Slow Train Coming

So, the question on Plinky was, would I use public transport if it was in my neighborhood.

Can I put a qualifier on my answer? Yes, if public transportation THAT RAN EFFICIENTLY were available in my neighborhood, I would use it. There is public transport in my neighborhood, but for some reason, almost every time I happen to try and catch it, it is either late or cancelled, so I don’t put much faith in it getting me anywhere in a hurry. (and anyone who has read my previous post will know that I’m usually in a hurry, because I always leave it until the last moment to catch the damn train in the first place.)

Here is one example of the inefficiency of Melbourne’s public transport system. While it takes me 15 minutes to drive to work, a few suburbs away and accessed via a freeway, it can easily take an hour and 15 for me to get there by public transport. I think you will agree that makes it very difficult to choose public transport over driving.

So in recent years I have stopped using  public transport regularly, because of the increase in my travel time. I don’t get up early voluntarily for any reason, and certainly not to allow an extra hour for catching the train to work.

In Melbourne, to all appearances, we are spoiled for choice. We have trains, trams, buses, and even ferries! Of these forms of transport, however, the only one I find reliable and efficient is the tram. Unfortunately for me, I live in the Western suburbs, traditionally an industrial and working class area, and apparently it was not deemed necessary to extend the tramline in this direction. Perhaps it was preferable to try and keep Westies in the West, and not make it too easy for them to venture into the city, lest they mingle with the upperclasses. Who knows?

Whatever the reason, this has not changed, not even when the dreadfully dull Docklands precinct was built on the Western side of the city about a decade ago. Developers managed to find enough money to extend the tram line from the CBD  to Docklands, but not the 5 km further that would  take it to the first main train station in the Western Suburbs. So I am stuck with trains, or, usually even worse, buses. (I mostly avoid buses, since once having waited in the dark in an industrial area for 75 minutes for  a bus that never came.) So since living where I do, my main experience of public transport has been on trains.

Melbourne’s trainlines were built….um…a long time ago. If I was to draw a picture of the train lines in those days, I could draw a circle in the middle to represent Flinders Street Station, and then lines representing the lines out to the suburbs. It would look a little like the sun, with rays coming out of it, as drawn by a primary school child.

In those days, the outer suburbs took a long time to get to, but Melbourne has been steadily expanding ever since, and those same suburbs, once the “outer” area of Melbourne, are now in the “Zone 1” (inner zone) area and take about 20 minutes to reach on a modern train, or even on the trains currently running on Melbourne’s lines, some of which could possibly have been running back then.

The only significant addition to the train system in the last 100 years is the City Loop. In 1981, this was a radical new system which allowed trains to travel underground to stations around the CBD!! (They may have got the idea from some little thing over in London).

  • steam train

    I may as well catch one of these to get to work.

    Melbourne has continued to expand since those days, and now, what were little country towns 10 years ago are swallowed up and have become outer suburbs of Melbourne, but the problem is that the basic rays–of-the-sun sketch I mentioned earlier has not changed. The CBD still continues to be the circular centre, from which radiate out the sun rays, which are the train  lines. The only thing that changes is that the rays get longer, as country train lines eventually became part of the metropolitan line.

    Now, bear with me here, because I have come up with a notion that may seem a little far fetched. But it occurs to me, and I’m sure any good physicist would corroborate my theory, that if you draw a basic sun-with-rays-coming-out-of-it diagram then continue to tack more and more length onto the rays of the sun, what you have, more or less,  is a loose model for the expansion of the universe.

    Therefore, much like the expanding universe, as the circle, (that’s the city) expands, and the length of the sun’s rays (that’s the train lines) is increased, there is increasingly more and more space between those rays (that’s the outer suburbs that are situated in the middle of nowhere, or, in other words, miles away from any train lines). To conclude my scientific hypothesis: As the universe expands, galaxies are rushing further and further away from one another at a speed that is increasing exponentially. Similarly, (so my theory goes), as the city expands, at an also exponentially increasing rate, the outer suburbs of Melbourne are being pushed further and further away from the train lines.

    A diagram illustrating the expansion of the universe, apparently drawn on an old record.

    Melbourne is a huge city and needs a train system with lines that connect up at interchange points all over Melbourne – the way they do in other large cities. In Melbourne it’s still often the case that the only way to get from A to B – for example, from where I live, to where I work only about 6 km away, is to go via C, which stands for CBD. I think it’s time that planners expand that radical City-Loop idea into loops all over the city that are not CBD-centric.

    Hmm….I seem to have got off the track (notice my witty pun?) a bit.  I intended to talk about the inefficiency of the public transport system in Melbourne and instead ended up drawing a similarity between the expansion of the universe and the expansion of Melbourne and lack of public transport infrastructure in the outer suburbs. I am not sure what took me down that path, particularly when I don’t live in the outer suburbs, never go to them, and the only reason I know they exist is because I’ve driven through them on the way to the country.

    So going back to the original question, I would really like to say that I’d use public transport, since it is supposed to be the environmentally responsible choice…..but in Melbourne it is not efficient enough to be worth using, if you are lucky enough to have another option.

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