Branding in Melbourne

The presentation of a public transport system to the public is of great importance. Branding of a system, when done well, comes to not only symbolise the the system, but the city as a whole (as we’ve seen with London and the tube). Although the branding of any given system will only be as good as the system itself, I think it’s wrong to see it as merely a side issue or gunzel fantasy. It’s important to look at recent Melbourne experience with branding and system image, the costs and benefits of change, and how it could be achieved…

This post is published in full at Transport Textbook.

Prospects for Proper Light Rail in Melbourne

I had actually started this post with the intention of discussing tram priority measures in Melbourne’s narrower streets. I was thinking about things like full time clearways, proper traffic light priority, blanket right turn bans etc., and whilst some of these might be sensible policies (especially traffic light priority and some right turn bans), I’d been approaching it from exactly the wrong way. Rather than trying to make street track as fast as reserve track, perhaps we should first aim to get the reserve track working like proper light rail. Under such a plan, we can – for want of a better term – get the low hanging fruit on the tram network and provide the biggest speed and capacity improvements at the lowest cost.

It’s predominantly the Dandenong Rd. tracks that have piqued my interest, and the idea of upgrading them has been covered extensively by Riccardo in the past. I didn’t initially realise the potential of the area, but with a bit of work, it could function as serious light rail. To do so, new high capacity vehicles would be required; as would platform stops at less frequent intervals, near instant light priority, basic signalling to prevent bunching and a high service standard (frequency of every 4 minutes of better, service at a high speed). The aerial photo below shows how substantial the reservation is.

But ultimately, a proper light rail network should be segregated from not only cars, but conventional street trams as well. For example, there’s a very compelling case for high standard light rail for Dandenong Rd, but that same case doesn’t really apply for Wattletree Rd. or Hawthorn Rd. Likewise, St. Kilda Rd. is ripe for a high capacity, segregated light rail upgrade, but High St., Malvern Rd. etc are not. Consequently, the street track sections need to run as shuttles and terminate at the light rail trunks. Yarra Trams have been advocating something along these lines for a while now – and good on them for doing so. But if a one size fits all approach is taken, the network is only as good as its weakest part – and in the case of Melbourne’s trams, that’s very worrying.

Some possible harebrained schemes to split up the tram system…

Following through with this logic dictates that Melbourne’s tram network would really become two distinct systems in terms of the service standard offered. One system would follow the current street tram set-up (although with ThinkTram and associated improvements), focussing predominantly on shorter trips. The other system would be based on high frequency, high capacity, high speed light rail. I’ve drawn up a speculative scheme based on this framework for the St. Kilda Rd. and Dandenong Rd. areas, shown below (note the map I made was basically drawn over the excellent Melbourne tram map on Wikipedia – hats off to the creator, John Shadbolt).

As you can see, I’ve connected Dandenong Rd. to the St. Kilda light rail via Fitzroy St. The Fitzroy St. connection would cost money to upgrade – probably substantial amounts at St. Kilda Junction (especially if flyovers are included), which is not purely in keeping with the ‘upgrade the easiest bits first’ philosophy I set out at the start of this post. However, these costs could well be offset by the benefits of the creation of a high standard light rail line. Also note that basically all the street trackage is running as feeder lines into the light rail/heavy rail trunks.

This arrangement largely mirrors my already stated plans for connecting up Plenty Rd., Nicholson St. and St. Georges Rd. as a single light rail line. For clarity, this is shown again below – perhaps the northern and southern light rail lines could be through-routed.

Speed and capacity of decent light rail

I’d argue there are three main things that separate Melbourne’s current trams from modern light rail – frequency, speed and capacity. The frequency issue has already been discussed – a 4 minute headway (or 15tph) seems about right to me, although St. Kilda Rd. really needs double that. It’s capacity and speed that warrant more thought.

In terms of capacity, the choice of vehicle is very important. Obviously running Z3s at a 4 minute headway isn’t going to to much for capacity – you need proper light rail vehicles. I don’t know enough to recommend a specific vehicle – just buy something off the shelf. However, Budapest’s version of the Combino Plus did attract my attention. At 54m long, it is the biggest passenger tram in the world, with a passenger capacity of 352. Run at a 4 minute headway, they could move 5280 people per direction per hour. For comparison, that’s about what Paul Mees claims the Dandenong line is handling at peak hour now.

Increasing speed is the trickiest part of the plan. It’s obviously easiest to do in reserve track areas, but even then, instant light priority is required to keep services moving smoothly. This could be likened to level crossings on the rail system – trains get absolute priority. Whilst this may not be easy to do in St. Kilda Rd. (given the sheer number of trams and large number of intersecting streets – some of which themselves have trams), it should be no substantial problem on Dandenong Rd. Fewer stops and the use of vehicles with lots of doors would be helpful too.

But even if you can get average speeds along Dandenong Rd. and the St. Kilda light rail up high enough, it’s all going to come crashing down at Whiteman St. Currently in peak hour, travel time on the 96 between Spring St. and Whiteman St. (some 2.8km) is timetabled at 20 minutes. The MMTB had a plan back in the 50s to underground the city tram lines – and let’s be frank, it was insane. Undergrounding traditional tram lines is crazy, it’s pricey and you lose many of the short trips that make trams so useful. But for light rail/premetro, the equation is perhaps somewhat different. I honestly don’t know whether it would work or not – and I’m prepared to be convinced either way.

Heavy rail to Highpoint?

I was looking through the Eddington Report public submissions (by which I mean browsing Vicsig and looking at what the media’s picked up on), and I was somewhat surprised to see that Highpoint’s submission being picked up by the Herald Sun for its suggestion that the Flemington Racecourse line be extended to Highpoint Shopping Centre. Extending the Racecourse line is a suggestion that comes up occasionally (and is currently being discussed on Railpage), so I thought it might be worth looking at what such a plan might involve, and whether it would be worthwhile. Below is the ‘Highpoint Environs’ and Eddington study area taken from their submission.

What Highpoint want

The fact that Highpoint was allowed to be built how and where it was is symptomatic of a broader Melbourne failure to put patronage generators near the existing rail system – a costly mistake. But now Highpoint seem to be angling for a railway line via the racecourse – among the numerous road upgrades, of course. They also advocate extending this line to the airport in the future. But let’s look at the immediate,  lowest cost rail proposal, the approximate route of which is shown below.

This proposal calls for around 2.65km of underground rail and 0.7km of surface rail, as well as one station and a bridge. Using the per km costs I calculated a while ago ($78.72m for underground rail minus station fit out and $13.7m for surface rail), we could expect the track to cost around $218.2m. Throw in say another $30m for station fit out (remember the shell is already included) and $15m for flyover works at Newmarket, and it’s a bit under $265m. Not an obscene amount of money, but quite a bit for just one station when so many other projects are crying out for funding.


Whilst rail may be still be option for Highpoint, there’s plenty of tram infrastructure nearby that, while almost useless in its current form, could be made to work well for Highpoint at minimal cost and in a more timely fashion. Both the 57 and 82 trams run tantalisingly close to Highpoint, but in the case of the latter especially, follow pointless diversions to make them useless for highpoint shoppers. For example, the 82 diverts around the back of Highpoint when it should go straight past the front door, and runs at such a bad frequency that it offers no competition to the car anyway. Moreover, instead of running as a feeder from the Craigieburn line, poor station placement at Ascot Vale means that train/tram interchange is very inconvenient. The most frustrating part of this mess is that trams should be in their element for these kind of shopping trips, but poor planning and infrastructure has left them useless for highpoint.

So what’s the solution and how much would it cost? I’d advocate the extension of the 57 to Buckley St, rerouting the 82 via the Highpoint front door, moving Ascot Vale station north to provide a train/tram interchange and running the trams on a 6 minute headway all day every day. The 57 extension, some 3.4km long, should cost around $37m (@$10.87m/km) and the 0.85km 82 diversion should cost around $9.25m. Assume that Ascot Vale station costs $15m and we’re looking at capital costs in the order of $61.25m. Of course, more trams and drivers would be required to operate these services. The map below shows the broad plan I’m advocating.

The main problem with this plan is that it still doesn’t get the 57 into Highpoint properly. But with 6 minute headways, passengers would only have to wait 3 minutes on average to transfer to an 82 tram. Ultimately, this sort of thing is basic stuff which should have been done decades ago, if not from the beginning.

Some Suggestions for Better Network Maps

I’d planned to write a post on Melbourne network maps a couple of weeks ago, but didn’t quite get around to it. I’d actually been thinking seriously about the issue for a few months prior, ever since a friend lent me Maxwell J. Roberts’ great book Underground Maps After Beck, which documents the history of network maps of the London Underground.

What amazed me about the book – aside from the detail in which the maps are reproduced and discussed – was how harsh Roberts was on Harold Hutchison’s attempts at map drawing. Now there’s no doubt that Hutchison’s maps were a big step backwards, that Beck’s removal was particularly mean-spirited and unnecessary and that London Transport made a general mess of the affair; but even Hutchison’s much maligned map is better than Melbourne’s maps today. What criticism would Roberts have for them?

In this post, I’m going to look at what I believe a good network map should convey, Melbourne’s recent experiences and finally some alternative designs.

What do we want in a network map?

Ideally, a network map should be simple and easy to read, yet convey important information about the network to an even infrequent user and be part of an integrated scheme to make the system highly navigable. If possible, the map should be readily recognisable and aesthetically pleasing, acting as an advertisement as well as a just a map (just as London’s does) – but I’d stress that this is difficult to achieve and may take decades to occur (just as it did in London).

Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that the Melbourne rail map should look just like the London Underground map, (the latter is much more complex), but we need to be mindful of what we’re aiming for in a map and base designs on the benchmarks I mentioned above. I’m not convinced this has happened in Melbourne.

Melbourne’s experience with network maps

Over the decades and various changes of management, Melbourne’s train and tram systems have had a variety of train and tram maps. None that I’ve seen have been particularly revolutionary. But when we look at the past quarter of a century or so – it’s clear that we’ve seen basically one predominant train map style (with the exception of the privatised pre Metlink mess and some of the early loop maps) and two main tram map styles (with the aforementioned early privatisation caveat). Below you can see the 1994 and current rail maps (note that that only real change between the 1994 map and those from the mid 80s was the change of zone system) and 1981, 1994 and current tram maps.

Melbourne’s train maps have primarily shown zone structure at the expense of other features, like individual lines. While I’d argue that this almost the least important thing to show on a two zone multimodal system, at least there’s the excuse that the rail network is reasonably simple and hasn’t cried out for line by line colour coding. But with Werribee being taken out of the loop (albeit only during peak) and Eddington’s rail tunnel perhaps occurring (although I’d be surprised if it actually went ahead), this excuse is no longer going to hold.

Melbourne’s current tram network doesn’t have any such excuses. It’s complex (more than many metros) and is basically all in zone 1, so there’s really no reason to colour lines based on zones rather than where they are going. Worse still, the Met was making a much less confusing map back in the 90s. Sure it wasn’t perfect, but it acknowledged that the tram network was complex and prioritised showing where the lines went rather than what zone they were. That’s an efficient choice to make when a map can’t show every piece of relevant information – it simply has to be prioritised.

This ought not reflect poorly on the designers of the map, they were probably just given a brief to integrate it better with other public transport as part of the Metlink programme, and how they showed zones probably wasn’t something they had control over. But if we want to show zones on a network map, we should do it the way the London Underground Map does – as part of the background.

Alternative designs

In many ways, Beck’s guiding principles should be instructive for Melbourne. Roberts summarises Beck’s design principles thus:
– Only horizontal, vertical and 45-degree lines are used.
– The centre of the map is enlarged but at the expense of the suburbs.
– A distinctive interchange symbol is used.
– Street details are not shown.
– Stations are denoted by tickmarks.
– Lines are denoted by distinctive colours.

Whilst I don’t think these ideas should necessarily be taken as gospel, they may provide some insights. My recent train and tram network maps incorporate some elements of this overarching design (although the tram map much less so). They aren’t by any means perfect, but hopefully they illustrate my point about navigability and ease of reading.

I’ve also been thinking about mapping based on service standard rather than mode, and Australian Rail Maps has a very well done Beck like rendition of Melbourne’s trains and trams on the same map. But in many ways, mode has come to say so much about service standard in Melbourne (trams = slow but frequent, trains = less frequent but faster and longer distance, buses = rubbish) that it would be hard to do differently. If I had my way and the outer reaches of routes 75 and 86 became heavier light rail, perhaps they should be shown on the rail map too – but there’s many questions about how that should be done and I don’t really have the answers. Furthermore, I don’t have any answers about how to go about a decent bus network map – I’d be interested to hear ideas on this one.

Melbourne Tram Network Grand Plan

Firstly, apologies for my absence from the blog over the past week – it’s getting close to exams and I managed to get several assignments due within a few days of one another. But I did get Adobe Illustrator a couple of days ago and I’ve been experimenting with it to create a new style of tram network map with the improvements I’ve looked at over the past few months.

I haven’t really discussed trams much recently – I’ve mainly looked at them as a secondary issue as part of heavy rail improvements. It’s not that I don’t like trams – on the contrary, they generally serve Melbourne quite well (with a few exceptions, like the longer services). But with a few targeted improvements, they could be even better. I’ve looked at a few such ideas already:

Extending routes 3,5 and 6 to meet rail stations
Extending route 48 to Doncaster (as part of a broader plan including heavy rail)
Splitting route 72 and extending it north to Ivanhoe and south to Caulfield
Splitting some of the St. Kilda Rd. routes into shuttles
Reconfiguring routes 86, 96 and 112 to segregate street from light rail running, improve connectivity and enable faster running on the Epping line
All night running on the busier lines on Friday and Saturday night

Others which I haven’t looked at in great detail on the blog, but which have a lot of merit, include:

– Extending route 67 to Carnegie railway station
– Setting off peak daytime frequencies to at least 10 minutes for the quiet lines and 6 minutes for the busy lines
– Setting night time frequencies to every 10 minutes
– An extension of thinktram to improve running speeds
– New longer rolling stock (already budgeted for)
– tram stop rationalisation in some areas

This list is by no means exhaustive, and I’d be very interested to hear further/alternative ideas. Anyway here’s the map of these improvements I made in Illustrator – it’s a pdf and is quite large, but is scalable which is a big improvement on my previous forays into making network maps. There may be a few errors and omissions (I haven’t put route 30 on yet), but it should be basically all there. The broader network map issue is one I’ll hopefully be posting on over the weekend, so we should be able to compare this map with the current (not very readable) one, as well as previous Met attempts.

UPDATE: I’ve fixed up parts of the map and included some of your proposed changes. The map is available here.

Tipping Points in Public Transport Modal Share?

I was reading through an old post on Peter Parker’s excellent blog about service frequency and its capacity to change travel behaviour; and it got me thinking about the marginal modal share return to increases in service provision. Here, quality is fairly broadly defined – I’m basically looking at a combination of frequency, ease of use, comfort, etc. Working out how patronage and modal share respond to investment in better quality public transport is an important factor in determining the optimal level (and nature) of the investment and the consequent service standard provided.

Current government policy is to make small, incremental improvements to public transport and hope that more people use it, both in actual trips made and as a proportion of total trips (modal share). This was a big part of Melbourne 2030 – government policy was for 20% of motorised trips to be taken by public transport by 2020, basically a doubling of its modal share. Now given that total trips are increasing – largely because the population is growing and employment is increasing – we will expect to see public transport patronage to increase even when it’s treading water in modal share.

So why did the government set such an ambitious target backed up by only moderate levels of investment. There are two explanations that immediately come to mind: firstly, that they were never serious about 20% by 2020 (probably the truth); secondly, that their expectations of marginal returns to investment with respect to modal share were that it was more or less constant. This would see every extra dollar spent on improving the quality of public transport improving modal share by the same amount every time. This is represented graphically below:

So has this happened? Whilst patronage on Melbourne’s public transport – and especially the trains – has been increasing substantially, the modal share for public transport has been going nowhere. Basically, the investment hasn’t done much to improve modal share.

An alternative Explanation?

Clearly, the state government’s story doesn’t explain what’s driving transport habits in Melbourne (pun intended). I’d propose an alternative explanation – modal share isn’t going anywhere because public transport ultimately has to compete with the car. Even though there’s been investment in public transport, and an argument could be made that the quality has improved slightly over the past decade, modal share isn’t going anywhere because public transport simply isn’t as convenient as the car for many trips. For modal share to increase substantially, public transport has reach the point where it is a better quality service than a car. This is the tipping point I alluded to in the title. This is expressed graphically below:

So, what are the implications if we accept this idea? Well, basically it means that public transport investment needs to be targeted to meet the needs of drivers rather than looking at public transport in a vacuum. An empirical example would be the Metropolitan Bus Upgrade Program, where lots of money has been put into upgrading bus frequency and operating hours. But if a bus route has been upgraded from an hourly frequency to a half hourly frequency (making it twice as good), there’s still no reason why choice passengers will use it – it’s still not as good as a car. Until they reach the tipping point where they are as efficient (from a user perspective) as cars, buses are unlikely to be a roaring success.

It’s not all doom and gloom and you don’t necessarily need vast sums of money to get anywhere – small improvements can make a difference and big improvements needn’t be that expensive (improving off peak rail frequency for instance). I suppose my point is that policymakers need to be mindful of what the investment is targeting and how it affects quality relative to its competitors. Spending $1billion on Myki won’t get us much closer to that modal share tipping point, but spending $1billion on frequency upgrades probably would.

For a most interesting in depth look at providing quality public transport, have a look at this document from Canada, kindly sent to be by Jason.

Extending the Epping line to South Morang/Mernda and Aurora

Let’s face it – last week’s state budget was bad for public transport. Very little money was spent, and worryingly, some of the money spent was wasted. I’m talking about the $10 million that’s been earmarked for ‘design and development works’ for the South Morang rail extension. This is an absurd amount of money to be spending on design when the DoI secretly costed the whole project at $18 million in 2003. Of course, the government lied about the whole thing and claimed the outrageous price tag of $348 million. Similarly, the Aurora line was costed by DoI at $76 million, but the government claimed a $300 million price tag to wriggle their way out of building it. Below is the Melbourne 2030 plan for rail expansions to Epping North (Aurora) and South Morang – Mernda.

So, in this post, I’m going to have a look at the options for getting rail to South Morang (and beyond) as well as Aurora, how much they would cost, and what to do with the Epping line to give these new extensions a fast and frequent service. I should point out that I think it’s terrible planning policy to allow sprawl along these corridors, but if the government is insistent on allowing it to occur (quite a lot has already been built), then rail projects in the area should be considered.

Basic extension costs

Admittedly, the $18m and $76m construction costs for South Morang will only buy basic extensions, and are unlikely to include Keon Park to Epping duplication. Using the per km construction cost of $13.7m from the Mandurah line, we find that the 3.25 South Morang extension (to Civic Drive) would cost $44.5m, and that the 5.9 Aurora extension would cost $80.8m. The Mandurah line costs are – if anything – rather too high (that project included some inner city tunnelling, underground stations, freeway widening etc which is not a factor here), but it is fair to say that the DoI costs were somewhat too low for South Morang and about right for Aurora. They are nothing like the $300m + figures the government made up.

A need for extra works?

Defenders of the state government claim that the true costs are much higher because Keon Park – Epping needs duplicating and a host of other non reasons. If you want proof, have a look here – I love ZH836301’s It’s metal on slices of concrete FFS comment. But let’s look at this logically, if we are extending services further, why should more trains necessarily be running on the existing line? (assuming that Aurora is run as a shuttle) The reality is that the single track wouldn’t be much more of a problem for South Morang services than it is for present day Epping services. Beyond that, the single track isn’t even at capacity in peak hour – have a look at the diagram below – taken from a 2004 DoI report.

Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t duplicate Keon Park – Epping (I think we should), it’s just that it isn’t really an impediment to getting rail to South Morang and Aurora. It’s only 5km of single track anyway
– even if you tore the whole lot up and completely rebuilt it to Mandurah standards, it would still only cost $68.6m! My gold plated estimate is still only 32.5% of what the government claimed it would cost!

There’s probably already the need to build rail all the way to Mernda – another 8.2km from the South Morang terminus at Civic Drive. Again, using Mandurah costs it would be in the order of $112.3m. Total cost for high standard double track rail to Aurora and Mernda, as well as complete reconstruction of Keon Park – Epping would be 44.5+80.8+112.3+68.6 = $306.2m. We should remember that this is an extreme upper bound estimate and it still comes in below the government’s made up number. Coincidently, this cost forecast is exactly the same as for the Craigieburn bypass.

Service standard

I posted on a service standard for the Clifton Hill group a while back, advocating 6tph to Epping, with every second train running express Clifton Hill – Jolimont. 6tph is probably fine but if the line is to go all the way to Aurora and Mernda, it’s clear that every second train expressing 4 stations on tracks limited to 55kph won’t really cut it. Trains going this far out really need to run express beyond Clifton Hill as well. Either a two tier service is required, or some stations could be closed.

I would generally recommend against even considering inner city stations for closure in Melbourne, even when there is a tram line nearby. I’m generally in favour of keeping both heavy rail and street trams on the same corridor because they are sufficiently differentiated to not be very good substitutes for one another. But the Epping line is different, it has not one, but two tram lines running basically right next to it as far as Thornbury. Furthermore, one of them (the 112) is ripe for upgrading to high standard light rail. So for this section, we have a somewhat closer substitute for heavy rail as well as a traditional street tram.

On top of this, when we look at the AM peak patronage data for the line, it’s clear that there’s not really much patronage between Rushall and Preston at all anyway. This is probably because of such strong competition from the high frequency 86 and 112 trams. Upgrading the service standard for the Epping line would go some way to fixing this, but whatever happens there’s still going to be two tram lines competing with the rail.

Given these factors, there’s probably a case for removing Merri, Northcote and Croxton stations and upgrading the St. Georges Rd. track to do their job. To make this work, there would need to be a proper train/tram interchange at Thornbury. The 86 and 112 would use the Preston Workshops track to cross over each other – that is the northern section of the 112 would connect with the 86 and the northern section of the 86 would connect with the 112. Thornbury station would be rebuilt directly below the tram line to provide fast connections to heavy rail services. A new station like this shouldn’t really cost more than $15-20 million. The light rail line would need to run every six minutes or better in order to get average wait time down to an acceptable three minutes.

St. Georges Rd. would need to become proper light rail – that means real traffic light priority, fewer stops built to a higher standard (under cover island platforms), a decent track speed and larger light rail vehicles (like the C2 class). This concept could be taken further by building about 700 metres of tram track (for the cost of around $7.6 million) along the old inner circle rail alignment between Nicholson St. and St. Georges Rd. As at Thornbury, the lines could be swapped, with the northern section of the 96 going down St. Georges Rd. and Brunswick St. and the 86/St.Georges Rd. tram using the Nicholson St. reserve track. As above, the reserve track would need to be properly upgraded. This would better segregate street trams from potential high quality light rail, as well as better integrating inner-northern tram services with one another. The full map of what I’m considering is shown below.

I’m not completely comfortable with closing three heavy rail stations in Northcote, but even if this didn’t go ahead, the tram reforms I’m proposing are absolutely worthwhile. The cost would be low (700 metres of new track plus building/rebuilding five junctions and proper traffic light priority) and upgrades like platform stops and new trams are going to happen anyway – it’s just a matter of targeting them to the right places.

UPDATE – Below is an 800m pedshed for St. Georges Rd. as discussed. It takes in everything between Clifton Hill and Preston.