Cancelling public transport to inner Melbourne

On Saturday 18 September public transport in much of Melbourne was shutdown on the request of Victoria Police between 8am and 2pm, in an attempt to prevent anti-lockdown protesters attending a planned rally in the Melbourne CBD.

The backstory

The shutdown was announced at a Victoria Police press conference on Wednesday 15 September.

Public transport in Melbourne will be suspended for six hours on Saturday as part of a large-scale police operation to stop a planned protest against the ongoing Covid lockdown in the city.

The Victoria Police commissioner, Shane Patton, said on Wednesday that public transport – including buses, trams and trains – would be suspended going into the Melbourne CBD between 8am and 2pm on Saturday in an effort to prevent “freedom” protesters gathering in the city after thousands gathered in late August.

“We have no problem with facilitating protest when there’s a place in time for that to occur. This weekend is not the place and time for that to occur,” Patton said.

“It’s really interesting that this whole cohort of people who are about freedom don’t seem to respect the freedoms of others and anyone coming in here places those freedoms at risk.”

Two thousand police officers will be on hand as part of the operation to stop the protest and bollards will be erected with traffic management points and roving patrols. Only essential workers with valid permits will be allowed into the city centre.

Public Transport Victoria began publicising the disruption that evening.

“Trains terminate at suburban stations” was the initial message from Metro Trains.

And “no trams in the city” the message from Yarra Trams.

But by Friday 17 the extent of the shutdown of public transport was made clear, when Public Transport Victoria published maps of the services that would be running.

At the request of Victoria Police, public transport will not run through the CBD on Saturday 18 September 2021.

This will impact all metropolitan and regional train services, trams and buses from 8am to 2pm with services expected to take some time to resume to regular timetable.

Major road closures on thoroughfares into the CBD will also be in place. Significant delays are expected on roads leading to the CBD. CBD access will only be granted at roadblocks to those travelling for essential work, healthcare or to attend a vaccination appointment.

Metropolitan train services will terminate at suburban stations, where can effectively turn around and continue to provide services away from the city.

Tram routes and bus routes that normally travel into or through the CBD will now terminate at stops, some distance outside the CBD boundary and turn around. Some tram and and bus routes will not run at all, while others will run to a reduced timetable.

No trains within 10 kilometres or so of the Melbourne CBD.

Trams terminating at the fringe of the inner city.

As were Transdev buses.

And alternative transport for the vast swathes of Melbourne beyond the CBD, left without public transport – nothing.

The Public Transport Users Association said the Victorian government needed to do more to minimise any disruption to workers relying on public transport.

Spokesperson Daniel Bowen said the impact on commuters would be severe.

“It’s unprecedented to shut down the entire inner part of the public transport network, not just in the CBD, but also the inner suburbs,” Mr Bowen said.

“The shuttle buses they’re putting on won’t stop at intermediate points along the route to the city, so there’s going to be lots of areas in inner suburban Melbourne and around the CBD that will just have no transport options.”

The only public transport operating to the CBD was a half-hourly shuttle bus service, running express from the suburbs to a CBD drop-off point.

Those people undertaking authorised travel with permits are urged to allow plenty of extra time for their journeys. They must carry identification and proof of their reason for travel, such as an authorised worker permit, or vaccination booking confirmation.

As a last resort for authorised travellers, two shuttle buses per hour will run from the nine suburban railway station termination points (see list below) to key drop-off points in and around the CBD. Passengers will be required to complete their journey by walking to their location from the CBD drop off points.

Victoria Police officers and PSOs will be checking proof of reasons for travel prior to allowing people to board shuttle buses.

On the day

On the morning of Saturday 18 September I went for a walk down to Sunshine station, to see how things were going. On the station concourse there was no signage informing passengers of the service disruption – just two blank lines on the next train display, where citybound services would normally be listed.

No signage at Sunshine station informing passengers of the service disruption towards the city

A Watergardens-bound train departed the ‘wrong’ way out of platform 1, proceeding through a crossover to get back onto the left hand track.

Alstom Comeng 565M departs Sunshine platform 1 on the up

A pair of Protective Services Officers were twiddling their thumbs down on the station platform for the next train to terminate.

Protective Services Officers waiting at Sunshine station for the next terminating train to arrive

Down in the station car park was a Victoria Police car.

Victoria Police car parked among the replacement buses at Sunshine station

And at the rail replacement bus stop were another six Protective Services Officers, checking the credentials of passengers intending to board the shuttle bus to the CBD.

Protective Services Officers at Sunshine station, checking the credentials of passengers intending to board the 'Authorised Worker Shuttle' bus to the CBD.

Eventually a bus turned up.

Protective Services Officers at Sunshine station, checking the credentials of passengers intending to board the 'Authorised Worker Shuttle' bus to the CBD.

With ‘Authorised Worker Shuttle’ and ‘Express between Flagstaff and Sunshine’ signs on the front windscreen.

 'Authorised Worker Shuttle' signage in the windscreen of a rail replacement bus

A few minutes later it departed for the city, with about a dozen passengers onboard.

Donric Group bus BS03IZ on an 'Authorised Worker Shuttle' on Hampshire Road, Sunshine

The shuttle buses continuing to run until 2pm, when normal services started running to the CBD again.

So did it work?

It appears the shutdown of public transport didn’t make any difference to the protest – they moved their rally to outside of the CBD!

Anti-lockdown demonstrators met in Richmond at around 12:00pm on Saturday, ignoring authorities’ pleas for them to stay home.

Police surrounded the protesters on Bridge Road, where multiple people were arrested.

The several-hundred-strong crowd then moved down Burnley Street, with police appearing to use capsicum spray on some members.

Authorities said 235 people were arrested in the protests, 193 for breaching CHO directions and several others for a range of offences including assault police, riotous behaviour, weapon and drug offences.

Footnote: how were the termination points chosen?

Trams and trains aren’t like a car – you can’t just pull up anywhere, do a u-turn, and head back the way you came – you need to change tracks.

In the case of trams, there are crossovers all over Melbourne, giving trams the flexibility to terminate and return at places that aren’t the usual end of the line.

Driver of Z3.150 on route 5 throws the points at the Swanston and A'Beckett Street crossover

But for trains it is trickier – as well as crossovers, trains also require a signalling configuration that permits a train to proceed along the ‘wrong’ track towards the crossover, and a safe location for the train driver to change ends from the front to read cab.

Life extension EDI Comeng 543M traverses the crossover, departing Sunshine platform 1 with a down Sunbury service

This is why the Glen Waverley line had to terminate at Darling instead of Burnley, Craigieburn trains could not terminate at Kensington, Sunbury trains could not terminate at West Footscray, and Werribee trains could not terminate at Footscray.


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17 Responses to “Cancelling public transport to inner Melbourne”

  1. Daniel Bowen says:

    As I understand it, PTV had a little bit of warning about the announcement, but there was still a scramble to organise it. Note the contradictory maps: the tram map shows the Glen Waverley line coming in as far as Burnley, but the train map (correctly) shows it terminating at Darling.

    On the day there were further alterations, probably due to the protestors relocating to Richmond and areas not far from Burnley. At one stage the Belgrave/Lilydale lines terminated at Camberwell.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      I heard a rumour that operators had been asked to start planning for this scenario at least a week before it happened – the protest itself had been planned some time ahead.

  2. Chris says:

    I think at one point the police requested the Lilydale/Belgrave trains be pulled back to Camberwell as Burnley was a little too close to the protest location.

  3. Phil Krohn says:

    I don’t see the GW line on the tram map at all.

    As for the disruptions not achieving anything, I’m not so sure. It was never going to stop those pea-brained twerps from gathering completely. Forcing the protest into a less central area can only have been good for controlling it, and I’m sure it reduced the numbers able to gather, which is good both for optics and epidemiologically. They were able to corral the protesters into a single street for a while; imagine trying to do that in the wide streets and laneways of the CBD with even a few dozen people.

    It also potentially shields people who have to use PT to get to their essential jobs from exposure to people who are flouting the rules, if it forces the latter group off the trains and trams. And of course it sends a message of how seriously the rest of us are taking the issue.

  4. Beren says:

    And, they literally walked all the way into the city anyways. So, what was the point? They were so concentrated on this protest that they were literally able to walk all the way into the city regardless. Cancelling public transport to prevent people from getting in was a pointless inconvenience to the public.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Or the police could have just let people exercise their right to protest.

  6. Andrew says:

    It was quite confusing with train termination points being changed. Burnley is not that far from the city and Clarendon Junction is a very close tram termination point.

    What it the point of train tracks having crossover points that can’t be used? I remember a debacle several years ago when there was an emergency on the Sandringham line and the Elsternwick crossover could not be used.

    You and I may know differently but when Yarra Trams says services will resume at 2pm, that is what passengers will expect, to start seeing trams from 2 onwards. Some routes did not go past here city bound until after 3. YT has years of experience at trams being truncated and it could not give an indication of the return of a vaguely normal service. Probably the same for trains.

    I didn’t check trains but why was Tram Tracker turned off when trams were still running in the suburbs, perhaps unevenly and therefore up to date information would have been helpful.

    Ok, there wasn’t a lot of time to plan but dealing with unexpected events and delays is a daily part of our public transport system. Can do better.

  7. Albert3801 says:

    An alternative arrangement could have been for trains to run empty through the Loop and/or Flinders Street and resume their normal down service from wherever it was decided by police they could carry passengers. This was basically how Sydney did it with trains running empty through the CBD in order to minimise disruption.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      I asked the same question, and apparently Victoria Police didn’t want this to happen.

    • Kurt says:

      This would be much more logical. Unlike an ordinary disruption where there’d be a reason not to use the line (power fault/signal issue/trespasser/etc), in this case there’s no reason trains couldn’t use the line and it would be simple to just not open the doors at loop stations. It’d save a whole lot of effort trying to rework the timetable, and would mean people traveling to work outside the CBD via train (like me!) would be less affected.

  8. gxxh says:

    I don’t support these protesters at all, nor their tactics, but I can’t help feeling that some protests attract more police attention than others. And shutting down vast swathes of the public transport system seems an over-the-top reaction.

  9. arfman says:

    I kinda wished they used the Sydney approach to it, where the trains run through the city anyway but don’t let passengers get off (except maybe at Central where police only allowed certain passengers out of the station). That was operationally it could remain the same if they kept the timing the same while not opening doors. Though I can understand the ridership would be way down leaving only the authorised workers through so it would just be easier for PTV to cut those routes short.

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