Archive for the ‘Melbourne’ Category

A summary of The State of Australian Cities 2011 – part 1

October 21, 2011

On October 20, the Major Cities Unit of the Department of Infrastructure and Transport released a report called The State of Australian Cities 2011, which is a follow-on from the report with the same name released in 2010. It highlights some interesting growth and migration trends between Australia’s 18 major cities – defined as urban areas containing over 100000 people.

For those who don’t want to trawl through over 250 pages worth of reading, here are some of the interesting comparisons within the report.

How large are Australia’s biggest cities?

Australia has five major cities with populations of over 1 million people. They are Sydney (4.58 million), Melbourne (4.08 million), Brisbane (2.04 million), Perth (1.7 million) and Adelaide (1.2 million).

Other cities with over half a million people include the Gold Coast region and Newcastle. Australia’s biggest capital city – Sydney – has over 35 times as many people as Australia’s smallest capital city – Darwin.

Which cities are growing fastest?

The answer may surprise a few people. The fastest growing city in Australia in terms of people added is Melbourne, which added over 600000 in the decade to 2010. This compares with 450000 people added in Sydney.

In terms of growth rate, Perth is the fastest growing major city with an annual population growth of 2.2% per year in the same decade. Brisbane is the next fastest growing at 1.9% while Adelaide has a lower growth rate at 1.3%.

The four largest cities in Australia – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth – accounted for over 60% of the population growth in the decade, which highlights how important the major cities to Australia’s prosperity.

How far people live from the CBDs

Sydney has relatively even proportions of its population living at various distances from its CBD with many people living over 50 km from the heart of Sydney. Melbourne on the other hand has greater proportions of its population living in the more middle distance areas (5-30km away) and fewer living closer or further away. The trend observed in Melbourne is even more pronounced in Perth, where greater proportions live 5-30km from the Perth CBD and very few live more than 50 kilometres away.

Where the growth is occurring within the cities

In most Australian cities, the majority of the population growth has been accommodated on the urban fringes of our cities with greenfield development dominating the numbers in most places – Sydney being the notable exception.

Sydney has a greater proportion of its population accommodated within its existing urban footprint, with 20.5% moving to Sydney’s inner suburbs compared with 12.2% and 13% in Melbourne and Perth respectively. All of Australia’s five major cities have noted significant population growth near their city centres coming off a low base. This is a reversal of a trend that took place in the 1950s and 1960s that saw once high population numbers near the city centres fall as residents moved out into the suburbs – when the Great Australian Dream was well and truly alive.

In each of the three cities mentioned above, the outer suburbs still saw the majority of the population growth, with Melbourne and Perth have higher proportions of population growth in these areas than Sydney. This is reflected in some of the publicly discussed issues in each city, with Sydney media commonly referring to overcrowding in the city while Melbourne media often talk about Melbourne’s out of control urban sprawl.

Migration to and from the cities

Although Sydney is growing, there are more interstate and intrastate departures from Sydney than there are arrivals. Some suspect high property prices and congestion in Australia’s biggest city is driving people away. However, Sydney isn’t the only place with these problems and yet the same pattern of departures and arrivals is not observed in other states.

So how is Sydney growing then? The departures are more than made up by the number of international migrants moving to Sydney, with most international arrivals occurring through Sydney and Melbourne. Between 2001 and 2006, Sydney had 243000 departures with 366000 arrivals.

What’s interesting to note is where many migrants move when they arrive. Many international migrants eventually leave Sydney and Melbourne, bound for the third and fourth biggest cities where there are plentiful employment prospects – Brisbane and Perth.

To be continued


Speeding up commuter rail services without providing excess capacity

July 15, 2011

With increasing passenger numbers using the commuter rail networks in Australia’s major cities, a great deal of attention has been aimed at providing upgraded and new infrastructure to cope with the increasing stress on the networks – particularly in Melbourne and Sydney.

In many cases the new infrastructure is necessary and the investment is well justified. But in many cases all the new investment does is exacerbate an existing problem elsewhere on the network, or create a lot of spare capacity in the process. This is certainly true of the rail networks in Australia’s metropolitan areas.

Think of your typical suburban railway corridor that runs through most Australian cities – two tracks, one serving trains travelling in each direction. Most lines that fit this description are in Melbourne, but can be found in every one of Australia’s five major cities. Some of these lines are very long and become very crowded near the city end of the line during peak hours.

No one wants to be sitting on a crowded train from the city to reach their outer suburban terminus destination that stops at every station along the way. But with only one track serving trains in each direction, how else can the services be run?

Many of these longer lines in Australia run a mix of slower and faster services. However, with limitations posed by having only two tracks there is a tradeoff between the speed of the services and the frequency of the services provided. More faster services means a larger required gap between services to prevent faster services becoming stuck behind slower services – as there is no way for services to overtake each other.

A typical solution used to allow for more services and express services to overtake slow all station services has been to upgrade corridors to three or four tracks and dedicating one or more tracks to the express services. The four track setup with a slow and fast track in each direction can be found on the East Hills Line in Sydney between Wolli Creek and Kingsgrove. The less common three track setup is found on the Belgrave and Lilydale Line corridor between Burnley and Box Hill in Melbourne, with one track serving trains in a certain direction according to time of day.

The four track setup used on the East Hills Line in Sydney (left), and the three track setup used on the Lilydale Line in Melbourne (right).

While the above solutions certainly allow express trains to overtake slower trains on the longer lines, is building long sections of duplication of existing track necessarily the best way to deal with this issue? In the East Hills Line situation, where the line was converted from two tracks to four at the turn of the millennium, the capacity of the corridor is effectively doubled. Suddenly, there’s a whole lot of spare capacity on the network while junctions further along the corridor at Glenfield and Wolli Creek continue to restrict it! By international standards, almost none of Australia’s commuter rail lines run what can be classified as “frequent services” which is a train at least once every 10 minutes during the day. Even in Australia’s largest city, the trains certainly don’t run that frequently.

So how else can commuter rail services be sped up without providing long sections of duplicated line that can require large numbers of compulsory property acquisitions, new bridges and tunnels, rail and other associated electrical and civil works? My inspiration comes from how the Japanese run their trains. The western rail corridor between Redfern and Strathfield out of Sydney has six tracks and carries over half a million people daily. The Hanwa Line out of Tennoji terminal in Osaka’s southern suburbs moves almost as many people with only two tracks, runs trains every few minutes all day long and still runs a variety of faster and slower services. How?

Efficient track layout and infrastructure usage.

Traditionally, passing loops have been used on the long distance freight lines operated by the ARTC to allow trains to pass trains travelling in the opposite direction. But in Japan, they are sometimes used to allow trains travelling in the same direction to pass other services. And the location that this is technique is most often implemented is at stations.

An example of a passing loop used at a suburban train station.

There’s a number of additional benefits from operating services in this manner other than allowing for a mix of fast and slow services. It makes for much more efficient use of the existing infrastructure. It also allows cross platform interchange for passengers to transfer between faster and slower services. This gives opportunities for passengers travelling to and from minor stations served by only slow services to change to a faster service at a major station (where the passing loops could be installed) instead of wasting time on a slow service for the entire trip. It also reduces the potential disruption that would otherwise occur for a track duplication.

One place where this could be implemented is along Adelaide’s Gawler and (newly extended) Seaford Lines. These two lines are Adelaide’s longest and busiest rail corridors, with many stations and a variety of train services. With proposed peak hour frequencies as often as every 7 minutes during peak hour on the Seaford Line when it is commissioned, and more frequently between Ascot Park and Goodwood where the tracks are shared with the Tonsley Line, something will need to be done to the rail corridor to make this frequency sustainable. And with the corridor hemmed in by homes for much of its length, I believe that implementing passing loops at a number of stations will help the situation.

Is this passing loop solution always better than the duplication alternative? Absolutely not. By allowing trains to run more often on existing tracks, there is the potential to create long delays at railway crossings and there are still capacity restrictions posed by having only two tracks. To make it work properly, the trains have to run on schedule otherwise any delays will create knock-on delays across other sections of the network. Running longer trains or duplicating corridors can still be better choices than implementing passing loops.

Does Grenfell Street need to become an urban oasis?

April 2, 2011

On Tuesday evening, Adelaide Thinker in Residence Fred Hansen held a conference at the Adelaide Town Hall about improving transportation and its integration with land use. One of the key recommendations from his lecture was to convert Grenfell Street into a transit mall, allowing only bus traffic and widening the footpaths to improve pedestrian movements along the street.

Grenfell Street as it is today with vehicular traffic and an artists impression of Fred Hansen's plan. (Source: AdelaideNow)

This recommendation in itself is a great one to ponder about, considering that Grenfell Street is one of Adelaide’s most important streets for bus movements. More than 30 bus routes use Grenfell Street during peak hours, and the combination of buses pulling in and out combined with private vehicle use makes for a lot of conflicting movements and congestion. To allow the buses to move through the city with minimal delay would be a big boost to encouraging city commuters to go by bus instead of by car.

What’s missing from Fred Hansen’s suggestion though is that altering Grenfell Street won’t just affect traffic on Grenfell Street itself, but will force a major shift in the traffic movement patterns in the central business district. What has not been mentioned or clearly thought about are the following:

  • How will delivery vehicles continue to access loading docks such as at Harris Scarfe (which is currently being rebuilt)?
  • What will happen to the car parks that currently rely on Grenfell Street for access?
  • Is closing Grenfell Street to all but public transport the only way of improving street quality and pedestrian accessibility?
  • How will Pirie Street and Gawler Place need to be altered to account for changes on Grenfell Street?
  • How will the public transport system need to change to make converting Grenfell Street to a transit mall feasible?

I have a few extras to add to Fred Hansen’s suggestion based on the points I have just mentioned. During the 1990s, Swanston Street in central Melbourne was closed to regular traffic except trams. It has successfully made its transition from auto-alley to a user friendly street in a short period of time. However, there are times of the day when it is opened up for delivery vehicles to allow goods to be delivered. This could also be done on Grenfell Street to allow some key retailers such as Harris Scarfe and Harvey Norman to maintain their access to goods and keep the retailers happy rather than creating a blanket ban on all vehicles that aren’t public transport.

Adelaide City Council’s Grenfell Street car park is a key component that cannot be overlooked. Access will need to be maintained either through the section of Grenfell Street leading to Hindmarsh Square or via the laneways to Pirie Street. Either that, or it would need to be closed, an option that probably would not make the council happy considering the issues it faced over the use of the car park when the redevelopment of Harris Scarfe was announced.

Brisbane has a very different solution to Melbourne with a similar issue of improving pedestrian and vehicle movements along Queen Street in its central business district. Instead of maintaining the street only to pedestrians and public transport as Melbourne did with Swanston Street, Brisbane has constructed tunnels under Queen Street for buses as part of a greater plan to provide busways around inner Brisbane. This is a more expensive solution than Melbourne’s solution, but one worth thinking about when you consider that it completely removes all vehicular transport movements at street level leaving extra space for more activity on the street itself. In Adelaide’s case, tunnels could potentially form part of an underground extension to the O-Bahn at Gilberton, as the majority of the bus routes along Grenfell Street also use to O-Bahn.

There was also a few extra components suggested by Fred Hansen to upgrading Grenfell Street that seem inappropriate or out of place. The one that really got to me was the suggestion of cafes and alfresco dining along the footpaths on Grenfell Street. As nice as it sounds, Grenfell Street has never struck me as the right place for this type of function on a large scale. Sure, a few here and there is great for those who work in the area and adds diversity to the street, but Grenfell Street is not a major dining strip like Gouger Street, nor is it a cultural strip like North Terrace. Grenfell Street is part of the commercial and financial heart of Adelaide. You only need to look up to see this. If we really want to make the most of upgrading Grenfell Street, then I would say that the laneways connecting into Grenfell Street would be better places to encourage restaurants, cafes and bars. This would also complement activity in the adjacent Rundle Mall area, but I won’t delve into this in this post. Besides, who wants to be enjoying a coffee next to the sound of buses thundering by?

That doesn’t necessarily have to be the case though where small cafes already exist. Some appropriate placement of benches, plants and scrubs and possibly interesting sculptures along widened footpaths could create some great gathering spots to encourage social interaction outside of the office buildings instead of providing the footpaths simply as the means of keeping people moving. Simply widening the footpaths with little regard to their use beyond pedestrian movement runs the risk of leaving the street dead outside working hours. A few shops and cafes would assist in preventing this situation from occurring, but they should not be the main focus on Grenfell Street.

There’s plenty of factors that need to be considered in upgrading Grenfell Street, some of them conflicting, but any design scheme would need to consider the bigger picture on its impact on the surrounding area rather than only on Grenfell Street itself. Keeping Grenfell Street open only to public transport is one option, but there are other plausible options that need to be considered as well.

I thought I ordered standard brakes and air conditioners with my new trains and trams…

March 15, 2011

In our modern day and age where technology advances as quickly as the bullet train flies, you would think that working brakes and functional air conditioning systems would be the norm on any new vehicles being delivered on our public transport systems.

Not so.

As Australia’s public transport systems and associated infrastructure undergo their biggest investment in many decades, the largest number of new trains and trams have entered service in the past decade than in any decade previously. With more vehicles entering service, it seems that an increasing number of them have technical difficulties or faults. Sydney’s Millennium trains were plagued with electrical and mechanical difficulties for several years following their introduction in 2002. Melbourne’s Siemens trains, also delivered in 2002, continue to have braking problems while Adelaide’s Flexity trams (2006) have inadequate air conditioning systems.

Sydney's energy thirsty Millennium trains.

Siemens train overshoots the end of the line at Sandringham, Melbourne. (Source: Herald Sun)

Getting quality trams on Australia’s light rail systems has been an issue since we stopped manufacturing trams after World War II. All of the new trams operating in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney are European built, and have been built to European standards rather than Australian standards as a result. Adelaide’s Flexity trams are built with the same air conditioning systems as those built for Frankfurt, which has a colder and milder climate than Adelaide does, clearly not the same operating conditions!

It seems that Australia has lost its ability to manufacture rail vehicles of a decent standard.

Actually, that’s not completely true. The Millennium trains were manufactured in Australia. They function properly now, but only after many years of causing frustration to Sydney commuters. The narrow gauge systems in Brisbane and Perth are supplied by mostly trouble-free trains built in Maryborough, Queensland. However, the notorious Siemens trains were manufactured in Austria while the Flexity trams were built as a piggyback order along with new trams in Frankfurt, Germany which have the exact same design specifications. The issue relates more to the lack of proper due diligence in the design of the vehicles rather than poor quality construction. Of course, when politics comes into the picture getting brand new glamorous looking vehicles on to the system as quickly as possible takes precedence over getting the important basics in the vehicle design right.

The other problem is that the quality of Australia’s rail infrastructure is still substandard due to the lack of proper maintenance and investment in the systems between World War II and the turn of the 21st century. Some Melbourne train drivers have described the Siemens trains operating on Melbourne’s rail network as “space-age technology on caveman infrastructure”. They continue to face speed restrictions while a growing number of them overshoot the end of train lines such as the incident at Sandringham on Wednesday the 9th of March where a Siemens set crashed into a Bendigo Bank branch. In Sydney, the new Millennium trains continued to break down as the existing electrical systems could not cope with the high electrical demand of the trains and eventually needed to be upgraded. With lagging investment from decades of neglect and growing passenger demands, upgrading rail infrastructure in Australia to meet the needs of today and tomorrow has become a game of catch up.

And so we as travelling commuters continue pay the price for unreliable vehicles in the form of delays, cancellations and uncomfortable trips, time that could have been used more productively but we cannot gain back. As great as it is to have governments investing in new trains and trams, more attention needs to be paid beyond simply dumping shiny new multi-million dollar chunks of metal on our tracks to other things that are expected by commuters. We need to demand that our governments give us more than just new vehicles, but vehicles that are adapted and suitable for the conditions that they will operate in and the infrastructure that will support the reliable operation of these vehicles.


Herald Sun – Spaceships on Chariot Wheels

The Age – Metro Train Crashes Off Rails into Bendigo Bank

A high-rise built with a timber structural frame

March 5, 2011

Flipping through the property section of the Australian Financial Review a few days ago (28/2/2011), this project being developed at the former Carlton United Breweries site in the north of Melbourne’s central business district caught my eye. The project is called Delta, a ten level apartment building being developed by Grocon who is well known for developing and constructing Melbourne’s Eureka Tower – the tallest building in Melbourne and one of the tallest in the southern hemisphere.

Delta, a passive house design to be constructed using timber. (Source: Architecture & Design)

What’s unique about this structure is that the contractors (also Grocon), are attempting to have the structure supported entirely by timber above the bottom couple of floors. Grocon is calling this design “passive house”, reflecting the fact that the soft-wood timbers from which the building will be constructed from is natural and not a material that emits carbon dioxide emissions in its creation – unlike concrete and steel.

The building will also heat and cool itself as the design will be insulated and the timbers will not absorb and release heat into the building in the way that other materials such as steel and concrete do. As a result, the building will reduce energy consumption in both the construction and operational stages and is expected to be carbon neutral. If built, Delta would become the tallest timber structure of its kind in the world.

The passive house design has been in use across Europe for about 20 years now, but has never before been attempted in Australia. Because of this, the specially manufactured and polished timbers will likely be imported from Europe. With carbon pricing looking a real possibility of being introduced in Australia, designs such as these may become more common.

Oh, and by the way, the soft-wood timbers are meant to be fire proof!


Australian Financial Review

Architecture & Design

Our moving heritage

February 11, 2011

Since the 1950s, there has been a dramatic change in the modes of transport active on the streets of our cities in Australia. Most cities still had extensive tram networks, with all cities except Melbourne mostly or completely dismantling their systems by the late 1960s as an increasing number of cars took over the streets. For a time after the removal of the trams, some cities also had trolleybuses rolling the streets, but these also eventually disappeared.

In Adelaide, one tram route did escape the wrecking heap as it maintains its own right-of-way for the majority of its length except for some street running on Jetty Road near its Glenelg terminus and in Adelaide City. After the mass demolition of tram networks stopped in the late 1960s, the line was poorly maintained and the trams were worn down after many years of service. It was not until the 1990s that the heritage H class trams that entered service in 1929 were upgraded and restored to their original condition.

Since 2005, extensive upgrades and expansions to the remaining tram line have taken place, including:

  • Track renewal of the right-of-way between Adelaide City and Glenelg in 2005
  • Introduction of new Flexity trams in 2006 (Constructed by Bombardier in Germany)
  • Opening of the city extension from Victoria Square to City West in 2007
  • Construction of the South Road overpass in 2009
  • Introduction of the Citadis trams in 2010 (Bought from Metro Ligero in Madrid, Spain)
  • Opening of the extension from City West to the Entertainment Centre at Hindmarsh in 2010

The introduction of the Flexity trams and then the Citadis trams has seen the H class trams gradually removed from service. While it is understandable that the H class have been removed from service due to their lack of wheelchair access, standing capacity and their age, it is a shame that such a significant cultural icon to Adelaide has disappeared altogether and is no longer used even on special heritage runs. Maintaining our cultural heritage such as the old H class trams is such an important issue because it is an important link to our past, who we were, and how we’ve evolved over the years. The H class is a symbol of the former tram network that once was, hidden under the remaining network which now appears as a 21st century product to the untrained eye. To leave the H class to rot would be like throwing valuable family photos down the toilet.

In Melbourne, the iconic W class trams that have pounded the streets of Melbourne since 1936 were increasingly under threat of disappearing from service leading up to the Victorian State Election in late 2010 – a plan described by some as “ripping the soul out of Melbourne”. There are currently 53 of them used on 4 tram routes, including 12 on the free City Circle tram service which runs a loop (both clockwise and anticlockwise) around central Melbourne along La Trobe, Spring and Flinders Streets and then through the Docklands back to La Trobe Street.

The W class trams that operate on the City Circle route are utilised cleverly. As a moving heritage icon of Melbourne, the free service provides a popular way for locals and tourists to explore the sights and sounds of Melbourne, including other heritage sites in central Melbourne, with on board announcements providing information of different places along its route.

If the plan to remove the W class trams had been implemented, only the 12 trams operating on the City Circle would have remained in service, out of the original fleet of over 200. With the plan now withdrawn, these icons not only roll the streets of Melbourne CBD, but also its other older suburbs including Richmond, an area with many heritage buildings and where the old trams blend in well with their urban environment.

With an aging fleet, parts wearing down and a dwindling supply of spare parts available, the excess trams that aren’t in use play an increasingly important role in keeping the active trams moving. Other trams that can no longer be used in service can also be used in clever ways that still maintain their identity and history in modern uses. One W class tram has recently been transported to the gardens outside the Melbourne Arts Centre in Southbank and is being used as a combined ticket box office and cocktail bar called Stop 14 and a Half.

It’s unfortunate that we can’t currently say that our moving heritage in Adelaide is being preserved for future generations to see. I would love to see someone try though.