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.

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

Public transport compo: what is the threshold?

If you’re confused about tram and train compensation thresholds, you’re not the only one.

PTV announced earlier this month that:

PTV CEO Jeroen Weimar said both Metro and Yarra Trams narrowly missed their new targets for punctuality in February, but met their targets for reliability.

PTV’s web site has figures for February 2018 that clearly show that of the three major operators — Metro, Yarra Trams and V/Line — all failed to meet their punctuality targets:

PTV: February 2018 performance

As shown in this Transport For Victoria info graphic, the performance targets changed in the new contract.

The target we’re interested in right now, punctuality, went up to 92% for Metro, and 82% for Yarra Trams:

Transport For Victoria: new performance targets from December 2017

Trams in Flinders Street

What about the compo?

Okay, so if Metro and Yarra Trams missed their targets, can you claim compensation?

It turns out no, you can’t. If you go looking on the Metro or Yarra Trams web sites, nowhere does it mention that compensation is payable for February.

Why is this? I sought clarification from PTV.

It turns out the target is different to the compensation threshold.

Punctuality:

Punctuality target Compensation threshold February 2018
Metro 92.0% 90.0% 91.8%
Yarra Trams 82.0% 79.0% 81.7%
V/Line 92.0% 92.0% 82.7%

(Previous punctuality thresholds: Metro 88%, Yarra Trams 77%)

Reliability:

Reliability target Compensation threshold February 2018
Metro 98.5% 98.0% 98.8%
Yarra Trams 98.5% 98.0% 98.7%
V/Line 96.0% 96.0% 96.3%

(Previous reliability thresholds: Metro 98%, Yarra Trams 98%, eg unchanged)

So as you can see, Metro and Yarra Trams beat the reliability and punctuality thresholds, even if they didn’t quite meet the punctuality targets. (Only V/Line is paying compensation for February.)

It’s also apparently the thresholds, not the targets, that trigger financial penalties.

So in this case, even though Metro and Yarra Trams missed their punctuality targets… the only consequence appears to have been a light public berating by PTV.