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.

Southland paid parking starts soon

Southland Shopping Centre introduces paid parking on Monday 16th October.

But before you reach for the pitchforks, it only applies if shoppers stay more than three hours.

You get the first three hours for free, with an extra hour if you’re going to a movie. Beyond that, it’s basically $3 per additional hour.

It uses number plate recognition, so if your stay is free, or you’ve pre-registered with a credit card on their web site, the boom will raise and let you out automatically. Otherwise you have to pay as you leave.

The details are all here: parkwestfield.com.au — it’s clear from the site that they’ve got this running at a number of Westfield centres around the country, so you’d think they have a fair idea of what it might do to shopper numbers.

Stupidly, the link to rates and conditions at Southland specifically keeps changing, and going up and down like a yoyo. Sometimes you get a 404 error, sometimes it goes to a page with no useful details on it, and just occasionally the actual information appears. So here it is reproduced:

EXTRA HOUR FREE FOR CINEMA – Customers who see a movie at Village Cinemas Southland will get one extra hour of free parking with cinema ticket validation.

FREE ENTRY AFTER 6pm – Parking is free when you enter the car park after 6pm and leave before 6am, meaning there’s plenty of time for dinner and a movie.

SAME DAY RE-ENTRY – If you exit the centre and want to return on the same day, there must be one hour between exit and re-entry in order to receive another three hours free parking.

DISABILITY PARKING – Shoppers with a valid Disability Parking Permit can register for Ticketless Parking to receive free parking all day. If you hold a permit you can visit one of our Concierge to have it validated to access free parking.

Skip the pay stations and register for Ticketless Parking for a quick and easy exit.

PARKING RATES

0 – 3 hrs Free
3 – 4 hrs $3
4 – 5 hrs $6
5 – 6 hrs $9
6 – 7 hrs $12
7 – 8 hrs $15
8+ hrs Maximum Day Rate / Overnight Fee $18

So what’s prompted this? Fees are being introduced now to prevent people using the centre car park as a station car park when the station opens in November. In that context, three hours for free makes sense.

Personally I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than three hours at Southland, except when I’ve been seeing a movie. So I don’t have a problem with this.

Southland bus interchange

However, they’re also introducing paid parking for staff. They’ll be shunted to a special staff car park, and charged $5 per day.

I’ll use the train to get to Southland, but it’s not like everybody will be able to.

The buses (particularly on weekends) will still be as pathetically infrequent as they are now.

Many staff will continue to have no viable choice but to drive.

So stinging staff $5 just seems greedy, given many retail workers are not particularly well-paid. Especially for junior part time employees, this would eat into their pay.

Okay, now you can reach for your pitchfork. Or at the very least, sign this petition.

Level crossing removals: a status update

Three years ago in 2014 I attempted to summarise level crossing removals, based on the old 2008 ALCAM list, which is (still) the last public safety evaluation of level crossings in Victoria.

Things have moved on a lot since then. Labor was voted in with a policy of grade separating 50 level crossings in 8 years (20 in their first 4 year term). And you’d have to give them credit for storming ahead on this.

So here’s an update of the list. I’ve tried to include the latest status of the various projects completed, underway or pledged – and where I could find the information, I’ve also included which side funded them.

(This is an embedded Google Drive document… Use the scroll bar at the right to move through the list. Hopefully it works okay. If not, try here.)

Notes:

  • 7. Werribee Street, Werribee. Since the ALCAM evaluation almost ten years ago, the number of trains has dropped markedly due to Regional Rail Link opening in 2015, meaning a new list would place this much further down.
  • 57. Fitzgerald Road, Ardeer and 115. Station Road (Mt Derrimut Rd), Deer Park: If the list was being evaluated today, these would both rank higher, especially the latter, due to RRL moving lots of trains away from Werribee and onto this line. Derrimut has also had huge residential development in the last ten years.
  • 91. Eel Race Road, Carrum is being permanently closed at the railway line, with an extension of Macleod Road under the railway line instead, because most of the traffic is actually heading to/from Macleod Road.
  • 111. Park Road, Cheltenham wasn’t on the list, but was added due to proximity with Charman Road.

Most of the status info is gleaned from the official Level Crossings list. Funding information was found via trawling old media releases and budget papers. “Planning funding” means money was allocated to plan a grade separation, but not to do the actual work (which obviously cost more). As I find more/corrected info, I’ll add it.

I’d originally also wanted to include the cost of each project, but this is difficult in some cases, because multiple projects have been rolled into one. The complexity also varies widely. Many include stations, but some don’t. Some have related local upgrades bundled into the cost. I’ll save that for another time.

Updates to ALCAM

The ranking shown is almost ten years old now, so a refreshed list of crossings would be shorter… but if there is one, it’s not public.

Bearing that in mind, as of September 2017:

  • The top 5 have all been removed
  • Of the top 10, 9 of these are expected to be done in coming years (see below).
  • Of the top 20, 16 are on the list and expected to be done in coming years.

Level crossing removal at Bentleigh, July 2016

How many per year?

“Year” on the list means year completed, with it obviously being the expected year for the crossings not yet done. Some of them say “by 2022”, meaning they might move forward. And some projects don’t yet have public end dates.

With that in mind, how does it look year-on-year? If they all finish on time, it looks like 2018 is going to be a bumper year… just in time for the election!

In fact, if all of those scheduled for 2018 come in before the election, Labor will have achieved their goal of 20 in their first term, with 23 actually completed. We’ll see what happens.

Glenhuntly station: passengers waiting for passing freight train

Which missed out?

In the list I’ve highlighted those with no status, eg they aren’t currently on the list of crossings to be grade separated.

Remember, the Level Crossing Removal Authority didn’t choose which crossings are getting removed, and which are missing out. The list was selected by the ALP when they formulated their policy in 2013-14.

Some worth noting that missed out are:

  • 9. Macaulay Road, Kensington might be difficult because it’s on a hill; the easiest solution of elevating the road over the line would obliterate the shopping centre. It’s also nearby to the elevated Citylink tollway, and the Moonee Ponds Creek, though perhaps not so close they would cause issues? — unlike number 77, also on Macaulay Road, which is sandwiched between the creek and the tollway.
  • 15. Union Road, Surrey Hills, the scene of a double fatality a year ago, and one of the last two remaining crossings on the busy City to Ringwood line (the other is ranked 88, Mont Albert Road)
  • 19. Old Geelong Road, Hoppers Crossing, next to the Werribee Mercy Hospital, and in the middle of a fast-growing suburb, with far more suburban trains than ten years ago
  • 75. Glen Huntly Road, Glenhuntly. Not ranked very high on the ALCAM safety list, but one of the prime causes of delays to Frankston line trains and route 67 trams alike. It along with nearby Neerim Road (ranked 152) would need to be done as one project, but would remove the last crossings between the City and Moorabbin.

My hope is that many that missed out in the initial list of 50 will be added for removal post-2022, and that government will see what the benefits of keeping this program rolling until more crossings are grade separated right across Melbourne — particularly the rest of those in the top 50 most dangerous.

How the 20th century was almost dominated by electric vehicles, rather than petrol

It’s amazing to think that had circumstances been different, the western world might have developed its road transport around electric engines rather than fossil fuels.

That’s one of the key points made by “A Most Deliberate Swindle“, by Mick Hamer – the tale of the London Electrobus company, which pioneered the use of electric buses in London in the early 1900s. I was sent a preview copy — it’s being released later this week.

It’s an interesting story, and is really both a book about Edwardian-era fraud, and transport. I confess the latter is of more interest to me, so I have to admit I skimmed a little bit over the background story of the some personalities involved: a mix of gentlemen who spotted what was essentially a worthwhile venture, a viable electric battery bus, and used it to fleece shareholders out of their money.

As it turns out, a major contributor to the buses being reliable enough for service was the batteries, and part of the story relates to how the Electrobus company’s management fooled the American inventors into handing over the technology.

And yes, for a time, the electric bus service was successful and popular with passengers, thanks in part to a smoother quieter ride, which also made them popular with local residents.

The idea unravelled thanks to the scammers being more interested in making money by cheating people than selling electric vehicles and running electric buses.

The real sting in the tale is towards the end of the book, when author Hamer points out that 20th century motor vehicles ended up being mostly petrol powered because the technology happened to be ready for prime time, cheap enough and reliable enough, at just the right juncture. It gained momentum, and like VHS winning over the technically superior Beta, became dominant.

So but for chance, it could have been electric vehicles instead that dominated during the 20th century, certainly for buses, but also for other service vehicles and even private cars.

London as a city in many ways holds enormous influence, particularly around the Commonwealth, but also farther afield. If electric vehicles had taken off in Britain in the 1900s, then right across the world, issues such as city air quality and lead poisoning from cars might be much less of a problem than they were and are — particularly now, when more electricity generation is being moved to clean sources of power.

Today, Tesla and others are pushing electric cars, and while they won’t solve traffic congestion, they are certainly advancing the technology. In the last year or two, numerous countries have announced the phase-out of petrol and diesel cars.

And yes, there’s a push for electric buses too — they’re being promoted by local companies and campaigns — here in Melbourne, PT Not Traffic have a campaign for electric buses on inner-city routes.

There’s plenty of detail in the book, and one thing that struck me was the names of the companies (both real and fraudulent), which back in those days certainly told you what the company did (or at least claimed to do). These days they’re a lot more abstract than some of those in the book: “The London Electrobus Company”, “The Electric Tramways Construction and Maintenance Company”, or the “Gould Storage Battery Company Limited”.

It’s a good read, and worth a look. It’s due out this Thursday 28th September.

Old photos from September 2007

Here’s yet another of my blog posts of photos from ten years ago: September 2007.

Around this time there was a somewhat sarcastic Metlink fare evasion campaign, which pointed out that fare evaders’ trips were subsidised by everybody else, and that fare evaders should therefore offer to buy dinner or mow the lawn of a fare-paying passenger. Someone obviously didn’t like this.
Anti-Metlink/Connex advertising, September 2007

Well before Uber, the Department of Infrastructure would be out and about inspecting taxis.
Department of Infrastructure inspecting taxis, September 2007

In ten years, the room where we have the computers (formerly a formal dining room when the previous owner lived here) hasn’t changed a great deal, though the computers themselves have changed (here we have mostly beige; now the screens are wide, and most equipment is black), as have the kids’ haircuts and pyjamas. It looks like Isaac (left) was watching a Doctor Who video on Youtube, and Jeremy was editing a video.
Computers in September 2007

The shops at Centre Road, Bentleigh. Smartbus liveried buses are (and were) rare on route 703, even though it was one of the original Smartbus routes. In fact, the 703 still doesn’t actually run to Smartbus standards.
Centre Road, Bentleigh, September 2007

Being a geek, I always chuckle at publicly displayed tech that goes wrong. This Windows display had stopped…
Windows playing up, Highpoint, September 2007

…on closer examination it seemed to have lost its network connection.
Windows playing up, Highpoint, September 2007

This pic is from a visit to Tony and Rae, for their Grand Final barbecue (which won’t happen this year because Tony, being a Richmond supporter, will be hoping to actually be at the game). At the time they lived next to the Brooklyn freight line, which isn’t electrified, but runs from Newport to Sunshine. Unexpectedly this Hitachi electric train went past, pulled by a diesel loco. Using the carriage number 37M, I’ve found there are other photos of this day on Vicsig.
207_0743

And finally…

Craigieburn station, waiting for a train. Ooh, a steam train! No, not actually waiting for that train…
Waiting for the Premier, Craigieburn station opening, September 2007

It was the official opening of the electrification from Broadmeadows to Craigieburn, so then Premier John Brumby and then Transport Minister Lynne Kosky rode a train (from Roxburgh Park, one station back) to be there.
Then-Premier John Brumby at Craigieburn station opening, 30/9/2007

There was a press conference…
John Brumby and Lynne Kosky at the Craigieburn station opening, September 2007

…and then the Premier was whisked away afterwards by car. Minister Kosky stayed to chat to people.
Premier's cars, Craigieburn station opening, September 2007

The media were all over it, interviewing locals, interest groups, and then filming on a train heading back towards the city.
Media on train, Craigieburn station opening, September 2007

Here’s the ABC’s TV news coverage. Since then, happily, the South Morang line has opened, and is being further extended to Mernda. And yes, I am wearing a Cats scarf, in celebration of their win the day before.