Night train to bus connections

With the very welcome revamp of the Night Bus network last year, I wondered how the train to bus connections are now that most bus routes are 24-hour versions of regular routes, rather than the previous arrangement of confusing special routes that virtually nobody used.

Here’s a quick look at a couple of my local routes, showing train arrivals between midnight and 6am on Saturday morning, and the connecting bus departures heading east.

Bus 630 – North Road

Bus 630 connects with the Sandringham train at Gardenvale, the Frankston train at Ormond, and the Cranbourne/Pakenham line at Huntingdale.

Like the overnight trains, the bus also runs hourly overnight, with a run time of just under 30 minutes each way.

Let’s be super generous and assume a connection time of 5 to 15 minutes is good. (This really is being super generous. You can drive a long way in 15 minutes at night.)

Outbound train arrives
Eastbound 630 bus departs
Interchange time (mins)Outbound train arrives
Eastbound 630 bus departs
Interchange time (mins)Outbound train arrives
Eastbound 630 bus*
or 900+ departs
Interchange time (mins)
00:1600:1800:11 ➡️00:12+1❌
00:36 ➡️00:415✅00:38 ➡️00:489✅00:31 ➡️00:57+
01:36 ➡️01:415✅01:39 ➡️01:489✅01:47 ➡️01:59*
02:36 ➡️02:415✅02:39 ➡️02:489✅02:47 ➡️02:59*
03:36 ➡️03:415✅03:39 ➡️03:489✅03:47 ➡️03:59*
04:36 ➡️04:415✅04:39 ➡️04:489✅04:47 ➡️04:59*✅
05:36 ➡️05:415✅05:39 ➡️05:489✅05:47 ➡️05:59*✅

So the eastbound bus 630 has surprisingly good connections at both Gardenvale and Ormond, with connection times of between 5 and 10 minutes.

Not every train just after midnight is met by a bus, which is somewhat unsurprising given the trains run to a higher frequency until about 1am.

Huntingdale connections to the 630 are not too bad after 1:30am once that hourly pattern is established.

I’ve also shown the route 900 bus connections at Huntingdale, because it parallels the 630 east from here to Monash Uni (and then continues beyond). It mostly doesn’t connect well. The connections at Oakleigh are better, though that is counterintuitive for people heading east from Huntingdale. (The 900 doesn’t serve Caulfield overnight).

Bus stop on route 630

Bus 703 – Centre Road

Bus 703 connects with the Sandringham train at Middle Brighton, and the Frankston train at Bentleigh. (It goes on to connect to trains at Clayton, Syndal and Blackburn too.)

Train arrives
Middle Brighton
703 bus departs
Middle Brighton
Interchange time (mins)Train arrives
703 bus departs
Interchange time (mins)
00:20 ➡️00:3010✅00:22 ➡️00:4018❌
01:40 ➡️01:455✅01:43 ➡️01:5512✅
02:40 ➡️02:5010✅02:43 ➡️03:0017❌
03:40 ➡️03:5515✅03:43 ➡️04:0522❌
04:40 ➡️05:0020❌04:43 ➡️05:1027❌

This is a mixed bag, thanks to the frequency of the bus not matching the train. The bus runs about every 65 minutes overnight, thanks to a run time of just over an hour from Blackburn to Brighton; just under for the opposite direction.

This means by 3am, the connection is more than 10 minutes at both stations – hardly ideal.

Could they modify the route to be a bit quicker? Yes – they could skip the big loop past North Brighton station. But that would mean a compromise on running the same route as daytime. (Maybe they should change daytime too? The route is a tad confusing; stops are lightly used, and many of them are served by other routes.)

Connection reliability?

What happens if your train is delayed? The PTV page notes:

Buses will wait up to 20 minutes at selected stations if the connecting train from the city is running late.

Presumably they’ve worked out the protocols to make this work operationally. At some stations, bus drivers can see a display with real-time train information. At others, they can’t, and possibly have to use a phone app like the rest of us. (For a 703 bus driver waiting at Middle Brighton, they can’t even see the station – it’s around the corner and down the street.)

And hopefully such delays are rare. If buses have to wait too much, it could mess up punctuality for the rest of the night.

703 bus arriving at Bentleigh station

Connections in all directions

Trains from the City to an eastbound bus is just one possible connection between two routes. Possibly for these locations it’s the best one to focus on.

But in all you have eight combinations at each interchange: two routes running in two directions, with each passenger able to change to the other route in two directions = 2 x 2 x 2.

If the outbound train to the eastbound bus is good, what about the other connections? Here’s all the combinations for the 630 at Ormond station overnight on Friday/Saturday when both services are hourly:

Arriving OrmondMins past hourDeparting OrmondMins past hourInterchange time (mins)
Outbound train39Eastbound bus489 ✅
Outbound train39Westbound bus2142❌
Citybound train57Eastbound bus4851❌
Citybound train57Westbound bus2124❌
Eastbound bus48Outbound train3951❌
Eastbound bus48Citybound train579 ✅
Westbound bus21Outbound train3918❌
Westbound bus21Citybound train5736❌

For most combinations, it’s not great. And this is the problem with low-frequency services – even if they align with an hourly service, it’s impossible to serve many of the connection combinations well, so you have to prioritise.

One way around the problem of connecting low frequency services in all directions is to have them “pulse” at interchange points – this is common in rural Switzerland. The buses might arrive at the station 5 minutes before the train comes through, and leaves 5 minutes afterwards, preferably in both directions, allowing changes from bus to train and vice versa.

But this doesn’t work so well in a suburban setting. Three ten minute waits along route 630 – even if you could coordinate it properly with all three train lines – would double the running time, and introduce unacceptable delays to anybody travelling along the route.

A better solution is improving the frequency. There’s a strong argument for the trains in particular – the backbone of the PT network – to be at least half-hourly overnight, especially given the significant costs needed to keep the train system running at all.

I’ve focussed here on Night Network, and just in one area.

But of course, there’s a need for better frequencies and better connections right across the network and at most times of day. They all make for a better more usable public transport system that more people will use.

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.

4 replies on “Night train to bus connections”

The 902 could really do with a Night Network service. Trains meet it at Nunawading, Glen Waverley, Springvale and Edithvale stations, the 75 tram meets it on Burwood Hwy at the 24-hour Kmart and Coles, yet the 902 was left off the Night Bus roster. Plenty of east-west connections, but no north-south services along Springvale Rd after midnight. At least the 703 actually runs, which is kind of ironic given its sub-standard timetable compared to the 900-series SmartBuses. I don’t have a clue about the northern suburbs, but it’s probably the same issue there between Broadmeadows and Greensborough/Eltham too – north-south covered by four train lines as well as the 86 tram, but the east-west 902 isn’t there to join the dots.

Speaking of poor connections during non-Night Network hours, last week I was stung at Wattle Park. Got off the 70 tram at 2351 only to find that the last northbound 903 for the night was timetabled at 2348 (with the other three bus routes finishing three hours prior, courtesy of having minimum standard timetables). So much for SmartBuses running until midnight. Midnight at the last stop before the depot more like it. I was also greeted with a southbound 903 the instant I got off the tram, with no hope of even getting that if I had actually needed it, and then passed a second one half way up Station St when I was walking towards Box Hill.

The old 979 bus route that the 703 replaced *did* connect with trains (and route 67 trams). Every 979 service departed Elsternwick 5 minutes after the train arrived from the city. I wouldn’t be surprised if patronage on 703 night services has fallen, due to the fact that buses no longer connect with trains, when they once did.

I don’t think they would even need to modify the route to make it quicker. There is a lot more than enough slack in the timetable to shorten running times by 5 minutes late at night. Skipping North Brighton during the day would increase travel times for people using the bus to catch the Sandringham Line towards the city.

Sandringham line trains after midnight seem to never be late in my experience. Train replacement buses after midnight are fairly useless though. They run hourly, but you don’t know what time they will arrive, and are not timed to connect with night buses.

@Terry, good point on the better connections with the dedicated Night Bus routes… but it’s worth emphasising that the old routes had *really* low patronage. The stats show route 979 had just 0.3 passengers per service run.

I reckon you’re right that 703 could find some time savings overnight without altering the route. Hopefully DOT has a mechanism to check the data and see if the buses end up ariving excessively early at timepoints along the way.

I would suspect the 703 does the big loop to serve the shops at both North Brighton and Middle Brighton, not because of train connections. The early 90s version of the route usually did a smaller loop, only going to North Brighton during interpeak weekday times:

I’m not sure if they should change it, but in morning peak it’s 6 mins from Centre Rd/Hampton St to North Brighton station (with the level crossing often delaying buses)… I’m guessing it’d be almost as fast for citybound passengers if the bus went directly to Middle Brighton. It’s only one extra stop/2 mins on the train, though the bus stop is further from the station.

Its really frustrating that both Google maps and the PTV planner still have the 979 route and no night 703 route as of 1250am on 08/10/22. I’m taking a big risk travelling to Middle brighton station if I find that there is no bus there. ?

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