New train timetables confirmed for January

Remember a few months ago when I wrote about the next big train timetable change? That was originally expected in December, but got postponed due to delays completing works on the Ballarat line.

Today the State Government has announced the change will happen on 31st January, and naturally being an official release (instead of info gleaned on the sly) there’s more detail. Possibly there have also been adjustments in response to COVID – there’s one change that clearly is.

Everything rumoured earlier is still in there, so I’ll summarise it along with the new information.

Big picture

The last timetable change was a tweak a few months ago to add a few shoulder peak services – some not ideally spaced in relation to existing services. This change (at least on the lines with re-written timetables) makes better use of those resources.

There’s a focus on lengthening the peak on most lines so that high frequencies are maintained from about 7am to 10am, and from 4pm to 7pm, to try and encourage people to stagger their trips.

Alongside train timetable changes are bus/coach time changes for about 350 routes. Just timing changes, I’m told, not radical route restructure or additional services, unfortunately.

Moving towards more consistent operation of all rail lines means they can finally start rolling-out better wayfinding to direct people to specific platforms for specific lines. Hopefully this means the line colours can be deployed at the CBD stations more extensively. They’re also looking at platform displays and headboards to make it clear when trains are travelling cross-city.

Departure signage at Flinders Street station

Off-peak fares

As a further incentive for people to stagger peak trips, they’re going to introduce off-peak discounts: 30% off Myki Money fares for trips that include Zone 1, between 9:30am and 4pm, and after 7pm on weekdays.

It appears it will be similar to V/Line, where an off-peak discount of 30% is applied as long as your touch-on/off is outside peak.

The catch? It’s only a 3 month trial. Hmm, perhaps it should be permanent – though some lines normally suffer from off-peak crowding, and need service boosts.

(Don’t forget Earlybird free travel also applies, for Metro trips finishing before 7:15am on weekdays. The recent Parliamentary Inquiry on the Free Tram Zone report recommended that Earlybird be expanded to tram and bus.)

Cross City line changes

“Cross City” is the name given to the green lines on the map: Frankston through to Newport and the Williamstown and Werribee lines (including the Altona Loop).

The Frankston line will run direct to Flinders Street and Southern Cross and then through to Newport, all day, 7 days-a-week. By my count this removes 13 morning peak and 14 evening peak trains from the Loop.

As I’ve said before, this is a good idea. It’s a tiny minority of trains affected (though mostly in peak, so normally busy services), and it enables a bunch of good changes.

The Sandringham line will run direct to Flinders Street, all day, 7 days-a-week, instead of around the Loop on weekends as now.

The Williamstown line will run all the way to Flinders Street on weekends instead of running as Newport shuttles. Only evening services will be shuttles.

Williamstown/Werribee/Altona lines to run direct via Southern Cross to Flinders Street, all day, 7 days-a-week, then most trains through to Frankston. Currently they run via the Loop on weekends.

Peak Williamstown/Altona trains will go from the current horrible 22 minute frequencies to a much more memorable 20 minute frequency.

Frankston/Werribee (and presumably Williamstown) lines to run every 20 minutes in the evenings (currently 30). This is great – apart from the obvious shorter waits heading home at night, it’ll make life easier when changing from Loop stations, and for Malvern / Armadale / Toorak / Hawksburn – the “MATH” stations (more about this below)

Caulfield Loop (Cranbourne/Pakenham lines)

Cranbourne/Pakenham trains will not stop between Caulfield and South Yarra (eg express through the MATH stations) – currently some early morning and late night trains stop at those stations.

The Caulfield Loop will run anti-clockwise all day. Outbound destinations will supposedly be set in stone before the train reaches Parliament, and Flinders Street will become a “whistlestop” station for these trains.

Northern Loop

Upfield line to get a 15 minute frequency from 8am to 9am – currently 18-20. I suspect this means an adjustment of existing trains, rather than any extras, as current departures from Upfield around 9am are uneven.

Sunbury and Craigieburn lines longer period of peak frequencies

V/Line trains at Southern Cross

Other Metro changes

Minor tweaks to the Burnley and Clifton Hill lines.

Behind the scenes there are changes to the allocation of trains and maintenance:

  • As was already the case, most Burnley/Clifton Hill services are run by X’Trapolis trains
  • Cross City trains will increasingly be Siemens and X’Trapolis
  • Sunbury/Craigieburn/Upfield will mostly be Comeng trains, allowing them to have easy access to their maintenance depot at Craigieburn
  • Cranbourne/Pakenham are getting the HCMT fleet as they are rolled-out

V/Line changes

A big Ballarat line upgrade, with peak services going to every 20 minutes, and off-peak every 40 minutes (each for both Ballarat limited express to Melbourne and also short starters from Melton/Bacchus Marsh)

I’m told Ballarat line express trains will stop at Deer Park, but Melton/Bacchus Marsh stopping trains won’t – this is to improve running times, as otherwise the expresses would sit behind the stoppers all the way into Sunshine and Melbourne.

To cater for local trips they’ll run a bus. This is not unknown – they currently run coaches on some counter-peak services due to the single track.

Geelong line extra services mostly to/from Wyndham Vale and Tarneit, with more longer distance trains skipping those stations to separate out suburban and Geelong passengers in peak.

Some Gippsland line services will make extra stops at minor stations – apparently they are taking advantage of the switch over to V/Locity trains, which means they can maintain much the same running time despite the extra stops.

Bendigo line a handful of extra services, in part by splitting an existing Bendigo to Melbourne train into an express, plus a Kyneton short starter.

Minor changes for Seymour line to fit in with Metro changes.

Train exits City Loop approaching Richmond

In summary

I’ve probably missed something. This is a big, complicated set of changes affecting a large number of lines.

Some of these changes are driven by the deployment of the new HCMT fleet, but some of it is just the next instalment of changes to untangle the various Metro lines.

They’ll need to be careful to promote these changes effectively to everybody, especially with so many CBD commuters currently not travelling.

This includes encouraging Dandenong line peeps to walk to Flinders Street or travel anti-clockwise in the PM peak, to avoid overcrowding Burnley Loop services.

Off-peak services still need improvements on many lines, and at some point someone’s going to have to realise that suburban bus services (which are vital as feeders to the rail network) need an overhaul. Richmond and Caulfield will become interchange hotspots, and the latter in particular will need upgrades before too long.

But overall this looks like a pretty good package of changes – improving consistency and reliability, boosting capacity, and some good wins for cutting waiting times in the peak shoulder and evenings for some lines.

More reading:

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.

42 replies on “New train timetables confirmed for January”

If I’m honest, the frequencies increases are pretty small apart from V/Line – worse still with buses. The government has been in power six years now, and there can be absolutely no doubt that really improving service quality (rather than tinkering at the very edges) across tram, train and bus networks is not something they will ever do.
There’s a bit of disruption for some passengers, but the benefits just aren’t there. What happened to the big service improvements of the PTV plan, or the cancelled ‘greenfields’ timetable a few years ago?

The bus shuttle to serve Deer Park etc. is a bit of a strange one, it seems like operational efficiency taking precedence over service for passengers, think the PID ‘burn lines’ and so on. If the stopping patterns for short and express services is the same from Deer Park onwards (the express train sitting 3 mins behind the all stops) I do not see why the stopping train cannot also stop and maintain a consistent user-friendly service pattern.

A few other things I’ve noted:

Seems Cranbourne pax will get a modest boost in the AM peak – PTV website mentions a 12 min frequency, currently its around 15 mins.

Curious the rationale of extending 7 Mordialloc trains down to Frankston is? Avoid delays emptying out trains? But adds empty running back which is inefficent for low passenger numbers (as vast majority of CBD passengers use the expresses that overtake the stoppers)

Cheeky they mention a 5 minute Frankston Line peak service, given many stations are only served by every 2nd train…

Seems more interpeak Bendigo trains will stop at the minor stations, avoiding two-hour gaps – “More than 30 extra services at Malmsbury, Macedon, Riddells Creek and Clarkfield each week”. – this matches the change made on weekends a few years back.

For those at Bendigo/Castlemaine/Kyneton this will mean more clockface departures and arrivals at Bendigo and potentially assists with co-ordinating buses at Bendigo more consistently (i.e. a 6 min connection becomes 13 mins the next hour due to the differences in journey times).

A couple of interesting things in the PTV announcement.

Apparently travel in Zone 2 only is already discounted. Is that because it’s not Zone 1? Presumably people not travelling to Zone 1 don’t need an off-peak incentive.

And interesting that Geelong trains will run every 20 minutes throughout the day. I thought they were already doing that?

The changes to the frankston and pakenham/cranbourne lines fill me with dread.

I board from Patterson station, so already i cop only stopping all stations trains, no expresses – the extra 10 minutes or so at richmond trying to cram onto a crowded train just makes the journey tedious and long.

And then to read that the Pakenham/Cranbourne trains will go anti-clockwise at night…I board at Parliament. So my 2 choices are:
1. Get on a pakenham/cranbourne train and go the whole way through the loop only to have to change again at richmond or caulfield. So effectively adding up to 20 mins extra to my journey.
2. Join the hoards of thousands of south-east travellers cramming on to platform 4 at Parliament trying to get a train out to richmond. Then run like mad from platform 10 in the hope of making a stopping all stations train. I dread to think of the situation on platform 4 (one only has to see when the frankston and pakenham lines have been shut down over recent summers to see how difficult it is to even get on to platform 4, let alone on a train – seems like a safety and crowding risk to me).

Makes driving seem way more appealing when I consider the above…

Am I missing something??

Also i saw a tweet earlier saying that 62% of fkn passengers get off at flinders st. Could that be because of how often city LOOP trains are diverted? Maybe it’s not the most reliable info on which to base decision.-making about destination??

@Cam, the changes are good, but there’s still very little shift on off-peak services (except for Newport-City on weekends, and that’s in part down to it being no extra service kms because with the current 20 minute service, they need two trains running Williamstown shuttles.)

@Leo, currently trains travelling through Flinders Street wait for several minutes, to allow for recovery from delays, and also because it’s the start and end of every service. This needs to change for Dandenong trains, particularly in PM peak.

@Craig, you’re right, the Cranbourne line is getting a slight boost, apparently thanks to recent sections of duplication.

Sounds like the Bendigo changes (like Gippsland) might be thanks to the better performance of the V/Locity trains.

@Raj, very little for Clifton Hill and Burnley. Maybe minor timing tweaks.

@Steve, I think it’s a bit cheeky to claim Zone 2 is “discounted”. It’s cheaper, sure. But it’s always been cheaper.

That said, the off-peak incentive is to try and reduce crowding, which is concentrated in Zone 1.

Yes, I noticed that claim about Geelong trains. They’ve run every 20 minutes on weekdays for years.

It’d be nice to think they meant weekends would go to 20 minutes, but I fear that’s wishful thinking.

@Belinda, if I was working near Parliament, I would consider walking to Flinders Street in the PM. Depending on your exact starting point, it’s about 3-4 blocks, mostly downhill.

(I board at Bentleigh and work closest to Flagstaff, but I plan to walk to/from Flinders Street. Also about 3 blocks.)

They mention a 20 minute frequency until midnight on the Frankston line, but I couldn’t see any mention of this for the Pakenham/Cranbourne line. Perhaps it’s going to happen anyway, because it’s probably only one additional service (given that there’s already a 20 minute frequency until 10.33 pm).

If the Caulfield loop is going permanently anti-clockwise then it seems to me that they should look to the future when the FKN trains will be the only ones using it and commit to a Down-Up-Up-Down pattern for the MATH stations by building a fly-under into the Glenhuntly Rd LX remival project. This would solve the interchange problem at Caulfield (at least city-bound) without requiring a rebuild of the station, which will probably never happen anyway due to heritage.

@Belinda, I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but yours is an interesting case study. You’re right – it’s quite a long walk to Flinders Street from St Vincent’s. Google Maps says about 20 mins.

AM peak should be fine. Change at Caulfield (potentially quicker trip, but giving up your seat early), South Yarra or Richmond (the latter has more people changing, but also has the most trains, and the best facilities for interchange, if a little crowded)

PM peak is where it gets thorny. Some options I can think of:

– Go to Parliament (5 mins walk from St V’s) down to platform 4 and see how the Burnley trains are looking. 3 mins to Richmond, plus 25 mins to Patterson = Total including walk to Parliament 33 mins + waiting/interchange time. You may miss out on a seat all the way home, and we don’t know how packed the Burnley trains will be – it might depend how quickly people come back to CBD offices.

– Go to Parliament (5 mins walk) platform 2 and go anti-clockwise around the Loop on a Dandenong train to Caulfield, then change. You’ll most likely have a seat on that train. If the DOT promises are correct, it’ll be about 10 mins to Flinders St, no more than a minute’s wait there, then about 13 mins to Caulfield. Plus 11 mins to Patterson = Total 40 mins + waiting/interchange time. In theory.

– Walk to Flinders St (20 mins) then train to Patterson (27 mins) = Total 47 mins but no interchanging, which personally I’d consider a bonus.

– As Elliot suggests: Tram from St Vincent’s Plaza stop down Collins St (8 mins, supposedly), walk to Flinders St (4-5 mins), train to Patterson (27 mins) = 40 mins.

So a few choices, but yes, certainly not as seamless as walking to a nearby specific station, preferably timing it to have minimal wait for a train all the way home.

I’m quite happy with the Cross City lines going straight to Flinders Street. I was really quite annoyed with having the go through the City Loop in the weekends and why it doesn’t match up with the weekday services. It’s really not that hard to change at North Melbourne, Richmond or Flinders Street to transfer to the City Loop. Hopefully this will see higher frequency changes in the future.

Though with the Cranbourne / Pakenham changes now, I wouldn’t be able to jump from the Frankston at Caulfield for a quicker ride to the city in the peak as that’ll go through the City Loop.

No changes for the Sandringham Line; it really needs an upgrade on weekends to a better than 20 minute frequency. Pre-covid this line was very crowded, especially since it provides a very good connection to the Chapel Street/Swan Street and CBD nightlife precincts. I am actually happy to have Sandringham out of the loop on weekends, will make for a much quicker journey to Flinders Street

I looked for, but could not find, on the PTV website, information about what limited expresses there will be on the Frankston line. I am south of Cheltenham.

The “trains every 5 minutes in peak hour” is roughly what we already have in peak hour down south. So if that is being extended to the stations that currently expressed through, it sounds like there will be fewer paths available for the expresses. I can just about see a Cheltenham–Caulfield express overtaking the stoppers on that stretch, especially if as they say the dwell is being increased. In the 3-track section (which goes from Moorabbin to Caulfield) you have 5 stations that are expressed through, so there’s your 5 minutes to invert the train order. However, I suspect we are about to lose expressing through the MATH stations forever; I just don’t see how that can work. About the best outcome for those coming from down south would be skip-stopping (services alternate stopping Caulfield–Malvern–Toorak-South Yarra and Caulfield–Armadale–Hawksburn–South Yarra) but that ruins local trips around Malvern/Toorak, and for that matter I sometimes travel to Armadale.

So the effect for those of us down south is yet another “slight” increase in travel times on the expresses, made up of stops at MATH and extra dwell, and of course if you needed a loop station there’s the time lost in a change. What was a 36 minute one-seat trip to Parliament is no longer. Fortunately it is not a commute for me.

And speaking of non-commute trips, what I do not expect to see but wish they would do is put in middle-of-the-day expresses. With working from home and the gig economy I imagine lots of people would like to arrive in the city to “do lunch”, or have some morning meetings and get home quickly. One express in each direction would do it. (In the case of the Frankston line, the “steely” to Hastings might need to be rescheduled, since it’s on the 3rd track around that time.)

Another catch with the off peak fare is that 7pm is the time that several lines revert to half-hourly or less often, and people’s behaviour is more likely to be motivated by this than a saving of about a dollar or so.

This difference in service levels may have some perverse outcomes. If someone wanting to travel to East Malvern Station turns up to Flinders St Station at a random time between 7 and 10pm, it may turn out that instead of waiting up to half an hour for the next Glen Waverley service, it would be quicker for them to take a Frankston/Cranbourne/Pakenham service (every 10 minutes, direct through Richmond, and possibly express) to Caulfield, then change to a number 3 tram (every 10 minutes), then walk the rest of the way between the tram terminus and the station car park (which takes about 10 minutes if you walk briskly).

The latter is what I do when the Glen Waverley line is out of service – it shouldn’t really be competitive when the line is running.

@Francis, as far as I know there are no great changes to the Frankston line express patterns. The claim of 5 minutes in peak – I think they’re overstating it; they’re counting both stoppers and expresses, so it really only counts for some stations.

@xulon, one of the changes in the last few years is more lines have a 15-20 minute service until at least 8pm on weekdays – some later, though as you say, some lines miss out.

Hopefully the Frankston/Werribee evening boost is just the first of a new round.

The new timetable is hugely disruptive to weekend cross-city travel. It makes transfers from Sandringham and Frankston trains to Mernda/Hurstbridge trains and north-side trams (especially routes 11, 55, 86, 96) and buses (e.g. 905-8) far less efficient. Removing Sandringham trains from Southern Cross on weekends also complicates access to V/Line and Skybus, especially late at night with luggage. People catching trains on the weekend are getting a bit of a dud deal from this I think.

@Terry, these changes have pros and cons for different journeys. I’d say it’s incorrect to make a blanket statement about it ruining cross-city trips, given there will now be a new weekend major cross-city route from the Frankston line through to Williamstown/Werribee with no transfers.

Weve had 20 min frequency to Geelong for a long time, maybe Little River, Corio and North Shore are getting upgraded from every 40 to every 20 mins during the day?

Interesting to note, they say there will be “10 new off-peak services” on the Sandringham line. I’m not sure if this is specified as 10 per day or 10 per week as it’s not mentioned in the PTV article, but if it’s 10 new return services each day, I calculated this to be a 10min frequency in the interpeak period 9am-3pm. But if it’s 10 per week, that’s 1-2 return services each day, so I presume this will be in the 9am-10am shoulder peak period, since the afternoon shoulder peak already has a 10min frequency after 3pm.

Also, I’m not sure if these additional services are on top of the two additional services scheduled in the shoulder peak (9:14am dep Hampton-City & 6:54pm dep Flinders St-Sandringham) that have been added for social distancing purposes temporarily during the pandemic, or whether these will now been made permanent as the “10 new off-peak services”?

@AV, normally the number quoted is per week – this can make it sound like more than it is, but to be fair, weekend and weekday timetables obviously vary. Don’t be too surprised if it’s 1 extra per peak.

I would expect they’d be in addition to the shoulder peak services added earlier in the year – I don’t think these were flagged at the time as temporary.

Having Dandenong segment trains go through the Loop anti-clockwise all day means we only have to change once, instead of twice, a day at Richmond to save 10-12 minutes commuting to Flinders St. Judging by the crowd that interchange at Richmond with me, hundreds of other commuters would benefit from this change.

@Daniel Fair point. Connections with Newport trains will be easier. Might have just been better if they linked up Sandringham with Newport on weekends though, as it would have still retained some more useful connections, such as with Skybus and V/Line.

@Terry K, something that hasn’t been picked up on here, but PTV have said that Frankston trains will depart from the same platforms at Flinders St and Southern Cross. So I would assume the alternating 20min frequency on the Werribee/Williamstown lines creates the Frankston line’s 10min frequency during the day. Having them depart from the same platforms segregates these lines from other lines reducing conflicts/interactions with the rest of the train network. This in turn improves reliability, as any fault on another part of the network cannot flow on to these lines and vice versa. This also has the effect of confining the Sandringham line to platform 13 every day, unless they permanently alter the platform allocation of the Frankston/Werribee/Williamstown/Laverton services to platforms 7-9(?) and have Sandringham line running from platform 10 (unlikely).

Finally, did anyone think the reason why the Dandenong lines are no longer stopping at MATH stations may be due to the platforms lengths needed to accomodate the 7-car HCMT? This would become an issue if the Dandenong pair of tracks are out of operation (e.g. maintenance/fault) and HCMT trains are diverted to the Frankston pair where the platforms have not been lengthened to accomodate them. I always wondered why they never bothered with lengthening these platforms in case of such circumstances, but it makes sense for them to run express through these stations permanently. Even on the current PTV map the MATH stations don’t have ticks on them for the Dandenong lines.

The PTV website currently states, under the heading Changes to Sandringham line: “There are still plenty of ways for passengers to access City Loop stations by changing at Caulfield, South Yarra, Richmond or Flinders Street stations”.
Apparently, Sandy trains will be going via Caulfield from next year. Who at the PTV was supervising the Year 9 work experience student who updates their website?

Roger, you’ll also notice the maps are slightly inaccurate as the current Frankston line city loop operation isn’t shown in the before timetable changes map (currently a dotted line). Additionally, the map for the Sandringham line makes it look as if it’s running clock-wise around the city loop, when they run anti-clockwise and only at the weekend.

Finally, the before/after maps for the MATH stations for the Dandenong lines make very little sense. They should just have a before/after image rather than “express” and “stopping all stations” map, because only early morning/late night services stop there at the moment, but from next year they will run express all day. So what is the point of listing “stopping all stations” map. They’ve even added station ticks for these stations when these don’t show in the current PTV map.

Whilst there are some improvements here that should be celebrated such as the introduction of off peak fares, more frequent services to Upfield, and improved frequency of Werribee/Williamstown/Frankston lines on weekday evenings, I am still underwhelmed and disappointed by the lack of major changes to all timetables.

Surely, now more than ever is the time for all major lines to have 10-15 minute frequency from approximately 6am to 9pm. Cragieburn, Sunbury, Mernda, Hurstbridge, Glen Waverley and Sandringham all warrant a day time frequency of at least every 10 minutes and all lines should be a maximum 15-20 minutes in the evening. Of course the Lilydale/ Belgrave branches, Altona Loop and beyond Eltham may be an exception to this. This of course does require more funding to pay for more drivers, but should not require additional trains to my knowledge, just better utilisation of the existing fleet and willingness to improve the service. With social distancing being important and more and more people returning to public transport and with overcrowding likely to be a problem in the future again, it is critical a major timetable revamp is coming soon. Given the extra services would be outside of peak times this should not affect the operation of level crossings or be stalled due to the presence of some level crossings.

My feeling is that some of these changes show a positive intent towards making the network more efficient as a whole, but without more emphasis on frequency upgrades sooner, they are a little lacking. Some examples:
-interchanging on a weekend at Richmond towards Parliament, there won’t be the option to transfer to an ex Frankston or Sandringham train any more, resulting in a wait up to 10 minutes, up from an approx. 4 minute wait (arguably ex Dandenong trains should run slightly more frequently than every 10 minutes off-peak anyway, but who knows when that will happen)
-Sandringham trains really should run out to another line (e.g. Upfield) as Frankston trains do to make them more useful (at the very least this gets you a one-seat journey to/from Southern Cross), especially if they’re only going to run every 15/20 minutes
-yet again Frankston trains get another frequency boost while other lines maintain lamentable 30-minute frequencies as early as 7pm on a weekday, disappointing but not surprising

[…] First, here is one of those posters to try and convince people to pay attention and not get caught out by the shortcomings of the public transport service – in this case, the practice of transposal, where Metro suddenly swaps a train to a new destination due to delays. It’s a practice that predates Metro of course, but you’d think if they can’t stamp it out, they could at least do it before the train reaches the CBD, not after it’s picked up outbound passengers. (That’s the promise for the Dandenong line from January 2021.) […]

From what I gather Highett and Moorabbin have both been wiped from Frankston express services. Only stopping all stations once these changes kick in. Very disappointed.

@Donni, yes – I think the three Moorabbin-Caulfield inbound expresses were a workaround to cover Southland and Highett for the period when some inbound trains started at Moorabbin at the end of morning peak. The new timetable has those trains starting at Cheltenham (except for one), so the expresses have been altered.

Understandable they want to make it more consistent… but obviously means a longer trip for some Southland/Highett/Moorabbin people.

Thanks for taking the time of reply. A little annoying. Not the end of the world and hopefully the service direct to Flinders St will balance things out.

Regarding Frankston trains – for those of us who work past Caulfield and get an outbound Frankston/Mordialloc/Cheltenham morning peak train from Richmond, there are no more fast trains between South Yarra and Caulfield. None. Only stopping all stations. Not sure why that was considered a good move. Very disappointed.

It would seem to be a casualty of Dandenong/Cranbourne trains all going express between South Yarra and Caulfield, which is undoubtedly a good thing. Could there not have been some expresses retained – for example, every second/third outbound train? Having no more fast trains between South Yarra and Caulfield is consistent – but disappointing that it is a longer trip for us Southland/Highett/Moorabbin people.

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