Victorian

Victorian transport operators exceed all performance and reliability targets

Victorian public transport operators have exceeded all punctuality and reliability targets in April.

The figures were some of the highest in the past year, and some operators recorded the highest results since data was being measured.

The results were largely due to fewer people on the network and fewer disruptions due to stay at home directives issues by the Victorian government to limit the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), according to a statement from Metro Trains Melbourne.

“A quieter network means more trains are able to get to their destinations sooner, which is important for the Melburnians who still depend on our services.”

A Department of Transport spokesperson also acknowledged the impact of fewer people in the transport system.

“The lower patronage on the public transport network combined with fewer cars on the road has resulted in an improvement in punctuality for our trains and trams in April,” said the spokesperson.

“The improved result was also due to a reduction in incidents, such as track and infrastructure faults and ill passengers on the network.”

Metropolitan train services were punctual 96.2 per cent of the time, and 99 per cent of services were delivered. This exceeded the respective 92 and 98.5 per cent targets.

Metro Trains Melbourne said that there were fewer incidents on the network during April, which also improved performance.

“In April we saw fewer faults impacting our trains and equipment meaning a more reliable journey for passengers,” the operator said in a statement.

“There were also fewer disruptions caused by weather events, trespassers and police operations.”

Regional train services were similarly above targets, with 92.1 per cent on time and 97.4 per cent of services delivered. The most reliable short distance line was the Seymour Line with 99.1 per cent of services delivered and the most punctual were services on the Geelong line.

Of the long-distance lines, Warrnambool, Albury/Wodonga, Swan Hill and Echuca, and Shepparton lines all saw 100 per cent of services delivered. The most on time services were on the Warrnambool line, with 99.3 per cent delivered within 10 minutes and 59 seconds of the scheduled time.

The punctuality of tram services was well above the 82 per cent target, with 93.8 per cent of services arriving on time. 99.2 per cent of services were delivered, exceeding to 98.5 per cent target. Both figures were the highest for the past 12 months.

Innovation in the world’s largest tram network

Melbourne’s iconic tram network operates across 250km of double track. Xavier Leal from Keolis Downer shares Yarra Trams’ latest innovation strategy that is digitising the network’s 5,000 daily services.

The world’s largest operational tram network has been transporting passengers in Melbourne for over one hundred years. Xavier Leal, manager of innovation and knowledge at Keolis Downer, acknowledges that operations throughout the urban tram network have considerably advanced since the first tram line was pulled by horses in 1884. As the operator of Yarra Trams, Keolis Downer has been investing in its digital strategy to prioritise data collection and improve passenger experience.

Leal has almost fifteen years of experience in strategy and innovation management. Since he joined Yarra Trams in two years ago, he has been driving forward innovations in the business that support enhanced passenger experience, operational effectiveness, and safety in the network.

Before his current role at Keolis Downer, Leal worked in the mobility and transport sectors in Europe. He has led a wide range of international projects that explored digital innovations and defining technology diffusion processes. His previous projects include developing innovative information and technology services, including T-TRANS and Collective Intelligence for Public Transport in European Cities (CIPTEC). Leal said Keolis Downer leverages its worldwide operational experience to explore innovations in smart cities through a digital mobility observatory.

Leal highlighted that it is important to note the difference between tram networks in Europe and Melbourne to understand how investment in processes will allow Melbourne to set an international benchmark for light rail infrastructure.

“Melbourne has a unique tram network. Trams elsewhere don’t have the same challenges that we have here. Not only is it the world’s largest operational tram network with over 250km of track and more than 1,700 stops across the city, but 75 per cent of the network is shared with road vehicles,” Leal said.

This means trams do not have separated corridors on Melbourne roads and operate amid buses, cars, cyclists, and pedestrians. This brings particular challenges with safety and operational performance, particularly travel times. Melbourne’s tram network could run more efficiently. To enhance network capability, Yarra Trams have used technology to enable faster services.

However, due to the nature of having assets distributed widely across the network, including the vehicles themselves, stations, and other monitoring points, there is the potential for the accumulation of digital data to support the more efficient operation of the network. Yarra Trams has recognised this, and is looking to digital innovation, with a number of projects deployed to target priorities including faster travel times, reduced disruptions, and customer safety. These initiatives include digitising asset management through real time-based platforms, to exploring crowdsourcing of data for safety and unplanned disruption management.

One project that Yarra Trams has trialled is the on-board collection of image-based data on traffic. In developing the technology, Yarra Trams took a consultative and collaborative approach by incorporating feedback from multiple stakeholders which come into contact with the relatively open network.

The development team looked to how they could incorporate real time data on traffic volumes to maximise operational efficiency and passenger experience. However, solutions were not always going to come from within the organisation, and Yarra Trams looked for partners who could enable this digital data project.

“Effectively engaging with the innovation ecosystem is another critical success factor to maximise digital technologies,” Leal said.

Keolis Downer collaborated with the Australian Integrated Multimodal Ecosystem (AIMES) to procure Toshiba’s traffic sensing technology. Leal said the data collection and analysis system was based on image processing and deep learning technology in a smart transport cloud system. A trial of traffic sensing by on-board unit (OBU) based image processing technology took place in March 2019 with two C2 trams travelling on route 96 from Brunswick East to St Kilda Beach.

Leal said the trial tested the capability of the technology to detect various states of traffic by deploying image processing techniques and transmitting the results to a cloud system. The OBU could detect traffic in terms of volume, vehicle queues, vulnerable road users, pedestrians and obstacles.

HD cameras captured real time traffic and processed and measured the information as it happened. The information collected from vehicle queue lengths waiting at red signal and pedestrian flow assessed traffic conditions to
a degree, while also detecting obstacles and service adjustment.

The OBU system consists of three units, a stereo camera, image processing hardware, and a signal divider. The OBU system sends detection results back to a central server. These results include images that have been tagged with GPS data. The trail enabled Yarra Trams to obtain geographically precise data to illustrate issues in the network in real time, enabling faster responses and comparisons with historical data.

The digital data collected throughout this trial may allow traffic management and operation control staff to instantly evaluate risks as well as predict needed safety measures.

Images taken by trams are used to map pedestrians and crowds.

“It was a successful project,” said Leal. “We assessed the system capabilities
to detect traffic volumes, vehicle queue lengths at intersections, pedestrian crowd volume detection and estimation around tram infrastructure. Now we are discussing with Toshiba, government stakeholders, and Melbourne University researchers the next steps to further evolve the system,” Leal said. Leal is proud to pioneer the use of digital data to evaluate complex transport networks. He said it’s not uncommon for large networks such as the Melbourne tram network to experience unplanned disruptions, so managing data from Yarra Tram allows a clearer understanding of behaviour of motorists, pedestrians, and other vehicles which the network comes into contact with.

Leal said trams and light rail services are the lifeblood of Melbourne, as they are the primary mode of public transport for inner suburban residents. Globally, more than 200 cities are now recreating, building, or planning tram networks. If the Melbourne network were to be rebuilt today, it would cost more than $20 billion and take several decades to complete.

“It’s important to us to have a holistic approach to our digital strategy, that leverages Keolis’s expertise in mobility and digital technology with a robust data management platform that aligns with the Department of Transport’s systems and tools,” Leal said.

“We are increasingly gaining more data flowing from digital channels. From a passenger experience perspective, it is important for us to integrate reporting capabilities with analysis of inputs coming from diverse channels,” Lead said. He said the company expects these channels to grow and further diversify as new streams of data and incorporated into the network.

“We are committed to keep pushing for further integration of information and data to ensure the right actions are taken to enhance Melbourne’s dynamic network,” he said.

Victorian public transport exceeds March targets

Victorian public transport operators have met all but one of their targets in March.

The only metric to not meet its target was the punctuality of regional trains, operated by V/Line, which fell to 85.4 per cent from 86.8 per cent, missing the 92 per cent total.

However, all other metrics were above the target and exceeded 12-month averages.

Metropolitan tram punctuality leapt the most, with a 5.3 percentage point increase from February figures. In March 86.8 per cent of tram services in Melbourne were on time. 98.7 per cent of tram services were delivered, exceeding the reliability target of 98.5 per cent.

Factors affecting these figures include the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown measures, with non-essential workers told to stay at home and limit travel. However, stage 3 restrictions, which made previous advice enforceable with fines, only came into effect on March 31, meaning that further limits will have a greater effect on April figures.

Metro Trains Melbourne listed a number of other factors which impacted on services in March, including flooding following heavy rainfall on March 5, the theft of signalling cable on March 13, and trespasser incidents, however 60 per cent fewer delays were caused by trespassers than in February.

Additionally, Yarra Trams has also had to content with COVID-19 measures, such as the cancellation of the Formula 1 Grand Prix. Renewal works on Plenty Road also had a significant impact upon the tram network.

Other renewal works were also carried out in March by Metro Trains Melbourne. A 10-day program of work on the Sandringham Line saw upgrades at Gardenvale Station, maintenance to overhead lines, signal upgrades, and level crossing renewal works near Brighton.

In total, 92.7 per cent of Metro Trains Melbourne services achieved the punctuality threshold, and 98.8 per cent were within the reliability window.

V/Line services achieved a 96.3 per cent reliability rate.

Operators contend with drops in passenger numbers

As government advice has encouraged people to stay at home during the coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic, passenger transport numbers have plummeted.

This has led to train and tram network operators working closely with governments to ensure that public transport, deemed an essential service, can keep running.

In Melbourne the impact on transport operators is most severe, as Yarra Trams and Metro Trains Melbourne are one of only a handful of private rail transport operators in Australasia that do not operate on a gross cost model. Instead, their net cost agreement with the Victorian government allows them to keep a percentage of the farebox revenue, 40 per cent according to The Age.

Both Yarra Trams and Metro Trains Melbourne have been in discussion with the Department of Transport to enable trams and trains to keep running.

“We are working closely with the Department of Transport to ensure we can continue to offer a safe and reliable service, while protecting the health of our people and those who must travel,” said Julien Dehornoy, CEO of Yarra Trams.

While services continue to run to a standard timetable, the falls in patronage have never been seen before.

“We have seen passenger numbers drop significantly as people heed the call to stay home and avoid all non-essential travel,” said Dehornoy.

While neither operator has cut staff numbers, Metro CEO Raymond O’Flaherty acknowledged that mitigation measures are in place.

“The pandemic is unprecedented, rapidly evolving and is impacting every organisation and business,” he said.

“We’re putting in place sensible measures to support our people and ensure we can keep providing an essential service for Melbourne.”

In a statement to Rail Express, the Victorian Department of Transport reaffirmed that the networks would remain operating. If changes do need to occur, they will be made based on medical advice and communicated ahead of time.

“Public transport is an essential service and continues to run for people who need to travel – but the clear advice is: if you can stay home you must stay home,” said a Department of Transport spokesperson.

“There has been reduction in the number of people traveling on our public transport network in line with people following the advice to stay home.”

In Western Australia, metropolitan train services have been reduced in Perth. From Sunday April 5 until Sunday April 26 Transperth Trains will operate on a Saturday timetable from Monday to Saturday. The Sunday/Public Holiday timetable will remain the same. To ensure that social distancing is maintained, the Public Transport Administration (PTA) will monitor patronage, said WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti.

“COVID-19 has had a big impact on patronage and this temporary adjustment in services is in response to that drop in demand.”

Hopes for improved punctuality on Victorian public transport

With an in-principle agreement signed between the Rail Tram and Bus Union and Yarra Trams, there are hopes that tram punctuality in Melbourne will improve, following a below target result in February.

Yarra Trams recorded a punctuality rate of 81.5 per cent, with major disruptions due to industrial action occurring on February 17 and 20. This met the punctuality target of 79 per cent, however a reliability figure of 96.2 per cent fell below the 98 per cent target.

Other factors impacting on the result included a derailment of a Route 12 tram on Saturday, February 1, and a truck bringing down overhead wires on Swan Street on Friday, February 28, which impacted Route 70 trams.

The in-principle agreement between Yarra Trams and the RTBU will contribute towards improvements in punctuality in the coming months, highlighted Victorian Department of Transport head of transport services Jeroen Weimar.

“It’s pleasing the parties have come to an agreement that will end any further disruptions for our tram passengers.”

Other transport operators also had lower than targeted results. V/Line services had a punctuality result of 86.8 per cent and a reliability result of 88.8 per cent. V/Line has a target of 96 per cent reliability and 92 per cent punctuality.

Events affecting this result included the train derailment at Wallan on Thursday, February 20. This led to trains on the Seymour, Shepparton, and Albury lines being suspended while investigation and repair works were underway.

“All parties worked together in the wake of the tragedy to support the recovery and investigation and ensure the line could reopen once certified for passenger services to return,” said Weimar.

Bright spots for the regional operator included the Gippsland and Warrnambool lines, which experienced a boost to punctuality and reliability of roughly six per cent, the largest improvement on the regional network.

Metro Trains had a positive month, by delivering 98.6 per cent of scheduled services, above its 98.5 per cent target. Punctuality just fell short of the 92 per cent target at 90.3 per cent.

During February, heavy rain, track and signal faults and police operations disrupted the network.

“We continue to work with Metro Trains to ensure punctuality improves in line with what passengers expect from our metropolitan network,” said Weimar.

Melbourne tram terminus upgrade complete

A newly upgraded tram terminus has reopened in the north of Melbourne.

The tram terminus at Melville Road, Pascoe Vale South will improve accessibility and services on Route 58.

It has delivered new amenities for drivers and has created an improved transport hub at the end of the line in Pascoe Vale South.

The upgraded stop includes a 33m platform that aligns with low floor trams for level access boarding, dual tracks to allow trams to turn around more efficiently and new signalised crossing.

New customer information displays, shelter, seating, improved lighting, and safety barriers were also included in the upgrade.

Melissa Horne, Minister for Public Transport and Lizzie Blandthorn, member for Pascoe Vale inspected the newly re-opened upgraded tram terminus on Monday.

“Adding a stabling area has made it easier for trams to turn around, which gives passengers on Route 58 more reliable services to and from the city,” Blandthorn said.

Horne said the Andrew’s Labour Government will continue to add services across the network.

“We’re also upgrading tram stops to make them more accessible for all Victorians,” she said.

The state government-funded upgrade also contributes to future running of the new E-Class trams, that are the largest, safest, and most accessible trams on the network.

E-Class trams are being built in Dandenong, Victoria and all 50 trams are expected to be delivered by mid-2020, bringing the total E-Class fleet to 100 trams.

Each E-Class tram can carry 210 passengers and includes audio and visual passenger information, air conditioning, improved safety features, and dedicated spaces for passengers with mobility aids or prams.

In 2017 route 58 replaced route 8 and 55 to meet high demand in the city’s inner west and north-west. 

Route 58 currently runs D, B and Z-Class trams. 

Construction of the new Melville Road terminus took place from 14 to 22 February 2020.

Industrial action continues to affect PTV performance

Ongoing industrial dispute across the Public Transport Victoria (PTV) network has affected January performance for all three operators.

It was revealed in the public transport performance results for January 2020, published by the Department of Transport on Tuesday, that the monthly reliability of Metro Trains, V/Line, and Yarra Trams has fallen below the threshold.

Jeroen Weimar, department of transport head of transport services said all parties need to come to the table and come to an agreement quickly to prevent further inconvenience.

More protected industrial action is planned across the network this month, with expectations that February performance targets could be affected too.

A PTV spokesperson has stated services are expected to be significantly disrupted on metropolitan trams next week and V/Line Ballarat and Gippsland lines.

“We’re working closely with Yarra Trams to reduce the impact of industrial action as much as we can,” the spokesperson said.

The PTV January report stated that other factors also played a role.

“While the driver resourcing issue was a major factor, Metro’s performance was also impacted by hot weather and storm activity.”

Lighting strikes affected rail equipment throughout the month as well as damage to overhead equipment on the Frankston line on Friday, 10 January.

“We continue to work with Metro Trains on plans to improve performance, through the rollout of initiatives including extra staff on station platforms, new technology on platform displays and ongoing work to prevent people illegally walking on tracks,” Weimar said.

Extreme heat impacted the tram network, with some routes cancelled, replaced or diverted when the temperature went above past 40 degrees in late January.

Yarra Trams ran an extra 3,724 tram trips during the Australian Open at Melbourne Park, which was a 21 per cent increase on the extra trips run for last year’s event.

Despite extreme weather and planned industrial action, between December and January, V/Line improved its punctuality from 85 to 90.6 per cent and reliability from 90.7 to 94.6 per cent.

“V/Line’s three busiest lines, Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo, experienced sharp rises in punctuality from December, growing from 89.9 to 92.6 per cent, from 91.8 to 93.3 per cent and from 86.1 to 90.2 per cent respectively,” a PTV spokesperson said.

“The January Ballarat punctuality figure was also the line’s best in more than three years and follows significant improvements delivered as part of the Ballarat Line Upgrade late last year.”

Weimar said it’s “encouraging”  to see regional trains improving throughout the month.

January included the excavation and concreting of the final section of the Metro Tunnel’s eastern entrance while adding new sections of track. 

Six new tram stops were also installed on Nicholson Street in the city’s north, making Route 96 Melbourne’s most accessible.

Metro Trains and Yarra Trams will pay compensation to eligible passengers after both operators fell below their reliability thresholds in January.

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.

Tram drivers to go on strike during Australian Open

Yarra Trams services will be disrupted during off peak hours on Tuesday, January 28, and Thursday, January 30.

The Victorian Branch of the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) announced the strikes in response to negotiations over part-time work caps.

Yarra Trams has proposed to increase the cap on part-time work from 4 per cent to 15 per cent, however the RTBU argued that an increase in the cap would allow for more part-time workers doing shorter shifts, reducing the terms and conditions of the current workforce.

“Essentially, Yarra Trams is asking its workers to accept their take home pay being slashed. It’s no wonder that employees are overwhelming against these proposals. Yarra Trams has twice put its part-time proposal out to a vote of employees and both times it was rejected – by 97 per cent and 94 per cent respectively,” said branch secretary, Luba Grigorovitch.

A spokesperson for Yarra Trams countered that the company has offered significant pay rises.

“We’ve already offered 12 per cent wage increases and many other improvements to working conditions, as well as seeking to offer people part-time work.”

The strikes will coincide with the Australian Open, and Yarra Trams is proposing to run bus services as an alternative.

“We are working with the Department of Transport and the Australian Open to reduce the impact as best we can and will keep passengers informed,” said the Yarra Trams spokesperson.

“The RTBU regrets that these two stoppages will coincide with the Australian Open. However, we have no other option but to exercise the only effective industrial rights workers have,” said Grigorovitch.

The RTBU called on the Victorian government to take action.

“It is well past time that the State Government and Transport Minister, Melissa Horne, stop sitting on their hands and do something,” said Grigorovitch.

The Yarra Trams spokesperson noted that negotiations would continue.

“We are committed to continuing negotiations to find a mutually beneficial outcome.”

Weather, industrial action affects rail performance in Victoria

Victorian rail operators have fallen short of their monthly targets in December, while light rail operator, Yarra Trams met its punctuality target but missed its reliability threshold.

The figures, from Public Transport Victoria, highlight the strains that train operators are under during a busy and weather-impacted month, said head of transport services at the Department of Transport, Jeroen Weimar.

“Metro Trains was faced with many challenges in December but we’re still looking for them to improve their performance to ensure our passengers get the reliable service they deserve,” he said.

To cope with extreme heat levels in December, with temperatures reaching 44 degrees on December 20, Metro Trains has instituted real time temperature monitoring. The technology enabled fewer services to be cancelled during the heat.

Another factor impacting delays were people illegally entering tracks, incidences of which increased in December.

Increased patronage in the month also led to 540 extra metropolitan train services on New Years Eve.

Overall, Metro Trains’ punctuality sat at 90.8 per cent, and reliability at 98.2 per cent, a 0.1 and 0.7 per cent drop on November figures, respectively.

Yarra Trams’ result sat at 82.8 per cent for punctuality, and 97.2 per cent for reliability. During December the network was affected by industrial action, heat damage to overheads and bridge strikes along Racecourse Road.

Weimar highlighted that these delays were somewhat avoidable.

“It’s incredibly frustrating to see that tram overhead and rail bridges are continually being struck by oversized vehicles,” said Mr Weimar. “It is the responsibility of drivers to know the height of their vehicle and plan their journey accordingly to prevent avoidable disruptions on our roads and public transport network.”

Similar factors affected the performance of the V/Line network, as heat placed speed restrictions on services and industrial action led to services being replaced with buses.