The next timetable – delayed but hopefully still on the way

Today’s Age highlights the Metro timetable changes that were planned to be implemented with the RRL opening last month.

As many would know, the introduction of Regional Rail Link was meant to be accompanied by a big timetable change on Metro to take advantage of the extra capacity unlocked, particularly on the Sunbury, Williamstown and Werribee lines.

Despite the moves towards “Metronisation” (a term the government and/or Metro appear to have coined to describe the gradual change to dedicated lines, simplified stopping patterns and more frequent services), the rail network still has numerous inter-dependencies.

This means many of the proposed changes were tied together, and it appears when the government got cagey about one of the changes, the whole upgrade unravelled, which is why the only Metro change when RRL opened was one lousy service each way on the Werribee line.

At this stage, it appears the rest of the changes are postponed until the end of the year, and I hope they all still happen, because it turns out there are some great upgrades in the package.

Notably this is not the only delay to Metro timetable changes that has occurred recently — there are improvements that have been proposed, but held back under the Coalition, as well as under Labor.

Trains near Footscray station

What was planned?

Here’s a summary of the timetable changes planned for 2015 — as well as changes originally proposed to have happened during 2013 and 2014 which were postponed.

This is based on my reading of information I’ve obtained. Any errors or omissions are mine.

Sandringham — Peak: upgrade to every 6-7 mins (currently 7-8)

Frankston — Peak: expresses and stopping trains each every 7-8 mins (currently 9ish). Weekday evenings: every 10 mins until 9pm.

The biggest change on this politically sensitive line would be no more Frankston Loop trains at all. This would mean trains will run via Flinders Street and Southern Cross and then through to Newport, as currently happens most of the time on weekdays.

It would affect weekend and peak (currently every second peak train runs via the Loop). This is what The Age says the government got nervous about. This will have obvious impacts as many Loop station passengers will change onto other trains at Richmond. Will that station, and those other trains cope?

In peak I usually catch these trains to and from Flagstaff Station. But I’m usually headed for Bourke Street — it’s only slightly further to walk from Flinders Street Station, so that’s what I’ll do, and I hope everybody else considers their options carefully rather than automatically still use the same station even when it involves a change of trains that makes it a longer journey than just walking an extra block or catching a tram. Werribee passengers got used to it; we could too. Ditto Sandringham, Glen Waverley AM peak, Alamein PM peak, Frankston peak express users…

The pay-off is more trains overall. The only nagging question I have is… will they use that space freed up in the Caulfield Loop? It appears not yet, not until a later timetable change to boost the Dandenong line. So why do it now? It seems to be tied to the Werribee line upgrade, as Frankston trains will mostly through-route to that line.

Glen Waverley — Peak: every 6-7 mins. Weekday interpeak: every 10 mins (currently 15). Weekday evenings: every 10 mins until 9pm. No more Loop trains weekday PM — see above.

Alamein/Belgrave/Lilydale — Peak: every 10 mins each to Belgrave, Lilydale, and Ringwood/Box Hill. Weekday interpeak and weekday evenings: until 9pm every 10 mins to Ringwood (currently 15-20), alternating to Belgrave and Lilydale, every 20 mins to Alamein.

Note, this is a reduction in service for Alamein during interpeak periods, but an upgrade in the evening.

Upfield — Peak: the source I have says every 11/22 mins, which I assume means 11 between the city and Coburg, as beyond that the single track makes more than 3 trains per hour difficult. (This is similar to operations during the Commonwealth Games, when extra trains ran to Coburg.)

Craigieburn — Peak: every 11 minutes via the Loop, and every 11 minutes direct via Southern Cross and Flinders Street, so every 5-6 minutes combined — (currently uneven, about every 6-12 minutes, with a small number of direct trains).

Sunbury — Peak: every 11 mins to Sunbury (currently 12), plus extra services to Watergardens.

Off-peak on the Sunbury line there was to have been a doubling of frequencies in 2016, every 10 minutes to Watergardens, 20 to Sunbury, but it’s unclear if this change was meant to tie in with RRL, which was originally expected in 2016.

Note the peak pattern here: Upfield/Craigieburn/Sunbury all share the Northern Loop, and would be on an 11 minute peak cycle… mind you, the direct Craigieburn trains would also share tracks with the Werribee/Williamstown lines in peak.

Werribee — Peak: every 7-8 mins (currently about 10-12) — a big boost taking advantage of the fact that Geelong trains are no longer on the line.

Altona Loop — Weekday interpeak: every 20 minutes all the way to Flinders St (currently shuttles to Newport)

Williamstown — Weekend daytime: every 20 mins (currently shuttles), making a combined Werribee/Williamstown service every 10 mins as far as Newport.

Spreading the peak: Although the grisly detail (such as actual timetables) isn’t available, there is also talk of spreading the peak over a longer period, so in some cases the highest frequency remains about the same, but it’s provided over a longer time span, encouraging more people where possible to travel outside the “peak of the peak” busiest times.

Train exits City Loop approaching Richmond

Good? Bad? Indifferent?

Overall good, though a couple of notes of caution.

The Loop changes would be painful for some, but the pay-off (as usual) is more frequent services, roughly a 20% peak boost on some lines, up to 50% in the evenings (from two trains per hour to three) and further moves towards ten minute services all-day everyday.

And this is the key to running more trains: you can’t have all the lines converging on the four track City Loopthose tracks are pretty much full. To make better use of the substantial track capacity in the CBD, some lines have to go direct into Flinders Street and Southern Cross.

Better separation of services should also help reliability, though there may be longer dwell times at interchange stations such as Richmond and Caulfield.

They’ve already started upgrading Richmond to provide more weather cover for interchanging passengers. Granted, the shelters above the ramps make it look like a jail, but given the centre and eastern end subways are often congested, at least people will be encouraged to use the subway at the city end, even if it’s raining — since widening the centre subway is a huge project that isn’t going to happen any time soon.

No doubt the timetable is tied into a myriad of other less obvious changes which move the rail system towards the “5 group railway” as Metro calls it, designed to improve reliability and frequency. For instance the reduction in seating on many trains would also be a factor here, providing more standing space for those short hops in and out and around of the Loop — though even the new layout lacks handholds to encourage people to move down the aisles.

Better separation and more consistent operation also means the lines can more clearly shown on the new rail map, improving the overall legibility of the network.

And I don’t think you’ll find any Altona Loop people who would be disappointed to see the end of interpeak shuttles.

We know the train fleet has been increasing in size. I wonder just how many trains sit idle at peak hour while people are packed into the services that are running?

I’ll be affected by the removal of peak Frankston trains out of the Loop. And perhaps this should have been held over until a big boost on the Dandenong line. But that could be years away, and I can see the big picture. I can work with it.

Overall this package of changes is good for the rail network, and helps move us ahead towards more frequent services overall. We need the extra services this provides. So yes, there’ll be some inconvenience, but hopefully the government will get the upgrades to Richmond in place, and publicly explain the changes, how they benefit people, how those impacted can work with it — then push ahead and do it.

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.

24 replies on “The next timetable – delayed but hopefully still on the way”

thanks for the update. I’m one of those people who catch a loop train in the evening peak and get off at Richmond (I work opposite Parliament station). Those trains are almost always packed. Removing even more loop trains will make it impossible for anyone to get on at Parliament. Catching a tram/walking to Flinders St will add 15 minutes onto a 25 minute commute.
How can that problem be fixed?

The Age report mentioned sending Upfield trains to Southern Cross. Would this have been all Upfield trains, or just those starting at Coburg?

Daniel. Great well balanced article as always. The Hurstbridge line beyond Eltham has the worst frequency in the system: 40 mins inter-peak and 60 mins after 7pm. Diamond Creek is the same distance from the CBD as Mitcham and has many people, including me, that drive long distances to park at railway stations closer in (buses do nit connect as well). Will we ever get at least a 20 min frequency? This could be achieved without duplication.

@Roger: I assume ‘removing’ Frankston line trains from the City Loop will not result in a net reduction in Loop trains, as there should be a corresponding increase in trains through the Loop on other Caulfield group lines (Dandenong, Pakenham, Cranbourne). If not, then your observation is valid, and the plan will surely fail.

@Daniel: The weather shelter over the northern end of Richmond Station is welcome, despite being hastily and incompletely executed. But it has actually resulted in a net reduction in passenger capacity on the northern ramps, as it has narrowed the ramps by up to 80cm. The northern ramps were already busy during peak times, so this change is not entirely welcome. Aside from peak times, the other significant impact will be during major events (tennis, football, concerts) where Richmond passenger capacity was already at it limit – any further reduction, no matter how small, will further exacerbate the problem.

@Michael Bell – the weather shelter at Richmond station is not a welcome change? It rains in Melbourne. When it rains, the traffic slows down. When it rains, the people on open air train stations crowd under existing shelters and if there is not enough room, they crowd into other parts of the station, making it almost impossible to use. I have seen it many times where people cannot get onto a train due to crowds crowding around the internal subway steps at Richmond being totally blocked as these were the only areas that were dry from rain.

I think removing a mere 80cm is a small price to pay for the added shelter from rain, and I can’t wait till its 38 degrees with the sun belting down at 5pm on a weekday…at least with a roof there will be some sort of way to escape.

Daniel, your train should/might become a Werribee train when it arrives at Flinders St; in that case you’d be better off staying on it and getting off at Southern Cross, and walking to Bourke Street from there.

However, asking other people, who might not be as fit (no update on your running regime for a while!) to walk all the way from Flinders St to Bourke St, might be a much bigger ask. There are tram options, obviously, though as you have reported many a time, these are increasingly stretched because of the ludicrous Free Tram Zone.
Of course, not everyone works as far from Flagstaff as Bourke St, I would imagine that Bourke and Queen would be the limit of the catchment for current Flagstaff customers.

The ramp cover at Richmond leaves me in two minds:
1) glad that’s something has been done, even if it’s a tad ungainly
2) perplexed that so simple a design has taken so long to be implemented when it has been obvious to everyone for many a year that this was required. To wait so long, and to get so basic a design (albeit adequate) it begs the question, “What took them so long?”.

Changing trains at Richmond is a 3 minute exercise so long as there is a steady number of trains heading in and the changes avoid the usual platform 5 Pak/Cran up train crush then all the better.

Changing trains is common in a lot of places around the world, so this isn’t a killer. What _needs_ to be done is to sort the key transfer stations out. Richmond needs a complete roof – not just on the platforms, but right across the whole thing. Rain and a bit of wind means the shelters are pretty much useless, especially when you’re 6+ metres above ground level.

Thanks all for the comments.

@Roger, yes, the question is when this happens, will there be enough capacity on the Loop services. (By the way, it’s certainly a factor preventing consistent Loop direction. If it wasn’t peak direction between Parliament and Richmond, there’s no way those trains would cope.)

@Paul, good question. The info I have is a bit vague. We know that there has been talk for a while of Upfield running into Southern Cross platform 8 (and remember V/Line gained two platforms last year, so they shouldn’t need it anymore), but my reading of the info I have is that the proposed 11 minute cycles for the Northern Loop should allow Upfield trains to run there for now – it would come out at about 22 trains per hour, which at or just under the Loop’s capacity.

@Andrew, as I understand it, the numerous single track sections (and lack of stabling) along the Hurstbridge line do prevent more frequent services with sufficient reliability. (Diamond Creek may be the same distance as Mitcham, but the populations don’t really compare, do they?)

@TW King, I think you mis-interpreted Michael’s comment. He clearly says the shelter is welcome. The question is, is the design as perfect as it could be?

@Pip, some good points. In my case, I’ve found the walk from Flinders St is quicker than staying the extra 3-4 minutes on the train, plus the long exit out of Southern Cross, plus the remaining walk.

Yes, crowded trams are an issue for those who need them, though the Free Tram Zone has had more of an effect outside peak hours than during them, at least that’s my perception for north-south routes; it might be different for Docklands routes given the large amounts of parking around there.

All that said, I would guess 90% of people have no problem walking 3-4 CBD blocks. Many already do so anyway. Though it does bring in another factor – Flinders Street pedestrian capacity, something being looked at as part of the upgrade project there. Another reminder of the complexities of a big system.

@Chris, another long term project they should be looking at is upgrading Caulfield to allow cross-platform transfers between the Frankston and Dandenong lines there, perhaps as part of the Metro rail tunnel project. (Note: once the tunnel is built, Dandenong trains will use that, and Frankston line trains will come back into the Loop.)

One of the major PT lesson the current government has taken from the previous two state government`s defeats is that ‘thou shalt not upset the Frankston and Glen Waverley lines’ and thrown in the Craigieburn line for good measure.

@Daniel I think that there may be capacity as:
. the line already operates at near 20 min frequency in the AM peak at Diamond Creek (7:02, 7:31 and 7:54)
. a second platform was built at Diamond Creek a few years back to provide a passing loop (in addition to the one at Eltham)
. new signalling was installed in 2012 between Greensborough and Hurstbridge (replaced the mechanical staff signal system! – allowing trains to use the single track in the same direction – the extra capacity has not been utilised
. additional stabling was provided at Eltham as part of the South Morang extension project.

I also notice that the PTV Network Development Plan does propose duplication from Greensborough to Eltham one day……..

There is definitely no impediment for trains after 7pm to go the the end of the line like all other lines (ie a 30 min frequency rather than a 60 min one).

Also Diamond Creek has 11,504 people, not too much less than Mitcham at 14,811 people (ABS 2011) – see,_Victoria and,_Victoria

Not sure if population catchment is the major consideration as many existing stations service populations of well below these levels :)

@Daniel – very interesting summary, thanks for posting :)

@Paul – I gather the turnaround capacity at Platform 8A at Southern Cross is only around 6 trains per hour; 8B doesn’t make much of a difference because of the complicated trackwork, and 8S is too short.
It’s very difficult to find actual numbers, but I’d estimate 8B to be about 4 cars long between signals 507-508; 8A is just over 6 cars 529 to buffers 416, and 8S looks to be 5⅞ cars long between signal 115 and buffers B436 – but it’s reported as 5 cars because that allows a train to depart towards Flinders St.
The solution for 8S could either be to extend the platform a few metres towards Flinders St, or to add a new signal SSS117 between the toes of points 023D-435U, so that a departing train obeys that rather than 115. Only really necessary if 555 isn’t visible from 8S, but it would make everything a lot smoother regardless.

@Andrew – I had a think about the Hurstbridge line a while back. This is what I came up with:
1. Greensborough every 10min to city
2. Greensborough – Diamond Creek every 20min, one-in-3 extend to Hurstbridge
3. Peak hours: six Hurstbridge to Loop trains ex Hurstbridge plus 5 ex Eltham; buses counterpeak.
The shuttle worked perfectly in terms of serving patronage circa 2009, if all Diamond Creek were single carriages and Hurstbridge 2 carriages (this was before I realised the Sprinters weren’t designed for constant-stopping runs). But using 3-car sets would work just as well. Cutting the line at Greensborough helps to prevent unreliability from spreading across the Clifton Hill group.
I also found that a bus running north of Diamond Creek would actually be a few minutes faster than the train, since it follows the main roads while the train takes a lot of low-speed curves. So I wonder whether a better overall service could be provided by (offpeak only) terminating all trains at Diamond Creek, and running buses Hurstbridge thru Wattle Glen, Diamond Creek, Eltham to say Doncaster Shoppingtown and maybe even Box Hill, depending on road capacity.

@Daniel/Paul – I suppose the new northern loop 22tph was supposed to be all Watergardens/Sunbury plus half the Craigieburn and half the Upfield? I wonder if they could get away with all Upfield+Sunbury through the Loop, and all Newport+Craigieburn through to Frankston and Sandringham? Would the Through Suburban Viaduct cope, not to mention the flat junctions at North Melbourne and Newport.

Re Richmond, eventually I’d like to see two of the South Yarra lines diverted into the Domain-Parkville route; then demolish the middle of Richmond, keep track 1 and renumber track 10 as track 8, make all the platforms in between a little wider and that should provide enough room for central columns if a roof or structure over the top is going to be added.

I wonder how they were going to work the 10 minute frequency to Ringwood – currently there’s express trains (and Blackburn stoppers) until 12:30pm, then only 2.5 hours until the afternoon shoulder peak expresses start again.

So if they were going to run the same 10 minute frequency as applies on weekends, some off-peak users would have less services (Camberwell & Glenferrie particularly), some would have more frequent trains that take 9 minutes longer (past Blackburn), and others (Canterbury etc) would lose the anomaly of having more weekend than weekday services.

That big Hurstbridge line upgrade was an utter waste – the Clifton Hill timetable was not altered at all after completion – so there’s still enforced mid-station stops on the South Morang line at all times (even midnight Sunday), and there’s been no payoff in terms of increased services or improved travel times with the completion of the project. I guess the new garden beds at Eltham looks nice though.

PTV isn’t very keen on 10-minute service to Greensborough, the plan only details every 10 to Macleod for the near future. I don’t know why this would be, I was thinking it could be to do with the single track between Heidelberg and Rosanna disrupting timing, or the fact that Macleod has three platforms – but neither of these are a satisfactory explanation.

Dave, I think Richmond needs a complete rebuild, and unless we do that we will just be clutching at straws. The reluctance to have done it properly in the 60s when the station was previously rebuilt, or the 70s when the loop was built, is the root cause of too much of why we don’t get value out of the system now.

I have even wondered whether it needs to be moved – it could be more useful as a sports station if it was a bit closer to the tennis arenas. It doesn’t need to be on Swan St – East Richmond does that job.

The problems for Richmond are:

1. Platforms too narrow – but resolved by not requiring people to wait too long for trains

2. Exposure to the weather – the all over roof is probably the best idea

3. Caulfield interchange – expensive because it would require resignalling and a flyover/dive – essentially what was done with the Burnley Group in the 1960s and 70s but not done with the Caulfield Group in the 1920s.

4. Interplatform interchange – probably best solved North Melbourne style with an elevated concourse and several escalators down to platform level

5. Wrong side of Brunton Ave – the concourse could also extend across Brunton Ave nearer the MCG and have a grand staircase like Southern Cross

6. Underuse – this area needs to be massively built up. It would be a joke in Sydney as much less significant interchanges attract a lot more daily use

7. Legibility – I don’t support rotation reversal as a way of dealing with Richmond’s problems. It needs to be rebuilt.

8. Buses – the Punt/Hoddle Bus route should be one of Melbourne’s major routes but languishes. Better interchange and legibility could boost its role

9. ‘Down’ connectivity – few passengers avail themselves of the ability to ‘meet’ a down train at Richmond that has already departed FSS via the loop, using a direct train, because the passenger information systems are so poor. There is no indication at FSS of trains that have just departed, and whether a direct train will intercept it.

This results in people going on unnecessary journeys around the loop

10. The purpose of the two SY-FSS tracks once the new tunnel is built. Are they for Vline and freight only? What becomes of their platforms? As Dave suggested, you could demolish them but the widening would only give 10/8 or 25% more space which is not a huge gain considering the cost.

Anyone know what will happen to Sandringham line in the interpeak, evenings and on weekends? Or will they remain at 15min interpeak and evenings to 9pm and 20mins on weekends? Definitely need to boost the Sunday morning service to every 20mins from 7am. I’ve had on a number of occasions trains cancelled resulting in an 80 minute wait!!!

Also I believe the middle interchange subway at Richmond is heritage listed (that’s what I’ve been told by station staff), so it will be hard to alter/widen these unless you get the heritage overlay removed…

Interesting point re moving the station. I think if there were fewer, wider platforms we might be able to get away with three concourses, one each side of Hoddle St to interchange with the 246 bus, and a third at the Up end. But I don’t think the station can actually be moved, given modern platform design standards and the sites of the flyover and the city loop portals. I’d be interested to see the plans for extending the existing platforms to 230/250m, maybe we could borrow ideas from those.

Caulfield UUDD resignalling was planned as part of the Loop project as well. But my preference is for the inverse of East Richmond, with a centre island for stopping trains rather than having them on the outside. It means fewer flyovers and easier inner-tier short terminating.

I wouldn’t bother with extending the west end concourse over Brunton Avenue. We need the open space between Batman Avenue and the William Barak Bridge for possible future flyovers/flyunders, but the rest of the section Richmond – Flinders Street could be decked over and Brunton could be made obsolete, perhaps running south direct to Swan St or similar, as part of that project. Then there’s no impediment to the west end concourse directly serving the parks.
My understanding of the PTV plan, post melb metro, was to have a single standard gauge track running from Dynon along the outside of Southern Cross, over a seventh viaduct track and through track 9A at Flinders Street, then a crossing loop between there and Richmond, South Yarra 5/6; then a single fifth track cut along the north side of the South Yarra – Caulfield section, a fourth track Caulfield – Clayton then flyover to the south side through Westall Platform Zero, and continue down to the Dandenong South freight terminal.
Frankly, that plan is stupid. It lacks in creativity, and because of that it misses out on a good range of opportunities. My preference is four tracks to Dandenong – two for Metro-tier trains (regardless of operator), running at up to say 30 or 40tph in peaks between Caulfield and the City Loop, and the other two tracks for everything else, i.e. freight, V/Line, express passenger electric, empty car and workshops transfers, heritage specials etc. Those would vary in frequency in accordance with demand, but there would be ample capacity to handle the slight variations in power:weight and braking capacity (i.e. max speed and headways required) across each class of train.
To handle the gauge issue – dual gauge could be used but it limits the broad gauge trains to 80 km/h. The alternative would be to run everything broad gauge east of Dynon, with a plant there for Cargobeamer or Megaswing technologies for quick transfer of loadings from a broad gauge train to standard gauge, or viceversa. North Dynon has sufficient room for that sort of technology, operating at about 60% capacity would be sufficient for over a quarter of the 2050 freight task.

I am always going to disagree with Daniel on one matter. I prefer having more lines rather than a simplified system. The limited amount of confusion that some people may experience is greatly outweighed by the convenience of the vast majority, as well as people with limited mobility too.

Having some Dandenong group trains run direct to Flinders Street, and even better, run across to become the current direct Craigiburn line trains would a very good idea, and use the spare Cauflield loop space to have some Frankston line trains return to the loop.

While you increase the complexity of the network map, for the vast majority of the customers will benefit thanks to less people needing to change at Richmond, less delays while people change and so on.

We need to come to a point of where we need to understand that the current lines are at capacity. The only way to improve capacity is to build a number of new railway lines around the suburbs.

Perhaps a complete new network needs to be built in addition to the current one.

Perhaps those Monorail network plans are the solution?
Perhaps we could build more conventional railway lines along the mediums of most freeways. Either as an express railway that runs direct into the city, and/or with limited stops along the way?

If we are going to follow the trends in London, we should have no problem operating a triple consist on some lines. The S7 stock in London, where purchased even though they are way too long for many of the platforms they use, and there are no plans at all to extend the platforms.

Splitting lines means splitting frequency, which decreases the quality of service. The aim of changing the service into a ‘metro’ is for consistent service patterns with high frequency. Dividing the frequency counters that. You change a service that you can turn up and go, to one where you have to check the timetable and may change depending on which exact time it is. It becomes no longer predictable and simple to use. Suggestions such as putting some trains into the loop, and some out, also introduces needless complexity for operations and timetabling, which can possibly result in cascading delays, as two lines sharing the loop become affected when an issue occurs on either. And anyway, if you have half the trains going through the loop and half going direct, it means that people going direct have to change anyway, so you’re not getting much improvement.

The capacity issue is in the city, building new lines in the suburbs does not increase capacity in the city.

Building a new network is extraordinarily expensive.

You cannot board a train carriage if it overhangs the station platform.

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