State Budget 2021

The State Budget was last Thursday, and I went along to the stakeholder lockup to peruse the Budget Papers and quiz the government officials.

From a public transport perspective there’s not the huge amount of new spending we’ve seen in some years.

See the PTUA view here, but some of the notable items include:

$985.8m for 25 new X’Trapolis 2.0 trains and upgrades at the Craigieburn Train Maintenance Facility to help manage them (it’s not clear how much goes to the trains and how much to the TMF)

$613.1m for “Regional rail sustainability” to boost V/Line maintenance works to help improve reliability

$93.6m for works to enable 9 car V/Locity V/Line trains from Wyndham Vale and Melton – arguably just a stopgap to help those services deal with growing demand in Melbourne’s west, ahead of hopefully a future investment in electrification and track expansion.

$240.1m for Caulfield junction rationalisation – a surprisingly pricy project for what at first glance looks like just removing a few points. There’s more to it than that, but one benefit is it will enable faster train speeds. And I’m told it’s necessary to enable High Capacity Signalling, which will run from Dandenong through to Sunshine (and later the Airport) – the tracks with HCS need to be as separate as possible from the other lines.

Harold Ramis Dont Cross The Streams GIF by Ghostbusters - Find & Share on GIPHY

$2m for Caulfield interchange upgrades – that is planning money. Such upgrades will become very important when the Metro tunnel opens in 2025. Hopefully further funding for the actual work in the next year or two. I’m hoping for a new concourse.

$10.5m to re-open the Lydiard Street, Ballarat level crossing

$367.6m for infrastructure to support new trams (sounds like it’s power upgrades and tram stop alterations), upgrades at Southbank depot, and a new tram depot/maintenance facility in Melbourne’s north west. My assumption is this is to help relieve space issues at Essendon and enable larger (and low floor) trams to be used on routes 57 and 82. Where would they put it? Not sure, though in the 80s there was a plan for a depot at Airport West.

$42.4m for tram separation improvements (already going in around the CBD) and other minor upgrades, and $25m for minor tram stop upgrades. All good, but actual accessible tram stop upgrades are still pretty thin on the ground. It’s hard to see how the government will meet the 2022 target of all tram stops being accessible, unless they hope to somehow have it include some criteria such as tactiles, but exclude level boarding!

Tarneit station bus stop

And for buses? Mostly minor changes and upgrades (about $15m/year in total) which seem to be largely targeted at maintaining service levels while extending some routes to keep up with urban growth and road network changes.

  • Continued ongoing funding for some routes recently introduced such as 444 (Rockbank) and 454 (Cobblebank) and school routes in Shepparton and Horsham
  • Modified alignments for route 181 (Werribee-Hoppers Crossing) and 605 (City-Gardenvale)
  • Extension of Clyde routes 897 and 898 further east
  • New routes from Tarneit station: 154 to Tarneit North and 155 to Tarneit North West
  • simplification of Yarra Valley routes including on route 685 to Healesville
  • Broadmeadows route 538 to be more direct
  • Parkville route 505 a few additional services
  • …and also some bus interchange upgrades at Berwick, Glenroy, Lilydale, Chelsea, Hampton – some linked to level crossing removal projects

There is a more solid bus service upgrade for SoCross to FishBend buses 235/237, which is good, given the growing importance of Fishermans Bend. (I still think they should terminate those routes at Southern Cross to improve reliability and frequency on the main part of the route.)

And apparently there’s also some planning work starting on gearing up for future bus network reform. So while the buses are not getting a big boost this time, it does point to more action in coming years – sorely needed.

Smartbus 900 at Caulfield

Future opportunities

I haven’t listed everything new – there is some other funding. You can read it all in the Budget Papers (specifically BP3).

It’s all worthwhile, though I get the sense the focus of the budget this year was elsewhere, and fair enough – mental health reform is very important.

And of course we’re 18 months out from an election, so it’s not unreasonable to expect they’d hold off on really big announcements this year.

Also remember that transport infrastructure has got a lot of funding in recent years, and many of those major projects (Suburban Rail Loop, Airport Rail, Metro tunnel and others including at least three major motorway projects) are still in progress.

The problem is that funding of public transport services is still lacking, and not much new money has been coming through.

One would hope that the long-term effects of COVID-19 on travel patterns sees the government look seriously at how public transport can stay relevant.

Large numbers of white collar workers are at still home at least part time, so it’s no coincidence that bus journeys (and car journeys) have recovered faster than train and tram – as seen in the charts in this Guardian article.

And I’m betting off-peak and non-CBD patronage has also come back stronger than peak and CBD, for the same reason.

The opportunity here is to use the pause in peak CBD commuting growth to hold off on (invariably very expensive) peak upgrades for a bit – and focus on off-peak/weekend/evening and suburban services for a while, where good upgrades are more affordable because they often don’t rely on expensive fleet and infrastructure investment.

But will the decision-makers in transport realise this, and act accordingly? I guess we’ll see.

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.

12 replies on “State Budget 2021”

Interested in the 235/237 route upgrades, can i get a link to more details or is in the budget papers?

Off peak car travel is as heavy as ever but still no boost to make train services every 10 or 15 minutes on lines that can support it? I’m disappointed but not surprised in the least.

What’s the change to 181? The new Wyndham map looks the same as the current route. Also, how will 153 and 498 be affected by the Hoppers Crossing grade separation?

@Anonymous, 235/237 is a frequency boost to provide a consistent 10 minute frequency through the day. (I notice they get to 10 mins each in peak already.)

@Nick, I was amazed at the heavy traffic around the place on the weekend just gone. Perhaps it was helped along by numerous rail lines being bustituted, but clearly there is a lot of weekend travel demand.

@David, the info I have says route 181 is throgh-routed with 498, and the Hoppers Crossing level crossing removal messes this up, so they’re changing the route to use the new bridge east of the crossing.

Not sure about 153.

The lack of funding for level access tram stops is appalling given the Auditor-General report – the budget papers suggest just 4 stops will be built in the next financial year, presumably WIlliam St at Collins St in town (Route 58) and the one at Middle Park Primary (Route 12) that was already funded 4 years ago but got caught up in resident objections?

Dare I say the 605 alignment changes will make permeant change the alignment changes in mid 2017, which sees it travel through the Botanic Gardens to replace the 58 on Domain Rd. It lost its CIty Loop as a result, now running solely along Queen St in both directions.

Joke ?: The cost of $240.1m for Caulfield junction rationalisation is a surprice.

They’ve gone very quiet on the Caulfield/Chadstone tram route…it’s been I think 2 or 3 years since it was announced and little to be shown. Obviously not the most pressing public transport upgrade but seemed like a good project in that it finally gives Chadstone more public transport options, it’s also been a while since a whole new tram route gets created.

One thing I really wanted in this budget was, to extend the order of E class trams, to at least be getting them until the F class start production.

Reasons why,
— If Alstom was to win the F class contract, they would have continuous production straight from the E class to the F class
— We where going to end up with 150 E class, we only have 100. I would like to reach as close as possible to that 150
— Further expand the accessible tram fleet size/ratio

I understand there is some issue in respect to power supply on the system, which means we dont have enough power in the system to power extra E class trams. But, this problem should be easy enough to fix. I would love to see 109 become E class, even if its only some E class based at Southbank. That can cascade the C class to say, Essondon.

There is also, a location in Vermont, corner Springvale road, which is perfect for a new depot, will help add capacity and reduce dead running along route #75.

Another area of great need is the bus network.

While the whole network, Melbourne wide, needs radical overhaul and expansion, there is two or so areas of which need a review and streamlining of how their routes go, to simply have a better design of the same network.

We have areas of which have a mixed match of sub-networks, a legacy of having multiple bus operators in those areas, and matters of protecting their patch, and protecting the others patch and so on. (This is more complicated than the tangled sub-networks it has created).

One area, is the Knox City, Vermont East, Boronia and Bayswater general area.

The other is, the Wheelers Hill, Glen Waverly, Vermont West, and that general area.

In both of these areas, we had Grendas, Ventrua, Invicata, US Bus lines, Mount Dandenong bus lines, Waverly transit there too. Now, the Knox Area is down to only two operators, so why still the legacy mix???

Ofcourse, there are other areas with similar matters, and, yet more areas which has customers not being catered for.

Arh, I could go on forever. This is not my blogsite. I will stop my rant here.

I wonder if the slow speed limit over the Caulfield subway will be fixed as a result of fixing the points.

And I wonder if it’s even worth reopening the Lydiard Street crossing. It’s been closed for months now and traffic seems to be going well across the alternative crossing at Armstrong Street just a hundred meters or so away.

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