Next gen trains are coming – what can we expect?

We’re starting to learn a lot more about the proposed next generation of trains for Melbourne’s suburban rail network — known in the biz by the acronym “HCMTs” — High Capacity Metro Trains.

The rolling stock strategy released in May had some detail — and more has been revealed by an Expression Of Interest document put out last week — I’ve managed to get a copy.

So here’s what we know about what the government wants:

It’s 37 trains costing $1.3 billion TEI (that’s Total Estimated Investment) including supporting infrastructure — primarily a new depot (stabling plus a Train Maintenance Facility, or acronym TMF) at Pakenham East to store and service them.

That’s enough trains to run the entire Cranbourne/Pakenham (aka Dandenong) line — via the Loop, eg the configuration until the Melbourne Metro Rail Tunnel (which by the way seems to be going by the acronym MMRT) comes into service.

Interior of Hong Kong MTR SP1900 train
Interior of Hong Kong MTR 1900/1950 train. Source: Wikipedia. I’d expect our new trains to have more seats than this.

The trains/depot project accompanies the level crossing removals between Caulfield and Dandenong, so they can run very frequent trains without impacting road users, as well as other works such as signalling, platform extensions and power upgrades.

Of course the Siemens and Comeng trains currently running on the Dandenong line will move to other lines. And they’ve also recently funded 6 new X’Trapolis trains, as well as a $75 million “life extension” upgrade for Comeng trains on other lines.

HCMTs will cater for an average load of up to 1100 people. It sounds like this would become the new “load standard” (currently 798) for this part of the fleet.

The actual “gross” capacity would be 1380 — that’s with 40% (345) seated, plus 4 passengers standing per square metre), but with potential “extended” (more carriages) and “crush” (fewer seats) configurations — see below.

They want the contract signed by end of 2016, prototype mock-up trains by early 2017, and the first train on the rails from late 2018 — presumably just in time for the 2018 election.

Money starts flowing from the state to the PPP operator once the fifth train is delivered.

They’re assuming 15 trains delivered per year, with all trains delivered by 2022, and the contract would include 30 years of maintenance from that date.

At least 50% local content (design and manufacture), which obviously supports jobs. And obviously there will be ongoing maintenance jobs where the new depot will be at Pakenham East.

Project delivered as an “availability-based” PPP, which includes the HCMTs and the TMF and ongoing maintenance.

Comeng trains at Bentleigh
Comeng trains. These will have upgrades to keep them going, but the oldest will start to be retired next decade.

Anticipated expansion of the order at a later stage. Over time it would be the intitial 37 HCMTs for the Dandenong line, another 25 for the Sunbury line when the two are linked/through-routed by the Melbourne Metro Rail Tunnel. On top of that, another 38 (making a total of 100) to allow retirement of the oldest Comeng trains mid next decade, while still boosting overall fleet carrying capacity.

Of the initial fleet of 37, they want 35 available to run the Dandenong line peak service, and 24 available at off-peak times (including weekends). Potential for 24 hour service, though initially planned for 19 hours/7 day service, 150,000 km per annum.

Based on current round-trip times, I make that roughly a train every 4 minutes in peak, every 6 minutes off-peak.

In terms of reliability, they want 50,000 kilometres between failures (going by the lovely acronym MDBSAF — Mean Distance Between Service Affecting Failure) of three minutes, and asset availability over 95%, with a performance regime for that, with incentives and penalties.

Realtime automated status/fault monitoring.

Minimum 35-year HCMT design life, and minimum 50-year TMF design life. They also want a train simulator to help train drivers.

The depot Train Maintenance Facility needs to have capacity for 40 trains initially, with provision to expand to 80 extended trains.

The depot stabling needs capacity for 18 trains initially, provision for up to 30 extended trains. The PPP will construct the stabling, but not manage it (unlike the TMF). There’s state lane east of Ryan Road, between the railway line and the Princes Freeway, which is where it will be.

Extending trains

The trains will initially be 7 cars, “semi-permanently” coupled together, with a maximum length of 160 metres.

They want provision to be able to extend them to 9 or 10 cars (230ish metres), to cater for 1570 people. Obviously this will require platform extensions. The Melbourne Metro Rail Tunnel will be built with long platforms, and recently rebuilt stations such as Springvale, Footscray and West Footscray all have provision for them. No doubt designs for the stations to rebuilt with grade separation will also include provision.

But they also want an option of a reduced length train, which can later be expanded to the 7 or 9-10 car configuration. Not really clear on why this is.

Unlike the current fleet (which is designed to quickly configure trains as 3 or 6 cars), these will have no intermediate cabs. Walk through access all the way along, as seen on trains in places such as Hong Kong.

And yes, they definitely want them single deck, not double deck. (Check this ABC Fact Check from last year for some good material on the debate around capacity.)

Acceleration of at least 1.1 metres per second squared up to 35 km/h (but not greater than 1.3). Similar braking speeds. Maximum speed 130 km/h. One of the benefits of running a single type of train on the Dandenong line is to maximise throughput/capacity.

They want at least the same performance in the Shortened or Extended configuration.

While initially planned to be deployed on the Dandenong line, they need to be compatible with the entire rail network, and they will run in mixed traffic with other types of trains.

Walk-through Siemens train
Siemens trains have a walk-through design, but fewer doors and more seats than the new fleet will have. Not to mention far too few handholds and grab rails.

Train design

End couplings compatible with other trains and locomotives (possibly with an adaptor) for recovery purposes, but otherwise not visible.

Seating that is reconfigurable relatively quickly, such that they can change it later at the rate of one train per week, with the train able to carry crush loads if the seating was reduced from 40% to 30% of passenger numbers.

Consistent door spacing to allow for future platform screen doors.

They haven’t directly specified the number of doors, but have said the number, location and size need to support dwell times of 40 seconds based on up to passenger alight/board of up to 1100 people at a busy station.

They also want automated systems to estimate passenger numbers… which I’m speculating might allow for later platform information advising passengers which carriages of the approaching trains have more space in them.

6 dedicated spots for wheelchairs behind the cab. Priority seats clearly identified close to doors.

Provision for bicycles in non-cab cars.

Handholds/grab rails — at least one available for each standing passenger.

External destination displays on the ends of the trains, and every second car along the side. Internal displays in each carriage.

Internal CCTV, of course, kept for at least 14 days. Intercom and alert systems.

Safeguards to ensure the train doesn’t move unless doors are closed and locked.

Train able to handle power between 1300-1800 volts, and degraded performance down to 1000 volts and up to 1950 volts. Ever get the feeling that the power supplies are becoming a big issue on our aging rail network?

Air-conditioning rated for conditions of up to 46 degrees. Provision for future WiFi.

It’s going to be interesting to see how this develops. Sounds like we’ll be seeing quite a modern design of train, in line with the practice of busy Big City metro systems worldwide… just the thing we’re increasingly going to need on our busy rail system.

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V/Line: a ride on RRL, and 24-hour time… mostly

I finally took a ride on the Regional Rail Link last night. In summary:

Trains from the city to Geelong depart regularly, but from numerous platforms — when I was there in peak, it was 5A, then 7A, 15A, 1, 3A… and when I’d been there at lunchtime, 2B had also been in the mix. It wouldn’t hurt to have some consistency. As it is, if you just miss a train, you’re likely to have to backtrack a long way to figure out where to catch the next one.

V/Line departures: Southern Cross, peak hour

I caught the Southern Cross to Tarneit on the 17:44 to Geelong/Waurn Ponds — peak hour, quite crowded, every seat on the 5-car train occupied I think. A few people standing (probably by choice).

Tarneit station quite busy, perhaps 100 or more people alighted there. Not bad for the fourth weekday of operation. The area around the station is somewhat dominated by the car park (hopefully new development on the northern side will reduce this. Good to see the platforms have multiple exits.

Tarneit station, evening peak

Tarneit station park and ride

Hopped on another train to Wyndham Vale a few minutes later — not nearly as crowded.

Then a train back into the City — counter-peak, mostly empty. It was late, and the departure disappeared off the platform screens for a few minutes, a bit odd.

Notably, a lady hopped off the inbound train at Sunshine and changed onto the Sunbury line outbound, so while no doubt Geelong to Werribee people have been inconvenienced having to now make a bus connection, the opening of RRL has also made other trips easier.

Despite it being after 6pm and dark, I saw no sign whatsoever of PSOs at either of the new stations. They are not currently on the list of stations served by them, which seems odd.

It was too dark to see any scenery on this little jaunt, or even to fully appreciate the speed. There was a brief good view of the bright lights of the distant city between Deer Park and Tarneit. I’ll have to go back in daylight.

Riding V/Line in the dark

Footscray station platform 3 doesn’t have departure screens. This is cunning, given this is for citybound trains that you’re not meant to board there. (Sunshine does have them as that platform is used in both directions, but I’m told it doesn’t display citybound departures.)

It’s about time

It’s great to see a brand new rail line so popular already.

But something else I noticed…

24-hour time isn’t common in Australia, but V/Line uses it. It’s on their web site, on the screens at Southern Cross, and on their timetables… in fact the paper timetable has a panel explaining 24-hour time.

V/Line explains 24-hour time

Oddly, it’s not on their Passenger Information Displays at their stations. They all seem to be 12-hour time, even on the new platforms which exclusively serve V/Line trains.

Wyndham Vale station, evening counter-peak

Is it important? Not greatly in the grand scheme of things. But some consistency would be good across the greater public transport network of course. I’m undecided which is better… 12-hour time is more well and understood, but 24 avoids AM/PM ambiguity, and most people would know it from the world of air travel. It’s also used internally by operators.

It’s not the first time we’ve had inconsistency on this in public transport. The Metcard system used 12-hour times on the cards and readers, but from memory used 24-hour time when the readers showed expiry times.

It’s tax time! Have you considered donating to the PT Not Traffic campaign?

It’s tax time, and if you’re anything like me, every charity you’ve ever thrown money at has been writing to you to see if you’ll give them some more.

In the spirit of this, I’d like to put in a quick plug for donating to the Public Transport Not Traffic campaign — this is the PTUA’s campaign arm, and donations to it are tax-deductible.

PT to Parliament 2015

PTNT uses this money to help pay for a part-time campaigner — this was instrumental last year in running activities to lobby against the hugely wasteful and city-shaping (into a more car-dependent city, that is) East West toll road, and also activities such as the annual PT To Parliament event, which is a chance for residents to talk about PT issues as they ride into Parliament with their local MPs.

In coordination with PTUA, PTNT’s activities all help keep up the pressure for more investment in public transport infrastructure and services.

So, if you support the cause and you’re pondering where to send some tax-deductible donations before the end of the financial year, please consider giving to PTNT.

Of course, joining the PTUA is also very helpful and welcome! (Though not tax-deductible.)

  • I was curious how many countries have financial years ending in June. This page and chart in Wikipedia shows them: they include Australia, Egypt, NZ (government, not personal/corporate), Bangladesh, Pakistan,… and it seems not many others.
  • Ending in December, or March seems to be more common.
  • The USA used to finish in June, but got bumped in the 70s to September.

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RRL – good news its open (thanks to the GFC?)

I’ve been watching The Killing Season, the story of Labor and the switches in power between Rudd and Gillard. It’s really good, and episode one goes into some detail about the Global Financial Crisis, and the Rudd/Swan stimulus packages (two of them, totalling almost $60 billion) to fight it off.

The stimulus package was intended to spend money fast — the school halls and home insulation programs were evidence of that — some good outcomes from better school infrastructure and improved energy efficiency in thousands of homes, but fundamentally rushed and poorly planned.

Something that people might have forgotten is that Regional Rail Link was funded as part of the stimulus package. The Victorian government bureaucracy had been throwing the idea of a “Tarneit bypass” for the Geelong line for some years, in association with extending the Urban Growth Boundary to to encompass it.

If the GFC hadn’t happened, and if RRL hadn’t been close enough to ready to go (despite it being described later as costed on the back of an envelope) it may not have happened. Or at least, it might still be on the drawing board, perhaps overtaken by the Metro rail tunnel.

Wyndham Vale station open day

Even with the haphazard pre-planning — and for years the PTUA tried without success to get answers on the proposed changes to train schedules as part of it — it’s turned out well, perhaps far more so than the school halls and home insulation.

There are similar travel times from Geelong, despite the longer distance. Yes, they could have prioritised faster express trains, but these eat up track capacity, reduce frequency/service to skipped stations, and save little time (a minute or two per station). Thankfully, lessons have been learnt since the Regional Fast Rail project’s “flagship” trains — which were a near-pointless attempt to provide a single fast train per day from the commuter-belt into Melbourne. There’s some express running, but regular, more frequent services are far more valuable to users.

Wyndham Vale station open day

Importantly, the new stations (plus Deer Park) in the growth areas get decent rail services (at least on weekdays), with trains every 20 minutes most of the day, and timed connections to and from a re-designed local bus network.

I went along to the Wyndham Vale station open day on Saturday. It was very busy, with obviously a lot of interest from the locals, and (as at the opening of Lynbrook some years ago, overheard some saying they planned to start using the trains to get to work).

And there’s finally been some promotion of the new line, with flyers going to locals, and extensive newspaper advertising. (Now, when will they tell the Melburnians that trains run every 20 minutes to Geelong on weekdays?)

Regional Rail Link promotion

There are niggles: connections to Werribee and North Melbourne may be difficult for some passengers.

And crowding may be an issue at peak times for trains originating in Geelong and serving Wyndham Vale and Tarneit — hopefully PTV and V/Line will monitor this carefully and deploy extra carriages as they become available.

Indeed, the Wyndham Vale Leader says the 6:31am from South Geelong (7:10am at Tarneit) was looking pretty crowded this morning:

The separation of V/Line and Metro should help with the reliability of both, and provides extra capacity. But on the Metro side of the fence, almost none of this is being used yet. (From what I understand, they have enough metro trains available to do a lot more.)

RRL paths provided vs used, June 2015 timetable

On Metro, and elsewhere, numerous changes were expected with this timetable change, but have apparently been postponed until later in the year:

  • Wholesale re-write of the Sunbury and Werribee lines to take into account the removal of V/Line services from the majority of those lines — that is, timings due to previous congestion, and extra services on both (bar the two extra Werribee trains)
  • Postponing adding extra Sunbury services appears to be behind not enforcing the ban on using V/Line between Melbourne and Sunbury/Pakenham, due to the gaps of up to 40-60 minute between metro services at Sunbury. (Pakenham is okay in this regard; it’s every 20 minutes most of the time.)
  • Restoration of direct trains to the City for Altona Loop services on weekdays off-peak hasn’t happened
  • The new rail map is delayed, meaning the two newest suburban stations aren’t on metropolitan rail maps for now, and we’re stuck with the old confusing map
  • Flagstaff was going to open on weekends — not yet!
  • Numerous changes to the tram network were also held over

Hopefully it’s full steam ahead on these important upgrades to keep the network improving.

Photos from June 2005

Another in my series of photos from ten years ago

This month almost everything (bar some family snaps) was transport-related. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The south end of Elizabeth Street. Hasn’t changed much apart from, as with the rest of the city, being busier with pedestrians, and that particular tram stop has gone. And the trams are no longer in the livery some dubbed “battleship grey”.
Elizabeth Street, June 2005

Further up Elizabeth Street, outside the GPO. Tram platform stops here make this location look somewhat different today.
Melbourne GPO, June 2005

Bourke Street Mall, probably several makeovers ago. Note the Rockstar INXS advertising… I seem to recall that was a reality TV show at the time. Doesn’t the Bradman’s sign look old fashioned! Here’s the same spot today — it’s still there.
Bourke Street Mall, June 2005

Bourke and Swanston Streets. Way before tram platform stops reached this area.
Swanston+Bourke Streets, June 2005

Glenhuntly station in the fog. I was a regular there back then.
Glenhuntly station in the fog, June 2005

Flinders Street Station (at Elizabeth Street) at night. Way down in the bottom-left of the picture you can see the Metcard barriers.
Flinders Street Station, June 2005

(Here’s a similar daytime picture from 2004.)

And finally, a Werribee line train (in those yeuchy Siemens pre-Connex colours) awaits departure from Flinders Street. This photo ended up being the subject of some Photoshopping to put Rowville and Doncaster and other proposed destinations in the display, for PTUA campaigns.
Train to Werribee, June 2005

Also in June 2005: A full (off-peak) shutdown of the rail network after water leaked into the control room — an incident with similarities to yesterday’s full (peak) shutdown due to water leaking into a fire alarm system.