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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.