Stage 4 lockdown restricts public transport, rail construction in Melbourne

As Victoria enters stage 4 restrictions due to the spread of COVID-19, metropolitan rail services and construction on major rail projects in Melbourne are being cut back.

While public transport is able to continue running, with Melbourne under a curfew from 8pm to 5am, Metro Trains services have been significantly reduced with trains running infrequently. Yarra Trams have stated that some services will run at up to 40 minute frequency. Public Transport Victoria stated that changes to services will be different each night.

All Night Network services, which covers services that run after midnight on Friday and Saturday nights, will be suspended while stage 4 restrictions are in place. The current restrictions only allow people to leave their homes between 8pm and 5am for work, medical care, and caregiving.

According to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews some staff will be redeployed.

“The Night Network will be suspended, and public transport services will be reduced during curfew hours. This will also allow us to redeploy more of our PSOs into our enforcement efforts.”

Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) spokesperson Daniel Bowen said that better communication of changes was needed.

“On Monday night details of drastic evening service cuts for trams and trains were only published as they took effect, giving travellers no time to plan ahead,” he said.

The PTUA recommended running trains to a Saturday timetable would be a better outcome, with less demand during the peaks.

“While the capacity will probably be sufficient to maintain physical distancing given the curfew and the shutdown of most workplaces, the big problem is the wait times. Imagine finishing your shift at 11pm and having to wait 90 minutes for your train home,” said Bowen.

Rail construction projects are also limited under the stage 4 restrictions. Major construction sites are limited to the minimum amount of people required for safety, and no more than 25 per cent of the normal workforce. Small scale construction is limited to a maximum of five people on site. Andrews said the government was reviewing major public projects.

“To date, we’ve almost halved the number of people onsite on some of our biggest government projects. Now we’re going to go through project by project, line by line to make sure they are reduced to the practical minimum number of workers.”

A Major Transport Infrastructure Authority (MTIA) spokesperson said that work would continue under the new restrictions.

“The MTIA is continuing to look at ways to further reduce the number of staff while allowing essential works to continue safely.”

On-site, MTIA staff are required to wear a mask, practice physical distancing and follow hygiene procedures and staggered shifts. A 70-person strong COVID Safety Team have been ensuring that all worksites comply, with multiple checks each day on every project.

Other rail businesses and organisations will largely be able to continue in line with their COVIDsafe plans. This includes passenger and freight operations, including rail yards, and transport support services.

Australasian Railway Association (ARA) CEO Caroline Wilkie said she welcomed the government’s recognition of rail’s essential role and noted that the restrictions struck the right balance between keeping businesses operating and addressing the spread of COVID-19.

“The rail industry has been working hard to keep essential services safely operating throughout 2020,” she said.

“From the train drivers on passenger and freight services to those working in stations, workshops and in the office, rail workers have made sure essential services are there for people who need them no matter what.”

Rail manufacturing businesses will also be able to remain operating, due to their role in supporting an essential service. Manufacturing businesses that support critical infrastructure public works are able to operate as per their COVIDsafe plan.

“Now more than ever we need the rail network to be as reliable and efficient as possible and these businesses are crucial to that effort,” said Wilkie.

Extra services added to cope with COVID-19 demand

Transport for NSW has added an extra 3,300 weekly bus and train services around the network to allow for passengers to travel safely as patronage returns to the network.

The services include an extra 250 train services on the Sydney Trains network and 3,100 buses across Sydney.

Already, some bus routes have reached their reduced capacity during peak periods, leading to commuters having to wait for the next bus. Capacity has been limited to ensure physical distancing can be maintained on the transport network.

The services began on June 1, in response to the increase in peak hour travel since restrictions were eased over the past fornight.

The extra trains and buses are in addition to 800 wekly bus and light rail services that were added during May.

According to Transport for NSW, the increase in services will provide 59,000 extra spaces on trains and 37,000 extra spaces and buses each week.

The NSW government is continuing to advise commuters to use alternative travel arrangements, such as driving, walking, or cycling, or work from home, where possible.

In Victoria, passenger groups are asking for more services outside of the peak periods.

Public Transport Users Association spokesperson Daniel Bowen said that unless frequency outside of the peak was increased, the benefits of staggering work times wouldn’t be realised on the transport network.

“It makes sense to encourage staggered working hours, with people travelling at different times – but this won’t help if public transport frequency and capacity is not boosted to enable it.”

Bowen said that in comparison to Sydney and Perth, Melbourne’s off peak capacity of trains every 20 minutes severely limits the network’s capacity outside of peak periods, particularly with the current limits in place.

“The public transport network is key to Melbourne’s economic recovery from this crisis. But it must be run in a way that ensures passengers and staff are as safe as possible.”

Fundamentally, capacity must be managed, and the key to this is encouraging staggered travel, which is only possible by providing sufficient services throughout the day,” said Bowen.