Some good coverage in The Age today of suburban train frequencies.
It’s important to boost off-peak frequencies because:
- off-peak patronage has recovered faster than peak, and has potential to grow further if not constrained
- there’s spare fleet and track capacity. Extra services are cheaper using those than when more needs to be built first
- waiting times often are far too long to attract people out of cars
- overall travel demand is considerable – just look at the roads – and PT is mostly doing a terrible job at serving most of it
The big hope is that the Metro tunnel will finally bring some relief. The project is edging forward. Hopefully the problems seen a few weeks ago are not a portent of things to come.
I thought it might be worth summarising the line changes expected when the tunnel is commissioned in 2025.
The Sunbury line will be connected through to the Cranbourne/Pakenham line, via the tunnel.
This means those lines will no longer serve Southern Cross, Flagstaff, Parliament or North Melbourne. They’ll still serve Flinders Street (Town Hall) and Melbourne Central (State Library), plus new stations as Arden, Parkville and Anzac (formerly known as Domain).
The Frankston line will move back into the City Loop, using the freed up Caulfield Loop tunnel. Given recent signalling changes, I think we can assume it will continue to run anticlockwise permanently.
The Werribee/Williamstown lines are currently through-routed to the Frankston line… this will change to the Sandringham line instead.
Presumably this also means platform changes at Flinders Street, with Frankston taking over 6+7 (currently used by Cranbourne/Pakenham) and Sandringham/Werribee/Williamstown moving over to 8+9. Not sure about 10. They need to fit V/Line Gippsland trains in somewhere, but preferably without causing too many conflicts.
Moving the Sunbury line leaves the Northern Loop tunnel running with the Craigieburn and Upfield lines.
What about the map?
You’d assume they will want to minimise colour changes, so I’m guessing Sunbury switches to light-blue to match Cranbourne/Pakenham, leaving yellow to Upfield/Craigieburn.
And Frankston would presumably retain green, with Werribee/Williamstown going pink to join the Sandringham line. Shame it couldn’t be a watery/Bayside colour.
Will they come up with a snappy new name for the tunnel line? I guess we’ll see. So far they haven’t for the Frankston to Werribee/Williamstown line – internally it’s known as the Cross City group, but that’s not used for public information. Perhaps that’s because it’s temporary.
Cutting waiting times
One of the keys to making sure the metro tunnel works as intended is high frequency services at all times of day, on all lines, to ensure interchange to and from the tunnel is quick and easy.
For instance, relief for the always busy St Kilda Road/Swanston Street tram corridor won’t be achieved if the current 20-30-40 minute Sunbury frequencies were used.
I’m focussing on off-peak services, because we now know that post-pandemic travel patterns are expected in the short to medium term to show peak is still well down on pre-2020 levels, but off-peak is back to what it was.
And a key part of the deservedly-lauded “Turn Up And Go” concept is that it doesn’t just apply during peak.
The Metro Tunnel service plan document goes into some detail – and I once again note that the government has said it’s a “base case”. In any case for the lines through the tunnel it seems to have been partially superseded by the Melbourne Airport Rail business case (appendices document, page 11), so I’ll need to summarise from both documents here.
So it appears the off-peak service frequency will be 12 trains per hour through the tunnel:
|Direction / Destination||Trains per hour (off-peak)|
|Eastbound / Pakenham||3|
|Eastbound / Cranbourne (later Clyde)||3|
|Eastbound / Westall||6|
|Westbound / Sunbury||3|
|Westbound / Watergardens||3|
|Westbound / West Footscray or Sunshine (later Airport)||6|
The older document says of the other lines:
- 6 trains per hour to Frankston, Craigieburn, Gowrie (Upfield line), Sandringham
- No big changes noted on other lines such as the Burnley and Clifton Hill groups – these are stated as being “unaffected” in the Metro tunnel document. (There was talk of a complete timetable re-write for Burnley as a result of the Surrey Hills/Mont Albert merger project underway now, but I haven’t heard anything about this recently.)
A good start
Burnley and Clifton Hill aside, if this is what they deliver, then it’s a good start.
12 trains per hour in the tunnel means an average wait time of about 5 minutes. Not as good as the Swanston Street trams, but higher capacity and a quicker trip if you’re going somewhere near a station.
The other key to ensuring the tunnel gets the patronage it deserves is ensuring all connecting services also have frequent services at all times.
On some lines that’ll be a train every ten minutes. Not too shabby. Sandringham, Craigieburn and Upfield upgrades will be very welcome. This is especially important on Sunday mornings, where those lines have gaps of 40 minutes, which frankly is terrible for a big city.
What about other lines? 20-30 minute weekend and evening connections aren’t great. Will they at least fix the 40 minute Sunday morning gaps on the Mernda and Hurstbridge lines?
The Metro tunnel is a chance for the government to back up their impressive infrastructure agenda with the services to make use of it.
There’s some talk of “Activating the Big Build”. Rolling out ten minute all-day frequencies on all the lines that can take it will make a huge difference to the usability of the rail network, sparking strong patronage growth, and help Melburnians see a pay-off for years of disruptions due to upgrades.
Let’s hope they take the opportunity.