ALP gone in WA – what now for Transperth?

Against all odds, it seems that the Liberals will form the next government of Western Australia. I’m no expert of WA politics by any stretch – but with the Liberals and ALP both holding 24 seats, and the Nationals with the balance, I can’t see how it’s going to go Labor’s way.

I’m no great fan of the Labor party generally, but there’s no doubt they did a damned good job in WA on public transport with Alannah MacTiernan as minister. Their policies have really lead to a true public transport renassance in Perth. How sad it is then, to see them replaced with these guys.

If the ALP can’t win the WA state election – where they have a proud record on public transport and have an opposition that kept that idiot Troy Buswell in for ages and ages; what hope do they have in a state like Victoria? Our forthcoming (2010) state election will be fought in large part on public transport issues – an area where the Victorian ALP have miserably failed – I honestly can’t see the ALP holding on in Victoria – and they don’t really deserve to either.

PS. Apologies for my blog absense of late, I’ve been pretty fatigued and was diagnosed with Coeliac Disease a couple of weeks ago. But recovery is easy so there should be a lot more posts from me in future.



Subterranean Homesick Blues

Paul Austin reports in today’s Age that Eddington’s “Paris Metro style”* rail tunnel is looking increasingly like becoming a reality. Apparently, “Some Labor Party strategists believe a commitment to a rail tunnel would help Mr Brumby to go to the 2010 election portraying himself as a man of the future with a low-carbon-emissions plan to cater for the transport needs of Melbourne’s rapidly growing population.” It’s now very clear that this tunnel will be used as a political solution to Melbourne’s public transport woes, something I’ve blogged on before. While some may that the reasons don’t matter – so long as it’s built – I say that unless such a project is done properly, it merely wastes huge sums of money and further ingrains existing poor operating practices.

In other news, there have been some strange developments in the way Melbourne University are teaching transport planning. I’m sure you all recall that the university got rid of Paul Mees for his constant criticism of government (well they demoted him, but I’m sure they knew he was so proud that such a course of action would lead him to resign). There was quite a bit of controversy at the time about the university getting too close to (and therefore unduly uncritical of) the state government, but I believed they just wanted to get rid of him for more personal reasons – and having taken a subject with him before I know how abrasive and difficult he can be.

But I’m coming to reconsider this view – there are signs that the university is actually getting more cosy with the government on transport planning issues. Take for instance the recent piece in The Age by Nick Low and Bill Russell (now Melbourne Uni’s most prominent transport academics) in which they strongly supported Eddington’s rail tunnel while admitting they hadn’t seen detailed reasoning as to why it was needed. Moreover, my eyebrows were raised this morning upon receipt of an email regarding one of Mees’ old subjects – Advanced Transport Planning. I’m taking the subject for a bit of fun (yes, what a nerd I am) and I was surprised to read that Mees’ replacement is “mostly … guest lectures (sic) drawn from industry”. It’s running as a five day intensive in September – I’ll report back on what transpires.

* One would think given Australians’ predilection for international travel, that someone in the media would have picked up on the fact that Eddington’s proposal isn’t anything like a metro at all. Apparently they haven’t.

Stuck Inside of Melbourne With The Metro Blues Again

Public submissions to the Eddington report have been released – some 2042 of them – and one wonders what effect (if any) they will have on the whole process. I doubt much of it will be read, let alone inform decision making within the government. But on a broader level, public pressure to improve public transport has become a key political issue for Brumby and co. and it’s likely that it will come to dominate the 2010 state election.

Intuitively, this seems to be a very positive step for public transport – but will it see better outcomes? Having sat on their hands for so long, it will be difficult for the state government to make meaningful improvements without the public complaining that those improvements should have been made 5 or 10 years beforehand. With potential political gains muted by a decade of inaction, the opportunity cost of spending that money on public transport becomes too high to bear.

On the other hand, the government may see fit to pour resources into public transport, as the apparently impending $20bn Eddington response suggests. But that’s also potentially problematic. The Ribbon-Cutting Effect, as detailed in Riccardo’s Training Track series is a key issue. There’s a real risk the current political pressure may result in a big new project, but the chances of investment occurring in the boring but necessary stuff are much slimmer. Just look at how the Dandenong triplication – arguably the rail centrepiece of Meeting our Transport Challenges, a plan that fell squarely into the boring but necessary category – has been quietly abandoned (not that the triplication was a sound idea but I digress). It is important to acknowledge that many boring but (to varying degrees) necessary track amplification works have been undertaken in Melbourne over the last half century – but what happened to the investment to actually run a decent service over the improved tracks? It never came.

Moreover, many of the problems in Melbourne’s public transport have come to be seen solely through the prism of the Eddington report, an inquiry that was never asked to investigate how best to improve Melbourne’s public transport, instead focussing solely on east-west congestion. I fear that Eddington’s public transport recommendations will be taken as the complete solution to Melbourne’s transport woes, leaving many necessary improvements out in the cold for another few decades. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.

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?

The Eddington Strikes Back

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.

Alternatives to Eddington Part 1B – Western Suburbs Service Standard

I’ve noticed that in my recent post on alternatives to Eddington’s plan that I failed to have a good look at the service standard for the western lines. The need for a better service standard was the key reason for the works I was proposing, but for some strange reason I neglected to spell them out properly.

My views on service frequency have changed somewhat over the last few months. If you’d asked me 6 months ago what I thought the service level on Northern Group lines should be, I would have said that 6 trains per hour would be an acceptable off-peak frequency, with the exception of Williamstown with 5 tph. However, the more of Riccardo’s blog I read, the more convinced I am that at train every 10 minutes may not be enough for the busy lines. Below is what I’ve been thinking about for the western suburbs.

I’m not entirely happy with the result – I still don’t know what do to about services to Melton and Sunbury. If the northern loop can take 22 tph, and Craigieburn is taking up 10 tph, then there’s 12 tph available to Sunshine, and 6 tph towards Melton and Sunbury. If electrification were to occur to Melton and Sunbury, I’d run 6 tph to Sydenham and Ravenhall, and maybe only 2-3 tph beyond that to Melton and Sunbury. I’m hoping a S-Bahn frequency Ravenhall line would take some pressure off Sydenham-Sunshine. Here’s what I’m thinking of:

I just don’t know whether 6 tph is going to be good enough between Sydenham and Sunshine, or whether simplicity of operation alone justifies electrifying all the way to Melton if it stays a satellite town. I’d be really interested to hear some alternatives. Riccardo’s GO Transit style alternative has a lot of merit, and it’s another 16.5 kilometres from Ravenhall to Melton, so electrification could be costly and the line probably wants duplication as well.

I sense everyone is getting a bit sick of Eddington, so next post I promise I’ll look into something more interesting – I was thinking rail to Chadstone and Monash.

Alternatives to Eddington Part 1 – Western Suburbs Options

The recently released Eddingtion report is proposing a lot of new rail infrastructure. Whilst new money for rail infrastructure is most welcome, parts of the project seem poorly thought out. For some background on the potential pitfalls, have a look at my post on the topic and Riccardo’s summary of the problems.

It’s all very well for me to get stuck into Eddington for his general wackiness, but there is a need to invest in new infrastructure to increase capacity and provide service to new areas. So I’m going to have a look at what I’d do if the government signed off on the sort of spending Eddington wants for rail, but gave me the cheque instead. I’m going to split it into two posts – in this one, I’m going to look at alternative capacity improvements in the western suburbs, and in the next I’ll look at the north-south tunnel and better ways to deal with eastern suburbs capacity issues.

The problems in the western suburbs are twofold. Firstly, metropolitan trains are getting delayed by (and delaying) path hungry V/Line trains – an issue which has become more prevalent since the (most welcome) expansion of V/Line services. Secondly, metropolitan services are tangled up by infrastructure (single track, lack of flyovers and a lack of segregation between separate lines) and timetabling constraints and are delaying each other. The improvements I’m proposing are designed specifically to address these problems.

I’ve asked a lot more questions than I’ve answered in this post, and if you think the specifics of my plan won’t work – don’t hesitate to let me know!

Directly below are some diagrams, They show the Eddington plan (from p.40 of the DoI’s EWLNA analysis on rail capacity) followed by my plan in both track diagram and aerial photo form.

Sunshine corridor freight tracks upgrade

Eddington wants another two tracks to Sunshine to segregate metropolitan and V/Line services. My view is that, while this is good, perhaps the corridor could be considered more holistically. Freight is also part of the equation, and the dual gauge freight line suffers from long single track sections. Why not try to fix both problems at once as well as solving the North Melbourne issue?

Exactly what Eddington and the DoI want to do with North Melbourne doesn’t seem clear. Page 32 of the DoI’s report shows platforms 1 and 2 reserved for V/Line and Upfield alone, Werribee running through the loop and Craigieburn running direct. Yet they leave open the prospect of Craigieburn continuing through the loop and Werribee running direct. The map on page 41 shows the latter option. While the first option would be manageable, the second would be problematic.

In my plan, getting the line up to scratch where it parallels the Sydenham line is the easy part – it needs about 5 kilometres of Duplication between Sunshine and South Dynon junction. I believe that the ARTC are upgrading the line anyway so costs could potentially be split. The main cost will come from the works at Sunshine and North Melbourne.

At Sunshine, the whole lot needs to be knocked down and rebuilt with 4 platforms. I’m not exactly sure how to do this though – given the need for several flyovers.

At the city end, even more work is required. The line would run via existing tracks through North Dynon (these would conversion to dual gauge as I’m assuming the North East will go SG soon) and would be served by two new platforms at North Melbourne. The line needs to cross the metropolitan tracks to get to the Southern Cross terminus tracks and is in rather close proximity to the existing flyover. This means that the new platforms would need to be built to the north of the existing North Melbourne platforms to connect with the (substantially modified ) existing flyover, or the whole flyover would have to be rebuilt to the south. Both of these options would be expensive – but North Melbourne is a big problem at present and something needs to be done.

Over Dudley St., the easternmost two tracks would carry V/Line only, the middle two tracks Craigieburn and Sunshine loop services, and the western two tracks direct Laverton and Williamstown trains. The existing freight only tracks could be used for V/Line trains into the newly built platforms 15/16 at Southern Cross.


– Will the double track line be able to handle Ballarat, Bendigo and North East trains as well as the freights? My feeling is that it should if signalled properly. Potential areas of concern are around Tottenham and South Dynon, but cooperation with freight operators and the ARTC, combined with flyovers if required should go some way to solving these problems.

– Should V/Line stop at North Melbourne at all? If the loop running patterns were altered such that Caulfield and Clifton Hill ran clockwise all day, and Burnley and Northern anti-clockwise – as shown below – North Melbourne loses it’s importance as a V/Line/loop interchange. In the morning, V/Line passengers could alight at Southern cross and change to a Caulfield or Clifton Hill loop train, and in the evening, they could catch a Burnley loop train to get back to Southern Cross. This is a much better layout than operates at present. Eliminating V/Line stopping at North Melbourne would substantially reduce the cost of these works as no new platforms would be needed and the flyover would require less modification. It’s an idea that many will no doubt find controversial, but it’s not that crazy if you think about it.

Fishermans Bend line

Werribee is getting messy too, with a poor level of metropolitan service (in both relative and absolute terms) and problems with Geelong line services. The announcement that peak hour Werribee trains would run direct to Flinders St. during peak was a welcome step, but it doesn’t address the issue of poor service standard stemming from interaction with V/Line trains and the single track through Altona.

Eddington wants to build a line through Tarneit to take Geelong trains off the Werribee line, but at a supposed cost of $1.5 billion. How it could be so much is beyond me – Perth just built a 70km line to Mandurah with enough trains to operate the line for only $1 billion. Furthermore, ZH836301 pointed out on Railpage that Geelong trains taking this line would need to maintain an average speed of 115kph all the way to Footscray just to keep existing travel times. Clearly the line is completely mad.

Several people have suggested building a line from Newport to Southern Cross instead. I think this is by far the best idea – it speeds up both Geelong and Werribee services and reduces pressure on North Melbourne and Footscray. Under my plan, Werribee services would run express from Laverton to Newport, thence to Southern Cross. The existing line would be used for stoppers to Williamstown and Laverton via Altona, and would be through routed with Sandringham.


Should the new line be deep level tunnel through Fishermans Bend, or will surface tracks beside the freeway suffice? If turning Fishermans Bend into high density residential becomes a reality, surface tracks beside the freeway could simply be decked over along with the freeway.

– Is the mud under the Yarra stable enough for a tunnel? My understanding is that the geology of the area precluded the West Gate from being built as a tunnel – has technology advanced sufficiently to make this plan workable?

Sunbury and Melton electrification

I included electrification to both Sunbury and Melton as part of the plan, but since I looked into it in these two posts, I’ve wavered somewhat. Electrification works well for high frequency metropolitan services, and in Melbourne, it tends to cause further urban sprawl. I’d rather that Sunbury and Melton functioned as satellite towns rather than suburbs – so perhaps electrification is not the way to go. I could be convinced either way on this issue.


Is electrification to Sunbury and Melton a good idea if we don’t want further sprawl out that way?

Some of the measures I’m proposing are fairly well known (Like building a line through Fishermans Bend), but others (like merging V/line and interstate freight) are not so common. Perhaps there’s a reason no-one’s suggested some of them (like they’re really bad!), so I’m very interested to hear your views. Below is what the Western Suburbs would look like to passengers if I had my way.