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.

High-capacity signalling test site under construction

A test site for high-capacity signalling is now being established at the Pakenham East Depot in Melbourne.

The test site will allow for the introduction of high-capacity signalling, described as “moving block” signalling systems, instead of “fixed block” systems. The new signalling system will enable trains to automatically adjust their speed, in order to maintain a safe distance from the train in front. This technology differs from current systems, which tell trains when it is safe to proceed to a new section of track via coloured signals.

High-capacity signalling is delivered by the Rail Systems Alliance, a consortium of CPB Contractors, Bombardier, Metro Trains Melbourne, and Rail Projects Victoria.

The test site will be constructed at Nar Nar Goon, in south east Melbourne. This will enable access to the high-capacity signalling platform and test track, situated inside the Pakenham East Depot.

Trackside equipment will be installed between March 2 and 6.

On the Melbourne network, high-capacity signalling will be installed on the Sunbury to Cranbourne/Pakenham line, as well as the Mernda Line between Epping and South Morang.

Signal control centres will be built at Sunshine and Dandenong. Signallers will support train movements across the lines from here, including through the Metro Tunnel.

In addition to the high-capacity signalling work, new high-capacity metro trains will be introduced on the Melbourne Metro network. On the platforms, floor-to-ceiling platform screen doors will be installed. These will reduce overcrowding, dwell times, and improve tunnel ventilation. These will be designed and supplied by Faiveley Transport. The platforms screen doors will also be tested at the Pakenham East depot.

Services suspended following V/Line and freight train crash

A V/Line train collided with a wagon from a derailed freight train on Wednesday evening south of Wodonga in Victoria.

An Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) spokesperson said ARTC can confirm an incident has occurred on its rail network between Chiltern and Barnawartha at approximately 5.40pm on Wednesday.

The ARTC spokesperson advised that a northbound freight train derailed and a passenger train service travelling south on the adjacent track struck a wagon of the freight train.

The 5.20pm V/Line Albury to Melbourne passenger service was travelling south on the adjacent track when it subsequently struck one of the freight train’s wagons.

The ARTC spokesperson said the train line “currently remains suspended to all services and the site is quarantined for attendance by independent safety regulators and for incident investigations through today,”

“Track opening will be subject to recovery and infrastructure damage assessments following site incident investigations across a roughly 1.7 kilometres long area,”

“A more detailed forecast of reopening will be provided once a full assessment of damage to the track is able to take place.”

ARTC said in a statement that their priority at this stage is to ensure the safety of the persons involved and assisting attending emergency authorities.

A CFA spokesperson said a number of the wagons were alight when emergency services arrived, and the flames sparked a grassfire.

The grassfire was deemed safe at 8.15pm Wednesday evening.

A VicEmergency update stated that the “train incident is still ongoing and is currently being assessed by the relevant agencies.”

There are no reported injuries to passengers or crews of either train service.

The ARTC will provide further updates as they become available. 

Toorak level crossing removed ahead of schedule

The Level Crossings Removal Project estimates that the Toorak Road level crossing will be removed six months ahead of schedule.

A revised completion date of April will see the new rail bridge operational, with cars travelling underneath.

Work currently being completed includes the installation of 18 concrete columns to support the new rail bridge. During February and March, U-troughs will be installed which will form the rail bridge. 20 of the structures will be installed along with retaining walls in Tooronga Park and Talbot Crescent.

While works and being undertaken, the rail line will be closed during the next months. These will be scheduled during off-peak periods.

In early 2021, 23,000 trees, plants, and grasses will be plated to finish the project.

Other projects currently underway as part of the Level Crossings Removal Project include site investigations for upgrades to the Hurstbridge Line. Surveys and investigations have occurred in Greensborough, Montmorency, and Diamond Creek.

As part of the Level Crossings Removal Project, the Victorian government plans to duplicate the rail line between Greensborough and Montmorency, and between Diamond Creek and Wattle Glen. Work will also be undertaken at Greensborough and Montmorency stations.

Train stabling at Victoria Park will also be upgraded and power and signalling will be improved along parts of the Hurstbridge Line. Submissions on changes to the Planning Scheme Amendment which will enable the project are now open.

 

Construction blitz planned for Melbourne’s Frankston line

To pave the way for a construction blitz in Victoria in May, work towards the construction of two new stations at Cheltenham and Mentone on the Frankston line and the removal of three congested level crossings is underway.

“We’re getting rid of these death traps – making Cheltenham and Mentone safer, and delivering brand new stations and more open space,” minister for transport infrastructure, Jacinta Allan, said.

“Cheltenham and Mentone are going to have a busy year and I thank residents and traders in advance for their patience during construction, which will deliver more trains, more often.”

The Frankston line will be closed between Frankston and Moorabbin in early to mid-February to enable the removals and continuing work at Cheltenham and Mentone.

Construction on the rail trenches which will lower the Frankston line under Park Road, Charman Road and Balcombe Road started in late 2019.

The crossings are expected to be gone by July 2020, and the new stations will open after finishing works by early 2021.

The works are part of the state government’s $3 billion investment on the Frankston line, which includes the removal of 18 level crossings and 12 new stations. Five crossings have already been removed.

Melbourne’s new stabling yard due for completion

Melbourne’s new train storage facility is almost up and running, with an expected completion date of early 2020.

Construction of the Wyndham Vale stabling yard began in late 2018. Intended to house up to six V/Line VLocity trains (regional passenger trains), it will also include driver facilities and a bypass track which will allow trains to access the facility and refuel without delaying passenger services.

This will provide immediate and long-term benefits to the regional network, according to a Victorian government statement.

The Wyndham Vale stabling yard will enable further stabling expansion and a maintenance facility if it is determined to be needed in the future, while also ensuring there is capacity to house additional trains in the future.

It will replace existing stabling at a facility near Footscray, and make way for extensions as part of the West Gate Tunnel Project.

As of early October, the majority of the track has been laid and structures such as gantires, fencing and gates have been installed.

According to a government statement, the track itself has been embedded with more than 100 Duratrack recycled plastic sleepers – a sustainable alternative to traditional concrete or timber sleepers.

Work has also started on facilities to house equipment, security and staff amenities.

McConnell Dowell, under the Western Program Alliance, is delivering the work. The total estimated investment in the Wyndham Vale stabling yard is $172.9 million, according to 2019/20 State Budget papers.

Flinders Street to partially close for Metro Tunnel works

The eastbound lanes of Flinders Street, Melbourne will be closed to traffic between Elizabeth Street and Swanston Street for up to three years while works on the Metro Tunnel project are carried out. 

The closure will begin from September 2, and the Victorian Government has warned of significant disruption to traffic. Trams will continue to run through the area in both directions in an attempt to ease the ensuing congestion however, with the exception of October 27.

The closure will cut truck movements on Swanston Street in half to around 100 trucks a day during peak construction in late 2020, with the full footpath on Flinders Street scheduled to re-open to pedestrians in late 2020

“This is a significant closure, but we need to do it – it’s the only way to build this vital underground connection between Flinders Street and the Metro Tunnel station,” said Victorian Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan.

“We know how disruptive this major construction will be so we’re doing everything we can to minimise disruptions and impacts on local residents, businesses and people visiting the city.”

Access for pedestrians and vehicles will be kept for residents and local businesses, with loading bays in place to the east of Elizabeth Street for drop-offs and deliveries. A new footpath will be constructed for pedestrians to the west of Degraves Street so that pedestrians can cross to the south side of Flinders Street, maintaining access to the tram stop.

The $5 billion Metro Tunnel project reached a drilling milestone last week as roadheaders broke through to the site of the State Library Station 30 metres below the Swanston Street surface. It is one of five new underground stations that will be built for the nine-kilometre project by 2025.

Metro Tunnel project achieves drilling breakthrough

Victoria’s Metro Tunnel project has reached a significant project milestone by connecting two caverns at the point that will become the new State Library Station in Melbourne. 

Three of the seven roadheader drills being used for underground tunneling works on the project in the city’s central business district met 30 metres underground at the site where the station will be built on Thursday.

Rail Projects Victoria expects excavation of the station area is to be completed by late 2020. The breakthrough, which took eight months to achieve, took place below Swanston Street between Franklin East and A’Beckett Street.

Four roadheaders will be employed for the State Library Station excavation, with the other three to be used for excavation of Town Hall Station.

“In total, more than 500,000 tonnes of material will be excavated – the equivalent of almost 70 Olympic swimming pools – with 1,500 tonnes of rock and soil removed every 24 hours,” the government said in a statement.

The $5 billion Metro Tunnel project will build five stations from North Melbourne to Anzac over a distance of nine kilometres. It is set for completion by 2025.

Monash study finds preference for cars among new parents

A Monash University study surveying the transportation habits of  Melbourne commuters has revealed possible methods to increase public transport adoption amongst first-time parents.

Respondents who had become parents in the past year cited a lack of off-peak frequencies, dedicated caregiver station parking and suburban reach as issues preventing their increased use of public transport.

The study found that among the 758 new parents surveyed, many were increasingly turning to cars to support their needs, with the volume of people using public transport regularly dropping from 30 per cent of respondents in the year prior to becoming parents to just 14 per cent a year after the birth of their children.

In addition, the number of respondents who said they rarely or never used a car decreased from one-third to less than one per cent in the same timeframe.

“A number of studies have shown that households with children are more car-dependent than other households groups,” said Laura McCarthy, a PhD researcher from Monash University’s Public Transport Research Group.

“Our study identifies different groups of transport users. By doing this, we found that, while car use did increase for most groups, other groups displayed more sustainable travel patterns following parenthood.

Monash split its findings into five distinct transport categories: Transit Leavers, Consistent Drivers, Committed Multimodals, Transit Faithfuls and Devoted Cyclists.

The Devoted Cyclists group showed one of the biggest post-parenthood drops, from 46 per cent to just one per cent.

McCarthy suggested that modest changes could be made to better accommodate families with young children using public transport.

“Each of the five groups shared different characteristics and attitudes towards travel modes,” she said. “This suggests a one-size-fits-all policymaking approach may need to be abandoned in favour of a more nuanced consideration of the public transport needs of new parents.”

High Street to close to traffic for Reservoir rail bridge construction

Intersection works on the Reservoir level crossing removal in Melbourne are set to commence next month with a team of roughly 200 workers.

Foundations and columns outside the intersection for the building of a new rail bridge over the crossing are now complete, with the next phase of works set to start from mid-August.

The High Street intersection will be closed to traffic to accommodate the works from August 19 to late December, with workers building two 185 metre-long segments of steel bridge. 

“Trains will continue to operate for most of this time, with alternative access routes in place for road traffic and continued changes in place for pedestrians,” the Victorian Government announced.

“We suggest drivers allow up to an additional 15 minutes to travel the east–west detours at peak or busy times of day.”

North-south journeys and non-peak hour journeys are expected to take less additional time.

The next phase of the Reservoir project will include the construction of the base of the elevated platform above Reservoir Station, which is made up of six steel modules of up to 100 tonnes each in addition to 190 concrete planks.

The first sections of the bridge will also be installed, in addition to up to 10 bridge pieces weighing up to 75 tonnes apiece to be lifted into place by a 350-tonne crane.