Over on the trams, they have an ingenious solution: a portable, temporary crossover. It was in use in Swan Street in Richmond (route 70) for a few days this week while tram platform stops are built:
This enabled them to terminate trams at Richmond station, with disrupted passengers able to either change to a train, or walk 400 metres to where trams could resume.
Apart from placement of the temporary track, they also needed to install some overhead wire. Of course it’s made easier to manage in this case by the road closure.
But it’s smart thinking, allowing trams to run as far as possible, reducing disruption for passengers, and avoiding the mess and cost of replacement buses.
Temporary track is nothing new. Back last century it was a common occurrence around the tram (and train) networks. But that was in a bygone era, when I suspect labour was cheap.
For long term projects, it still sometimes happens. Over Easter, the Dandenong and Frankston lines near South Yarra were ripped up and rebuilt as part of Metro tunnel works, and will be ripped up again as the junction to the new tunnel portal is built. There have also been tram tracks relocated on St Kilda Road which may need to be relocated again as the tunnel works continue.
But overall, temporary track is less common in modern times, at least on short term projects.
If you were following me on Twitter on Monday morning, you’d know that I made a decision I came to regret: I travelled to work on the train to Caulfield and the express rail replacement bus into the City.
In short: the buses were hopelessly swamped by people. It was a long wait (43 minutes) in the bus queue; then a bus trip from Caulfield to the City that took more than an hour.
The trip that normally takes about half an hour from Bentleigh to the City instead took two hours.Read this Twitter thread for the grisly details.
In the cold light of day, here are some thoughts on this.
The good stuff.
The information has been pretty good. Lots of signage. Lots of staff making announcements on the train, on the station before the works started. It was pretty clear where to go.
There’s also been no shortage of advance warning: signs at local and CBD stations (the latter perhaps a little overwhelming), flyers handed out at stations, announcements on stations and trains, TV and radio advertising, press calls, web site updates.
There have been someerrors along the way, and some of the media messaging was overly alarmist – leaving for instance some people assuming the Sandringham line is closed every day. It’s not – it’s only closed on some weekends. A simple calendar might have helped.
On the ground at Caulfield, they seem to have tweaked the verbal messaging from announcers to say “to the City”, which is much clearer (and more correct) than the previous “to Flinders“.
The massive tents at Caulfield are a smart idea. Ideally you don’t want long queues. But if you do have them, you especially don’t want people in long queues in the rain.
It reminded me a bit of the queues for rides at an amusement park. But not as fun.
I found passengers were remarkably calm while queuing. Maybe they were all posting furious messages on social media, but nobody got visibly shouty or upset, nobody jumped the queue, and (gods be praised) nobody lit up a cigarette inside the tent.
Metro was taking the operation seriously. I know this because I saw Metro CEO Raymond O’Flaherty walking around checking things out, with a suitably serious look on his face.
It’s school holidays and university mid-semester break (at least for some). This helps reduces travel demand, especially in the morning peak. The trains were quieter than usual. If these disruptions have to occur, now is the right time.
Running a stopping-all-stations every 7 minutes service from Frankston to Caulfield made sense to keep things simple and minimise passenger waits for trains. It’s similar on the Pakenham line, though Cranbourne passengers have to change at Dandenong, which adds to their travel time.
Happily for outbound passengers, trains on the Dandenong line run at least every 10 minutes until almost 10pm; until about 8pm on the Frankston line. High frequency makes outbound connections off the buses fairly easy.
On the bus there were delays due to traffic, but it seemed minimal delays due to just traffic lights themselves – apparently Vicroads was making some effort to cut delays to buses at lights, which was good… except…
Buses still faced long delays getting across Princes Highway because someone decided that cars on the highway are more important than scores of buses packed with people.
Edit: As far as I can make out, the express buses were split between Federation Square (via the M1) and Arts Centre (via Dandenong Road/St Kilda Road).
Train delays approaching Caulfield. Ours stopped for about six minutes, but this was nothing compared to some of the delays on the Dandenong line, with some trains stuck for an hour or more.
A big factor in this was crowding on the platforms. Caulfield station is not a modern design. Especially on platforms 2 & 3, the gates and ramps cause a bottleneck. (With the metro tunnel likely to increase Caulfield’s interchange role, an additional concourse would be a welcome upgrade.)
The track layout is also problematic – sometime in the past few years, the layout has been altered so that trains from Dandenong can only terminate on platform 3. The less busy Frankston trains could use platforms 1 & 2.
The sheer number of people meant crowding in the subway. The crowding in the subway backed up onto the ramp, and then up onto the platform, preventing empty trains from departing.
But the biggest problem was bus throughput. Standing in the queue for that 43 minute wait, there would be times when no buses at all would arrive for 5-10 minutes. Then a few would appear and fill up.
The crowds could have been handled much better if the stream of buses was constant.
This needs fixing urgently – apart from making some in the queue needlessly wait, it wasted bus capacity that could have been used later in the morning to keep more people moving. Express buses shouldn’t leave unless full if people are waiting. Only stopper buses need to leave with space for more passengers.
Bus throughput was also affected by severe traffic delays – buses despatched to the City had a slow trip in, limiting the number of trips they could run.
Unbelievably, Normanby Road in Caulfield was still available to general traffic in both directions, with buses having to negotiate a sea of bollards. Did they seriously not think to just close it off?
There were also delays on Sir John Monash Drive for buses trying to enter and leave the precinct. Given the numbers of passengers, it would easily be justified to close down that section of the road (from Queens Avenue to Dandenong Road) to other traffic – or allocate an extra bus lane that can be used to get onto Burke Road.
At the very least, more time should have been given for buses getting across Princes Highway.
Each morning peak the M1 has been clogged. On my trip was a crawl from joining the freeway at Burke Road, up until about Toorak Road. (Can the automated signage on the “managed motorways” be programmed to show bus lanes? If not, maybe this should be factored into designs for future rollouts.)
After leaving the freeway there was another crawl along Batman Avenue, mostly caused by the sheer number of buses.
At this point on my trip I was looking on Google Maps at the traffic further along and onto Flinders Street and thinking/hoping they’d route some buses over to the Arts Centre to avoid it – as has been the case during previous rail closures.
Unbelievably, they didn’t. Instead our bus and all the others headed straight into a kilometre-long queue of buses and other traffic.
You know how some people claim that unlike rail transport, buses can easily adapt to changing travel demand and traffic patterns. Yeah. Not unless someone tells the drivers.
Eventually bus drivers started letting passengers out to walk the rest of the way. As I walked, I found a long queue of buses all the way to Federation Square.
To me it looked like the bus jam was due to a slow turnaround at Federation Square. They should have been getting buses unloaded and out again as quickly as possible so they could get back to Caulfield and pick up more passengers. Again the despatch procedures seem to need reviewing.
The lack of a dedicated bus lane on Batman Avenue didn’t help either, though it wasn’t as big a problem as on the M1.
For a bus and it’s driver, the round trip would have been at least 60 minutes inbound plus 30 minutes outbound. No wonder there were queues at Caulfield.
Getting everyone to Caulfield by train and then using lots of buses to the City worked during quiet times on the weekend when passenger numbers were lower. It struggled a bit with football crowds, but it really struggles with peak hour commuters.
It’s a firm reminder that buses can’t replace trains. It re-created the mess that occurs every weekday on the Doncaster corridor, where buses try to do that job.
The Doncaster buses are incredibly messy, but at least they have bus lanes on the freeway inbound, and along Hoddle Street and Victoria Parade. This was specifically ruled out by authorities – who chose instead to rely on traffic light priority (but then didn’t provide it crossing Princes Highway).
If they’re not going to give hundreds of packed buses the priority they deserve, would a better strategy be to shift more people onto the neighbouring rail lines, and run extra train services?
A bus connection from Moorabbin to Brighton Beach on the Sandringham line (as used in the past) for people from stations further south
Another from Westall to one of the Glen Waverley line stations for the Dandenong line passengers
With reduced holiday demand, and extra services, would they cope? (The Sandringham line is running extra services anyway – the usual 8 trains per hour in peak is 10 per hour during the works. These have been pretty crowded.)
There would be some level crossing impacts from more trains of course, but the shorter route for buses would mean fewer delays for them, and if enough extra trains could be provided, they would cope with passenger numbers so much better. (A packed train would be about 20 bus loads of people.)
For passengers closer in, the mix of stopping and express buses from Caulfield to the City would get a better run thanks to reduced passenger numbers and congestion – in the station at Caulfield and on the roads into Federation Square.
This sort of operation might use fewer resources, making the overall rail closure cheaper.
Boosting regular routes
A more radical change would be to run the above Westall and Moorabbin shuttle bus connections, but also deploy some of the hundreds of buses being used to boost local cross-suburban routes that connect the train lines, more widely distributing passengers across more stations.
Some passengers are seeking out these local tram and bus routes anyway, including some prompted by advice from Metro staff who knew about the chaos unfolding at Caulfield.
There have been reports of crowding on the 630 bus (North Road) and 67 tram (Glen Huntly Road) thanks to no extra services and (some) use of small trams. Presumably this is also an issue on the inner-suburban tram routes in the southeast.
For me, I used this method to get home on Monday. It was 58 minutes from Flinders Street to Bentleigh (via Middle Brighton and the 703), and that included a 17 minute wait for a late bus. Far better than the two hour trip in the morning.
Boosting those local bus routes and encouraging their use would be making the best use of buses – which are not really suited for long haul high capacity routes. It would also help educate passengers on their alternate routes during future unplanned shutdowns.
Obviously it’s a fine balancing act to try and make sure the swarms of passengers displaced by the rail shutdowns don’t swamp other services and replacement buses.
A good balance has not been reached this week.
The first weekday is always the worst. The queues at Caulfield have moved better on subsequent days. But that’s not an excuse.
It’s like when they say the first week of the university year is worst. Waiting for people to give up and try something else (such as driving) is not a good outcome. (Fair enough, for universities, sometimes travel patterns genuinely change after the first week or two.)
As of day three, the bus delays haven’t gone away – on the M1 and Batman Avenue, and around Caulfield, they have continued each peak hour.
The strategy used for this works period needs to be reviewed.
With continuing (and very welcome) works on level crossings, the metro tunnel, and upgrades for the new trains, these major rail closures will keep happening. While they do, the city and its transport network need to continue to function.
Moorabbin (Frankston line) and Westall (Dandenong line) to the City have been replaced by buses between 2nd and 13th of January.
The Sandringham line was also bustituted between Elsternwick and the City between 2nd and 5th of January.
This is all due to works for the metro tunnel near South Yarra station, in preparation for building the tunnel portal there. There are also works preparing the Dandenong line for the High Capacity Metro Trains.
Here are a few snaps of the view around South Yarra station, comparing October with last week. (Sorry they don’t all match up exactly; I wasn’t that organised.)
October, looking southwest:
…and a similar-ish view a few days ago:
More striking is this: October looking southeast:
…and a few days ago – the hill and all the trees are gone!
And here’s a view from a few days ago from near Chapel Street, looking northwest:
At Caulfield there also seemed to be a fair bit going on:
Also observed: at South Yarra the extensions to platforms 5 and 6 are nearing completion.
Upgrades and new infrastructure are important, and if you’re going to close rail lines, early January is the time to do it.
The question is: how good is the information provided to people, and how smooth are the replacement buses?
I would say: not too bad. Buses always struggle replacing trains, but I think they’re getting better at this.
Some observations about the bus replacements
Here, if you feel so inclined, is a brain-dump of observations:
The earlier they can advise people, the more likely some affected passengers can avoid it, such as booking leave. I was lucky enough to be able to do this. The more notice the better. (In this case, details were published on 11th December, about 3 weeks out. I think they can do better.)
Some people will always miss the notices, and just rock up to the station. So prominent signage on approach and at station entrances is helpful.
Some of the notices need review. I have my doubts about the detailed bus timetables posted at stations – their usefulness and their scope for incorrect interpretation.
The signage pointing the way to the temporary stops seems pretty good. Big and bold.
Signs at replacement bus stops could improve. They generally don’t have any detail, such as bus stopping patterns, or days of operation. There were sightings of people waiting at the stops a day early – the signage was up, but the trains were still running.
Likewise, last year some of the signage came down a few hours early, leading to confusion on the final night.
Location of the stops seems okay – from what I’ve seen, it’s consistent with past occupations, mostly along main roads to ensure a relatively quick ride.
An exception is citybound at McKinnon, where they can’t make up their mind if it’s outside the pub again (where staff tend to be located, and there’s a temporary shelter), or 50 metres up the road (where the bus stop sign has been installed).
They may of slightly underestimated how many came back to work today. The line for PKM/CBE goes from the bus stops, into the Atrium and back out towards the metro tunnel and ends up at the crossing outside the station. pic.twitter.com/IU8rS59Zty
Less confusion around Myki touch-on (the buses are free). But there seems to be no consistency around whether all-door boarding is used or not.
Information needs to be consistent. Signage tends to say “to City”, which is very clear. But many announcements I’ve heard at stops have said “to Flinders”. This is less clear. On one bus I was on, when it was announced that “this bus is express to Flinders”, 80% of the passengers got off the bus, then most of them got back on. I think “City” would be better.
Also: “to Flinders“? I know that’s how some refer to it, and I know I’m being a pedant, but it’s really “Flinders Street”. Flinders is a completely different place.
The replacement bus routes have split different passenger groups to different services, and seem to have worked well. Lighter than usual traffic at this time of year certainly helps.
Travel time from my limited samples: Bentleigh to City (Arts Centre) is around 40-46 minutes, depending on time of day. Routes varied – some buses take Dandenong Road/St Kilda Road, others take Burke Road and Citylink. I haven’t sampled other routes – how’s it been?
They still haven’t fixed the Patterson bus zone, which remains 7am-7pm Monday to Saturday, despite rail buses running until around 1am (and all night on weekends), and even regular buses serving the stop every day until around 10pm. Should I just go park my car there every Sunday until they fix it?
The rail shut down has meant there has been extra pressure on nearby routes: trams and buses that run towards the City or connect with other rail lines that are still running. Little or no effort seems to have been put into additional services – apart from the Sandringham line, which is part of the Frankston replacement route for some passengers this week.
Only some of the replacement bus routes are in the PTV database, typically the all stations services, so planning a trip may result in travel times that are longer than reality. This may be related to the terrible timetable display web pages, but a resolution really ought to be found. (The Beta PTV web site shows promise.)
There have been some BIG issues with the PTV timetable data recently. South Gippsland coach routes still have non-existent (during works) Metro train connections from Dandenong to the City, which gives incorrect results in the Journey Planner for some trips. And lots of other data is showing up with errors, such as Peninsula bus route 788 missing most of its trips.
What else have people (who have perhaps been commuting more than I have!) seen during the shutdown?
Thankfully it’s over now. But it was a huge disruption, affecting passengers on a full quarter of the network.
PTV station boarding figures from 2014 indicate the affected stations have 113,700 boardings per weekday. Assuming most of those passengers travel into the area where trains weren’t running, and most make a return trip, we’re probably talking about more than 200,000 trips per weekday impacted.
The effects have been felt right across the eastern suburbs:
Long queues of passengers at Parliament and Camberwell, and long queues of buses in nearby streets
Extra passengers on tram routes in the area, including 70, 75, 109, 72 — to the point where many have been unable to board along the route — and to a lesser extent 5, 6, 3
Extra passengers on buses in the area, including 906, 907, 302 and 304, prompting some extra buses, but from what I hear, nowhere near enough
Extra passengers on nearby train lines including Cranbourne/Pakenham and Frankston
More private vehicles on the roads, slowing down buses and trams, as well as clogging up the Eastern Freeway
For those who braved the train replacement buses, there have been long delays, both at interchange hubs such as Camberwell, and on the buses themselves, which have been caught in traffic. On Friday there was the additional challenge of the weather.
Rail upgrade works are important; everyone knows they need to happen. And there are lots on at the moment, with level crossing removals, and plenty of other projects bubbling along.
Why in December?
The number one question people have been asking is:
Why such a big shutdown in December? Why not January, when there are fewer people travelling?
It’s because… there’s something even bigger coming in January.
Nothing’s been officially announced yet, but I’ve been told several times (and it wasn’t flagged as confidential) that major works will shut down the entire Caulfield group in early January.
Caveat: The details I have are sketchy, and the details may have changed, or I could be totally wrong in what I’ve heard. So take this with a grain of salt:
My understanding is that from the 2nd to the 7th 9th of January, all Cranbourne, Pakenham and Frankston trains will terminate at Moorabbin and Westall Caulfield (or possibly even Oakleigh, according to my scribbled notes), and my assumption is that Sandringham trains will terminate at Elsternwick.
Update 7/12/2017: Corrected the above, as official information has now been published. See the bottom of this post.
The entire inner-city section of those lines will be replaced by buses — though they may get creative and bus some people over to other lines, just as they’ve done with parts of the Glen Waverley line recently. You’d hope they’d put extra trains on other lines, and co-ordinate with authorities managing roads, trams and buses as well… given the past few days.
The affected stations on these lines to be closed account for 165,880122,830 boardings per weekday, about 45% 8% more than the Burnley group of lines.
Trust me when I say that as a Frankston passenger, this is not going to be fun. Maybe I should book some annual leave?
Why don’t they give us longer notice?
Some of these projects are years in planning. It beats me why authorities don’t flag them further in advance more than a couple of weeks.
Even now, as people continue to ask why the Burnley group works didn’t wait until January, they don’t have an answer to share.
If people had more notice, some of them might be able to plan leave from work, to make things easier for themselves.
Workplaces might be able to adjust shift times, or organise car pooling or working from home.
At the very least people might be able to understand the context of the overall works plan, and why some projects are scheduled at particular times.
It’s perfectly possible to give 2-3 months notice… because it’s been done before.
Back in 2012, then-public transport minister Terry Mulder made the decision to flag major works up to 3 months in advance.
and: Buses replace trains: Caulfield – Dandenong, Wednesday 10 January – Thursday 25 January 2018 (all day in the first week, then in sections in evenings only after that — click through for details). (Also on the PTV web site)
It appears the Sandringham line will not be affected, however there will be express buses from Moorabbin to Brighton Beach, meaning many Frankston line passengers will be added to that line. There are also buses from Westall to East Malvern on the Glen Waverley line. Hopefully both lines both get additional services.
We bade our farewells to the family and my uncle K gave us a lift to Taunton station.
First step to our next destination was a train to Exeter, or to be precise, Exeter St Davids. As with Bath a few days earlier, Exeter is served by multiple railway stations, originally built by different railway companies.
Exeter Central is, as the name would suggest, more central, but it’s Exeter St Davids that opened first, and is now the busier main station. (Some people complain that Melbourne Central Station isn’t the main/central station. It seems that situation isn’t unique.)
We had to change trains at Exeter, but first we peered outside (pouring with rain, pretty much the first rain we’d encountered on the trip) and bought some sandwiches to eat on the way.
Our next train was heading for our destination: Penzance. It was the grandly named Cornish Riviera Express. Apparently this name has been used since 1904. It was mentioned on the station displays, though I didn’t notice any specific branding on the train itself, which was a standard High Speed Train (Intercity 125) set.
We zoomed along through Devon, with some great scenery despite the grey skies.
Yet another grand bridge built by Brunel carried us across the River Tamar and into Cornwall. In fact we passed over numerous bridges, with some very impressive views along the way. Of course you can’t really see the bridges when you’re in the train, though in this case we got a good view of the parallel road bridge.
And then… we stopped at St Erth, one station short of Penzance, about 10 kilometres away.
For a while we didn’t move. My spidey sense detected something wrong. Then the announcement.
A truck (sorry, a lorry) had struck a bridge up ahead. The conductor, sorry train manager (fair enough, these HST trains are pretty long, and they actually have quite a few staff) got on the PA and apologised profusely, but we’d need to hop off the train here and wait for replacement buses.
We all got off the train in the drizzle and sheltered in the undercover part of the platform. The train manager and her colleagues were on their two-way radios trying to find out about replacement buses and/or whether the train would continue on once engineers had checked the safety of the bridge.
After a few minutes they said that due to the delay, the train would be short-shunting and heading back to London.
One of the rail staff suggested, given there was no ETA on trains resuming, that people exit the station and try their luck with the local buses. I checked Google Maps for buses – they ran about every 20 minutes from here to Penzance. I also checked the Uber app. Nothing nearby. So in light drizzle, we joined a queue of the braver passengers at the bus stop on the main road.
A bus arrived and a rail staffer hopped on first to check with the driver about them accepting rail tickets. The bus driver, who in fact is from the same parent company, seemed more concerned with just keeping to his schedule, and let everybody aboard gratis, so we squeezed on with our luggage and had a slightly more lurchy, cramped arrival in Penzance than expected.
We’d come halfway around the world and we’d been short-shunted and bustituted.
The train had been due in Penzance at 3:11pm. The line was shut until about an hour after that, but the bus got us there about the same time the line re-opened, so we probably ended up saving some time. As it was, the Train Manager had said we should be able to claim a refund on our tickets, so a few days later, I did just that. I haven’t actually had a response yet. (I don’t know how it works when the incident is outside the train company’s control.)
Update: On 14th September, GWR emailed me to say they’d be refunding us £60, by cheque. Will be interested to see if a cheque shows up in the mail.
From the bus station, we walked to hotel, just off the main drag, which curiously is called Market Jew Street. Apparently the name is a derivation of the Cornish Marghas Yow meaning Thursday Market.
The bloke on the hotel front desk asked “Where from Oz are you?” Melbourne – “Ah! I had a working holiday there, lived in Hawthorn for a while.” Small world.
(Few people in Australia say “Oz”, by the way. It appears to be particularly British slang for Australia.)
Across from the hotel was a shop full of various secondhand goods, and a Dalek in the window. Nice. (Weeks later, regular Doctor Who writer and actor Mark Gatiss would spot it too, and if you Google for Penzance Dalek, it looks like everyone who’s been through town has seen it.)
Nearby was a house marked with a non-blue plaque noting that the aunt and mother of the Brontë sisters had once lived there. History.
We headed down towards the sea to explore.
It wasn’t cold and it wasn’t raining, but the weather was more than a bit breezy. Powerful waves were hitting the coastline.
I was keen to look closely, but keener still to keep my feet dry, as in an attempt to pack light, I’d only brought one pair of shoes on the trip. As you may be able to hear from my exclamation, this was not entirely successful.
No pirates were obvious, but they wouldn’t be, would they?
Trivia from Wikipedia on The Pirates Of Penzance: The work’s title is a multi-layered joke. On the one hand, Penzance was a docile seaside resort in 1879, and not the place where one would expect to encounter pirates. On the other hand, the title was also a jab at the theatrical “pirates” who had staged unlicensed productions of H.M.S. Pinafore in America.
Apparently the lack of international copyright had caused problems for Pinafore.
Nowadays the locals seem enamoured of Poldark, which is filmed and set around Cornwall.
Other sights included a drydock, ship in situ, and various other shippy infrastructure which indicated it’s very much a working harbour.
After a long walk around, we ended up back in the middle of town, and decided to eat dinner at a pub we’d spotted – The Dolphin, by the water. Most delicious.
Then some more walking around before we headed back to the hotel.