The importance of contingency plans

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.

Elsternwick station

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.

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.

Skyrail driver training - a 3-car Siemens train leaves Caulfield towards Oakleigh, Sat 16/6/2018

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.

  • Lead pic: James Oaten, ABC
  • April 2014: A similar scenario, nicknamed “Trainageddon” knocked out the Sandringham, Cranbourne, Pakenham and Frankston lines between the City and Elsternwick/Caulfield

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.

15 replies on “The importance of contingency plans”

I’m not sure which points need to be removed near Caulfield but it seems like a moot point anyway since trains already have to go slow when moving over the pedestrian subway under Caulfield station.

Meanwhile on the Glen Waverley line this weekend, there were works that meant trains originated/terminated at Burnley, meaning a transfer to a Ringwood train to get to/from the city. Great that trains were able to be kept running, but clearly nobody looked at or cared about modifying the timetable to make it useful for passengers. On Friday and Saturday nights, there was a whopping 25 minute layover for every ‘service’ because the Glen Waverley trains had departed 5 minutes earlier. I avoided this farce completely and made other travel arrangements.

Brighton Beach was once a train terminus. It is still capable of being so had it not been so tampered with to make it unusable as a train terminus. While I understand the safety issues at the Elsternwick crossover, the shut down of the entire line because of the accident at Hampton was a disgrace and not necessary. Weimar talks the talk but having listened to him many times on the radio, he talks…..rubbish. Glib is the worst insult I can say.

First off, may I wish you Daniel, and your family, a very happy Easter. Hope you and your family are all having fun this easter.

And, I wish to extend my happy Easter wishes to all who visit this website too.

Now back to the main thread.

#1, Speed through points???? In Europe, they have trains going 200km/h on the diverge.

While our points are too sharp for such a speed on the diverging route, there is nothing to stop trains from reaching 110km/h on the straight route of the same points.

#2, Which track did the horror happen on? the up or down?

If it was the up track (towards Melbourne), then why not run five of six peak hour trains all the way to Sandringham, and just stable them there?

#3, So, if Brighton Beach is fenced off, why not just run trains there anyway, and, end of the line passengers can just get off whichever station is best suited for replacement buses to use?

Even if they must run empty, Elsternwick to Brighton Beach?

I am not familiar with the Sandringham line, and do not know how suitable any of the stations would be for this purpose.

#4, On the same matter, this Easter, Dandenong is bus between city and Westall. Why could they not turn around at Oakliegh??

Despite the recent cutbacks at Oakliegh, there remains two crossovers, one to the down (where the old one was) and to the up, just past that pedestrian crossing. So, why could they not make use of these?

Last December, when Dandenong station was getting works done, they stopped at Westall, again, there is a crossover at Springvale, and is a major point of interest, and transport node too. And, is much easier to use for passengers than Westall.

Where is the care in our management?

I dont think its the Metro franchise owners, but, more to do with PTV?

#5, South Yarra, once had crossovers, on each pair of tracks in the up direction. Long gone of course, but, they could have been handy too?

excellent piece on the Sandy line. Thank you so much for explaining the issues in a methodical way.
Great news that the points will be fixed – hopefully in May.
BTW, last Monday I caught the 96 tram along Bourke st to StKilda and then the 600 Southland bus as far as Brighton. Got home 25 minutes later than normal.
Avoid the replacement buses if you can!

They have been shutting down the Werribee and Williamstown lines in the first few months of the year from north Melb to Werribee/Williamstown/Newport. This is due to works at south Kensington.

The manual points at Footscray don’t get used to turn back trains either.

You could bus from north Melb to Footscray then get back on a train.

Liam, if they could use the crossover at Footscray, could they then have passengers change with say, V/Line trains into the city?

While I know this thread is about line closures, I wonder if there is any scope for contingencies in other circumstances. For example, this morning I arrived at Cranbourne station 1 minute after the 7.49 train. The 8.03 was cancelled (which I knew on arrival as it was not in the platform), then the 8.21 arrived at 8.23. By the time the driver had switched ends it was 8.30, so the service was altered to be the 8.41, which I assume was also cancelled. I know this is a personal experience, and it is always a bad idea to base ideas off a single experience, but this was 50 minutes waiting for the train to leave. This is the kind of thing that has people driving rather than catching the train – particularly as I am travelling to Clayton not the city.

I know that the Cranbourne line sometimes (late at night and during shutdowns) runs as a shuttle to Dandenong, so could there be a train kept on stand-by in case of a cancelled train, just to shuttle to/from Cranbourne? Or, possibly more realistically, when a to Cranbourne service is cancelled, could one of the Westall short starters be re-routed to replace the cancelled to (and therefore from) Cranbourne service? I could be wrong, but I would have thought reducing the amount of time people are waiting at a terminus outweighs having a short starter (there is still a cancellation, it is just the short starter not the to/from terminus train).

This is just one line, but surely there are similar options on other lines where contingencies could help keep people moving.

@MartinA – easiest fix for Cranbourne is to duplicate the single track sections, so that one late running train doesn’t throw off the timetable for the entire line, resulting in multiple cancellations.

Yes, I got caught in that interruption on the Sandringham line. Only used it because it had delivered me to work the same morning (in combination with the train to Caulfield, no. 3 tram to Balaclava and Sandy train to Prahran) saving over half an hour compared to the train and replacement bus scenario. However I found on my arrival at Prahran in the evening, no trains, no people, and no information about where the replacement bus stops were. I thus headed down to High street where I waited over 20 minutes for a tram to connect me with the stopping all stations bus replacement at Armadale, and then back to the train at Caulfield. A journey of over 2 hours in the end. But at least when I got home my dinner was waiting! And I did also wonder why they couldn’t take trains part way.

One thing I noticed repeatedly during the bustitution period was that arrival of trains at Caulfield seemed carefully planned to avoid neat timing with the arrival of the no. 3 tram. Every time there was at least a 10 minute wait, while the crowds grew and grew. Another observation is that the trams stops need re-organising in Derby St. Trams arriving from the city drop passengers on the wrong side of the road for the station (where most are heading) with the result that passengers wander all over the road either end of the tram to cross to the station. It must be a pain to be sitting in a car there trying to dodge the hordes of passengers alighting from the tram. (Similar situation at Balaclava Stn where there is a tram stop right at the end of the ramp from the station, but no road crossing to get to it).

They like to blame the single line, which deflects blame from the operator to the Government.

But look at Martin’s case. The previous train left Cranbourne ( presumably on time, if Martin missed it ) at 7:49. The next train didn’t approach Cranbourne until 8:23.

So how could the single line have been the problem ?

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