Trainspotting 2015 (and why each model is called what it’s called)

This is an update of a 2010 post where I quickly compared the different types of trains then in service.

Since then the Hitachi trains have been taken out of service, and I also thought I’d briefly describe where the names come from.

(The Hitachi trains got their name because the design was by Hitachi, though they were all built in Australia by Martin & King and Commonwealth Engineering.)


X’Trapolis trains run most services on the lines to the north-east (via Clifton Hill) and east (via Burnley) of Melbourne. In part because their numbers have increased markedly over the years, they are expected to be introduced to the “Cross city” (Frankston, Williamstown, Werribee) lines later this year. There are 87 trains of 6 cars each = 522 carriages.

This model of train, whose full name is the X’trapolis 100, is made by Alstom, whose nameplate you’ll find on the floor in the doorway; while they are largely imported and fitted-out at Alstom’s factory in Ballarat.

They’ve been criticised in the past for poor suspension, leading to a lack of comfort (particularly for drivers) and because they are not stainless steel (and thus may be prone to rust in the future). But they arguably have the most efficient current seat layout, and are the only model of train with sufficient handholds for standees. They also have very clear information displays, though in the newer models these are poorly located.

X'Trapolis train
Alstom X'Trapolis train sign


Siemens trains serve the western (via North Melbourne) and south/south-eastern (via South Yarra lines). For many years they had brake problems, so when the government ordered extra trains to grow the fleet, they were avoided. There are 36 trains x 6 cars = 216 carriages.

They’re made by Siemens (obviously), a company that pretty much invented electric trains, but the actual model was originally known as the “Mo.Mo”, short for “Modular Metro” — because the modular design allowed carriages to be built in a number of different ways, and they’re used in a number of other cities around the world.

Melbourne’s version of the Mo.Mo has been criticised for its lack of doors, and lack of handholds along the carriages, as well as the brake problems. Additionally the seat cover design originally chosen by then-operator M>Train is notorious for attracting/showing dirt and grime, and (presumably due to a lack of cleaning) these trains often have a large amount of interior graffiti visible. On the bright side the new seats are much better, they have pretty good ride quality and a walk-through design (without intermediate doors as on the X’Trapolis).

Siemens train at Bentleigh
Siemens train


The Comeng train, used throughout the network. There are 92 of these trains = 552 carriages. Comeng is short for Commonwealth Engineering, the then once government owned enterprise which built the trains during the 1980s. The Dandenong factory where they were made is now run by Bombardier, who make Melbourne’s E-class trams, and V/Line’s V/Locity trains (and similar trains for other Australian cities).

During the first privatisation of the rail network from 1999 to 2004, the Comeng fleet was split up and refurbished to different, incompatible standards. These differences are still visible today, with the most obvious difference being the Connex/Alstom carriages got a smoother more rounded front, a much smaller front LED destination display, and green handles/poles/seat backs inside — whereas the M>Train/EDI carriages have yellow handles inside. They also have different plates above the end doors (see below), as Alstom put new ones in.

After the rail system was brought back together in 2004, work was done to make the fleet compatible again. In the past they tended to have problems with their air-conditioning failing in the heat (!) but this was resolved via upgrades after well-publicised failures in the summer of 2008-09.

Comeng train (made up of Alstom and EDI carriages) on viaduct
Alstom Comeng train signage
EDI Comeng train signage

Some trains only run on some lines because it involves a bunch of work to test and certify trains to run on all lines — sometimes this requires modifications to tracks, signals, platforms or even trains.

In the future, Metro intends to sectorise the rail network, dedicating parts of the fleet as well as maintenance facilities to particular lines, to avoid having to move trains from one line to the other — much like the tram network runs today.

As of the 2013 operations plan, the thinking was as follows:

  • Cross-city (Frankston, Sandringham, Werribee, Williamstown) — mostly Siemens (with them being used for the Sandringham high-capacity signalling trial)
  • Caulfield/Dandenong (Cranbourne, Pakenham) — Comeng, moving to the new high-capacity trains in the future
  • Northern (Sunbury, Craigieburn, Upfield) — Comeng
  • Clifton Hill (South Morang, Hurstbridge) — X’Trapolis
  • Burnley (Glen Waverley, Alamein, Belgrave, Lilydale) — X’Trapolis, though at the time they noted they didn’t have enough for the entire group, so some Comengs would also be used.

Since then, more X’Trapolis trains have been ordered, which may cover the Burnley group, but the (arguably blatantly political) plan to move some of them onto the Cross-City lines has also been initiated, so who knows how it’ll look in the future. Presumably though the plan is still to have mostly the same types of trains on specific lines, to minimise crossover and so timetabling can take into account particular speed/acceleration/deceleration characteristics of the train types used.

Source for train numbers: VicSig: Suburban fleet

Update: Added Hitachi train name info.

Burke Road crossing removal progressing

On Saturday I took a look at the Burke Road level crossing removal — it’s being done as part of the same package as the North/Mckinnon/Centre Roads crossings, but is well ahead of them in terms of progress.

The official web site has details of the project — because there’s space available, the new rail line and new station are being built parallel to the old ones, similar to how Springvale was done.

Level crossing removal works, Gardiner

Level crossing removal works, Gardiner

Level crossing removal works, Gardiner

Last week the Glen Waverley line and Burke Road were both closed so they could build the new bridge deck, then dig under it later. (A similar method is going to be used on the Frankston line crossings in the package.) During this time train passenger connected from Darling Station to Caulfield by bus. This seems to have gone quite well, with plenty of staff to direct people. Being school holidays no doubt helped.

At Burke Road, signs proclaimed the local businesses are open, but they looked pretty dead. Perhaps they always are on Saturday afternoons; I don’t know. The scuba shop highlighted in the local paper a few weeks ago had signs up saying they had moved to Camberwell.

Level crossing removal works, Gardiner

Gardiner level crossing removal works

A new island tram platform stop is being built, which looks like it’ll be adjacent the new station entrance.

The plan is to close the rail line again over Christmas for about 4 weeks to do major construction and connect the new tracks, with the project mostly finished by mid-2016.

There were a few curious locals wandering about taking a look, and of course government propaganda signage reminding us why the project is being done. Despite this specific crossing removal having been funded last year before Labor was voted in, the Andrews government “Getting on with it!” slogan is used.

Level Crossing Removal Authority signage, Gardiner

To be fair, the current government signed the contract, and while it’s not cheap, $534 million for four (an average of $133m each) has started to bring the average price back down after the $200 million price tag at St Albans. Hopefully this downward trend continues as more crossings are done.

The sign was of course authorised by the Victorian government, and printed by the good people at [printer name] in [place of business].

Printed by [Printer name]

Anyway, it’s good to see the project proceeding. As an occasional motorist and tram passenger in the area, I know it regularly clogs up, and I’m sure train passengers will be happier when they no longer have to slow down to 15 kmh crossing the tram line.

Design: It probably won a prize #SoCross

Back at uni, in one of my subjects we read a great book called The Design Of Everyday Things. In it, author Donald Norman highlights bad designs, often noting: “It probably won a prize”.

One of the hallmarks of good design at railway stations is being able to see the information that you need to find your platform and find your train.

For instance, information screens on the platform should be visible as you approach, meaning if a train is approaching you can quickly see if it’s yours. This is mostly the case.

At Southern Cross Station, this greets you as you come down the escalators to platforms 11/12 from the Collins Street entrance:

Southern Cross Station, platforms 11+12

It’s no better from the Bourke Street entrance.

Southern Cross Station, platforms 11+12

Being behind the pillars also means the screens aren’t visible from substantial sections of the platform.

Thankfully other platforms aren’t as bad — the differing roof support structures mean that the screens are generally visible.

But did it win a prize? Yes.

The Age 24/6/2007: Southern Cross wins prestigious architecture award

As Donald Norman’s book says: prizes tend to be given for some aspects of design, to the neglect of all others—usually including usability.

Sad but true.

The station has numerous faults, including diesel fumes, seats that are ice cold in winter, the loss of the convenient subways, the name change, and lights way up high that are difficult to maintain — possibly why diesel generators are currently powering lights on some platforms.

For all that, Southern Cross was a huge improvement over the dingy dark toilet block of a station that was an aging Spencer Street. But with a little thought, it could have been so much better.

You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs

I think everyone accepts that public transport is worthwhile, but not perfect. The Age today highlights rail capacity problems. The source document is a presentation from PTV, and page 5 summarises the bottlenecks:

PTV presentation - Rail network constraints
(This is similar to a diagram in the 2012 rail Network Development Plan)

So, change is needed on the public transport network.

But because there aren’t unlimited resources, it’s almost inevitable that improving the network means that even for the best changes, a few people will be disadvantaged. The key is to ensure that the benefits vastly outweigh the disadvantages, and that those who are disadvantaged are helped to transition to the new way of doing things.

By unlimited resources, I don’t just mean money. Money can buy you extra vehicles, drivers and so on, but in some cases it’s just impractical and illogical.

Some past examples:

When the City Loop opened, it meant longer trips for many of those travelling to and from Flinders Street and Spencer Street/Southern Cross. But this was heavily outweighed by the boost to pedestrian capacity in the stations, the improvements to platform throughput (one reason it works the way it does was so peak hour trains could run direct to/from inner-city stabling, though most of that no longer exists), relieving CBD trams, and feeding more people into the previously distant north and eastern ends of the CBD.

Grade separations have occurred at some stations in the past few years. Laburnum, Springvale, Mitcham and others. It causes lots of disruption during construction, and the level street access into stations is lost (in favour of stairs, ramps, lifts, escalators). But it boosts safety, rail capacity (you can run more trains without impacting road traffic), cuts delays to buses, cyclists, pedestrians and motorists.

Over time, some lines have been removed from the City Loop. Werribee, Williamstown, Sandringham trains all run direct on weekdays. But doing this has enabled more trains on these and other lines than would have otherwise been possible. And the growth has continued, so it’s not like it has inconvenienced people so much that patronage has dropped (though interchange could be better).

Re-routing of buses to form the Smartbus services. To help the frequent Smartbus routes run more direct routes, some had to be altered. For instance the Warrigal Road (903) service got moved out of some side streets, and a (less frequent) local route, the 766, created to fill the gap. Similar changes happened elsewhere. Smartbus patronage has continued to grow.

More recently, when Regional Rail Link opened, some passengers wanting Werribee and North Melbourne got bypassed, as V/Line trains no longer stop there. And yet there’s been little discussion of that since — people are adjusting. Geelong to Werribee people have a connecting bus that meets every train at Wyndham Vale. The two new stations have got lots of users. And the boost to Geelong line capacity is a clear benefit.

(There are some problems on the Ballarat line, largely due to train lengths rather than the changed operations and the timetable specifically. This is being slowly fixed as new carriages come into service.)

Southern Cross Station, trains arriving

I’m not saying changes should all be revenue-neutral. More funding is needed to increase services and infrastructure, but the reality is that sometimes compromises have to be made. (And nor should there be a lack of consultation.)

In all the above examples, any disadvantages have been heavily outweighed by the advantages.

Even the lauded metro rail tunnel isn’t perfect. The Dandenong and Sunbury lines will no longer serve North Melbourne, Southern Cross, Parliament and Richmond, for instance. But it brings numerous other benefits.

If the decision-makers get so scared about the disadvantages that they can’t do anything, then we all suffer. The system stagnates. As the city grows, it can’t handle the demand for more capacity and different routes.

Right now there are proposals for trams, trains and buses which have been delayed, apparently due to these concerns.

Perhaps those proposals aren’t perfect. Perhaps they can be tweaked to minimise impacts, or can go in to coincide with other upgrades.

But the network isn’t perfect, and change does need to happen, and it can’t wait for ever.

You might need to break some eggs to make that omelette, but don’t shy away from making the omelette. The trick is to make it the best omelette possible.

Just another #Myki issue: V/Line default fares

Default fares kind of make sense (an assumption about where someone travelled if they don’t touch-off), but the way they’re implemented under Myki leaves a lot to be desired.

An example from Saturday, when I zipped down to Geelong and back on the train.

Myki history: trip to Geelong

Summarising the official history:

12:15 Touched-on at Footscray (zone 1). The train was just arriving, so almost no waiting time.

12:25 Conductor checks my card, just after departing Sunshine.

13:17 Touch-off at South Geelong (zone 4). I’m charged $4.50. I have an active zone 1 Pass on the card, so theoretically it should have charged me just for the travel in zones 2 to 4. This involves taking the normal off-peak (eg weekend) fare of $8.26 and deducting $3.76, the usual zone 1 fare, given I’ve already paid for that. So this seems correct.

I had a walk around and a spot of lunch in Geelong, before heading back to the station, encountering Greens Senator Janet Rice along the way, after spotting her leading a marriage equality rally. We had a good chat on the train back.

14:23 Touch-on at Geelong (zone 4).

15:26 Conductor checks my card (somewhere between Little River and Wyndham Vale)

At Southern Cross I changed trains from V/Line platform 8 to Metro platform 12 via the Bourke Street bridge, which does not require exiting the paid area, since barriers between previously separate paid areas were removed.

Some other V/Line to Metro interchanges at Southern Cross also don’t require exiting, since V/Line uses platforms 15+16, within the Metro paid area. The same often applies at other stations too, such as Sunshine, Footscray, Caulfield and Dandenong.

16:34 Touch-off at Bentleigh (zone 1). This triggers a default fare of $8.04, almost double the amount of the trip down.

So what’s gone on here? Firstly, it was a bit over two hours from touch-on to touch-off, which triggered the default fare. This is a problem — many perfectly logical trips take over two hours, even just in metropolitan Melbourne. (Memorably, those taking long trips on buses have been asked to touch-off then back on midway through their trips.)

Default fares on V/Line vary according to where you touch-on. PTV says:

The default fare for V/Line commuter services at touch on is a 2 hour peak fare between the zone of touch on and Zone 1. The conductor will reset the default fare to the end of the line (will depend on the direction the train is travelling).

So the default was a zone 4 to 1 trip, which matches where I was going. But if a default fare triggers, you don’t get any off-peak discount, not even on weekends when the entire day is off-peak.

So in this case, it’s charged me a full peak fare from Geelong of $11.80, minus the zone 1 portion of $3.76 = $8.04.

Is this a rare situation? I’m not sure.

I’ll claim a refund, but why should it be up to the passenger, given I did what the system asked of me — top up, touch on, touch off?

Melbourne-bound train approaches Geelong station

How it could be improved

Two hours is clearly not enough when travelling across four zones and interchanging. It’s worse with long waiting times, common at V/Line stations. (I waited half an hour; it could have been a lot worse at some stations on the weekend.)

An easy (perhaps) fix would be to change the two hour limit to be more generous for trips of more than two zones. Currently it’s 2 hours for 1-5 zones, 3 hours for 6-11 zones, or 4 hours for 12-13 zones. Perhaps adjust those rules so you get three hours for trips of 3-5 zones, though even that is pushing it if your wait after interchange is long, and so is your remaining trip (Geelong to Hurstbridge, anybody?).

And it wouldn’t help the long Smartbus trip situation. As I noted back when I posted about that: If they’d thought about how the software might be used in the real world, then (at least on buses) they should be able to figure out that as you exit the bus after a long trip, you didn’t really magically travel to the end of the route (before the bus itself got there) and then board it again.

The worst outcome would be to tell people to traipse up to the gates and exit, then re-enter when changing trains. That truly would be dictating that the people conform to the needs of the system, rather than the other way around as it should be.

A little more intelligence in the system would be appropriate, to ensure that people taking genuinely long trips don’t get stung unnecessarily.