After almost a month of major works, including bus replacements for trains between the City and Dandenong and Moorabbin, trains returned to the Frankston and Dandenong (Cranbourne/Pakenham) lines on Saturday 28th January.
The works included rationalisation of the junction at Caulfield, points installed near the Metro tunnel eastern portal in South Yarra, and a lot of new signalling equipment installed.
Declan Martin has a good Twitter thread about the various changes.
There’s some controversy around the junction rationalisation, which removes connections between the Frankston and Dandenong tracks at Caulfield. It doesn’t really untangle things as the government claimed because they were not normally used, but it probably is important for the new in-cab signalling, and may improve speed and reliability. Hopefully the loss of operational flexibility doesn’t come back to bite them.
Anyway, almost immediately after the trains returned on the Saturday, a fault in the new signalling equipment caused disruptions.
This took some hours to resolve, but it wasn’t the end of it. They stopped trains again overnight on Saturday to do “urgent works“.
Surprise service cuts
Then on Sunday morning, they announced that there’d be a peak hour service cut from Monday… for an undefined period, for unspecified Metro tunnel works.
About the same time, the government was out talking about the completion of works and promoting Melbourne’s first use of Platform Screen Doors… but apparently mentioned not a word about the service cuts.
The cuts had obviously been organised in a hurry. The online timetables (normally updated on Thursday nights) aren’t showing the changes.
Leaving aside the lack of transparency around the reasons, and the unknown end date, it quickly became apparent that the claimed “every 6 to 7 minutes” was hopelessly optimistic.
Instead, what we saw on Monday was mass cancellations, with some big gaps in the peak hour service.
I was sent this photo of crowding on Tuesday morning. My correspondent said the gap between peak trains wasn’t 6-7 minutes… more like 10-15 at times – nowhere near enough to cope with demand.
And while the interpeak period was largely okay, the post-PM-peak evening service was slashed, with long gaps of 30-40 minutes.
Taking a look for myself at Caulfield during Tuesday evening peak, it was a mess, made worse by a defective train. Some passengers were reaching Caulfield on Frankston line trains, but then unable to board the Dandenong line trains when they eventually came through.
But watching this play out… it felt like 2019 again, when peak hour patronage was much higher, and uneven frequencies made crowding worse.
To their credit, Metro did deploy some standby buses at Caulfield, running all stops to Westall, and repeatedly announced them to passengers, some of who took that option.
Spontaneous use of buses in evening peak from somewhere like Caulfield is probably fairly straightforward because you’re likely to have large numbers of people waiting at one location. It’d be much more difficult in morning peak to anticipate crowding and delays and deploy them to multiple locations, letting people know they’re available. Hopefully they’ve thought about strategies for this.
What’s causing the disruptions?
So what’s the cause of all this? It’s clearly related to the latest upgrades.
Unconfirmed rumours point to commissioning problems with the new signalling, and some safeworking being done by hand, limiting train throughput until they resolve it. This seems plausible.
Additional info: I’ve been told it’s related to the train control, specifically when trains are handed over between old and new sections. A manual process has to be done currently, limiting them to about 9-10 trains per hour.
They don’t seem to know how long it’ll take to resolve, but they really should be as open as possible about it.
Perhaps during peak, they should be more proactive about running buses for the stations close to Caulfield, to reduce crowding on the trains.
Preferably there should be an actual reduced frequency timetable to ensure even gaps between trains, not just semi-random cancellations in the existing one. But this might be difficult.
And they should definitely try harder to prevent cancellations outside peak, to minimise long waiting times.
As it is, it’s pretty embarrassing that what should have been a welcome upgrade has gone so badly wrong.
- Update 7:30pm. Additional info on the fault added
- 5/2/2023: PTUA: Dandenong line frequency cuts cause turmoil
- 5/2/2023: Herald Sun: Hi-tech bugs hit trains (Paywall)
Update 22/2/2023: It seems like in the last week or two the problem has been resolved, but they still seem to be having hiccups (at least that’s what I assume this is):