Bourke and Spencer Street – where cars take priority

If you have ever caught a tram down Bourke Street and alighted at the corner of Spencer Street, the massive wait for the pedestrian lights to turn green should be quite familiar. So how long will you get stuck waiting there?

We start at 2:21:06 PM – a St Kilda bound route 96 tram has disgorged a full load of passengers, who have filled the narrow walkway leading towards Southern Cross Station.

Tram load of passengers depart a route 96 service at the corner of Bourke and Spencer Streets

There are no cars driving down Spencer Street, yet both the tram and departing passengers still have to wait.

No cars using the intersection of Bourke and Spencer Streets, but the tram and departing passengers still have to wait

40 seconds later, and the tram finally gets a green light to turn from Bourke into Spencer Street.

D2.5020 on route 96 finally gets the traffic light to turn from Bourke into Spencer Street

It takes the tail end of the tram 10 seconds to clear the intersection, but the passengers are still waiting.

Route 96 tram clears the corner of Bourke and Spencer Streets, but departing passengers are still waiting

Now over a minute has passed since the passengers left them tram, and the pedestrian lights finally turn green, allowing passengers to leave the tram stop.

Finally - departing passengers get a green light to leave the tram stop

Note that for anyone bound for Southern Cross Station, after crossing Bourke Street, there will be a second wait for the pedestrian lights to cross Spencer Street!

If there is a location in Melbourne that needs a scramble crossing, then the corner of Bourke and Spencer Street is it.

Don’t believe me?

Just to prove how pedestrian-hostile the corner of Bourke and Spencer Streets is, here are a few more photos.

Hoards of passengers attempt to leave the tram stop at Bourke and Spencer Streets

Note that once the narrow walkway gets filled with departing tram passengers, it is impossible for any intending passengers to reach the tram stop.

Crowd of exiting tram passengers waiting for the traffic lights at Spencer and Bourke Street

In addition, waiting pedestrians overflow the west end of the path, and have to squeeze out of the way of turning route 96 trams.

Woefully inadequate for a main entrance to the Melbourne CBD, isn’t it?

Further reading

In January 2012 the City of Melbourne commissioned a report titled ‘CBD Pedestrian Congestion and Public Transport Access‘ – inside it details the growing congestion that faces pedestrians accessing public transport in the Melbourne CBD, and how it can be addressed.

Photographing every railway station in Melbourne

Melbourne has around two hundred railway stations across the city, but for someone such as myself, taking a photo at each one should be easy enough to achieve. However I sat down the other week, and came to the realisation that after 10 years and over 35,000 photographs catalogued online, it is something I am yet to accomplish. So how many stations have I photographed so far?

EDI Comeng 346M leads a down Frankston service through Richmond Junction

The back story

My investigations commenced in July 2015, when I completed work on my post on Prahran station’s additional station entrance. The text was all ready to go, but when it came time to find a relevant photo – my collection came up blank!

By this point, I was now wondering what other stations I had never photographed, so I went into full trainspotter mode, putting the current list of 209 suburban stations into a spreadsheet, and started searching through my collection of photos to see what I had for each station.

The end result

As of August 2015, I had taken a photograph at 167 of the 209 suburban railway station in Melbourne, leaving 42 which I have no proof of ever visiting – a strike rate of just under 80%.

However, the above numbers are a little misleading as my subject of my photos isn’t necessarily a train – as the graph below shows.


Some explanation

Before collating the data around which stations I have taken a photo at, I never intentionally set out to photograph every railway station in Melbourne – instead I take photos of trains…

  • when I think a particular location looks photogenic,
  • when I hear about a steam train running,
  • when I want to see V/Line and freight trains,
  • when I realise I need a photo to illustrate a specific blog post,
  • when I discover something is about to change and I don’t yet have a photo of it,
  • when I decide to head out and photograph every ‘X’ item.

But the most common reason – I take photos of trains when I’m out and about doing other things.

The end result of this is a selection of photos across Melbourne that primarily covers the areas that I’ve passed through for work, study and visiting friends; with a particular focus on railway lines that see V/Line and freight services upon them; and leaving vast swathes of the city undocumented by my camera.

This also explains the stations where I have never photographed a suburban train at…

If a location is photogenic, I might take a photo of a train near the station when I’m in the area – but not bother visiting the station itself.

EDI Comeng 354M departs Flemington Bridge station on the down
Upfield train passes through Royal Park after departing Flemington Bridge.

Over the years I’ve travelled on a number of special trains around Melbourne – resulting in plenty of photos featuring steam and diesel trains in strange locations, but no photos of the suburban trains that normally run to said stations.

D3 waiting to lead the train out of Cranbourne
Steamrail Victoria train awaits departure time from Cranbourne station.

When a weekend services run only every half hour, I don’t have time to wait around for the next train to show up – hence the stations where the only photo I have is of the station building.

Looking down the line at Murrumbeena station
Station building and footbridge at Murrumbeena.

And finally the ‘only substation’ category – I’ve been playing Pokemon with the substations that power Melbourne’s electric trains, and slowly photographing every example that I can find.

Seaford substation, commissioned in 1955 with 3,000 kW capacity
Traction power substation on the Frankston line at Seaford.

In the end, the very act of determining how many stations I have photographed has now changed my attitude to photography, and in the months since August I have stepped up my efforts to take a photo at every railway station in Melbourne.

The only question left is how long it will take me to achieve this goal!

Raw data

The raw data used for the above calculations as a Google spreadsheet.

Off on a tangent

Visiting every railway station in Melbourne in a day is another challenge a number of people have taken on:

‘All change’ with the V/Line nanny state

Over the years I’ve noticed that V/Line manages to screw up in ways that no other rail operator in the world can, and the other month at Geelong I encountered yet another blunder from them – an entire trainload of passengers being forced to abandon their train at Geelong station, just so that an extra carriage could be added to it.

VLocity VL14 and classmate about to depart Geelong on the down

I boarded a citybound train at South Geelong station, then settled in for the trip back to Melbourne.

VLocity 3VL33 arrives into South Geelong on an up service

A few minutes later on arrival at Geelong station the conductor made an announcement over the PA system – ‘all change’ because another carriage needed to be added to the train.

Our trainload of passengers gathered our bags, and traipsed off the train.

Trainload of passengers booted off an up service at Geelong, so that a second VLocity unit can be attached

And stood around on the platform for something to happen.

Trainload of passengers booted off an up service at Geelong, so that a second VLocity unit can be attached

A few minutes later, a second VLocity train arrived into the platform.

VLocity 3VL22 arrives into the platform at Geelong station, to couple onto classmate 3VL33

It came to a halt just short of our train, and then the two were coupled together, with barely a whisper.

VLocity 3VL22 about to couple onto classmate 3VL33 at Geelong station

We left the train at 21:03, and it took until 21:07 for the second carriage to be attached, and a minute or two later until we were allowed to reboard the train.

With everyone back on the train, the conductor informed us via the PA that we had to leave the train because of the possibility of a jolt or other shock while the train were coupled. However, at the same time as the PA announcement was being made, our train passed over a section of rough track between Geelong and North Geelong station, which jolted the train without any warning, with a greater impact than the coupling of a train!

Bit of a joke, isn’t it?

Taking the idiocy up to eleven

If you think being booted off your train so an extra carriage can be attached is stupid, you are right – yet Ararat and Maryborough passengers used to be subjected to it every time they passed through Ballarat station, until then-Minister for Public Transport Terry Mulder intervened in 2011.

Ararat and Maryborough passengers may now stay on board trains at Ballarat
Thursday, 18 August 2011

Minister for Public Transport Terry Mulder said today that he had resolved a longstanding annoyance for rail passengers using Ararat and Maryborough line trains with V/Line now agreeing to allow travellers to remain on board at Ballarat while train sets were coupled together or divided.

Mr Mulder said that previously, long distance train passengers arriving at Ballarat were routinely asked to leave the comfort of an airconditioned or heated VLocity railcar and stand on what could be either a freezing cold or baking hot platform while trains from Ararat and Maryborough were amalgamated or those in the other direction divided at Ballarat.

“Some passengers did not want to leave the train to visit the Ballarat railway station’s refreshment rooms. Leaving their seat for up to 15 minutes was a major inconvenience for some Senior Citizens and others with limited mobility, mothers with prams and passengers with heavy backpacks.”

Mr Mulder said that he was pleased that commonsense had finally prevailed.

“It is normal practice for rail systems around the world to allow passengers to remain on board while carriages are attached or detached. If this was not the case, pyjama-clad passengers on many European overnight sleeper trains would be woken in the middle of the night at junction stations. V/Line has now conformed to this sensible, safe railway practice employed overseas.”

So why the hell did V/Line have to boot off passengers at Geelong station so an extra carriage could be attached, when passengers at Ballarat are allowed to stay on board? I ended up dropping V/Line a query via their website.

V/Line’s response

A few days later, I received their reply from a V/Line customer relations officer:

I am sorry for the inconvenience and frustration caused when customers were required to exit the train at Geelong while another carriage was coupled to the service. Our standard procedure for carriage coupling is that customers exit the train. The policy for Maryborough and Ararat services is different because it is a regular planned occurrence for carriages to be coupled. These are the only services excepted across our network.

So why is V/Line so risk adverse about the coupling of trains?

After the boarding call passengers surge at the doors

The story I’ve heard says the rule dates all the way back to the 1990s, following an incident at Spencer Street Station. Passengers had boarded a train as they always did, when the locomotive was roughly attached to the carriages, resulting in an injured passenger.

As a result, V/Line decided to ban passengers from being onboard trains while carriages were added or removed, and in the years since nobody has been game to rescind the rule, despite V/Line being the only rail operator in the world to follow it.

What about Bendigo?

Remember a few months ago when I wrote about the the useless station at Epsom, outside Bendigo? The proposed Bendigo Metro network would use Bendigo station as the junction point for trains bound for Eaglehawk or Epsom, which makes me wonder how high V/Line’s brain would explode if they were forced to attach and divide trains there on the basis of a ‘metro’ level of service!

Some overseas examples

A few years ago I spent a month traveling around Europe by train in the middle of winter and never had to leave my cozy sleeping compartment – no matter what the rail operator was doing to the rest of the train.

On my 45 hour long train ride across Russia I was woken one night by my train coming to a halt at a dead end station. I put on my jacket and shoes then headed to the rear of the train, where I found that a new locomotive had been attached, ready to haul the train back out the way we came.

Russian Railways class ЧС7 electric locomotive ЧС7 141 awaiting departure time from Тула (Tula)

But my 27 hour long journey from Bucharest to Kiev really took the cake. The train was a multinational mix of carriages from different operators – “Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Devlet Demiryolları” from Turkey, “Căile Ferate Române” from Romania, “Укрзалізниця” from the Ukraine, and “Российские железные дороги” from Russia.

North through the Romanian countryside we travelled, until we reached the break-of-gauge at the Romania-Ukraine border. Instead of changing trains, each carriage was lifted up in turn by jacks, allowing the 1,435 mm standard gauge wheelsets used in Europe to be replaced with those of 1,520 mm gauge used in the former USSR, while passengers slept soundly in their beds.

Spare wheelsets beside the bogie exchange facility at Vadul Siret

The next morning our train rolled safely into Kiev, and along the way my carriage had gone from last in the consist, to first. V/Line eat your heart out!

The trams that Melbourne rejected

Buying a new tram for Melbourne isn’t like buying a new car – they cost a few million dollars each, and even if you had that much money ready to spend, one can’t exactly head down to your local dealer and pick one up off the shelf. Instead, the purchase of new trams involve long and convoluted tender processes, and lots of due diligence – a process that has occasionally seen trams from other cities operate in Melbourne.

W8.959 westbound outside Flinders Street Station


The first example of a foreign tram on trial in Melbourne was the Bombardier manufactured Eurotram in 2003.

Train of the Metro Porto (Flexity Outlook Eurotram) at Trindade station, Porto, Portugal
Photo by Jcornelius, via Wikimedia Commons

Normally used on the Porto Metro system in Portugal, Porto tram number 018 spent a few months in Melbourne during 2003, where it spent three days transferring Grand Prix patrons to and from Albert Park.

Combino Plus

In 2007 Siemens decided to send one of their Combino Plus trams to Melbourne.

Siemens Combino Plus tram (#C007) in Almada, Portugal
Photo by Jcornelius, via Wikimedia Commons

More at home on the Metro Transportes Sul do Tejo network in the Almada and Seixal municipalities of Portugal, tram number C008 spent March to June 2007 running route 16 services, as well as running shuttles to the Grand Prix at Albert Park.

Flexity Classic

Bombardier appears to be a company keen to demonstrate their trams in Melbourne, because in 2007 they let us take a Flexity Classic for a spin.

Flexity 112 at Currie and King William Streets

However for this demonstration, the tram didn’t have far to travel – newly built tram #111 was delivered by ship to Appleton Dock then spent a few days running around the streets of Melbourne minus passengers, before being sent by road to Adelaide, where it entered service on the Glenelg Tram.


So why would a private company spend millions of dollars loading trams onto ships, and send them to Melbourne so that we can give them a test drive? The simple answer – because they wanted us to buy them!

To understand this, we need to go back to the early-2000s. Melbourne’s tram network had just been chopped in half and franchised to a pair of private operators, who were obligated under their contract with the government to purchase new low floor trams. Yarra Trams opted for Alstom Citadis trams from France, while M>Tram went for the Siemens Combino trams from Germany, leaving major tram manufacturer Bombardier on the outside.

In the years that followed, patronage on the Melbourne tram network grew, but the government didn’t have a real plan to expand the fleet – but the global rolling stock manufacturers were ready for the day when a tender for new trams arrived at their door, so tried to keep their relationship with Melbourne warm.

Eventually that day came in July 2009, when the Victorian Government called for expressions of interest for the manufacture and supply of 50 new trams. In October 2009 manufacturers Alstom and Bombardier were shortlisted to bid for the contract, based on their experience overseas and their local manufacturing capabilities, with Siemens being left on the outer.

Bombardier won the bid in September 2010 with their variant of the Flexity Swift tram, with the first E class tram finally making it onto Melbourne streets in 2013.

A few more photos

Vicsig has photos of the Eurotram in Melbourne, as well as the visiting Combino Plus.

As for the Adelaide Flexity tram running around Melbourne – photos:

While the Bombardier Eurotram also visited Sydney in 2002 – photos by Matthew Geier.

And a reverse example

Before it was delivered to Melbourne, Siemens sent a D2 class Combino tram to the Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung, where it was used during January 2004 on a temporary track to demonstrate the concept of light rail. Unfortunately for Siemens, the demonstration didn’t sway the city of Kaohsiung, who decide to purchase trams from Spanish firm CAF.

Railway shops at Nicholson Street, Footscray

Once upon a time on Nicholson Street in Footscray there where two rows of ordinary looking shops.

Front of 184-200 Nicholson Street

But if you took a look at the rear, it was soon apparent that the shops were not built on solid ground, but on a bridge spanning a railway line.

Eastern side of the shops over the railway tracks at Nicholson Street

Down below were four railway tracks, carrying both passenger and freight trains.

Passing under the Nicholson Street bridge, N454 leads the down Swan Hill train out of Footscray

Built in the late 1920s as part of a project to separate the passenger and freight trains that passed through Footscray, the Nicholson Street bridge replaced an existing level crossing, with the shops either side being completed a few years later.

The Victorian Railways annual report for the year ending June 1930 has this to say about the shops:

Shops at Nicholson Street, Footscray

When the new goods line was constructed between West Footscray and South Kensington, the level crossing at Nicholson Street, Footscray, was replaced by a bridge over the tracks, of sufficient width to permit of the erection thereon of shops or other revenue-producing buildings when opportunity offered.

During the year the matter was submitted to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Railways, which approved of the provision of shops on the western side, leaving consideration of the erection of others on the eastern side until such time as the first instalment had justified itself.

Nine single-storey lock-up shops, with provision for an additional storey if required, and equipped with modern plate-glass fronts, cantilever verandahs and other conveniences, have been built and are let at satisfactory rentals.

So far I’ve been unable to find further reference to the shops on the eastern side, but they eventually got built – albeit having been retrofitted with a much blander facade by the time I photographed them in 2011.

Front of 165-169 Nicholson Street

However nothing can last forever, and in the case of the Nicholson Street shops, the forces that made their creation possible were the same forces that led to their demise.

Excavator hanging it's bucket over the edge of the bridge to catch debris

Again, the reason for change was the expansion of the railway through Footscray. Unfortunately for the Nicholson Street bridge, the piers that supported it were too narrow to allow the two new Regional Rail Link tracks to pass beneath, so it was necessary to demolish the entire structure to make space for them.

The shops on the eastern side were first to go in March 2012, followed by the shops on the western side in January 2013, and finally the road bridge itself being removed in October 2013.

Looking south across the reopened road bridge

The replacement Nicholson Street bridge opened in April 2014, consisting of a single span across the six tracks, but with no shops on either side.

Justifying the original shops

The 1929 report to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Railways goes into much more detail about the shops across the tracks at Nicholson Street, and the reasoning behind their construction.

In the Railway Loan Application Act passed in December last, provision is made for the expenditure of £5,000 during the current year towards the erection of shops for revenue producing purposes over the regraded lines at Nicholson Street, Footscray. This is a busy shopping area, and an electric tram service passes the site of the proposed shops, with a compulsory stop for all trams immediately opposite. It is intended that eight shops shall be erected adjoining the Post Office on the eastern side of the street, and nine immediately opposite, for a total of seventeen. The frontages of the shops range from 13 to 16 feet, the total frontage to Nicholson Street being 273 feet, of which 146 feet is on the west side, and 126 feet on the east side, while the depth is 40 feet. The shops will be constructed with walls of brick, corrugated iron roofs, fibro-plaster ceilings, metalled shop fronts, show cases, tiled fronts, and cantilever verandahs.

They described the expected demand for new shops in Footscray.

Respecting the demand that may be expected to occur for the leasing of the shops, it may be stated that the population of Footscray has increased from 29,266 in 1918 to 51,655 in 1929, a gradual and regular increase being shown each year. The property valuations have increased during the same period from £216,918 to £615,870, while the number of dwellings has increased from 7,033 in 1917 to 10,712 in the present year, or approximately 50 per cent. For the year ended 30th September, 1928, no less than 23 new factories were erected in Footscray bringing the total number to 208, employing an estimated number of 15,000 hands. The Railways Commissioners are of opinion that Footscray will increase in popularity as a shopping centre and regard it as a reasonable expectation that property values will show a substantial enhancement within the next few years.

The condition of the existing shops in the area:

A number of existing old premises in Nicholson Street, comprising small shops, are to be demolished, and their areas combined to provide sufficient space for the erection of new premises for large business firms, with the result that a number of small shopkeepers now occupying these premises will thus be compelled to seek other accommodation. It is anticipated that the shops proposed to be built by the Department will be eagerly sought after, and, as a matter of fact, a number of applications have already been received from prospective lessees.

That the money had already been spent to build a deck for the shops to be built upon:

When the Railways Commissioners were constructing the bridge over the railway lines which pass under Nicholson Street at this point, it was decided to extend the floor of the bridge over the cutting in order to make provision for these shops, and £8,925 has been already expended in extending the bridge in such a manner as to make it suitable for this purpose. The remaining expenditure for the actual construction of the shops, viz., £14,626 brings the sum up to the total amount shown, £23,550.

How solid the foundations are:

The method of constructing the shops will permit of an additional story being built with a minimum of expense if the department desires to do so. The structure upon which it is proposed to erect the shops is built upon a rock foundation and is of solid construction, and in these circumstances it is not considered that any vibration will be felt from trains passing underneath.

And finally, the financial aspect:

Taking into account the money already expended on the extension and strengthening of the bridge flooring (£8,925), so that it will carry the shops, the addition of £14,625 for shop construction makes a total of £23.550.

It is estimated by the Commissioners that the seventeen shops can be let at an average rate of £3 5s. weekly, the tenants being liable in addition for the payment of rates and taxes. This would represent a revenue during the twelve months of £169 per shop, or £2,873 per annum on the whole investment of £23,550; or a gross return of approximately 12.5 per cent.

The estimated net profit after the foregoing provision for interest, maintenance, etc, would be about 5.64 per cent.

In the years since, the construction of buildings over Melbourne’s railway tracks for profit is rare – I’m intentionally leaving Federation Square out of this discussion because that was a civic project, with no exception of a financial return.

The only commercial example that comes to mind is at South Yarra, where a handful of shops were built either side of the Chapel Street bridge a decade or two ago.

Further reading

In this Powerpoint presentation you can read about how the Regional Rail Link project team designed and constructed the replacement bridges at Albert Street and Nicholson Street.