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.


“Hmmm….we’re cutting it a little bit fine……as usual,” I said, sheepishly, to my  12 year old daughter as I pulled out to drive to a show in the city. It was 6.45pm, and the show started at 7.30pm.

My daughter is used to me “cutting it fine” everywhere we go together, so she merely shrugged. What’s new?

We live about a 15 minute drive from the city, but allow time to find a park, (What’s that you say? Carparks? Yes, I’m aware of their existence, but I don’t believe in paying upwards of $15 just for the privilege of parking my car) and walk to the event from wherever I ended up parking……and we would be cutting it fine. There might even be running involved.

Why do I “cut it fine” every where I go? Believe it or not, this trait has sometimes been known to result in my actually running late for things. Gasp! Yes, it’s true!

I have been known to run the last leg of a few trips in my time – I’ve galloped through theatre foyers as the bell rings, run up the street to at least one job interview, and trotted hurriedly into various workplaces via the back entrance in the hope that it will look as though I’ve been there for half an hour already. (Naturally, in case my boss is reading this, my current workplace is not included in that last statistic!)

running late

Someone running late....obviously.

There are a few reasons for my propensity for cutting it fine. For one thing, when I was growing up in the country, I had two options if I wanted to hang out with my friends, who lived a 25 minute drive away in town. Either I asked my father for a lift, (at least a day in advance since he had 5 other kids to chaffeur around), or I worked around the local bus timetable, which meant that if I wanted to be at a friend’s house by 6pm on a Saturday, I’d have to catch a bus at 10am, because there was no other bus on Saturdays.

As I saw it, just one of the many reasons for moving to the city when I was 18, was for the independence, ease, and efficiency of travelling. I could go wherever I wanted to, whenever I felt like it. (Or at least, between the hours of midnight and 5am, when the public transport was running!) Ah, city life – that was the life for me!

20 years later, I still tend to plan travel as though this myth were true. If driving, I usually leave at the last possible moment, and I don’t make any allowance for the possibility of heavy traffic or the breakdowns and accidents that can bring the entire freeway system to a crawl. Luckily for me, my drive to work most mornings takes under 15 minutes, so even though I leave at about 8.50am, I’m still usually there before most of my colleagues. (To my boss, if you are reading: see?).

It’s the same with public transport.  I tend to estimate the trip as though the train/tram will depart the moment I need to catch it, a bit like the Knight Bus in Harry Potter*. Why don’t I factor in waiting time, in case I miss a train? Because that is too boring! The train trip to the city from where I live is that magic figure – 15 minutes. Allowing for waiting time would double the time I allow for travelling! Reminder: I moved to the city so I wouldn’t have to spend hours of my days travelling.

Knight bus from Harry Potter

Looks like the Cadbury bus, but much faster.

I will admit that there is also an element of impatience in my travelling style. (I hear your tones of surprise. Impatience? Surely not?)

I can’t stand waiting around – which is what happens if you are early for something. My life is so busy, that I am certain I can use every minute, to do something else! It seems a waste to leave home 3 minutes earlier, only to find myself standing at a station for 3 extra minutes, with nothing to do but check messages on my iphone.

Finally, I have an aversion to planning. Well, in my personal life, anyway. (At my current workplace I have a name for being “the most organised person they have ever met!”) Outside of work, I prefer to let my life come together organically as I wander through it, which admittedly can be annoying for certain other people. So, for example, in matters of travel, I tend to leave when I’m ready to leave, rather than check a timetable and leave when I know there will be a train in 12 minutes time. Boring.

Time won’t wait for you. It’s a lesson that I constantly tell my daughter, since time means nothing to kids. They don’t realise that if they watch tv right through to bedtime then there won’t be time for a story as well. It’s a lesson you’d think I’d have learned by now.

But despite all my lectures to my daughter, there we were, cutting it fine, again, and it was totally my fault, not hers.

Yet somehow, as so often happens, we just made it! On this particular night, in fact, I was proven wrong about time – it  did wait for us! After running about a kilometre from the car, and breaking the news to my daughter that we were going to miss the beginning, the show started late!

Time. I thought it just marched on, but apparently, sometimes, those times when it doesn’t really matter in the bigger scheme of things, it takes pity on you.

*Thought I would never make a Harry Potter reference, but there it is.

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