Rail replacement buses and the 2022 State Election

As the Level Crossing Removal Project and ‘Big Build’ have ramped up across Melbourne in recent years, rail replacement buses have been a constant spectre following those wanting to catch a train. But early November they suddenly disappeared, only to return with a vengeance a few weeks later. But why?

Lively Bus BS02WC at Sunshine station on an emergency rail replacement service

Tracking the rail replacement buses

PTV rolled out a new, more readable style of poster summarising upcoming rail replacement buses across the Melbourne suburban network back in May 2022, giving passengers an overview of which lines were going to be closed for weeks on end, just for a weekend, or just for evening works.

New, more readable style of poster summarising upcoming rail replacement buses across the Melbourne suburban network

Throughout August and September 2022 the Mernda line was closed for an extended period, while the lines to Upfield, Lilydale, Belgave and Alamein were closed for a weekend.

'Buses replace trains 25 August to 4 September' summary poster at a railway station

In late September the Craigieburn and Sandringham lines joined the weekend closure club.

'Buses replace trains 8 September to 18 September' summary poster at a railway station

October it was the Williamstown, Werribee and Sunbury lines.

'Buses replace trains 13 to 23 October' summary poster at a railway station

But come November – trains running everywhere, except for a single night on the Lilydale and Belgrave lines.

'Buses replace trains 10 to 20 November' summary poster at a railway station

But come Sunday 27 November, buses were replacing trains on six separate lines.

'Buses replace trains 17 to 27 November' summary poster at a railway station

And they’re back – during December 2022 nine lines were replaced by buses, including two extended line closures.

'Buses replace trains 24 November to 4 December' summary poster at a railway station

So why the lack of replacement buses?

Turns out there was one major event in November – the 2022 State election, held on Saturday 27 November.

Early voting centre at the Sunshine scout hall

So did someone high up in the government tell transport operators November was off limits for project works, because they wanted trains to keep running? I don’t know, but I can’t think of a better explanation.

And they’re still more

Since the election we’ve had tram replacement buses on St Kilda Road due to Metro Tunnel works and buses on the Upfield and Craigieburn lines due to Dynon Road works for the West Gate Tunnel project.

Anzac station superstructure complete, works underway on the future tram stop

And coming up – closure of the underground stations on the City Loop from 2 January through to 15 January 2023; replacement buses on the Cranbourne, Pakenham, Frankston, Stony Point and Sandringham Lines for three weeks from 4 January 2023 for Metro Tunnel works; and the Lilydale and Belgrave lines from 23 February to end of May for the removal of the level crossing at Union and Mont Albert Roads.

Road closed at Union Road with work underway at the level crossing

However the ability for operators to supply buses and drivers might be in trouble – the most recent round of occupations have been described as “the worst ever” with run times not allowing traffic conditions, with buses running 15+ minutes late compared to the driver’s schedules, and multiple concurrent projects have seen the available fleet of buses spread thin, causing even further crowding.

The only respite – the rumoured hiring of buses and drivers from South Australia and New South Wales to shore up the rail replacement fleet.

Footnote: New South Wales tries the same thing

March 2023 saw a state election up in New South Wales, and they’ve done the same thing as Victoria.

Hundreds of rail workers have been temporarily redeployed from their main jobs because the state’s transport agency has had an order in place for almost three weeks preventing a raft of maintenance and project work on signalling and operational systems across the rail network.

Two weeks before Saturday’s state election, the transport agency made the order halting “any non-essential work on signalling, operational technology and control systems” until further notice.

Transport for NSW’s internal memo to maintenance workers – obtained by the Herald – said the suspension was aimed at reducing the “risk of system failures” and to “minimise train service disruptions”. The agency refers to the suspension as a “brown out”.

At the election the New South Wales government changed so I suppose the incoming team had a reason to start asking questions – but with no change in the top in Victoria, everyone kept their lips shut.

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12 Responses to “Rail replacement buses and the 2022 State Election”

  1. Michael says:

    It really is noticeable how many works have been stuffed into Decemmber. The inner west is a disaster zone with Dynon Road bridge shut. I was moved to complain to the West Gate Tunnel Project about the woefully poor publicity: if the West Gate Bridge were shut for 4 weeks we wouldn’t hear the end of it!

  2. Graham Bradshaw says:

    Sky rail prelim works on Upfield ?
    And of course Metro closures often affect V/line services and a bus from Castlemaine is a real pain, especially if it’s not an express.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Upfield and Craigieburn line closures id due to West Gate Tunnel project works blocking the tracks under the Dynon Road bridge that lead to North Melbourne platform 1 and 2.

      West Gate Tunnel project works block the tracks under the Dynon Road bridge that lead to North Melbourne platform 1 and 2

  3. Jordan says:

    Why were Craigieburn services unable to run during the Westgate tunnel project works under Dynon rd? They could have used the alternate route via the overpass through platforms 5 and 6 like how the Seymour and Shepparton services did. Yes this may affect the Werribee, Williamstown and Sunbury lines but isn’t having a service better than not having one at all (especially outside the peaks when there would be minimal disruption to the other lines)?!

  4. albert3801 says:

    I wouldn’t be trying to source drivers from New South Wales. We have our own issues with driver shortages here with many regular route buses cancelled each day due to lack of drivers / driver illness.

    • Craig says:

      Taking drivers who would otherwise be twiddling their thumbs over the school holidays as they will come from charter operators

  5. Craig says:

    Frankston Line works resumed last week with a 5 day closure to remove the platform 1 track at Glenhuntly, plus buses City – Dandenong last weekend

    Now over 6 months without peak hour express trains while trench preparation continues

    And evening and weekend works continue this week ahead of the long January line closure

    And Parkdale works to look forward to next year!

  6. Paul Westcott says:

    It was made pretty clear to transport bureaucrats that major works, involving inconvenience to passengers and motorists, should be avoided during November.

    • Michael Bachmann says:

      @Paul Westcott: I’m just curious about how ‘It was made pretty clear…’? Are you basing this statement just on the result (as per the article) or do you have further information or evidence?

  7. Liam says:

    If the Mernda line was anything to go by, the bus replacements have been a complete shambols. The root of the problem was a failure to reserve road space for the busses, making them many times slower than rail, leading more commuters to drive, making traffic worse, and in-turn slowing busses in a vicious cycle. A second problem was bypassing stations between Clifton Hill and Parliament, without an express bus to the former. A 30 minute rail trip became approximately 90 minutes on the “express” bus and tram back into collingwood.

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