Free Tram Zone distracting from network improvements: PTUA

Members of Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) are calling for the Free Tram Zone in Melbourne to be abolished.

The PTUA said in a statement that they do not support the Free Tram Zone due to overcrowding on services across the Melbourne CBD.

This follows the state parliament inquiry into Expanding Melbourne’s Free Tram Zones. 

Parliament of Victoria received over 300 written submissions to the Economy and Infrastructure Committee. 

The PTUA said in their submission inquiry that the current Free Tram Zone already covers the busiest part of the tram network and urging greater investment in service improvements, instead of extending free transport.

The association said they believe the money spent on providing the Free Tram Zone would be better spent extending and upgrading services across Melbourne.

PTUA wrote in their submission that increasing free public transport will also reduce “the funding available to make much needed improvements to public transport services such as improving accessibility for people with disabilities, increasing frequencies and lengthening operating hours in poorly-serviced areas.”

PTUA said the state government should consider adopting a traffic light priority system that is commonly seen in many European cities.

“An ambitious approach to public transport priority could boost tram frequencies and capacity in the inner core of the network and thereby ease crowding,” they said.

“Reduced delays to public transport vehicles at traffic lights and the improved service levels enabled would make public transport more competitive.”

The association’s submission also suggested a full roll-out of high capacity signalling across the rail network would allow higher train frequencies and help to relieve crowding and enable efficient use of existing infrastructure.

“In comparison to highly-performing lines in other cities, Melbourne only achieves comparatively low frequencies on its busiest railway lines due to signalling limitations,” the inquiry stated.

Rod Barton, party leader of Transport Matters Victoria said public transport groups against expanding Melbourne’s free tram network are confusing operational issues with a bigger picture solution.

“Frustrations over the limitations of the existing services should not prevent the committee considering the wider picture,” Barton said.

“There are ongoing complaints that the current free tram zone contributes to overcrowding on inner city trams. Paying commuters are frustrated when they are unable to board overcrowded trams in the inner city,

“Indeed, overcrowding exists across the entire public transport network. This is an operational issue that could be solved by adding increased services or shorter shuttle routes that take passengers to the perimeter of the zone.”

The inquiry into expanding Melbourne’s Free Tram Zone closed submissions on 31 January 2020.

$125 million in new rail infrastructure for the Port of Melbourne

The Victorian government has approved a new on-dock rail to be built at the Port of Melbourne.

Port of Melbourne Operations will invest $125 million in new rail infrastructure.

The Port of Melbourne will introduce a $9.75 per twenty-foot equivalent unit charge on imported containers and the funds raised from the charge will directly deliver new sidings and connections for the rail project.

Improving rail access to the Port of Melbourne is a legislated condition of its lease, aiming towards a wider push to expand rail freight across Victoria.

The Labor Government said in a statement they are “also supporting the Port Rail Shuttle Network connecting freight hubs in Melbourne’s north and west to the port, new intermodal terminals planned at Truganina and Beveridge, new automated signalling for faster rail freight to GeelongPort and improvements in the regional rail freight network”.

“On-dock rail will make rail transport more competitive, cut the high cost of the ‘last mile’ and reduce truck congestion at the port gate – a big win for Victorian exporters delivering goods to the Port of Melbourne.”

Minister for Ports and Freight Melissa Horne said the project will increase the competitiveness of Victorian industry.

“The Port of Melbourne is a vital part of our multi-billion dollar export sector and agriculture supply chain and on-dock rail will make its operations more efficient for Victorian exporters – removing congestion at the port gate.”

Chairman of the Freight on Rail Group, Dean Dalla Valle, highlighted the industry’s support of the measure.

“Port of Melbourne must also be congratulated for working closely with government and freight companies to deliver this game changing initiative.”

The project is set to be completed by 2023.

Labor reveals state budget ‘transport blitz’ for Victoria

The Victorian Government has unveiled plans to commit record funding for road and rail projects across the state in what it has referred to by Premier Daniel Andrews as a “blitz” for suburban transport.

“From fixing a pothole at the end of your street to the biggest transport projects in Victoria’s history – this Budget will get you where you need to go,” Andrews said.

The plans constitute part of the Victorian Budget for 201920, incorporating a $27.4 billion pipeline of works.

This includes $15.8 billion for the creation of the North East Link; $6.6 billion to remove 25 more level crossings (of a total 75) as part of the ongoing level crossing removal project; and $3.4 billion to deliver upgrades to the Sunbury, Cranbourne and Hurstbridge lines.

In all, the Sunbury line will receive a $2.1 billion boost, Cranbourne $750 million, and Hurstbridge $547 million.

Sunbury will also receive new high-capacity trains that will boost passenger capacity by 113,000 people.

The first of the 65 high-capacity trains previously announced in 2016 as part of the Labor Government’s High Capacity Metro Trains Project, is set to start on the Cranbourne and Pakenham lines this year.

Cranbourne will benefit from line duplications (doubling capacity during peak hours) and Hurstbridge will receive station upgrades at Greensborough and Montmorency.

The government has also set aside $615 million for regional public transport deliveries, including $340 million to purchase up to 18 new three-car V/Line VLocity trains, which the government said would bring good news for manufacturing and supply jobs in Dandenong, which hosts the assembly plant where the trains are built.

$111 million on training, recruitment and upskilling of train drivers in preparation for the new trains and services.

Three new stations will also be built at Goornong, Raywood and Huntly in the Bendigo area for a combined cost of $49.6 million and $150 million will be provided to fund new car parks at some of the busier stations in Melbourne and regional Victoria through the Car Parks for Commuters Fund

Following on from promises made before the state election in March, Labor will build 11,000 new spaces at stations across the state, bumping the current total number of spaces by 20 per cent to 66,000 stations in order to help relieve pressure along the lines.

An incentive scheme designed to reduce truck numbers on local roads by shifting more freight to rail will also be extended with an $8 million investment. Minister for Public Transport, Ports and Freight Melissa Horne said, “We promised to get trucks off local streets and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

Outside of rail projects, the Andrews Labor Government will also put aside $608 million for road upgrades (including $425 million on regional roads) and $45.4 million for the development of bike and pedestrian paths, including new bike paths on St Kilda Road.

$205.1 million will be spent on increasing train and bus services generally, with the latter to be rolled out in Melbourne growth areas such as the north and south-east of the city.

“These projects should have been built years ago,” said Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan. “We can’t change that, but we can keep our promises and keep delivering the projects Victorians voted for and need – and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

The Labor Government has spent $46.7 billion on state transport in the last four years, including its ongoing work on expensive projects such as the aforementioned level crossing removals and the $11 billion Metro Tunnel development, an underground rail line connecting the Sunbury line in the northwest to the Pakenham and Cranbourne lines in the south east.