Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Shared tram routes should have a shunt every block

Posted by Dave Bath on 2011-02-05

Imagine: peak hour St Kilda Rd, tram loaded with passengers breaks down between Toorak Road and Domain Interchange… or indeed anywhere along St Kilda Rd.  Result: chaos – trams back up for ever, and it’s a long walk to train stations.

The problems could be easily managed if they put in shunts every block down major shared lines, just like they have up near Melbourne Uni, near Queensberry St, near La Trobe…

The too-common image of dozens of trams nose-to-tail and stopped, meaning that within half and hour there’ll be no trams coming back the other way, because of a problem with a single tram, need never happen.

With shunts in every block along St Kilda Road and similar "tram arterials" that are shared by many different routes, any breakdown wouldn’t cause much of a blockage.  Just like a blockage on a two lane road, those going either way take turns using a single lane – a tram official or the police at each end of the shunt, deciding when to let trams go through one way and then another, is all that is needed to avoid chaos, and thousands of people late for work or home, thousands subjected either to heat or rain (or both… it’s Melbourne we are talking about).

Improvements to service reliability?  Huge.  Costs?  Minimal.  Inconvenience?  Very little – I’d be surprised if you couldn’t put in a shunt between last tram at night and first thing the next morning, or even last peak hour tram – with a bus shuttle after peak hour.

A bad blockage along St Kilda Rd in the morning can delay thousands of workers – and by the time they get in to work, being frazzled, productivity is down more than the mere delay.

How much do you reckon a single tram breakdown can cost the community?  With the sub-standard preventative maintenance of tracks and rolling stock endemic to Victorian public transport, we can only expect more and worse delays – so the annual impact would be significant.

The cost of putting in the shunts compared to the savings made when a tram breaks down should be obvious to a government, if they looked at it as a form of insurance.

Naaa… won’t happen… too sensible.


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