Did the Kennett Government do anything good for public transport in Victoria?

When most people reflect upon the 1990s Liberal government led by Jeff Kennett, they remember it as a time of ideologically driven cutbacks to public transport. However the truth is a little more complex, with one being able to argue that they were actually setting out to make improvements to the system – for better or worse.

Orange V/Line signage for the freightgate and the station

I found a good example of this in the Spring 1996 edition of the Hansard for the Legislative Assembly, where backbencher Robin Cooper moved a motion:

Mr Cooper – I move:

That this house, while regretting the lack of general policy commitment by the Labor Party to transport issues, congratulates the government on its transport achievements during its first term in office and applauds the commitments to further improve the transport system in Victoria during the coming four years as outlined in the public transport policy of the coalition published in March 1996.

After attacking the Labor Party on their failings on public transport while in government, Cooper then pulled out a list of of every transport improvement that the government had made over the past four years.

Mr Cooper

I now move to the period 1992 through to now to outline what has been done in public transport. And an enormous amount has been done; far more than I will have time for today, because I know the honourable member for Thomastown will also want to say something about the motion. I hope I will be able to get through the mountain of material I have in support of my motion, but if I read out all the things–

Mr Batchelor interjected.

Mr Cooper

I am not going to do that; I am going to give you something to talk about. If I went through every public transport achievement of this government from October 1992 to March 1996, I would still be talking at around 10.00 p.m. -but I am quite prepared to accept a motion for an extension of time.

Some changes were positive, no matter what side of the fence you sit on:

  • February 1993 agreement was reached between the Victorian and federal governments for the standardisation of the Melbourne-Adelaide rail link at a cost of $153 million.
  • Continued operation of V/Line rail services at international best practice to Albury-Wodonga, Swan Hill, Stony Point and Sale.
  • 15 May 1993 one of the great successes that can be testified to by members living in outlying areas was the commencement of Melbourne’s Nightrider bus service.
  • In May 1993 the notorious Southern Aurora Hotel in Dandenong was demolished in the first step of a $5 million redevelopment of the Dandenong railway station.
  • Also in May 1993 it was announced that 10 improvements would be made to the Flinders Street station, with a police booth on the concourse – which is now in place – new and upgraded food, newsagency and retail outlets, and improved customer waiting facilities on platforms.
  • July 1993, due to increasing patronage of the Nightrider buses – this is a quick endorsement of the service – the service was improved with the addition of an extra departure time at 4.30 a.m. from the City Square each Saturday and Sunday morning.
  • July 1993 the new $6 million, 1.7 kilometre extension of the East Burwood tram route was opened.
  • Again in July 1993 the weekday coach services from South Gippsland and Phillip Island began operating direct to Melbourne for the first time.
  • V /Line’s new Goulburn Valley super freighter service began transporting containers to and from Melbourne docks on 2 August 1993.
  • On 8 August 1993 trams were back on all Sunday services for the first time since 1961. Trams replaced buses on routes 3, 82 and 57.
  • On 12 August 1993 the new $330 000 Moonee Ponds modal interchange was opened.
  • On 16 August 1993 construction was commenced on the $6.3 million City Circle tram loop, which was the first tram extension in the central city for nearly 40 years.
  • new, faster, larger XPT trains commenced overnight services between Melbourne and Sydney in November 1993, in cooperation with the State Rail Authority in New South Wales and in so doing reduced the travel time between the two cities by 3 hours.
  • November 1993 $150,000 upgrade of the Sunbury railway station.
  • December 1993 the frequency of the Nightrider bus service was doubled to a half-hourly service on New Year’s Eve. That marked the return of public transport on New Year’s Eve.
  • February 1994 new Elizabeth Street tram terminus was opened.
  • February 1994 public transport brochures translated into 13 different languages were released.
  • April 1994 V /Line freight was to expand its operations into southern New South Wales with the reopening of the Strathmerton-Tocumwal railway line.
  • May 1994 The facade of Flinders Street station was to be cleaned, repaired and painted in heritage colours by the end of 1994.
  • May 1994 abolition of the fee charged by country bus operators for the carriage of prams, pushers and shopping jeeps.
  • May 1994 further extension of the Nightrider bus service – this time into the new areas of Craigieburn, Melton and Bacchus Marsh.
  • June 1994 the $20 million program to upgrade suburban rail commuter safety and security was announced. The main features included the establishment of 51 premium stations and the appointment of 330 customer service employees and more than 200 Transit Police to regularly patrol the Met. All stations were to be monitored by closed-circuit television.
  • September 1994 there was the opening of the new $2.5 million V/Line wagon maintenance depot at Geelong.
  • October 1994 $36 000 covered walkway between Belgrave’s Met station and the Puffing Billy station.
  • January 1995 the Met’s first premium railway station at Mount Waverley was opened.
  • March 1995 there was the announcement of a $62,000 grant to restore and repaint the facade of the historic Hawthorn tram depot.
  • March 1995 A $50,000 grant to refurbish the former Seymour railway station refreshment rooms.
  • March 1995 $27 million electrification of the Dandenong-Cranbourne railway line took place.
  • April 1995 it was announced that a new $10.3 million tram depot would be constructed at Montague to replace the existing South Melbourne tram depot.
  • April 1995 the government announced its intention to retain the Upfield railway line and to seek $23 million of federal funding for a long overdue upgrade.
  • April 1995 $22 million going to upgrade 200 suburban railway stations.
  • April 1995 $6 million for new railway station car parking.
  • April 1995 $1.5 million for bus-rail interchanges.
  • April 1995 $1.4 million for the new Melbourne University tram terminus.
  • April 1995 $5 million of which was going to the standardisation of the Ararat-Maryborough and Maryborough-Dunolly railway lines.
  • April 1995 $1.5 million for the purchase of Australia’s first road-transferable locomotive.
  • May 1995 there was the announcement of $49 million being allocated over four years for the overhauling of the Met’s entire Comeng train fleet.
  • May 1995 $36 million already being spent to upgrade the Hitachi train fleet.
  • May 1995 also announced that the PTC would spend $360 000 in the 1995-96 financial year to install state-of-the-art digital clocks at 63 suburban railway stations.
  • May 1995 $6.2 million is allocated to eradicate ozone-depleting gases and PCBs from the PTC’s equipment and facilities.
  • May 1995 a new $4 million train-washing plant was opened in North Melbourne.
  • June 1995 that year there was an announcement of the beginning of work to upgrade the Broadmeadows railway station to premium station status, with the work estimated to cost more than $400 000.
  • June 1995 new $9 million railway station and South Side Central development were opened at Traralgon.
  • July 1995 that year there was an announcement that the Werribee railway station was to become a $750,000 premium station and the site of a new $250,000 bus rail interchange.
  • August 1995 it was announced that Victoria’s public transport patronage had increased by more than 10 million boardings, or 3.6 per cent, in 1994-95.
  • September 1995 of that year it was announced that all the 53 W-class trams would have heating installed.
  • October 1995 that year the Bundoora RMIT tram extension was opened.
  • January 1996 we saw the opening of the upgraded Footscray bus depot.
  • February 1996 there was an announcement of increased services on the Sandringham, Dandenong, Pakenham, Cranbourne, Frankston, lilydale and Belgrave lines.
  • September 1996 Sprinter trains introduced to Echuca, no service before.

Others could be considered necessary examples of cost cutting.

  • November 1992 : removing conductors from restaurant trams, who spent their entire journey twiddling their thumbs in the rear cab.
  • September 1993 there was an extension of driver-only trams to four more routes on weekends after 8.00 p.m.

But some of the quoted ‘improvements’ are on shakier ground, depending on your opinions on outsourcing and privatisation.

  • Luxury road coaches replacing rail services to Mildura, Leongatha and Dimboola.
  • In May 1993 the cleaning of Transport House was contracted out to Security Cleaning Services with savings of $160 000 per annum.
  • In May 1993 the Geelong and Bendigo railway station refreshment rooms were contracted out for a combined savings of nearly $200 000 per annum.
  • In July 1993 V /Line’s freight trucking fleet was contracted out to TNT with savings of $650,000 over three years.
  • On 22 August 1993 Hoys Roadlines commenced operating the Melbourne-Shepparton rail service, Australia’s first private rail service.
  • September 1993 West Coast Rail commenced services between Melbourne and Warmambool, the second private rail service in Australia.
  • October 1993 cleaning and graffiti removal for trains was contracted out to the private sector with savings of $910,000 annually.
  • November 1993 the Public Transport Corporation contracted out 21 major activities at a saving of $20 million annually.
  • May 1995 new competition legislation for the bus industry and the setting up of two new transport corporations, with both V/Line Freight and Metbus to be established as separate corporations with their own boards independent of the PTC.
  • December 1995 there was also an announcement of the deregulation of rail freight from 1 January 1996.

Cooper did boast about increased patronage.

In 1995-96 patronage on all modes of public transport increased. Patronage increased on Met trains by 3.7 per cent. That was the highest patronage on Met trains since 1976-77. Patronage on Met trams also increased 4.9 per cent, the highest patronage since 1989. Met buses received a 3 per cent increase in patronage. V/Line had more than 7 million patrons in 1995-96, which was the highest V /Line patronage since 1954-55. The average patronage in 1994-95 increased by 4 per cent, with a further increase in 1995-96.

And increased operational efficiencies.

In July the Age published a report from the Industry Commission which commended the Public Transport Corporation because it carried 61 per cent more rail passengers per employee in the city and 30 per cent more in the country and passengers were paying 10 per cent more in real terms, which has doubled the cost recovery ratio from 35 to 71 per cent

Followed by a list of transport improvements the Liberal/National coalition would introduce during a a second term in government:

  • The current Met Summer timetable which reduces train and tram service during December /January will be abolished.
  • There will be only two timetables for Met train and Met tram, weekday and weekend/public holiday, thus providing customers with greater certainty and a better overall level of service.
  • For the first time, City Loop rail services will run every Sunday.
  • The Upfield Railway Line will be maintained and upgraded.
  • The railway line at Boronia will be lowered to alleviate the problems which currently exist at the Boronia rail crossing..
  • An additional 10 premium stations will be established.
  • All bus operators will be required to gain accreditation which allows the government to ensure that only competent operators enter the industry and provide services to the public.
  • There will be a $23.8 million upgrade of amenities at Flinders Street Station..
  • A study will be commissioned to assess the costs and benefits of further standardising Victoria’s remaining broad gauge rail network.
  • A ‘one-stop-shop’ for all public transport service inquiries and bookings to be known as Victrip will be set up.
  • A new station will be built at North Shore in Geelong to serve passengers using the interstate standard gauge line.
  • A $400 000 program will be implemented to expand the network of secure storage facilities for our cycling customers throughout the metropolitan area by constructing new storage facilities at 30 premium stations.
  • Expressions of interest will be sought from the private sector for the establishment of a world-class transport museum at the Docklands.

As well as the ‘improvements’ that the Kennett Government is better remembered for.

  • The Public Transport Corporation will be disbanded with Met tram and Met train established as totally separate organisations and Met Bus to be divested, with a preference for an employee/management buy-out.
  • Met Train and Met Tram will contract out their infrastructure and vehicle maintenance requirements.
  • V/Line freight will be separated from the PTC and established with its own Chief Executive and Board, thereby placing it in a more competitive position.
  • Current V/Line coach contracts will be put up for tender upon expiry with the option for tenderers to nominate either rail or coach modes.

So what did the rest of the chamber think of this Dorothy Dixer? Fellow Liberal MP Inga Peulich couldn’t take any more.

Mrs Peulich

You must be getting tired.

Mr Cooper

No. I am prepared to go on for hours.

While Shadow Transport Minister Peter Batchelor was more blunt.

We have just heard more than 2 hours worth from the honourable member for Mornington. And what a tragic and pathetic performance it was! A former and failed shadow minister was brought into the house by the current Minister for Transport. No doubt the minister and his staff have provided him with reams of written material which he has taken the time of this house to read out in the very patronising, rabid and hysterical way that is par for the course with this member.

He spent hours a week for weeks practising his routine, trying to learn it off by heart, going over it time and again and practising the two jokes he delivered in more than 2 hours which went over like a lead balloon. It is horrible to imagine the honourable member for Mornington working himself into an absolute frenzy while practising in front of a mirror for hour after hour, going through his histrionics and practising his jokes until he couldn’t see himself.

I recall that about an hour into his speech we had the pathetic vision of one of his loyal colleagues and luncheon partners, the honourable member for Bentleigh, not being able to stomach it anymore and leaving the chamber. It was even too much for her! He failed to make any significant point in his contribution, which began with events back in 1986. From memory, that was one of the first dates he mentioned. He systematically went through and highlighted dates over that long period, quoting from written material and completely missing the point.

Peter Batchelor then pointed out that the government was taking credit for projects they didn’t fund.

A number of points need to be made in response to the honourable member for Mornington. He claimed a number of initiatives on behalf of the state government that were funded by the federal Labor government.

It is clear from his comments that he did not know that a number of initiatives claimed for the state government were clearly not initiatives of that government.

The honourable member for Mornington mentioned the upgrading of the Sunbury railway station. We know that was federally funded. He also sang the praises of the City Circle tram service. That was also federally funded.

Earlier I talked about a number of initiatives that were paid for by the federal government. Another was the electrification of the train line to Cranbourne.

And projects conceived under the previous government.

The Nightrider bus service was developed under the previous Labor administration. Steps were taken to finalise the sponsorship and the routes were selected. It was, for all intents and purposes, an initiative of the previous Labor government.

And services provided by other states.

He claimed the passenger service to Sydney as a great initiative of the government, whereas the service is actually provided by the New South Wales State Rail Authority. It is not provided by V/Line.

So did the Kennett Government do anything good for public transport in Victoria? The short answer is yes – but their single minded pursuit of privatisation has seem them consigned to the dustbin of history.

Photos from ten years ago: May 2008

Another instalment in my photos from ten years ago series – this time it is May 2008.

‘Crate Men’ were appearing all over Melbourne – I found this example beside the railway line at Newport.

Another crate man, this time at Newport

Also at Newport I came across a port shuttle train with a load of containers from the CRT Logistics terminal at Altona North.

J102 and J103 at Newport return from CRT Altona

These trains no longer run, with the government dragging their heels on their reinstatement, resulting in more trucks on the road in Melbourne’s west.

Back home in Geelong new rail infrastructure was being built, with an extension of the station building at Lara well underway.

Extensions to the station building

As well as new standard gauge rail sidings at the Port of Geelong.

Ballast tamper and regulator

I also went chasing a number of trains, such as this Steamrail Victoria special at Geelong station.

K 190 departs for the turntable

This short trainload of logs bound for the Midway woodchip mill at North Shore.

Y118 with the Midway log shunt at North Geelong

And Pacific National clearing out their collection of life expired freight wagons at North Geelong Yard.

Taking away a VHSF hopper wagon

Up the road at Avalon Airport I photographed a Jetstar A320 arrive at the very spartan terminal.

VH-VQZ arrives at the gate

As well as abandoned Qantas 747-300 VH-EBU ‘Nalanji Dreaming’.

VH-EBU 'Nalanji Dreaming' still in storage at Avalon

She arrived at Avalon Airport in February 2005 for long term storage and was stripped of parts, eventually bein removed from the Australia aircraft register in May 2008.

I also paid a visit to Ballarat on a Seymour Railway Heritage Centre train, much to the delight of this newly married couple.

Ballarat station and wedding photos being taken

While I found V/Line’s ‘bus’ service to Ararat parked outside the station.

V/Line's Ararat 'bus' service, Trotters' number 11, rego 4956AO

I found a much more conventional bus service outside North Melbourne station, where a pack of buses for the new route 401 shuttle to Melbourne University were parked.

Three route 401 shuttle buses lined up at North Melbourne

At the station itself cranes were at work building the new concourse at the southern end.

Cranes at work

With a temporary crash deck allowing work to continue while trains passed below.

Top view of the temporary working platform

I also found a diesel locomotive parked on the other side of the station, as construction work continued on the ‘Southern Star’ observation wheel behind.

TL154 at the Creek Sidings

The Southern Star wheel was shortlived – opened two years late in December 2008, it was shut down 40 days later due to design faults, and didn’t reopen until 2013 as the ‘Melbourne Star’ wheel.

As for the diesel locomotive, it has had a far more salubrious life – built by Clyde Engineering of Sydney in 1957 for the Kowloon-Canton Railway of Hong Kong, where it hauled passenger and then freight services for over 50 years, before being purchased by Chicago Freight Car Leasing Australia (CFCLA) in 2005 and brought back home to Australia for a second life hauling freight trains.

And we end on this touch of the 1980s I spotted onboard a V/Line carriage.

Martin & King builder plate in a H car

As well as my 1:160 scale model of a V/Line N class diesel locomotive, posed in front of the real thing.

Buy my magic miracle cream - it takes off 100 tonnes and 20 years! (N scale N class locomotive in front of the prototype)


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

How to find your train at Flinders Street Station

You have arrived at Flinders Street Station and you’re trying to find where your trains leaves – so where do you look?

Under the clocks

You’re probably going to look at one of these screens – but what order are the trains being displayed in?

Redesigned layout for the 'main' next train summary boards at Flinders Street Station

It isn’t alphabetical – South Morang occupies the first two slots. Is it ordered by the network map? Possibly – Cranbourne is next to Pakenham, and Alamein is next to Glen Waverley.

Worked it out yet?

I’ll give you the answer – the next two services for each line are displayed, no matter where they terminate, and the lines are grouped by their operational ‘groups’ – ‘Clifton Hill’, ‘Burnley’, ‘Northern’, ‘Caulfield’, ‘Cross City’ and V/Line.

The same ordering logic is applied on the smaller ‘summary’ boards scattered around the station, just squeezed into less space and with a smaller font.

Redesigned layout for the 'small' next train summary board at Flinders Street Station

Given that the PTV network map has shown each group of lines in a different colour since 2017, why do the screens at Flinders Street Station persist with living in the monochrome past?

Fixing the problem

Turns out Transport for Victoria asked the same question in 2017 and set to work finding a better way, lead by senior user experience designer Carolina Gaitan.

They defined the problem in terms of user experience.

Then came up with a way to test out their hypothesis.

Spending three days sending people through a mock up railway station.

First navigating using the current monochrome design, then a new design where each railway line was a separate colour.

And the result – navigating the station was was easier with colour.

What else did they find?

An important part of the new design was realising that there two groups of users of Flinders Street Station: people unfamiliar with the station, and those who use it every day.

Some signage is tailored for people trying to find their way somewhere new.

While others deliver ‘how long until the next train to X’ information to regular users.

So what next?

Turns out what was learnt through user experience testing is being put into practice, with a wayfinding upgrade coming soon:

Flinders Street Station will be the first station across the metropolitan network to feature signage and information screens where each line has its own colour for easier navigation.

Though I take offence to the boastful “first station” claim – until the 1990s the Melbourne train network used a different colour for each group of lines.

'Metropolitan Transit' network map

As did the next train displays in the City Loop until 2011.

Red, green, blue and black: nothing on the next train displays at Flagstaff station

Everything old is new again?

Further reading

You can find a summary of work at the UX Australia 2017 website: ‘Flinders Street Station: A journey to implement UX in wayfinding and customer information‘. The full set of presentation slides is also available.

Rail replacement trucks for the Frankston line

During May and June 2018 no trains are running on the Frankston line beyond Carrum due to level crossing removal works, with passengers being transported on rail replacement buses. But they aren’t the only ones being disrupted – freight trains are also being replaced by road transport.

Twice a day a 40 wagon long train departs the Melbourne Freight Terminal at South Dynon bound for the BlueScope Steel plant on the Stony Point line at Hastings.

XR558 and G541 wait for their train to be loaded with coil steel at the Melbourne Freight Terminal

The train skirts the edge of Southern Cross Station.

XR558 and XR559 southbound at Southern Cross with a load of coil steel

Then rolls through the river end of Flinders Street Station.

BL29 on the down load of 'butterbox' coil steel containers through Flinders Street track 9A

Then traverses the tracks at Richmond Junction.

'Butterbox' coil steel wagons make up the rear half of the train

Heads towards Caulfield.

G531 and G541 lead the down Long Island train through Malvern station

Eventually making it south towards Frankston.

Load of coil steel on the down Long Island steel train at Frankston

Then heads along the single track Stony Point line.

XR551 and BL30 with the down steel train outside Frankston with a load of 'butterbox' coil steel containers

To arrive at the BlueScope Steel plant beside Westernport Bay in Hastings.

Photo via Southern Peninsula News

So how many trucks are needed?

As you might imagine, steel is bloody heavy.

Each of the first 20 wagons are loaded with a pair of ‘jumbo’ coils of steel sheet.

G528 and XR551 leads the down steel train past North Melbourne station

While the 20 wagons at the rear carry a pair of ‘butterbox’ containers of coil steel.

'Butterbox' containers trailing a load of coil steel on the down journey

The average wagon has a tare mass of around 20 tonnes (based on a RKLX class wagon) and with a loaded gross mass of 74 to 79 tonnes – or 30 tonnes for a single container!

For the proposes of comparison, the permitted gross vehicle mass of a standard six-axle semi-trailer in Victoria is 42.5 tonnes – or a single container per truck.

With 40 containers and 40 steel coils per train, and two trains per day each way, that is an extra 320 trucks on the Monash Freeway each day.

Good thing the trains will return in June 2018!


More on BlueScope Steel’s use of rail transport across Australia

Tracking the gentrification of Melbourne with Mother’s Day cards

Able And Game is a Melbourne based stationery label that produces quirky greeting cards featuring local pop culture references. However when I saw their range of Mother’s Day cards I also noticed something else – they track the spread of Melbourne’s ‘cool’ suburbs as formerly working class areas are gentrified.

The inner suburbs of Fitzroy and Brunswick are shooting fish in a barrel – houses there have been unaffordable for average families for decades now.

We then see the northern expansion of gentrification – Northcote, Thornbury, Preston and most recently Reservoir – plus the very distinct ‘Pascoe Vale South’.

Melbourne’s west isn’t left out either – Yarraville gentrified decades ago, with those priced out and setting for West Footscray also able to pick up an Able and Game card.

And who is left out

Note the complete lack of suburbs from Melbourne’s east and south – the former is full of old money, the latter with fake tan and yoga pants.