Caulfield to Rowville tram – the need for speed

Well, this is a bit out of the blue. Since at least 1969 they’ve been talking about a (heavy) rail line from Huntingdale via Monash Uni to Rowville.

Today it turns out the State Government is proposing a tram line instead.

Would it work?

It’s been long assumed that a train line would run from Rowville into Monash University, then connect to the Dandenong line at Huntingdale, providing a one-seat trip into the City (and from 2025, Parkville, and out to Sunshine).

This idea seems to have come out of nowhere, and may be quite different to community expectations. Not that one should automatically reject an idea because it’s not in the 1969 plan!

Perhaps the government has been spooked by patronage growth and track capacity issues on the Dandenong line, and is looking for other ways to serve the corridor, along with the performance of the 900 Smartbus, which is busy but suffers from a slow convoluted route between Chadstone and Huntingdale.

Monash Open Day 2012: Long queues for the bus to Huntingdale

This new proposed tram route wouldn’t serve Huntingdale at all, instead heading north to serve Chadstone, paralleling the Dandenong line until it connects at Caulfield.

If it’s intended to replace the 900 (probably logical) then Huntingdale to Monash Uni bus shuttles (already crowded) would need to be boosted to compensate.

Assuming standard tram operating hours, good train connections at Caulfield, and assuming that E-class trams to an adequate frequency would cope with demand — remembering that Infrastructure Victoria considered that Rowville area public transport capacity could be met with buses, though it’s unclear what mode shift they aimed for/assumed. (IV’s cost estimate for heavy rail also seemed ridiculously high, at $5 to 10 billion!)

Stop locations may be more flexible than heavy rail. It’s unlikely that a heavy rail line would include a station for Monash Uni, and another for the Synchrotron precinct.

Leaving those issues aside for a moment, the real question is: speed.

Would it be fast enough?

Would it be another of Melbourne’s suburban trams, trundling along at an average speed of under 20 km/h?

Or would it be modern light rail, with its own lanes along the entire route, and active traffic light priority to ensure trams never (or at least rarely) get a red light?

Unfortunately, traffic light priority for trams is something that Melbourne does really badly.

A quick calculation looking at Melbourne’s route 75 and 86 indicates they get average speeds of about 25 km/h on the outer sections where they have segregated tracks. They beat cars at peak times, but take up to twice as long at off-peak times. Route 96 from St Kilda Station to Clarendon Street with good priority over cars is a bit faster: 27 km/h.

In contrast, the Gold Coast Light Rail, which does have pretty good (not perfect) traffic light priority, but also shares some sections of its route with cars, and travels at low speed through heavily pedestrianised areas, has an average speed of about 27 km/h.

(The fully-segregated northern section from Helensvale to Gold Coast University Hospital is much faster, but seems to have few or no road intersections, and few stops, so isn’t a good comparison. The Hospital to Main Beach section is a better comparison, and seems to be an average speed of about 27 km/h.)

The Dandenong (heavy) rail line, with fewer stops than one might expect with light rail, but absolute priority over traffic, has an average speed of about 40 km/h.

So… my initial take? Speed will be the key to the success or failure of this new line. To get people out of cars, it needs to provide a fast journey.

And the key to that will be good traffic light priority.

Update: This Channel 9 story mentions that the government is aiming for travel time of 20 minutes from Caulfield to Clayton, and 20 minutes from Clayton to Rowville. This would make an average speed of 27 km/h, the same as the Gold Coast Light Rail.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

31 replies on “Caulfield to Rowville tram – the need for speed”

Would the light rail be designed to accommodate an upgrade to heavy rail sometime in the future?

Better than the current bus-only options (800, 802-804-862 and 900) along Dandenong Road between Monash Uni, Chadstone and Caulfield station, and provide PT for the new big apartment developments along Dandenong Road in Oakleigh. Considering the distances to cover, I hope it will be way faster than existing bus and tram services.

“Speed will be the key to the success or failure of this new line”
You are spot on, Daniel.
Rail is by far the quickest PT mode. It is the only real mode that competes with cars for distances greater than 5km.
Looks like a rail line would be a better idea.

For a fair comparison, I wonder what average speed an equivalent bus and car would have at equivalent times.

Heavy rail would definitely be better but it’ll be stuck in beauracratic nightmare and planning limbo (as it already is) for quite a while longer.

Can we do both? Train and the Light Rail?

We are going to need a massive order of E class trams, especially in this years state budget if we are to have this project.

Could you do grade-separation at Warrigal and Huntingdale roads? That would make it a very fast and attractive proposition.

It’s great that they highlighted Waverley Park on the graphic, nearly 20 years after the stadium closed partly due to lack of public transport.

I’ve always taken the view that this should be an underground metro E-W link for the SE suburbs from Rowville to Gardenvale linking 3 lines (@ Huntingdale & @Ormond) and providing access to beach areas for those in the east. Much of North & Wellington road has a nice wide median strip perfect for cut and cover tunnel construction. Stage 1 Rowville to Hunt., Stage 2 to Ormond, Stage 3 to Glendale/Brighton area.

We need to stop thinking in terms of CBD centric linked transport and start looking at interchangeable E-W & N-S suburban links. Much like the previous Ringwood to Dandy proposal.

A tram line towards a bus-heavy suburb like Monash Uni, Mulgrave and Rowville sounds like a good idea on paper but several questions needs to be answered:
– What’s the exact alignment of this new tram route?
– What tram class/type would run along this route? e.g. A, B, C, D, E or Z. Community would hope for E-class trams
– If extra trams are required, do we need to find another location for a tram depot to stable these new trams?
– Would the entire route be DDA-compliant?
– Would this route trial tram-light priority technology?
– Where exactly would the tram stops be located? e.g. Major road intersections, train stations, schools, shopping centres
– What’s a suitable distance between tram stops?
– Would this tram route interchange with other tram routes? e.g. Route 3 at Caufield Station
– Is there a guarantee that bus commuters and car-users would switch to using tram route from day 1 of operations?
– How would construction of this tram route disrupt the surrounding road network and busy road arterials like Wellington Rd, North Rd, Princes Hwy, Dandenong Rd?
– How can construction consortiums plan to minimise disruption?
– When can we expect this tram route to be operational?
– How long would it take to complete?
– Finally how would this project be funded?

Daniel – for GCLR Stage 2, I think you can take it more or less as read that trams between GCUH are virtually always on time except for network disruptions, and (in the last week) very, very heavy passenger loadings.

GCUH to Helensvale is timetabled for 11 minutes over 7.3km with 2 intermediate stops, which would be close to 40km/h courtesy of the extended 70kph running sections.

Something like Route 75 is very, VERY sedate by comparison, exacerbated in my view by the excessive number of stops more than anything else – although the Melbourne stop densities and lack thereof on GCLR2 are both outliers.

Perhaps it could go down Poath Rd to link with Hughesdale as well.
It would need to be grade separated from Boyd Park to Ferntree Gully road to avoid the traffic blackspots.

Looks similar to Toronto’s Eglington line, though that has a lot of underground running. That is about $CA5B.

Monash Uni have been lobbying for a tram to Clayton campus in order for transport to keep up with the enormous student population growth.

The Monash proposal included a detour via Huntingdale (similar to the 900). Later stages of the plan included extending the line up Blackburn road all the way to Burwood. Obviously the government spin doctors have changed this to Rowville for some reason – but fundamentally the goal of this project was to take pressure off the 601, 900 and Clayton to Caulfield shuttle buses.
I’m not sure that this proposal that excludes Huntingdale achieves this.

The best option is still an elevated train line along Wellington Road, for capacity and speed. The study under the previous Liberal government had a combination of underground and elevated rail. For reasons not stated in the assessment report, the ruling grade for the line was 2%, which is suitable for freight trains, whereas the ruling grade for the suburban network is 4% (eg on the Glen Waverley line). The 2% ruling grade increases costs, because it can’t follow the natural land surface adjacent to Monash University, and needs to move from a tunnel to elevated as it goes eastward along Wellington Road. Now that the level Crossing Removal program has provided the expertise and investment in elevated rail within Victoria, costs of using this technology would surely have come down. If built along a wide noisy Wellington Road there wouldn’t be the same issues of shadowing or privacy as along the Carnegie-Murrumbeena section of skyrail.

While a tram would be a less preferred option, I was surprised recently how full the trams were going north from Latrobe Uni at Bundoora. The tram tracks only go another 4 km north of the campus, but the trams were full. A study based on myki data from buses and trams in the vicinity of Latrobe Uni would provide useful information on how trams could supplement the transport offering for Monash Uni.

Another option could be light metro. Although it couldn’t be integrated into the existing rail infrastructure, that is not necessarily a problem.

Light metro could have the similar to heavy rail in capacity and speed, but save on costs due to the less demanding technical requirements.

Whoever thought of a Rowville tram is a genius (when it comes to manipulating the minds of the Melbourne sheeple), not only will it crawl around slower than a bus therefore making cars 1000 times more competitive but VicRoads will also be happy with the additional traffic when everyone gives up on the packed trams. They may as well convert the Belgrave and Lilydale lines to light rail while they’re at it, that way people can take three hours to get to the city instead of 70 minutes!

Given my experience of the 75 tram, it maxes out at about 70 km/h on the segregated track along Burwood Highway (as does the 109 along Cotham/Whitehorse Rds, with the flimsy Citadis trams wobbling all over the place, although they rarely go above 60 probably for fear of ending up as a garden ornament or house extension), and to sit on 70 it requires that the tram is ridiculously late, isn’t forced to stop at every single tram stop to pick up one or two passengers every couple of hundred metres, and doesn’t have to wait for cars (the stop near East Burwood Kmart is almost always a red light because of the sheer number of cars coming out of the carpark, U-turning over the tram tracks and heading back towards Blackburn Rd). Never mind that fact that trams are supposedly not allowed to faster than 30 or 45 (or 60 in some rare sections) even if the road speed limit is 80 like Burwood Highway.

A train would ideally be sitting on around 80-100 km/h on the straights, doesn’t have to stop every 100-400 metres, and doesn’t have to slow down to a crawl (15 km/h) on a crossover or contend with cars sitting on the tracks. Never mind how ridiculous it already is on the 96 and 109 light rail level crossings where trams have to wait for cars to stop crossing, and then for the lights to finally change and the boom gates come down, the exact opposite of how railway level crossings work (no doubt these crossings never made the LXRA list, simply because they aren’t heavy rail). Even if there are no cars around, trams still have to slow right down because the lights are too slow to change.

As for which trams will be running, it’s all up to which depot gets the go-ahead. If it’s Malvern for example, expect Z and D1 classes. If it’s Camberwell, it would be A and B classes. That said, if E classes continue to be built, they will be moved to other routes while older trams are shifted elsewhere (e.g. if they went on the 19, the D2s would probably end up in Swanston St; I still wouldn’t hold my breath for low floor trams on the 59 or 75, or decent sized trams on the 109 for that matter).

Some thoughts:

Caulfield to Huntingdale is 10 mins on the train plus a 6 or so min bus ride to Monash Uni, so about 16 mins all up (I excluded transfer time as CBD passengers still have to transfer to the tram) – so it’d be a must for the tram to travel from Caufleld to Monash Uni in under 20 mins if it does not travel past Huntingdale

It’s just under 10km from Caulfield to Monash Uni direct along Princes Hwy – it they aimed for an average speed of 30km/h (including limited stops spaced similar to the 900 bus) 20 mins should be achievable

Given the tram is going the same direction as 4 lanes of highway traffic, strong tram priority is a possibility – motorists on the intersecting roads would just see a tram floating across alongside dozens of trucks/cars at the same time and may tolerate it, which could in turn shave a couple of minutes off, and get the travel time close to 16 mins

Would there be merit in extending the tram route to Malvern, and stopping Metro Tunnel services at Malvern for train-tram transfer, with the tram staying on the highway at Caulfield? I am not proposing the tram would continue along Dandenong Rd into the City though.

Side benefits of stopping the Metro Tunnel trains at Malvern would be balancing the interchange pressures with Frankston services at Caulfield, as there would be the option to transfer between the two lines at two stations (for example someone wanting to travel Parliament – Dandneong or Anazc – Moorabbin) while providing Malvern residents with a direct link to Anazc Station without backtracking

As a resident of Rowville any discussion of further PT in our area is beneficial. I originally felt quite opposed to the idea and a rail line would obviously be better I do think that that as the Rowville rail study pointed out, the dandenong line is going to suffer with extreme capacity issues and I believe it will struggle even further even with the the Metro tunnel completion.

So as you have described Daniel, if is done well this could be OK. A significant amount of traffic from Rowville and surrounding area travel to the Monash/Clayton area as it is a significant employment area and a tram will potentially bring people to PT as it is ‘cool’ to take a tram…it isn’t ‘cool’ catching a bus. A struggle Melbourne somehow needs to overcome…….

My final 2 cents…will it happen? Stage 1 Maybe (Chadstone/Moansh is a big draw card), Stage 2 Very unlikely…

I would be more concerned about capacity than average speed – the latter can be designed-in with good system design and prioritisation at the planning stage. Melbourne’s trams are for the foreseeable future locked into maximum 30 metre vehicles (which would be the minimum standard for this line), each with a capcity of about 220. If demand surges upwards in the future, the only way you can deal with that within that parameter is more frequent services, which are limited by fleet size, the stub (presumably) terminus capacity and the limits on feeding them through traffic lights.

This can always be upgraded to a heavier rail grade in future. The important thing is that it’s built. At 4 minute frequencies, you can get to over 3000 people per hour in each direction using the E-Class. That’s not bad by any means.

If you build for Sydney’s new Alstom trams, you can get to 7000 per hour. There’s flexibility here.

RE the postings above.

++ The train line proposal…

The Rail Futures Institute, are campaigning for a tram to be extended along North Road, at Brighton Road, then continu along Wellington road to Rowville.

This would have a great interchange with the trains at Huntingdale, as well as create a cross town tram link to Brighton road too.

The RFI are against the Rowville traim idea, because ‘points take too long to change, which means having a branch line restricts the capacity of railway.’

The RFI are of the viewpoint that, while the points change, you could be running another train, which adds to capacity on the line.

This is not my observation at Ringwood recently, where the points changed right behind a train sitting at the station.

++ What type of trams will they have.
I guess that, only E class series will be produced in the near future. There is a small chance of other trams being cascaded onto this route, but at a 4 minute frequency, you are going to need quite a lot of trams.

The RFI, are pushing for a delivery rate of 22 E class per year, up from the current 11 per year, which expires later this year.

The reason that C class where allocated to the #109, was because the route got extended to Box Hill, and that extention was deemed a new section, which in turn required full DDA compliance.

Would there be any Z3 class trams left on the system by then?

I doubt the A class have the capacity requirements, for this proposed route.
Of the older Comeng trams, we may see an adhoc B class, much like the adhoc A class on #109 today.

++ What depot will it be….

No way we would have enough room for all these trams at either Malvern nor GlenHuntly. A massive increase in the tram fleet will be required. Therefore a new depot would be required.

I wonder if, a selling point for extending this up to Burwood would be, to have one super tram depot built, with massive fleets of E class trams, to supply both this new route, and #75 as well.

++ DDA compliance?

I trust, that all new works are required to be DDA from the start. Therefore the answer can only be yes.

The 109 tram to Box Hill, it got the C class when that route was extended, because it is a new section of the tram network, and hence requires full DDA compliance.

A nice proposal and will work well if it is properly designed, priority, 50km/h plus speeds.
Still think the line should pass by Huntingdale station to help with the Shuttle Bus and offer a quick train connection to the Rowville and Monash Studnets

How you achieve that is another story maybe align it via Huntingdale road to swing via the station and then onto Monash university via Wellington road

This could work as 2 tram routes
– Caulfield to Monash Uni via Dandenong Road
– Huntingdale Station to Monash Uni along North Road and Wellington Road, later extended to Rowville

The need to speed from Monash Uni and Rowville toward inner Melbourne would be satisfied by connecting with the train at Huntingdale. The Caulfield-Monash route would serve more local traffic, such as Chadstone. I believe a lot of students live in its vicinity. As the car yards and other low-rise industrial sites along Dandenong Road get converted to apartments, this local traffic public transport will increase. While it would be good to combine the 2 routes by following the 900 route from Huntingdale station north along Huntingdale Road, this has room for only 2 lanes of traffic, so trams would be at the mercy of traffic conditions. Some of the intersections on the route are on the Liberal’s list for road underpasses, such as the Dandenong Road-Wellington Road intersection, so this could increase the chances of getting good tram priority (if Labour also such an underpass).

I just got an idea. How about building a fenced-off cycleway in between the tram tracks?

I saw the Gold Coast Tram video above and I can see that they have just put a bit of green paint on the road for cyclists (not safe). Given that trams rarely derail, a cycleway in between the tram tracks would be very safe. The fence need not be very high – just 4 feet high will do probably.

This Rowville tram line should incorporate a cycleway in the median from the beginning.

In my Opinion, for new planning of public transport, we should not just looking at adding services to already covered areas. The train/tram/bus new routes for Rowville should give highest priorities to newer development/growth area to have any hope to reduce the traffic along Wellington Road. For Rowville, it’s beyond the planned Stud road/Wellington Road intersection and must reach all the newer estates East of Stud Road toward Lysterfield.

I am less concerned about capacity, than average speed.

You can always buy more trams. You can run a tram every two minutes if you need to.

But you can’t do much to improve average speed by design, and once the line is implemented, you can’t really do anything at all.

Responding to multiple comments
1. The simplest thing would to be to build a skyrail along the middle of Wellington Road. Whether this is heavy rail, or high speed light rail depends on how many stops are necessary, and also on whether- as has been suggested- it is possible to fit 3- 4 light tracks, allowing limited express,and more frequent stopping to run concurrently.
2.It should be unsurprising that the tram is full for the 4km past Latrobe Uni. Latrobe Uni is a activity centre. Many people would not be communitng all the way to the city.
3.Monash Uni, Monash Medical Centre, and the large number of state and national head offices along Wellington road, and the surrounding warehousing and light manufacturing makes the are an activity centre .For many people the large shopping centre they go to is Chadstone- not the CBD. And many people live and work in the The Bus from Waverley Park (4.5km from Monash Clayton, 5.6 km from Monash Medical) is packed with Uni students, academics, medical professionals every morning and evening. Express busses run from Huntingdale Station to Monash University. Monash also runs dedicated express busses between Clayton and Caulfied, which take 15-25 minutes, depending on traffic.
P.S. using the term activity centre in the general meaning, not the Victorian government meaning.

The Commonwealth announcement in the budget for heavy rail upto Claton Monash University campus changes this.
It is a great opportunity and looks like the missing link to Rowville may afterall happen, Sky rail or Underground.

Heavy rail along Wellington rd from Huntingdale to Rowville is the only real option but that will cost at least $5 billion or ten times the $475m in the Federal Budget. Chadstone will miss out but if Chadstone’s private owners really want a link they could kick in some dollars to fund an Oakleigh to Alamein underground line via Chadstone and Holmesglen – this would link three suburban lines (four if you add Rowville) with both Chadstone and Holmesglen and is the smartest long term plan. But such a tunnel would also cost at least $5 billion.

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