabling up to 9 trains per day, implementation of which is presumably the next step

Wyndham Vale and Seymour extra services $11m — short term relief for regional passengers

Signal and track upgrades Maryborough, Ararat, Ballarat $130m

Regional rail stabling and maintenance facilities for V/Line $173m — I wonder if it’ll help resolve the issue of them dumping out of service trains at platforms at Southern Cross in the middle of the day, making passengers from Collins Street walk an entire city block to board their trains

Regional train design and pre-procurement $16m — the plan is to phase out the “classic” fleet, eg the pre-2000 V/Locity fleet, with Diesel Multiple Units replacing all loco-hauled trains, which brings operational benefits.

Fishermans Bend active travel business case $1m — planning for a tram and/or walking and cycling upgrades. Doesn’t include detailed planning for the proposed Metro 2 rail tunnel.

Federal money coming

The Herald Sun (paywall) has revealed overnight that the Feds are allocating money to Victorian public transport projects, including:

Frankston to Baxter electrification $225m — good move, would include the Monash Peninsula campus at Leawarra, and enable moving stabling and park+ride out of the town centre at Frankston to an area with more land. Not clear how much of the cost this covers. I’d imagine this would increase pressure to remove the level crossing at Moorooduc Highway.

Geelong to Waurn Ponds duplication — another $50m on top of the previous $100m

Monash and Rowville rail $475m — to cover property acquisition and pre-construction. The report says the Feds would prefer heavy rail, whereas the State would prefer light rail that also serves the employment and retail centre at Chadstone. The mode probably comes down to future demand and capacity. The report does say the Feds agree with the State that the section to Monash should be the first stage.

Amusingly the report also says:

The Herald Sun understands the federal government is willing to consider building a tram but also wants to look at a heavy rail line, with the final decision to ensure the route is โ€œfuture-proofedโ€ for growing demand.

Future-proofing transport infrastructure is a good idea. Shame they never seem to want it for the major road projects they fund.

The rest of the Federal Budget gets announced on Tuesday night.

Crowded train, Richmond

More State PT investment to come?

There’s a bunch of worthwhile stuff in the State Budget, but no really big ticket items.

A lot of observers suspect there will be some bigger announcements to look forward to approaching the election. Federal too, perhaps.

It’s also notable that the new State money for roads was more than double the new money for public transport. Remember, new investment should reflect the type of city we want to achieve.

So hopefully there is more coming for PT.

Pre-budget week

There’s been a flurry of pre-budget announcements in the world of PT.

Hurstbridge line works extended by a week as they grapple with signalling issues on the rebuilt section of track. Apparently it’s down to compatibility issues between new signalling equipment and old.

This was announced on Tuesday afternoon. Amazingly, almost 24 hours later, PTV’s generally excellent weekly disruptions email came out, still quoting the old dates. And 36 hours after the announcement, the regular printed newspaper advertisement for Metro disruptions didn’t mention it at all.

New Metro timetables coming later this year – including extending 10 minute services on the Dandenong line to 10pm (apparently misunderstood by some commenters on The Age article), and more peak services on the South Morang/Mernda line and Hurstbridge lines, the latter making use of the newly duplicated section of track.

Also some extras expected on the Werribee line, but not clear exactly what. Still no commitment to a widespread rollout of 10-minute off-peak services, but it’s a step in the right direction.

More investment in upgrading the Dandenong line has also been announced – power, signalling, which it notes “paving the way for the Cranbourne line duplication” – this can’t come soon enough.

$50 million to investigate high speed rail to Geelong. It sounds a bit pie-in-the-sky, but actually it makes a lot of sense to look at the next step in the evolution of the regional rail network.

The upgrades last decade to 160 kmh were good, but that’s not particularly fast by world standards. Moving to 200 (something the UK has had for 30+ years) and beyond would slash travel times — and may be more affordable than the 300 some are talking about.

But even 300 would be possible, as much of the Geelong line is straight and flat.

This seems to be part of the State Government’s moves towards shaking up the regional network alongside construction of an airport link, with Sunshine as a hub.

In any case, the short-term need is to separate out Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo trains from suburban services, including electrification and extra tracks out to Melton and Wyndham Vale. This would provide some travel time improvements, and more importantly, relieve crowding and cut delays.

And yes, it might be possible to divert the Bendigo and Seymour/Shepparton lines via the Airport… but we shouldn’t assume the same trains will serve suburban airport passengers. They would need to be additional services.

703 bus

Not really budget-related, but in other recent news, there are a bunch of network changes coming in May, including:

  • New tram timetables, with extra peak-shoulder and evening services on some routes — on tram 19, this will partially (but not fully) restore cuts from 2017
  • Extra bus services on routes 631, 703 and 767 — including upgrading the awful 703 timetable from every 45-50 minutes on Sundays to every half-hour (still the route will shut down at 9pm though, and there seems to be no adjustment to take advantage of the removal of Clayton level crossing)
  • Extra coaches between Seymour and Shepparton
  • Numerous minor timetable changes and upgrades to some buses in the northern and western suburbs

It’s well worth keeping an eye on this PTV page to see what other changes fly under the radar.

I’ll also note that the Opposition has been making various public transport pledges, including duplication of more of the Hurstbridge line, and returning trains to Donald (a step closer to Mildura).

As we move towards the November state election, things are getting interesting.

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.