Many battles have been fought over the Upfield Line.
In the late 1980s, the state Labor government attempted to close the Upfield train line, replace it with light rail and rip up the tram tracks in Sydney Road. That was defeated by a massive public campaign.
Then a few years later, the state Liberal government attempted to close the Upfield Line. Another massive public campaign defeated that attempt.
People power was vital to saving the Upfield Line from closure.
Since the line was saved from closure, very little has been done to upgrade the line. It has very infrequent trains (only every 18 minutes in peak hour) and the train is frequently terminated at Coburg, well before the end of the line, leaving everyone in the outer north stranded.
Now a community campaign to upgrade the line has sprung into life. Its focus is to get more trains on the Upfield Line. The main impediment to more frequent trains is that there is only a single track at the end of the line, meaning trains cannot pass each other. The campaign is calling for the immediate duplication of the single track to the end of the line.
The northern end of the Upfield Line is in the working-class suburbs of Fawkner, Campbelfield, Somerton, Coolaroo and Upfield. Traditionally, the major parties have not done much in these areas as they are in very safe Labor seats.
After discovering there are no plans to duplicate the line and improve the service for the next 15 years, the Upfield Transport Alliance formed late last year to unite communities along the Upfield Line.
The Upfield Transport Alliance recognises that we have a choice of whingeing about the problems on the line for 15 years or uniting the communities to fight for more frequent trains and an end to train cancellations.
As Australian cities get more and more clogged by cars, local councils are calling on people to shift out of cars to alternative transport. The problem is that there is no systematic attempt by any level of government to develop a public transport system that is extensive enough to provide a real option for people to give up private cars.
Even inner-city areas in Melbourne, which are supposed to be rich in public transport, are only well-served during the day for trips to the city. At night, the frequency of trams drops dramatically and the east-west buses are irregular and often do not run very late at night or on the weekends.
Since 2008, the Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has been campaigning for public transport services to be every 10 minutes.
In a statement, PTUA president Daniel Bowen said: “About 80% of motorised trips into Melbourne’s CBD on weekdays are by public transport. But for trips elsewhere, the share is only 9%, and it has barely moved in years.”
Bowen said long waiting times were the biggest problem. “When the waiting time for your train, tram or bus exceeds the total time it would take you if you just drove, the car is always going to win,” he said.
The PTUA has a plan for train, tram and bus services across Melbourne, running every 10 minutes from 6am to midnight, 7 days a week. This would enable anyone to travel from anywhere to anywhere by public transport with a minimum of waiting. Many cities around the world, such as Toronto and London, have frequent services all day and up to midnight.
[The Upfield Transport Alliance is planning a Community Action on Saturday March 16 at 11am on the corner of Bonwick St and Jukes Rd, Fawkner. Visit its website or Facebook page. You can also sign the e-petition to the Victorian parliament here.]