Gunzel heaven: Parallel run

If there’s anything that gunzels get excited about, it’s a parallel run — two trains running in parallel.

It must take an enormous amount of work to organise such a thing: running two heritage trains on two tracks in the same direction (only possible in specific locations), and having them overtake each other repeatedly so that everyone in each train gets a good look at every part of the other.

Of course, it happens regularly with, say, conventional suburban trains, such as this stretch between Caulfield and Moorabbin on the Frankston line.

This section has three tracks. The third track was built in the mid-1980s, and allows peak-hour express trains to overtake stopping trains.

But until quite recently, this had been woefully underused. Inspection of the 2008 timetable shows only 2 express trains overtook stoppers in the morning, and 5 in the afternoon.

The June 2010 timetables finally changed that, with current schedules showing 7 trains overtake in the morning peak, and 13 in the afternoon, thanks to more consistent (mostly) stopping patterns and express trains scheduled well into the evening shoulder-peak period.

But triplicating rail lines is now out of fashion. Because there’s very little stabling in the central city, morning trains need to be shifted back out to the suburbs after the peak, and in the afternoon trains need to be brought back in, resulting in fairly even traffic — so two tracks in one direction and only one in the other doesn’t really work.

Back in 2006 the proposal was to triplicate the Dandenong line. But following a great deal of debate and consideration, now it’s all about making better use of the existing two tracks, by standardising stopping patterns, evening out frequencies and spreading peak loads onto different trains.

And future track expansion is likely to be another pair of tracks, for instance the “Melbourne Metro” tunnel. No doubt when eventually they look at expansion further out, it will also involve an extra two tracks, not just one.


Now, if a Siemens overtaking a Comeng is a bit routine for you, and you want to see an utterly epic triple parallel run, check this video from the 1988 Aus Steam event near Melbourne, featuring Australian steam engines together with the visiting Flying Scotsman.

(By the way, any of you budding Wikipedia editors care to clean up the Aus Steam article? The grammar is terrible.)

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.

8 replies on “Gunzel heaven: Parallel run”

Do you think that train was purposely chosen to do the overtake given the advertising on the side? Also good to see you doing your part for PSO recruiting ;-) haha

Here’s one from the train itself – this (slightly edited) parallel run between South Yarra and Caulfield between an L-class and Tait in the final electric excursion to Warragul in 1998…

On the Dandenong rail capacity article you linked to, I note Mees was big on the Oakleigh terminating trains to ‘double’ capacity on the line assuming a substantial portion of the demand was in the Oakleigh-Caulfield area. Travelling on this line to work every day it is worth noting in practice that the short run services to Westall and particularly Oakleigh are relatively underutilised by passengers when compared to the Pakenham and Cranbourne ones (I do travel on these services occasionally and switch).

My travel home will typically involve the 4:23 Cranbourne from South Yarra (or 4:08 if I’m lucky with the train from Prahran) In between is a Westall terminating train (which was Oakleigh before a timetable change) which would carry around half the number of passengers as the following Cranbourne service (some more use it now since going to Westall as it stops at Huntingdale and Clayton). Following the Cranbourne is an express to Pakenham which is notoriously packed to the outer suburbs. Incidentally some of the remaining passengers at Westall wait for the following Cranbourne service to show up. The positive is you at least get a seat on the short run service!

Admittedly Caulfield and Oakleigh themselves remain busy stations but I’d be interested to see the data forming the basis of the demand claim – it is worth noting the footnotes claim it was based on a 2006(?) University of Melbourne Honours thesis, coupled with ABS statistics pre-dating the increase in passenger numbers the last few years. As I have stated before these don’t quite seem to match the train travelling reality. I suspect that any future Rowville line (no, I’m not waiting with baited breath!) would be accompanied by some sort of track expansion and grade separation of crossings from Oakleigh to Caulfield to enable more trains to run through.

@Andrew, yeah it’s interesting – looking back at these maps … for whatever reason, Carnegie, Murrumbeena and Hughesdale all appear to have less patronage than Clayton, Springvale and Noble Park (let alone bigger stations like Dandenong), and also less patronage than comparable Frankston line stations Glenhuntly and Ormond.

That said, Clayton and Springvale are busy centres (destinations), and the comparative peak-hour suburb to/from CBD loads may be quite different to the total weekday boardings.

I thought I’d seen the clip of parallel running of the Flying Scotsman in Victoria, but this is another one. I get very annoyed when I am travelling between Caulfield and South Yarra and another train is going faster in the same direction. Happens between Flinders Street and Spencer Street too. I see what you mean about the Wiki article, but at least someone made the effort to record the information. It can always be polished later.

That video of the triple-running, WOW! Though I have to say, what is that racket when the three locos are running together? It ruins such an awesome shot.

I can’t imagine something like that ever being done like that today, the bureaucracy alone would kill it before a phone call to V/Line would even be finished. And even if there was a sympathetic ear on the other end, the anti-gunzel attitude of others would probably ensure it doesn’t go any further than that. What a sucky age we live in.

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