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Rail and the need for speed
This is fruit so low it couldn't hang any lower. It could almost be called windfall - there for the taking. It is so sweet that only the short-sighted could have ignored it. But that's what's about to happen when a temporary (and very good) reform to the tram network will be ditched on Sunday. Don't know what I'm talking about? It's about the streets that Tram Route 12 runs along in the CBD. If you said that Melbourne's tram network was pretty much stagnant you wouldn't be far wrong. Most alive today would either be old or dead by the time it becomes fully accessible if the current rate is maintained. That's how slow recent progress towards accessibility has been. Maximum waits are still 30 minutes on most routes, network extensions are as far off as ever and we haven't even seriously optimised what runs now. And as you'll read later even when something is good is done there's a risk of it being retracted rather than continued. In short, Melbourne's tram network, though carrying only slightly fewer passengers than our trains, has no visible direction, champion or leadership. This is not helped by politics since most elections are decided in seats beyond the tram tracks. Many knew who Sir Robert Risson was. Pretty much no one outside the industry can name the Department of Transport's secretary.Trams have not kept up with our changing CBD. Consider the need to serve the apartments going up in the northern parts of Spencer St. Or the fast growth of Southbank, Docklands and Southern Cross Station. These factors have made a tram network revision essential rather than desirable. Especially one that can be done for little additional operational cost. For example Spencer Street needs its own tram route. It's the only key street in the CBD without one. Sure trams run along most of it but they keep turning off it. So you can't get a simple tram up it like you can with other corridors. This affects connectivity to regional trains and Skybus at Southern Cross Station.
Another structural issue with the network is the inability to easily get from northern parts of the CBD to Southern Cross Station. This is despite Melbourne Central Station being nearby. This is only sometimes useful for such trips due to the varying directions of the City Loop over the day and over the week. The journey can be completed with two trams but apart from the extra transfer it adds congestion to the busiest part of tram routes on Swanston and Bourke St. Pedestrian connectivity across Spencer St to Southern Cross from Bourke St isn't great either.
A change to Tram Route 12, introduced as a COVID-19 emergency measure, brought Melbourne closer to the simpler more connected network we need. The change, as announced below, moved Route 12 from Collins St (which shares other tram routes) to the less served La Trobe St.
This temporary change had the following benefits:* Better access to the rapidly growing northern end of the CBD by boosting service along the historically poorly served La Trobe Street.* New travel options for Route 12 passengers, including the RMIT city campus and the western end of the CBD.* A simple continuous service along the full length of Spencer Street * Improved access to regional trains, regional coaches, and Skybus at Southern Cross Station from the northern part of the CBDThe benefits are so great that the revised Route 12 should have been made a permanent part of the network. Instead passengers saw the following advice on the PTV website.
Thus, in just two days, Tram 12 will have returned to Collins St and a very worthwhile network reform with long-term benefits will have ceased.
It would seem that with trams even the smallest and cheapest of changes are just 'too hard'. Even if implemented temporarily there appears a lack of sense to retain those that are of enduring value like this example. Part of 'coming back better' should be to retain the good things that were done under COVID to make them permanent.
PS: An index to all Useful Networks is here.This item was written by Peter Parker http://www.melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
This article first appeared on melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
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