Category Archives: Melbourne and suburbs

North East Link plans to kill off Doncaster rail forever

The Public Transport Users Association says that detailed design plans for the North East Link and its accompanying busway include taking over the median reserve for additional car lanes. This will ‘kill stone dead’ any long term plan for trains to run to Doncaster, according to the PTUA.

“What’s being proposed is a radical reorganisation of the road corridor between Clifton Hill and Bulleen,” said PTUA President Dr Tony Morton. “The wide median which has been set aside for a train line since the 1970s will be deleted and used for car lanes. This provides space for the bus lanes they want to put on the outside of the road – but the outside will never be suitable for rail due to conflict with entrance and exit ramps.”

The plan to remove the median appears in the map book accompanying the North East Link Detail Design. It adds to previously announced plans for a 16-lane road monster between Bulleen and Doncaster, resembling the superhighways seen in some US cities like Los Angeles or Houston.

Dr Morton said the plan to kill Doncaster rail not only ran contrary to the public’s clearly expressed preference – it also promised nightmarish consequences for the Doncaster region in the long term. “Rail is ultimately the only game in town when it comes to moving large numbers of people around a big city effectively,” he said. “Even the proposed buses won’t be future-proof, and will in time become slow and crowded just like the busway services in Brisbane today. Premier Andrews and his Roads Minister are essentially foreclosing the most space-efficient mode of transport for the least space-efficient. That’s not merely short-sighted, it’s bordering on spite for the people of Manningham who spent years campaigning for a train.”

The PTUA hears daily from bus users in the north east who suffer overcrowded, late, cancelled and defective services, Dr Morton said. “The Department of Transport signed a supposedly ‘innovative’ contract with private operator Transdev, which it appears leaves it powerless to enforce basic service standards on behalf of passengers. I can confidently say no-one who uses these buses today has any confidence in government assurances that buses can do the work of trains in 30 years’ time when Melbourne is the size of London or Paris.”

Instead, Dr Morton said, residents of Manningham and other suburbs were being sentenced to a congested Los Angeles future. “So the state spends $16 billion to build this 16 lane monster, and it fills up with 16 lanes of single-occupant car traffic. What do our amazing planners do then? The Americans have freeways 24 lanes wide and they’re still clogged. Freight can’t go anywhere because it’s stuck with all the cars. You don’t solve anyone’s transport problems – passengers or freight – until you give people real choices. And ultimately, in a city the size of Melbourne, that means rail.”

The PTUA has called on the government to publish the multimodal transport plan for Victoria required by its own legislation. “Let’s have it out in the open whether our government is softening us up to turn Melbourne into LA, when the long-expressed community view is we should be more like Vancouver or Vienna, with a strong role for public and active transport, especially rail, even though a lot of people will still drive cars.”

Eastern Freeway now vs planned

See also: The Age: Toll road to kill off future Doncaster rail: public transport group

Show us a plan, and don’t neglect local services, says PTUA

The Victorian Government needs to show the public an integrated plan for moving people and freight. But the government also needs to match its busy infrastructure programme with a commitment to frequent local public transport service, the Victorian Transport Infrastructure Conference heard on Thursday.

According to a presentation by Dr Tony Morton, President of the Public Transport Users Association, the government has put forward numerous multi-billion dollar transport projects, but has not explained what part they play in any strategic transport plan for the next half century.

“On the one hand, the government is building the Metro rail tunnel, which is equivalent to about three West Gate Bridges in carrying capacity and has massive potential to divert single occupant car travel from the existing West Gate Bridge,” Dr Morton said. “Yet at the same time it’s sinking billions of dollars into the West Gate Tunnel, which has barely one-sixth the capacity but is likely to induce more car travel into the city, swamping any benefit the Metro tunnel provides.”

Winning the West

“Melbourne’s West faces enormous challenges in the near term dealing with urban growth and the state’s worst pollution from cars and trucks, not to mention the historical neglect of public transport infrastructure and services. We really cannot afford to be adding to the horrendous traffic problems that already exist. In fact we ought to be doubling down on rail infrastructure to bring the West closer to what the Eastern suburbs already enjoy. It’s time to start planning Melbourne Metro Two.”

‘Metro Two’ is the name given to a rail tunnel connecting Newport station underneath the Yarra with Fishermans Bend and the City. It then extends north via Parkville to connect with the South Morang line, providing added capacity to the Mernda growth area and simplifying planning for a Doncaster rail line. Versions of the line appeared in the 2012 Rail Network Development Plan and in plans considered by Infrastructure Victoria. it was also raised favourably in evidence by Victorian rail planner Ed Dotson to a 2010 Parliamentary inquiry into rail services.

Freight needs should have special consideration as part of an integrated plan, Dr Morton said. “At present, freight is in a zero-sum game with single-occupant car traffic, and the cars are winning. This will happen as long as we build so-called ‘freight roads’ that are just going to fill up with cars. We need to be getting more freight back on the rails, taking advantage of the latest international experience with multimodal logistics. Meanwhile, road freight solutions must be well-targeted, designed and sized so as not to induce more car travel.”

Dr Morton also welcomed Wednesday’s announcement by the Federal Government of $5 billion toward a Melbourne airport rail link. “Ultimately the State government will be responsible for planning this,” he said. “If it’s not going to suffer the problems of other projects, it’s critical that it’s properly integrated with the suburban rail network, with complementary bus networks and with the Myki fare system, so it can cater for the widest possible spectrum of airport travel.”

Service Planning is Vital

Dr Morton explained that even the best big infrastructure would be of little benefit without a proper plan for frequent public transport down to the local level. “Having the rail network required to meet major transport needs also means looking at how people get to the stations,” Dr Morton said. “We seem far too focussed at present on making public transport something you drive a car to, which means every additional passenger costs between $15,000 and $50,000 for a car parking space even before you pay for the train.”

The cities with the best public transport in the world provide a range of options for local travel, led by excellent feeder bus networks, said Dr Morton.

“Governments unfortunately get spooked by the cost of running buses, yet we already spend some $600 million a year running buses that are often empty of passengers because we’re not actively trying to recruit them. Each $1 million of annual expenditure could, on official figures, provide a bus service every 10 minutes, 7 days a week, for a population of around 8,000 people in most Melbourne suburbs. And every extra passenger you get is paying a fare to help meet the cost of the service.”

“How much does it cost to provide parking for 8,000 cars? On current figures we’re hearing, anywhere between $200 and $350 million. Even for just a fifth of that population, it would cost more to finance a project like that than to just run a bus that can take people where they want to go all day long.”

“Melbourne and Victoria are crying out for strategic, sustainable transport planning that works for everyone,” said Dr Morton. “We can’t just take a scatter-gun approach and throw money at every politically expedient project. We need calm, careful consideration of our actual needs, for people and freight, for infrastructure and for decent services.”

Care urged on Rowville tram proposal: avoid rushing into half measures, says PTUA

The Public Transport Users Association has cautiously welcomed a proposal to develop a new tram line connecting Rowville to Caulfield railway station via Chadstone Shopping Centre. But the PTUA is concerned the project could leave the community worse off in the longer term by precluding a conventional train line along Wellington Road.

“The previous government’s network plan envisaged a regular rail link between Huntingdale and Rowville as the appropriate long term option for this corridor,” PTUA President Dr Tony Morton said on Tuesday.

“There was also a strong view on Infrastructure Victoria’s citizen jury in 2016 that this would be imperative in the next 15 years,” he said.

“We similarly believe conventional heavy rail is the only option in the longer term if we’re to see any significant mode shift to public transport to deal with our traffic problems. It’s difficult to see any other option providing a competitive travel time for longer journeys.”

The proposed line will run parallel to the Dandenong train line between Caulfield and Oakleigh before heading east. It will not include the existing interchange at Huntingdale station.

“There are some advantages to this proposal, especially for local travel,” Dr Morton said. “With a tram, you can have stops both at the University and at the Synchrotron up the road, but you probably wouldn’t get a train to stop at both. And it certainly delivers on the need for an improved public transport connection to Chadstone.”

“At the same time, the key risks for the project are speed and interchange capacity. Without serious attention to traffic priority, it’s not going to hold a candle to train travel as soon as you’re going more than a few stops. And the interchange at Caulfield needs to cater for potentially hundreds of people at a time without getting stuck in queues – our system’s historically been quite bad at this kind of thing.”

At present, a journey from Monash University bus interchange to Flinders Street Station can be done in 40 minutes (10 on the 601 bus and 25 on the train, assuming an average 5 minute connection). “For a tram connecting at Caulfield to match what the bus and train can do currently, it would need to achieve a 30kph average speed – which means it has to be faster than the existing 75 tram along Burwood Highway, and even faster than the Gold Coast Light Rail which is probably best-in-class in Australia for traffic priority right now.”

“Meanwhile of course, if we ever got the train the community’s been asking for, the whole trip could be cut from 40 to 30 minutes,” Dr Morton said. “That is the longer term opportunity for the whole high-tech precinct we’d be worried about losing.”

Dr Morton said the PTUA would continue to press for an integrated long-term plan for transport in the south-east, which would need to be adequately ‘future proof’.

“We’ve seen all the reports this week that public transport is slowing down and becoming less reliable,” he said. “And that’s not only trains – trams and buses are as bad or worse. That’s a direct consequence of the State not future-proofing their transport plans – where they’ve had plans at all – and not building in adequate capacity ahead of the growth that everyone could see coming decades ago.”

Public transport users call for Westgate submarine

The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has called for the introduction of a passenger submarine linking the bayside western suburbs of Melbourne with the CBD instead of the controversial Westgate Tunnel.

“There’s clear demand for improved public transport in Melbourne’s west,” said PTUA’s maritime spokesperson Daniel Morton. “A passenger submarine can deliver this with minimal new infrastructure.”

Previous attempts to run passenger ferries have confronted problems such as rough waters causing cancellations and delays [1], and speed limits making for slow journeys along the Yarra River section of ferry routes [2].

“A submarine would overcome the problems facing surface vessels by travelling below the water’s surface, and leave valuable sea lanes open for freight transport,” said Mr Morton.

“A submarine would also be less affected by low clearances on some of the numerous river crossings [3] already in place from the west of Melbourne that everyone forgets about whenever they say we need a ‘second’ river crossing.”

Mr Morton also pointed out that the future reach of a submarine network would benefit from rising sea levels due to carbon emissions from transport. “To start with the submarines would only serve Port Phillip Bay and the Yarra River, but future routes could extend to Elwood, the Westgate Tunnel corridor and other low-lying parts of the city.”

Mr Morton said the PTUA was optimistic the submarine plan would float given the government’s reluctance to invest in proven transport options for the west. “With very low service levels for trains and buses in the west, and virtually no trams, an unproven distraction is just the thing to capture the public’s imagination. Meanwhile the government can continue generating more motor vehicle traffic with massive motorway projects instead of providing genuine alternatives.”

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1. The Age 16/6/2014 – Ferries to Melbourne’s west ‘not a priority, not viable’

2. ABC 12/5/2016 – Commuter ferries for Melbourne’s west to sail next week

3. PTUA: Myth: There’s only one river crossing from Melbourne’s West

Victoria’s transport planning crisis: Put the public first and end partisan brawling over big infrastructure, says PTUA

The Public Transport Users Association has called for a public interest ‘circuit breaker’ to end the crisis in major infrastructure planning.

The call comes amid the scuttling of Transurban’s controversial West Gate Tunnel project by the Legislative Council, which the PTUA says is merely the latest manifestation of a planning crisis in Victoria reaching back more than a decade.

“Historically, large infrastructure projects in Victoria have proceeded with essentially bipartisan support, in accordance with some kind of plan and with all the required statutory approvals,” said PTUA President Dr Tony Morton. “Governments could also generally claim to have an electoral mandate for these projects, as Jeff Kennett certainly claimed for CityLink in 1996.”

“The problem governments have faced more recently is that to gain this kind of support, a major project has to both stack up on triple-bottom-line criteria, and reflect the wishes of the community,” Dr Morton said. “Yet of late there’s been a deplorable tendency for governments to announce huge, multi-billion dollar projects with dubious benefit-cost analyses, then scramble to sign contracts and start construction with unforeseen haste, as though they fear not getting an election mandate and want to force it as a fait accompli instead. We saw exactly that with the East West Link, and now we see it with the West Gate Tunnel. It’s little wonder these projects turn into ugly partisan brawls, that alarm Victorians at the betrayal of public trust involved.”

Dr Morton pointed to a December 2017 public letter to the Premier from 28 urban transport and planning experts, documenting their own concerns with Victoria’s planning crisis and with the West Gate Tunnel project in particular. This followed a submission by transport modelling expert William McDougall to a Senate inquiry on tollroads in July 2017, citing serious concerns with the way major road projects are assessed.

The PTUA also points to a ‘striking disconnect’ between the approach taken to the West Gate Tunnel and the Metro rail tunnel. “The Metro tunnel has been studied almost to death over three election cycles,” Dr Morton said. “But while some details can be argued over, there’s really little doubt there’s a public mandate to get on with it and there’s huge benefit for Melbourne’s west in particular. This rail tunnel will move three times as many people as the West Gate Tunnel without breaking a sweat.”

PTUA also believes similar support would exist for the original West Gate Distributor project that Labor took to the 2014 election. “As we have said all along, this project was designed to solve a problem, which was to get trucks out of residential streets. It does it at a cost one-tenth that of the West Gate Tunnel, and without putting more trucks in other residential streets, or overwhelming central Melbourne with more car traffic contrary to 30 years of planning strategy. And the government can even claim a mandate for it!”

“Changing direction is never easy. We know the road lobby really wants to be in charge of transport planning again like they were last century. But the public has different ideas now: most Aussies don’t accept that the only way to get cities to work is by turning them into Los Angeles. So the road lobby, and those who make money whenever traffic gets worse, has fallen back on the ‘market-led initiative’ process, which is basically a licence to subvert proper planning.”

To get Victoria out of the present crisis, the PTUA has renewed its call for a planning ‘reset’ on explicit public-interest criteria. “We could start by tasking Transport for Victoria with the creation of the Transport Plan actually required by Victorian legislation,” Dr Morton said. “It ought to be publicly tested in accordance with the Act, on triple-bottom-line criteria, informed by a well-supported view on what kind of city we want to be. And it needs planning experts, community groups and local councils to be actively involved in its construction, and not subject to veto by faceless men in Collins Street who answer only to the road lobby.”

“In the meantime, Premier Andrews and Minister Donellan can get those good people back to work in Yarraville building the original West Gate Distributor project,” said Dr Morton. “It’s still there in the West Gate Tunnel plans, does the job the public needs and already has community support.”

No Night Buses on NYE “ridiculous”

The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has criticised the state government’s decision to not run Night Bus services on New Year’s Eve this year.

While trains and trams will run all night[1], the Night Bus routes, which fill gaps in the network, will not.

Areas that will miss out include Point Cook, Mernda, Mornington (and the rest of the Peninsula) and Rowville, with no public transport at all between about 9pm on New Year’s Eve, and 6am the next day.

Doncaster will have Smartbus services until about 2am, but no services after that until around 6am.

“New Year’s Eve is huge in Melbourne”, said PTUA spokesman Daniel Bowen. “The 9pm fireworks in the City and at Footscray, and the midnight fireworks attract big crowds.

“Public transport is the best, safest way to get large numbers of people home, but for many suburbs, it simply won’t be an option – not even for the early fireworks.”

The PTUA has also criticised the provision of service information over the festive season. The PTV web site and Journey Planner incorrectly said that Night Bus services ran on Christmas morning, and there remains confusion over whether Night Bus 970 will run.[2]

Brochures for rail upgrade works in January were also found to include numerous errors.[3]

Mr Bowen said the move to run trains every half-hour all night, rather than the hourly services of last year, was a welcome upgrade, but would only help those who didn’t need a connecting bus to complete their journey.

“It will actually be easier to get home on Friday or Saturday night to Mernda, Rowville or Mornington than it will be on New Year’s Eve.

“Night Bus was designed to connect to trains and provide good overnight route coverage to areas that don’t have trains and trams… Night Buses run every weekend – it’s ridiculous that they’re not running on New Year’s Eve”, Mr Bowen concluded.

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[1] All metropolitan trains and trams will run all night, except for the Stony Point line, and trams 82 and 78.

[2] The PTV web site says:

Night Bus services (routes 941, 942, 943, 944, 945, 951, 952, 953, 955, 961, 963, 964, 965, 966, 967, 969, 970, 978, 979, 981 and 982) will not operate during this event.

…however route 970 from Carrum to Rosebud is shown in the online timetables and Journey Planner as running on New Year’s Eve.

[3] One brochure for passengers impacted by rail works included multiple errors, including listing bus routes as going to incorrect stations, and one bus route (“620”) that does not exist at all.

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See also:

Coverage of this story:

NE Link: Waste of money

When Infrastructure Victoria called the North East Link a “priority road project”, it was because its consultants gave the road a highly favourable initial assessment. The report last year by KPMG, Arup and Jacobs estimated the project (including the Eastern Freeway and M80 widening) would cost between $4.8 and $7.1 billion. The benefits were stated as $10.1 billion, or $15.3 billion including so-called “wider economic benefits”.

Experts familiar with the modelling that supports these estimated benefits have called it into question. Benefits are based largely on time savings, which real world road projects don’t provide because of the new traffic they generate. “Agglomeration benefits” are also largely illusory because on Earth, dense urban centres and private car travel don’t mix well.

But none of that matters now that Premier Andrews has announced the budget cost as $16.5 billion. Even taking the estimated benefits at face value, the conventional benefit-cost ratio is now 0.6. Not even the mooted “wider benefits” get the ratio up to 1, meaning we’re looking at another colossal waste of Victorians’ money.

I’m sure Infrastructure Victoria would readily acknowledge that when assumptions change, so do the conclusions.

Tony Morton, president, Public Transport Users Association

published in The Age, 27/11/2017

Call for govt to fund official PTV “every 10 minutes” train plan

The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has called on the State Government to fund the official PTV rail network service plan, which included trains every 10 minutes on most Metro lines by 2016 [1].

PTUA spokesman Daniel Bowen said the upgrade would revolutionise train travel around Melbourne, by cutting waiting times and crowding outside peak hours, and making more trips viable by public transport, including those requiring a change of service.

“Studies show that waiting time for public transport is often perceived negatively [2], with passengers believing waiting time is longer than it actually is”, said Mr Bowen. “This actively discourages people from using using infrequent public transport, especially for journeys requiring connections between services.

“Running trains every 10 minutes every day, just as we see already on a few lines, and just as we see in other cities of Melbourne’s size around the world, will get people off the roads.”

The PTV plan, written in 2012, proposed that by 2016 there would be the following service levels off-peak and on weekends:

  • 6 trains per hour to Sunshine, Craigieburn, South Morang, Macleod, Ringwood, Glen Waverley, Sandringham, Newport (in addition to existing services to Frankston and Dandenong)
  • 3 trains per hour off-peak to outer-suburban stations at Sunbury, Belgrave, Lilydale

Number of stations outside inner area[3] served by 10-minute frequencies

Lines

Total stations

Current weekday off-peak

Current weekends

Proposed PTV plan 2016, 7-days

via North Melbourne

56

7

1

26

via Clifton Hill

38

6

6

31

via Burnley

48

1

17

30

via South Yarra

57

36

36

46

Total

199

50

60

134

The number of stations on the network with all-week frequent services would rise from about a quarter to about two-thirds.

At many stations, this would mean the time between trains was halved.

Mr Bowen said that while some off-peak services were crowded and would be relieved by extra trains, the primary aim was to cut waiting times to get more people out of their cars.

“Weekend traffic is now as bad as weekdays. We know from Vicroads figures that there is almost as much travel demand in the middle of the day, and on weekends as there is at traditional peak commuting times”, said Mr Bowen. [4]

“PTV’s train plan isn’t perfect, but implementing the 2012 recommendations would be a great step towards a frequent metro service around Melbourne.

“The current half-baked metro service we have now just don’t cut it. Our city is growing fast, and we can’t have is inaction until 2026 when the metro tunnel opens.”

The PTUA also called for trams to be upgraded to run at least every 10 minutes until midnight, 7-days-a-week, for Smartbus services to run every 10-15 minutes on weekends, matching weekday frequencies (and in line PTV plans) and to expand the Smartbus system.

“Melbourne has a vast fleet of trains, trams and buses, much of which sits idle on weekends”, said Mr Bowen. “We know that people want to travel. It’s time the government funded extra services to cut waiting times, and make public transport a more viable option – not just in peak hour, but right through the week.”

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[1] PTV Network Development Plan, Metropolitan Rail. Full document, pages 32-33. www.ptv.vic.gov.au/about-ptv/ptv-data-and-reports/network-development-plan-metropolitan-rail

This PTV chart from page 33 of the document shows 6 trains-per-hour (eg every 10 minutes) by 2016 to most of the network.

PTV Network Development Plan 2012: Planned train services

[2] Research paper: Perception of Waiting Time at Transit Stops and Stations

https://nacto.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/1_Fan-et-al-Perception-of-Waiting-Time-at-Transit-Stops-and-Stations_2015.pdf

[3] Stations outside the CBD, Richmond, North Melbourne, South Yarra, which already have frequent services (6 or more trains per hour). Assumes weekday Werribee operating pattern would run 7-days

[4] Vicroads Online Traffic Monitor – shows that weekday inter-peak traffic and weekend traffic are almost as heavy as on weekdays during peak times.

Vicroads: Traffic volumes by time of day
Vicroads traffic figures by day of week

Media coverage of this story:

Inside Melbourne’s new trains

Last week we took a look at the mock-up of Melbourne’s new train design, to give feedback to the project team.

The mock-up is one and a half carriages, designed to show stakeholder groups the layout, including the inter-carriage connections.
New train mock-up: It's made up of one and a half carriages, to show the differing layouts throughout the train

The platform alongside the mock-up has different heights, to simulate actual conditions around Melbourne’s rail network. This model of train will initially run between Sunbury and Cranbourne/Pakenham, but eventually will run on other lines too. (We think the front destination sign is very clear, but not so readable from an angle as the train approaches the platform.)
New train mock-up: Front of train

Ramps are also in use for testing with accessibility groups. They are testing different highlights around the doorways to assist people with vision difficulties.
028

A “gap filler” is being tested, attached to the doorway of the train. We’re a bit concerned that this is rubbery, and may move under-foot – it’s also incompatible with similar devices on some station platforms. The external passenger assistance button is also only a test, and may not be on the final trains built.
Doorway, showing gap filler, external passenger assistance button - these may not be on the final version of the train

Inside, there is open space near the ends of the carriages, providing allocated spots for wheelchairs. Happily, the hand straps in the standing areas are soft, and don’t squeak like on the Siemens trains.
New train mock-up: standing area showing wheelchair allocated spaces and hand straps

The middle sections of the carriages have a lot more seats. The total number of seats in the 7-car train will be about the same as the trains in the current fleet. The mock-up has more places to hold (rails and hand straps) on than on the Comeng and Siemens train, but we think there could be even more provided.
New train mock-up: Seating

Above each doorway is a “Passenger Information Display” screen showing the next station and other information. They’re trying out different designs, including colour, and white on black (which isn’t as “pretty”, but is much more readable).
New train mock-up: interior Passenger Information Display

The inside walls have a “dynamic route map” showing the route the train is taking, and its current location. Of course these will have to be more reliable than the current fleet.
New train mock-up: Interior dynamic route map

A display on the outside of the train also shows the destination. This is more readable than similar displays on the X’Trapolis trains.
New train mock-up: Side of carriage will have a destination sign

Overall the mock-up looks pretty good to us, but we’ve provided some feedback on areas where we hope to see improvements in the design, as have other groups.

Anything you see here may have changed by the time the real trains start service.

Here are some more details of the mock-up, provided by the government:

The High Capacity Metro Trains Project is currently two weeks into the final train design consultation phase, which has been running all year.

14 accessibility groups, 3 passenger groups and technical experts are all now evaluating the mock-up train.

The High Capacity Metro Trains Project ran a passenger simulation exercise a few days ago, where almost 100 members of the public were brought in to experience the mock-up.

On 3 October, Guide Dogs Victoria were evaluating the mock-up – including their suggested change for more flip down priority seating as guide dogs are trained to sit beneath their owner’s seats.

Passengers, accessibility and transport user groups have already provided feedback on features such as the doors, seats, lighting, electronic signage, straps, and handrails.

More than 600,000 Australians currently use mobility aids and the design of the High Capacity Metro Trains has factored in their need for more space for mobility devices, including scooters and wheelchairs.

The final number of seats is yet to be determined and will be decided once the extensive stakeholder consultation that is underway concludes – however, the new trains will have more seats than the current fleets, which have between 420 to 432.

The feedback from stakeholder groups will be consolidated at the end of this evaluation phase, with the train design to then be finalised over coming months.

Port Rail Shuttle resuscitation welcomed

Vital context for unsolicited West Gate Tunnel Proposal, says PTUA

The Public Transport Users Association welcomes the Andrews Government’s resolution on Sunday to progress work on the Port Rail Shuttle to “level the playing field” between road and rail freight for the Port of Melbourne.

PTUA President Dr Tony Morton said the Port Rail Shuttle was a critical project for the mutual benefit of freight operators and residents in Melbourne’s west.

“The relatively modest $58 million price tag belies the importance of this project,” Dr Morton said. “It’s all about renewing a heap of underutilised rail infrastructure around the port area and inner west, based on the most up-to-date thinking in efficient freight movement and logistics. It’s also to Melbourne’s competitive advantage as we catch up to where Sydney is now with its Moorebank multimodal terminal.”

The lack of rail connections to the Port of Melbourne led operator Qube Logistics to abandon the port and focus its operations in Sydney, where the Moorebank terminal provides full flexibility in road and rail-based container logistics. In Melbourne, the Port Rail Shuttle will allow direct rail access between the port and multimodal terminals (dubbed ‘inland ports’) in Altona, Somerton and Lyndhurst.

Rail connections to more far-flung destinations will also be better provided for. “Right now we have the absurd situation where bulk freight is railed in from regional Victoria – at a great saving of money, energy and emissions – but then has to be reloaded onto trucks for the last five kilometres into the dock area,” said Dr Morton.

At the same time, the shuttle needed to be placed in context as the start of a wider rail strategy for the Port, according to the PTUA. “We need to be serious about rail if the port is going to handle the freight volumes being talked about: this means reconnecting rail to Webb Dock, and looking at the whole access charging regime to level the playing field with almost ‘free’ road transport.”

The PTUA also stresses the wider context for transport planning in western Melbourne, with hearings currently underway on the Environment Effects Statement for Transurban’s West Gate Tunnel. “The Port Rail Shuttle currently tops our list of high-value projects that are competing directly with the West Gate Tunnel for attention and funding,” Dr Morton said. “It hasn’t escaped anyone’s attention that the rail shuttle was put on hold for three years just as major road plans were being progressed.”

“We’re under no illusions here – there is a direct competitive situation between road and rail for port freight traffic,” said Dr Morton. “And now we have a choice before us. The West Gate Tunnel tilts the balance toward vastly greater numbers of trucks, while the Shuttle and its complementary rail measures are intended to reduce truck movements. Clearly, the Shuttle affects the business case for the road and vice versa. If we were being honest in planning for the public interest and keeping to the fine words of the Transport Integration Act, the road and rail alternatives would be evaluated side-by-side.”

“This is quite separate to the threat the West Gate Tunnel poses to city traffic and amenity more generally,” Dr Morton said. “Though we’re talking about freight at present, this is not going to be primarily a ‘freight road’. It is quite plainly a radial commuter motorway for single-occupant cars into central Melbourne, of the sort that we thought transport planners had abandoned after the 1970s.”

Submissions on the West Gate Tunnel EES by PTUA as well as the City of Melbourne, the Planning Institute of Australia and the Inner Melbourne Planning Association have raised concerns that freight on the new road will be overwhelmed by an explosion in private commuter traffic, to the detriment of local communities, and that sustainable public transport solutions were being overlooked in the rush to endorse a private toll road. This contrasts with the more targeted ‘West Gate Distributor’ proposal the ALP took to the 2014 State election.

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Further resources: