After two years off, it’s Melbourne Show time again. Nine days of thousands of people converging on the Showgrounds, a few kilometres northwest of central Melbourne.
There appear to be crowd limits in place, but the first few days were at capacity, with 50,000 tickets per day sold.
As with any big busy event, it makes sense to ensure as many people as possible arrive by public transport rather than in their cars.
Catch the train
The Showgrounds has a dedicated special events railway station, and while the train service can be lacking for lesser events, when the Show is on, it runs well – every 10-15 minutes all day, taking around 15 minutes from Flinders Street.
The trains also stop at Southern Cross and North Melbourne, ensuring connections from all the other Metro and V/Line services. And the station is right next to the Showgrounds, with its own entrance.
There are some gaps of up to around 20 minutes between trains on weekday evenings which could do with improvement, but overall the service is a convenient, seamless experience – no wonder it’s used by many thousands every year.
But the trains don’t suit everyone, especially those from nearby suburbs and from the northwest, so other routes need to be available.
Catch the bus
Bus 472 runs close to the Showgrounds, providing connections from nearby suburbs including Williamstown, Footscray and Moonee Ponds. It’s every 15-20 minutes on weekdays, but only every 40-60 minutes in the evenings and on Sundays.
Bus 404 is further away – about 400 metres – far enough that PTV doesn’t mention it, but The Show web site does. It only runs every 40 minutes, apart from a couple hours during the weekday peaks when it’s every 20. The last bus is at around 7pm, and it doesn’t run at all on Sundays.
Neither route gets additional services during the Show, though with the 472 getting caught in heavy traffic, you’d hope they at least deploy extra buses so other parts of the route don’t suffer from long delays.
Overall it’s probable that only a few hardy souls use the buses.
Catch the tram
What really caught my eye having a walk around the Showgrounds area was how poor the tram is. There are multiple problems.
Tram 57 runs past the Showgrounds. They sensibly run extra services from the City to supplement the regular service:
Event trams are low floor and will operate as Route 57a, travelling between Flinders Street Station and Stop 32 Sandown Road via Elizabeth Street, Haymarket and Flemington Road.
These trams run express between Stop 19 Royal Children’s Hospital and Stop 32 Sandown Road.Yarra Trams: Melbourne Royal Show 2022
Express trams? Yes… because the long trams they use don’t actually fit into many of the tiny “safety zone” tram stops along Racecourse Road.
They’re running “express” because modern low floor trams are too long to fit into the legacy “safety” zone tram stops on Racecourse Road, so they’re being skipped. pic.twitter.com/HLGD1FyvAT— Marcus Wong (@aussiewongm) September 16, 2022
This presumably means you can’t change at Newmarket station to one of these trams… only to a regular route 57 service.
Unfortunately there are a few other problems with the Show trams.
Problem 1: There aren’t many extra trams. There are long gaps between the extras, and while route 57 runs every 8 minutes all day until dark, they’re only small Z-class trams, and they get quite crowded.
This means there are often long gaps between low floor accessible trams on the route. And the Sunday timetable shows none at all, just the standard 57 timetable.
Problem 2: Big low floor trams help, but the tram stops used at the Showgrounds are not accessible. They’ve got a thankfully larger-than-standard safety zone, but no platform.
So if you’re using a pram or wheelchair, even if you manage to get a low floor tram, it’s not an accessible service.
Problem 3: The Showgrounds tram stop has been deleted for trams from the City. The inbound one is temporarily closed during the event. This may have been due to safety concerns, but also someone’s decided the second traffic lane is more important than having a tram stop directly outside the Showgrounds entrance.
So instead of being dropped outside the gate as in the past, you’re dropped several hundred metres down the road.
Problem 4: The tram stop deletion wouldn’t be a problem if they opened the gate nearest to the remaining tram stop. But they haven’t.
The Showgrounds map shows five public entrances are used:
- the railway station
- the Epsom Road gate – for everyone, including tram passengers
- the racecourse car park – clearly for those arriving by car
- Leonard Grove – also apparently those who have parked in other nearby car parks
- Langs Road – for motorists and the few passengers using the 472 bus. This entrance includes a special set of temporary traffic lights because they know the traffic is so bad… because of all the motorists
Could they open gate 11? Perhaps an entrance to a major venue needs a certain number of patrons to make it worthwhile. Why not rework the railway station entrance to also cater for the nearby tram stop?
Problem 5: There’s no traffic light priority for crowds from the tram stop to cross the road. At times there are so many people waiting to get out of the tram stop that it delays the departing tram (a proper platform would also help with this).
Passengers have to cross multiple roads (and if they are patient enough to follow the rules, wait for at least two traffic lights) to get to the Showgrounds entrance.
Problem 6: There’s no signage near the tram stop pointing you to the Showgrounds entrance. I saw some people head towards the closed gate before twigging they were wasting their time.
The only wayfinding signage I could see was for people wanting to catch a tram, pointing you to the tram stop.
Plenty of room for improvement
Showgrounds trains have a long history, and the passenger experience is good enough that people use it year after year.
Not so for the trams. There was a time when a lot of resources were put into trams for nearby events. In fact there’s a (rare) three-track section of tram track in Union Road to provide space for stabling extra trams for Showgrounds and Flemington Racecourse events.
It’s clearly not what it once was.
Some of these problems are trivial to fix. Some are a bit harder.
A bigger longer term boost for the tram would be extending the 57 perhaps to the soon-to-be-built Keilor East railway station, as well as providing bigger low floor trams (enabled by the new depot construction at Maidstone).
Apart from the carrot of public transport improvements, a little more stick is probably required. Dare I say there might be too much parking around the Showgrounds?
Tram access to the Showgrounds will never shift as many people as the trains, but it’s important for Showgrounds public transport to provide plenty of good quality options, to cater for as many people as possible.
Right now, for trams and buses, they’re barely even trying. No wonder the whole area has traffic snarls while the Show is on.
- It’s also been noted that the Showgrounds provides zero bicycle parking for patrons
- Even if coming in on the Craigieburn line, it’s probably quickest and easiest to change to a Show Train at North Melbourne and double-back. As noted above, the tram option from Newmarket isn’t great – especially the tiny narrow safety zone stops in the middle of heavy traffic.
- A real test for arrangements will be on Saturday 1st of October, when a race meet at Flemington means the racecourse car park will not be available for the Show – stand by for even worse traffic.