Sorry about my blog absence of late – I’m in the middle of exams at the moment so haven’t had much time for anything interesting. I saw an article by Melissa Fyfe that appeared in the Sunday Age a couple of days back and it reminded me (as did Tom) that I never finished my Alternatives to Eddington series from a few months ago. The article suggests that Eddington (and the government’s forthcoming $20bn response) puts us on the brink of a transport revolution in Melbourne. For as long as I can remember, Melbourne has been on the brink of some kind of transport revolution – it just never seems to actually happen.
Cynicism aside, I was going to wrap up the Eddington series with a look at the prospects for a north south rail tunnel, but I’d already looked at the issue pre-Eddington and my ideas hadn’t changed. Moreover, we had some good discussion on the issues here, here, here and here; and Riccardo did a great series of posts on improving capacity on the Pakenham line. Recently though, I’ve been considering something more radical – getting rid of the city loop altogether.
Getting rid of the City Loop?
Although it is admired by many, the fundamental concept of a loop railway is flawed. For a detailed look at the substantial problems with the city loop, I recommend reading RIccardo’s excellent analysis of the issue. While critical of the merits of the loop, I’ve only ever seriously considered tinkering around the edges (by increasing through routing, making the loop unidirectional etc.) But ultimately the loop infrastructure is a sunk cost (pun very much intended), and we should look very carefully at what is most efficient now, rather than accepting existing operating practices at face value.
I’d never advocate closing the loop stations – that would be a terrible waste – but perhaps there is an argument to be made for substantial redesign. Instead of going around the city, the tunnels could be reconfigured to operate as a through route – with trains going from Richmond to North Melbourne and beyond without ever passing through Flinders St. This would require substantial redesign of the loop portals and would cost quite a lot of money, but it provides a potentially higher capacity and more efficient use of city rail infrastructure, allowing for a better range of trips and making the rail system useful for more than peak hour long haul commuting. A speculative plan of what I’m talking about is shown below:
As you can see, North Melbourne and Richmond become even more important for changing trains – for such a scheme to work properly both stations would need to employ effective cross platform interchange, which would require more flyovers. Of course for the plan to work all lines would need to operate at high frequency so that interchange wait times were as small as possible (not more than a minute or two on average).
Importantly, the link allows the north south rail line to operate independently of the rest of the network – a feature not present in the Eddington report. Furthermore, it makes the loop tunnels operate more efficiently than they are at present. Sadly, political considerations make it difficult – politicians seem obsessed with single seat journeys and bureaucrats seem to favour existing operating practices over new ones which suggest they had been wrong in the past. Still, with oil prices going nowhere but up, perhaps the transport revolution might eventually happen…
Once exams are finished I’ll finish the whole network map based on these ideas and should get it uploaded as a pdf soon.
UPDATE – To better show the broader plan I’m advocating, I’m uploading the whole map, available here. Apologies to Harry Beck. Keep in mind it’s only about half finished – I should have it done by Tomorrow or Thursday.
UPDATE 2 – I’ve got the map finished, it’s available here.
UPDATE 3 – As requested by James, I’ve made another version of the map showing new and existing lines. It’s available here.