December train timetable shake-up

Remember the talk, almost a year ago now, of a shake-up to train timetables, prompted by the introduction of the new trains?

These changes are now expected to take effect in mid-December, following on from minor adjustments made in July.

Along the way, there have been some tweaks to the plan, but from what I’m hearing, there’s still a fair bit in it:

Frankston, Sandringham and Werribee trains will all run direct to Flinders Street, all the time

Currently, Frankston trains run via the Loop on weekends, and some via the Loop in weekday peak hours (anti-clockwise in AM, clockwise in PM). Sandringham and Werribee trains currently run via the Loop on weekends only.

Different patterns on different days, including different times of day, is confusing. And squeezing so many lines via the four track City Loop puts a limit on capacity. So this change is good.

It’s unclear if this means all Werribee services will through-route to Frankston all of the time, (the “Cross-City Group”) but I’d expect to at least see this more often.

Frankston trains are expected to return to the Loop in 2025 when the Dandenong trains get diverted permanently to the Metro Tunnel.

Williamstown trains will run all the way to the City on weekends

This is excellent – it avoids passengers having to change to and from shuttles at Newport, and doubles the weekend frequency from Newport to the City, cutting waiting times and crowding.

The great thing about this is that combined with the Werribees all running direct, it’s providing a significant service improvement but doesn’t actually use any additional driver resources. This is because the current timetable sees for most of the day, two trains running the Newport to Williamstown shuttles, and their drivers spending most of their time waiting in sidings.

It appears this change will not include evenings, but hopefully it does include early mornings (before 10am on Sundays) given the bad crowding at this time of day.

The Caulfield Loop (eg Dandenong trains) will run anti-clockwise all the time

Currently they run anti-clockwise on weekends and on weekdays until about 1pm; clockwise after 1pm.

This change is to facilitate the new trains, for which signal upgrades have been provided only in one direction through the Loop, but the side-effect is a second Loop tunnel will now be consistently in one direction, following the Clifton Hill tunnel switching to clockwise in 2008.

The once-proposed plan to have Burnley Loop trains skip Richmond in the PM peak seems to be off the table for now, which is probably good – it would have been very confusing and disruptive for some people.

So the question will be how many people heading home from Parliament and Melbourne Central to the Caulfield lines will be tempted to board Burnley Loop trains as a short cut to Richmond. If they do so in significant numbers, they might crowd those trains. For Dandenong line passengers, if they go the long way round, their trip might be a few minutes longer, but they’ll have much a better of getting a seat. This will be something authorities need to communicate to people.

As was noted last year: it’s a shame the Northern Loop doesn’t switch to clockwise all day to help with this by providing a quick way of getting from Parliament to Flinders Street.

Metro also needs to make sure they don’t transpose (swap) Dandenong line trains to other destinations as they traverse the City Loop, to ensure for example that a passenger boarding a Pakenham train at Melbourne Central actually ends up at Pakenham, not diverted to Cranbourne. I’m told their intention is to set each train’s outbound destination on the journey in, with no changes made after that.

They also need to ensure that Dandenong trains don’t wait at Flinders Street more than a minute or so. No long recovery time sitting at the platform with a train full of passengers.

Armadale station, platform 3

Dandenong trains will no longer stop between Caulfield and South Yarra

Currently they only do so early in the morning and late at night. Again, this change is related to the new trains, which require slightly longer platforms, provided at some stations but not others.

This will mean a frequency reduction for the MATH stations at some times of day. But it also means a slightly faster trip for people on the busiest line on the network at those times.

It’s probably a reminder that better interchange facilities are needed at Caulfield to move passengers quickly between the Dandenong and Frankston line platforms. This will be even more important once the Metro tunnel opens.

There are a few other operational changes

This includes shifting Northern Group (Upfield/Craigieburn/Sunbury) driver changes to North Melbourne in PM peak, which makes sense to minimise delays in the CBD where track and platform capacity is scarce. And the new Pakenham East depot will start being used for stabling.

Other lines (Clifton Hill and Burnley) do not appear to be changing this time round. I don’t have detail of changes to V/Line, but presumably the Gippsland line is seeing tweaks at the very minimum, given it shares tracks with Dandenong trains.

New platform displays at Flinders Street Station, January 2019


Why make these changes? Because they enable more services. Untangling the Loop in particular is allowing more peak services to run, with extra services expected to be added from December on most of the affected lines.

It also makes the City Loop area more easily navigable at all times of the week, and in a more predictable way.

V/Line passengers will have a way to travel from City Loop stations to Southern Cross during PM peak for the first time. And you’ll be able to make quick hops from North Melbourne to Southern Cross direct on weekends, and from Richmond to Parliament direct after 1pm on weekdays. (Parliament to Richmond on weekday mornings will still be tricky.)

Removing some of the variations in Loop operation means a more predictable, usable rail system. Consistency helps people navigate the system, particularly as travel patterns shift to a more diverse range (and times) of trips.

It can also help with passenger information – including signage on stations, and removing some of the complicated bits of the rail network map.

Bentleigh station, peak hour (during COVID-19)

Obviously patronage is well down at the moment, and even with COVID-19 restrictions expected to ease, this is likely to still be the case in December when these changes come in. So the full effect may not be seen until well into next year. A little surprise as people come back to work? Providing information about the new patterns will be important.

It would be great to see the Government build on these changes by committing to boost off-peak frequencies as well. Then we’ve got a real chance of a rail system that’s up to scratch for a city of 5 million.

The information in this post is gleaned from various sources. Of course, nothing is guaranteed until it’s officially announced.

UPDATE 22/10/2020 – I’m told that this timetable change has been postponed.

  • The rumour mill says there are smaller changes coming up on the trams, probably in November, including City Circle going from a 20 minute to 15 minute frequency as more refurbished W-class trams become available, and the introduction of E-class trams on route 30 LaTrobe Street.
    Personally I hope they keep route 12 running via LaTrobe Street, though I notice they haven’t altered it on the network map, so I suppose in theory it’s still only a temporary change.
  • Meanwhile, Infrastructure Victoria has released their paper on public transport fare reform. Some interesting proposals around off-peak discounting, which makes a lot of sense, though they need to be accompanied by increased all-day frequency. Separate pricing for train, tram, bus and “express bus” though – that seems problematic.

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.

32 replies on “December train timetable shake-up”

Re: the need to interchange at Caulfield, especially once Metro Tunnel opens. What are your thoughts about using the opportunity of the Glenhuntly & Grange Rd separations to build in a flyover/under to swap to right-hand running to Richmond? Means that all City-bound trains would arrive on Caulfield’s island platform, making interchange easy.

” … how many people heading home from Parliament and Melbourne Central to the Caulfield lines will be tempted to board Burnley Loop trains as a short cut to Richmond.”
Not only Caulfield lines, but also Sandringham.
Currently (pre-covid) there is barely any room left on evening trains at Parliament on plat 2 and 4 for Frankston/Sandringham passengers to get to Richmond to transfer.
From December, those passengers will have 50% of current trains to get to Richmond.
Have the authorities thought of this? How will the same number of passengers fit on 50% of the trains?

I’d be interested in your thoughts as to why *Infrastructure Victoria* was thought to be the appropriate body to produce a report on the future fare policy.

I would have said that fare policy is primarily a balance between social equity and economics. While fare policy does affect infrastructure usage, infrastructure usage should IMHO never be the primary driver of policy. Having a body that focuses on infrastructure produce recommendations on fare policy risks a primary focus using fares to optimise use of the infrastructure. Having had a quick look at the executive summary of the report, that appears to be exactly what Infrastructure Victoria’s has done.

Is this another example of the thinking that transport is primarily an engineering issue?

Personally, if I was catching the train at Parliament in the evening peak, my thinking would be…

Travel via Flinders Street? Good: can get a seat. Bad: much longer journey home. It’s not just the extra distance and four stations. It’s the lengthy wait on the viaduct as the train *slowly* goes from signal to signal in the bankup. And then there always seems to be a long wait *at* Flinders Steet – even if you are late.

If the delays due to Flinders Street aren’t addressed, most of the time I’d chose to go direct to Richmond and get home earlier. I’d probably do the same even from Melbourne Central.

Thinking a bit more about changing at Richmond.

If they really wanted to discourage Caulfield group passengers changing at Richmond, what I’d do is run the *Caulfield group* trains express through Richmond on the outbound journey in evening peak.

Caulfield group passengers could still avoid Flinders street if they wanted – by using the Sandringham trains from Richmond to South Yarra – but the extra time and hassle of changing twice would discourage most. The Sandringham trains would also allow passengers from the Burnley group and locally from Richmond to get onto the Caulfield group trains, with the same additional change. These passengers would be unhappy. Skipping Richmond would give the Caulfield group passengers a tiny bit of the time they lost back.

Andrew, those coming from Ringwood/Box Hill/Camberwell/Glenferrie/East Richmond will hate you forever for forcing them to change twice to get their Dandenong and Frankston trains

It is the equivalent issue you would have had if Burnley Group did this instead

Running the Burnley Group anti-clockwise all day is my personal pick to fix this mess, even though it also has trade-offs, especially those trying to change to Alamein, Blackburn, Frankston or Sandringham trains.

Daniel downplays the likely crowding issues on Burnley trains as he is used to his one seat ride Flagstaff – Bentleigh in the PM peak, he hasn’t experienced the Loop – Richmond transfer enough to see how difficult and crowded it already is

It is also infuriating after 6:30pm or so when there is nothing in the loop to Richmond in time to make a Frankston train, as the next service is 7 or 8 minutes away on either platform. 20 mins lost several times.

Only having Burnley Group trains for this shortcut will make this even more of a pain.

@Craig, I see the Richmond mess plenty, because if there’s even a hint of a delay to the Frankston Loop services, I catch the first train from Flagstaff to Richmond.

If things were going as normal, I would say the change would cause a big problem. But patronage is not just down this year, the prediction is a permanent drop in peak hour demand, which is why I think they’ll get away with it, provided they can convince Dandenong and Frankston people to go around anti-clockwise in PM peak.

Of course the Burnley Loop trains will still have Sandringham, Alamein and Blackburn people to deal with (as well as people whose destination is Richmond), so they’re going to need to watch carefully how it goes.

On a side topic, do we know if there will be any later shoulder peak expresses on the Frankston Line?

The last one is way too early for 10am starters, it arrives Flinders St before 9:15am.

A few later expresses would help spread the peak, suit uni students, shoppers and those with mid morning appointments and even benefit the many schools using trains for excursions.

In the ‘mid 90s The Met added two shopper expresses from Frankston after 9am but these disappeared at the end of ’98.

Express trains on the Frankston Line save 10 minutes…just compare travel times from Frankston to Richmond in the AM peak. 20 mins a day for those of us at the outer end of the line makes a difference.

How do you plan to convince Frankston passengers to go the long away around the loop after work?!

Changing at Southern Cross to try and score a seat is less likely to work than a guaranteed Parliament – Dandenong seat

And you then risk your train orginating at Flinders St without you or even a transposal on the viaduct (this does happen on occassion…)

So with Pakenham East being used, does this mean that HCMTs are entering service in December?

Also, “La Trobe St” is two words!!

Route 12 should stay via La Trobe st,using E Class insread of A’s,replaced in Collins st by a shuttle running between St.Vincents Plaza/East Melbourne to Docklands from 7am to 7pm 7 days a week.Also look at possibly changing the 11 to go to Port Melbourne using E’s with the 109 going to Vic Harbour with the C Class.

If I had a say this is how I would put it.

-Craigieburn/Sunbury will permanently use the city loop every day as they do currently.
-Upfield-Glen Waverly stopping all stations via Flinders Street (It might require upgrading the Upfield line to allow for X-Trapolis trains to run regular passenger services)
-Mernda/Hurstbridge will run via the loop everyday as they do currently.
-Lilydale/Belgrave will run express from Camberwell-Glenferrie-Burnley-Richmond then around the loop and back again permanently everyday of the week.
-Alamein-Williamstown/Laverton via Altona Loop stopping all stations via Flinders Street every day of the week.
-Werribee-Frankston running express from Newport to Footscray then direct to Flinders Street then stopping all stations to Frankston everyday of the week.
-Pakenham/Cranbourne will permanently run express from Caulfield to South Yarra then run around the loop and back.
-Sandringham will stop all stations direct to Flinders Street and back every day permanently.

Perhaps not much sympathy for users of MATH stations, but seemingly this will result in the post 10 pm service outbound to these stations being reduced from a 15 minute frequency to a 30 minute frequency to save a few minutes on the Cranborne/Pakenham lines (are the new trains needed at this time of day?) I hear you say, yeah, join the rest of us. Well, what about a 20 minute frequency late at night? These trains (pre-COVID) were well patronised, so why not? Otherwise Uber is looking good.

It would be nice to know the V/Line changes, I understand the commissioning of the Ballarat Line works (longer and more crossing loops including removing the old track via Bungaree, 2nd platforms at Bacchus Marsh, Ballan and Wendouree) is all built into this new timetable.

IDK: Remove Glenferrie from the list and that would sound fine. Ideally more expresses through dead stops between Camberwell and Box Hill (and Laburnum as well) would also be a good start in reducing the time taken from the city to the suburbs. Leave the inner-suburban all-stoppers to Blackburn trains.

As for forcing Sandringham passengers onto Burnley group trains just for a ten minute saving, it would be a nightmare having to run the entire distance of Richmond station from platforms 9 and 10 all the way to 1 and 2. It’s annoying enough having to change trains there as it is. You’d more than likely miss the train you wanted in the first place and end up on the train you would have got if you had just waited in the loop, with the added bonus of standing all the way.

@gxh – after the footy/cricket or concerts there is often near-crush loads to justify the HCMT trains running late at night

@Heihachi_73 – Sandringham trains already bypass the loop on weekdays, don’t follow your point. And not every connection will be tight when there is a 3 min headway in the Burnley Loop in the peak.

The connections are a bit haphazard at night though as the Sandy trains have a 20 min pattern and other lines are 30 mins.

As for running between the platforms, can be dangerous in peaks when a mob of St Kevins or Scotch boys try to make a 1 min connection via the narrow centre subway.

The avoid the “fun” outlined for Richmond station with transfers, I hope the state government has been in the federal government’s ear for lazy couple of Billion for the proposed the City loop reconfiguration (including reconfiguration of Caulfield, Richmond and North Melbourne stations for cross platform transfers). The Feds seem to be suggesting they will splash some cash this budget and the reconfig is looming large on the horizon as the next big obstacle to untangling the rail network. It really needs to be in place for the opening of the Metro tunnel.

Hi Daniel, it is not possible to change the direction of the North Melbourne group in the loop in the afternoon peak. It will cause severe overcrowding at flinders for Werribee line. It would actually be a safety issue on the flinders platform. Check out platform 6 at North Melbourne in normal times how many people are already changing there it’s chaos! Making the loop people switch at flinders instead of North Melbourne would be disastrous

@Neale, yes it’s important to consider all passenger flows. Not sure I’d come to the same conclusion as you though – passengers from Melbourne Central and Flagstaff to the Werribee/Williamstown line would be more likely to interchange at Southern Cross if the Northern Loop ran clockwise and the Caulfield Loop runs clockwise. That helps spread the load between multiple points, instead of them all heading to North Melbourne as now.

The rumour for the Gippsland service is that it will terminate at Pakenham, with passengers then boarding one of the high-density trains to complete the journey to Melbourne. For Richmond stoppers like me it will likely mean using three trains instead of the current single-seat service.

Thanks for your response Daniel. I see what you mean regarding passenger flows. However I believe if the Caulfield loop ran anti clockwise And the Northern loop clockwise I think everyone at Flagstaff, Melbourne Central and Parliament in the afternoon would travel clockwise to try and get a seat at flinders (not guaranteed a seat on the Werribee line from Flinders during PM peak already pre Covid already).
Your logic re spreading passenger flows is good but in reality everyone would try for a seat at Flinders (other than some Flagstaff passengers) – also after so long, passengers are “conditioned” to go on the northern loop trains to get to Werribee. Further to that, North Melbourne would not really be utilised as a changeover station in the afternoon under your method, so in my opinion you are just pushing the problem into the cbd stations of flinders and southern cross. At southern cross there are 6 metro platforms for many lines, North Melbourne has 6 platforms for fewer lines, so I personally think leaving the Northern loop anti clockwise means most people will continue to use that station, with some going to southern cross via the anti clockwise Caulfield trains (passengers already don’t get a seat at southern cross so will take the most direct route and go to North Melbourne). The Caulfield group going anti clockwise is a good idea to have some train option going the other way (despite the risk of people getting Burnley trains straight to Richmond as mentioned by others), at least the many platforms of the large Richmond station are being utilised as a changeover (also Burnley trains are significantly quieter than Northern group trains that service the booming northwest suburbs, so it’s the far lesser evil). All just my opinion

I agree with taking Frankston and Werribee/ Williamstown out of the loop, this will increase capacity for more Dandenong lines and Cragieburn/Sunbury services through the loop, which is beneficial given the latter lines are over crowded and will grow more significantly due to being located at growth areas at the end of their respective lines.

I think that the Northern line should run clockwise all the time to enable travel from Parliament to Flinders Street. An issue could be at afternoon/ evening peak times that all Frankston, Dandenong and Sandringham line passengers need to take Burnley group trains from the loop stations and interchange at Richmond, which could result in major overcrowding. Currently and in the short term due to the pandemic and reduced travel demand, this is manageable.

I think Northern group bound passengers at the loop stations in the afternoon/evening peak could take an anti clockwise Caulfield group train and interchange to Southern Cross and this would be manageable. The result should be more reliable services.

Does anyone know if the timetable change is officially confirmed? Additional off peak trains both in the day and early morning, late evening would also be great, but I don’t think this is part of this timetable change?

@Basil, it’s no secret that some in game would like to see Gippsland trains terminate at Pakenham. But they have to convince government to approve it, and the government knows full well that it would be incredibly unpopular. There’s no indication that they’ve been convinced to allow it to happen.

@Anonymous, expect official confirmation in the next few weeks.

The other point worth noting is that this change finally starts to separate out the lines more effectively, reducing the flow-on impact of delays. Currently Dandenong interacts with Frankston, which interacts with Newport (Werribee, Williamstown and the single track Altona Loop) which interacts with Sunbury (some peak direct trains), which interacts with Upfield, Craigieburn, and Bendigo, which interacts with Geelong and Ballarat.

The fewer interactions between the lines, the better. This starts to reduce it.

Daniel, as you know the only group that caters for people wanting to get directly from Parliament to Flinders Street and vice versa without going through the rest of the loop and Southern Cross is the Northern Group.

The question is – is there more demand for a Parliament to Flinders Street direct service on the Northern Group, or a Flinders Street to Parliament direct service through the Northern Group?

That should answer the question about which way the Northern Group should run.

V/Line is making plenty of changes….a couple of extra peak trains AM and PM on Geelong corridor, Seymour reverting to all-Sprinter operation and Traralgon & Kyneton-Bendigo all Vlocitys. The biggest upgrade is on the Ballarat line, with a 40-minute off peak weekday frequency Mondays-Fridays to Wendouree, off-set with a 40-minute Melton service to give a 20 minute frequency to the latter. Extras in the peak too, especially the shoulder peak between 1800 and 1900.

Reducing the delay at Flinders Street, is a major point to me. Cutting the wait there to only one minute, is great

As for the great allocation of capacity, how is it an advantage to have, say, city loop to Ringwood trains at higher frequency, and, with the objective of giving people to Ringwood more capacity, yet, your plan will result in, half the train being empty from Richmond out.

By having more routes share the city loop, at least you are going to have, better utilisation of the trains on more of their journey, not just out to Richmond.

It’s interesting that the decision is going to be made to run Dandenong trains express SYA-CFD at all times, rather than automatic selective door operation, as is the case with the S-Stock on the London Underground. I am interested to see the timetable and subsequent analysis when released. :)

PTV’s website announced that route 12 will return to Collins St. with E class operating route 30. Sounds weird to me. It makes more sense running them on route 12 which will get most value out of the platform stops along Collins St., Victoria Pde. and outside Victoria Gardens.

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