8 minutes to Southland

After many years of waiting, Southland station finally opened this morning, with an official ribbon cutting, attended by Minister for Public Transport Jacinta Allan, MP for Bentleigh Nick Staikos, MP for Mordialloc Tim Richardson, and PTV head Jeroen Weimar.

Despite the rain, there was a pretty big crowd, come to have a sticky-beak and/or just do some shopping. Freebie snags and coffee and cupcakes were on offer.

Cupcake to mark the Southland Station opening

Protest against parking fees adjacent to Southland Station

Also greeting passengers was a union protest about car parking fees imposed by Westfield on shop staff. They’ll now have to pay $5 a day to park at the centre. Of course, some might be able to use the train now, but that’s unlikely to be an option for all of them.

Westfield needed to do something to prevent train users parking all day adjacent to the station. They chose to impose parking fees, implemented with pay stations and automatic gates. What they could have done was simply impose a 4 hour limit on the car parks on the western side of the highway (eg near the station), while leaving the other spots alone.

Lower profile, sitting in the car park during the opening event was a Vix van — no doubt to quickly respond if any of the Myki equipment broke down during the first hours of operation. It seemed to all work fine.

Just in case the Myki equipment fails: a Vix van at the Southland Station opening day

The new station

The outbound platform is accessed by a ramp.

This platform has PSO facilities and toilets — Exceloos are built into the structure, which might be a first for a Melbourne railway station. (McKinnon has something similar as part of the building, but this is managed by the local council, and is outside the paid area of the station.)

Southland Station outbound platform

The citybound platform is reached via a subway and either ramps or stairs. Both platforms have the new fast Myki readers, and LCD screens showing the next three trains.

Both platforms have rain cover, though on the outbound platform it’s nowhere near the entrance.

Southland Station on opening day

The entrance to the station has a network status screen, a pay phone (remember them?) and a Myki machine. The rather grand high entrance portico thingy doesn’t provide any shelter — the Myki machine was noticeably wet.

Myki machine at Southland Station

At least the entrance catches the eye when you’re looking for it coming out of the centre, which is about 100 metres away across the car park.

Southland Station on opening day

Fencing and signage (curiously in the style of station signs) direct people which way to go to the centre or to Bay Road. It was notable that some people were seen walking entirely the wrong way towards the centre, but that may have been because special event facilities were obscuring the way.

Signage at Southland Station

While it’s good that Westfield has provided a fairly direct path, they haven’t done a good job on the drainage. The rain this morning resulted in parts of it having huge puddles.

Access path from Southland Station to the centre - needs some drainage work

As far as I saw, there is no departure information at the shopping centre exit or the station entrance, so you’ll need to use the PTV phone app to tell if you need to hurry or not to make a train.

Given advances in real-time information, if Westfield were clever, they’d provide a screen with train departure info near the exit closest to the station, and another with bus departure information at the escalator down to the bus interchange. I’m sure they’d prefer people keep shopping than go and wait on a bench.

It’s a fair hike to the bus interchange, but most of the bus routes connect to the Frankston line at other stations.

Outbound train arrives at Southland Station on opening day

Services

The Frankston line has trains every ten minutes, 7 days-a-week for much of the day.

(The longest lines have the highest 7-day frequency. Long lines = more stations = more people = need higher frequency trains to service them. But it would be good to see this spread to more lines to encourage train use).

So unlike the buses that serve Southland, there’s actually a good service on the busiest days, the weekends.

And the beauty of a new station like this is that, being halfway along the line, it can be heavily used but not cause crowding issues for peak hour trains, as most of the demand will be off-peak and counter-peak, and not hit crowding hotspots closer to the city.

A citybound train arrives at Southland Station

Travel time

The opening of the station has made public transport a lot more competitive with car travel.

Timed from any of the stations along the line, it’s faster to get to Southland by train than by car — except Moorabbin, which is the same. This is thanks to the direct route of the train.

(Train times using weekend train timetable. Car times are of course highly variable; these are using average of Google estimated time range, for 2pm Sunday.)

Train users have to get to the station. But motorists will have to find a car park (particularly tricky/time-consuming on weekends).

A citybound train departs Southland Station

For people along the Frankston line, opening of the station has probably cut the trip to Southland by public transport by about 15 minutes, and made the journey much easier and more intuitive.

Of course people don’t live in railway stations. But in many suburbs there is increasing housing immediately around the stations. Upgrades like this, which make trips more viable without a car, over time will help encourage more people to get around without driving.

Even for me, about ten minutes walk from the station, it’s competitive, especially on weekends when the traffic around the centre is horrible.

It’s taken a while, but it’s great the station is open.

PS: Update 7:15pm. Perhaps the most unexpected reaction to the station opening:

Southland station, about to open – at last!

Southland station is almost here — it’s scheduled to open on November 26th. At last!

The centre has been getting ready

Importantly, a more direct pedestrian path, including zebra crossings, has been provided from the centre entrance to the railway station. Bravo!

Pedestrian path from Southland shopping centre to new station

Wayfinding signage inside the centre already points the way to the station.

Southland shopping centre, sign pointing to station

Paid parking (if you stay beyond 3 hours) was introduced a couple of weeks ago to prevent park and ride users filling the customer car park.

There’s still some understandable grumpiness about the impact on staff, being charged $5 per day. Some appear to have taken to parking in nearby streets outside the centre, such as along Nepean Highway and in the William Fry reserve car park.

Parking on the Nepean Highway near Southland

A short summary of the long history of Southland station

1880s – the Frankston line was opened in 1881-1882. A station was proposed at Bay Road quite early on, but not pursued

1968 – Southland Shopping Centre opened, though the original centre was on the eastern side of the Nepean Highway, and not particularly near to the railway line

1999 – New shops adjacent the railway line, and a bridge across the highway opened. Owners Westfield had proposed a station, but were knocked back by the Public Transport Corporation

2004 – State government runs a “pre-feasibility study” – that was the kind of level of commitment back then. Not even a proper feasibility study.

2010 – However somewhere in the background, things must have progressed a bit, because both Labor and the Coalition promise to build the station going into the November state election.

Labor’s version included moving the bus interchange, and was to cost $45 million. The Coalition’s $13 million pledge excluded work on the bus interchange. Ideal? Perhaps not, but almost every bus route connects with the railway line at other locations, so not really a biggie.

The Coalition won the 2010 election, but there was little visible action for some years. By late-2012, it was obvious the project wouldn’t be completed in the 2010-2014 term, which in retrospect looks to have been a huge tactical error. If you’re trying to retain marginal seats, it obviously helps if you can show you’ve funded and completed beneficial projects.

2013 – Coalition funds the station, with construction to commence in 2015, opening in 2016. Around this time, forecasts emerged of around 4400 passengers per day — which if reached would make it one of the busiest stations on the line.

(Around this time, an FOI on the station revealed planning was underway for all-night trains on weekends. This eventually got pledged by Labor in the 2014 election, and delivered in 2016 as Night Network.)

2014 – Cost revealed as $21 million, still aiming at 2016 completion

2015 – Following Labor’s win in the 2014 election, they reviewed the project, and included public consultation on issues such as toilets and whether the station should have an entrance from neighbouring Tulip Grove — locals decided not. Cleverly, PTV snapped-up a property on the street when it became available for sale, and used it for construction, and it will be future provision for an entrance. This delayed the opening to 2017.

2016 – Construction got underway in a serious way. By November the pedestrian subway had been built.

2017 – Construction has pushed ahead, and from August 2017 a timetable revision included allowance for serving the station.

In the past few weeks, Southland has started appearing on Passenger Information Displays and being announced – as the only station that trains aren’t stopping at!

How do people get to Southland now?

Mostly by car, which on busy days can involve a lot of hunting around for a car space. Apparently this has improved a bit on weekdays since paid parking, but from what I saw on Saturday, is still an issue on weekends.

Or you could get the bus. Buses are so infrequent on weekends (the busiest days) that from nearby suburbs it can be quicker to walk.

They are also so infrequent on weekends that it’s not uncommon to see the bus interchange completely devoid of buses.

Southland bus interchange, Saturday morning

Or you could walk from Cheltenham station. You’ve likely already walked to catch a train at the other end of the trip, and then it’s about a 15 minute walk to Southland, most of which is not under cover.

Walking from Cheltenham station to Southland shopping centre

(Note the size of the road sign for Nepean Highway compared to the pedestrian. Has anybody ever studied the impact of these signs on the walking environment?)

If you want the main section (on the eastern side of the highway) you’ll face pedestrian-hostile traffic lights to cross up to eight lanes of traffic (plus service roads). Some people don’t even use the traffic lights, instead crossing mid-block — not something I’d recommend.

Outside Southland shopping centre

Or you could ride your bike. Nepean Highway has service lanes which are better for nervous cyclists than the main traffic lanes. But few of the east-west roads have bike lanes. And it appears the cyclist parking is inadequate — when I went past, it was all filled up.

Insufficient bicycle parking at Southland

These conditions are precisely why a station makes so much sense.

When precisely does the station open?

The official PTV notice says:

You’ll be able to start using the station from the first service on Sunday 26 November 2017.

So, what’s the first service on a Sunday, given the all-night trains on weekends?

In the world of public transport, the end of the day is 3am. The timetables tick over; so does Myki (the 2-hour fares lasting all night after 6pm ends at 3am).

A look at the Frankston line timetables also indicates that the first trains serve the station after 3am on Sunday morning: 3:41am Frankston-bound, and 4:12am citybound (the train one hour earlier starts its journey at 2:44am, so is considered to be on Saturday night).

Edit: Turns out this is wrong because overnight there will be train replacement buses running. So the first train will be at 6:41 (outbound) or 7:12 (citybound).

A more civilised time to go and look than 3:41am (or even 6:41am) might be after 9:30am.

Join us on Sunday 26 November 2017 to celebrate the opening of Southland Station.

Be amongst the first to experience the new station and enjoy a free coffee and BBQ breakfast in the station forecourt, between 9.30am and 11.30am.

I’ve waited a long time for this. It’ll be great to see it open.

PS. If you’re wondering about the station code

…An insider tells me it is indeed SOU.

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.

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.

After years of inaction, great to see progress on Southland station

Last week on Facebook the Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan published this great photo (along with a couple of others) from Southland Station under construction:

Southland station under construction

Over the weekend of 5-6 November when the Frankston line was closed, they put the pedestrian subway into place.

On Facebook the doubters continue to… well, doubt the usefulness of the station, to which I will say (at the risk of repeating myself):

  • Walking from Cheltenham station is too far for most people to want to do. If they’ve already had to get to their origin station, they don’t want another 15 minute walk to Southland.
  • Almost all the buses from Cheltenham (and other connecting stations) are either hopelessly infrequent (especially on weekends), or depart from a myriad of stops, or both. It’s even worse coming back, as only a severe bus nerd would be able to memorise which bus routes go to the station.
  • The government is right not to spend up big trying to provide commuter parking. Just like somewhere such as South Yarra, it’s a destination, with walk-up access in there as a bonus.
  • Many (most?) trips to shopping centres don’t result in people buying more shopping than they can carry (though some enterprising people do take home furniture, televisions and other big items on public transport). In fact a lot of journeys are for service-based spending, such as going to the cinema, banks, appointments.

Anyway, I took a look on Sunday. After so many years of inaction, it’s great to see solid progress on this project.

Southland station under construction November 2016

They seem to be making good use of the property in neighbouring Tulip Grove that was snapped up when it came up for sale, using it for construction access. It probably makes sense for it to provide another station entrance (as well as better access into the shopping centre) for locals, with parking restrictions to prevent park and ride commuters using it — but I guess it’s fair enough to get community views on this.

Southland station under construction November 2016

Some have observed that the station will be pretty bare bones. This impression posted on Facebook by Member for Bentleigh Nick Staikos shows the design. What even is the point of that thing above the entrance?

Plan for Southland Station

It certainly appears the pedestrian access into the centre itself will be less then ideal. (Source: PTV)

Southland station - overarching design (PTV)

But, hey, salami tactics. Just getting the station is the big step forward. Improved access is something to lobby for next.

If Westfield are smart, they’ll move to remodel parts of the car park to provide a more direct pedestrian path. And in the long term I wouldn’t be surprised if they extend the centre building out to meet the station.

Station construction work is likely to continue until December, then take a break over the busy Christmas shopping period, then resume next year, with PTV saying the station due to open in 2017.