Track conditions causing carriages to bump together like this can’t be good

One of the advantages of rail over road transport is the ride quality.

Well, that’s in theory. If enough care and funding goes in, trains can be extremely smooth. In practice on a rail network like Melbourne’s, with aging infrastructure, it can be a bumpy ride.

Now, I don’t have a major problem with a less than totally smooth ride, particularly around the many junctions on the system. A bit of a lurch to the left as we come out of the Loop and join the main line? I can deal with that.

I’m less keen on huge bumps and jolts on otherwise completely straight sections of track. Sure, one might not expect no lateral movement at all, but surely it can’t be a good thing if the carriages bounce around so much you can hear bits of them banging together.

This video is the Frankston line tracks, inbound, just north of the Yarra River approaching Richmond (adjacent that well-known landmark the railways Cremorne substation). It’s one of the busier sections of the network: most of the week it gets 6 trains per hour, but during morning peak about double that, plus a freight train or two each day.

I’ve probably been a teensy bit OTT in getting so many shots of it, but it’s on my usual commute, and I think it’s getting worse over time.

From the outside, the bounce is noticeable, but to the untrained eye it doesn’t look too bad.

But inside the train it’s a different story. As you can see, in a Siemens train the bump causes the end-of-carriage sections to make a lot of noise. It’s generally less noisy on Comeng trains, particularly near the front of the train, but I’ve found every so often there’ll be the sound of bits of carriage bouncing against each other.

The adjacent tracks don’t seem to have the same problem. Unfortunately it’s in a position where you can’t really get a good look at the tracks as trains go past.

It’s probably not the worst on the network. Here’s an example from a few years ago near Montmorency, filmed by Rod Williams — and apparently fixed after Channel 7 took a look:

There are many locations like this (though not usually as bad) around the network, raising recent concerns about the level of maintenance, though the regulator doesn’t consider there to be a safety problem.

Even assuming it’s safe and nothing’s about to come off the rails, it bumps the passengers around (which can cause standees to wobble and fall if not holding on tight), and in the long term, this type of lurching around can’t be doing the carriages any good at all.

The area of Metro’s maintenance (and other) arrangements is subject to a lot of speculation at the moment. Lots of email screeds full of unsubstantiated claims are flying around (cough: Sunstone), but one thing’s for sure — upkeep of the track and fleet shouldn’t be something to skimp on.

A lot of work has been done in recent years to install concrete sleepers, and generally upgrade the tracks. The question must be: has it been adequate?

On a section where the tracks are straight, on one of the busiest parts of the network, there should be no excuse for the trains bouncing and lurching around like this.

New Siemens train layout

Metro has been trying modified carriage layouts on the trains. Some Comeng trains have had seats removed near the doorways, and now a Siemens train has shown up with a similar treatment.

My immediate reaction (from a quick ride a few minutes ago)…

The pros: the larger doorway area should help speed up loading and unloading, and provide space for more people in crowded conditions. Based on how people have reacted to the Comeng layout, this seems to work.

The cons: still very few hand holds away from the doorways, especially in the middle of the carriages.

Fewer seats overall of course; about 16 removed per carriage, including many (all?) of the “priority” seats.

Siemens train: new layout February 2015

Siemens train new layout February 2015

Siemens train: new layout February 2015

What do you think?

For the trainspotters, it’s carriage 832M and friends.

Update: Here’s a couple of snaps from December of the similar Comeng train layout.

New Comeng train layout, December 2014

New Comeng train layout, December 2014

Victoria’s first 21st century rail megaproject: benefits from Regional Rail Link

Victoria’s first big 21st century rail megaproject is almost complete. Regional Rail Link was started and mostly funded by Labor (State and Federal, in part as stimulus money during the Global Financial Crisis), and largely built under the State Coalition.

Construction itself is now complete, with driver training and other preparatory work happening ahead of the expected opening in April June.

The line provides an enormous amount of additional track capacity in the western suburbs… but of course this is only of use if it’s used.

So what are the benefits, and what do we know about how it’ll be used?

Wyndham Vale station, looking south

Tarneit/Wyndham Vale get their new stations and new rail line, served by some Geelong trains. The infrastructure for starting suburban diesel trains from Wyndham Vale into the City has also been provided, but it’s not clear that option will be used initially. The opening of the stations will be accompanied by a bus route revamp in the area, focussed on the new stations, which makes a lot of sense, and pleasingly have had extensive community consulation.

Geelong line – more reliable travel time in the suburban part of the journey, as V/Line trains won’t get stuck behind slower Werribee line trains. It’s unclear if the trip will take longer though — this was a subject of some controversy when RRL was first planned, and still hasn’t been clearly answered. While it’s a longer distance, the track speeds are higher than the old route, so hopefully the running time won’t be much longer.

We know the Geelong line will go to 20 mins off-peak (probably every 40 minutes to Armstrong Creek due to the single track beyond South Geelong), a move which was probably possible in the past, but will be easier to reliably operate with RRL in place. This boost was promised by Labor before the election, and amusingly matched by the Coalition, who claimed they’d been planning it all along… but they hadn’t actually told anybody about it. Ah, secret railway business.

Ballarat and Bendigo lines — ditto; more reliable travel times. Likely to be faster, particularly during peak when in the past they had to wait for Sunbury line trains. Scope for some extra services, though this is still constrained by the single track sections further out. These trains are already using the new RRL tracks from Sunshine into the City, but timetables haven’t yet been adjusted. The question will be whether the April timetable makes use of this properly, and whether V/Line get their act together at the city end to reduce or eliminate delays coming into Southern Cross, where they should now have plenty of platforms to accommodate all the incoming trains.

The 2021 draft documents suggested the three lines combined would have up to about 15 trains in the busiest hour, but the infrastructure should allow some growth beyond that.

Sunshine station

Sunbury line — apart from between Sunshine and Sunbury, no V/Line trains have to share the metro tracks anymore, meaning a virtual doubling of capacity between Sunshine and the City.

Right now (as of the last load survey in May 2014) figures show crowding on the line has eased, following a roughly 50% boost in peak services over the past 6 years, thanks in part to moving the Werribee line out of the Loop in 2008, and also thanks to the Sunbury electrification, which added stations but also added overall track capacity by removing short haul V/Line trains off the line.

However with Zone 1+2 fares having been cut by about 40% since the start ofg the year, we may see a lot more people on suburban trains across the network, so the question is how quickly will the government move to boost services on the line to cope — particularly in peak hour, but also at off-peak times when crowding can be a problem. The new Calder Park train stabling, expected to open later this year, will help with this.

Sunbury line load survey May 2014

Werribee line — again, once RRL opens the Geelong line trains will be off the Werribee line completely, and with crowding already bad before January, they’ll need to make use of that capacity to boost services.

In the past 6 years, the load survey shows the Werribee line has gone from 13 to 21 services, and in that time has gained Williams Landing station. But the line has evidently seen greater passenger growth than the Sunbury line, with far more trains above the load standard. In fact it has 46% of AM peak passengers travelling on crowded trains, the highest proportion anywhere on the network.

I’m hearing the zone changes have eased demand at Laverton, in favour of Williams Landing, but given the huge population growth in that area, I’d also expect overall patronage to keep growing.

Werribee line load survey May 2014

Williamstown line — theoretically could get a boost, but not seen as a priority as it doesn’t serve growth corridors, and the last load survey showed crowding was well below the levels seen on other lines. One would hope at least the 22 minute peak frequency shared with Altona will be fixed to 20.

Altona Loop — technically part of the Werribee line, the changes in 2011 when the third (turnback) platform at Laverton opened were primarily of benefit to the outer section of the Werribee line (early 2011 was when the line got a big increase in services). It helped add capacity for the Altona Loop stations, but degraded the service in other ways: peak hour service dropped back to an almost impossible to memorise 22 minute frequency, and at off-peak times on weekdays shuttle trains run every 20 minutes only as far as Newport.

This means that at off-peak times, if you want to travel to a City Loop underground station, you need to catch three trains — one to Newport, another to North Melbourne or Southern Cross, then a third to the Loop.

One of the reasons widely cited for the shuttle trains (and the 22 minute peak timetable) was a lack of capacity between Newport and the City, given the need to share the line with Geelong trains. RRL will see the Geelong trains off the line, and it has been flagged many times that this would bring an end to the shuttles, with off-peak Altona Loop trains going all the way into the city — in fact Labor pledged it during the 2014 election campaign. It would help those passengers, but also ease off-peak crowding on the Werribee line by enabling the Werribee trains to run express Newport to Footscray, bypassing busy inner-city stations like Yarraville.

But with a lack of assurances from the powers that be, there are now fears this won’t happen after all, or at least not any time soon. (Do you use the Altona Loop? Click through to find out how to help the campaign.)

Jill Hennessy at MTF forum: Altona rail
Source: Metropolitan Transport Forum — video from Western Suburbs forum

Other lines indirectly benefit: the Frankston, Craigieburn and Upfield lines gain some isolation from V/Line operations which currently can snowball across the network.

So, RRL brings a lot of scope for extra services

With the zone 2 fare cuts, anecdotal evidence is that patronage is on the rise again, right across the rail network. The government is going to need to stay ahead of the growth, to avoid the politically sensitive situation of widespread packed trains that we saw in the later years of the Bracks/Brumby government.

This time, they’re a bit more prepared. RRL unlocks capacity for a number of lines, and planning work is underway to unlock capacity on other lines around the network. The key is for the funding for upgrades (and that includes infrastructure, fleet and services) to keep on coming.

You wouldn’t expect them to use all the extra capacity from day one, but they should where they have the train fleet available and the crowding is worst (eg the Werribee line and Altona Loop), as well as a plan to roll out additional service boosts over time.

Of course it shouldn’t just be directed at easing train overcrowding. Trains, like no other transport mode, have the ability to get large numbers out people out of the traffic on the Westgate Bridge and the other river crossings, if good frequent services are provided.

And remember — all-day, 7-day frequent servicesevery 10 minutes or better — are actually relatively cheap on the upgrade list, because they largely use fleet and infrastructure already provided for peak hour. Frequent services help the people who can, make more trips outside peak hours, and just like in the world’s biggest cities, help turn our train system into a mass transit solution that gets people out of cars by providing good connections between lines, and Turn Up And Go services.

  • Update 20/2/2015: The government has postponed the opening to June, blaming a lack of V/Line rolling stock due to the previous government delaying the order.

The #EWLink billion dollar booby trap

The previously secret East West Link “side letter”, offering compensation even if the contract was deemed invalid, seems to underscore just how desperate the State Coalition was to build the road — despite it being a project that:

Here’s an excerpt from the document, which perhaps surprisingly, was released by the Coalition themselves yesterday:

East West Link side letter

It’s a bit like a contractual version of Pauline Hanson’s assassination video: Fellow Victorians, if you are seeing this now, it means East West Link has been killed.

Obviously it was designed to ensure the project went ahead, even if the Coalition was voted out, and Labor tried to cancel it. A billion dollar booby trap.

East West Link: eastern section, western gateway in Royal Park

I think this is far worse than simply signing a bad contract. It goes much further, by offering a kind of insurance against its later cancellation (which, as a reminder, happens regularly).

This is veering into the territory of… how do I put this? It’s lacking respect for the electorate so much that you would force your decision onto them, even if they specifically voted against it. Remember, numerous people from Tony Abbott down declared the November 2014 election a referendum on the project.

This kind of letter says “We want this built. We don’t have a mandate for it, but we don’t care what you think. And if you vote us out, we’re going to try and force the other side to build it anyway.”

#Myki Monthly and Weekly Pass fares: more expensive than ever compared to daily fares

On many public transport systems, they go out of their way to encourage what we in Melbourne call Passes — sometimes called Season Passes, Periodicals, Monthly or Yearly tickets: a fixed price for unlimited travel for a period.

For the system, the benefits include reduced transaction costs, getting a bunch of money up front, and the promise of customer loyalty, at least for the Pass duration, but also beyond that if they like the discount and the service and renew.

For the passenger, they get a nice discount, and they don’t have to bother with queuing and buying more tickets for a while. In some places, they don’t even need to get their ticket out unless asked by an inspector.

Myki 2015 bus signage

Passengers can also use the Pass for any travel they like during that time, for instance weekday commuters might use it for social or recreational travel on weekends or evenings.

The key benefit of the Pass is the discount over everyday fares, but Melbourne’s used to have some other benefits which have been removed with the migration to Myki:

  • Pre-1990s Metcard, on weekends, a Weekly/Monthly/Yearly allowed travel not just for the cardholder, but also for another adult and kids, effectively becoming a weekend family ticket
  • Pre-Myki, on weekends the fare also allowed travel in any zone in Melbourne for no extra cost (the clumsy handling of this has led to the situation where some users actually get charged a negative fare for using extra zones now)

Personally I think the loss of these benefits is probably forgiveable. Bringing across every single fare oddity into a new system is part of what has made Myki so trouble prone. There’s a good argument that they should have simplified things further, such as scrapping the Weekly Pass and using an automatic Weekly Cap instead. But I digress.

The bigger effect of Myki, and in particular its compulsory use in Melbourne since the end of 2012, is that the Pass discount is now greatly diminished.

Melbourne Myki Pass costs vs daily fares

How many days does a Pass cost?

Weekly fares were about the cost 4.3 Dailies, from the 90s, right up to 2012. Since Daily fares were moved onto Myki Money, which is at a cheaper rate (since it was originally intended to sit alongside 2-hour and Daily short term/single use tickets), a Weekly fare is now equivalent to 5 weekdays.

In other words, the Weekly fare is no longer a great proposition, unless you know for sure that you’ll travel more than 5 days a week. If you’re not sure, or you never use public transport at weekends, you might as well use Myki Money.

A Monthly/30 Day Pass had been about the cost of 16.2 Dailies, making it a very attractive proposition for daily commuters. It’s now the cost of 18.4 weekdays, making it less compelling for 9-5 workers who might only have 20 days’ use in the month if they never use public transport on weekends.

A lot of people buy 33-day Passes, and have them start on a Monday, and end on the Friday five weeks later, avoiding paying for an intermediate weekend if they are unlikely to use it. With some planning ahead, you can also adjust the number of days (anywhere between 28 and 325) to fit in with public holidays or leave from work.

Yearlies used to be about the cost of 171 Dailies. They are now up at the cost of 199 weekdays.

For metropolitan passengers, there’s no reason to ever pay retail price for a Yearly. Get the Commuter Club discount via your workplace or PTUA instead.

Happily, the combination of the Yearly discount and the Commuter Club discount still makes it a pretty good deal for most everyday users, as long as they can afford the initial outlay (or their workplace can pay it via monthly deductions).

What about the weekend cap?

My calculations are perhaps a little shaky, but the figures come out significantly worse if you take into account that some days in a Pass would be subject to the $6 weekend/holiday daily cap, not the weekend price.

(While few would have welcomed the increase of the weekend daily cap from $3.50 to $6 in 2014, it did remove the anomaly whereby Myki Money users got weekend travel more cheaply than loyal Myki Pass users.)

Including the weekend cap in the calculation, a Weekly costs the same as 5.3 days (assuming no public holidays). A 30-day Pass is 23 days (also assuming no public holidays in the month). A Yearly is around 251 days (assuming 12 public holidays per year).

Average days per Monthly ticket cost (2011)

Comparing Melbourne to other cities

A PTUA study in 2011 found that Melbourne had one of the most expensive Monthly fare prices in the world, at 20.3 days. (The calculation used an average of Zone 1, Z2, and Z1+2 prices. I’ve used just Z1 above.)

The average for the other cities in the study was 12.5 days, and the European cities in particular had deep discounts for Monthly fares.

The prices may have changed a bit since then, particularly as many cities have moved to smartcards in the mean time, and changed their fare structures. For instance in Vancouver it appears the Monthly has moved up from 12.67 then to about the price of 15.5 days now (based on two single fares with transfers).

But most of them still seem to price their Monthlies cheaper than Melbourne.

I’m certainly not arguing that Myki Money fares should go up. The discount from paper tickets is a reasonable one, given the inconvenience of having no paper tickets available.

Given Melbourne’s Weekly Pass discount is negligible for most users, it might be time to revisit whether an automatic Weekly Cap (once proposed, and partly implemented) can easily replace it. A Monthly cap was also once proposed, but seems to have been excised at an early stage.

But to encourage regular users, the Monthly/Yearly price should really come down, at least to reflect the cut in daily fares that occurred when everybody got forced from paper tickets onto Myki.