Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Altona Loop Community Meeting 29 Mar 2011

Date: 29 Mar 2011
Time: 7.30 p.m.
Venue: Altona RSL Function Room

Who are present:
  • Andrew Lezala, Metro CEO
  • Brad Voss, Metro
  • Norman Gray, Deputy Director of Public Transport
  • Hugh Millichip, Senior Transport Planner from Department of Transport
  • Colleen Hartland (Greens), MLC for Western Metropolitan Region
  • Jill Hennessy (Labour), State MP for Altona
  • Wade Noonan (Labour), State MP for Williamstown
  • Cr Tony Briffa (Independent), Deputy Mayor of Hobsons Bay City Council
  • Cr Bill Tehan (Labour), Councillor for Spotswood Ward
  • Cr Luba Grigorovitch (Labour), Councillor for Altona Meadows Ward
  • Reporters from the mass media
  • The Altona Community

  • Bernie Finn (Liberal), MLC for Western Metropolitan Region
  • Cr Michael Raffoul (Labour), Mayor of Hobsons Bay City Council

Send queries and suggestions to:

Send letters and petitions to the people, as listed on Cr Tony Briffa's webpage. Scroll down to the bottom of his webpage for email addresses and contact details of the people who can influence the outcome of the planned timetable changes.

Next Meeting
  • Date: Thursday 7 Apr 2011
  • Time: 7.30 p.m.
  • Venue: Louis Joel Arts & Community Centre

Due to overwhelming turnout for the first meeting at the Louis Joel Arts & Community Centre, the second meeting was held at the much larger function room at Altona RSL. But this was still packed to the full capacity, with people continuously streaming into the venue.

Altona Loop Meeting A

Like the first meeting, the Transport Minister Terry Mulder and the two Liberal MPs Bernie Finn and Andrew Elsbury did not attend, with the Transport Minister citing a prior engagement (Ref 1). The Community Meeting is however honoured to have the presence of Metro CEO, Andrew Lezala and the Deputy Director of Public Transport, Norman Gray as the pivotal guests.

As this Meeting is organized by the Greens, Deputy Mayor Tony Briffa said that the Hobsons Bay City Council had invited the Transport Minister to its own, non-partisan meeting but has so far not received any reply from the Minister. Tony Briffa emphasized that Hobsons Bay City Council had opposed the change, contrary to what the Minister had told Hobsons Bay Weekly: "I understand that both Metro and the Department of Transport have been out and spoken with all the councils in the western suburbs and councils are very happy with the level of service that they're going to be provided under the new timetable." (Ref 2)

The Meeting started with Andrew Lezala presenting data to illustrate the size and complexity of the Melbourne train network, explaining the need to change the timetables and untangle the network by removing crisscrossing of trains. The Altona Loop was made the sacrificial lamb because it makes up only 1% of the passenger volume in Melbourne's metropolitan network. These so-called Greenfield timetables will be implemented in 4 stages:
  • Cross-city services affecting Werribee, Williamstown, Frankston lines (May 2011)
  • Northern group of lines with Sunbury electrification (End of 2011)
  • Clifton Hill and Burnley groups with extension to South Morang (2012 ??)
  • Cross-city services, affecting?? (Date ??)

Metro CEO Andrew Lezala

He was interrupted several times by commotions from the audience. The moderator Janet Rice had to step in to ask the audience to allow him to complete his presentation.

The next part of the Meeting is to allow the audience to ask questions seeking clarifications on the changes. I could not follow the train of thoughts as there were simply too many questions being raised. There was a person taking the minutes so you will be able to read the details from Colleen Hartland's webpage.

These are the few information that I can recollect:
  • Morning peak hours are from 7.30-8.30 am, with shoulder peak hours up to 9 am.
  • Peak hour trains run from Laverton through Altona Loop, stopping all stations to Flinders Street. There are no more Express trains for Altona passengers. Andrew Lezala called this an improved service as the train starts from Laverton instead of Werribee so there will be more seats on the train for Altona passengers. But I will rather reach my destination earlier.
  • 7 minutes to wait for connecting Werribee Train at Newport during non-peak hours.
  • A man who had studied the new timetable pointed out that passengers travelling from Werribee will have to wait 20 minutes at Laverton to connect the Altona Loop Shuttle, in order to get to Altona during peak hours.
  • The single track sections in Hurstbridge Line and from Cranbourne to Dandenong will be duplicated in priority. Then hopefully, the Altona Loop will be considered for duplication.
You can download a copy of Metro's new timetable here. You should study how the new timetable would affect you, email Sandra Wilson your concerns and suggestions who will then consolidate all the concerns from the Community and use these as the basis for taking further actions.

What I feel is that the Metro CEO's replies barely satisfy the audience. When pressed on how the new timetable would benefit Altona, he could only keep reiterating that the new timetable would bring about improved service reliability and punctuality, that it is limited to the off-peak hours and that it will benefit the Melbourne's train network as a whole. The audience will like the discussion to be focused on Altona train services rather than other parts of Melbourne. An old lady in the first front row aptly summed up the sentiment by saying that Altona residents have been neglected for 50 years and when the service is just starting to show improvements, the community is once again punished for the betterment of other parts of Melbourne. Another lady struck a chord with the audience by recounting how she was told by the Metro customer officer to travel to and forth between Newport and Laverton without getting anywhere near to home, when all trains decided to run express and skip the Altona Loop to make up for lost time. This inequity needs to be redressed.

Here is a video showing the proceedings of the meeting.

The last part of the meeting is to inform the audience of what the Committee and various MPs had been doing (such as petitions) as well as to get suggestions from the audience of how to proceed. At this stage, the Metro CEO and the Deputy Director of Public Transport left the venue.

The following suggestions were raised (I cannot recall all):

1. Andrew Lezala said that Metro had conducted a survey that finds out 82.9% of Werribee passenger prefers direct service to Flinders Street and not through the City Loop. This forms the basis of taking the Werribee Services completely out of the City Loop during peak and non-peak hours. The audience was skeptical of this finding. Andrew also said that Williamstown had more passengers compared to the Altona Loop, which justifies the decision to transfer the shuttle train service from Williamstown to the Altona Loop. Again, the audience was not convinced. Someone suggested conducting an independent analysis to ascertain these two justifications.

2. People who normally travel just outside the peak hours e.g. after 9 am will be forced to schedule their travel in peak hours. This will result in crowding during peak hours, with prams and handicapped persons taking more time to board trains, thereby contributing to decreased train reliability and delays during peak hours. This will impact on Metro's performance and Andrew Lezala's promise that Altona passengers will enjoy improved train reliability and punctuality.

3. If the train is late or you miss the connecting trains due to delay, make complaints to Metro and the Transport Ombudsman. If every Altona passenger makes it a point to lodge a complaint for every single delay, then Metro will have to come up with even more manpower and financial resources to handle these complaints.

4. Request documents from Metro and the Transport Department on why Altona is singled out. Challenge the research done by Metro - ask for details and sample size.

5. Post-mortem after one month of implementing the timetable to validate the improved reliability and punctuality, as promised by the Metro CEO.

6. Examine the new timetable for irregularities and loopholes to see why gaps are not filled up with more train services. Propose an alternative, improved timetable.

7. Engage other organizations within the community. Look at discrimination against certain groups, such as the disabled.

8. Segregate the petitions into groups, such as the handicapped, students, local traders, working people, senior citizens, people and tourists from other suburbs, etc.

9. Explore legal action. Look into the franchise agreement/contract between the Victorian Government and Metro.

10. Involve the Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who is an Altona resident. Frankly speaking, I think this will not work as she will be seen as interfering with state affairs. The most she can do is to put her signature on a petition letter, in the capacity as an Altona resident.

11. Everyone wearing the same coloured clothes, taking a train excursion to the City, changing trains at Newport and North Melbourne and having a picnics (demonstration) in front of Parliament House.

12. Altona, Seaholme and Westona passengers all go to Flinders Street Station without paying - hurt the pockets of Metro. I think Metro and the mass media should be given prior notice that this is a form of protest, otherwise Altona commuters will end up paying fines without achieving any objective and limelight.

13. Grab the media attention. When Bairnsdale Station was to be closed, the locals sat on the tracks for days, finally winning over.

I will add to this post if I recall more.

Monday, March 28, 2011

ALERT: Altona Loop community protest 8:30am 29th (tomorrow!)

Forwarding this urgent message from Colleen Hartland.

Metro released the new train timetable this afternoon (Monday). The timetable is even worse than we thought. It contains significant cuts to the Altona Loop train services.

We're taking immmediate action with a community protest and press conference tomorrow morning (Tuesday!)

WHEN: 8:30am Tuesday 29th March
WHERE: Altona Station, cnr Pier and Railway St, Altona.

All local residents and supporters are encouraged to attend.

The impacts of proposed changes include:
  • A journey from Altona to the city, which currently takes 30 minutes on one train, will take up to 50 minutes under the new timetable and may require three separate trains
  • A journey from Altona to the Mercy Hospital (Hoppers Crossing station) which now takes 13 minutes on one train, will more than double under the new timetable taking up to 31 minutes and require travelling on two trains
  • We've lost direct access to the city loop
  • We've lost express trains
  • We've lost direct trains to the Werribee Line
  • Reduced frequency from 20 mins to 22 minutes in peak period
  • A train "shuttle" during off-peak periods instead of direct trains
You can find more information on the Altona Loop train cuts and the community campaign by clicking here.

REMINDER: The Altona Loop community meeting is 7:30pm Tuesday 29th March (tomorrow night!) at Altona RSL Function Room. Come and get invovled in community action on the proposed Altona Loop train cuts.

Kind Regards

Colleen Hartland

p.s. Don't forget to send an email to the pollies and Metro.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Altona Loop Campaign Newsletter 22 Mar 2011

I have just returned to Melbourne from a trip to Sydney so this newsletter from Colleen Hartland will be a bit too late for forwarding as two of the fliers' handouts are scheduled today and yesterday. The newsletter's content is as follows:

The Altona-Seaholme community has been working hard to ensure the next Altona Loop community meeting, and the whole campaign, is a great success.

The next Altona Loop Community Meeting is 7:30pm Tuesday 29th March at the Altona RSL Function Room, 31 Sargood Street Altona. The meeting had to be moved to a much bigger venue to accommodate the large numbers expected. The first public meeting was about informing the public, and this meeting is about taking action. Make sure you are there!

Again, the Minister has been invited to attend, answer questions and hear your concerns. This week I'll be standing up in Parliament insisting he accept this invitation from the community and attend the meeting.

If you have just a few spare hours you can help.

1. This Thursday 24th, Friday 25th and Monday 28th of March, during morning and afternoon peak travel time, we want to have a group of people at each of the Altona Loop stations handing out fliers for the community meeting. It's a great and easy way to reach many people.

2. You can do a letterbox drop in your street or your neighbourhood. We can arrange getting fliers to you, or you are welcome to drop by and pick them up.

3. You can put up posters. Noticeboards, cafe's and shops are good places to put up posters. We can arrange getting the posters to you, or you are welcome to drop by and pick them up.

4. Tell your friends! Word of mouth is a very effective tool - simply forward this email. If you can help out please contact Adele in my office on or phone 9689 6373. You can find more information on the campaign by clicking here.

I hope to see you at the Altona Loop community meeting 7:30pm Tuesday 29th March.

Kind Regards
Colleen Hartland

p.s. Don't forget to send an email to the pollies and Metro

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Altona Beach Festival 2011

This Altona Beach Festival, organized by Hobsons Bay City Council, will be held from Friday 18 Mar to Sunday 20 Mar 2011, with the main activities on Saturday 19 Mar from 10 am to 10 pm. The theme is Sky, Sea, Community, which will be featured in the Twilight Parade along the Esplanade. This will be the most important day in the Altona's calendar of activities. Unfortunately I will be in Canberra on that day and hence, will be unable to attend this highly-anticipated event. If anyone can take some photos and videos and provide some stories of the event, I will then be able compile them into a post for sharing. If you are interested, please email me at

The following table and Google Map show the details and locations of the various activities respectively. Further details, updates and Logan Reserve Stage Program are available on Cr Tony Briffa's page.

7 pm launch
Qenos Art Show, run by Hobsons Bay Arts SocietyLouis Joel Arts &
Community Centre
, 5 Sargood St, Altona
Other dates
2 & 7.30pm

Old Father Time and the Magic Pendulum Pantomine, run by Altona City TheatreAltona City Theatre, 115 Civic Pde, Altona
18/03/20117.15pmAltona Primary School Swimming CarnivalBayfit Leisure Centre, 257 Mason St, Altona North
18/03/20117.30-10.30pmA Psychic Supper, presented by Australian Paranormal Investigations & Altona Laverton Historical SocietyAltona Homestead, 128 Queen Street, Altona
19/03/201110amOfficial opening by Cr Tony Briffa with RAAF flyover to commemorate centenary of flight in Altona.Logan Reserve
19/03/201110am-4pmStage Program

Altona Village Traders Association activities:
  • sand art & sticky stuff
  • kite making workshops
  • roving balloon artists & balloon art workshops at 11am & 2pm
  • giant bubble making
  • 3D foam picture making
Drama workshops , presented by Dramawerkx

Dancing workshops (3.30-4pm), presented by Jen Sue Dancers

Hands on hands made (
newspaper hats, biscuit faces, play doh, parachutes, boats, planes, invisible ink, science with magnets) presented by Louis Joel Arts & Community Centre.

Face Painting presented by Bendigo Bank

Origamy workshop from Anjo Friendship Alliance

Libraries on Location:

  • storytelling 10.30am
  • paper plane making 10am–1.30pm
  • paper plane races 11.30am, 12.30pm & 1.30pm
Food stalls & information/activities booths from various organizations.
Logan Reserve
19/03/201111am-3pmHistoric double-decker bus tours of Altona, by Bendigo Bank & Altona Laverton Historical SocietyCarpark across Altona Library
19/03/20111pmSpaghetti eating competition, run by Numero Uno. Registrations before 12.30 pm.Numero Uno Pizza Parlour, 20 Pier St, Altona
19/03/201110am-3pmVAVAvroom Pinups Volkswagen Beach Party, run by Volkswagen Club of Victoria & VAVAvroom PinUps.

Music (Radio Volkswagen) & photo shoots commence at 10.15am & catwalk by VAVAvroom PinUps at 11.30am.
The Esplanade, Altona
19/03/201110am-4pmJumping castle and giant slide.
Vintage police cars from Victoria Police Museum
The Esplanade, Altona
19/03/201110am-10pmCraft MarketWeaver Reserve, Pier Street
19/03/201110am-4pmBlokes Stuff
  • model trains
  • woodworking demonstrations
  • chess
  • Laverton Cooking Group
  • Altona’s Kings of the Kitchen, Altona U3A
  • Around Altona
Senior Citizens Centre
19/03/201110am-4pmClassic Car & Bike Show, run by Hobsons Bay Men's Shed, exhibiting vintage and classic cars, hot rods and motor bikes.Apex Park (from Queen St, west of Maidstone St)
Altona Homestead Open Day
Devonshire Tea
Altona Homestead, 128 Queen Street, Altona
19/03/201112 noon official openingUnder the Sea exhibitionLouis Joel Arts & Community Centre
19/03/20115.30pmTwilight Parade
(participating groups include Hobsons Bay Men’s Shed, Altona Life Saving Club, Hobsons Bay Arts Society, Altona Scouts, Altona Dog Obedience School, the local SES, Vintage Police Cars, Altona Junior Football Club and St Mary’s Primary School)
Along Esplanade from Ransom Reserve to Logan Reserve
19/03/2011After 6pmLive music and stallsLogan Reserve
19/03/20119.45pmFireworksAltona Beach

Print a copy of the above programme.

Click a placemark on the Google Map below to view details of an activity. Use the zoom in (+) and zoom out (-) buttons to enlarge/reduce the map. Drag the map around or use the navigation buttons (up, down, left, right arrows) to move around and close up on any particular area. Click the link below the map if you want to view a larger map. The route of the Twilight Parade is indicated by the blue line along the Esplanade, from Ransom Reserve to Logan Reserve.

View Altona Beach Festival 2011 in a larger map

Earthquake Appeals 2011

The Australian Red Cross has launched an appeal to help the victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

Here is the site for the Japan and Pacific Disaster Appeal 2011:

There is also an appeal launched by Save the Children Australia:

Australian Red Cross had launched an earlier appeal to help the victims of the New Zealand earthquake:

Friday, March 11, 2011

Altona Loop Campaign Newsletter 11 Mar 2011

Forwarding a newsletter from Colleen Hartland:

Tell your friends about the campaign by clicking here.

The next Altona Loop Community Meeting is 7:30pm Tuesday 29th March at the Altona RSL Function Room, 31 Sargood Street Altona.

The community is justifiably outraged at the proposal to cut Altona Loop services in 5 ways. The government can and should reject this proposal outright.

The aim of the campaign is to send a clear message to the government that the community needs public transport improvements, not cuts.

There are a number of ways that you can Take Action to make this campaign a success!

Go to the Altona Loop webpage where you can send an email to the Minister, MPs and Metro; download and print the petition; tell your friends about the campaign and share it on Facebook.

The community has already demonstrated its strength and determination. The first Communtiy Meeting on 3 March was a great success with over 250 people overflowing from the Altona Louis Joel centre. You can see photos on Colleen's Facebook and download a summary of the meeting here. The next meeting is 7:30pm 29th March at the Altona RSL.

The proposed new train timetable will cut services to the Altona Loop in the following ways:

1. The Altona Loop will lose direct access to the city loop;
2. The Altona Loop will lose all of its express trains;
3. Services will be reduced from 20 to 22-minute intervals during peak periods;
4. Outside peak periods the service will be reduced to a train shuttle from Laverton to Newport so most passengers will have to change trains;
5. The Altona Loop will lose direct access to the Werribee line (all trains start and finish at Laverton).

The government must work to deliver public transport improvements, not cuts.

I stood up in Parliament and called on the Minister to reject the proposed train service cuts and instead deliver public transport improvements. This government makes the final decision on the train timetable and has the power to say it is not good enough to cut the Altona loop service in five ways. Together, this is what we must convince the government to do.

Community strength and action has saved the Altona Loop in the past, and we're going to do it again!

Colleen Hartland

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Altona Bypass

A report from The Age today has confirmed the inconvenience and compromised service that Altona passengers have been experiencing. Read the entire article here. I will just quote those sentences that mention the Altona Loop.

Figures provided to The Age show there were 9343 ''short services'' (trains that did not complete a full scheduled service) and loop bypasses in the city and at Altona in 2010 - but only 1766 cancellations recorded for the incidents.

Public Transport Minister Terry Mulder said he was concerned by the number of trains bypassing stations. ''I have been concerned for more than a year about the number of Werribee line trains that are suddenly bypassing Seaholme, Altona and Westona stations,'' he said.

Metro spokesman Chris Whitefield said services were sometimes diverted to run express (and not via the City or Westona loop) or were cancelled during a scheduled journey (short service) to avoid causing congestion or knock-on delays and disruptions for passengers.

I like what Daniel Bowen from the Public Transport Users Association has said: ''As far as the passenger is concerned, the train is cancelled if it doesn't arrive. Clearly, if you are standing on the station and the train has bypassed that station and you can end up waiting 20 minutes for the next one, that has a big impact on delaying your journey and overcrowding the next service.''

Former public transport minister Martin Pakula when asked by reporters, said he had raised with Metro, constituents' concerns that trains were bypassing stations in the western suburbs. He said: "I let Metro know in my brief tenure as minister that I didn't think it was on and they certainly undertook to me that it was a practice they were going to minimise. Certainly, in their discussions with me, their primary motivation was that if the trains were running behind time it was a way of making up time." (Ref 1)

Chris Whitefield said a short service was considered as contributing to 25% of a cancelled service and a bypass accounts for 12.5% (Ref 1).

Gathering from what were revealed to the mass media, I do not think that the proposed running of the Altona Loop as a shuttle service is motivated by the need to accommodate more services. Firstly, there is no increase in services for the Werribee and Williamstown Lines under the proposed changes, with trains running every 22 instead of 20 minutes. Any increase in train services only occurs in the eastern suburbs. An immediate effect of shunting off the Altona Loop from the Werribee Line is that there will no longer be any bypass of the Altona Loop during non-peak hours. As a a bypass still contributes to 12.5% of a cancellation, the punctuality and performance targets of the train operator will be improved just by this change, even if there is no real improvement in services.

Secondly, there are several single-track sections in other parts of the train network. In those sections, there are no alternative tracks so the trains have no choice but to go through it. The operator is forced to make negotiating those single-track sections work. This is a different story with the Altona Loop. There is a separate set of tracks north of residential Altona that run directly between Newport and Laverton. The train operator will be tempted to use these separate tracks whenever trains run late, as it presents an easy way of making up for lost time and improving the statistics.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Venice in a Day

Altona used to suffer frequent flooding from waters coming from Cherry Lake and Truganina Swamp. In January 1963, a large part of Altona was flooded. On 29 January 1963, water came down Kororoit Creek like a tidal wave in the morning. Nellie Street (old name of Civic Parade) was flooded to 4 feet and houses were inundated with 3 feet of water. Five streets between Nellie Street and the beach were flooded, affecting 400 homes. The floodwaters spread to adjoining Seaholme in the afternoon but receded by 5 p.m.
1963 Flooding
The Sun newspapers article provided by Mancini Real Estate

The Board of Works (now Melbourne Water) had subsequently constructed levee banks at Cherry Lake and Truganina Swamp to protect residential areas from flooding.

Due to La NiƱa and Cyclone Yasi, Melbourne had a very wet summer this year. On Friday 4th February this year, torrential rains lashed Melbourne, with the south eastern suburbs such as Lyndhurst, Narre Warren and Dandenong being the worst hit (Ref 1, 2, 3). From my home in Altona, I could hear heavy rains outside pouring through the night. I learnt that there were blackouts in most parts of Altona and Altona Meadows on that day. Fortunately, our power supply was not affected, having seen the lights flickered only twice. The next morning, my wife jested to me that our street was submerged in water. Though the street remained wet, there was no sign of flooding. However, when I was looking at Youtube videos recently, I discovered that people had uploaded videos of flooding in Altona, which appeared really pretty serious.

Below is a video, in which the author described Civic Parade as Civic River.

Video by clairefilms

Below are a few videos showing that flooding in Altona Meadows was equally bad. Click on the video thumbnails to view the video. When I showed my wife these Youtube videos, she was pretty amazed too. She recalled that when she brought the kids to Altona Library for Rhymetime, she noticed one part of the libary was cordoned off and there was some sort of stale smell. Probably, the floodwater had entered the library.

Video by Dragonus1979

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Altona Loop Campaign

A community meeting was hosted by Greens MLC Colleen Hartland at the Louis Joel Centre on 3 March 2011, 7.30-9 pm to discuss the proposed train service changes affecting the Altona Loop and to come up with strategies for dealing with the problem. I wish to emphasize the word "proposed" as this is not set in stone so it is possible to turn round the proposals if the Community works hard against it. The turnout was so overwhelming that those who arrived later could not enter the venue due to lack of standing space and Colleen had promised to hold the next meeting in a larger venue.

The Guest Speaker is Dr. John Stone, a transport expert from Melbourne University. All the upper and lower house MPs in the region had been invited to attend this meeting. The Green members and one local Labour member had turned up. The two Liberal MPs did not attend. The Public Transport Minister and Metro replied that they were not coming for the meeting.

Dr. Stone started off by saying it is unusual that of the invited speakers, he was the only one to attend and give a presentation. Metro or the Public Transport Minister should be the authority explaining the changes to the residents. In other countries, the Transport Authority would be sitting down with the end-users to see how their concerns can be addressed. Here the authorities decide to stay away from the people most affected and announce the changes through the media. He himself too learnt about the timetable change indirectly from the Herald Sun, which were skimpy and devoid of details. In fact, the audience had later asked many questions in which Metro or the Transport Department will be best suited to answer. I hope Metro and the Transport Department would attend future community meetings to clarify the doubts the residents have. After all, the residents have the right to know what will be affecting them in a democratic, consultative society.

There were many questions and concerns from the audience. Some issues raised include:

1. Metro had told Dr. Stone that the number of train services will remain the same under the change. A lady questioned how could this be possible if trains run every 22 minutes instead of 20 minutes. 2 minutes is a small difference for a single journey but can turn out to be quite significant if this is multiplied by the number of journeys each week. Correspondingly, the number of weekly services will have to be reduced if the train frequency is to be lowered. Dr. Stone replied that Metro had told him the trains will run every 22 minutes during peak hours and every 20 minutes during non-peak hours, which is really strange as you will be expecting more frequent services during peak hours. I guess the cut in train services to the western suburbs is used to feed in more services to lines such as Sandringham, where trains will run every 8 minutes instead of the current 10-11 minutes, under the new timetable (Ref 1, 2). It is hard to qualify the change as an improvement if increased services in some parts of the network are achieved at the expense of service deterioration in other parts.

2. Dr. Stone learnt from Metro the waiting time to connect trains at Newport or Laverton will be about 5 minutes. However, a RMIT student in the audience pointed out that one cannot rely on this information. Werribee passengers getting off at City Loop stations were told that their journey time would increase by 8 minutes when Werribee trains ran direct to Flinders Street during peak hours. However, he found out that his journey time increased by 20 minutes.

3. Dr. Stone was also told that all Laverton trains through Altona will stop all stations, including South Kensington, to the City during peak hours. The current express services that run from Newport to Footscray, then to North Melbourne or vice-versa during peak hours will no longer run. This means that Altona passengers will face a longer journey during peak hours and the need to change trains at Newport during non-peak hours.

4. A man asked if the Transport Minister Terry Mulder is legally bound by the contract with Metro to accept the timetable changes, as mentioned in the newspapers (Ref 3). Dr. Stone replied that as the Transport Minister, he has the authority to decide whether to accept and reject the proposed changes from Metro and not be dictated by whatever changes the train operator has recommended.

5. Another man asked if it was the single tracks in the Altona Loop that led to the decision to run the loop as a shuttle service. Dr. Stone replied that there are single track sections in several other parts of the network and these have not been an issue. It is a matter of coordinating the signalling before and after the single track sections. Likewise, if the signalling at Newport and Laverton are managed well, there would be no problem.

6. In replying to a question if the transferring of the train shuttle service from Williamstown to Altona would make the system more efficient, Dr. Stone said this would not make any difference.

7. A number of people in the audience were concerned about the definition of peak and non-peak hours, that is, precisely at what times each day will the shuttle train start plying the Altona Loop? This is because work patterns have changed, with different people going to work and knocking off at different times. Hence, the peak hours should correspondingly be lengthened to accommodate the variations.

8. A lady said that her daughter with disability problems encounter difficulty boarding packed trains at Seaholme during peak hours. So her daughter makes use of non-peak hours to board a single train from Seaholme to Melbourne Central. Under the new system, she will have to change train at Newport and again at North Melbourne, taking 3 trains in total to reach her destination. This change will force her to give up her independence as the journey will be too arduous to negotiate. She will like to know whether the Transport Department has taken into consideration the needs and welfare of these people.

9. Another lady said that she often has to work late and take night trains home. With the change, she will have to wait at Newport Station for the connecting train. She is very worried about security at Newport Station as she has heard that it is not safe there at night. The audience will like to know whether there will be enhanced security at the connecting stations.

10. There are many tourists coming to Altona Beach by train during non-peak hours. The traders are concerned how this change would affect the local economy and what inconvenience it would bring to tourists from other suburbs? This taking away of train services is working in reverse to the efforts of Hobsons Bay City Council in rebranding the Altona Station to Altona Beach Station so as to improve the image of Altona and to attract more tourists to Altona.

11. Some Altona residents will drive to Laverton or Newport to take the direct trains there. Will the authority be building more carparking spaces at Laverton and Newport to handle the increase in demand? Doesn't this defeat the purpose of having 3 train stations in Altona and encouraging people to use more public transport rather than cars?

12. There are quite a number of students who travel from Altona to Victoria University in Footscray during off-peak hours. The short travelling time may be considerably lengthened under the change and students will spend unproductive time travelling rather than studying.

13. A lady heard from somebody working in Metro that the Altona Loop will eventually be duplicated and that the Altona shuttle train will be made permanent to run during both peak and non-peak hours. This is something that needs to be verified from Metro.

14. A man had asked whether the rumour that Westona will be converted to a Zone 2 station is true. Dr. Stone said he has no knowledge of this happening.

15. A lady asked about when good bus-train connectivity is going to happen. Dr Stone said that this question was posed before the train operation was privatized. The answer given was that somehow this would happen as the various heads were sitting next to each other in a meeting. After the privatization when people were no longer sitting together, he had a student who did a project by going to the various transport authorities and asked who was coordinating the bus-train connectivity. Everyone answered it was someone else who was responsible.

16. Dr. Stone was asked about his personal opinions of the timetable change. He felt this is a lazy way of scheduling more services as there are other much better ways to achieve the same outcome.

I may have missed out some issues raised or there may be some lapses/inaccuracies in the issues raised. You can probably get more details from the following sites:

A man said that there are many politicians at the meeting. With their political experience, what would be the best approach to tackle the problem. The reply is to apply political pressure to bring out the desired outcome and the following strategies have been suggested at the meeting:
  • When the Greens and Labour said they would work together on this issue through a bipartisan approach, this drew loud applause from the audience.
  • Exercising pressure on the 2 Liberal MPs.
  • Complaints will be made to Metro so that a request can be made to the Transport Ombudsman to investigate.
  • Sending petitions to the various authorities and MPs.
  • A demonstration was suggested. When an old lady said she would not take off her top, like the taxi drivers, the audience broke into laughter. Colleen followed on, saying she would not too but she would not object to anyone planning to do so. A lady interjected that this would be good for attracting attention, particularly from the mass media.
  • Asking mass media to cover this campaign so as to increase publicity and awareness of this issue. A reporter from the local newspapers was present at the meeting.
  • A blog ( has been set up to provide updates on the campaign. A Facebook page is also suggested to connect with people.
  • There will be a committee driving this campaign and further community meetings will be held.

In the worst scenario that despite all the petitions and the authorities still refuse to budge, we should still bargain for a less painful deal for Altona. Dr. Stone said that in situations where passengers are adversely affected, there should be compensatory measures to make up for the inconvenience caused. I feel that it will not be asking too much to request for the following in return:

1. Promise that the Altona shuttle service will not be extended to peak hours.

2. Extend the peak hour span for Werribee trains running through the Altona Loop to accommodate variations in work patterns.

3. An Altona shuttle train should be given priority to enter Newport or Laverton Station in preference to the scheduled connecting Werribee train so that passengers on a late-running Altona shuttle train will not miss the connecting Werribee trains to continue their journey.

4. Assurance that the waiting time to connect trains at Newport or Laverton will be short.

5. Promise that peak hour services through Altona will not be converted to express services skipping the Altona Loop, in the event of train delays and cancellations.

6. People do not need to hurry to work during weekends so it does not really make sense to turn the Altona Loop into a shuttle during weekends. Werribee trains should run through Altona during weekends so that people from other western suburbs can easily come to Altona Beach for recreation and there is less impact on the local traders. A lot of tourists also visit the Altona Beach Market on Tuesdays. It will be great to make Tuesday a shuttle-free day, which is good for tourists, local traders and the suburb vibrancy.

7. Have direct service through Altona during late nights. Imagine that you are so tired after a full day work and you still have to wait for a shuttle at Newport, worrying about your security while you are waiting.

8. Have somebody collect the statistics after the change has been implemented (like what is still being done to the shuttle bus 401 between North Melbourne station and Melbourne University). These statistics may include the waiting time to connect trains, average journey time from Altona to the City (pre and post-change), Altona passengers not able to board a packed Werribee train at Newport, etc. The statistics should be publicly viewable.

9. A study conducted to see if turning the Altona Loop into a shuttle service has improved service reliability, quality and quantity. If it has not made a difference or has resulted in service deterioration, then the arrangement should be reversed. I do not know of any study that has been undertaken to see if taking Werribee trains out of the City Loop did really "untangle" the system and result in improved system efficiency and reliability. A lot of propositions may be just myths that require validations so it is important to be more evidence-based, transparent and accountable.

One phrase deeply imprinted on my mind was that said by Colleen Hartland: "Do not give up hope. You deserve a decent service." (roughly what she means, may not be the exact rendition)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Melbourne versus Singapore Train Network

Originally from Singapore and taking train everyday, I find it inevitable to compare the train systems between Singapore and Melbourne. I decide to do some web-based research and tabulations. When you read this post, I will like to remind you the differences between Melbourne and Singapore. Both Melbourne and Singapore are cities but Singapore is also a country. Unlike Melbourne, Singapore does not need to compete for federal funding to carry out major projects. Melbourne is a geographically large city with a much lower population density than Singapore, which means that it requires much longer rail tracks and a larger number of train stations to support a more thinly-spreadout population. In highly-urbanized Singapore, there is always a large number of commuters using any train station at any time. This is not the case in Melbourne. Lastly, it is much easier for the Singapore Government to implement any large-scale project or policy, even if it is not popular. Singaporeans are much less vocal than Australians. There are many interest groups in Australia, that will not hesitate to object and hamper any project that is not in their favour. It may be quite challenging to obtain consensus and in the end, either too much is compromised or nothing moves.

Table 1: Comparison between Melbourne and Singapore Train Network
Data obtained from Wikipedia (Melbourne, Singapore)

First rail line operated in18541987
ModelCommuter RailRapid Transit
Train Operator(s)Metro Trains MelbourneSMRT & SBS Transit
Annual Passenger Trips213.9 million (2008-2009)712.48 million (2009)
Operating Hours5am-midnight5.30-1 am
Train Frequencies9-40 min (Ref 1)3-8 min
Current No. of Lines164 MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) Lines
& 3 LRT (Light Rail Transit) Lines
Length of Electrified Lines372 km129.7 km MRT & 28.8 km LRT
278 km by 2020 (Ref 2)
No. of Train Stations200108
Last Completed LineGlen Waverley Line
in 1930 (Ref 3
Circle Line
Stage 3 opened on 28/5/09.
Stage 1 & 2 opened on 17/4/2010.
Stage 4 & 5 scheduled to open in 2011
Planned LinesRegional Rail Link
Melbourne Metro
(Both have unknown status)
Downtown Line (under construction)
Thomson Line (To complete in 2018)
Eastern Region Line (To open
in 2020)

You can see from the above table that Melbourne has a much larger system, with 372 km of electrified lines and 200 train stations. Singapore currently has 138 km of rail lines which will be doubled to 278 km by 2020 (Ref 4, 5). Based on the information from Wikipedia, Melbourne's system is said to be based on the Commuter Rail Model while I presume Singapore's system uses the Rapid Transit Model. I am not completely sure of the differences between the two models. According to my understanding, the Commuter Rail Model focuses on travel between a city centre and outer suburbs, with tickets usually priced by zones that are determined by the distance from the city centre. The economic activities of Melbourne are largely concentrated in the CBD while Singapore does have several regional centres that support substantial level of employment and which help to spread out the passenger volume away from the CBD.

Compared to rapid transit, commuter rail serves lower density areas and often shares the same tracks as intercity or freight trains. There are fewer stations spaced further apart. The trains run at lower frequency on a schedule, with more services during peak hours. Some services operate only during peak hours. There may be express services which skip some stations in order to run faster. In Singapore, trains do not follow a fixed timetable, stop every station and run every 3-8 minutes.

The transport industry in Melbourne has been talking much about the concept of Metro, which was explained by Andrew Lezala, the chief executive of Melbourne train operator Metro as follows: ''passengers will not really need to understand the timetable. They can turn up and know that within X minutes they will get a train and that those trains will run reliably to time, generally stop at most stations and have a high capacity.'' Among the 30 most populous cities in the developed world, only six are without metro-style services and these include Melbourne, Sydney, Dallas, Houston, Detroit and Phoenix (Ref 6).

Map 1 and 2 below show the train networks in Melbourne and Singapore respectively.

Click on the map below to enlarge it. Click another time to return to this page.
Melbourne Train Network Map
Map 1: Melbourne Train Network by John Shadbolt

As shown by the above map, the Melbourne train network is a radial one, with the lines radiating from the City Loop. In Singapore, the North-South Line NSL (red) and East-West Line EWL (green) were the first lines to be built in 1987. During that period, the NSL ended at Yio Chu Kang Station in the north while the EWL branched north to Choa Chu Kang Station from Jurong East Station near its western end. Yio Chu Kang was joined to Choa Chu Kang in 1996 to complete a loop in what is called the Woodlands Extension, which added 6 more stations in between. It is interesting to learn that the timing of this extension may be due to political considerations (Ref 7). It was accorded a higher priority compared to the more densely-populated northeast area that had 2 opposition MPs. It was also revealed a decade after the extension was built that the Malaysian government would agree moving its train station away from its CBD location in Singapore only if the MRT line is extended to Woodlands (Ref 8). The Northeast Line NEL (purple) was added to the network in 2003, followed by the Circle Line CCL (yellow) in 2009. The NEL was among the first fully-automated heavy rail lines in the world. Both the NEL and CCL had construction and budget problems (Ref 9, 10).

The Circle Line allows for trans-orbital travel and connects the lines radiating out of the city centre, thereby allowing passengers to bypass downtown stations, reducing congestion there and cutting down on commuting time. In Melbourne, if you wish to get from Broadmeadows to Epping by train alone, you have to first travel to the City Loop despite the short direct distance between the two stations. It will be more convenient for you to take a bus or drive. Melbourne did have an Inner Circle Line, an Outer Circle Line as well as other interconnecting lines but these were closed, dismantled and replaced by shuttle bus services, due to low usage and building of new lines. What Melbourne has now are just radial lines. Some lines were modified. For example, the St Kilda Line and Port Melbourne Line were converted to run tram services.

Click here to see a larger map
Singapore Train Network Map
Map 2: Singapore Train Network embedded from SMRT Website

Table 1 and 2 below show the numbers for the various lines and projects in Singapore and Melbourne. I am not able to find from the internet the figures for the earlier lines in Melbourne. The costs are not adjusted to present values, for factoring in inflation.

Table 2: Train Lines in Singapore
LineLine LengthNo. of StationsCostOperational Date
North South Line (NSL)44 km25S17/11/1987
NSL: Woodland Extension16 km6S$1.2 bil10/02/1996
NSL: Marina Pier Station Extension 1 km1$357.5 mil2014
East West Line (EWL)49.2 km35S212/12/1987
EWL: Dover Station added
1S$55 mil18/10/2001
EWL: Changi Airport Extension6 km2S$750 mil8/02/2002
EWL: Boon Lay Extension (BLE)3.8 km2S$436 mil28/02/2009
EWL: Tuas West Extension8 km4S$3.5 bil2016
EWL: Tuas South Extension6 km2?2025
North East Line (NEL)20 km16S$4.6 bil20/06/2003
Circle Line (CCL)35.7 km31S$10 billion28/05/09 (Stage 3)
17/04/10 (Stage 1, 2)
2011 (Stage 4, 5)
2012 (Marina Bay Extension)
Downtown Line (DTL)42 km34S$12 bil2013 (Stage 1)
2015 (Stage 2)
2017 (Stage 3)
Thomson Line (TSL)30 km23S32018
Eastern Region Line (ERL)21 km12S42020
Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link1.5km
S1+S2 = S$5 billion
S3+S4 = S$20 billion

As you can see from the above table, it took S$5 billion to construct two major lines NSL and EWL in the 80s. This has ballooned to S$20 billion required for the shorter Thomson and Eastern Region lines, whose constructions are to commence soon. Part of the cost increase can be accounted probably by more underground train stations and tunnels in the new lines. But I guess the majority of the cost increase is due to labour, materials and inflation. One reason why Melbourne is able to have such a vast network is because the majority of the tracks and stations were built when everything was cheaper. S$5 billion was considered a huge sum of money when the Singapore government decided to take the plunge into building a train system rather than a bus system to serve the island state. This is considered a value investment from today's perspective and has laid the foundation for justifying building the later lines. Any delay in essential rail expansion would only result in increasingly costly bills.

The Singapore Government has committed S$60 billion over the next 10 years on improvements to the rail network to ease congestion (Ref 11). There are 4 new lines (CCL, DTL, TSL and ERL) in various stages of construction and planning. By 2020, there will be a train station every 400m or within 5 minutes' walk in the city. Its network density will increase from 31km per million residents today to 51km per million, surpassing what Hong Kong and Tokyo has today (Ref 12, 13, 14). The network length will be doubled from the current 138km to 278km of tracks in 2020, capable of carrying 3 times as many journeys, rising from today's 1.4 million a day to 4.6 million (Ref 15).

The announcement of the Thomson and Eastern Region Lines' routes took analysts by surprise, for the Thomson Line runs from Woodlands to Marina Bay, very similiar to the NSL and the Eastern Region Line mirrors the eastern portion of the EWL. Assistant Professor Terence Fan of the Singapore Management University pointed out that such a radical solution of having closely-running parallel lines to solve congestion problems are not without precedents for they can be seen in New York, London and Hong Kong (Ref 16).

Singapore has reached an agreement with Malaysia to extend the Thomson Line into Johor, connecting Singapore to Tanjung Puteri, which is near the Johor end of the Causeway. This link which is called the Rapid Transit System (RTS), should be up and running by 2018, as agreed by the Singapore-Malaysia Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia (Ref 17, 18, 19, 20, 21).

Table 3: Train Projects in Melbourne
Line/StationsLine LengthNo. of StationsCostOperational Date
Broadmeadows to Cragieburn
Rail Electrification
10 km
A$115 mil30/09/2007
Cranbourne Station Upgrade

A$37 mil2009
North Melbourne Station Upgrade

A$39 milNov-09
Laverton Rail Upgrade1 km
A$92.6 mil2010
Second Track between Clifton Hill &
Westgarth on Hurstbridge Line
750 m
A$52 mil2010
Coolaroo Station added to Craigieburn Line
1A$36 mil6/06/2010
Westall Rail Upgrade Project
1A$153 mil2011
Lynbrook Station on Cranbourne Line
Cardinia Rd Station on Pakenham Line
Williams Landing Station on Werribee Line
Caroline Springs Station on Melton Line
Sunbury Line Electrification

A$270 mil2012
Extension from Epping to South Morang3.5 km1A$650 mil2013
Regional Rail Link47 km8 (2 new)A$5.18 bilLate 2014
Melbourne Metro17 km8 (5 new)A$4.5 bil (Stage 1)2018 (Stage 1)
M1+M2+M3+M4=A$220 million

In Melbourne, only Parliament, Melbourne Central and Flagstaff stations are underground. The rest are at ground or near ground level. In contrast, only a few Singapore train stations are at ground level. Singapore train stations and tracks are mostly either underground or high above ground, supported on pillars. You will need to take an escalator or elevator to reach the platforms from the concourse. Most Melbourne stations are pretty bare, comprising of open-air platforms, a small roofed area for pedestrians and perhaps an office and toilets. Rains are frequent and heavy in Singapore. Hence, all Singapore stations are fully-covered and all MRT stations are manned and have faregates, escalators, elevators, ticketing machines, CCTVs, LED and plasma displays, payphones, toilets and an air-conditioned passenger service room (Ref 22). Most stations have ATMs and automated self-service kiosks for a myriad of services as well as commercial spaces set aside for supermarkets, convenience stores, etc. On account of its complexity, structure and function, a Singapore train station would require far more materials and labour to build compared to a typical Melbourne station.

The Regional Rail Link and Melbourne Metro, which were the flagship transport projects of the Brumby Government, may now be scaled down, deferred or dumped, due to cost blowouts and possible reduced funding from the Federal Government (Ref 23, 24, 25, 26). There is a popular Melbourne's advice that one should not buy a house based on the promise (even if it is official) that rail and train station will be built to serve the area. Here is a long list of proposals for new rail lines, extensions and electrification to existing lines and new stations on existing lines, that have been put forwards by various groups. Some of these plans were so seriously considered that they had appeared in the Melway street directory and on suburban train destination rolls. A classic example is the Doncaster Line, which has been on and off the radar since 1890. The Eastern Railway Construction Act, together with the route, was passed by the State Parliament in December 1971 but without completion date. The State Government had set aside land for the railway, with a brief construction work at the Victoria Park end of the line from 1974 to 1975 but had subsequently sold the reserved land (Ref 27). The Victorian Liberal Party had said in its 2010 election promise that it will commit $6.5m to undertake another study to develop a route for building the Doncaster Line (Ref 28).

One major difference between Australia and Singapore is that once the Singapore government announces a project, you can be assured that the project will proceed and be completed. The Melbourne rail network had expanded rapidly during its early years but had stagnated in inertia in recent times. I would say that the future of rail developments in Melbourne is not rosy.