Sunday, April 20, 2008

Rail to Doncaster

In The Age today is an opinion piece written by Graeme Davison. He rightly asserts that the Doncaster rail line should have been built 40 years ago when the area began to be heavily developed, but is against the building of a line because of the issues involved with tunnelling and the fact it would travel along the Eastern Freeway away from where the potential passengers live:

Yet, for more than half its length, a Doncaster railway would run through the Yarra Bend National Park and across the parkland and golf courses of the Yarra River flats. Golfers and bushwalkers might welcome it, but it would generate next to no commuter traffic. At North Balwyn (Burke Road), passengers would alight about half a kilometre from the nearest houses, while on the north side of Bulleen station, students from Marcellin College are about the only prospective customers. The line would cross Doncaster Road about 1.5 kilometres from the main transport and shopping hub, Shoppingtown. You would either have to tunnel several kilometres under Shoppingtown to East Doncaster, extend the Doncaster tramway to Shoppingtown or rely on feeder buses to reach a station on Doncaster Road.

Davison claims that the railway would travel mostly through parkland and would not create patronage. He seems to conveniently forget that the freeway runs through there too, and does not gain much in the way of traffic from those areas either.

Davison also asserts that you would need to tunnel for kilometres under Doncaster Shoppingtown to East Doncaster. I don't know where he has been for the last 40 years, but a vast amount of tunnelling has always been on the agenda in the Doncaster area. This is not a new thing, and in fact it will help bring the line closer to where the people are, something he uses against the building of the line in the same paragraph.

Davison goes on to claim that:

Transport research shows the reluctance of commuters to put up with bad connections. Any break in transport mode — say, from bus to train — creates frustration, especially if the scheduled service doesn't come. If the Doncaster rail requires a network of feeder buses, the passengers might as well stay aboard the existing express bus services and ride down the freeway along a dedicated lane all the way to the city. Maybe that's why the Eddington report hasn't opted for a Doncaster railway but for a major upgrade of the existing DART (Doncaster Area Rapid Transit) bus service. You may be asking: but don't buses run on polluting and fast-depleting oil? Yes, but although trains run on clean and abundant electricity, that power is generated from the most polluting of all fossil fuels, brown coal. It's only when trains and trams are full that they come out ahead of cars. Railways and trams wear a halo of environmental respectability that is only half-deserved.

To that I say that if the rail frequency and feeder bus frequency are sufficiently high then issues of missed connections will not be a problem. If the rail frequencies on this line were near metro levels (and I would expect the Doncaster line to be part of a segregated network than an extension of the current system) of a train every 5 minutes in peak and every 10 minutes in off peak. Have the feeder buses run every 10 minutes on main roads intersecting the rail line throughout the day, which means the longest connection in the peak would be about 5 minutes and at most 10 minutes off peak. Overall this would equate to an average waiting time for the whole journey of 7.5 minutes peak and 10 minutes off peak. If the connections are good (and by current Melbourne standards these are very good), people will use them.

He does make a good point with the fact that we get our electricity from brown coal. Cleaner and more sustainable energy sources are something that we need to work on. However that does not diminish the fact that all forms of public transport whether powered by electricity generated by burning brown coal, or by burning diesel fuel in a combustion engine, are more efficient at moving large amounts of people than cars are.

This paragraph confuses me though:

The Melbourne 2030 plan was based on the shaky assumption that increasing residential densities around the main public transport system would improve the viability of public transport. But even when density increased, residents often continued to drive their cars. Now there is a swing in the other direction, towards the equally erroneous belief that if you provide the transport, the residential patterns will change and the passengers will come. The Doncaster railway dream is a perfect illustration of that belief.

If anything Davison appears to be having a punt each way in this paragraph. What little development that has occurred under the auspices of Melbourne 2030 has been stymied by contrary government policies and local interests. I would argue that because of this densities have not increased that much in the Melbourne 2030 transit cities. The reason the few new residents continued to drive is exactly as he states, the public transport improvements were not forthcoming, and while they are slowly happening are not happening fast enough. The government is to blame for not having enough will to back up it's own strategies. If anything you only need to look to Perth for examples of where this sort of strategy has been implemented successfully with the Northern Suburbs rail line. In comparison a rail line to Doncaster should be child's play.

In his final paragraph Davison is spot on by stating that public transport needs to be constructed at the time of development, and should have been the case at Doncaster. He is also right that the there needs to be a rail service along Wellington Rd to Monash University and Rowville where there is also a high demand for such services, but there is demand in Doncaster as well.


sueglossy said...

That letter today certainly befuddled me. I had an inkling that the guy had an ulterior anti-rail motive - but because his spin was so goood, I was unable to pierce thought the rhetoric. Thanks for your enlightenment, Ben.

Ben said...

Yes I had to read the article a couple of times to work it out. I don't know for certain, but I think the fact that he has written a book called "Car Wars: How the Car Won Our Hearts and Conquered Our Cities" tells us a lot about his motives. I had a look at his webpage, which doesn't really go into much detail about his work. I find myself agreeing with him a lot of the time, it is just his reasoning that seems a bit misguided, leading him to what in my opinion are wrong conclusions.

I don't think my little rant is that good. I haven't tried anything like that since year 12. This article just got me a bit mad when I read it and I had to vent...

I edited the opening of this blog post slightly, because I can't back up the claim I made.

sueglossy said...

So I noticed, but it sounds like his one of this ideological types - wanting a 'hierarchy of transport networks'. Reminds me of some of the nuttier Railpagers I experienced when I was a littleun.

Whilst many profess to be pro-PT, some have hidden agendas. However, I think the most evidence-based and rational group in the sea of public transport policy debate is the PTUA. They have much substance, it seems.

Andrew said...

Well argued Ben. I read the article too and it left me feeling puzzled. I no longer feel puzzled. Just build it and learn from the mistake of not building it thirty years ago.

Nearly thirty years ago a friend used to sell tickets to waiting passengers queued in Russell Street to catch buses to Doncaster in the evening peak. He used to use some fast machine that you wound a handle on. I don't know what the loading is like now, but there used to be enough crowds on the Doncaster and Templestowe via Freeway buses to fill train carriages.

sueglossy said...

Question: How do you get that archive on your toolbar ( the one with categorical blog posts e.g. religion, transport etc)?

Good ideas coming out through here.