4 July 2017
A rapid transit bus service from Lalor to Wollert is not a justifiable alternative to rail.
The previous Whittlesea Council website made a strong and detailed case for a rail line to Wollert (see reference1). This contrasts with a relatively brief presentation from the current Whittlesea Council website – see reference2. Unfortunately, that subtle shift in position by the Council shows reduced support for Epping North/Wollert community interests.
Back in 2010 the Whittlesea Councillors were arguing about a proposed busway to Mernda which was supported by then mayor Mary Lalios and Yan Yean MP Danielle Green and was severely criticised by others (see reference3). Some of the criticisms are probably applicable to a proposed busway to Wollert. In a 2013 submission, I wrote that the Victorian Labor Party was persisting with plans for rapid transit bus services instead of railway line extensions to Epping North and Mernda – with the dubious argument that this will save money. Such plans incorrectly assume that trains and buses are inter-changeable. 50 to 100 people can quickly board a train with 12 or 18 wide doorways to choose from. Train travellers from the outer suburbs typically park their cars at a station car park; an Epping North train station car park, unlike a bus stop, would attract passengers from many kilometres away and would also bring in more business to nearby shops. A single trip by train to the CBD would be much quicker and far more attractive than a combined trip with a bus that has typical experiences that slow it down and make it hard to connect with a train schedule.
Right now the need for a rail line to Wollert is so pressing with the current worsening road congestion (from an increasing population unmatched by increasing infrastructure and partly from costly second and third family cars). There is increasing time away from families, rising financial and psychological stress among families and individuals. This in turn gives rise to gambling problems, alcohol and drug problems, domestic violence etc. The Epping North/Wollert area cannot go on indefinitely getting more unliveable like this. Local criminal concerns feature in the recent website article “Burglaries and thefts driving up crime in Whittlesea” (reference4). This causes both residents and crime victims to feel noticeably less safe and secure. A sense of social well-being tends to be undermined by increasingly widespread discourteous and aggressive driver behaviour.
The article by successful Perth rail campaigner Professor Peter Newman from Curtin University at reference5 mentions that the Freemantle rail line was closed in 1979 and was replaced by buses which led to a 30% drop in public transport patronage on the Freemantle corridor “as the buses, despite being more frequent, were slower and less reliable” (p.2). Peter goes into depth comparing rail with bus services. On page 6 discussing transport to the Northern Suburbs in Perth he writes “Rail is cheaper to operate and this offsets its higher capital costs and in time leads to a continuous saving”; he finds rail here $5.8 million less in operating costs annually than the bus option and that the difference in rail and bus capital costs would be eliminated in 12 to 15 years (p. 6). A typical Newman statement on buses follows: “Buses are a flexible option to the car but they just get caught in the traffic” (p. 7).
The capital cost of a rapid transit bus service to Wollert would be still be substantial and could only be justified by retaining it for at least around 30 years which is far too long a period for the Epping North/Wollert area to be without a heavy rail line.
In the precinct of Epping North (Epping north of O’Herns Rd and Wollert south of Craigieburn Rd East) for 2017 there are an estimated 27,967 residents, by 2037 the population is forecast to be 54,314 (an increase of 26,347 persons or 94.2%) (see reference6 p.69). Then there is the Wollert precinct structure plan announced by Minister for Planning, Richard Wynne, in February 2017. This plan paves the way for further development in Wollert and will cover an area of 1434 hectares bounded by Craigieburn Road to the south, Summerhill Road in the north, Curly Sedge Creek in the west and the reservation for the future E6 to the east. This part of Wollert will accommodate 15,000 dwellings and 42,000 people. (See reference7.) Growing population and lack of rail will widen the imbalance between the number of residents in the area and the facilities they have.
In Melbourne, bus patronage is actually decreasing in spite of rising population and rail patronage (see article “Bus growth stuck in the slow lane as patronage takes a dive” at reference8). A Herald Sun article on 27 June 2017 “We’re off the Buses” (p.11) comes up with the following 10 reasons why people don’t like buses (list compiled by the PTUA):
- Most buses run only every 30 to 60 minutes
- Many bus routes have very limited services. Few run after 9pm, and some not on Sundays
- Many buses take indirect, confusing routes to destinations
- Lack of bus lanes
- Bus priority at traffic lights is rare
- Connections to trains are usually poor
- Some bus stops have no shelter, and no seat to wait
- Rides are not as smooth as trams and trains
- Some bus companies don’t keep their buses clean
- Often so slow and infrequent it’s quicker to catch a train to the city and back out again
Adding a rapid bus transit service is a step in wrong direction.
One argument against a rail line to Wollert (within a short number of years) is that it has to wait around 10 years for the Melbourne Metro rail tunnel to be completed. The Wollert rail line can certainly be constructed at the same time as the Metro tunnel so that these rail lines can begin working together. Or the train to and from Wollert can be a shuttle service with passengers to and from Flinders Street station switching trains at Lalor station until the Metro rail tunnel is completed.
Another dubious argument against the Wollert rail line is that it will be inefficient because it will be a spur line. The Melbourne rail system has survived for ages with numerous spur lines close to rail stations such as Richmond, South Yarra, Caulfield, Clifton Hill, Dandenong, Footscray and Newport etc. More argument for the local rail line appears in the 9 minute video on Epping North/Wollert transport concerns at reference9.
I appeal to all of you to decisively pursue the rail extension to Wollert.
ACA Transport Working Group