A history of segregated tram lanes in Melbourne

Melbourne’s trams are among the slowest in the world, spending much of their time stuck behind slow moving cars instead of flying past with full loads of passengers. Giving tram their own dedicated road space would fix this – and this is a history of

B2.2086 running a route 57a service, stuck in traffic on Maribyrnong Road

Early years

The first tram routes predominately followed the main roads of Melbourne.

But the tramway board was responsible for more than just the tracks.

When the tramways were first laid they followed . The Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board has the obligation to construct the road along the tracks, and for 18 inches outside each outer rail, as well as to illuminate certain of the tramway routes at night.

The smooth road surface proving tempting for motorists.

Road construction and lighting have been carried out by the Board in a manner which has encouraged other wheeled traffic to follow the same route as the tramway. The result has been that vehicular traffic has become accustomed to using the tramway streets in travelling between the suburbs and city where they are connected by tram tracks.

So as early as the 1920s, sharing the road wasn’t working.

In streets on which tramways are laid, the peak vehicular traffic is coincident with the heaviest tramway loading, and only a limited use can be made of the tramway tracks owing to the frequency of trams. In the City streets, where the need for additional road space is greater. vehicular traffic is almost wholly precluded from using the space occupied by tramways.

In 1929 the Metropolitan Town Planning Commission’s ‘Plan of General Development’ report recommended trams and motor vehicles should be segregated – either by new roads.

In the majority of cases the expense and difficulty involved in widening streets in which tramways are laid would impose too great a financial strain upon the community. Although in certain cases there is no satisfactory alternative, the Commission has planned its main road proposals so as to remove, as far as possible, the “through” vehicular traffic from the tramline streets. A system based on these lines will considerably relieve the congestion on these routes because it will leave the tramline streets principally for tramway services and local and business traffic.

Physical separation.

Where tramways are located or are proposed in streets of 99 feet width or more, excepting in the City business area, the Commission considers that the tramway should be given the exclusive use of its track and separated from other traffic by lawns or plantations. In addition to segregating the traffic, the plantations provide continuous safety zones, thus permitting safer and faster movement of all traffic along the road and for pedestrians crossing it. Incidentally, tramway track construction and maintenance will be less costly.

In many cases in its recommendations which follow, the Commission has adopted a width of 100 feet for main roads in order that future development along these routes, other than in the city proper, shall be so guided as to permit of the parking of the existing or probable future tramway.

Or parking restrictions.

The fact that the great bulk of the “peak” hours traffic in the morning is inward to the central business area and outward during the afternoon, offers an excellent measure of lief in congested streets by temporary prohibition of parking on the particular side of the street on which this volume of traffic is passing. The extra lane thus made available, especially in the case of tramline streets. would increase the efficiency and capacity of those streets in which a prohibition operated.

But in the years that followed, little progress was made on this front.

Weston Langford photo

Finally – some action

It took until 1970s for the first moves to separate road vehicles from the tram tracks.

The Board’s early 1970s reports urged traffic segregation and complained that it’s vehicles were severely hampered by motor traffic.

The established “vicious circle” of longer journey time, slower trip, unhappy passengers, more crews doing less work, greater cost, fare increase, less passengers, etc., was officially highlighted again.

Painted lines being the first attempt.

The Board endeavoured to speed its tram services by painting clearance lines along most of its trackage. A withdrawn passenger tram was fitted with spray painting equipment and has marked most of the system, commencing in 1973. Although reasonably effective, some motorists do not heed these lines, and the only truly satisfactory solution is physical separation.

Followed by an attempt at physical separation of trams along Bridge Road in Richmond, only to be rejected.

During the reconstruction of tram tracks in the very wide thoroughfare of Bridge Road, Richmond, during April to June 1975, the Richmond City Council refused to allow the Tramways Board to place low profile kerbing adjacent to the new tracks to create a reserved right of way for the trams.

Despite the road being wide east of Church Street.

B2.2034 on an inbound route 75 service at Bridge Road and Church Street

The volume of citybound trams using it.

C.3004 heads west on route 48 at Bridge Road and Yarra Boulevard

And the number of motorists u-turning over the tracks.

Everyone crossing the tracks on Bridge Road, Richmond

But the tramways board had more success on route 96.

E.6020 pauses for route 96 passengers at Nicholson and Richardson Street

Permitted to install physical separation – but only on one side of the street!

Fitzroy Council agreed to allow the Board to place low profile kerbing along Nicholson Street, along the eastern tram track, from Victoria Parade to Alexandra Parade, on a trial basis. Nicholson Street is the municipal boundary and Melbourne City Council refused permission for like treatment along the western tram track.

The kerbing was installed during October and November 1975, with safety zones at all stops, and have proved successful. Road traffic has not been hindered and tram running times have improved considerably, especially at key intersections.

Early in 1978 the project was extended northwards to Park Street, North Fitzroy, while the MCC relented somewhat to allow the section from Victoria Parade to Alexandra Parade to be fitted with jiggle bars along the western track. Safety zones were also incorporated into both of these extensions.

These half done concrete kerbs were still visible decades later.

C2.5113 'Bumblebee 2' on an outbound route 96 service at Nicholson and Elgin Streets

Until the 2018 rebuild of Nicholson Street saw taller kerbs provided on both sides of the track.

E.6021 heads south on route 96 at Nicholson and Moor Street

Tram ‘Fairways’

In 1983 the ‘Fairway’ program was launched to speed up trams.

Which featured a package of upgrades.

  • separation of trams from other vehicles on a full or part time basis using lanemarkings and signs,
  • tram activated phases at traffic signals,
  • minor road widening to provide safety zones at tram stops,
  • changes to Road Traffic Regulations to give preference to trams over other vehicles .

Seen as a cheaper solution to speed up trams, given the lack of success implementing physical segregation.

The RTA Fairway project is a conscious departure from the more traditional traffic management techniques and seeks to develop and implement low cost, innovative measures that assist tram operations at high delay sites. The requirement that Fairway treatments are low cost is based on the fact that as the major proportion of the tram network is located in the older, established
inner and middle suburbs of Melbourne, opportunities for larger scale improvements are generally not economically justified nor socially and environmentally acceptable.

The most visible change being yellow lines along major roads, indicating that motor vehicles cannot enter or turn across the tram tracks.

Which were surprisingly successful, given it was just paint.

The Fairway on the North Balwyn Route has been a qualified success given that details of traffic volumes and any redistribution of traffic along the route have not yet been analysed.

Average journey times during the AM peak period have reduced from 36.6 minutes to 34.6 minutes (i.e. 5.5% reduction). More importantly for tram operations, variations in running times have reduced by 20%, and Average Maximum times have reduced from 44.9 minutes to 39.8 minutes.

Into the modern era

You’d think speeding up trams would be a high priority – but it isn’t.

Consider this irrationality. About 200,000 passengers a day catch a tram along St Kilda Road. That’s about as many people as drive over the West Gate Bridge each day.

If there’s an accident on the bridge and the freeway is blocked for a few hours, politicians and commentators line up to argue that we urgently need to spend a lazy $18 billion on another east-west freeway.

And yet the city’s busiest tram corridor doesn’t even have enough separation with general traffic to stop a delivery van driver shutting the whole thing down by doing an ill-timed U-turn in front of a moving tram.

It took until 2011 for something to happen, thanks to the renewal of aging tram tracks along Spencer Street.

Over the Easter and ANZAC Day long weekend Yarra Trams replaced 740 metres of double track along Spencer Street between La Trobe Street and Flinders Street and on the Spencer Street Bridge.

The project renewed tracks which had first been installed in 1951 and introduced measures providing segregation between trams and traffic to improve safety and tram service reliability along one of the busiest sections of Melbourne’s tram network.

The new tracks were raised above the roadway.

E2.6072 heads north on route 96 at Spencer and Bourke Street

Leading to a massive drop in the number of collisions.

There were 11 tram-on-car collisions on Spencer Street last financial year between Bourke and Collins streets, compared with 76 in the three previous years. ”It’s been very effective on Spencer Street,” said Clement Michel, Yarra Trams’ chief executive.

But unfortunately they’re not enough to stop determined dumbarses from driving over the top.

Four cars all attempt a u-turn across raised tram tracks on Spencer Street

Rebuilding tram tracks is expensive, so in 2014 Yarra Trams tried something cheaper – bolting down yellow plastic kerbing beside the Collins Street tram tracks.

Yellow plastic kerbing in place along the Collins Street tram tracks

In an attempt to fix the worst street in Melbourne for tram to vehicle collisions.

Collins Street has had raised safety kerbs installed in an effort to increase safety by improving separation between motorists and trams.

Yarra Trams and Public Transport Victoria has installed the bright yellow kerbs along Collins Street, with the work completed two weeks ahead of schedule to be finished before the Grand Prix.

At the launch of its ‘Drivers Beware’ rhino safety campaign last year, Yarra Trams data showed that spots on Collins Street near the intersections at Elizabeth, Russell and Spencer streets were among the top 10 locations for tram to vehicle collisions.

Data recorded in the first month after the campaign launch showed a 19 per cent reduction in the number of tram to vehicle collisions on the network compared to the same period in 2012.

The network wide trend shows a reduction in collisions since 2010, but an increase in the proportion of incidents occurring in Collins Street.

The most common causes of collisions, which the raised kerbs aim to eliminate, are motorists performing U-turns or right turns in front of trams.

The new safety kerb, which is 50mm high and 350mm wide, will improve the safety and reliability of trams by deterring motorists from illegally driving across the middle of the road into the path of trams.

The statistics being quite shocking.

Year Total tram to vehicle collisions In Collins Street Percentage in Collins Street
2008 944 44 4.66
2009 905 38 4.20
2010 836 54 6.46
2011 983 48 4.88
2012 892 49 5.49
2013 844 49 5.81
2014 162 6 3.70

To 8 March 2014

But at 50mm high and 350mm wide, the new kerbs didn’t have much success with deterring taxi drivers from making u-turns across the tracks.

Plastic kerbs along the Collins Street tram stops don't do much to deter taxi drivers from making u-turns

Using the tracks to overtake stopped vehicles.

Another taxi driver on Collins Street undeterred by the new plastic kerbs along the tracks

Or just generally blocking up the whole joint.

Taxis and delivery trucks block trams on Collins Street

And if the kerbs come loose – they can derail trams.

On Friday 11 May 2018, early in the morning, a tram was being transported out of service from Essendon Depot to Brunswick Depot. As it travelled outbound in Sydney Road at Moreland Road, the tram derailed as it was turning left into Moreland Road.

The morning of 11 May had been wet, with 18.6 millimetres of rainfall recorded. The investigation found that a yellow plastic dividing strip, presumably dislodged by a passing vehicle, had been washed onto the tram track and become submerged in water. The strip subsequently became wedged in the front bogie.

Yellow plastic strips are frequently dislodged on the network, with our Track Maintenance Crew collecting on average one or two strips a day to return to the road authority.

Under the Road Management Act Code of Practice for operational responsibility for public roads(dated May 2017), the maintenance of plastic dividing strips is in most cases a duty of the relevant responsible road authority, typically the Department of Transport or local government, because they are constructed separately from the tram tracks.

So in 2015 tougher bluestone kerbing was installed at the Docklands end of Collins Street between Spencer Street and the Victoria Harbour tram terminus, at a cost of $316,000.

A1.256 heads east on route 48 at Collins and Spencer Street

One street down, how many to go?

And a way forward

After decades of attempts at segregating trams from traffic, in 2016 Yarra Trams reported they had discovered a way to accelerate the process.

Improving tram priority and fully separating trams from other traffic are considered to be critical elements in moving the tram system to a modern light rail service so that it becomes the best way to move around the inner suburbs of Melbourne.

Recognition and acknowledgement of the importance of taking opportunities for the reallocation of road space to prioritise public transport movement and access is particularly relevant to tram track renewal works.

Using the example of the Spencer Street track renewal.

A large and established tram network such as Melbourne’s has an ongoing series of infrastructure renewal works taking place in order to maintain our assets to the latest standards necessary. These infrastructure renewal programs as well as other internal and external upgrade projects present potential opportunities to enhance and upgrade the operating environment to assist with its envisaged transformation.

Identifying opportunities for either undertaking network improvements as part of track renewal works or implementing changes to assist with achieving desired outcomes at a later date is a key opportunity that has been progressed where possible.

The primary opportunities associated with track renewal include consideration of improving tram right of way by achieving effective physical separation from vehicle traffic where road conditions allow. This could either be by raising the vertical level of tram tracks higher than adjacent roadway carrying traffic or by installation of other effective separation measures such as barrier kerbing or bollards.

Recent completed examples of this approach and application include Spencer Street and Fitzroy Street track works where tram tracks were raised by 120-150mm and established a significantly enhance tram right of way; separated from conflicts and delays caused by traffic which was previous able to encroach onto the tram track.

The recent rebuild of the tram tracks along William Street is another example of this new philosophy.

Installing bluestone kerbing south of Lonsdale Street

And in 2018 Yarra Trams completed a business case for the rollout of concrete kerbs across the network.

Trams would be protected by raised kerbs on either side of tracks under a $42 million proposal to decrease the number of collisions between cars and trams.

Concrete and bluestone kerbing could be installed on tram tracks along busy CBD streets and inner-city arterials, blocking motorists from crossing the tracks.

About 38km of track have been identified as suitable for greater separation in a business case commissioned by Yarra Trams. The business case by GHD Advisory found the rollout would cost $42.7 million. Maintenance of the kerbs would cost $5000 per year compared with $17,000 for the plastic yellow strips that now separate tram tracks from cars.

The business case was included in a Yarra Trams submission to a Victorian parliamentary inquiry investigating ways to reduce the amount of fatalities on the state’s roads.

Trams and cars have collided about 1000 times for every one of the past five years, at an average of three incidents every day.

Yarra Trams said about 10 trams were out of action and under repair each day due to crashes with cars, meaning a reduction in incidents could improve reliability on the network by keeping more trams in service.

More than 95 per cent of tram accidents are caused by motorists. The most common manoeuvres that led to accidents are drivers performing U-turns across tracks, the sudden stopping of vehicles on tracks and cars driving over tracks to get around parked cars or stopped traffic.

Tram crashes decreased by 25 per cent when hard kerbing was installed on Docklands tram routes.

The business case proposing segregation of the following sections of tramway.

Route 96
• Nicholson St segment (Terminus to Gertrude St)
• Bourke St (Spencer St to Spring St)
• Nicholson St (Bourke St to Victoria St)
• St Kilda segment (Fitzroy St to Acland St)

Collins St
• St Vincents Plaza to Spring St
• Spring St to Spencer St

Elizabeth St
• Flinders St to Queen Victoria Market
• Queen Victoria Market to Haymarket
• Haymarket to Flemington Rd/Abbotsford St
• Haymarket to Flemington Rd/Racecourse Rd
• Haymarket to Royal Pde/Brunswick Rd

La Trobe St
• Docklands (Harbour Esp to Spencer St)
• CBD (Spencer St to Victoria St)

William St
• Flinders St to Dudley St

Racecourse Rd
• Flemington Rd to Ascot Vale Rd

Bridge Rd
• Church St to River St

Flinders St
• Spring St to Exhibition St
• Exhibition St to Spencer St

St Kilda Rd
• Federation Square to St Kilda Junction

Commercial Rd
• St Kilda Rd to Punt Rd

Clarendon St
• Whiteman St to Market St

Other short segments:
• Epsom Rd
• Sturt St
• Danks St
• Route 57 (through North Melbourne)
• Westgarth (Merri Creek Bridge)
• Wellington Pde
• Brighton Rd
• Fitzroy St
• Smith St, Caulfield
• Burwood Hwy
• Sydney Rd (north of Bell St)
• Clarendon St south and Canterbury Rd

Almost a hundred years since the issue was first identified, and yet we’re still waiting.


Footnote – painting the lines

The linemarking tram was W2.233 – converted for the job in 1973, having been retired from normal services in 1970.

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23 Responses to “A history of segregated tram lanes in Melbourne”

  1. Andrew says:

    Would you believe for the first week of the new Fairway system, police were actually enforcing it.

    $17,000 for maintenance of the yellow separation strips seems odd given that they never seem to be replaced where they go missing. They are not that helpful anyway.

  2. Jedd C says:

    Marcus, you were a touch early on this post, Collins Street is currently getting spike down raised kerb installed along its length. Including some red painted “keep clear” areas at side streets

  3. Tramologist says:

    Apart from vehicle trespassing, another issue is trams often struggle to merge where tram reservations end. The worst one is probably at Albert St. & Plenty Rd. on the up, unassisted by signals. I don’t know if it has been fixed.
    It’s strange that the B class in the photograph is Not in service but still shows the route number.

  4. Tom the first and best says:

    Concrete curbing is the solution, physical enforcement works best, although a bit tough on emergency vehicles.

    Also roll out hook turns, right turn bans and traffic light priority across the tram network.

  5. We don’t need to remove cars entirely from the tram lane, just keep their numbers low enough. If we look at the whole tram network, it would be better (and revenue positive) to impose demand responsive driving charges.

  6. Dean says:

    Along the 19 line they have installed barriers which make it impossible for cars to merge onto the tram track along Royal parade. This has improved travel times along Royal parade

  7. Heihachi_73 says:

    The failure of the fairway system is in plain sight in the last 1983 diagram shown above, and the photo immediately above showing the stuck D class and the $100k Mercedes-Benz Toorak tractor on the tram tracks facing it. Fairway ends about 50m from an intersection, allowing cars to cut in front of the tram and stop dead on the tram tracks so they can turn right (while taking a full light sequence to do so while the blocked tram had the green light and/or white T the entire time).

    Hook turns should be mandatory at all 4-way intersections involving tram lines and right-turning cars, not just a select few around the CBD and one or two scattered elsewhere.

    It’s a tiny bit more complicated with just a right-hand side street though (such as in the D class photo), as there is no room for a complete hook turn unless the right-turning car hogs the left lane, with the right lane (tram lane) being for straight-ahead traffic only.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      The route 109 tram extension at Box Hill used grass between the tracks.

      C.3021 arrives at the Box Hill terminus of route 109

      And the more recent Southbank Boulevard has plants along the tracks.

      Succulent plants between the rails on Southbank Boulevard

      • Tom the first and best says:

        A great way to way to reduce both the urban heat island effect and excess rainwater runoff. It should be rolled out widely.

  8. Thede3jay says:

    At what point does Yarra Trams consider the retractable spikes commonly seen in car parks?

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