Back of the envelope calculations – Melbourne trains vs Melbourne trams vs Berlin

I’ve been looking at the patronage figures and network size for the Melbourne train and tram systems. Metropolitan rail in Melbourne covers 372km carries 178.6 million passengers per year (slightly higher than the 170 million I previously believed it to be). Trams in Melbourne cover 245km and carry just over 150 million passengers per year. Of course, it would be somewhat unfair to directly compare them, because they are imperfect substitutes (trains are faster, trains are bigger, trams have more stops per km etc.) – but I’m going to do it anyway.

So let’s look at passengers per kilometre – it’s 480 107.5 for Melbourne’s trains, and 612 244.9 for Melbourne’s trams. The trams come out in front by quite a way, but there’s lots of variables that make it difficult to draw anything from this. I would note though, that trams in Melbourne run much more frequently than Melbourne trains.

Interestingly though, the Berlin S-Bahn is about the same size as Melbourne’s rail system – it is 331km long, has slightly fewer stations (165) and serves a city of broadly similar size. Yet it manages to attract 375.8 million passengers per year, or 1 135 347.4 passengers per kilometre per year (lots more than the 480 107.5 figure for Melbourne). Granted, the rail fleet is much bigger, but it does show what can be done in cities of similar size with similar style systems that run a more frequent service.

As a side note, the Berlin Straßenbahn is 187.7km long and carries 171.3 million passengers That’s 912 626.5 passengers per kilometre per year – there’s not a monstrous gap between that and the 612 244.9 figure for Melbourne’s trams.

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10 Responses

  1. You fill me with gladness and light as usual, Phin.

  2. Surely the population density of Berlin is far, far higher than that of Melbourne.

  3. Here we are – according to wikipedia, almost 7 times the density and more than 1.5 times the metro population.

    As long as we’re all living in two storey houses and terraces from our inner suburbs outwards, we’ll never have PT that good.

  4. One needs to be careful, Leon, when looking at density figures. Australia is somewhat unique in that it does the statistics for its cities by looking at total metropolitan area. The ABS Melbourne Statistical area includes large areas of farmland around Melbourne, not to mention the outer suburbs.

    Overseas, however, it is very rare to get stats on the entire conurbation. Rather, the density figure you’ve found for Berlin is probably looking at the inner city and may very well not include the outer suburbs in the Berlin-Brandenburg metro area, which are less dense.

    The bottom line is basically that one can’t easily compare Australian density figures with those of overseas cities because the methodology is very different.

    Beyond that however, the big costs in running a public transport system are capital and maintenance costs. Melbourne already has a massive amount of physical infrastructure that is under-utilised off-peak, and these costs are more or less fixed. I’d argue that Berlin’s S-bahn is successful not because the population density is higher, but because it provides frequent enough services to be a alternative to the car beyond peak hour city commuting.

  5. Re comparative density, Mees book does a good deal on this.

    Your caveats are sound and there are more – for example he points out that a North Fitzroy terrace might have 1-2 people in it, but a Narre Warren McMansion might have 5 or 6 people – although many will be children and do they count in PT debates?

    Area maps pick up the fringe rural districts that surround population centres, and Melbourne would have more of that than Berlin in the same space. For example, if you did a 25km2 grid around Cranbong, it would still include a lot of undeveloped land.

    I agree with your conclusion, also from my experience. I once stayed at a tiny town in Northern Japan, and had to stand on the train I caught because of hundreds of locals, including many students, caught it. Because it had a good service, not because of density.

    Stand at North Richmond any afternoon, you might get a handful of passengers, yet the area is high density by Melbourne standards, with high rise towers and small blocks. Yet people fight over the few parking spots on Victoria St.

  6. Hi Riccardo, I haven’t read Mees’ book, although I did do a subject at university with him last year – mainly to try and understand the man. As is always the case with Mees, he makes some good arguments but they often get drowned out by the stubbornness.

    For example, he spends a lot of time talking about how good Toronto is even though they have low density. However, when I asked about problems with GO transit, he wasn’t prepared to accept that parts of the Toronto metropolitan area not served by the TTC may have transport just as bad as Melbourne’s outer suburbs. That’s just one of many (often petty) arguments I had with Mees.

    You make a good point about North Richmond, it’s close to the city in a densely populated suburb and has good interchange connections (the 109), yet gets virtually no patronage. Nobody is going to wait up to 20 minutes for a train when the 109 comes at least every 8 minutes – they’ll just catch the tram or drive.

  7. Interesting points about Toronto. When I was there I saw both, staying in GO territory but getting a lift to Finch station, the last TTC subway station.

    You’re right, but the point I would make is the GO service is not bad for an interurban service (and you might characterise some of its Lakeshore destinations as that) but pretty bad for a suburban service, hence the vast numbers who drive.

    It would be like for Melbourne, having the Sunbury/Melton problem right round – with electrics running to Box Hill but less than adequate diesels to Lilydale and Belgrave, same with Moorabbin and Newport, get the picture.

    I love the Bi-levels though, and for interurban service they are wonderful things. They would definitely make the Sunburghers/Meltonites drool.

  8. Did you see my posts on Mees? http://railhobbies.blogspot.com/2007/09/mees-why-do-railpage-contributors-get.html

    and the Pakenham one.

    Mees dug his heels in, in that case when it wasn’t wanted – Connex roasted him. He should not have said in the current context that fast Pakenhams can overtake at Oakleigh- it sounded too cocky. I’m sure he’s right, but I don’t have to say it in a public environment.

    It only takes Angelico or an insider to say that he’s wrong by 30 seconds, the Up Pakenham is still sitting at some stick near Clayton and couldn’t possibly get there in time, and his whole argument crumbles.

    Better to get your positions checked out by technical experts – this is where the PTUA (he used to lead, but Bowen and Vernon felt the same way) also goes wrong. It is the boundary between community activism and public advocacy, and you have to right but humble.

    As I also said in my post, Mees ran the danger of “ossifying” Toronto by suggesting they had done it so right, nothing needed to change. The subway lines did need extending, but he runs such a convincing line about how good buses are, if you were a Toronto politician, you might think the subway extensions weren’t necessary.

    I obviously don’t think he has any influence over Toronto politics, but clearly local governments have baulked at the cost of extending the subway, and will grasp at arguments like his to justify their position. Not a good look for rail.

  9. Just read it then – spot on. Whilst Mees has his fair share of flaws and wacky ideas, at least he has dissenting views. There seems to be a group of Mees haters who think that none of his ideas will work and that the current government is doing a good job. I can’t put my finger on what it is, but I think a big part of it is that if you already enjoy public transport as an end rather than a means, it’s sometimes difficult to see the problems that make it inconvenient for everyone else.

    That said, his lack of technical understanding can be frustrating. Running two-tier services to Dandenong sensible policy, it’s just that Mees didn’t realise that it still needed investment. At least a set of flyovers at Caulfield would have been needed for it to work properly.

  10. Too late, she cried!
    Melbourne’s pop’n is by now greater than Berlin.
    The PT here in Berlin is well used safe and well maintained.
    Also completely under – overground. Think-no level crossings and no disruption to traffic, regardless of whether the services run every two minutes.
    Berlin had a pop’n of 4 million in the 1920s, people.
    That’s when these underground projects were built.

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