Categorising the Melbourne tram network by environment

Melbourne’s tram network is one of the biggest in the world, with 24 routes traversing 250 kilometres of track, dating back over a century, and progressively extended and upgraded in the years since.

Today the challenge is to keep services moving despite increasing traffic congestion, carrying more passengers than ever before, while meeting new accessible transport standards. This is difficult activity given no two parts of the network are the same – so how can the Melbourne tram network be categorised by the environment they runs through?

Z3.202 headed north on Swanston and Flinders Street

Exploring the network

Melbourne trams pass through the CBD streets, stuck at traffic lights and mixing it with clueless motorists performing u-turns over the tracks.

C.3005 westbound on route 109 stuck at the Collins and Queen Street traffic lights

They run down the middle of roads on the edge of the city, separated from cars.

Z3.150 northbound on route 55 on Flemington Road at Gatehouse Street

Along tree lined boulevards.

D2.5002 northbound on route 19 crosses the former Inner Circle railway bridge on Royal Parade

They run though suburban shopping strips.

Z2.101 snaking through the kink in High Street at Northcote

Pedestrians darting between shops.

SW6.896 trundles south on Chapel Street with a route 78 service

Lined with parked cars.

Z3.198 running a citybound route 57 service on Union Road, Ascot Vale

With a single stopped car enough to delay multiple trams.

D2.5007 leads a trio of northbound route 19 trams stuck in traffic on Sydney Road, Coburg

They trundle along residential streets.

B2.2008 approaches the former Hawthorn Depot, with a citybound route 75 service on Riversdale Road

But cars are never far away.

Moving slower than walking pace, Z3.150 still crawls east along Maribyrnong Road with a route 82 service

Other streets are lined with car yards and other ‘big box’ type retail outlets.

B2.2007 heads along Keilor Road in Niddrie with an outbound route 59 service

On rare occasions the tram tracks leave the road, running alongside the road.

Z3.200 returns to Moonee Ponds on route 82 near Highpoint

But running in the median strip is more common.

A1.232 heads west with a route 30 service along Victoria Parade

Sometimes trees give way to concrete.

B2.2010 climbs up Plenty Road towards Grimshaw Street in Bundoora with an inbound route 86 service

But trams still don’t have right of way at traffic lights.

Z3.227 heads east on route 64 at Dandenong and Hawthorn Roads

The sole exception being the former railway lines to Port Melbourne and St Kilda.

D2.5018 heads north on route 96 near Albert Park

Where the service is more ‘train’ than ‘tram’.

C.3013 arriving at the Graham Street stop

Classifying the network

Thankfully I didn’t need to explore the entire Melbourne tram network to classify the environments that it passes through – this 2008 report by SKM Maunsell/Evans & Peck did all of the work for me, with figure 2.20.

The legend is as follows:

  • Mix – shared on-street with other vehicles in mixed (residential, retail, commercial etc.) land use environment (eg. Commercial Road, Keilor Road, Droop Street)
  • Shopping strip – shared on-street with other vehicles in shopping strip (eg. Chapel Street, Glenhuntly Road, Sydney Road)
  • Residential – shared on-street with other vehicles in residential area (eg. Riversdale Road, Hawthorn Road, Melville Road)
  • Residential right of way – segregated track in road median in residential area (eg. St. Georges Road, Dandenong Road, Victoria Parade)
  • Priority light rail – grade-separated segregated track in former heavy rail reserve (eg. St. Kilda, Port Melbourne lines)
  • Light rail – segregated track in road reserve or parkland (eg. Plenty Road, Burwood Highway, Royal Park)
  • CBD – right of way in centre of road in CBD
  • Boulevard – right of way in centre of road (St. Kilda Road, Royal Parade, Flemington Road)

Problems – we’ve got loads

The report details the challenges facing the Melbourne tram network.

Tram stops are located at varying spacing along each route. Most stop intervals are between 200 and 500 metres, but in places they are less than 200 metres. Close stop spacing generally increases access to the system but reduces the average speed of the service, reducing the attractiveness of tram travel for passengers.

Most tram stops are not DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) compliant, although there is a program of platform stop implementation underway. DDA compliant stops provide level boarding, enabling easy access for everyone, including wheelchair users and mobility impaired passengers. Furthermore, platform stops are more popular with passengers on account of the improved access, safety and amenity afforded. Monitoring studies have found that stop dwell times have been reduced owing to quicker boarding and alighting times for passengers resulting from the removal of stepped access.

The tram rolling stock which currently serves the network varies widely in performance and capacity.

Service speeds are slow by world standards mainly because of the large proportion of shared running with other vehicles. Speeds average 16km/hr across the network, slowing to an average speed of 11km/hr in the CBD. The segregated sections of track achieve about 25km/hr, however this represents only a small portion of the network.

Reliability is a key issue for tram operations. The high degree of shared running with other road vehicles gives rise to many delays, which can be attributed to traffic signals or obstruction by other vehicles. Traffic congestion accounts for about 40% of tram running time. Modelling undertaken for DOI suggests that unless substantial improvements are made to tram priority and operation in the roads, tram speeds could fall by at least a further 8% by 2020 as a result of increasing road congestion. Tram operating costs will correspondingly increase.

As the tram network shares the road with other traffic, considerable delays to tram services are experienced where the demand for road space is high. These delays are exacerbated by the lengthy signal delays encountered at intersections crossing Alexandra Parade and Victoria Street.

But also details how a quality tram service builds patronage.

Work completed by the Department of Infrastructure highlighted that Route 96 along Nicholson Street has the highest patronage, possibly due to the fact that it offers the best relative journey times to the car in the corridor it serves, has a degree of separation from traffic and has rolling stock with greater passenger capacity.

Smith Street and Brunswick Street have lower tram speeds, reflecting the interaction and conflicts with traffic due to parking and right turning vehicles. However services using these routes have very high levels of patronage, suggesting that a substantial proportion of the people-moving task on these roads is performed by trams. Any works which assist in reducing the tram travel time on these roads would attract even more passengers.

And the moves being made in 2008 towards improving the system.

The ‘Think Tram’ initiative being managed by VicRoads involves the implementation of a series of priority measures across the tram network, with a stated aim of increasing tram service speeds. Measures include the implementation of physical separation devices, part time tram lanes, ‘T’ lights at intersections and traffic signal re-phasing. Recent part time tram lanes and associated signs have been installed in Fitzroy (Smith Street, Brunswick Street) and Balwyn (High Street, Doncaster Road).

The Think Tram program has had some success in giving trams greater priority; at a minimum it has enabled trams to maintain their travel times relative to growth in traffic congestion, as opposed to reducing travel times. The application of ITS technologies and the positive separation of tramway right-of-way from other road users, especially right turning vehicles, appear to offer the best solutions

A decade later, and unfortunately little has changed – the new low floor E class trams have allowed the retirement of a handful of remaining high floor W and Z1/Z2 class trams, and the rollout of platform stops across the network is slowly progressing, but improving tram priority is still in the ‘too hard’ basket.


The report I’ve quoted above is titled East West Needs Study: Transport Supply and Demand and was completed in 2008 report by SKM Maunsell/Evans & Peck. From the report preface.

The Victorian Government has appointed Sir Rod Eddington to lead a study into the need for an East-West Transport Link. The East-West Link Study Team supporting Sir Rod has commissioned Sinclair Knight Merz- Maunsell to undertake the Transport Planning Study forming part of the East-West Link Needs Assessment.

The purpose of the Transport Planning Study is to carry out a strategic evaluation of the existing and future mobility constraints for travel between the east and west of Melbourne and identify opportunities for a range of options to address future travel requirements.

Photos from ten years ago: July 2007

Another instalment in my photos from ten years ago series – this time it is July 2007.

We start in the southern Geelong suburb of Grovedale, where I photographed a pair of locomotives retuning light engine from the Waurn Ponds cement works.

X36 and H1 on the up at Grovedale, returning light engine from the Waurn Ponds cement works

X36 and H1 on the up at Grovedale, returning light engine from the Waurn Ponds cement works

X36 and H1 on the up at Grovedale, returning light engine from the Waurn Ponds cement works

Back then it was empty paddocks, but today the crest of the hill is the location of Waurn Ponds station, surrounded by cookie cutter houses on tiny blocks.

Over on the other side of Geelong, I captured a Genesee & Wyoming Australia operated grain train heading up the hill through Bell Post Hill behind a quartet of locomotives.

CLP17, GM42, 2210 and 2212 departs Geelong, at Bell Post Hill

Both operator and locomotives still exist today but they are an infrequent visitor to Victoria, sticking to their home turf of South Australia. My chosen location has also changed – the Geelong Ring Road now crosses the railway a short distance away.

A little further north I photographed a VLocity train arriving into Lara station.

Vlocity arriving into Lara

Back then Lara only had a small brick station building, with staff only in attendance during morning peak. Soon after I took my photo, work started on a major expansion project, the current station building being opened in 2008.

On odd sight I captured on the Princes Highway at Geelong was a railway carriage being moved by road.

On the road

This privately owned carriage was bound for the Seymour Railway Heritage Centre depot, previously being stored near South Geelong station.

Some I don’t visit often is the snow – Mount Hotham was the first time I’d ever gone to an actual snowfield.

Home Time

I was more interested in photography than the slopes.

Time for drinks

Capturing the equipment used to groom the slopes for skiers.

I thought I captioned it

Darn this is cool...

As well as the buses used to move them around the village.

Christians 2128AO at Dinner Plain, on the shuttle run to Mount Hotham

0658AC on the resort shuttle at Mount Hotham, in the Hotham livery

Finally, we end on a night time wander around Southern Cross Station – neither trains or passengers were visible.

Looking over an empty station by night

Bourke Street bridge empty of people

Looking north-west at an empty station from platform 2

Late night at the foot of the Bourke Street bridge

The fact that it was midnight probably had something to do with it!


Here you can find the rest of my ‘photos from ten years ago‘ series.

Selling off parkland on Buckley Street, Footscray

Parkland has become a hot button topic in the inner Melbourne suburb of Footscray, with 2016 seeing members of the local community lobbying state and local government to allow surplus railway land to be turned over to the public as open space, and not sold for development. But on Buckley Street the government is doing something even more shameful – selling off former parkland as a development site.

The story starts in July 12, 2010 when it was announced that 26 homes and 84 businesses on Buckley Street would be compulsorily acquired by the State Government to make way for the Regional Rail Link project.

154 Buckley Street, vacant and boarded up

The back story

I wrote about the acquisition back in October 2011:

By my count a total of 24 houses are to be acquired on Buckley Street, as well as the Footscray Senior Citizens Centre. Of these, only a few properties around Victoria Street are actually in the path of the new tracks, with the rest of the route running through what are currently backyards and garden sheds.

The original project timeline stated the transfer of properties was to commence in July 2011, with the completion of land purchases occurring by August 31, and demolition work following in the fourth quarter of 2011 leading into early 2012.

But it wasn’t just private properties that were acquired to make room for the new railway – the Footscray Senior Citizens’ Centre was also in the way, and had to go.

Boarded up doors at the Footscray Senior Citizens' Centre

It took up a substantial site on the corner of Windsor and Buckley Streets.

Footscray Senior Citizens Centre on the way down

Also acquired was David Matthews Park, located next door to the Senior Citizens’ Centre.

David Matthews Park, beside the senior citizens centre

The park wasn’t much.

David Matthews Park looking rather unkempt

But it provided as small pocket of greenery among the narrow streets of Seddon and West Footscray.

David Matthews Park still open for the time being

As late as December 2011 the park was still open to the public, despite the neighbouring buildings being long gone.

David Matthews Park still open for the time being

But as the Regional Rail Link project commenced, the entire park was fenced off.

David Matthews Park now closed to public access

Work on the project was completed in 2014, with the surplus land along the north side of Buckley Street being replanted with grass, but fenced off from public access.

North side of Buckley Street now replanted with grass, but everything is fenced off

Including the site of the former David Matthews Park, marked by a trio of tall gum trees.

Trees from the former David Matthews Park still in place, but everything is fenced off

Community agitation begins

A little bit closer to the city was another plot of land, located at 94-104 Buckley Street. Once warehouses, the site was also acquired to make room for the Regional Rail Link project.

Demolished warehouses at 94-104 Buckley Street

During the project, the site was used as a works compound.

Entrance to the works compound off Buckley St

Once work was completed, the land then sat empty, leading local residents to start a campaign for it to be handed over to the community as parkland.

Push for park on surplus RRL land
October 28, 2015
Benjamin Millar
Maribyrnong & Hobsons Bay – Star Weekly

Buckley Street resident Daniell Flood is fighting for the land at 96-100 Buckley Street, compulsorily acquired in 2011 for the $3.65 billion Regional Rail Link, to be turned into community open space.

About 80 homes and businesses along and near Buckley Street, including the Footscray Senior Citizens Centre, were bulldozed to make way for the project.

Surplus land not used when the rail link was completed will be sold to developers unless bought by a state government agency or Maribyrnong council.

“There is no open space in the area yet there are going to be around 800 new apartments built around the site,” Mr Flood said.

“It’s probably the last piece of government- owned land around here.”

The Regional Rail Link Authority has deemed 96-100 Buckley Street to be surplus, along with a 200-metre long strip stretching west from Middle Footscray station at 130-176 Buckley Street.

RRLA spokesman Paul Frawley said the land had been offered for sale to other government agencies and Maribyrnong council as per state government guidelines.

“Any land not purchased by another government body will be listed for public sale in the new year,” he said.

Star Weekly reported in March that residents want 130-176 Buckley Street to be gifted to the community as a park.

Footscray MP Marsha Thomson said she was willing to discuss the future of the sites with Maribyrnong council. “If council is interested in the land then I’m interested in working with them to get the property,” she said.

“The thing that is of interest to all of us is the amount of green space available in Footscray, particularly in regards to some of the apartments approved under [former state planning minister] Matthew Guy.”

Maribyrnong mayor Nam Quach said the council would be interested in discussing the future of the land parcels. “[But] it’s important people realise council doesn’t own the land and there are many aspects to look at, such as safety and location,” he said.

As you can see on this diagram shared on the ‘Buckley St Park’ Facebook page, the number of apartments in Footscray is skyrocketing.

But the campaign for a new park came to nothing – in March 2016 the State Government refused to hand the land over for free, and the Maribyrnong City Council decided against paying $5.5 million to acquire it.

The result – the land was put on the open market.

Purchased by a developer in December 2016 for just under $5 million, they will build a $60 million tower housing more than 100 apartments on the site.

And the final twist of the knife

April 2017 saw the strip of land at 130-186 Buckley Street put up for sale – former home of the the Footscray Senior Citizens’ Centre and David Matthews Park.

Sounds like a joke, doesn’t it – State Government demolishes a park and community facility to make way for a much needed railway expansion project, and instead of giving it back to the community once they are done, they flog it off to property developers to build apartments, putting even more stain on existing infrastructure.

Melbourne’s never built – the top end of Bourke Street

In the mid-20th century there were many crazy plans to rebuild Melbourne as a modern city, and this proposal from the Melbourne Metropolitan Planning Scheme 1954 would be one of the most extreme – the entire top end of Bourke Street would be bulldozed to make room for a new civic square.

The key components was a Civic Square at the corner of Bourke and Spring Street, and a new Town Hall located above Bourke Street at the western of of the new square.


  1. Parliament House
  2. Civic Square
  3. Civic Hall and Municipal Offices
  4. Public Authorities and private development
  5. Existing Hotel
  6. Existing Theatre
  7. State Government Offices
  8. Proposed Commonwealth Offices

Chapter 13 of the Melbourne Metropolitan Planning Scheme 1954 describes the concept.

Every community has need at times for ceremonies of national rejoicing or solemn commemoration, and a city should have a place where its citizens can assemble together for such purposes. Apart from the environs of the Shrine of Remembrance, where any ceremony can fittingly be associated only with the purpose of the Shrine, there is no place in Melbourne where such ceremonies can be appropriately conducted. Our city lacks a civic focal point.

The centre of civic administration is the Melbourne Town Hall which, despite its many fine features, is located in such a congested area and on such an inadequate site that it does not provide for the needs of a city. The centre of governmental administration is much better chosen, but many government departments are scattered throughout the central area and occupy space which should more appropriately be used for commercial purposes. The offices of semi-governmental bodies are also widely separated.

It is apparent that if all the administrative offices of government departments, semi-government bodies and the municipality of Melbourne were grouped in one locality, not only would the dealings of these bodies with each other be facilitated, but it would be a great convenience to all citizens. In addition, sites now occupied by public bodies in various parts of the central area would become available for more appropriate uses.

In Melbourne the Commonwealth Government has acquired the city block bounded by Spring, Latrobe, Exhibition and Lonsdale Streets, and has plans to build on half the area within the next seven years so that Commonwealth departments in Melbourne can be accommodated together.

State Government departments are located in the Government Office Building between Spring Street and Lansdowne Street, and the Chief Government Architect believes that this site can be developed to accommodate all the State departments which for efficiency should be in close contact with each other.

Nearby in Spring Street and facing down Bourke Street is State Parliament House. It is no new conception that in front of Parliament House there should be an open space for ceremonial and other occasions. Various sites have been suggested for a Civic Centre and there will probably always be some difference of opinion as to which one is the most suitable.

In reviewing all these matters, the conclusion is reached that, because of present and proposed development in the vicinity, a grouping of government and civic activities around Parliament House is both logical and appropriate. Many different ways of doing this could be propounded and each would have its advocates and each its merits. It is not the function of the planning scheme to determine just how this should be done, but it has been necessary to consider the possibilities of the area for the purpose.

Diagram 38 shows in perspective one conception of how the environs of Parliament House could be developed to provide a Civic and Administrative Centre worthy of the city. This is not presented as the complete and detailed study necessary before any positive action is taken, but merely to illustrate the potentialities of the locality.

The conception provides for:

(a) Creation of a civic square for the full width of Parliament House and extending some distance down Bourke Street towards Exhibition Street.

(b) The erection of buildings of a monumental character around the square to provide for a Town Hail and municipal offices, for offices for public authorities and for appropriate private uses.

(c) The retention of the Princess Theatre and the Windsor Hotel which when rebuilt, as some day they must be, can be brought into architectural harmony with the surroundings.

(d) Public garage accommodation on several levels under the Civic Square.

(e) Depressing Spring Street from the south side of Collins Street to the north side of Bourke Street as part of the ultimate development of the City Ring Road, thus permitting approach to Parliament House above Spring Street from the Civic Square.

(f) Widening, to the extent shown, of Little Collins Street and Little Bourke Street and their connection to the Civic Square at its west end to facilitate traffic movement and to enhance the value of the properties abutting those streets.

(g) The creation of an open area between Parliament House and the ecclesiastical buildings grouped in the vicinity, by diverting road traffic in Gisborne Street and incorporation of some of the grounds of Parliament House.

To permit this or some other appropriate development being gradually achieved, the area has been included in Special Use Zone No. 13, in which the uses have been regulated accordingly.

No doubt many people, for various reasons, will oppose the whole or portion of this conception, but a civic centre is badly needed in Melbourne. It would not only enhance the charm and amenities of this already beautiful city, but would be an asset appropriate to a city of 2,500,000 people.

Looking back

As you can probably guess, none of the above plans ever moved forward – the exception being the Commonwealth Centre at 275 Spring Street completed in 1958, and the State Government Office at 1 Treasury Place completed in 1970

A rather telling line is this one:

The retention of the Princess Theatre and the Windsor Hotel which when rebuilt, as some day they must be. can be brought into architectural harmony with the surroundings.

Can you imagine demolishing the Windsor Hotel?

Skyscrapers tower over Spring Street and Melbourne's Hotel Windsor

And the Princess Theatre?

D2.5019 on route 86a on Spring Street

At least Parliament House would be retained!

Parliament House, Melbourne

Another positive outcome of the plan being abandoned is avoiding a tangle of freeway off-ramps at the corner of Spring and Lonsdale Street – part of the long abandoned City Ring Road plans.

V/Line’s 20% fare cut of 2007

In the past decade V/Line patronage has exploded, with millions more passenger journeys being made each year. What is the driver behind it – improved services, or regional sprawl? There is also another factor – the 20% fare cut of 2007.

VLocity 3VL19 on a Melbourne-bound service passes new housing developments outside Waurn Ponds station

The battleground was the 2006 State Election, and the elimination of Zone 3. From The Age:

Both parties promise ‘fare go’ for public transport
Stephen Moynihan and Farrah Tomazin
October 27, 2006

More than a million Melburnians will have cheaper public transport fares in 2007, no matter who wins next month’s state election.

Within hours of each other, the Opposition and State Government yesterday announced plans to abolish Zone 3 on the metropolitan transport system.

Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu fired the first shot, saying the creation of simpler fare structure would reduce ticket prices and increase public transport patronage.

Four hours later, Premier Steve Bracks announced the same promise but trumped the Opposition with a pledge to cut V/Line fares by up to 20 per cent.

The Liberals costed their plan at $84 million over four years, with Labor costing theirs at $94.1 million over five years.

Labor won the election, with their fare changes introduced on 4 March 2007 – removal of Zone 3, and a 20% cut in V/Line fares.

What happened to V/Line?

The 2006-07 V/Line annual report had this to say.

The Victorian Government reduced fares across regional Victoria by an average of 20 per cent from 4 March 2007. Zone 3 was removed from the metropolitan system at the same time.

As a result, a new regional fare to all outer regional locations was set at a discounted rate (30 per cent off the full fare). On some key services, prices were reduced by almost 50 per cent due to re-scheduling of some outer regional services away from the premium peak period up to 6pm to deliver this benefit.

The fare reduction drew an immediate and dramatic response, with patronage growing to levels not seen since World War II. Patronage in May 2007 exceeded last year’s record set during the Commonwealth Games when a $10 return ticket was available to and from regional Victoria.

Patronage growth remained consistent to the end of the year, even allowing for seasonal variation and changes

And this:

Patronage in 2006–07 climbed to its highest level in more than 60 years, with nine million passenger trips – 29 per cent more than last year. This followed the introduction of the new timetable in September and October 2006 and the government’s 20 per cent reduction in fares from March 2007.

The patronage trend continued – from the 2007-08 annual report:

While the 29 per cent increase in passenger numbers in the previous financial year may have been seen by some as an anomaly associated with the introduction of cheaper
fares, a further 23 per cent increase this year is confirmation that we are indeed experiencing a new era in rail travel.

Nearly 12 million passenger trips were made with V/Line in the past year, almost doubling our patronage of just three years ago. With the likelihood of continuing high fuel prices and increasing congestion on metropolitan roads, we expect patronage to grow to more than 13 million passengers in 2008–09.

This increase in patronage initially has a positive impact on revenue – as the 2010–11 annual report states:

The farebox has risen 57 per cent from the $49.3 million recorded in 2006, almost entirely due to the rapid rise in patronage as ticket prices were cut on average by 20 per cent in 2007. Price increases in 2008 and 2009 were at or below CPI, with prices held constant in 2010. A small increase of 3 per cent during 2011 was delayed until March and as a result had a minor impact on the overall farebox for the year.

As more people make the switch to public transport, V/Line has become a more efficient business. A key indicator of this performance is the subsidy per passenger trip, which dropped to $18.36 in 2011. This is the fourth consecutive year that V/Line has reduced this subsidy.

However this reduction in operating subsidy was short lived – by 2015-16 was already back at previous levels – around $22 per passenger.

One possible cause – the majority of these new passengers were commuters travelling at peak times, requiring extra services to be run into Melbourne each day and back home again at night.

VLocity 3VL31 and classmate depart the turnback siding at Wyndham Vale South, as a Sprinter consist arrives

Combine an increasing number of passengers and an increase in services run, the overall franchise subsidy – government funds to meet the gap between operating costs and farebox revenue – began to skyrocket.

This increase in overall subsidies to V/Line now appears to track patronage.

With an overall V/Line subsidy of $391 million in 2015-06, I wonder what the current explosion in suburban patronage from the likes of Caroline Springs, Tarneit and Wyndham Vale will do to this trend?

V/Line passenger board a VLocity train at Southern Cross platform 2

Source data

Here you can find my spreadsheet tracking V/Line’s franchise subsidy and subsidy per passenger year-on-year.