Some thoughts on the Westgate Tunnel

We all remember the East West Link. Specifically denied by the Coalition during the 2010 election, after a policy turnaround, they ignored the unfavourable economics of the project, and rammed through the contracts without a mandate, ahead of the 2014 election.

The design ran a motorway through the middle of Royal Park, and required demolition of dozens of homes in Collingwood. Community pressure resulted in Labor deciding to oppose the project and undo the contracts if elected — and they did it, at a cost of $780 million, but saving $4 billion of taxpayer funds, plus billions more in motorist tolls.

The Westgate Tunnel project wasn’t mentioned by Labor in the 2014 election — instead they proposed a smaller “Westgate Distributor” which would have moved trucks out of inner-west local streets by giving them dedicated ramps off the Westgate Freeway, and some arterial road upgrades.

Westgate Tunnel EES: Northern portal at Maribyrnong River

The far bigger project now upon us was thought up by Transurban, operators of Citylink. A huge amount of detail about the project has just been released.

Some brief notes so far:

This project is huge, but in many ways less evil than East West Link. Thanks largely to an accident of geography, it mostly avoids parkland impacts (Lynch Road Reserve in Brooklyn is the notable exception – 34% acquired permanently), and it doesn’t require the acquisition of homes (though some living nearby would like to be bought out).

Westgate Tunnel EES: Footscray Road cross-section

Westgate Tunnel EES: Footscray Road skyroad

I suspect few people look fondly upon Footscray Road. It’ll be covered by an elevated road, with an oddly enclosed bike path in the middle. The transition between the tunnel and this new skyroad will be a portal next to the Maribyrnong River at Yarraville.

All of this might be forgivable if it was purely to get freight in and out of the port. But the city end of the project is clearly aimed at private motor cars — probably because in terms of tolls, that’s where the money is. Remember, Transurban proposed this project.

Westgate Tunnel EES: eGate spaghetti junction

What the Westgate Tunnel does do that EWL didn’t is have a massive spaghetti junction that trashes the proposed E-Gate urban development, and also vastly increases the motorway capacity going into the CBD, which is inevitably going to result in the flooding of the northwest CBD and Docklands with traffic.

How much traffic? The EES claims most of it will hit North Melbourne, with up to 9000 extra cars per day along Dynon Road, 5000 in Hawke Street, 3000 in parts of Victoria Street, and 9000 along parts of Wurundjeri Way. It also claims traffic on some routes will reduce.

Westgate Tunnel EES: traffic forecasts

Can we trust the figures? It claims traffic along Spencer Street and the Bolte Bridge will drop, presumably because people heading from the south-western suburbs into the north side of the CBD and North Melbourne are expected to use the Westgate Tunnel. But if that’s the case, why don’t they use the Bolte Bridge now?

I need to read a bit more on the methodology behind the predictions, but it strikes me that claims of congestion relief on roads nearby to new motorways sometimes are correct in the short term, but don’t last, because they fill up again within a few years. For instance the Monash Freeway built in 1988 was meant to relieve Waverley Road and High Street, but didn’t.

Similarly, Citylink’s time-saving claims were very short-lived thanks to induced traffic.

Feeding the new tunnel will be a widened Westgate Freeway – if I’m counting it right, up to 17 lanes (9 inbound, 8 outbound) in sections, only tempered by the tolls incurred if people choose the new tunnel rather than the existing bridge.

In fact, the plan to massively increase the capacity feeding into the Westgate bridge+tunnel combo should put paid to the idea that this is providing an “alternative” to the bridge. If there’s a problem on the bridge in peak hour, clearly the tunnel won’t be able to relieve it because it’ll be full of its own traffic.

Westgate Freeway at Millers Road
Westgate Tunnel EES: Millers Road interchange

Maribyrnong River/Yarraville Gardens
Westgate Tunnel EES: Yarraville Gardens area

Westgate Tunnel EES: eGate spaghetti interchange

Westgate Tunnel EES: Docklands end

The politics of it

Labor says they’ll have contracts ready for signing straight after the 2018 election, avoiding claims that they will force it through and built it without a mandate as the Coalition planned to do with East West Link.

Edit: Silly me, this is completely wrong. Labor are pushing ahead with this. It’s not subject to the next election. I’ve confused it with the NE Link.

The Greens are opposed to the project.

What will the Coalition do? Shadow Treasurer Michael O’Brien has said it’s an “absolute dud”. “We don’t support extra tolls on CityLink users – certainly not to pay for a dud project. And the more Victorians see of this Western Distributor the more the numbers just don’t add up.”

Does that mean they’ll go into the election pledging not to build it? Edit: Will they want to can the contracts? Probably unlikely, as it’ll be too far gone.

So will a vote in 2018 make any difference? Probably not.

What do we want in our city?

As I’ve said before, transport is supply-led. If you want lots more people driving, massively increase motorway capacity, and it’ll happen. This is what the west has to look forward to.

Meanwhile the trains are packed (even on Sunday mornings when they only run every 40 minutes) and the local buses are a real mixed bag, often infrequent and caught in traffic – which on local roads is likely to get worse as they will feed into this new motorway capacity being built.

Ultimately, if built (and it appears it probably will be), this project is likely fundamentally change the north-western end of the City, and skew the transport “options” of those along the Westgate corridor towards cars for decades to come.

Doing the bustitution zig zag

Those of you who follow me on Twitter might recall I spent a lot of July last year posting about the 5 weeks of bus replacements on the Frankston line.

One of the things they got right was to run the buses along the main roads, rather than diverting them into the railway stations, three of which were major construction zones at the time.

Most buses ran along Grange and Jasper Roads, where rail replacement bus stops were installed. Their precise placement wasn’t ideal from a passenger point of view — they were sometimes a couple of hundred metres from the cross street that linked the road to the station — but overall it wasn’t too bad, and there was some logic to (where possible) re-using existing bus stops and shelters.

Overall it wasn’t perfect, there was crowding at times and long waits at others. But replacing a busy train line with buses isn’t an easy task, and we survived (though many sought out alternatives).

With those three level crossing removals more-or-less completed (2 of 3 bike cages still aren’t operating), earlier this year they decided to put the replacement bus stops back at the stations, restoring the old zig zag route from Caulfield to Moorabbin. Not that it’s regularly used; it comes into play if the line is suspended or there is planned maintenance (since the crossing projects were completed, none that I can recall).

But this zig zag route has problems. I saw it in action a few weeks ago, when an incident at the pedestrian crossing between Glenhuntly and Ormond caused train services to be suspended from about 8pm until the last service.

The buses diverted onto side streets to serve Glenhuntly, went past the accident site (!), then to Ormond, back to the main road, then off again to McKinnon and Bentleigh, then oddly back to the main road for a stop there in lieu of Patterson.

It’s odd that they didn’t detour to Patterson. There is still old signage around that indicates rail buses used to make a detour. Maybe they want to make absolutely sure the buses stay away from the low bridge?

Metro replacement bus directions

With all that zig zagging, the end result is the bus took 27 minutes to travel 9.4 kilometres, or an average speed of 21 kilometres per hour. And this was at 10pm at night, with virtually no other road traffic along most of the route. No congestion, and little or no wait to turn from side streets into main roads.

(Map courtesy of Michael)

In contrast, the train normally takes 12 minutes. The parallel 822 bus, with far more stops than the train replacement bus, takes 18 minutes — and that’s with a detour through some of East Bentleigh’s back streets!

Why Direct is better

Usually overall faster for passengers, even those going to/from the stations without train service. A 5 minute walk from a direct route is quicker than buses winding in and out of side streets to get to the stations.

Always faster for through passengers not using those stations

Bus drivers unfamiliar with area are more likely to be able to find their way

Easier for buses to navigate main roads. Smaller side streets may be physically difficult to turn in and out of, and may cause delays due to waiting for other traffic to turn

Reduces the need to run separate express and stopping buses

Because it’s quicker, the buses can run more often with the same fleet. This is particularly important in the time when buses are being organised, when resources may be thin on the ground.

Why Zig zag is better

Stops are close to stations, fairer for most passengers. Main road bus stops may be a long distance from stations

Easier to find the temporary bus stop from station, as it’s nearby and familiar

Supporting services like staff, toilets, maps, ticket machines, PSOs (after 6pm) are at the station

Rail replacement bus stop, Caulfield

So which is better?

What other factors have I missed?

During level crossing works, taxis were also available for those who couldn’t walk to the replacement bus stops or easily use the buses.

And in some scenarios, some buses (for through passengers) can connect from other lines rather than running parallel to the railway line.

Between Caulfield and Moorabbin, the logical main road route is close to the stations, about five minutes walk for most people. On this line, I’d probably say it makes more sense to use it for replacement buses than the zig zag route.

On other sections of this and other lines, that may not be the case. But I don’t think rigidly zig zagging along a route to stop outside each station in every case (except Patterson?!) is necessarily the best outcome for passengers.

Save money! With privatisation!

Infrastructure Australia released a study today claiming that privatising public transport can save billions of dollars:

Media release: Franchising public transport services could deliver $15.5 billion in funding for new transport services (Full study here)

I had a quick read of the study and I have to say, I found it utterly unconvincing. The executive summary talks up privatisation, but the study text doesn’t really present any compelling arguments for or against it.

It provides a case study of Melbourne’s tram and trains, but the graphs showing patronage and punctuality/performance don’t really show how privatisation/franchising affected this. After privatisation in 1999, patronage was stagnant initially, only shooting up in the latter part of the 2000s when population growth, the economy and CBD growth really kicked in.

A section discussing service reliability (eg cancellations and punctuality) notes that the Auditor General concluded many of the factors there were taxpayer investment in infrastructure and fleet upgrades.

It talks about forecast cost savings from other PT services around the country being privatised/franchised, but doesn’t really talk about the cost savings out of Melbourne’s existing franchises (perhaps because there haven’t been any) – instead only talking about costs since 2004, which is five years after privatisation occurred.

The study does compare Sydney vs Melbourne operating costs (Melbourne is lower), claiming the main difference is public vs private operation, but seems to ignore the fact that Sydney trains have two staff aboard each service vs Melbourne’s one — something which changed before privatisation occurred.

Thanks to some well-placed headline figures suggesting that the savings can be spent on [insert local city upgrade here], it’s had plenty of media coverage around the country, including The Age and Brisbane Times.

Ultimately it’s not about who runs the services, it’s about whether it’s done well. Privatisation doesn’t change that.

New operators might bring in experience and innovation from their other operations, which potentially means improvements.

But the risk is if governments don’t put in adequate checks and balances, operators will simply cut costs and the service will decline, discouraging passengers and ultimately resulting in fewer people using it: higher subsidies per passenger, and traffic, equity of access and livability impacts on our cities.

UK/Belgium holiday in planning

Very busy the last few weeks, which is why the blog has been so quiet.

Long-time readers would know that I like to write about my interstate and overseas holidays in almost excruciating detail. Well brace yourself for another one – I’ve got a European holiday in planning for later this year.

It’s looking like England, Wales, and Belgium, with catching up with various family scattered around the place being a key priority.

It’ll be the first big family holiday in many years, and my first time in Europe this century — previous trips were in 1999 and 1998.

Eurostar hadn’t even opened the last time I was there, so you can be sure we’ll be using it to get to Belgium! It’ll be my first journey on an actual High Speed Rail service (I used the Brussels to Amsterdam high speed “Thalys” in 1998, but it was at regular speed due to flooding) and my first time using Oyster card!

Daniel’s 1998 Europe trip highlights from Daniel Bowen on Vimeo.

Obviously the terrible events in Manchester this week (and previous incidents in London, Brussels and elsewhere) are a concern, but ultimately you can’t cower at home because something might happen.

On the list of touristy things already are various sights in London, Cardiff, Brussels, probably Bath and perhaps Stonehenge or Avebury since we’ll be visiting relatives in that part of the country.

Any must-see suggestions?

More notes as I ponder:

  • London transport accepts most overseas PayPass cards, which will save us buying Oyster cards for everyone.
  • I’m wary of Britrail passes – it sounds like roughly the same cost if you prebook flexible fares a few weeks in advance.
  • We’re looking at Air B’n’b for places we’ll be staying more than a day or two, as it’s useful being able to easily cook some meals and do laundry. Hotels for 1-2 day hops.

    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.