Forgotten lessons from rail replacement buses

During April 2019 buses have been replacing trains on the Pakenham, Cranbourne and Frankston lines between the Melbourne CBD and Caulfield, altering the travel plans of thousands of train passengers each day. The replacement buses haven’t been running smoothly for various reasons – in part due to lessons from the past being forgotten.

Notice at Flagstaff station of rail replacement buses on the Pakenham, Cranbourne and Frankston lines

Minimising the length of the line closures

The longer the section of railway closed, the more buses are needed and the longer the delay to passengers.

Sita operated bus passes the new West Footscray station

In a perfect world trains would terminate on one side of the work site then resume on the other side, but that’s isn’t possible – trains can only turn back where crossovers have been provided between the tracks.

Crossover at the up end of Darling station

But that’s hasn’t been a problem for other projects, such as Regional Rail Link in 2011 – they installed a crossover at the Sunbury end of Albion station.

Life extension EDI Comeng 382M departs Albion on a down Watergardens service

This allowed citybound trains to terminate as close as possible to the work site, removing the need for replacement buses to needlessly parallel the Sunbury line to the next available crossover – St Albans station, 6 kilometres away.

The same strategy was used at Blackburn station in 2006/07 for the removal of the Middleborough Road level crossing at Box Hill, and at Mitcham station in 2009/10 for the removal of the Springvale Road level crossing at Nunawading – allowing buses to shuttle between the shortest possible section of closed railway.

Would the provision of crossovers somewhere between Caulfield and South Yarra speed up the replacement bus journey for this shutdown? I’d call it a “maybe”.

Bus interchanges

You need a lot of buses to carry the passengers carried by a single train, so you need a big bus interchange to handle them all.

Pack of four buses on Farnsworth Avenue bound for Flemington Racecourse

Regional Rail Link built a dedicated bus interchange at Albion for their project, taking over half of the car park.

New bus interchange at Albion, taking over half of the car park. Not temporary at all!

Along with a new access road to prevent conflicting vehicle movements.

New access road to the Albion station car park, the old one is taken over by buses

The other end of the bus shuttle was Flemington Racecourse station, which also received a “temporary” bus interchange.

Provided with plenty of space for arriving buses.

More buses waiting at the Flemington Racecourse interchange

Steps directly to the platform.

Passengers head down to the Flemington Racecourse platform from the bus interchange

A coffee stall.

Coffee stall on the platform at Flemington Racecourse

And a sausage sizzle.

Free sausage sizzle at Flemington Racecourse, funded by Metro and run by the local Rotary club for donations

Could the bus interchanges at the Arts Centre, Federation Square and Caulfield do with some work? Probably not – they’re probably the best for passenger shelter Melbourne has ever seen!

Making the bus to train changeover faster

Station like Albion were never designed for an entire trainload of passengers to exit at once, while another train of passenger try to come the other way.

Ramp between platform and pedestrian subway at Albion station

So the Regional Rail Link project built a temporary footbridge linking the bus interchange to the station platform.

Temporary footbridge at Albion, the bus interchange in the foreground

A much simpler version was used at Blackburn in 2006/07 during the removal of the Middleborough Road level crossing, and again in 2016 during the removal of the Blackburn Road level crossing.

Passengers change from bus to train via the temporary pathway at the down end of Blackburn station

 Baulked tracks at the down end of Blackburn station, with the temporary pedestrian walkway beyond

Could something better be done at Caulfield? Most definitely!

Capacity on connecting trains

When one railway line is taken out passengers will often switch to other lines headed in the same direction, resulting in overcrowding to those services.

In the case of Regional Rail Link this problem was avoided by running trains to Flemington Racecourse, connecting with the replacement buses.

Comeng at Flemington Racecourse, ready to depart for the city

At City Loop stations passengers were directed to these extra trains.

Sydenham line display at Flagstaff station - 'CUSTOMERS please take next train Flem Racecourse Plat 3'

Metro Trains staff member at Flagstaff station, handing out flyers about the upcoming RRL works on the Sunbury line

Despite somewhat confusing messaging on the platforms.

'Flemtn Races' train on the PRIDE display at Flagstaff station

Could anything better be done today? Unfortunately for the east side of Melbourne, probably not.

Dodging traffic with bus lanes

During the current CBD to Caulfield rail shutdown, bus lanes have not been provided, with predictable results.

But things don’t have to be this way – in 2011 Regional Rail Link had the benefit of temporary bus lanes along Ballarat Road between Albion and Flemington Racecourse.

'Temp bus lane starts in 2 weeks' sign eastbound on Ballarat Road at Sunshine

With motorists being warned that rail replacement buses would be taking over the roads.

'Bus replacement service at St Albans Road' - southbound on St Albans Road before Albion station

I wonder how many hours have been wasted thanks to these forgotten lessons from the past?

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26 Responses to “Forgotten lessons from rail replacement buses”

  1. Geoffrey Hansen says:

    This situation should be compared with western Sydney.

    In past bus replacement wasn’t handled too badly IMHO. While journey times were longer the transfers at Penrith or Blacktown were handled well. There were buses readily available and things went like clockwork.

    In the last year or two there have been long waits, not enough buses and stuff at some stations not knowing what is going on. Is this the result of cutbacks?

  2. Sir Thomas Bent says:

    Disagree with installing pointwork between Caulfield and South Yarra – there’s most likely an opportunity to perform trackwork.

    From memory, the up side of Caulfield is on an embankment, and an at-grade temp crossover might not be DDA compliant.

    Bear in mind too that it’s not as simple as going that because doing X at one location works, that it’s safe to do everywhere. One size does not fit all.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      It makes sense to take advantage of extended line closures to catch up on other maintenance work along the corridor – one example is V/Line working on the Bendigo line while the level crossings at St Albans were being removed:

      But surely there are enough occupations going on to handle this – there have been plenty of post-8.30pm occos on weeknights through that section for the Cranbourne Pakenham Line Upgrade project.

      • Sir Thomas Bent says:

        I don’t think any of the Skyrail shutdowns were between Caulfield and Flinders St.

        Also, overnight occupations can only do so much – I notice a lot of proper resleepering is being done.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Caulfield would be a tricky place to add some form of temporary access – there isn’t exactly much clear space on the platforms for an Albion-style high level footbridge to land on, and the up end is pretty constrained for tying in any kind of Blackburn-style path linking the platforms.

  3. Tom the first and best says:

    There is probably sufficient space at Malvern for buses to be run from there,with Dandenong Rd Station St and Glenferrie Rd. however, further in there is less space around the stations for buses.

    The lack of city-end capacity for extra peak Glen Waverley trains is also an issue with using the Glen Waverley line for carrying Pakenham-Cranbourne line passengers. However with the closure meaning a few platforms at Flinders St are not in use for their usual trains, there should be a way of using one or two of them for extra Glen Waverley line direct trains (at least during peak, with works on those platforms at other times).

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Agreed on that front – Malvern, Armadale, Toorak and Hawksburn are all quite constrained without room for a bus interchange.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      As for adding extra Glen Waverley trains in peak, extra platforms at Flinders Street would help. I think the limiting factor would be the Burnley-Richmond section – they’d have to share the tracks at Lilydale/Belgrave/Alamein services.

  4. Kevin Balaam says:

    Why was the track crossover removed at Gowrie? I suppose, however, keeping it would not have any positive effect on Upfield Line railway works like Bell St LXR project.

  5. Andrew says:

    Interesting and yes, I can’t see that there would much space at stations south of South Yarra for a huge bus operation. I agree with Daniel. It is absurd that there is not a bus lane in Batman Avenue. Trains bring far more people into the city than cars and if the train is not running, the buses carrying the passengers should be given priority. Great research as always.

    I would be interested to hear your opinion and thoughts about shutting down the Sandringham line yesterday after a fatality at Hampton. I heard Jeroen Weimar state that it was about staff safety that the manually operated crossover over at Elsternwick could not be used, but as Daniel stated, some trains in the morning peak terminate at Brighton Beach, so that would have properly signalling and points changing. Why not run the trains to there? Weimar avoided answering that question. There must be something behind not using Brighton Beach as a terminus, when it was once one, but I can’t even guess what it might be.

  6. Beren says:

    Honestly, this crazy rush to grade seperate every crossing is madness. How about one line at a time? Also the north south tunnel is yonks away from completion why now? This government has a free pass to piss commuters off.

  7. Malcolm M says:

    Two other good features of the RRL Sunbury bus replacements were a fast high-capacity distribution system through the CBD, by running the replacement trains through the city loop, and the bus transfers were at Flemington away from the CBD at a location unlikely to be affected by congestion.

    Equivalent good practices for the recent shutdown would be to provide the Moorabbin bus bridge to the Sandringham line, that was used in some previous level crossing removal works, and an equivalent bus bridge Glen Waverley to Springvale. The Sandringham and Glen Waverley lines should be run at a frequency of 10 minutes or better until 9pm, and run all Sandringham trains clockwise through the city loop. The latter would provide distribution capacity through the CBD, taking load off trams and the Burnley group.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Only downside I see is overcrowding in peak times – is there enough track capacity to add extra peak trains to the Sandringham and Glen Waverley lines to carry the passengers brought there by bus?

      • Malcolm M says:

        At the peak of the morning peak there may need to be sufficient buses to take some of the passengers all the way to the Arts Centre if the trains become too overcrowded. The evening peak should be less of a problem because it’s more spread out. Bus bridges to adjacent lines could be cheaper to provide than bus replacements to Flinders St, even after accounting for the more frequent train service level. It’s clear the bus replacement Caulfield to Flinders St was badly undercosted relative to the service level Melbournians expect.

  8. mich says:

    I can’t believe they got away with steps to the platform and a temporary footbridge a few years ago.

    I also think that there is too much grandstanding by the police and other authorities when people are killed on the roads and rails. I can understand delays when people are badly injured and need to be extricated from the wreckage. These delays are less acceptable when the victims were killed instantly. How many other lives are at risk due to prolonged delays ?

    • Sir Thomas Bent says:

      Really? Less acceptable? Charming.

      The site has to be secured.

      Bear in mind you have emergency servicrs that require someone to coordinate, from Metro.

      They have to access the site.
      Arrange for the body to be removed by undertakers, the train driver of the incident train taken away, the train checked to see there’s nothing on it, the police investigate (it is a serious issue and a report to the Coroner needs to be delivered), plan to detrain and whether it’s safe to do so, the site has to be spotless, the relief driver to arrive and then the trains run.

  9. Savvy says:

    It’s funny that capacity is used as the main “excuse” for why extra trains can’t run.

    If time is spent looking at options instead of throwing hands up in the air and saying “it’s too hard, I want a bus directly following the train line”, there are options there if you think outside the box, to avoid running 600 buses Caulfield>City.

    One would think that running Glen Waverley to platform 6/7 at FSS (temporarily 24/7) using the flyover at Richmond, would make some sense.
    Bus bridge Oakleigh to Ashburton (or even Caulfield to Ashburton/Camberwell/Burnley I suppose) would also be another option, with Alamein being a loop service for the duration of the works. It’s not like Alamein hasn’t supported a high frequency service before (see Middlesborough Rd shutdown).

    Bus bridges to Sandy, whilst handy to have for frankston, with Elsternwick booked out just forms a house of cards waiting to fall. Getting around issues like the other day will be hard to do, but those are so unpredictable that there’s basically nothing that can be done.

  10. […] So it looks like the “$539 million” for the Cranbourne-Pakenham Line Upgrade got a lot of work done for free by the Level Crossing Removal Authority! Track, signalling, stations and overhead built from scratch thanks to the level crossing removals between Caulfield and Dandenong, and longer platforms, upgraded overhead and additional substations thrown in after the fact – and all completed at the same time to avoid additional spending on rail replacement buses. […]

  11. […] Unfortunately some lessons have been lost over time. […]

  12. […] the lessons from this project like dedicated interchange bridges and bus lanes have been rejected on many projects since – […]

  13. […] Racecourse has also used as a interchange location for rail replacement buses during major works, such as the Regional Rail Link project back in […]

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