Paul Mees in today’s Age

I see that Paul Mees has an anti rail tunnel article in today’s Sunday Age. It’s typical Mees fare – he seems to get half way there in his claim that the Loop (defined in a broader sense of the inner city rail system) was built to handle more trains than it gets today, and that there’s scope for squeezing more capacity out of the system. But then he goes and wrecks it all by failing to realise (and convey) that lots of little infrastructure improvements (like flyovers etc.) are necessary to get to this point – the same mistake he made with his Dandenong line paper.

What I find most strange is that he berates the new rail tunnel as an “excuse for doing nothing else for a decade”, but then he only proposes minor alternatives – namely taking crew changes away from Flinders street and reconfiguring carriage seating. Don’t get me wrong, I think that there’s plenty of valid criticism of the new tunnel (although I’d love to see north-south rail, albeit in a different form), and changing seat configuration and changing crews at suburban termini are very useful reforms; but you can’t ridicule DoT for doing nothing and then propose only slightly more than nothing yourself. If Melbourne wants a large scale modal shift to public transport, we’re going to need a lot of targeted infrastructure investment in both outer-suburban commuter rail and inner city metro as well as cultural reform.

I have a question regarding Mees’ article – he claims the loop cost $5 billion in current dollars. But I seem to remember reading that it cost about $350 million or so at the time. If we index that from say 1980 to now, it’s still only just under $1.2 billion. Have I got the wrong numbers here or has Mees exaggerated the cost by over four times?


5 Responses

  1. The only projects that are really important on the Dandenong lines are flyovers before Richmond and after Caulfield and, re-signaling between the two flyovers to up-up-down-down instead of up-down-up-down (although this may be difficult due to the curves at some of the platforms (there are co-acting signals for the Dandenong up trains at Malvern and Hawksburn)) and duplication Between Dandenong and Cranbourne.

  2. Tom, hard to say that any extra trackage between Caulfield and Dandenong is not “really important” if you want to run a proper two-tier service or even just have V/Line and freight services sharing the same tracks as present, especially compared to something like a 15km duplication to Cranbourne which doesn’t benefit all that many people.

  3. If I can buy into the above discussion – there are any number of improvements you could do to the Dandy line – but how many do you need to provide a service standard? If you want 10 trains an hour, one every 6 minutes, I’ve shown you can get all the way to Pakenham including expresses (subbies, Vline and freight)


    you need the following:

    -trackage at Westall/Springvale to support long overtaking moves (now in the budget after Riccardo’s prophesy)

    -similar arrangement at Dandenong/General Motors, probably using some siding trackage

    and therefore

    -more sidings elsewhere


    terminating roads at Dandenong, Pakenham and probably Westall


    -a damned good cleanup of every turnout, signal and piece of track to make sure it’s fast, reliable and accommodates train moves in all directions


    -extra platforms at Westall, Dandenong, Pakenham, Caulfield and probably Oakleigh as well in case trains go round the bend from time to time


    -fix up the Richmond/FSS/SXS complex at the same time to take all these extra trains, reinstate platform 11, fix up the platforms under Swanston St etc


    -might as well throw in a 9 car-ification of the line while you’re there

    Now I haven’t costed this lot (maybe Phin might!) but I suspect the entire shopping list is cheaper than the tunnel and stuff.

    Beyond the expenditure there is also a complete cleanout of management, culture and so on.

    Re Phin’s post, again excellent and on the money. I agree with Mees points but not his approach.

    I worry if I went public I could end up like Mees, so I don’t. You can’t shoot off at the mouth all the time. No one buys that no spending is required on PT, even I would suggest plenty should be spent, but it needs to be around getting the operation reliable again, so that it can take the high frequencies without falling over all the time.

    There WAS a golden age of high frequency rail. I don’t think it matters whether it was an inner-suburban only operation – I’m sure our forebears would have got it reliable for the outer burbs too if asked.

    But they did the basics: maintenance, keeping sidings just for passing or shunting manoeuvres, had signalmen on their toes pulling levers at high speed to keep the trains moving. Didn’t need computer monitors, had dozens of signal boxes with good views, levers and frames and cables and bells going ding ding and they knew the codes.

    Had station staff to stop the punters trying to delay the trains (they used to shut the platform gates). Station staff to police the revenue and tickets set at high enough prices, that the system didn’t lose such vast sums of money. So vast now that Treasury starts dictating stupid ideas, like getting rid of station staff.

    Freights were refuged because they had refuges. Could park a freight at Westall or Caulfield or Ringwood or Clifton Hill or Mordy centre roads while the pass trains went past.

    It wasn’t a golden age of railways, but it was a golden age of common sense.

  4. I should make the point too – the ‘damned good cleanup’ I suggested in the previous post is much closer to the ‘fix deferred maintenance’ end of the continuum than to the ‘major capital upgrade’ end.

    Really it is about equipment, fit for purpose, installed to the same specs of reliability and capacity as a 200km/h German mainline railway (but not the Neubahnstrecke which requires even higher standards).

    If you used and maintained their stuff, the way they do, it would be no different from over there. Trains could do 200km/h through Noble Park – because if we bought everything they have, off the shelf, there’s nothing different between their stuff and ours.

    But no, we set our bar lower, and what we have is all we get.

    I suspect the Loop is being exaggerated in cost by Mees but who knows. I am no fan of the thing as it is nows (note: for the record, I am definitely a fan of having underground railway stations under Spring and Latrobe Streets, just not a fan of the loop concept).

    Re Tom’s request for duplication from Dandenong and Cranbourne – fine, but just don’t argue its merits for improving Dandenong line reliability – you could get that tomorrow for nothing if you made all the services shuttles with non-guaranteed connections.

    I’m not sure I would ever support running Cranbourne and Pakenham trains together until a very major cultural shift is seen – something like I saw in the very smooth Meitetsu operation in Nagoya where they had 5 or 6 branchlines with same-seat services off a trunk line – and no delays.

    See Pakenham isn’t the end of the line – it goes to Traralgon and Bairnsdale and so has unreliability from that source which Cranbourne doesn’t.

    A controller might be able to keep a turn-up-and-go service out of Pakenham on track by juggling late running Gippsland trains around a bit – but adding Cranbourne services on the same track is asking for trouble.

  5. Sorry for the late reply on this one.

    I think you sum it up well Riccardo – the service standard required should dictate the type of infrastructure provided. Not doing so is a waste of money. Also, enjoyed your discussion of the old VR – I’m far too young to have experienced it (good and bad), but it shows how culture has such an impact on what you can run on the infrastructure.

    Somebody, agree that duplicating Cranbourne shouldn’t be high on the list. Not saying it should ever be done, but what sort of service standard should be provided for the line? I like Riccardo’s idea of running it as a shuttle too.

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