10 minute trains – there is a rollout plan – but when will it get funded?

High-frequency trains (all day, every day) are critical for any big city, to ensure large numbers of people can get around quickly and easily.

As a PTUA study found some years ago, Melbourne is one of the few big world cities that doesn’t have them. To draw an analogy, it’s as if outside peak hour, we closed the freeways and highways except for one lane in each direction.

To delve into hyperbole for a moment: it’s the tyranny of infrequent services on so-called trunk routes. Those in power are basically saying: if you choose to use public transport, your time is not important. We’d prefer you drove.

But there is a rollout plan for ten minute trains.

Footscray station, Sunday morning

This week the Coalition announced that as part of a package of transport upgrades that include extending the South Morang line to Mernda, the line would also go to every 10 minutes off-peak on weekdays from October 2015.

Notably the service upgrade is costed at only $20 million (it’s unclear for how long, but often these recurrent figures are given in terms of 4 year budget cycles).

This underscores that higher all-day frequencies, which make public transport much more easy to use, don’t have to cost that much money. We have a big train fleet and plenty of track capacity to cope with extra services outside peak hour. The costs are largely in drivers and power, though it also adds to pressure on maintenance facility capacity, which is why this is being slowly expanded.

PTV, which established by the Coalition government to manage and plan the network, actually has a plan to gradually roll out ten minute services across most of the rail network — it’s part of their “Network Development Plan – Metropolitan Rail” (which I blogged about here). The process started with the longer (thus busier) lines a few years ago, and while it’s not ideal that progress is driven by politicians rather than transport planners, I suppose that’s the reality — so in a way it’s good that the importance of high frequency all-day services is recognised at the political level.

I’ve summarised the rollout (past, and proposed) of ten minute services (and new lines) below.

Notes:

  • The first toe dipped in the water of ten minute services was a short-lived experiment on the Werribee line. It wasn’t a good choice — the single track Altona Loop meant it was impossible to provide even frequencies on the line, so it never actually provided a ten minute service. It was abandoned in 2011. There were similar problems initially on the Frankston line, with half the trains running via the City Loop, and half direct — leading to very uneven frequencies at Flinders Street.
  • The 2016 proposal was originally tied to the opening of Regional Rail Link, but RRL will now open around April 2015. It’s unclear if it will be accompanied by any additional 10 minute services on Metro lines.
  • As noted above South Morang (weekdays) is now said to be happening in October 2015 if the Coalition is returned to government. It’s not clear what will happen if Labor is voted in.
  • One oddity from the plan: It appears the Sunbury line (between the city and Sydenham) would go to ten minutes, but then back to twenty minutes when the Airport line opens. This seems a bit strange, and perhaps someone messed up the plan — or perhaps it’s because eventually the Melton line would be electrified and combined with Sunbury trains provide a 10 minute service between Sunshine and the City.
  • By the time it’s complete, most of the network would be running every ten minutes, so you’d be able to get around much of Melbourne quickly and easily, and without having to look at a timetable to avoid long waits, including when making connections off other services.

Unfortunately PTV has almost totally failed to promote the existing ten minute services (despite them and the government promoting many far less useful improvements to trains), but anecdotally at least patronage does seem to be increasing — it’s not unusual on Saturday mornings to see a few standees on Frankston line trains inbound, which in the past few years have doubled in frequency and length, thus quadrupling capacity.

The question is… when will the politicians grasp how beneficial high frequency trains are, and fund the PTV rollout plan — not just a line at a time, but for the whole network?

The Frankston line X’trapolis – are you impressed?

You’d think from the tweets from Coalition MPs this morning that the arrival of the first X’trapolis train in service on the Frankston line was a miraculous huge leap forward for train travellers — a rocket-powered, laser-guided teleportation device that can get you to your destination in seconds.

It’s a bit like the Danger Mouse theme tune: “He’s the ace / He’s amazing / He’s the strongest, he’s the quickest, he’s the best!”

The government press release is equally enthusiastic:

X’Trapolis trains are the newest, biggest and fastest trains on Melbourne’s network. Running this train on the Frankston line will reduce crowding and get more people out of their cars and onto public transport.

X’Trapolis train debuts on Frankston line today

The truth is a little more nuanced.

X'trapolis train, South Morang line near Merri

Are these trains better?

So the claim is that these trains are bigger, faster, quieter and smoother.

Bigger? I’m not sure of the logic behind that. The trains are a similar length, and with a similar number of seats to other models, and a similar total capacity.

Faster? Perhaps — both the X’Trapolis and Siemens trains have theoretical speed limits of 130 kmh, but the Siemens is currently limited to 115, which is the same as the Comeng top speed. They have good acceleration, similar to the Siemens trains (1.2 m/s/s), and when I asked Metro’s CEO Andrew Lezala about it when the Bayside Rail Project was first announced, he said the overall speed was similar to the Siemens trains, presumably meaning if the entire line group went to X’trapolis and Siemens trains, they could theoretically speed up the timetable. And that, I suspect, is where the real, tangible benefit will be.

Quieter? I’m not sure there’s that much in it.

Smoother? Arguably not. Many people have complained about the ride quality of the X’trapolis trains, though some of this is due to track conditions, especially on the outer semi-rural ends of the Hurstbridge, Lilydale and Belgrave lines. Some train drivers have complained of getting back problems.

The newest X’trapolis trains do have very clear destination signs, and many more handles inside to hold onto if you can’t get a seat.

They also have slightly fewer seats, making an arguably more efficient layout, allowing people to move in and out and around the carriage more easily. And they have big bold interior displays, though these are obscured by the handles!

Bayside rail project - original timeline

Was their rollout rushed?

Clearly yes. The original estimate was that these trains wouldn’t start on the line until around October 2015. But of course, that’s well after the election, so they’ve brought it forward by an entire year.

As noted by Channel 7 on Monday, and The Age on Tuesday, there is just one X’Trapolis train deployed onto the Frankston line. It has been specifically speed-limited so as not to accelerate towards still-closing boom gates too fast, and has two drivers in the cab as a precaution.

The train seems to run just two round trips each morning, both timed to avoid the height of peak hour (so making poor use of the claimed additional capacity) before heading to sidings at Burnley for the rest of the day.

So will people be impressed?

It’s a publicity stunt, nothing more.

Yet I know some people suffer from train envy — I remember a friend from the then Epping line saying he wished they got the Siemens trains. Perhaps he wouldn’t have wished that had he seen the often filthy state of the seats.

But ask someone who regularly catches these trains if they’re anything special, and I doubt they’ll go over-the-top in praising them — they’ve had this model for years now.

In any case, it seems not everyone was impressed:

I suppose it’s good the politicians (who hold the purse strings) are so interested in public transport. But it’s important that the money isn’t all put into show ponies like “new” trains which aren’t really new, but into ensuring the whole system is frequent, reliable, fast, clean, and safe.

Old photos from October 2004

I don’t seem to have many photos from October 2004 for my post of photos from ten years ago… it must have been a dry month.

A slightly out-of-focus photo of the street sign in ACDC Lane, snapped a couple of weeks after it was renamed on October 1st 2004. It’s in the news this week because Cherry Bar, located in the lane, has started receiving noise complaints from people who have just moved into new apartments nearby… who apparently don’t really want the city ambience they probably paid top dollar for. Unfortunately the clever new “Agent of Change” laws which would require developers to pay for music venue soundproofing only apply to developments approved after the laws came into effect.
ACDC Lane, October 2004

Elizabeth Street. Note no tram superstops, old tram colours, and that disused Argus building on the corner of Latrobe Street, still disused.
Elizabeth Street, October 2004

PS. Not from ten years ago; from a few minutes ago — Breaking news: RIP Gough.
RIP Gough Whitlam

Five years ago today: A day on the trains

Five years ago today I posted this video: A Day on the Trains.

The footage for it was gathered over the space of a month or two in the dying days of the Connex Melbourne Empire in late 2009, and it was designed to capture a few scenes I thought might be changing in the coming years.

Obviously some things have changed, others remain the same.

  • Liveries: Connex (Metlink) became Metro (Metlink), and then became Metro/PTV
  • Metcard is gone, replaced by Myki
  • Many of the old CRT screens at stations have been replaced by newer flat screen displays

What else can you spot?

The system has become more busy, with more services on some lines. Punctuality has improved (thanks in part to padded timetables and station skipping), but cancellations haven’t. And transport is just as big an election issue as ever.

PS. I’ve since learnt that the skewing effect of large objects moving rapidly past the camera is called rolling shutter.

PTV rail map – latest draft

Since our last exciting episode, PTV have made a number of revisions to the draft rail map. Here’s the latest version:

PTV rail map concept design, October 2014 (cropped)
(Click to see it larger, and uncropped)

As I said back in April, I really like this new design, which better represents how the rail network operates.

Changes since that earlier draft that I can see include:

  • Sandringham line at an angle which better reflects geographic reality, rather than implying it runs into the middle of the bay!
  • Likewise some other line directions have been modified to reflect reality, for instance Warrnambool, Stony Point, Bairnsdale, Belgrave
  • The Showgrounds/Racecourse line has been lightened so it’s not stark black now
  • Most of the complicated dashed lines have been taken out, such as Alamein joining the main line at Camberwell, and the strange dual Glen Waverley markings on the old version
  • A triangle indicator representing the last stop in zone 2 — while zones will be much less important (in Melbourne at least) it’ll be helpful for Melbourne users (especially those on Passes) to easily see how far they can go without incurring a zone 3 or higher fare
  • Regional Rail Link is shown as a dotted line on the map… to become solid when it opens
  • The earlier one had an airport indicator at Southern Cross, which some people claimed was confusing. It’s goneski.

Some people have complained it doesn’t allow space for the Doncaster line. I reckon if that’s the worst problem, that’s not saying much — unfortunately neither side of politics is saying they’ll build it anytime soon… ditto Rowville. It does have space for two that are more likely to get up in the near future: Airport (Coalition), Mernda (Labor)… though the designers may have to do a bit of fiddling to get either rail tunnel scheme in.

What do you think? Leave a comment here or on the PTUA’s Facebook page — they will be passed back to PTV.

(Yes, I’ll tell them Balaclava now needs to be marked in as Premium ahem a Customer Service Hub. And the asterisk can disappear from Flagstaff soon — hooray!)

Update

I should have posted this originally, but it slipped my mind… the text from an explanatory note (following up from the previous draft) provided by PTV:

Victorian Rail Network Map
Concept 2 – Explanatory Note

This document outlines some of the changes to the new train map that have been made as a result of public consultation and feedback. The new map is proposed to be introduced in 2015 when Regional Rail Link Stations at Wyndham Vale and Tarneit are opened. Feedback is sought on this revised version so further improvements can be made.

  • Feedback on the new map has generally been positive.
  • While the map is designed to be schematic, the direction of some lines has been altered
    to be more geographically accurate following customer feedback.
  • Feedback indicated that using a dotted line to indicate direct services from Glen Waverley to Flinders Street was confusing. In this version Glen Waverley has been given its own line colour. It is usual that Glen Waverley trains operate direct to Flinders Street, but generally return to Glen Waverley via the loop in the afternoons and on weekends. This information has been included in the key.
  • The dotted line at Camberwell to represent peak hour Alamein trains travelling to/from the city was viewed as being misleading and has been removed, replaced with a note in the key. This map will be primarily used by occasional users, and reflects that passengers traveling from the city to Alamein will normally need to change at Camberwell.
  • The new Regional Rail Link stations have been shown in this version.
  • New stations that will open later this year (Waurn Ponds and Epsom) are now shown
  • The special events line has been lightened to avoid giving the impression that it operates all the time.
  • The boundary of the metropolitan area (Zone 1+2) has been indicated by little triangles – so that passengers can see the boundary of the metropolitan fare (which will be a maximum of a Zone 1 fare from 1 January 2015).
  • Transfer points between V/Line and Metro service have been revised to reflect where transfers are more likely to occur.
  • The designation for the Stony Point line has been changed to make it clearer that the service is operated by Metro. The line has been kept in grey as the line is operated by trains branded with V/Line and the service level provided is more consistent with a V/Line service than other Metro lines.
  • The Airport bus designation at Southern Cross was perceived by some users to be confusing and this has been removed.
  • There is now clearer designation of the boundary of the myki area on V/Line services. Feedback indicated people preferred the boundary to end at a station rather than between stations.
  • East Richmond is shown on the Glen Waverley Line even though some Lilydale/Belgrave trains do stop there. In the long term, it is intended that East Richmond will be exclusively a Glen Waverley Line station.
  • When Regional Rail Link opens, the V/Line service running parallel with the Werribee Line will be removed and the map will reflect this. This may provide the opportunity to improve the design of the Werribee Line, including swapping certain station names to the other side of the line.

A number of changes that were suggested have not been included. These include:

  • Consideration was given to including Overland stations but this was decided against as the product provided to customers differs from that offered on V/Line. There are two Overland services between Adelaide and Melbourne per week in each direction.
  • It is not proposed to include tourist railways.
  • While bus and tram connections are not proposed to be shown on this map, it is intended that electronic versions of the map will be display connecting bus and tram services when customers select a particular station.
  • This map is designed to be part of a suite of products for customers. Local area maps that show train, tram and bus services will be improved to assist passengers making multi-modal journeys.
  • Line diagrams for each line, based on the colours shown in the new map, will include a range of information that cannot be easily shown on a network map.
  • The map is intended to show the network as it will exist from 2015 and does not include proposed train stations or train lines that will not be completed by this time.
  • Consideration was given to showing loop directions. At present only the South Morang/Hurstbridge Loop has been altered to operate clockwise seven days a week. When more loops are altered to operate in a consistent manner, then loop direction will be included on the map.