Changing trains is not evil

There’s intense interest in the new train timetable, which technically started today, but has its first actual changes tomorrow. The level of interest should be a reminder to politicians that public transport is still very much a live issue.

Media call for new #MetroTrains timetable

It should (hopefully) bring some genuine benefits in helping to fix punctuality and overcrowding.

There are some genuine cases where people at individual stations are disadvantaged. Altona (off-peak they’ll have to change up to twice to reach some CBD stations), Werribee (off-peak frequency halved for some stations), Frankston line travel times longer (they really need to fix the damn Siemens train brake problems once and for all), less fewer peak-hour trains to Laburnum, Camberwell, Glenferrie, and some others.

The change for the Glen Waverley line is that in the mornings, their trains won’t run through the City Loop. I’m afraid, however, I find it a little difficult to join in the outrage.

1. Flinders Street is not some godforsaken backwater. It’s Melbourne’s busiest (most popular) station, with 37% of patronage — and I would argue it’s only that low because of Loop operating patterns, which has it as (mostly) the CBD station with the longest travel time to/from the suburbs.

It’s the best station for serving much of the south and central parts of the CBD. It’s also closest to the Arts Precinct and St Kilda Road. People changing to trams to places like Melbourne Uni will probably find it makes little difference, because exiting Flinders Street is much quicker than getting through Melbourne Central’s maze-like exit.

Changing trains at Richmond (Burnley group)2. Those who do have to change from Glen Waverley trains to Loop services have a simple walk across the platform at Richmond, onto another train that runs about every three minutes in peak. It’s an easier change of trains than any other anywhere in Melbourne.

Even outside peak hour, there will be 12 trains per hour from Richmond into the City Loop until lunchtime (most on the platform across from where the Glen Waverley trains arrive). I would expect that to go up to 14 when the Dandenong line switches to every 10 minutes, a change which is hopefully coming before too long.

3. Glen Waverley trains will still run through the Loop after lunchtime, so no difference to afternoon patterns.

4. The change is to avoid conflicts at Burnley, and also between Richmond and Flinders Street. It’s not only allowing more frequent Glen Waverley trains, but (hopefully) will actually fix some of the punctuality problems.

5. Sandringham passengers have been changing to and from the Loop for fifteen years, under far less ideal conditions than will be inflicted on Glen Waverley passengers. They may not like it, but the line is busier than ever, and the semi-independence of the line now allows a train every 7-8 minutes in peak.

Changing trains is not evil

The City Loop’s four tracks are a bottleneck, while the ten tracks into Flinders Street (from the east — another four from the west) are underused. Given Flinders Street’s central location, I absolutely support having some trains bypass the Loop to allow more services, to fix conflicts/punctuality, and reduce overcrowding. We need more trains on the tracks, and this is how to do it.

People might not like it, but changing services is not evil. It’s a necessity in many bigger cities around the world, because not every train can go to every destination. This is described in more detail in this article: Why “transferring” can be good for you, and good for your city.

The question always must be: will the waiting time be short? Will the other service have the capacity? And is it as convenient as possible? Unlike for many other passengers around Melbourne, for Glen Waverley to City Loop, the answer is Yes, Yes (most probably), and Yes.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

28 replies on “Changing trains is not evil”

The timing stop at FSS is a critical operational reform for this to work. Otherwise, Metro, DoT and RTBU will, true to form, bollocks it all up again like they have the last couple of times (not by design, just by unfortunate side effect of their bickering and lack of focus).

I see reason why all trains should run the loop. Flinders St has a much greater capacity than the loop. Thanks Daniel good work.

@Vaughan, it definitely needs to be fixed, but is not actually directly relevant to this specific set of changes.

@Josh, did you mean “no reason”?

Well said, Daniel.

Incidentally, I think the biggest two problems with the new timetable are 2) the 7min transfers from Westona trains to Melbourne trains at Newport (when the signal requirments say 4min should be sufficient, although I’d like to see even that cut back), and the different patterns used in the AM and PM running of the Burnley Group; the change causes confusion that should be unnecessary, in a similar way to running, say, the clockwise city circle as Route 35 and the anticlockwise CC as route 36.

Do you want me to dig up the technical explanation for why the change in patterns needs to happen on current infrastructure?

Not so good this morning. I changed from my Sandringham train at South Yarra to a loop train. When we got to Richmond, there was an announcement that the train was going direct to Flinders St due to problem in the loop! So I had to change trains a second time. Oh well, teething problems, I guess.

Changing trains once is reasonable but for residents of the altona loop they will have to change twice adding an extra 6 minutes at newport and an extra 4+ minutes at SXS. It may not be evil but it is bloody inconvenient.

Under the new timetable, my 7.22am from Belgrave is no longer scheduled to stop at Laburnum.

Presumably nobody told the driver, as he stopped there as usual.

We arrived at Parliament the usual 15 minutes late.

No major problems on the Frankston line this morning (but the changes are largely outside peak). Despite the aim of concentrating Siemens trains there, mine was a Comeng, and there were others around too.

Lots of staff at Richmond 7/8. Apparently there were overcrowding issues there for some trains going to the Loop.

But overall from what I’m hearing, no real sense of chaos at some might have feared.

@Roger, why change at South Yarra, when Richmond has better interchange facilities (better screens, more subways) and more Loop trains?

@Brad, yes, agree. Altona Loop off-peak is a real problem.

Changing trains when inbound at Richmond is not a hassle for most, as usually a loop train will arrive within a few mins without having to change platforms. As you point out, Glen Waverly customers should suck it up, cos at least they usually won’t have to change platforms, like sandy customers have to every time.

I personally have a beef with evening off-peak Frankston services not running via the loop. The issue here is that I am relying on 2 trains being on time to get me home. If the loop train for whatever reason is held up, then I will risk missing my connection at Richmond and have a possibly 20-min wait out in the elements on a cold, windy and wet winter’s night!

Totally agree Daniel. Williamstown and Alamein passengers have been changing trains for decades too, and don’t seem to mind too much.

At least the eastern suburbs lines have the choice between going through the loop, or proceeding directly to Flinders St – those of us coming from Epping or Hurstbridge are sent straight to Flinders Street first before then going clockwise around the loop – like it or walk from Jolimont to Parliament (a lovely walk by the way).

Why change at South Yarra? Good question. From my seat on the Sandy train, I can actually see the estimated arrival time of the loop trains on the other platforms. If it’s between 2 and 4 minutes, I get off at South Yarra and get a “good position” in the carriage of the loop train. Also, it’s less of a crush at South Yarra than Richmond in the early peak period.
Each to their own!

All Sydenham passengers LOVE the crush at Melbourne Central as the Weribee passengers smoosh in. Those that can GET in, anyway.

i had the day off today, but got up early to go to the gym. I was at Hawthorn at about 8:10. There’s a new 8.11 which was cancelled (the platform was the most crowded I think I’ve ever seen it) and everyone had to get onto the 8.15.

For me I’m just going to go through the loop to Melb Central and either walk or hop a tram to work, but the walk is really only abut 5 minutes more so I’m not really to stressed, plus I get to use the myki gates every day instead of gamble on frankenbarriers.

Looking forward to seeing how it goes tomorrow morning.


Can we expect another timetable change on the Frankston when the Siemens are fixed?
Also, I noticed that you admitted (on channel 9) that journey duration affects how many people use trains. Why is it that PTUA do not support a mixture of express trains, direct trains & loops trains on the Frankston line to minimise travel times for those that care about journey duration. Increasing the variablity in the stopping pattern, gives passengers a choice of which service to board. The fixation with pretty timetable patterns, and slow repetitive trains is getting very annoying, and almost communist, in that “we know what’s right for you” and “changing trains is not evil” attitude are becoming norm.
The argument about repetitive timetables being easier to recover from disruptions has been totally disproved on the Frankstion line over the last 6 months.

To be honest i’ll just stay on the train to Flinders St and walk up to melb central. Tried getting to a loop train this morning and squeezing onto an already packed train wasn’t that nice. Walking a few hundred meters to melb central will be fine for next time!

I certainly agree.

For the most part, the changes being made should be done to benefit the passengers and for us to know if this is happening, we’d have to give it some time if the changes would actually bring a lot more trouble.

Thanks for the honest review, Daniel!

@Alisdair, yeah one would hope there’ll be an adjustment once the Siemens trains issue is resolved.

Regarding the timetable changes made last June (eg two-tier, repetitive), the Frankston line actually did show an improvement for the latter half of the year:

2010: Mar 68%, Apr 66%, May 63%

Changes were made in early June, which came out at 65%. But after the changes: Jul 70%, Aug 70%, Sep 72%.

You’re right though, punctuality then dropped, back to 64% in March 2011, but the other things that came into play during this time were the Siemens speed restrictions being put on, as well as continued patronage growth. So one would certainly hope to see a marked improvement in the next month or so.

My usual commute is Bentleigh to Flagstaff. I know I can’t speak for every Bentleigh passenger, but I would rather have high frequencies than more expresses, and given past studies which have concluded that waiting time is felt as more significant than travel time, I would suspect I’m not alone. Still, would be interesting to see some detailed patronage figures for stations like Bentleigh both before and after these types of changes.

@John, you could always catch a tram up Swanston or Elizabeth Sts.

So far I’m not convinced but I’m willing to give the new timetable a chance to settle in. But I was less than impressed this evening when I tried to catch the 6:34 Frankston train from Southern Cross but apparently that is a train that exists in my timetable only, no mention of it on the screens or in any announcements. Certainly never arrived! So I caught a Cranbourne and changed at Caulfield to catch a stopping all that was running almost 15mins late! Let’s hope things improve…

@Liz, the specifics of the Frankston timetable between 6pm and 7pm have really been messed up, esp if you’re not leaving from Flinders Street. I’m intending on writing a blog post specifically about it soon.

Glad I am not the only person thinking WTF? Looking forward to a post on the topic, apologies if it sets off another rant!

Changes to the Glen Waverley line are not convenient for everyone. I hate to sound like an impoverished whinging uni student but these alterations have made a difference in me actually making it to class, I have to wake up at least half an hour earlier and it takes me over an hour now to get to uni. Things are best left alone.

With the new time table, there are 14 trains that express Laburnum each weekday between 7am and 8:30am. If Metro was to improve the timetable to allow these services to stop at Laburnum Station, they would be able to schedule at least four new services on the Belgrave/Lilydale line, reducing over-crowding.

I have to say that I expected the GW changes to be detrimental. I often get the first train of the day into Southern Cross and assumed interchange options would be limited (ie, I’d be waiting a lot).

However, mostly I go direct to FSS (rather than changing at Richmond) and even at 5.45am there’s a few options for getting to Southern Cross with minimal delay. It seems to even sometimes work out quicker, because under the old ‘via loop’ setup the GW would often get stuck behind the (frequently late) Belgrave/Lilydale inbound service through the loop. Why the first train of the day was always running late I don’t know.

And the FSS staff even seem to mostly announce when the next Loop service is! It’s slightly unbelievable, but I hope they keep it up.

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