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The Stony Point line has been in the news lately with its upgrade the subject of local advocacy, proposals and reports. The interest is in electrifying its inner part so that more frequent electric trains extend to a rebuilt Langwarrin Station or Baxter.
Context and background
The desire to redevelop and revive Frankston's CBD appears to be a key driver of the project. Currently Frankston is in the position of being (i) a tired city centre whose traders complain about parking pressures, (ii) a rail terminus for Metro trains with a huge catchment, and (iii) a hub for numerous buses (and one train), spreading 30 or more km out, but often only hourly or less. Central Frankston, especially in the streets outside the Bayside shopping centre, is diverse but not in a fashionable or exotic way. People from other parts of Melbourne can freely make jokes about it (classism, unlike racism, is less challenged and can often pass as social commentary). A mix of reputation and vibe causes some middle class people to avoid Frankston in favour of classy Mornington, the villagey Mt Eliza, the more compact Karingal or even the autopic Power Centre. Frankston's Sunday market has long been in decline with COVID being the final nail in its coffin. Some main street shops have been empty for years, with too many graffitied roller doors abutting footpaths. Retail has really been struggling, with protracted roadworks and now COVID not helping. Yet Frankston remains a hub for government, business, technical education and social services. Along with a bit of nightlife and its role as a transport interchange. Its bay side location offers potential. And it's had some success with jobs when South-East Water built a big office tower on Nepean Hwy. Local hopes were raised when public transport in the Frankston and Mornington Peninsula area was considered a nationally significant priority by Infrastructure Australia (a fairly toothless federal agency with advisory power only). Transport, especially rail, advocacy has been one project of the Committee for Greater Frankston. Their thinking was that a rail extension could relieve parking pressure in Frankston CBD as commuters who currently park there could park further out, with CBD parking spots being freed for shoppers. Various proposalsThe 1969 Melbourne Transportation Plan proposed a massive freeway program and rail electrification to Mornington and Hastings (both via Baxter). The reverse happened, with rail closures in 1981. An electrified rail extension to Baxter was proposed in 1988's MetPlan. However the Cain/Kirner Labor government ran out of money within two years of MetPlan being released. Public transport infrastructure entered a lost decade (or more) and the electrification never happened. Government finances subsequently recovered despite some high-profile cost over-runs along the way. The Andrews Labor government spent everything it could on level crossing removals, including many on the Frankston line. It built new rail stabling near Kananook to replace what was at Carrum (and more). In some cases though the willingness to spend money exceeded the ability to get good outcomes. For example Frankston got an unsatisfactory rebuilt station and a clumsily narrowed Young St that even to this day is insufficient to accommodate all bus routes suitably near the trains. The federal government sometimes contributes to public transport infrastructure projects. It did under Rudd/Gillard, stopped under the road-obsessed Abbott but resumed under Turnbull (a public transport enthusiast) and Morrison (who had an election to win). Baxter electrification was talked up in federal Liberal circles since the area had two marginal seats (Dunkley and Flinders) that were considered marginal before the 2019 federal election. A favourable redistribution helped Labor win Dunkley, while Flinders remained with the unexpectedly re-elected Morrison government. The 2018 federal budget pledged $225 million for Baxter duplication and electrification with an effusive Herald Sun story presenting its construction as a certainty. The state government, on the other hand, has expressed no interest in Baxter since the Liberals' defeat in 2014. Their support is essential for the project to proceed (the federal government's $225m being insufficient). Last week its Department of Transport released a preliminary business case for Baxter electrification (hosted on the Committee for Greater Frankston website). DoT considered various options involving electrification, an upgraded diesel service and/or bus. The Department doesn't seem that interested in the project as they haven't updated their website item on Baxter electrification to reflect the report's release. None of the bus options were much good with the basic hourly service frequencies proposed being little better than what currently runs. Travel might be faster but waits would still be intolerable, with marginal benefits overall. A Stony point diesel train upgrade would offer more benefits but at higher cost. Particularly the 30 minute option would be too weak to greatly lessen the incentive to park at Frankston to avoid an extra wait and transfer. Electrification options (both Baxter and Langwarrin considered) diverted car parking but carried much higher costs. I should mention that benefit cost ratio statistics can convey the impression of objectivity and be used as a tool to shut down debate or limit options 'because the numbers say so'. But in practice it can be massaged to reach a desired conclusion by underestimating costs and adding so-called 'wider benefits' (if you want the project to happen) or 'gold plating' with unnecessary scope additions that inflate costs (if you wish to quietly kill it). Then there's the discount rate. That's basically a figure that reflects the time value of money. Due to assumed continued inflation $1000 cash now is worth more than $1000 in the future. There's also relativities against returns from other types of investment. Changing the discount rate can greatly affect the calculated economic viability of a project. A higher rate makes projects (especially big long term projects) harder to justify while a lower rate makes previously unviable project stack up (even though nothing about the project itself changes). Some people like the Grattan Institute says that the 7% discount rate commonly used is too high and we need to rethink it. On the other hand, just two days ago, Grattan also said that transport megaprojects were often poor value and prone to cost over-runs. These should be a last rather than a first resort, Grattan said. Getting back to Baxter electrification, none of the options had a favourable benefit / cost ratio. Though some might regard the 7% discount rate as being high and the project's scope including aspects not strictly necessary (eg grade separations). And the poor bus options presented dealt that out of serious consideration. Last week the Committee for Greater Frankston criticised the State Government's negative view towards the project with it labelling the business case as 'Orwellian'.My own 18-point multimodal network plan for the Frankston area was described back in March. While detailed analysis has not been done this is likely to be relatively more cost-effective than some of the options that the Department of Transport considered. So much for future plans that may or may not happen. What's there now? There's basically two main trunk public transport corridors on the Peninsula. These are the 788 bus on the Rosebud side and the Stony Point train line on the Hastings side. That's today's topic. The Stony Point lineThe Stony Point service is a curious little line, running as an isolated diesel operation from Frankston connecting there to electric trains. It's a rare survivor since all other branch lines were replaced by buses. Stony Point actually met that fate in 1981 but had service restored in 1984. It serves suburban density areas including near Monash University (Leawarra), Baxter and Somerville. From there development becomes more scattered with the major centre, about half way down the line, being Hastings. The end of the line at Stony Point comprises little more than a caravan park, a general store, boat ramps and the departure point for the ferry to French and Phillip Islands. It's the only diesel service run by Metro Trains, using Sprinter trains from V/Line. The oddity of its operation makes it one of the first places you'd likely take a visiting interstate or international railfan. Stations along the way attract varying usage. For example Tyabb is the area's main antique centre while Crib Point attracts usage from the nearby HMAS Cerberus base. Morradoo, meanwhile, is a cemetry. There was a station at Langwarrin but that got closed in 1981. The surrounding road geometry was not favourable to good access from nearby houses and shops (including Karingal Shopping Centre). Just before the 2014 state election the Liberal government got PTV to hold a public drop-in session to discuss location options for a rebuilt Langwarrin Station. However the Napthine government lost power and the proposal got nowhere. TimetableThe timetables are below. Services are infrequent. If you trace the timetable you can see it is done with one or two trains (depending on day and time). From many locations the 782/783 buses, which run roughly parallel to the line offer a more frequent service.
Services are irregularly spaced. Intervals are roughly 40 to 120 minutes, though it looks like that bunching has been done to try to coincide with peak times on weekdays. Operating hours vary by day. An oddity is the early finish, especially from Frankston, on Monday to Thursday nights. The early finish, especially when combined with delays that can happen on the electric service, means that people in the city need to leave work only a little after 5pm to catch the last train to Stony Point. In contrast weekend services have their last train an hour later. Fridays have the latest finish of all with the last departure at 9:40pm. Weekend services are roughly every two hours. Saturday has an extra trip and an earlier start though times for Saturday and Sunday are otherwise not necessarily identical. The Stony Point line's low frequency make a timetable essential. There would be many times when it's faster to catch the bus. Also where the trains are replaced by buses times can be unpredictable, though there have been occasions where the substitute bus has been much more frequent than the train. As for connectivity to the French Island ferry at Stony Point you can see what I wrote back in 2010 here. Since then the ferry has had some trips added. Careful comparison of timetables for both ferry and train is essential to avoid long waits. This is particularly where substitute buses are running. ConclusionWhat are your thoughts on the Stony Point train? Should sections be duplicated to allow a higher frequency? Is electrification all or part of the way appropriate? Does there need to be a new or relocated station nearer the hospitals at Frankston? Or has it outlived its usefulness, as was thought in 1981? Please leave comments below. Index to all Timetable Tuesday itemsThis item was written by Peter Parker http://www.melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
This article first appeared on melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
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