Have higher weekend train frequencies resulted in huge traffic jams at level crossings? No.

There was speculation from some quarters that introducing 10 minute train frequencies would result in long traffic queues at level crossings, similar to those seen in many suburbs during peak commuting hours.

I think this was unfounded. Looking around Bentleigh on a recent weekend, it seems no worse than when trains ran half as frequently.

Bentleigh level crossing

I think there’s a couple of reasons for this:

Less trains than weekday peak hours — this crossing gets 3-4 trains every 9 minutes (counting both directions) in peak; about 23 trains per hour. On weekends it’s about half that.

Less motor vehicle traffic than weekday peak hours, so it’s never going to be as bad as peak.

For a train that stops at the station then goes through the crossing (eg southbound), the gates are down for about 75 seconds. For a train in the other direction, it’s about 45 seconds. So every 10 minutes, assuming the two trains aren’t crossing at the same time, the gates are closed for about 2 minutes, or 20% of the time. This is less than a typical road intersection (about 50%) and much less than an intersection with a major road such as Nepean Highway (probably over 70%).

The other thing is that more frequent train services should, in the longer term, attract more people out of their cars, reducing traffic. It’s a bit hard to tell if this has had any effect yet, or if a north-south railway would ever take a substantial amount of east-west road travel, of course. (This is why Smartbus services also need to be expanded and boosted.)

Perhaps it’s worse at other locations, such as the notorious Murrumbeena Road crossing. But other hotspots I’ve seen such as North Road, Ormond, appear to be managing okay.

There are genuine concerns that roads will clog up if a large number of extra trains are added in peak hours — grade separation is the only long-term full solution to fix that.

But in off-peak hours including weekends and evenings, there should be nothing stopping the government bringing the huge benefits of 10 minute train services to the rest of Melbourne.

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13 thoughts on “Have higher weekend train frequencies resulted in huge traffic jams at level crossings? No.

  1. As well as Murrumbeena Rd, Poath Rd also has more conjestion. It is a combination of, intersection at the level crossing, V-Line trains, Chadstone traffic and trains passing near the station leading to longer periods with the crossing in rail use.

    There is less congestion than weekday peak but more than weekday inter-peak.

  2. The Upfield line is still waiting for 10 minute frequencies in peak hour, let alone weekends. Lots of north-western stations that don’t get 10 min frequency in peak hour due to express trains too.

  3. I agree completely with Murrumbeena Rd and Poath Rd, especially when you get Metro trains and then have to wait for a V/Line.

    Another irritation is when a train stops at a station platform just after a road crossing. You have to wait there while the trains stop for boarding etc, even though the trains are ‘past’ the road crossing. You’d think with modern technology, sensors could tell the direction the train is going/proximity/speed etc and be intelligent enough to know that the train is clear of the crossing and open the boom gates. It would save an awful lot of frustration.

  4. I agree with John’s comment about the need to make much better use of technology, especially when it comes to the operation of railway crossings. The crossing next to Aircraft station often has its gates down for periods up to 10 minutes, while you sit and wait for multiple trains to pass through the crossing.

    The worst periods tend to be when the VLine trains to and from Geelong, mixed in with suburban Werribee line trains, and the freight line to Adelaide cause the gates to be down for up to 5 trains. The car traffic often ends up backed up all the way back to Laverton railway station on one side of the crossing, and the other side is even more dangerous and frustrating, as the traffic can end up backed up for the eitire length of the Point Cook road off ramp from the Princes Freeway, and have stationary vehicles stuck on the freeway waiting for the trains.

    These boom gates are often activated as soon as a Werribee bound train leaves Laverton station (nearly 2km down the track), and for city bound trains, they often activate before the train passes the new station under construction at Williams Landing.

    Come on VicTrack, get smart with how you operate the rail network, and install appropriate sensing and signalling technology.

  5. Murrumbeena crossing is quite smart and deals with many trains quite well. But it is the number of trains that is the problem. It surely should be a high priority to put the line underground past this point. Glen Iris crossing is quite good too.

    What is it with Gardiner and Kooyong Stations that the train must be halfway to the next railway station before the booms rise?

    Rear of train passes the road crossing, booms rise. It is not hard.

  6. @ Andrew

    I am guessing because those locations are both tram squares that the crossings are manual and the voltage has to be switched from 1500V (train) to 600V (tram), something that takes a few seconds to accomplish so the booms stay down until the square has changed (especially if you have a tram sitting there). I’m speculating on how much time the electricity conversion takes because I’m not an expert but it seems rational that a load on a wire can be changed in an instant..

    Kooyong is terrible at peak hour and its not because of the tram crossing at all as there are not that many express services on the Glen Waverley line and with the station right there trains are usually going to be moving slowly in an out of the station. What boggs up traffic at that crossing is that a lot of cars are making right turns on the side streets on each side of the station when the gates lift blocking everyone else especially the trams. In the morning its hell because you have city bound trains every 7 minutes and about the same going to Glen Waverley.

  7. The Heatherton Road Noble Park crossing is also becomming bad nowdays with AM and PM perak traffic queueing up to a kilometre before on some occasions, but the resuced traffic on weekends is the main reason for this not being the case on Saturday and Sunday at all – you pass straight through.

    The added problem at this location is that it is accompanied by a roundabout and not a signalised intersection – which does not allow for priority of the main road between the trains. They have since put stop lights at the roundabout to prevent traffic from the crossing side from being stuck on the tracks as trains approach, making the traffic problem worse. Crossings at nearby Corrigan and Chandler Roads are accompanied by lights and seem to not have quite the same problem

  8. @John, @Pip, et al, yes, from what I understand there is potential to optimise level crossing programming to improve the down time of the booms with no real impact on safety or train operations.

    @TimTam, sounds like they should ban right hand turns there.

    @AndrewS, note that currently Noble Park gets more trains on weekends than it does during the week off-peak.

  9. It’s difficult to comment without this turning into a dissertation on level crossing signalling :-)

    Level crossing detection is complicated by the requirement that the detection equipment must always detect the presence of a train. The consequence is that design decisions are made that increase the operation time. For example, the track relays that ultimately detect the presence of a train are biased so that it takes two seconds for them to pick up after a train exits the track. This is the major cause of the apparent slowness of boom barriers to raise after the train has cleared the level crossing. ‘New’ detection technology must be shown to have the same level of reliability, and the implementation would suffer from the same safety/operation time compromises.

    A second issue is the addition of holding time on the approach side of the level crossing. A decision was made a long time ago that once boom barriers start to rise, they must have the time to fully rise and stay up for 10 seconds before a second train causes them to operate. The consequence of this is that once boom barriers are down, an approaching train quite a long way away from the level crossing will hold them down. Where express trains are concerned, the distances can get very long indeed. The permutations of express/stopping trains on the tracks can have the crossings down for a long time, particularly where there are three tracks. This is probably a major reason why the congestion at Bentleigh is less on weekends than in peak hours – there are no express trains.

    There is certainly finetuning that can be done to improve the control systems. But this will increase the logic complexity of a system that is already extremely complex and is safety critical. And the result will be a finetuning – it will not deliver significant additional capacity.

  10. I was crossing the line at Yarraville the other night and at least SIX trains crossed while the gates were down – stoppers, express, and VLine. The crowd of people was huge, and the traffic doesn’t bear mentioning. I didn’t take note of the time, but it was the longest I’ve ever seen it. Now that’s one that needs to go underground.

  11. Daniel,

    Yes they need to.
    I know the logic in all of those drivers as Talbot cres (where most of the morning turns occur) leads to the M1 and Toorak Rd. where there is another crossing that deals with the same train a minute before or later. The thing that needs to be etched in to driver’s minds is the tram cannot pass you, sadly I don’t think a lot of them will listen :(.

    @ Andrew

    At an area like Bentleigh I would assume a Frankston bound express train would hold those gates down as well as as Mckinnon Rd, and North Rd. that does tie up a lot of traffic. Considering North rd. is one of the worst level crossings in Victoria on the busiest line the stretch from Glenhuntly to Bentleign should all be separated. Also add in the steel trains on the Frankston line and it can be really bad.

    @ ferdle.

    I reckon that in some level crossings (especially near stations) the train shouldn’t get priority every time and it should be on a more timed basis. So gates have to stay up for at least a 30-45 seconds to a minute to let enough cars go by until a train gets to cross. I have observed Kooyong and literally as the gates go up and 10 seconds later (the minimum time according to andrew’s comment) the gates go back down and 4 cars pass through sometimes. Trains there aren’t every 2 minutes so there can be 1 minute to spare to let cars through.

  12. Hmm, interesting photo. Bentleigh’s level crossing rarely looks like that… where are the cars?

  13. I live at this location and my biggest beef, is the fact that when you finally clear the train crossing, you get red lights at pedestrian crossings and Jasper Rd and Boran Rd. If you have to wait for three trains to go past (the boom gates don’t come up in between) then surely with todays technology, you can turn a few lights green to clear the backlog.If you don’t combine the traffic lights and level crossings then you have huge amounts of traffic stuck at one spot. The backlog can’t cross the tracks because of red lights up ahead and then the boom gates come down again. Cars get stuck on the track because they are already fed up with the wait and do something stupid so they can get on the other side. The solution is obvious but where are all the promised grade separation projects? How about less talk and more construction.

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