Friday, 30 December 2016

Tallying Years of Failed Planning - from Melbourne's Heavy Rail Dark Age into Renaissance

In the years 1930-2017, while Melbourne's population has grown FOURFOLD, the only major rail track expansion projects performed in the city have been the Alamein extension and City Loop.

I came across this map the other day, and was instantly struck by the fact that the Melbourne metropolitan railway network appeared more extensive in 1930 than it does today.

Melbourne Electric and Suburban Railways map, 1930s

And it's an interesting case study of how transport priorities shape a city's development.

Settled in the 1830s, and booming by the 1850s, Melbourne's core was established in the pre-automotive era. The only private transportation option for almost all early Melburnians rich or poor was the horse /and cart/carriage, and horses required stabling and intensive daily "maintenance". So unless you were a business owner who needed to transport heavy goods, or were well enough off to afford servants to take on the chores, chances were you relied on public transport and/or foot to make your way around what was an infinitely more compact city than we know today.

By the time the first automobiles began appearing on Melbourne's streets around the turn of the Twentieth Century, the rail network had been central to the city's development for nearly fifty years, and what was in it's day one of the world's most extensive cable tram networks had been steadily replacing the far slower 'omnibus' network of horse-drawn trams since 1885.

By the 1900s, the driving force for new railway lines were the farmers and loggers beyond the city's core suburbs seeking primarily to get their goods into Melbourne. The growth of settlements beyond the city fringe essentially followed the spread of the railways, and there were no "car commuter" towns as we would know them. The only sensible and efficient way to head in to "town" for most was by train.

Bourke Street, Melbourne, 1930s

Melbourne in the 1930s - Another World

By 1930, Melbourne's population was around 1 million, or 22% of its current size. The metropolitan south-east ended around Moorabbin. Circling round anti-clockwise you'd find not much but bush settlements beyond Camberwell, Heidelberg, Preston, Coburg, Broadmeadows, Essendon, Footscray or Williamstown.    

Even by well into the 1930s, petrol-driven cars were mostly expensive luxuries affordable only by the few. In 1922, a population pushing towards one million people owned just under 45,000 motor vehicles, a rate of ownership well under 5%. Prior to the introduction of the Metropolitan Road Code in 1936 there were no speed limits on Melbourne roads, no requirement to keep left, nor park in any particular place (see picture above), so the city's roads in the 1930s were still rather unruly and dangerous places.

So, at the time this map was made, the vast majority Melburnians remained dependent upon the now extensive public transport system to go about their business.

Many planned extensions of the rail network were interrupted by World War Two, after which time planning modes had begun to give primacy to the private motor vehicle, and investment in rail disappeared from the policy agenda.

Following the completion of the Glen Waverley line in 1930, the Ashburton line was extended to Alamein in 1948, but these were the only non-electrification extensions until the City loop opened in 1980. As a measure of how few votes politicians thought there were in public transport, even as recently as the early 1990s, Jeff Kennett seriously entertained a proposal to completely close the Alamein, Williamstown and Upfield lines and replace most lines with buses after 8pm.

Rail in Melbourne - What We Have Lost

Melbourne's historic rail closures are shown below. The yellow lines are those closed since the turn of the century, the purple are nineteenth century closures. The eastern purple is the outer circle line, partially replaced by Alamein. The northern is the Inner Circle.

The white lines are the modern track additions. The Rosstown Railway is shown by the line running St.Kilda-Malvern, now to be basically replicated by the Metro tunnel. The notoriously disastrous freight only service never turned a profit.

The green line is the current day Urban Growth Boundary, the orange line a guesstimate of the suburban boundary around 1930, the shaded area a guesstimate of the populated core without sparser/satellite regions.

Closed Rail Lines of Melbourne - Inner
Closed Rail Lines of Melbourne - Expanded

Melbourne Rail Closures - 20th Century

Melbourne Rail Closures - 19th Century
ROSSTOWN RAILWAYCLOSED1890s never took passengers

Today Kew, is of course well serviced by light rail, and the Port Melbourne and St. Kilda light rail services both have higher patronage than the heavy rail they replaced. Neither the Whittlesea nor Healesville closures were within the current urban growth boundary, and remain reserved for future growth, with the South Morang-Mernda extension announced only recently. So Melbourne has at least been spared the fate of many US cities who are only now replacing the rail services they ripped out fifty years ago. So far, so good.

Our 1930s rail map doesn't necessarily represent the high water mark for coverage of the suburban railway network, nor is it an apples with apples thing to compare to today, when a large number of these services were still provided by steam in 1930, the map includes services to satellite settlements, so a comparable map should perhaps include today's V/Line network, while the Melton service remains unelectirifed, so is that actually an effective comparable loss? It's actually quite hard to present systematically.

By 1930, Doncaster was already the obvious gap, but most everywhere else the city's development can be seen to have essentially followed the heavy rail corridors, and thus a reasonably comprehensive geographic coverage for rail. It does bear remembering that Doncaster remained largely orchards until the 1950s, and of course had already had the experience of Melbourne's first failed tram route through to Box Hill. These fringe satellite towns in the 1930s were essentially still rural in character and contrasted markedly with transport-enabled inner Melbourne.

The following table probably outlines things best - and it's the net km figure by period that maps it most relevantly. I've obviously not tallied the net kms prior to 1920, when most of the track was laid. So it's not a complete picture, but it's a telling snapshot of the last hundred years. I've assumed a 2020 opening date for Melbourne Metro. See the image below for an illustrations of the regions I've used.

And to reiterate this is measuring actual TRACK expansion, not electrifications of existing track.

Using final electrification as a common metric would make sense, but it just becomes an exercise and a half, and wouldn't provide a much more meaningful picture. The network was mostly electrified by the end of the 1930s, however both the Fawkner line to Upfield and the Reservoir line to Lalor had to wait until 1959. The Belgrave line wasn't electrified until 1962, Epping until 1964, Pakenham 1975, Sydenham 2002, and Melton is still waiting.

Summary of Melbourne's Net Rail Track Loss/Gain by Period
PeriodKms of rail lostKms of passenger rail lostKms of passenger rail lost within Melbourne 1930Kms of rail lost within today's UGBKms gainedNet kms of passenger railNet kms of passenger rail within Melbourne 1930Net kms of rail within today's UGB


*assumes a 2020 date for Melbourne Metro Opening

It does all invite one very stark conclusion. Bar Alamein and the loop, all of the expansion in Melbourne's metropolitan train network since 1930 has occurred as electrification of existing regional track through the city. And if we were to break it up into 20 year blocks, it would essentially show total net stagnation for the past eighty to ninety years. Only Metro rail will tip the ledger back in favour of growth.

From the time it was last extended to Alamein in 1948, Melbourne's heavy rail network has essentially been relying on the same track infrastructure laid mostly one hundred years earlier.



Marvelous Metastasising Modern Melbourne

But as we've seen, the primary mode of rail network expansion in Melbourne has been via electrification, and this HAS enabled Melbourne to grow radially while providing heavy rail access to most new regions, albeit only in sites where the rail network already extended beyond the suburban fringe. The yawning transport black hole beyond the end of the Glen Waverley line looms as one of the city's most obvious historical planning failures.

So, as we've moved from the orange to the green below, the proportional geographic coverage of rail has declined. As the motor car removed the imperative to only create new housing within a finite distance of a rail station, so the sprawling hinterlands away from heavy rail that would have previously been undevelopable soon saw housing estates rising on them as the fifties moved into the sixties.

The arrival of television in 1957 compounded the extent of these external changes a still relatively young Melbourne was facing. Theatres closed all across town. A city which in 1956 saw enough demand from night owls and shift workers to run a twenty four hour tram network, had closed it by the end of 1957. Melbourne's CBD lost its primacy as a shared recreational or shopping destination for the entire city as car-parking enabled suburban malls took over. It took the CBD over thirty years for it to regain something of its former role.

The "green wedges" policy did to some extent force development towards the radial "spokes" of Melbourne's heavy rail network, but because the spokes are necessarily further apart the further one travels from the CBD, and where housing densities in these locations were significantly lower than historic inner Melbourne, huge blackspots emerged particularly in the outer east for anyone not within walking distance of a station.

And with a consequent decentralisation of employment centers - even heavy industrial areas actually have a very low employment density so are difficult to adequately provide public transport to, and frankly with a suburban bus network that has ALWAYS been third world, and which neither properly supports nor adequately integrates with heavy rail, we know what the outcome has been -

public transport in Melbourne now has around a 11% mode share, where in the 1930s this would have been somewhere like 85%, and our roads are permanently clogged with commuters instead of the commercial vehicles they are actually necessary for.

What's worse is the current mode share is only a recovery back to 1975 levels. Public transport mode share continued to plummet all the way to the 1990s. In 1997 it bottomed out at 7.7%, almost half the figure for Sydney, where today that gap is only around 3%. So something about this was a very Melbourne phenomenon. And wombat readers will detect a soapbox when I go on to suggest the less radial nature of Sydney's network, combined with its geography was a key reason why it was better able to cope with the "sprawl" era of planning.

But I don't suggest that era actually covers more than about forty years, around 1955-95. I would in fact suggest Melbourne hasn't planned for any major new housing developments in rail blackspots since about the mid-eighties, and some degree of policy lag is to be expected.



Calculating the Failure

The following map illustrates the current state of Melbourne's "preparedness" to cope with the next phase of its development.

The blue lines are current the heavy rail network with Metro rail. The pink are currently operating V/Line routes. The red are closed routes where the track remains reserved for future development.

Interestingly, the shaded core 1930s component when mapped with today's metropolitan tram system shows you pretty neatly around when we stopped investing in that network. Of course it's to the city's eternal credit that network was retained, minus the radial lines into Footscray, but it has, along with the already noted "spoke effect" of widening a radial rail network, created (or, some might argue merely enhanced) a great disparity in transport options between Melbourne's inner and outer suburbs.

But at a closer look, public transport black spots were already appearing around rapidly growing communities in the south and north east by the 1930s.

The other point worth making is that NONE of the track extensions even as far ahead as a vaguely proposed Metro Two tunnel have added a centimeter of track outside Melbourne's 1930 boundary. We haven't built a single skerrick of extra track for ANY of the multitudes living in the multitude of new suburbs we've built during that time.

However, the rail reservations created in the city's west, particularly those now created by Regional Rail Link ensure that we are unlikely to commit the more egregious mistakes of the past fifty odd years over the next.

The issue for discussion, as far as this commentator is concerned, is how far we can go in undoing the mistakes of the east, particularly as we acknowledge an urgent need to develop suburban CADs in those locations and build a future airport rail.

In case you haven't heard the broken record, readers, please see the link below for the beginnings of my thinking down that path.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Heritage Set To Be Key Issue at Melbourne City Council Elections

Melbourne City Council goes to the polls this October to elect a new Council team for the coming four years. Those elected will have stewardship over the city until 2020, when the city will be just fifteen years short of its BICENTENARY.

While "Brand Melbourne" today relies heavily on its heritage fabric as a "point of difference", its value has been steadily eroded through various failings in the current heritage regime.

Today, the Palace Theatre faces the demolition of its precious interior, the Windsor Hotel is to have a giant tower looming behind it, an 1868 former carriage workshop is being replaced by apartments, numerous "protected" buildings are proposed to become mere facades including the famed Celtic Club, several recognised heritage buildings have no legal protection whatsoever, it's become almost impossible for tourists to find a W class tram to photograph, and the demolition of the Princess Mary Club could happen any day now.

"Brand Melbourne" will suffer through all of these changes.


We've come a long way since that day in 1835 when John Batman first beheld the Yarra's banks. Indeed, Melbourne has come a long way recently. The pace of change over the past decade has been unparallelled in my lifetime, and we need to be certain that our city is developing in a way that is to its long term benefit.

Friends, I am announcing the formation of a new heritage team to take on Melbourne City Council elections in October.

We have the right agenda to preserve and enhance Melbourne's heritage buildings. But we also have the best policies to improve Melbourne's urban realm for everyone who lives, works, retails, shops or plays here.

Have a look at our key election policies HERE.

We're looking to build a TEAM around this election agenda. We need people with time to give big and small. We need DONORS even more pressingly.

We are also calling out for eligible City of Melbourne residents or rateholders who may be interested in running in the Council election on the less winnable spots, minimal commitment involved. Show your interest on our VOLUNTEER page and we'll get in touch.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Melbourne Story - Labor Very Nearly Runs Third in its Former Bailwick at 2016 Federal Election

I've thought long and hard about this. I want to initiate this discussion, and I want all the people who might benefit from to see some of this mapped out spatially, although that's a complete tautology. Whatever.

But I don't want to have this discussion online, or at least not publicly online. There's a lot going on here, and the dust is still settling. But the reality is that the warning I sounded to the few poor souls whose throats I forced my 25,000 word essay down has essentially come to pass, and even sooner than I feared. We have all but run third in 2016 in the seat where in 2001 Lindsay Tanner secured a 48% primary vote.

So I'm not risking putting any more grist in our opponents' mill by putting any more of our ideas in the public arena. Here's the raw data. I'm extremely eager to hear anyone's spin on it, to know whether anyone can see a way forward here. Or does this essentially advise us "it's cooked, move on"?

None of the demographic trends at work show any sign of reversing, nor do they seem like the sorts of things election campaigns can really much impact. The only booths we won at the last poll were Housing Commission booths - and we still managed to lose half of those, or booths where a high Liberal vote got us over the 2PP line. Does this feel terminal, or what?

I've reproduced the images from my earlier blog post here also to help give some more historical context/trend. You'll note I've changed my methodology. Working with the area-based "lozenges" was a bit more visually engaging but an absolute pain in the digital arse. Especially when particular booths come and go from poll to poll.

These 2016 numbers of course exclude absentee and declaration votes, but the reality is those are obviously NOT going to alter the more demonstrable trends.

Anyway, I'll let the data speak for itself, and hopefully you, dear reader, may also be moved to do similarly. You know where to find me.

Melbourne FEA Booths by 2PP vote %, 2016 Federal Poll

Bright Green = GRN 50-60%, Deep Green = GRN 60%+
Orange = ALP 50-60%, Red = ALP 60%+

Melbourne FEA Booths by ALP Primary Vote %, 2016 Federal Poll

Pink = 10-20%, Light Orange = 20-30%, Deep Orange = 30-40%, Red = 40-50%

Melbourne FEA Booths by GRN Primary Vote %, 2016 Federal Poll

Pale Green = 30-40%, Bright Green = 40-50%, Deep Green = 50-60%

Melbourne FEA Booths by 2PP Swing %, 2016 Federal Poll

Pale Green = GRN+0-1%, Bright Green = GRN+1-5%, Deep Green = GRN+5%+
Orange = ALP+0-1%, Red = ALP+1-5%
Hotham Hill booth is the outlier, swinging 12% GRN

Melbourne FEA Booths by ALP Primary Swing %, 2016 Federal Poll

Pale Green = -0-1%, Bright Green = -1-5%, Deep Green = -5%+
Light Orange = +0-1%, Dark Orange = +1-5%, Red = +1-5%+

And frankly, I think this next one is one of the most interesting charts of all. And this is basically where I'm coming from when I forecast that the entire inner city is just going to be one massive three way contest in the not too distant future.

Melbourne FEA Booths where highest 1st pref swing was to the LIBERALS, 2016 Federal Poll

The remaining older charts show primary voting patterns (no 2PP) for Federal Elections 2013 and 2010 plus Melbourne State District Byelection 2012. State electoral boundaries are shown in yellow. Lighter red = lower ALP vote %. Lighter green = lower GRN vote %. Colours are consistent in their % representation across all images.

ALP Primary Vote, 2010 Federal Poll

ALP Primary Vote, 2013 Federal Poll

Indicating the huge decline in ALP votes in central, north and eastern parts of the electorate

ALP Primary Vote, 2012 State Byelection

ALP Primary Vote, 2010 Federal Poll, overlaid with State Byelection 2012

showing little shift in ALP primary vote between these polls in booths within the State District boundaries

ALP Primary Vote, 2013 Federal Poll, overlaid with State Byelection 2012

showing a huge decline in ALP primary vote between these polls in booths within the State District boundaries

GRN Primary Vote, 2010 Federal Poll

GRN Primary Vote, 2013 Federal Poll

showing significant increase in GRN primaries across Northern-Central portion of electorate

GRN Primary Vote, 2013 Federal Poll, overlaid with State Byelection 2012

showing a significant rise in GRN primary vote in the inner norrh portion of the electorate between the two polls - Carlton, Fitzroy, Fitzroy North, Parkville

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Conversations with your Drunk Uncle - The Meaning of Brexit for Australia

There's a large lot to swallow for political types in yesterday's Brexit vote. A lot more again for people of the left and people of Labo(u)r. But I worry we're going to wind up focussing on the wrong things again, and I worry more that we're not going to have many more chances to learn the lessons.

Because to me, the one, salutory lesson from yesterday's vote was clear: 

Had the Syrian refugee crisis not peaked when it did, Britain would not have voted to leave the EU.

This was, as much as many campaigners on either side attempted to make it not, a vote entirely about the issue of immigration. So Farage's "Rising Tide" poster was one of the key moments of the campaign. Because it was one of the few moments where one felt like the discussion was anywhere near the genuine locomotive issues for most people.

And the real message of that poster was "Turkish muslims are coming to swamp us when they too join the EU." It was perfect because it played into feelings of the EU as a kind of structure "out of control" and misaligned with traditional European national identities. But it also clearly posited "you wanna see another repeat of all these Syrians ..." dovetailing perfectly into anti-muslim sentiment, working class fears over job insecurity, and a sense that EU membership effectively means ceding control of one's national borders.

Europe is Burning, Australia Smoulders

Chatting online with European friends lately, one cannot emphasise how severely the totally unprecedented levels of Syrian refugees the continent has accomodated has led EVEN THE MOST ARDENT MUTICULTURALISTS amongst them to wonder aloud whether we've gone too far. The change has been too profound, the potential risks to our broader social fabric are seen as too great, and too real. In short, ALL the sorts of anxieties that we are all too prepared to call racism when workers exhibit them are now being voiced aloud by liberal left elites all across the continent.

And this resonates with us particularly here in Australia, where immigration and the broader multiculturalist project have become a zone from which politicans have sought to build personal agendas, where they have come to be seen as a kind of political "pet project" of the political elites that working people blame for the broader economic insecurities they are feeling.
"This was not a vote on the undeniable lack of accountability and transparency of the European Union. Above all else, it was about immigration, which has become the prism through which millions of people see everyday problems ... Young remainers living in major urban centres tend to feel limited hostility towards immigration; it could hardly be more different for older working-class leavers in many northern cities and smaller towns."
-Owen Jones, The Guardian 

Every inner city hippie type who opposes "stopping the boats" needs to heed this message, and stop listening with condescention to the people delivering it. Your outrage against "racist" immigration policies and "dog whistling" is only convenient to you because it turns your opponent's argument into a unidimensional charicature.

Because if you're fighting racists then you've already won the argument, right? Well that only works at Uni in debating club. Try retrofitting that into a world where you need to win over actual living, breathing, sentient beings before you can win ANYTHING and it's simply yourself and your own argument that wind up losing.

We're mapping a whole raft of different phenomena here, but one of the crucial ones for Labor people in Australia is that we URGENTLY need to start showing that we understand the economic frustrations, but more importantly we need to give people a much better sense that we have an actual plan capable of addressing them.

Who owns "globalisation"? The left turns up to protest it vehemently. The populist right pillory it as ceding control of nationhood and economic independence, and millions of people worldwide suspect it's a process that directly threatens their best interests. There was a time when Labor would have done anything to attach itself to a mast of that size, but that it would be reticent to do so today tells you how badly our political culture has declined. Any Keating-scale headline policy would be eschewed by modern federal Labor as too ambitious, and Keating's experience would be cited.

But did we ever bother going through what Keating actually got wrong in how he sold his agenda before we declared big agendas "too difficult". For this author, no, and not by a very long way.

Modern Australians - Keating's Illegitimate Offspring

Everyone remembers but nobody understands the meaning of Keating's "banana republic" speech. It was a specific call to "open the economy up, or become yesterday's backwater". And it was an absolutely essential prescription. If you don't remember growing up in Australia in the early 80s, you won't properly remember a time when "Australian" meant "like the rest of the world, but a bit shitter", when the "cultural cringe" was a real phenomenon induced in you every time "Australian-ness" was ever invoked on a global stage.

That backward, insular Australia died in public policy terms at the end of Keating's political vorpal sword, but he totally failed to bring the people most impacted by those policies to see and understand their benefits. By the time he'd gotten around to "the recession we had to have" - and that was really just another (worse) way of phrasing the banana republic speech - nobody was listening to the policy headlines because they were too busy bearing its negative impacts.

We need to spend some actual time talking to people about why an open, not a closed, economy is crucial for Australia to prosper - being a huge landmass with a tiny domestic economy in global terms, it's not a difficult argument to make. Your kids will have a better future in a more open Australia.

But we very urgently need to understand that for so long as workers feel that their current job insecurity is the coin used to purchase that future then they are not going to sign on to the vision. And they are going to take every opportunity to blacken the eyes of the "political classes" untill we show some sign that we appreciate this.

Calling people racists who are afraid that we've ceded control of our immigration policy is completely misguided. Because failing to understand what's actually going on that comprehensively almost always ensures you'll seek out the least effective response. You're most certainly going to respond with the least persuasive discourse for your actual target audience.

Explaining to people how this is neither true, nor the source of their insecurity should be the easiest thing in the world if political classes took their role as PERSUADORS seriously. Instead our political cultures seek out great "revelators" and autodidacts, our internal party processes do everything BUT reward persuasion and argument as a skill. Why the hell would you need either of THOSE qualities to secure an ALP safe seat preselection? All you need is the tap from George Seitz ...

We urgently need to change this tune, because there are as many people in Australia as in the UK looking for something more substantial than just putting Pauline Hanson back in Parliament to bash us about the head with. Who can say for sure they'll never have a wrecker's moment on a Brexit scale?

And who would declare they entirely blame them?

Monday, 20 June 2016

"Shut Up About Box Hill Already" - Plan Wombat Does the 'Twenty Minute City'

So, we've recently seen yet another document from a government agency, this time from Infrastructure Victoria big on fluff but light on detail about facilitating suburban CADs, and the hell with it, that's the acronym I'm going to continue using.

For those who haven't read the previous wombat offering foregrounding all this, I strongly recommend checking out THIS POST first as background to everything that's afoot here.

My self-designated mission therefore is an INFRASTRUCTURE agenda that would MAXIMISE the connectivity of suburban CADs, along with their concomitant rail catchments, as well as maximise the dispersal of possible CADs across a wider urban area than is currently planned, and maximise the number of CADs in total.

All this based on the assumption that far more investment and a far larger and more dispersed range of CADs than are currently planned is going to be necessary to drive success if we're actually being serious about facilitating "twenty minute cities". And again this on the assumption that the present repetition of mere hot air very specifically WON'T get us there.

So. Plan Wombat proposes FOUR major projects - three via light and one via heavy rail. We'll discuss the potential costs and other limitations below, but for now let's dive in to the specifics...


1. Alamein - Narre Warren Light Rail

Shown in RED above

This in some ways very obvious project involves REPLACING the Alamein line completely with light rail terminating at Camberwell's third platform. This would probably require some kind of flyover for much of the short section of track it would share with the heavy rail network.

The light rail would then run under the creek via tunnel then use the above ground reservation from the former Outer Circle Line to Dandenong Road, from there via a new Chahdstone superstop, and then the whole damn way down Warrigal Road to Lower Dandening Road, and from there via Braside to Dandenong and on to Narre Warren, providing a new light rail catchment for the major residential areas into that center.


2. Huntingdale - FTG Light Rail

Shown in YELLOW above

This would run from Huntingdale, or for even better network effect from Oakleigh Station along North Road to Monash Univerity and Monash employment center, and running via Rowville and Knoxfield to Ferntree Gully.


3. Willy - Donny Light Rail 

Shown in BROWN above

This is my cost-effective alternative to doing what we're told will have marginal usage benefits - a heavy rail Doncaster-City link. It may be a little presumptuous in that it assumes a light rail technology that would be able to share the Metro Rail tunnel. Dual track should be easy enough, but I'm not sure how you'd accomodate TWO overhead power systems. Nor how you'd get CBD North and South platforms to accomodate two different modes. Suffice to say for this exercise I've assumed these problems away. If that were not feasible, PTV's network development solution of doing essentially the same thing via SXS would be one alternative.

The second issue is that I'm replacing the entire Williamstown line with light rail, but this would also need to share a small section of existing track with Werribee line trains, creating the same issue as above, and which again I'm just going to assume away for now.

This facilitates Metro 2 through the inner north and Fisherman's bend. From Newport, we're tunneling through Fisherman's bend - possibly achievable through cut and cover rather than boring, with a Southbank stop at the Casino/Convention Center entrances, it would then either share the metro rail or a duplicate rail tunnel to the CBD North station from where it run to create new stations around Lygon and Brunswick streets before intersecting with the northern group lines at Collingwood, tunneling through to Studley Park Rd and continuing above ground to Kew Junction and then on to Doncaster, largely replacing the existing tram line.


Outer Circle Lines

Shown in GREEN below.

Readers who are following closely will note an evolutionary shift in wombat thought about this. Yes, you guessed it, I now want to spend even more money. Obviously this could be staged and start delivering benefits from early in the project, but we'll look at the logistics  more shortly.

So, the proposal is for a largely underground medium-heavy orbital rail system. One cost-effective approach would be rather than traditional heavy rail, examining the possibilities for incorporating "Medium" rail in the form of Alstom's Axonis technology, and while I don't intend to bog us down in the specifics of mode selection, for anyone interested in the technology, how it works and why it's cheaper, there's an excellent article over at Urban Melborne HERE.

So, looking at Plan Wombat by section, we envisage firstly the creation of an airport link via the Albion freight corridor AND via a new orbital Northern and Eastern suburbs line connecting all the major CADs thereabouts.

In the North it looks like this;


The two proposed lines would run Mordialloc - SXS via Sunshine and Frankston - Airport, with a third SXS-Airport route also incorporated. I very strongly believe we are going in the WRONG DIRECTION looking at longer car sets for the heavy rail network. Because I VERY strongly believe that inadequate service frequencies are one of the present network's major shortcomings. We should be about small car sets running MORE frequently if we're about delivering a network that meets people's needs. In my experience your twenty minute off-peak wait does a lot more to prevent people actually using the network than overcrowding does. I would envisage this network extension running entirely on three car sets with a metro style service frequency.

My NEW development, relative to earlier incarnations of Plan Wombat is that in the East the tunnel is now split into TWO lines, a la this;

And these statistics here are a little out of date, but this shows that what we're doing with Plan Wombat is connecting - particularly in the outer East is connecting ALL the major existing transit stations.

As per previous incarnations of the Plan, a key objective here remains the VASTLY improved NETWORK EFFECT of having a fully interconnected grid that no longer operates purely radially from the CBD, and the scope of the change is quite demonstrable. We've moved from THIS today:


And, it's a bit of a dog's breakfast visually, but with the CADS shown it looks like THIS:

In addition to the facilitation of the CADs shown above, I strongly believe that there are network inherencies that would also advise, based on these centers either having good existing catchments or newly facilitated ones as a non-primary objective for Plan Wombat, the additional inclusion of the following as designated CADs.


Costing of these sorts of projects is a can of worms. Switzerland have just delivered 57kms of dual rail tunnel at a cost of AUD$17bn = $0.3bn/km.

Sydney Metro City and Southwest is costed at around $12bn, delivering 16 kms of tunnel and another 15 kms of converted existing track. If they've released a costing of the tunnel component alone, I can't find it anywhere. But with a quick back of envelope assessment, assuming the tunnel is 75% of the total cost, the Sydney metro tunnel is delivered at $0.5bn/km

With Melbourne Metro, we're getting 7kms of new tunnel at a cost of $11bn. = $1.5bn/km. So something's seriously screwy here. How do we wind up paying over $1bn/km in Melbourne when the Swiss can do it for a THIRD of that cost, Sydney at HALF?

At the recent Melbourne Metro info sessions I did ask their in-house tunneling expert about this. His not particularly convincing response was that geological conditions tend to be the major determinant of project costs. Did you know that almost all tunnel borers are BUILT TO SPEC for their specific projects? You don't hire these things, you BUILD a new one for your project alone, and the technology you use will be specific to the project geography.

I would suggest the following staging for the Wombat project, with those stages intended to deliver the highest benefits prioritised first.
  • STAGE ONE - Frankston-Ringwood
    31.75 kms, $9.5bn at Swiss rates, $15.8bn at Sydney Metro, $47.6bn at Melbourne Metro
  • STAGE TWO - Sunshine-Airport
    13.5 kms, with 9 kms of this electrification of esxisting track, let's run with the existing costings for this, say $2bn 
  • STAGE THREE - Ringwood-Airport
    45 kms, $13.5bn at Swiss rates, $22.5bn at Sydney Metro, $67.5bn at Melbourne Metro
  • STAGE FOUR - Doncaster-Braeside
    30 kms, $9bn at Swiss rates, $15bn at Sydney Metro, $45bn at Melbourne Metro
So at Swiss rates, the heavy rail projects would cost $34bn, at Sydney rates it's $55bn, and at Melbourne, it's an insane $162.5bn.

With Sydney Metro argued to have a Benefit-Cost Ratio (BCR) of 2.5, and Melbourne just 1.1, would it be possible to ever get a project of this scope to a positive BCR? That's obviously well beyond my humble capabilities to calculate. But it is obviously THE key question in whether this would have legs.

My argument is that the benefits of facilitating suburban CADs through this means is, provided it is predicated on a RADICAL re-working of the city's entire transport and employment patters, such a necessary enabling factor in allowing Melbourne to continue to grow sustainably at the rates that have been forecast, that I think one could mount an argument that costings towards the lower end of the scale WOULD have a positive BCR.

"Shut Up About Box Hill Already" - CADs prioritised

So putting all this together, I hope readers will discern that this is a SIGNIFICANTLY more comprehensive plan to enable the desired radical re-working of existing patterns than anything currently on the table.

Firstly, I believe it properly prioritises those CADs that have the GREATEST POTENTIAL in a way Plan Melbourne fails to do. Secondly, it addresses all the existing employment centers that Plan Melbourne ignores.

And I maintain that if we are SERIOUS about facilitating "twenty minute cities" that there are categorically not enough designated CADs within Plan Melbourne as it stands to facilitate this, as I believe the following table bears out.


Plan Wombat
Plan Melbourne
1 Ringwood A Activity Center
2 Monash/Clayton A Employment Cluster
3 Broadmeadows A Activity Center
4 Dandenong A Employment Cluster/Activity Center
5 Footscray A Activity Center
6 Heidelberg/West A within La Trobe Emerging Employment Cluster
7 La Trobe A Emerging Employment Cluster
8 Box Hill A Activity Center
9 Parkville A Emerging Employment Cluster
10 Airport/Kielor A Transport Gateway
11 Braeside B None
12 Campbellfield B None
13 Epping B Activity Center
14 Frankston B Activity Center
15 Knoxfield B None
16 Moorabbin B None
17 Narre Warren B Activity Center
18 Sunshine B Activity Center
19 Werribee B None
20 Glen Waverley B None
21 Springvale B None
22 Burnley C None
23 Camberwell C None
24 Caulfield C None
25 Ferntree Gully C None
26 Huntingdale C None
27 Oakleigh C None
28 Richmond C None
29 South Yarra C None
30 Springvale C None
31 Thomastown C None
32 Mordialloc C None
33 Murrumbeena C None
34 East Malvern C None
34 Chadstone C None



And we can see how vastly improved the catchments into the designated centers would be under Plan Wombat versus Plan Melbourne.


Ringwood is by FAR a better prospect for creating an effective mixed use CAD. It's shopping center is already larger and better integrated with the rail network than Box Hill's, and under the Wombat plan, it will have full FIVE RAIL CATCHMENTS radiating into it, as the below illustrates. You can clearly see how direct access lines into Ringwood would dominate the majority of the surrounding residential areas, and NONE of the other planned suburban CADs has quite this comprehensive a dominance of its immediate region.



But we can also clearly see that the plan facilitates a similarly sophisticated network into both Doncaster and Monash/Clayton. Just look at your transport options across the catchment NOW...



Under the wombat plan, BOTH the Craigieburn and Upfield lines become effective catchments into Broadmeadows and Campbellfield. Especially if the obvious job is done duplicating the top end of Upfield and re-connecting it to the Craigieburn Line. Completing the Epping - Wollert extension similarly extends the catchment for MOST of the designated Northern CADs. And if there's a train station in suburban Melbourne BETTER PRIMED in terms of the sheer volume of redevelopable land within coo-ee of it I'm not aware of it.


Again the point needs to be made that the airport region is presently Melbourne's largest employment center outside the CBD, and it is entirely unserviced by public transport. Unlike previous airport rail plans, I am proposing the creation of new commuter stations along the new extension through the Albion corridor, again because the entire point of Plan Wombat is primarily allowing WORKERS effective public transport options to their workplaces, catering for airport commuters would be a SECONDARY concern.

Over to YOU

So, of course people love to pick these things apart in intricate detail. And honestly I welcome that. Please take the time to comment, share, discuss, critique. I'm not sensitive. This isn't necessarily the only or even the best way to deliver on the objectives we're aiming at, but we certainly won't get to that point all sitting around in isolation. And so, over to YOU, dear reader ...

Thursday, 12 May 2016

A Fail of Two Cities - Public Transport and Employment Patterns in Melbourne and Sydney

Paramatta CBD - Jobs Powerhouse

The Victorian government recently announced a raft of initiatives designed to expedite the growth of Clayton - and particularly the zones around Monash University and the related medical and research facilities from 80,000 today to a target of 180,000 over the coming thirty years.
"Clayton used to be the site of the Volkswagen factory that then became the Nissan factory, which closed in the 1990s. Things have to change. We need to get better amenity for businesses and workers – offices, hotels and new road connections. We need basically great places to go and have a cup of coffee, a meal."
That's a direct quote from Peter Seamer, Chief Executive of the Metropolitan Planning Authority, the body charged which with overseeing the process. And my eyes are rolling back in my head already. Because there's something so glaringly obvious missing here that I probably need barely spell it out, certainly to anyone who knows my obsessions.

Let me paraphrase.

"We're planning for the most concentrated re-engineering of suburban jobs into an urban centre over a shorter timeframe than there is any precedent for in this city's entire history in a location that barely has a heavy rail service, has no light rail whatsoever, and whose many bus routes operate on third world service frequencies."

And the bloke in charge of steering the whole thing isn't even able to cite public transport as a particular need. We simply need "new road connections". Whose houses are you going to bulldoze to achieve that magic, Peter? Or do we just put new road lanes over existing footpaths?

The thesis behind today's post actually derived from a brief exchange I had with Peter over at Urban Melbourne. Wherein I put to him that Sydney has stupendously outpaced Melbourne in achieving a proper decentralisation of jobs and transport patterns into suburban activity centres, and in fact all Melbourne has done over the period of Sydney's success is announce glib headline phrases and statements of intent - "the twenty minute city", etc., all entirely unsupported by any real enabling policy.

But it doesn't need to be like this, and it's far from too late for us, but it DOES require an examination of what actually works in policy terms. And being the greatest Melbourne chauvanist alive, it yanks my chain like a ten pound gorilla to declare we need to turn to Tinseltown to learn our lessons. But that, folks is where we're headed ...

In Sydney, 80% of the city's jobs are located outside its traditional CBD. In Melbourne, this figure is 81.4%, essentially the same. In raw terms CBD employment numbers are also almost identical, it's basically 1.2 versus 1.1 million jobs respectively, according to the ABS.

However, for these suburban, ie non-CBD-based, jobs Sydney public transport has an 11.8% mode share against Melbourne's 6.3%. So in Sydney, fully 78,969 MORE people take public transport to suburban workplaces daily than do so in Melbourne.

And this is the measurable quantum of the benefit. Through facilitating CADs to a similar degree of success to Sydney, Melbourne could pull 80,000 commuters out of their cars daily.

Melbourne Employment Centers and Public Transport

Now, it's very difficult to ever be sure you're comparing apples with apples doing this sort of thing, in fact I've been unable to come across ANY studies that use the same methodology to assess the actual emplyment numbers in suburban centres in both cities, nor are there any detailed national studies.

Alan Davies has done the best effort in THIS exercise, which uses the agglomerated ABS regional employment data. But unfortunately while Alan gives us lots of brilliant graphical representations, he doesn't give us the raw numbers. We'll return to Alan shortly.

For the following tables, I've used the data from THIS excellent study into Sydney's employment patterns, and the majority of the figures for Melbourne come from Plan Melbourne, supported by a few other studies I've managed to dig up.

Melbourne Suburban Employment Centres with Approximate Job Numbers
and Plan Melbourne Designation

Dandenong+Sth55,000Employment Cluster/Activity Center
Clayton-Monash80,000Employment Cluster
Parkville28,000Emerging Employment Cluster
La Trobe23,500Emerging Employment Cluster
Melbourne Airport23,000Transport Gateway
Frankston14,500Activity Center
Sunshine13,800Activity Center
Box Hill13,500Activity Center
Heidelberg-Austin11,200within La Trobe Emerging Employment Cluster
Epping10,500Activity Center
Footscray8,000Activity Center
Narre Warren7,700Activity Center
East Werribee7,100None
Broadmeadows6,700Activity Center
Ringwood6,700Activity Center

Some quick commentary. It seems blindingly obvious that we have NO PLAN whatsoever to further accelerate the concentration of jobs in Campbellfield, Moorabbin, Knoxfield or Werribee. There's a tiny, cruel part of me that wants to suggest this is probably because Peter Seamer or someone like him doesn't think you can get a decent enough coffee there.

But the first TWO of those are already Melbourne's third and fourth largest employment centers, and we're supposed to be drawing on existing successes. It's of course easier to achieve policy goals that are already half obtained than brand new ones. These are STAGGERING omissions.

Using Alan Davies' data, this is how he sees Melbourne's suburban employment profile.

On my map, it all looks something like this. Red indicates the highest employment areas, yellow the middle rung, and white the lowest. The arrows indicate centers that are NOT specifically addressed by Plan Melbourne.

Overlaying the current heavy rail network (plus metro) on this map is particularly illustrative.

First of all, the gaps are obvious;
  • The massively employing airport region is entirely unserviced.
  • The network looks almost as if it were almost perversely designed to JUST miss the Monash, Moorabbin and Braeside employment centers.
  • Most of the Heidelberg employment cluster is a LONG way from the rail.
  • Anyone still alive and responsible for the effective termination of the Glen Waverley line right there deserves to be mown down by submachine gun. The workers of Knoxfield can pull the trigger.

Sydney Employment Centers and Public Transport

The equivalent picture up north looks very different. I am going to argue that, and dedicated Wombat followers will detect a soap box here, that it is specifically the less-radialised nature of the Sydney transport network which we will find to be a key factor in ensuring that every day in Sydney fully 80,000 fewer people shunt their personal petrol-powered tonne of metal across town to enable their workplace commute.

And Sydney also shows us that suburban light rail can be part of the solution.

Sydney's Suburban Employment Centers with Approximate Job Numbers
Airport Industrial Area65,000
Parramatta 40,000
Macquarie/North Ryde 35,900
North Sydney/Milsons Point 35,800
Crows Nest/St Leonards 38,000
Chatswood 21,700
Hornsby 14,900
Penrith 13,400
Liverpool 12,200
Bankstown 10,900
Campbelltown 10,800
Blacktown 10,400

A few quick comments on these. Firstly, I think that on an apples-apples basis, these numbers are probably underdone. Do half as many people really work in Paramatta than in Monash? Intuitively I'd say not.

And where Sydney's roll-call has five centers over thirty thousand, Melbourne has only two, albeit with five more just under that threshold.

A detailed look at transport patterns into these centers individually is illustrative. Of Melbourne's top seven, only Dandenong can lay claim to having anything resembling a CBD. In Sydney, ALL the centers listed above other than the airport CAN rightly make that claim, and Sydney's airport is directly serviced by heavy rail.

And this can be particularly well illustrated through a quick skyline comparison. Sydney's Top Four CADs appear as follows;


North Ryde

North Sydney
St Leonards

And let's just compare those to Melbourne's largest suburban skyline in Dandenong (Image courtesy Facey Real Estate).

The comparison actually almost seems cruel.

So while both cities house a  similar number of suburban jobs, the location of those workplaces in Melbourne's suburbs would seem to be significantly more dispersed, and in Sydney significantly more concentrated within specific activity centers.

Parramatta Calling
Parramatta is unquestionably the poster child for the provision of non-radial rail access to a suburban center anywhere in Australia.

You can make an efficient  and sensible trip to Paramatta without needing to go anywhere near Sydney CBD from all the way out at Emu Plains or Richmond, Carlingford, Epping, Leppington, Campbelltown, Macarthur or even Hornsby at a stretch.

Parramatta Effective Heavy Rail Catchment

For those whose Sydney geography is as challenged as mine, that's basically ALL of South-west Sydney, and MOST of the entirety of Western Sydney. When you factor in the rail corridor to the CBD, the effective residential catchment enabled by heavy rail is geographically MASSIVE.

And that's before we've tallied up the FIFTY bus routes that converge on Parramatta CBD, the TWO planned light rail routes, the train service to the Blue Mountains or the Ferry service from Circular Quay.

This PwC study for the Committee for Sydney suggests one other factor that may be at work here. Parramatta is almost smack bang in the middle of Sydney's residential "center of gravity" and very close to the employment and economic centers also. And the trends for all these are broadly TOWARDS Parramatta.

The PwC study also introduces another suggested success factor here - the direct connectivity of these economic centers, and so once again the less-radial, more networked nature of Sydney heavy rail seems to be a key enabler.

It is possible to travel by heavy rail between almost all the identified Sydney activity centers without the need to travel inwards, and wastefully towards the CBD. For the Melbourne list, the best you could do would be get to from Dandenong to Clayton station without traveling through the CBD.

Dandenong Calling
Dandenong of course looks very different, and it's also blisteringly obvious that it's the RADIAL nature of Melbourne's heavy rail network that's the governing factor here.

Dandenong Effective Heavy Rail Catchment

I could have added the Frankston line in here, but the Caulfield interchange is a LONG WAY - twelve stations from Dandenong. In contrast, the Strathfield interchange which gets you to Hornsby and Epping is only NINE stations from Parramatta.

So, it becomes pretty easy, at least based on this evidence to make the argument that "Paramatta's success as a suburban activity center is a direct function of the number of public transport linkages to the center - and most particularly of heavy rail linkages.

And from there, it becomes pretty obvious to this commentator. Melbourne won't replicate Sydney's success with CADs until it DE-RADIALISES ITS HEAVY RAIL NETWORK. End of story.

In Melbourne, the centers of gravity look VERY different. All three are trending strongly INWARDS towards the CBD, where in Sydney they trend away from the CBD and towards Parramatta. This is basically a result of the fact there's only ocean east of Sydney's CBD, where Melbourne's been free to radiate every direction except basically due South from its CBD.

And Melbourne knows the East is full, and the North and West are going to carry the motherlode of future development. So Melbourne is going to be FAR better positioned than Sydney to have its CBD take a higher proportion of its total employment mix, without reducing the potential employment catchment for those jobs.

The CBD should return to being Melbourne's economic center of gravity within the next twenty years. By which time Sydney's equivalent will be 30 kms to the west of its CBD.

So the second takeaway here should be that factors such as the employment, residential and business investment patterns within the macro urban area also map on to the micro. Of course it's easier to create a second CBD in a location where broader consolidation factors are already at work.

Planning to Succeed - Learning Sydney's Lessons

We seem to be getting this wrong. In Melbourne we seem to have failed at the most basic level to make adequate long-run or even short-run plans for suburban employment clusters.

In this city, we can't even agree what the designated activity centers ought to be, nor do we appear to be referencing existing successes in future planning. Anthony Albanese thinks Box Hill is the rolled gold best target for a Melbourne CAD. Absolutely nothing in the above analysis supports this.

Why does Plan Melbourne ignore Campbellfield, Moorabbin and Knoxfield, and prioritise areas that have SIGNIFICANTLY lower levels of current employment? It seems obvious to this observer that it ignores these areas because of lack of heavy rail access.

So this is all arse-up. Rather than starting with "Heavy rail is the key factor here, and we will need to allocate major future infrastructure spending in order to deliver optimal results", we seem to be stuck in "Heavy rail is the key factor here, but we don't have the stomach to put in the necessary investment to reconfigure the network, so instead of a SUCCESS FACTOR, we will treat heavy rail as a LIMITING factor and ignore all the people that are going to continue working for the forseeable future in Moorabbin and Knoxfield."

But has Sydney actually done much in policy terms to facilitate things, or have they instead benefited from a number of natural factors in their favour?

A complete history is a little beyond the scope of this meager blog. Suffice to say Melbourne has enacted very little actually in the way of concrete policy supporting CADs.

Sydney now has a statutory authority charged specifically with their faclitation. The NSW state government is actively promoting Parramatta as a "second CBD", and has provided a range of policy initiatives supporting this, including two major new light rail routes and the proposed relocation of the Powerhouse Museum.

In contrast, Melbourne's MPA is very tellingly NOT focussed on consolidation activities. Its responsibilities are broad enough that a large part of its focus is planning for greenfields suburban fringe residential, and the number of consolidation initiatives showcased on their website indicates what tiny fraction of their resources is actually dedicated to this.

And from the outset, their CEO has proven incapable of identifying the lack of heavy rail into a location where you want to add 100,000 jobs is even an issue.

So what would I do with it all? Something like this ...  

The Wombat Plan to Fast-Track CADs in Melbourne

  • The planning minister to have blanket power over all land around 500m from all railway stations in Metropolitan Melbourne.
  • Stations are graded for consolidation potential A,B,C, the latter being minimal change
  • A stations have their own Urban Consolidation Boards established
  • Boards are to develop and execute precinct masterplans in line with government targets for jobs, residential, etc
  • Boards to coordinate across the private and public sectors in implementation, possibly through PPPs
  • Funding is available for compulsory acquisitions as required
  • Some broader mechanism is required to incentivise Council planning to fall in lockstep with these objectives. Councils need to be particularly disincentivised from zoning commercial land, or indeed any medium or higher density zoning outside these areas
  • The objective is large-scale medium to high density mixed-use developments with employment, civic, recreational and residential components
  • A parallel objective is the consolidation of activity from surrounding peripheral areas towards a more CBD-like core.

And FINALLY ... and you all saw this coming ... we need to de-radialise our heavy rail network and invest in new networks that act on radial tragectories not from the CBD, but rather from the activity centers themselves.

Simple, eh? Well, not really. What might such networks look like? What might they cost? I'll look at this in some detail in my next post, and I'm aiming to have that with you in a few days so, keep watching the wombat-hole...