I could moan on about Friday night’s experience with the replacement buses (a combination of poor night-time service provision and inaccurate passenger information) but you can read about that on Twitter, so instead let’s look at Monday night’s south eastern train problems.
It often takes multiple factors to result in a real mess.
So it was on Monday.
- The Frankston and Cranbourne/Pakenham lines were closed for scheduled works, replaced by buses between the City and Caulfield
- Many passengers had switched to the Sandringham line to avoid problems with those buses
- Around 4pm, tragically a pedestrian was struck by a Sandringham line train between Brighton Beach and Hampton, forcing authorities to suspend services
- And… an infrastructure issue at Elsternwick meant it was difficult to terminate trains halfway along the line – so the entire Sandringham line had to be closed.
This last one was the icing on the cake, resulting in huge queues on Princes Bridge and around Federation Square for buses.
In the past, they would have been able to run trains from the City out as far as at least Elsternwick.
If this had been possible, it would have had numerous benefits.
- At least half the passengers could still catch a train to their destination
- Far fewer passengers would need to be moved by the limited buses available
- Buses wouldn’t have got stuck in inner-city traffic
- Bus round trips would have been quicker, allowing them to move more passengers more quickly
Could they have run trains as far as Brighton Beach? It’s not clear. Some AM peak trains originate there, but sources say trains can only terminate on platform 1, which is not normally used, and is fenced off. This in turn would require the train to be emptied at Middle Brighton, where there are no staff – and this is not a great location to change large numbers of people onto bus replacements.
So what was the problem at Elsternwick?
Until recently, terminating trains at Elsternwick for planned works or unplanned incidents was a common occurrence.
But back in January, Metro flagged to their people that it was no longer possible, except in specific circumstances, and required extra measures to be taken.
Also this weekend: the entire Sandringham line is closed.— Daniel Bowen (@danielbowen) February 8, 2019
Rumour mill says some kind of infrastructure issue at Elsternwick making it now near-impossible to terminate trains there. So works now close the entire line instead of half of it. #MetroTrains https://t.co/78Emnnv4ci pic.twitter.com/2E8Vkxg0cI
Interviewed on Tuesday by ABC’s Jon Faine, PTV boss Jeroen Weimar gave an indication of the complications.
We have a turning point at Elsternwick, but it’s a manual turning point, it requires people to go out under safeworking orders. It’s something that you can’t activate on the spur of the moment. … It’s an old-fashioned manual set of points. That introduces a number of risks for people working in that environment. … It requires people to be working on a live railway, and when you do that without going through a safe and effective planned process, mistakes get made, and things get a lot worse.Jeroen Weimar, 16/4/2019 on ABC Radio Melbourne (46 minute mark)
So is it really more difficult to get the right staff on-site at Elsternwick to go through the process, or to conjure up hundreds of buses to move thousands of train passengers, knowing they’ll never cope with demand?
In light of Monday’s mess, are they going to fix it? It turns out, yes. Jeroen Weimar again:
There’s some work that we’re doing next month at that location in Elsternwick, so there’s an upgrade program in place, which … will replace and update that set of points into an automated system so that we can turn around trains…Jeroen Weimar, 16/4/2019 on ABC Radio Melbourne (48 minute mark)
I doubt this upgrade is directly in response to Monday, but rather with the knowledge that during May and June, they’re going to close the Sandringham line for more metro tunnel works.
The upgrade is good news. It makes sense to make Elsternwick capable again of terminating trains.
Obviously the less of the line gets closed, the less impact and the easier it is to manage.
How many points?
What of the broader network?
In recent years, Metro have been removing points around the network, on the basis that less complicated track layouts result in fewer locations where trains need to slow down, and also mean fewer infrastructure faults.
This has some merit, but some level of flexibility is needed. (Recent changes at Caulfield mean trains from Dandenong can only terminate on platform 3, for instance. This has contributed to long delays in peak during bus replacements.)
Unfortunately, accidents will happen. An accident near one end of the line shouldn’t close the entire line – especially at the City end.
Ultimately, when incidents or planned closures take place, the infrastructure and the broader network needs to be able to cope.