Friday, June 05, 2020

Building Melbourne's Useful Network Part 47: Our short stopping tram termini and possible extensions

Have you ever wondered why many tram routes end a kilometre or so short of their nearest station? It goes back a century or more. Trains and trams were run by rival instrumentalities. The trains started first. They assumed an increasing commuter function as their hinterlands suburbanised. Trams started to fill inner areas between the train lines. However their purpose was again to get commuters a few kilometres to the established shopping strips along them or further into the CBD. 

Demand for inter-suburban travel was low and what there was became the province of mostly privately run buses. The Great Depression and WWII largely halted tram network expansion and, with one or two exceptions aside (eg electric trams in Bourke St) there wasn't much appetite to resume after the war. Once the future of trams became clearer longer extensions were added in the 1970s, 80s and 90s to routes such as the 59 to Airport West, 75 along Burwood Hwy and 86 along Plenty Rd. The 2000s brought extensions in the Docklands area, a further 75 extension and a short 109 extension to Box Hill. 

It is the last type of extension of most interest today. These are extensions of one or two kilometres that would connect a tram terminus to its nearest station. 

Proponents argue that this would make the network more connected and enable some trips that are currently difficult. That could include  some 'backward commuting' where tram passengers travel outwards to a train station as travel to the city would be quicker that way than if they stayed on the inbound tram. That's a potential efficiency benefit due to more bidirectional demand during peak periods. And our city has long grown since the CBD was the only major place people went to. Yet our tram network overwhelmingly reflects this still, limiting the usefulness of public transport for diverse trips.  

Opponents say that just keeping the existing tram network running is a battle enough. Short tram extensions are cheap compared to freeways and train line extensions. But they are dearer than even ten years of running a bus route extensions along existing roads. There are close to no spare trams and frequencies on the existing network are already inadequate, something made worse by cars slowing trams on the large shared portion of the network (today's tram passengers would envy the travel speeds achieved when there was less traffic decades ago).

I don't think management think about extensions much. Instead they seek just to maintain the status quo in the face of some hostile policies such as the 'free' tram zone being foisted on them by politicians and general antipathy to boosting priority over cars. The rate of tram acquisitions and stops works is insufficient to deliver a DDA accessible service by the 2032 deadline. Instead everyone just seems to be sitting around hoping that the Metro Tunnel will take some load off the Swanston St spine and possibly unlock some resources to enable network reform and true turn-up-and-go frequencies (about half the lines operate less than this with 12 to 20 minute frequencies common for at least some of the week). 

Tram politics

Recent governments of both sides have regarded trams as something to keep but not to grow. Despite their catchments densifying and their operations being cost-effective trams are the stagnant public transport mode in Melbourne, receiving neither the new infrastructure of trains nor the extra routes that buses occasionally get.

The political numbers work against trams. They are geographically concentrated, serving less than a quarter the state's lower house seats. This Labor government won its large 2018 majority through gains in eastern suburbs seats it rarely wins. This adds to the regional and southern bayside gains of 2014. Even if the inner areas drift to Green, their preferences will favour Labor without the latter needing to do much. Greens may snatch some inner seats but this worries Labor less than what happens beyond the trams.

There are enough car-owners in inner suburbs for Labor to regard drivers' privileges as paramount and cyclists as mere windscreen bugs when it comes to policies on planning, road space and parking. This gives them a point of difference against the more cycling and tram-oriented Green urbanists. Green - Labor squabbles, often infused with class and cultural rivalry, greatly affect local as well as state politics on these matters in Melbourne's inner suburbs. This shapes other things including walkability and tram movement and wider debates on metropolitan transport priorities (see Legislative Assembly Hansard 3 March 2020 pages 592 - 620 for a sample).    

Labor knows that even where Greens win seats they will rarely vote with Coalition MPs, especially on environmental and social issues. As for the latter, the Liberals see opportunities to seek the culturally conservative and religious vote in outer suburbs and some ethnic communities. The more Liberals do this the weaker they get in some affluent and traditionally strong inner seats, which could be won by Greens as easily as Labor. Like Labor they may make the calculation that there are fewer such seats than those in middle, outer and regional areas. However in doing so they managed to lose traditional eastern suburbs seats that they did not expect to lose, especially to candidates representing an incumbent  government. This however is not inevitable; one can point to the federal seat of Aston  (also in the eastern suburbs but with more tradies and cars) where the Liberals have steadily gained. 

What about Liberals in their previous tram-served inner-eastern heartland? Making things hard for them is their old loyal base which is not only dying but having their houses subdivided for rental apartments whose residents are less Liberal leaning. Unlike Labor, which has introduced more permissible tenancy laws, the Liberals don't seem to be wooing the renter demographic living in their traditional 'blue ribbon' seats. And neither do the coalition parties seem to have had a consistently strong advocate for public transport similar to NSW MPs including Malcolm Turnbull, John Alexander (fast trains) and Tim Fischer (regional trains) who might appeal. They did have Clem Newton-Brown who included cycling in his campaign around Prahran a few elections ago. But they said little about trams in the 2018 campaign.


That's enough of the politics. Where do trams stop just short of trains? Here's a map, starting in the north and going clockwise to the south. 

Wikipedia has a good summary of proposals and who made them. 


Is it worth extending trams to meet trains? Are all of them worthwhile or just some? If so which would you do first? Please leave your comments on this below.


Rob said...

Whilst you make comment on the relative cost of tram extensions compared to bus route reform, I think an important consideration is the relative 'trust' that people have with trams. Many people who would NEVER think to get on a bus (because they are slow, meandering, infrequent, delayed) would happily get on a tram ("quick", on rails so you KNOW where you are going, good frequency).

Serious bus reform is needed to increase public confidence in the bus system, whilst the tram network already has that instinctive trust.

Not withstanding that, I would love to see a focus on north CBD tram routes. The route split of the 72 makes perfect sense, would would provide a great north-south spine (Route 22) with access to the university precinct, a demand centre requring cheap transport

There is also room for a turnout at Gardiner station in the middle of the roadway, allowing the CBD bound (Route 7) tram to terminate infront of the station

Drew James said...

The Railway commissioners were against the extension in Malvern. Though they were overridden at times.

There are plenty of 'required' extensions - ie 5/3/6 to Chadstone that would provide as a feeder service that should have a decent passenger loading.

David said...

Many of these proposed extensions will never happen in practice because they would require significant road gradient changes (and in some cases curve radius is a problem), affecting tens of houses. Worth noting that generally, buses don't have these issues and would be cheaper to purchase, operate and maintain due to the lack of fixed infrastructure.

19 - should be OK, although really depends on how you access Merlynston. Would be better to go to Campbellfield, giving a north end anchor.

11 - should be OK especially if you run via Princes Park.

86 - no issue

48 - Doncaster Road is too steep for the section about halfway between the freeway and the shopping centre, and it would need a 600m cutting down the middle of the roadway to work.

72N - Can go almost, but not quite, to the former site of the Outer Circle Line. Everything from there to either Ivanhoe or Heidelberg is far too steep for trams to cope with.

70 - South to Burwood, only half of Elgar Road is tram-compatible, the rest is far too steep (Begonia St to Stott St, and Uganda to Cropley, are the problem sections). If going to Box Hill, you'd need to flatten the first 250m of Riversdale Road up to Inverloch St. Elgar-Canterbury-Station St would work with a bit of minor smoothing.

72S - The section between High St Rd and Malvern Rd is too steep for trams.

6 - The curved part of High St perpendicular to Muswell Hill is problematic, and the only solution would be to elevate the entire roadway from the freeway to Albion Rd.

5 - Nearly all of Burke to Malvern Rd would need to be regraded in order to smooth out the bumps. There are also issues with curve radius when you try to get close to Darling Station.

3 - East Malvern is a wasted opportunity - if you want a node, either go to Chadstone or Holmesglen. For Chadstone, you'd need a bridge to manage to valley north of Murrumbeena on Dandenong Road, but that is relatively easy to solve given the alignment width.

67 - impossible due to curve radius issues, as solving would require demolishing half the shops around the current terminus. The only way to make it work would be to cut the last two stops off 67 and extend due east to Koornang Rd, through the single private property; or else cut the tram back to Grange Rd and divert via Neerim.

64 - Southland or Bentleigh are doable. I'm not seeing an easy route to Middle Brighton, but Cummins-Bluff might be worth exploring as well?

Heihachi_73 said...

No mention of the possibility of the 58 being extended towards Burwood/Deakin Uni now that the Glen Waverley line has been grade separated? The hill either side of Coles HQ might be a struggle though.

Michael said...

Join route 30 and route 78 this would be one of the most logical extensions and possibly the cheapest new route 37

Anonymous said...

For David's 67 idea, you could merge the due east and Neerim Road plans into one. Cut off the last two stops on the bend, then from the signalised intersection have the tram run north along Truganini Road, east along Neerim then north along Koornang Road.

Claws said...

I definitely agree merging routes 30 & 78, because e-class trams are being wasted on the 2.9km route 30, so such a merger would justify the use of e-class trams, and would provide better access to Chapel Street which is only available from the St. Kilda Road routes at this point. Potential also exists for extending route 78 from the Balaclava end.

Another solution could be to move the e-class to route 109 and the c-class to route 30.

I know this might sound highly ambitious, but route 6 could potentially go to Knox along with an extended route 75

Anonymous said...

I know this is a post that’s been up for a while, but worth a comment anyway. In regards to David comments about extensions, I don’t think any of Melbournes roads that trams might be extended along are too steep. The steepest street in Melbourne is O’Hea in Pascoe Vale at 30%, but the majority of Melbourne streets are far less, in the single digits. But even 10% isn’t too steep for trams: Lisbon 13.8%, Santa Cruz 13%, Linz 11.6%, Sheffield 10%, as I recall, Collins between Swanston and Russell is about 7%, where from the terminus of tram 70 to Strott street and from Malvern Rd to High St are both 4%. And if you look at pre WWII MMTB maps of planed network expansion you can see that the MMTB had extensions planed to Caulfield, Ivanhoe, Doncaster etc.
As for the left turn from the terminus of 67, with some track realignment, that could be done with a modern articulated tram, some of which can handle a turn radius as tight as 10m (Boylston St on the Boston system), or building the turn as a gauntlet track if space is too tight at the intersection would also work, a trick often employed in narrow European streets. So no buildings would need to go. Personally I’d rather see the line turn right to provide a service to Bentleigh East.
So looking on the bright side, these extensions could happen, especially as Melbournes population keeps increasing and pushes 9 million later this century.