Taking the politics out of transport planning?

Back in 2010, then leader of the Liberal Party, Ted Baillieu said “Victoria badly needs a new, independent, statutory authority to plan, co-ordinate and manage our public transport system”. So how well has this commitment to taking politics out of transport planning fared?

PTV liveried Transdev bus #423 rego 7523AO at William and Flinders Street

Here is his full statement on the problems with transport planning in Victoria:

Victoria badly needs a new, independent, statutory authority to plan, co-ordinate and manage our public transport system. Despite Labor’s many plans and announcements, Victoria’s and Melbourne’s public transport needs have been poorly planned for and badly financed. John Brumby has not provided the safety, reliability and efficiency that Victorians deserve.

At the 2010 State Election the Coalition won government, and their promise for a independent, statutory transport authority was one that actually was fulfilled – in April 2012 ‘Public Transport Victoria’ came into operation to coordinate, promote and expand the bus, tram and train networks. So what plans have the government put into place since then?

PTV Network Development Plan

In March 2013 Public Transport Victoria published their ‘Network Development Plan’ – a strategy for growing capacity on the rail network over the next 20 years. Public Transport Terry Mulder had the following to say when it was released:

Mr Mulder said that the Victorian Coalition Government’s creation of Public Transport Victoria (PTV) a year ago as an independent statutory authority, was now bearing fruit.

Mr Mulder said Public Transport Victoria (PTV) was established by the Coalition Government to improve public transport and properly plan for the future. PTV is responsible for planning, procuring and delivering Victoria’s train, tram and bus services, infrastructure and assets.

“This is PTV’s strategy for growing capacity on the rail network over the next 20 years, and it takes into account all parts of Melbourne, particularly areas of growth,” Mr Mulder said.

“It is a very detailed plan – in fact no Government has released a plan this detailed and this transparent since 1969. This is exactly why we established an independent public transport body – a detailed rail strategy like this is just what we expected and wanted.

“The Network Development Plan is a carefully considered, holistic, strategic plan for development of our rail network during the next 20 years, which will be used to help inform future funding decisions.

“Many initiatives identified in the plan for the next decade are already being planned in detail, such as the introduction of high capacity trains and signalling and Melbourne Metro.

Key components of the plan included:

  • New high capacity trains, able to carry up to 1100 passengers,
  • High capacity signalling trial on Sandringham line,
  • Melbourne Metro rail tunnel project,
  • Dandenong rail corridor upgrade,
  • High capacity signalling on the Sandringham, South Morang and Hurstbridge lines, and between Sunbury and South Yarra.

So how about the implementation?

Bayside Rail Project

In May 2013 Premier Denis Napthine announced the $100 million ‘Bayside Rail Project’ with the following headline:

$100 million Bayside rail upgrade brings newest trains to Frankston line

Then elaborated further:

“Since the November 2010 election, the Coalition Government has announced orders for 15 new X’Trapolis trains, but these trains could only carry passengers on the Alamein, Glen Waverley, Belgrave, Lilydale, Hurstbridge and South Morang lines due to the different position in which the driver sits in the cab, affecting the ability to see some signals.

“This $100 million will mean the Frankston line will also be able to accommodate the X’Trapolis trains, giving passengers the fastest, most reliable and most comfortable commute to and from the city,” Dr Napthine said.

Before the announcement of the Bayside Rail Project, the only people who cared about what kinds of train operated on a a given railway line were railfans who lacked a grip on reality – the average passenger just wants a clean and comfortable train that runs on time. Now we have a politician throwing $100 million at a problem that doesn’t exist.

Free CBD trams and cheaper fares

In March 2014 Premier Denis Napthine announced “free CBD trams, cheaper trains and buses for Melbourne“:

Dr Napthine said the changes would provide significant cost of living relief for families as a result of commuters being able to travel in Zones 1 and 2 for the price of a Zone 1 fare.

“Tram travel within the CBD and Docklands will be free in a move that will enhance Melbourne’s reputation as an international city.”

The changes will come into effect from the 1 January 2015 and will make public transport more accessible for commuters and tourists and make it easier to move around Melbourne.

This initiative will cost around $100 million per annum and will be accounted for in the upcoming State Budget.

However when making the announcement, Dr Napthine forgot to tell one important group of people – the companies that actually run Melbourne’s trams, trains and buses. The Age went on to say:

None of the train, tram and bus companies that operate Melbourne’s public transport system were consulted or even told about the Napthine government’s decision to change the ticket zoning system and provide free trams in the city centre.

Metro, Yarra Trams and bus operator Transdev began investigating on Wednesday how the ticketing changes will affect their operations, after learning about the policy announcement through the media.

Tram overcrowding in the CBD rose sharply last year, with 14 “rolling hour” load breaches – meaning an hour in which passenger numbers exceed tram capacity – compared with nine in 2012.

Hopefully come January 2015 Yarra Trams have a plan in place to deal with an influx of freeloaders on trams in the Melbourne CBD, otherwise the increased overcrowding will discourage previously fare paying passengers from using public transport.

Cranbourne-Pakenham Rail Corridor Project

Another random transport announcement made in March 2014 was the Cranbourne-Pakenham upgrade project. The media release spruiked the following points:

The massive investment will provide:

  • 25 new next generation trains;
  • 21st century high-capacity signalling along the rail corridor;
  • removal of four level crossings;
  • pre-construction funding for another five level crossing removals;
  • newly rebuilt stations at Carnegie, Murrumbeena and Clayton; and
  • a new train maintenance depot at Pakenham East.

What the government forgot to say is that they didn’t come up with the idea – it was an unsolicited proposal from a private sector consortium, involving a public-private partnership to cost the taxpayer billions over the term of the contract. An investigation by The Age found the following:

The cabinet-in-confidence documents reveal taxpayers will be left to pay up to $360 million a year as “annual service payments” to the consortium until 2034 in “nominal” dollars – the actual amount spent, including inflation. The total payments in nominal terms will be as much as $5.2 billion.

The $2.5 billion figure released by the government is a “net present” figure. In government, politicians tend to cite the net present, or today’s money, figure, pointing out that home-buyers think of the cost of their house as the sale price, not the additional cost of loan repayments and interest over decades.

Expanding capacity on the Dandenong railway line has been a pressing need for years – the first serious government commitment appeared in the 2006 ‘Meeting Our Transport Challenges’ plan, when the construction of a third track between Caulfield and Dandenong was proposed. Now those plans are in the bin, replaced by a concept drawn up by a private company more interested in rent seeking than in a cost-effective outcome for the taxpayer.

Melbourne Rail Link

Yet another example of established plans being thrown in the bin can be found in May 2014, when Premier Denis Napthine announced a new rail tunnel running from Southern Cross to South Yarra, via Fishermans Bend and the Domain. The media release had the following glowing words for the new project:

The Melbourne Rail Link will do for rail passengers in the 21st century, what the City Loop achieved last century – high frequency rail services moving more people, more often and more conveniently.

What the government forgot to say is that their new plan was a replacement for the previous ‘Melbourne Metro’ scheme – which The Age revealed the government had still endorsed as late as February 2013:

The original Melbourne Metro was being strongly backed by the state government just a year ago, with Transport Minister Terry Mulder indicating engineering issues around Swanston Street had been resolved, new documents reveal.

The February 2013 letter, from Mr Mulder to then treasurer Kim Wells, said the business case for the multi billion-dollar project had been completed and a comprehensive impact statement would be completed by the end of 2013.

The letter, obtained by The Age through freedom of information, said “significant work was undertaken during 2012 to update the Melbourne Metro business case and ensure it met the requirements of the high value high risk process, Infrastructure Australia guidelines and federal government requirements. This work has proved critical to resolving key issues, including the vertical alignment along Swanston Street.”

Once again, we have see a previously agreed upon transport project tossed in the bin, replaced by a hastily conceived replacement that appears to be favouring the interests of the private sector instead of the public.

Transport planning is off the rails

After looking at the half-baked projects found above, it makes you wonder what was the point in creating an independent public transport authority, when their carefully made plans just get thrown in the bin by politicians as soon as votes or vested interests get involved.

Pantograph fully extended on a derailed Z3.229, having left the contact wire

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5 Responses to “Taking the politics out of transport planning?”

  1. Tom the first and best. says:

    To be fair about the bayside rail project, it is more than just allowing X`Trapolis trains (running the only trains increasing in number on the system only on part of the network was eventually going to end) to run on the Frankston (and less often mentioned, the Newport group of) line(s). It also has included seating upgrades, permanent ramps for wheelchair and Platform Information Displays (even if the city bound PIDs for Malvern to Hawksburn were put on the platforms 3, used by the Dandenong line, that little used for stopping trains rather than the platforms 1 more often used for stopping trains).

    • Marcus Wong says:

      You are correct about the Bayside Rail Project including station upgrades alongside the works to enable X’Trapolis trains to use the line.

      From here:

      Station improvements will include:

      – Additional and upgraded lighting
      – better information about train, bus and tram arrival times and service delays
      – more sheltered areas
      – accessibility and safety improvements
      – more seating
      – additional myki readers at busy stations

      I wonder what the cost breakdown of the project works out to be – presumably new signalling will cost more than a new seat or light fitting!

      However it does raise a question – the new signals are required because the X’Trapolis train driving position prevent drivers from seeing the current signals – but was the current signalling due for replacement anyway?

  2. […] just goes to show how politicised the provision of public transport in Melbourne has become – even adding an extra gate to a railway station involves three political parties […]

  3. Drew says:

    May I just laugh now?

    Tram to Chadstone (Good thing) then off to Monash Uni. What happened to the heavy rail?

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