V/Line peak patronage 2012-2017

Five years ago I published some figures on V/Line’s peak patronage, based on their capacity reports, where they show the number of seats occupied in each service in peak hour.

Here’s an update comparing with their figures for February 2017.

Line 2012 2012 2017 2017 Change 2012 2012 2017 2017 Change
  Trains AM ? Trains AM ? AM ? ⬆️ Trains PM ? Trains PM ? PM ? ⬆️
Geelong 11 2917 16 5920 102.95% 8 3292 13 4800 45.81%
Ballarat 10 2771 13 4131 49.08% 9 3059 11 3978 30.04%
Bendigo 10 2612 8 2229 -14.66% 7 2572 6 1609 -37.44%
Seymour 4 792 4 883 11.49% 4 831 3 820 -1.32%
Gippsland 4 746 4 741 -0.67% 3 859 3 619 -27.94%
Total 39 9838 45 13904 41.33% 31 10613 36 11826 11.43%

Apologies for the emojis; this blog format is not well-suited to wide tables. The face means it’s measuring the number of passengers. (Yeah they’re not smiling.)

AM peak is all trains arriving in Melbourne before 9am; PM peak is all trains leaving between 4pm and 6pm. And note that the maximum load quoted by V/Line is 100% — if a train has all seats filled and passengers standing, it is under-represented in these figures.

Why is AM peak higher than PM peak? Because it covers a wider span of time. A number of people would travel into Melbourne in AM peak, but travel back either before or after the PM peak, and those numbers aren’t published by V/Line.

Overall, clearly there is a lot of growth (41% in AM peak, 11% in PM peak), but this is focused on some lines far more than others, partly reflecting the changes on the V/Line network since then.

The biggest change in this time is that the Regional Rail Link project was completed, giving trains from Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong their own tracks through suburban Melbourne. It’s not perfect, and V/Line’s operations on the line leave a lot to be desired, but it has opened up the way to far more trains and passengers.

Waiting to board a Geelong train at Southern Cross, PM peak

The Geelong line has seen the biggest growth, with a 53% increase in the number of train services, but a massive jump of passengers of 103% in AM peak, and 46% in PM peak. A big factor is that the line now serves the new stations at Wyndham Vale and Tarneit (the latter being the busiest V/Line station apart from Southern Cross) as well as Deer Park.

The irony is that having fixed the problem of large numbers of suburban commuters on the Bendigo line (see below), Regional Rail Link re-created the same issue on the Geelong line. There are proposals to extend Metro services to Wyndham Vale and Tarneit, but don’t hold your breath on that.

The Ballarat line is also showing strong growth, with 49% more passengers in AM peak, 30% in PM peak. Caroline Springs opening in January would have contributed, but I suspect there’s far more growth at the existing stations of Melton and Bacchus Marsh, as well as Deer Park, which are all growth areas.

Note that V/Line train lengths can vary. In the case of Ballarat, 19 peak hour trains in 2012 vs 24 in 2017 is a 26% increase in services, but in that time the seat counts have jumped from 3195 to 4811 in AM peak (up 50%), and from 3711 to 4375 in PM peak (up 18%), or a total increase of 33%. PM peak in particular is well below the growth seen on the line, so clearly more carriages are needed.

(Sorry, I don’t seem to have the detailed figures from 2012 for the Geelong line handy.)

Over on the Bendigo line, patronage has actually dropped, as has the number of trains. Why? Because the Sunbury electrification opened in November 2012, taking a lot of passengers from one of the Bendigo line’s busiest stations to Metro services — the definitions for peak are different, but it’s about 1500 people from Sunbury, and about 180 from Diggers Rest.

While passengers at Sunbury still have the choice of boarding V/Line trains, they only run about once an hour, even in peak, compared to a Metro train about every 12 minutes, and the travel time is much the same, with no fiddly changing trains if you want one of the Loop stations or Flinders Street.

With the limited figures available in public, it’s difficult to determine how much Sunbury patronage has grown since electrification, but I’d expect the rest of the Bendigo hasn’t lost any other passengers overall, and has probably grown.

The Seymour line seems to have seen moderate change, with 11% growth in the AM peak, and a very slight decrease in PM peak. I’m surprised there hasn’t been a bit more growth thanks to the price cut in 2015 — $4.10 one way is dirt cheap to get all the way out to Wallan or Heathcote Junction, but there might be other factors — some stations might have no or very poor connecting buses, a hostile environment for walking and cycling, and a full car park. As always, the fare is only part of the equation — service quality matters more.

Gippsland line patronage is stagnant in the mornings, and well down in the evenings. This is probably due to a lot of Pakenham passengers having shifted to Metro — of the three PM peak services, two are marked as Pick Up only at Pakenham (this changed since 2012), and one runs express — all designed to ensure seats are saved for those travelling longer distances.

Boarding a Geelong train, evening peak

Investment in public transport usually goes where the crowding is. It might be some time before we see major infrastructure changes on the Seymour or Gippsland lines, though there are proposals to duplicate and upgrade the latter to counter the job losses in the Latrobe Valley by providing better access to employment in Melbourne.

The Ballarat line is being duplicated to handle more trains, and cut reliability problems, which is good. Hopefully the Bendigo line is coping for now. It’s unclear what will happen with the Geelong line in the short term, but clearly V/Line and the government need to deal with the growth that’s occurring across the network.

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.

16 replies on “V/Line peak patronage 2012-2017”

I wonder if there would be enough space on the Werribee line to quadruplicate (Broad Gauge tracks) and divert Geelong Line trains back the old way with some sort of new interchange station at West Werribee. Then RRL could be electrified along with Melton/Bacchus Marsh. Then the Bendigo line would be at a loose end and the Geelong line would need some way of getting into the city (perhaps Metro 2 could include an extra two tracks to Southern Cross). This would untangle the way that regional trains get to/from the city, but would probably never happen because of costs.

I suspect part of the reason for the low increase on the Seymour line is the overcrowding issue you mentioned – it isn’t uncommon for the train to be full by the time it reaches Wallan going into the city. Considering Wallan is the busiest station and Donnybrook is quickly becoming one of the busiest, that’s a lot of standing passengers not being counted.

Would be really interesting to get some stats on these people. How many are making this trip every weekday?? Ie to what extent is this measuring growth in regional-capital commuter patronage, and to what extent is that uniform – are some towns doing better than others.
Do we know the numbers for individual station boardings?

The outer end of Regional Rail Link was built to be quadruplicated – bridges were built with space for a second track pair, the station at Wyndham Vale has space for a second set of platforms on the west side, and Tarneit has provision for additional tracks on either side of the existing platform.

@Marcus Wong

Speaking of provisions, what is the gap of space on the east side of the tracks at Wyndham Vale for? I always thought it was for a future Metro service, but the angle and space looks a bit tight.

Also I’m guessing V/Line are doing their own counting hence the smaller PM statistic only between 4 to 6 pm. I wonder if they can supplement this information through the use of Myki.

@arfman wouldn’t V/Line be doing their own counting in the AM too?
The reason for the smaller PM is mainly due to what Daniel has said, smaller PM peak band, and also because commuters tend to travel back gradually throughout the day.
If you imagine the morning, and the usual rigid 9am start time as something that must be met by most workers, finish times are more fluid, some work later, or drift back home with more freedom – typically speaking.

@Declan, that might be a factor, bearing in mind only one of the 7 peak hour Seymour line trains is said to be “100% full” (eg every seat taken)

@Adam, as far as I know, V/Line doesn’t publish individual station figures (unlike Metro)

@Arfman, I believe the counts are based on V/Line’s conductors taking numbers. I would think they have figures for other times too, but they’ve chosen only to publish peak train figures.

For all we know, trains either side of 4pm-6pm might be just as crowded.

And certainly V/Line is said to be suffering from crowding at other times, such as weekends on the Geelong line, when the hourly service just doesn’t cut it… and here’s how the Ballarat line looked last weekend:

I personally think it would be helpful for them to publicly release figures throughout the day, not just for the peak hours, and my suggestion on referring to myki generated numbers was on if they were not willing to spend the resources on counting.

Bus drivers should know connection times to inform passengers and bus timetables should show this as well with a letter indicating a train connection. I know the McHarry’s Bus Lines in Geelong have train connection times on the driver’s shift timetable.

Gippsland patronage is down due to people giving up on the train due to it being so useless.

They are already putting in more bus stops in preparation of getting rid of the train service. People will stop coming in to Melbourne in that case.

Geelong line capacity problems are the predictable result of foolishly trying to make one new line double as a suburban extension as as a new line to Geelong. The result is neither fish nor fowl. Considered as a suburban line, it’s infrequent and inefficient – not electrified, and terminating at Southern Cross with poor transfer options because no Regional Rail Link station at North Melbourne. Considered as an intercity line, it’s a sad waste: $4 billion to make the line to Geelong 10km longer (!) and the services take about the same time as they did did before.
The Tarneit line originated as a thought bubble in the 2008 Eddington transport plan, then grew legs simply because at the time there happened to be a federal Labor government that wanted to throw some money at urban rail. It was never properly justified.
It was all so unnecessary. To solve Newport line capacity problems they could have built a Newport bypass line from the RRL at Tottenham to near Laverton (with a third track to Werribee to handle peak direction demand). There could have been a spur line from Laverton to Tarneit and Wyndham Vale. Then you would have had a more direct line to Tarneit with a properly planned suburban service; a more direct, genuinely high-speed service to Geelong; and the total amount of new construction would have been about the same as was actually built on the present ridiculously circuitous route.
The present Geelong service is only a few minutes faster than what would have been obtained by simply electrifying the line and extending the present *all stops* Werribee trains to Geelong. That gives you an idea of what a damp squib the RRL outcomes have been for Geelong.

John, what gets worse with the Geelong line changes, is, the Warnambool.

Not only do you have a four car train, with the whole catchment beyond Waurn Ponds, but it must also replace a 6-car V/Locity between Waurn Ponds and the city. Collecting all of the Geelong traffic, and guess what, it also does a suburban service on top of that.

They forgot to put in a turnback track at Whyndam Vale, and they could have used those H sets around the clock as a suburban service to there too.

RE:4 tracks via the old route of Newport….

You may just squeze in a third between Footscray and Newport, perhaps a short loop under the Westgate Bridge. You would need to have trains scheduled to cross just beyond each end of it.

Converting platform 6 (To Newport) into a island, creating a 7th platform, to handle that third track, would be easy enough to be done.

Between Newport and Werribee, I do feel another two tracks could be put in along that route. Not quite sure about Laverton, but the rest yes for sure.

You state how the Sunbury line has trains running every 12 minutes. Now thats not wrong for when you are looking to depart or arrive from Watergardens station but at Sunbury station the trains run every half hour to 40 minutes.

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