One of the ways to a more usable train network is reform of the timetables – to remove confusing variants, and cut waiting times.
Last year there was a big step forward: the removal of peak and weekend City Loop variations on the Sandringham, Frankston, Werribee/Williamstown lines, as well as the Cranbourne/Pakenham line now running consistently in one direction through the Loop.
Cranbourne/Pakenham oddly will be gaining a weekday off-peak stop at Malvern later this month. Presumably it’s for shoppers going to Glenferrie Road, but introduces a stopping variation where one didn’t exist.
The Sandringham line is probably the easiest to understand. All trains stop all stations, apart from one single express train (PM counterpeak) which is probably to get a train into position for another run.
Other than that, and a couple of inbound peak services that originate at Middle Brighton, it’s all there-and-back, all day, every day. No Direct vs City Loop with its change of direction. Very easy to understand.
What’s the most complex? I’d nominate the Belgrave/Lilydale line.
Loop direction varies according to time of day. Some trains run direct, not via the Loop.
Most trains run all the way, but others (especially during peak) terminate or originate at Blackburn, Ringwood, Mooroolbark, Upper Ferntree Gully – as well as branching off to Alamein.
In the evenings there are shuttle services bouncing between Ringwood, Belgrave and Lilydale, interspersed with through services to/from the City. This means at times you can get a through train, but to minimise your travel time you can sometimes change at Ringwood.
But what’s really confusing is the stopping patterns on the main part of the line. Here’s what we have on weekday afternoons, outbound only, between Richmond and Ringwood:
Pattern 13 goes to Alamein
That’s a staggering 13 variations between 19 stations within a 6 hour period each weekday.
As far as I can see, pattern 8 is only used once a day. Pattern 10 is used once in PM peak, but also occurs once in the morning.
(And apologies if I’ve made any errors here. It’s complicated – and I’m no Neville Shunt.)
Stopping patterns are the bus route reform of the railways. Over decades things have been prodded and poked and tweaked, and now they’re a mess and need to be simplified again, but nobody wants to do it for fear of political flak. Witness how long it took to get the Frankston trains out of the Loop.
But if we’re going to have a public transport system that has broad appeal to everyone, not just those who understand its quirks, then it’s got to be simpler so that new users don’t have to work impossibly hard just to understand it.
Train timetables, just like bus routes, need to be as uniform as possible. It’s not the only thing that needs fixing, but it definitely helps.
Complex stopping patterns can also mean excessive use of express trains, resulting in a longer wait for people at some stations – just ask the people between East Camberwell and Mont Albert, who have up to 18 minutes between trains in peak hour, almost double the waiting time of weekends.
Simplification plus higher frequency helps achieve a “turn up and go” timetable, making a train service that’s far easier and more convenient to use.
From what I’ve heard, there is a timetable rewrite for this line in the works, likely to take effect when Surrey Hills and Mont Albert stations are combined as part of the level crossing works. Let’s hope they genuinely try to simplify things.
- As mentioned above, bus route reform is also very important. Peter at the Melbourne On Transit blog is posting some great, detailed proposals for bus route reform in Melbourne.
- Although the Belgrave/Lilydale line has over a dozen stopping patterns, V/Line’s Geelong line has even more, with 16 inbound patterns before 10am each weekday.