Timetable Mastermind: confusion on the Frankston line 6pm-7pm

One of the things planners should be aiming for in making public transport easy to use is ensuring that the choices are few.

The new Frankston line timetable does this in the off-peak (and evenings) with a consistent pattern: Frankston to Flinders Street (direct), stopping all stations.

In peak, in theory, there are two patterns: Frankston to Cheltenham, then express to Caulfield, to South Yarra, then to Flinders Street (direct); and Frankston to Flinders Street via the City Loop.

On weekends everything stops all stations and runs via the Loop (fair enough given lower frequencies are unlikely to cause Loop congestion, and cause long waiting times if changing trains — arguably this should also be the case on weekday evenings after 7pm).

So that’s three main patterns.

The problem is there are lots of other variations, particularly during peak-shoulder periods.

Siemens train at Glenhuntly

In peak hour

If you’re going into the city it’s not too onerous. Go to the station, catch the next train to the City. If you’re at Cheltenham or further out and it’s peak hour, you might want to wait for an express for a quicker trip.

If you’re coming out of the city, and you’re going to a station closer than Cheltenham, you’ll probably just jump on the first train stopping at your station. If not, you’ll want to go to Flinders Street or Richmond, as most of the express trains (eg, faster) don’t run via the Loop, and overtake the stopping trains.



But the peak-shoulder period is a mess. Between about 3-5pm, and again between 6-7pm, they’re all over the place. The patterns are such that if you miss a train at Southern Cross or a Loop station, you’re likely to wait longer than is necessary for the next one.

In detail…

Between 6pm and 6:59pm (timed at Richmond), there are 8 trains to the Frankston line; the basis for a pretty good service. Even if they were evenly split between expresses and stoppers, that would be an average wait of 15 minutes between trains.

But they’re not evenly split.

There are expresses from Flinders Street, some of which also serve Southern Cross, but some don’t.

And there are stopping Loop trains. But there are other stopping trains direct from Flinders Street, and again, some of them also serve Southern Cross, some don’t.

If you’re at Flinders Street going to Cheltenham or beyond, it’s easy:
You get on an express: 6:09, 6:26, 6:46.
But it may not be obvious that you could also get the direct stoppers at 6:32 or 6:52, which don’t get overtaken by expresses.

If you’re at Flinders Street going to before Cheltenham, you want a stopper.
5:53 (via loop)
6:11 (via loop)
6:31 (via loop)
6:32 (direct, so it beats the 6:31 by 8 minutes)
6:51 (loop)
6:52 (direct, ditto).

If you’re at Southern Cross going to Cheltenham or beyond, and we assume that those trains running via Southern Cross really do work (they often don’t), we have:
5:56 (stopper via loop, platform 12; it doesn’t get overtaken)
6:16 (express via Flinders St, probably platform 13)
6:19 (stopper via Flinders St, probably platform 13; it doesn’t get overtaken)
6:38 (express via Flinders St, probably platform 13)
6:46 (stopper via Flinders St, probably platform 13; it doesn’t get overtaken)
7:00 (express via Flinders Street, probably platform 13).

If you’re at Southern Cross going to before Cheltenham, the stoppers are:
5:56 (via loop, platform 12)
6:14 (via loop, platform 12)
6:19 (via Flinders Street, probably platform 13)
6:34 (via loop, platform 12)
6:46 (via Flinders Street, probably platform 13)
6:54 (via loop, platform 12).

If you’re in the Loop wanting Cheltenham or beyond, you’d do best to go to Richmond and change to the first express that comes along; unless the stoppers at 6:35 or 6:55 turn up, as they don’t get overtaken by expresses.

If you’re in the Loop (say at Melbourne Central) wanting before Cheltenham, you’ve got the 6:01, 6:18, 6:38, 6:58. But you’ll wait longer than necessary because some of the stoppers are running direct from Flinders Street.

Are you following all this so far?

The upshot of it is that although there are 8 trains in that hour, because they’ve split them across three patterns, it’s confusing enough that most people will give up and wait up to 20 minutes — which is longer than they would have to wait if they’ve managed to decipher the timetable and know exactly where to go and where to change trains to get home quicker.

But nobody is likely to figure that out. It’s like the timetablers are trying to play some kind of mind game with the passengers.

The official route description

Just to illustrate how confusing the whole thing is, here’s how the Metlink web site describes the service patterns on the Frankston line:

To City

Trains will depart Frankston Station, Kananook Station… [list of stations snipped]… South Yarra Station, Richmond Station, City. Express services operate during peak periods – see below.

City stations are: Flagstaff Station (weekdays only), Melbourne Central Station, Parliament Station, Flinders Street Station and Southern Cross Station (Spencer Street).

City Loop: Direction of travel through the City Loop depends on the day of week and time of day. From 8 May 2011 most weekday services will operate direct to Flinders Street.

The main exceptions are weekday morning peak all stations trains which will operate to Flinders Street via the City Loop. Weekend trains will also operate to Flinders Street via the City Loop.

Weekday am peak direction services: Operate two main stopping patterns: A. Stop all stations to Flinders Street via the City Loop. B. Express service direct to Flinders Street. Most express trains stop all stations to Cheltenham, express to Caulfield, Malvern, express to South Yarra, Richmond and then direct to Flinders Street, with some extending to Southern Cross. Passengers for loop stations are advised to change at Flinders Street or Southern Cross.

Weekday off-peak, weekend and evening services: Stop all stations to City. From 8 May 2011 Weekday interpeak services will operate direct to Flinders Street, continuing to Southern Cross Station and then Werribee or Williamstown. Some counter-peak services operate express between Malvern and South Yarra. Note: the above is a general guide and some service variations exist. Please consult timetables for detailed information on stopping patterns.

Please note, I added paragraph breaks to that to help make it clearer. Ha! Oh, and I’ve excluded the description for the other direction.

In conclusion

You shouldn’t have to be a genius to get the most out of public transport: to get the quickest trip possible, and to minimise your waiting time.

The Frankston timetable isn’t too hard to understand during off-peak and the rush hour, but in shoulder-peak it’s utterly diabolical.

Update: This was finally fixed in 2014.

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.

17 replies on “Timetable Mastermind: confusion on the Frankston line 6pm-7pm”

Hilarious! It’s a shame that it’s not a joke.
I’m glad I’m on the Sandy line with NO choices.

I become more and more convinced that Metro and Yarra save costs by providing services to fit something other than a predictable and even service.

Appreciated your debunking of the Frankston line… but wanted to add… At southern cross the Frankston trains leave from 13, but others on same line leave from 12…

But the problem is… it’s hard to know whether the Frankston train is going to stop pre Cheltenham … if not then … I have to move to 12 for a “Mordiallic” or “Carrum” train.

Spent an hour and a half trying to catch a train home on Tuesday, other commuters I spoke to spent even longer… were told to catch a train from 13 to get to a station pre-Cheltenham… but they were all often direct ones.

Twice I’ve also heard of or experienced the train being a Frankston one when it leaves Southern Cross… gets to Flinders… then leaves Flinders in an attempt to be express to Richmond… but then the train changes it’s mind… goes back to Southern Cross and is a Mordiallic train through the city loop!

I understand things need to change… but I don’t really find the new timetable all that easy to comprehend!

PS should add that 12 and 13 are not adjacent… it’s a two escalator job and a sprint if you want to change.

Your post is just in time for my rant about yesterday’s journey home.

I went to Flinders St planning to get the 5:53pm but just missed it (my fault). Next stopping all to Ormond was the 4:12pm direct to Richmond (19 min wait, WTF? when there was a train every 10 mins prior to that). Got mighty confused when a 4:11 popped up on screen, then realised it was the city loop stopping all and would get me to Ormond 8 mins later than the 4:12. The 4:12 arrives so I board, and it sits at Flinders for the customary 10 mins or so. In this time, the 4:06 is cancelled due to a defective train and the 4:12 becomes the 4:11 and off I go through the loop, listening to peoples groans and questioning whether this is a stopping all or not. Grrr…

So, what is the logic in having a direct train that leaves after a loop train but gets to your destination faster? You’d have to be an idiot to wait for it because at least once the loop train is there, you are guaranteed that it’s running, whereas if you let it leave and wait for the direct train, you are taking a gamble on whether it will run or not.

I agree with Kate W’s frustration – and you fail to mention that the Frankston trains that start at Southern Cross to Flinders then Richmond have up to 10mins idle time at Flinders, meaning you are better off with the loop train.

And after my experience Tuesday and last night, I have concluded that unless you leave the city between 5 and 6pm, the answer is to catch the next train to Caulfield and change there to a stopping all Franskton if required (changing at Caulfield gives you more time to change platforms than at Richmond, and allows for trains running a bit late). But I’ve basically concluded that I will be arriving home in a foul mood every night, especially if it’s cold and wet…

@Liz, assume you meant the 3:53, not the 5:53?

Yeah, I probably should have added that as soon as there’s a delay or disruption, the whole thing get way more chaotic.

I did check the timings when I wrote the post; even with the 5-10 minute delay at FSS for trains originating at Southern Cross, you still end up ahead (IIRC in all cases).

You’re right — the best thing to do is just get out of the City on the first train available. If it’s raining, I’d do Richmond, since if you’re at the front or middle of the train, you can change platforms if necessary without going out in the weather. You also have the choice or more trains to reach Richmond.

It’s also a quicker interchange at Richmond, but yes due to express running you’d have more time to do it at Caulfield.

Whoops, 3:53pm, that’s what I meant.

I’m going to give a late night train a go tonight, I’ll let you know how that goes (although my confusion could be enhanced due to a few after work drinks…)

It’s probably best to consult the journey planner every time you want to travel in the peaks. Which is easier done if you have a Metlink supported SmartPhone in your pocket, but still not “turn up and go” convenience. Of course if trains aren’t running on time then who knows what your best option might be!

Hope nobody relies too much on waiting for the Frankston line at Southern Cross. I took a train to Newport today at 1pm, and going there the train came not in service from the west before running it’s trip. Scheduled to be ex-Frankston.

Coming back, scheduled to be through to Frankston, but it displayed as Flinders St only at SCS, and sure enough it terminated and returned to Williamstown.

Why do they even bother that stop if they chop and change so much?

Last night I came back from interstate trip, took the skybus to Southern Cross (left Tulla about 11pm) and found signs announcing no trains in the Caulfield direction from Southern Cross. Took the Werribee (???) train from Southern Cross to Flinders Street (at least that’s what the signs on the screens said, for Platform 11) and changed to a Pakenham train at Flinders Street to Caulfield.
I want to know how you get to Werribee from Southern Cross by going via Flinders Street!

The train goes from SCS to Flinders St, then runs via the City Loop to Werribee? Just to confuse people they still run all trains on that line via *both* loops on the weekends (City Loop & Altona Loop), whereas no weekday trains run via the City Loop, and only late at night they go via the Altona Loop.

Friday update: Got to SXS at about 7:30pm. Could wait for the 7:41 to go to FSS (with 8 mins lag) then via Richmond, or I could get next train through the loop and change at Caulfield. So got the 7:31 Cranbourne/Pakenham and spent a very chilly 19 mins at Caulfield waiting for the stopping all FKN, arriving at Ormond at 8:14, except it wasn’t quite on time.

So my usually ~25 min train ride became a 45 min trip, partially due to me just missing a train at SXS, partially due to the wonderful timetable. But my biggest gripe is that to get home, I need to thoroughly study my timetable every time, as well as come up with a plan B, whereas prior to all this it was simple and I didn’t have to think. I’d really hate to be a tourist or irregular user, it would surely out people off ever contemplating PT again…

@Liz, you must have got to SXS about 7-8 minutes after Marita and I did. I knew we’d just missed a FKN train (via FSS), and that it had a 10ish minute layover there, so we caught the next train to FSS and caught it there.

Yeah, that’s the problem here in a nutshell… it’s making people have to think too much about how they use it.

@Daniel, I’ve just finished reading your post, and all the followup comments, and I am truly awestruck. All praise to you for taking the time to do such a careful and thorough analysis.

But [wicked sense of humour on] do you realise how perilously close this thread is becoming to the classic Monty Python railway timetable sketch?

Inspector Davis of Scotland Yard: “I suggest you murdered Sir Horace for his seat reservation.”
Tony: “I may have had the motive, Inspector, but I could not have done it, for I have only just arrived from Gillingham on the 8.13, and here’s my restaurant car ticket to prove it.”
Jasmina: “The 8.13 from Gillingham doesn’t have a restaurant car.”
Tony: “Oh, er… did I say the 8.13? I meant the 7.58 stopping train.”
Lady Partridge: “But the 7.58 stopping train arrived at Swindon at 8.19 owing to annual point maintenance at Wisborough Junction.”
John: “So how did you make the connection with the 8.13 which left six minutes earlier?”
Tony: “Oh, er, simple! I caught the 7.16 Football Special arriving at Swindon at 8.09.”
Jasmina: “But the 7.16 Football Special only stops at Swindon on alternate Saturdays!”

And so on, and so on… :-)

@Bonnie, hahahaa!

(I noticed Tony Martin and Catherine Tate theorised on Saturday night’s “A Quiet Word” that women didn’t like Monty Python, only men.)

Yes, I watched that interview too, and thought to myself: Tony, my friend, you should get out more. I agree that there are probably more men than women who like Python, but that doesn’t mean the female fans are non-existent. I discovered Python around the time of the release of Life of Brian, and it was a female school friend who told me about it. I then had to wait until VCRs arrived in this country before I could watch any of their earlier stuff.

It occurred to me that someone has probably uploaded the Railway Timetable Sketch on YouTube, so I went looking, and sure enough:

For those who’ve never seen it: watch it, and then tell me that it doesn’t remind you of this thread. I laughed aloud when @Liz wrote “Whoops. 3.53pm, that’s what I meant.” I thought: any minute now, she’ll be confessing to murder on the Cheltenham express. Jolly good work, Inspector Daniel.

It would seem that the playwright (Mr Neville Shunt) gave up his career writing plays and now lives in Melbourne writing timetables for Metro. :-)

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