A trip back to 1976 – ‘What the Hamer Government is doing for Public Transport’

Among many people (specially railfans!) the Liberal Party is seen as an anti-rail boogeyman, doing everything they can to slash and burn public transport and replacing them with roads. But the reality is a lot more subtle, as this 1976 election advertisement from the incumbent Liberal government led by Rupert Hamer shows.

1976 Liberal Party advertisement - 'What the Hamer Government is doing for Public Transport'
From The Age, Thursday March 18, 1976

Some background

The Liberal government led by Premier Henry Bolte took over from Labor in 1955, starting a long period of conservative rule over the state of Victoria. Following the resignation of Bolte in 1972, Rupert Hamer succeeded him as Liberal leader and Premier, despite opposition from the conservative wing of the party.

From a transport perspective, the 1970s was a period of great change: investment in the Melbourne train and tram networks had stalled for a decade, as the 1969 Melbourne Transportation Plan proposed the massive freeway grid covering the city. New car-based shopping centres and factories were opening away from existign transport infrastructure, leading to a hollowing out of the inner city, and massive growth of new housing developments on the outskirts of Melbourne.

Premier Hamer then went on to win the 1973, 1976 and 1979 state elections, marketing himself as a reformist leader, despite the fact the Liberal Party had been in power for almost two decades. Hamer remained premier until succeeded by Lindsay Thompson as party leader in 1981, who then lost the 1982 state election to the Labor Party led by John Cain.

So what about the public transport achievements listed in the 1976 election advertisement?

New trains

Back in the 1970s the Melbourne rail network was still reliant on the last of the timber bodied ‘red ratlers’ trains – some of which dated to 1887. The 50 new ‘silver’ stainless steel trains were intended to replace the last of these. These days known as the ‘Hitachi’ trains, eventually 118 3-car sets were delivered: nine more trains than advertised in 1976.


PROV image VPRS 12800/P1, item H 4250

Lacking air conditioning, the first of the Hitachi trains were scrapped from 2002, the last was finally retired in 2014. As for the ‘new trains to a new design’ – these were the air conditioned ‘Comeng’ trains, delivered from 1981 and still in service today.

New buses

New buses are a lot less sexy than trains and trams. The 30 new look orange buses were Leyland National buses imported from the UK, with the 100 additional buses being 100 Volvo B59 buses imported from Sweden. The Leyland buses bit the dust in the early-1990s, but some Volvo B59s lived on until the early 2000s under National Bus.

New trams

For decades the rickety old W class tram were the mainstay of the Melbourne tram network – hundreds of them were built between 1923 and 1956, despite the archaic looking design by the end of their long production run. A long lull in tram construction followed, thanks to the future of the tram network being up in the air. This finally changed with the development of the Z class tram – a modern steel bodied vehicle based on the latest tramway technology from Europe.

Z1.43 stored in 'The Met' livery outside East Block at Newport

The first of the 100 locally built Z1 class trams entered service in 1975, followed through the 1970s by the upgraded Z2 and Z3 classes, and in the 1980s by the A and B class trams. The first Z1 class trams were retired from 2001 to make room for new low floor trams, with the last being finally withdrawn in 2016.

New and reconstructed stations

Despite the areas of Melbourne passed by railway lines not having grown for decades, construction of new stations to serve new suburbs has been an ongoing activity – Kananook and Yarraman were opened in 1975 and 1976 respectively to cater for new suburban growth.

In addition, replacement of life expired timber station buildings was an ongoing task over the years. I don’t have a complete list of the 30 stations listed in the 1976 advertisement, but stations rebuilt during this period include Hampton, Macaulay, Glenbervie, West Footscray, Glenroy, Gardiner, Rosanna, Dandenong and Mount Waverley – all received brown brick buildings that look much like public toilet blocks. Many of these stations still there today, just covered with dozens more coats of paint.

Station building at Mount Waverley platform 2

Underground

Work on the City Loop started in 1971, with the first trains running in 1981, with the final stage of the project completed in 1985.

MURLA plaque marking the commencing of construction at Museum Station, April 5 1973

More express running

The automated signalling system referred to is the Metrol signal control centre. The history is a saga in itself – it moved physical home in late-1990s, then moved again into an emulated computer system in the mid-2000s, until finally replaced in 2015.

Free car parking

With the growth in car ownership through the 1970s and the decline in rail freight to suburban stations, surplus railway land next door to stations became available for the construction of commuter car parking. Construction of these car parks continues today, but due to a lack of suitable land, multi-storey car parks at $44,000 per space are now the future.

Multi-storey car park at Syndal station full on a weekday

Electric train extensions

Extensions to electric train services are a big ticket item that politicians love to cut the ribbon on. Here the Hamer Government was on shakier ground: extensions west from Sunshine to Melton and south-west from Frankston to Langwarrin never happened, both projects still sitting on the to-do list. As for the other promises: suburban trains were not extended west to Werribee until 1983; Craigieburn wasn’t reached until 2007; and Sunbury took until 2012. Also interesting to note is the omission of the Cranbourne line – suburban trains reached there in 1995.

More tracks

Building more tracks in order to operate more train services – some real research was required to answer this one. South Kensington – Footscray is an easy one: the section was quadruplicated in the 1970s to separate trains towards Sunshine and Newport. Duplication of the single track Sunshine to Deer Park West line was an early win, though mainly to serve interstate freight traffic between Melbourne and Adelaide.

Signals and darkened skies at Deer Park

Other projects took much longer to complete: Macleod to Greensborough (1979), Ringwood to Bayswater (1982) and Ringwood to Croydon (1984). Caulfield to Mordialloc was a much more drawn out process: completed in fits and starts due to a lack of funding, the project was cut back a third track as far as Moorabbin, which eventually opened in 1986.

Triplication from Box Hill to Ringwood never happened, neither did duplication of Greensborough to Eltham or any track amplification along the Glen Waverley line. Duplication of single track sections of the rail network remains a pressing concern today, due to the restrictions they place on train operations.

New pedestrian crossing at the down end of Lalor station, new track waiting to be tied in

New transport interchanges

Both transport interchange promises fell in a heap – Box Hill station cropped up again in 1983 and was completed in 1985, while Frankston keeps on coming up.

Looking over from Box Hill platform 2 towards the trackless platform 1

Geelong line duplication

Upgrades to the Geelong line look like just a promise – it took until 1981 for the section from Little River to Corio to be duplicated. As for new trains, in 1977 new air conditioned carriages were ordered for the Geelong line, but they didn’t enter service until 1981 as part of the ‘New Deal for Country Passengers‘, which arrested the decline of failing country rail services in Victoria.

Today the Geelong line is still just double track, but with a dedicated route through the suburban area thanks to the Regional Rail Link project completed in 2015, and the locomotive hauled carriages are still in service today, but supplemented by VLocity train sets introduced from 2005.

One ticket transit

Early versions of multi-modal tickets for public transport in Melbourne were launched in 1976 and 1980, but it took until 1981 for a zone based system to be rolled out across Melbourne. The same basic concept is used today, but implemented with a electronic smartcard, and not paper tickets.

Scorecard

12 boxes of public transport promises:

  • Seven projects already underway,
  • Half marks for delivering ‘more tracks’,
  • Swing and a miss for the Geelong line and ‘one ticket’ – they eventually got done,
  • And no ball for transport interchanges and electric train extensions.

Compare that to public transport campaigns from the modern era that focus on projects decades way from being started.

Further reading

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10 Responses to “A trip back to 1976 – ‘What the Hamer Government is doing for Public Transport’”

  1. Andrew says:

    It’s worth pointing out that Rupert Hamer couldn’t be a Liberal politician today, and most of his key signature policies aren’t of interest to the modern Liberal party. They probably weren’t of great interest to the majority of the Liberal party in Hamer’s day. Bolte certainly wouldn’t have undertaken them.

    Apart from investment in public transport, Hamer’s government saw the introduction of effective town planning and heritage laws, and a massive investment in the arts.

    Tim Colebatch has written an excellent biography of Hamer.

  2. TheLoadedDog says:

    Melbourne made a but if a better fist of it on the 70s.

    Sydney struggled. We did a couple of things like the Eastern Suburbs Railway ( but even that took forty years because of infighting). The V sets were good, but apart from that, it was a bit woeful. Suburban stock from the 1920s. trams ripped up, old wooden side corridor cars from 3200 BC, filth and grime everywhere, and Granville…

    • Marcus Wong says:

      NSW also retained ancient country passenger trains for decades beyond their expiry date – on the other hand the introduction of the XPT in ‎1981 was streets ahead of the Victorian ‘New Deal’ reforms.

  3. Paul Westcott says:

    Thanks for fishing out that 1976 Liberal Party election advertisement. It’s very revealing in many ways, as your excellent analysis shows.

    The “dedicated route through the suburban area thanks to the Regional Rail Link project” is not really that, though. The Tarneit section has actually turned the Geelong V/Line service into a suburban service, as opposed to the promise to bypass suburban traffic.

  4. Bobman says:

    It’s worth noting that it was actually Labor (not Liberal) who put the nail in the coffin for Doncaster rail, closed other railway routes throughout the 80s.

    Labor also removed heavy rail from Port Melbourne and St. Kilda and changed it to trams.

  5. Andrew says:

    A great walk down memory lane. And then there was the Hamer commissioned Lonie Report, and I don’t recall that very much of it was implemented. Fancy putting a former General Motors executive as head of a report into our public transport system and rail freight.

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