A new train map is coming (and: network status boards)

PTV are trialling a new train network map. They’re seeking feedback on it, and you’ll see it at some stations now (Bentleigh, Malvern and Moorabbin, I think).

Note, just to remove all doubt: unlike the PTV network plan, it’s not a concept for new rail lines; it’s a prototype of a map of the existing network.

PTV Rail network map: concept design, April 2014

View the map larger, in a new window

My initial impression: I quite like this.

Colour-coding the lines helps make sense of the way the network actually runs (or will run in the near future). It allows them to add detail such as the stations usually skipped by expresses on particular lines, which lines run via the City Loop, and which sections run as shuttles. This helps people navigate — for instance if you’re coming from the Dandenong line going to Armadale, you’ll probably have to change trains at Caulfield.

The caveat here is that the train network is not currently operated consistently. Loop operations (even leaving direction aside) are very confusing. Express stopping patterns are all over the place on some lines. The Frankston and Newport lines are connected… but only on weekdays.

The operational variations on the various lines might need some work. See the difference between Williamstown and Alamein, for instance; potentially confusing.

A big difference is this map also adds V/Line services. With Myki now phased-in for short-distance (commuter-belt) V/Line services, one barrier to city people using them (the need to buy a separate ticket) is gone. This is an interesting move. It does take extra space, thus makes everything smaller — is the benefit worth it?

The part-time Flemington Racecourse line is shown prominently in black. I suppose that’s a good (for occasional users) and bad (implies it’s fulltime). I’m told it’s showing terminating at Southern Cross because that’s how it’s likely to be (at least on weekdays) in the near future, due to rail viaduct capacity issues, so they’d rather encourage people to change there instead of Flinders Street.

Somehow the order of lines shown at Flinders Street seems wrong, but I think that’s because I know Glen Waverley direct services don’t actually terminate next to Sandringham services.

The Skybus connection is shown, but the Broadmeadows to Airport Smartbus connection isn’t. Neither are the 401 and 601 university weekday high-frequency shuttles, specifically designed to connect to the rail network.

In the first version of the map that got out in the wild over the weekend, there were at least two errors: Violet Town and Euroa had been transposed, as had Ballan and Bacchus Marsh, and the colours indicating Myki validity had crept beyond where they should have. The stations have now been corrected (though Myki still creeps beyond Wendouree, Eaglehawk, Marshall and Traralgon) and PTV expect to do quite a few more tweaks over coming months as a result of feedback.

They don’t expect a more general rollout of the map until Regional Rail Link opens next year. It costs a small fortune apparently.

But what’s wrong with the current train map?

PTV Metro train map, 2013Everyone will have their own views, but the current train map (below) has a few problems. For instance:

It doesn’t show where the lines go. Someone unfamiliar with Melbourne might assume there’s a line from Sunbury to Upfield, for instance. And it doesn’t show any operational detail; the map implies all trains run via the Loop, for instance. It gives little hint as to where the best places to change trains are.

Meanwhile, we’re losing two-zone trips next year, so there won’t be a huge need to show zones as at present. The new map started being designed well before this, but it’s good to be able to take advantage of it to show other useful detail.

What about multi-modal?

I think the new map is a good step in the right direction.

But if they’re starting to mix things up on a map (Metro and V/Line), I think another thing they should be looking at is showing the network frequent trams and buses that back up the train network… though of course, that would be a much more complicated and difficult visualisation to get right.

But other cities are moving into this, and you can see the benefits from it, as described by Vancouver’s Translink:

People traveling along FTN (Frequent Transit Network) corridors can expect convenient, reliable, easy-to-use services that are frequent enough that they do not need to refer to a schedule. For municipalities and the development community, the FTN provides a strong organizing framework around which to focus growth and development.

(My emphasis. That’s the most important point. For public transport to be competitive with cars, this is essential. It’s not like, as Jarrett Walker describes, you can only drive out of your driveway every half-an-hour — but that’s what most PT users face.)

The train-only network map is still useful — good for showing the mass transit, backbone of the public transport network. But a frequent network map would be great for showing all the places you can easily get to in Melbourne on public transport — which is a lot more than just the rail network.

Also: the status board, and the bigger picture

Are maps even in important?

Sure they are. Good maps mean people can navigate their way around more easily, so they’re more likely to use the system. More passengers means more impetus to keep upgrading services.

Bentleigh station: "Rainbow" network status board

But this is about more than just a map. Related is the trial rollout of “rainbow” network status boards, installed this week at Moorabbin, Bentleigh, Malvern, and in the PTV Hub at Southern Cross. The colours on the board match those on the new map… including Alamein, which has a distinctive colour on the map to draw attention to the fact that you usually have to change at Camberwell.

It’s a little early to judge these, though I note that they don’t show next train departures — this is present on other displays at Malvern, but not at Moorabbin and Bentleigh and most other stations.

I’m told they can modify the design based on feedback, so it’ll be interesting to see how this evolves. One issue I think is that line-specific info is shown at the bottom — only a “traffic light” indicator is shown at the top, which means the information you need may not be easy to find.

I’d hope that once these boards are running well, they roll them out quickly to the bigger interchange stations, where they’re likely to be most useful.

Both the map and the status board are part of measures to standardise train operations: the slow move towards more predictable routes, consistent stopping patterns, consistent platforms at the larger stations, and “metro”-like frequent operation on dedicated tracks. And there are also moves to improve the flow of information from operators (on all modes) through to PTV so a better view of the overall network is available, including online.

Clearly they’ve got a long way to go, but this is a step forward.

Other maps:

The government loves talking about train punctuality. Cancellations? Not so much.

For some reason, while the government have been crowing about train punctuality this week…

…they haven’t been talking much about Service Delivery, aka Cancellations.

I wonder why not?

Oh, could that be because it’s barely changed in 5 years?

Connex/Metro: Service delivery (eg cancellations), last 5 years

There’s certainly been a lot of work on the train network, including more concrete sleepers and track relaying to prevent buckling, better air-conditioning in the Comeng fleet, and additional maintenance capacity.

But cancellations still hit the trains regularly due to other causes — including many this week.

And with more than 50,000 services running every month, even 1% of the timetable not delivered is a lot of cancelled trains, which of course happens most often in peak hours when the system is under stress, generally affecting a disproportionate number of passengers, and causing severe overcrowding.

Overall it’s about the same as it has been for years.

So yes, perhaps it’s not a surprise that they’re not talking about it.

  • I deliberately left off a trend line, because one-off events such as the pre-Black Saturday heatwave skewed the result. If the data for Jan/Feb 2009 is removed, the Service Delivery trend is slightly down, but I don’t think this is a good representation of how things are tracking long-term.
  • Other lowlights for Metro include February 2011 (major storms), and summer 2012-13 when there were a lot of stolen copper wire incidents, culminating in the February 2013 incident involving the bat.
  • The upgrades to deal with heat can’t be over-stated. Lots of track has been re-laid, and air-con faults are now much rarer. I’d expect the resilience of the network in hot weather to be much better than it was pre-2010, though not perfect of course.

Working? Christmas shopping? Fewer trains running today. #MetroTrains #SpringSt

Just a reminder that as noted last week, there are reduced train (and tram) timetables running from this week until Australia Day.

For my fellow Bentleigh people, I’ve marked the weekday cancelled trains for you:

Bentleigh to City summer timetable 2013-14

Basically for us on the Frankston line, train frequencies are halved at most times of day on weekdays for the next five weeks. Despite being politically sensitive, the Frankston line is the only one to have cuts in weekday off-peak hours.

Despite the claims, it doesn’t appear to be operationally necessary to do this for works on the Regional Rail Link project.

It actually makes me wonder how much the government is saving through cutting services like this, and how wise it is to have the deepest cuts (bars those lines actually losing trains due to construction works) affect the line that runs through so many marginal seats.

You’ll be wanting to check the timetable before you head down to the station.

And remember when the next election comes around that the government reduced your train service for over a month, causing long waits (and crowding?) while also raising fares.

By the way: it’s easy to print your own personalised stop timetables (at least for the “standard” timetable), courtesy of the PTV (formerly Metlink) web site.

Holiday timetables – “Turn up and go” becomes “Turn up and wait”

Much has been made of Metro’s scheduled cancellations over the next two days to try and deal with extreme heat — in particular they’re citing speed restrictions on the faster part of the network, which will have speed restrictions. It’ll be interesting to see if they can stick to this plan, or if the whole thing (to coin a phrase) comes of the rails tonight. Hopefully the upgrade work done to the Comeng fleet in recent years will mean their air-conditioning doesn’t fail on random units like it used to.

Holiday timetables

But more impact is likely to be felt with the mass cancellation of up to half of all services on some lines for most of the next month.

Some of the cuts are due to the Regional Rail Link project, for instance buses replacing trains on parts of the Sunbury line.

But many other lines completely independent from RRL will see big cuts, by as much as 50% of services for most of the day.

For instance on many lines (such as Sandringham, Werribee, Craigieburn) peak services will be cut by half, to every 15-20 minutes.

To an extent I can understand reduced peak services in the week or two after Christmas, when many people are on holiday. Longer waits would be annoying, but capacity would better match demand.

Dumb Ways To Die ad on side of train

Mind the gap (between services)

The last time they had a reduced peak timetable due to major works, it was a 10 minute service on the busy Ringwood, Dandenong and Frankston lines (eg those lines that normally have a mix of stopping and express trains), stopping all stations. That made sense as it kept waiting times down to a minimum.

This time they’ve decided they want some express trains, which cuts travel time but extends platform waiting times (in the heat, oh joy), and makes for a more complex timetable, with much bigger impacts if there’s an unplanned cancellation.

This hacking up of the timetable rather than a full temporary re-write leads to some nasty quirks…

On the South Morang line, there’s a long gap of 50 minutes from South Morang station to the city from 3:49pm to 4:39pm (though the rest of the line has a train between those times).

On the Dandenong line, next week some busy stations such as Carnegie in morning peak will have gaps varying wildly between 2 minutes (8:11am-8:13am) and 26 minutes (7:09am-7:35am).

On the Sandringham line, there are trains every 15 minutes most of the day (including peak) but gaps of 20 minutes in the afternoon, and one gap of 28 minutes in the early evening.

On the Frankston line the weekday off-peak ten minute service will be cut to every twenty minutes from next week until late-January — but it will be kept on weekends and public holidays, including Christmas Day.

…So on Christmas Day, when almost nothing’s open, and almost nobody is working, the there’ll be a Frankston line train every 10 minutes for most of the day, but on the two days before — both working days, and busy CBD shopping days — most stations will only get a train every 18-20 minutes, including in peak hour.

If someone would like to explain the logic of that one to me, I’d be delighted.

Reduced until Australia Day

The reduced timetables go until Australia Day, but happily, many of the peak services return in early January (resolving most of the above issues) — otherwise you can bet there would have been mass crowding from mid-January when most people are back at work. Maybe there still will be.

The partial pay off for these disruptions will be upgraded infrastructure… hopefully substantial progress will be made on the Regional Rail Link and other projects such as the Mitcham grade separation during these few weeks.


Update Friday 20/12/2013 — Commenter gxh identified a huge 39 minute gap for inner-suburban Armadale, Toorak and Hawksburn in the morning peak, thanks to several stopping trains in a row being cancelled for the full five weeks. Yowsers.

Metro summer timetables 2013-14: 39 minute gap for some inner-suburban stations in peak hour

Update Sunday 22/12/2013: After some dialogue with Metro on Twitter, they’ve quietly modified the timetable to have a train from the Frankston line stop and plug that particular gap.

Metro Trains: Frankston line 2013-14 Summer timetable revised to fill a gap

It’s still a 19-20 minute gap, but that’s better than 39!

Update Monday 6/1/2014 — despite the change above still being shown in Metro’s PDF timetables, from my observations this morning, the alteration hasn’t actually been made. Staff at Bentleigh and making remote PA announcements, the green button, and the timetable posters all referred to the train in question as still running express Malvern to South Yarra, so the 39 minute gap remains.

And the clincher? The driver evidently hadn’t been told of an alteration; the train did indeed run express.

The PDF on the Metro web site still shows the train altered to stop and fill the gap. The PTV web site shows it running express.

Update Monday 6/1/2014 afternoon — Metro says it didn’t stop in error, but it will stop tomorrow.

Update Friday 10/1/2014 — Turns out this particular train is suffering from bad overcrowding due to the cancellations around it. See: Summer timetables = planned train crowding (See a problem? Get the evidence)

Train window ads – what about visibility?

I’m not against advertising on public transport. It brings in much-needed revenue and helps subsidise services.

But it shouldn’t be intruisive.

Bus and tram passengers have had to get used to ads on windows of vehicles over many years, but it’s only in the last couple of years that it’s become prominent on trains. It seems to be applied with a semi-transparent film.

Generally they seem to aim for some, but not all, of the windows along the side of a carriage… and not every carriage, so as with buses and trams, some windows are left clear.

But this still results in some visibility problems.

Outside advertising on trains

Looking in from the outside it’s very difficult to see inside, meaning staff (including PSOs) may be unlikely to spot issues inside the train. It also makes it more difficult for passengers boarding to identify and avoid the more crowded parts of the train. It might be a tad better at night, but during the day you basically can’t see in.

Looking out from the inside of the carriage is a mixed bag.

Viewing across from the other side of the carriage, it’s actually not bad, at least in daylight. Outside scenery, including important things like station signs, are quite visible.

Outside advertising on trains: from the inside

But up close, it’s not as easy. It can be difficult to focus on things outside, at least if they’re some distance off, which may make some signage difficult to read.

To compare to a clear window, you can kind of see the effect of the film in this photo, though the way the camera has focussed doesn’t exactly reflect what the eye sees.

Outside advertising on trains: from the inside

Objects very close to the window, such as the station signs in the underground loop, are still very clear — but at most stations they aren’t that close.

Outside advertising on trains: from the inside

Those who have real problems seeing out or knowing where they are will want to aim for windows that are unobstructed.

But this may not be an option during peak hour, and really, government and operators should ensure that passenger visibility (both in and out) of trains (and trams and buses) is better than it is with these ads plastered over them.

Flinders St platform 11 would provide much-needed capacity – alas, they’re building a cafe instead

Regular passengers using Flinders Street Station will have noticed that while the platforms are numbered from 1 to 14, there’s no platform 11.

It’s not a Harry Potter scenario with a hidden platform. There used to be a platform 11, the twin of 10, facing the river, and commonly used by St Kilda and Port Melbourne trains until 1987 when they were converted to tram lines. But its track was removed — I assume when the pedestrian subway was extended to the river to meet the pedestrian bridge to Southgate, which opened in 1992.

Platform 10 at Flinders Street

Today, trains to Newport (Werribee and Williamstown and Altona Loop/Laverton, to be precise) depart from platform 10 on weekdays.

Problem with this is that one platform isn’t enough during peak hours, and the trains depart from either 10, 12, 9 or 8, which are mostly quite some distance apart. Passengers tell stories of rushing from one to the other in chaos. If only there were another platform adjacent platform 10…

So could they re-instate 11? It would require some changes to the river-side subway entrance, part of which is where the track would be, but most of the rest of the old track alignment appears to be intact.

Flinders St Station, river entrance

Remains of platform 11 at Flinders Street

But don’t all trains to Newport come through from the east?

Mostly, but not all, at least not during peak hour — a quick skim through the Working Timetable found the the 17:11 and 17:55 Flinders Street to Werribee services both come from Werribee (each followed by a Laverton service a few minutes later from platform 12 or 8/9), and this might increase when Regional Rail Link starts to allow yet more Newport trains. Any trains terminating from the west could easily run into 11 and reverse.

Even so, some trains from the east heading west would be able to run via 13 through to 11, if an effort was made to put Sandringham trains on 12 (which indeed would have more capacity for them if not used by any Newport trains).

Imagine that, Newport train users — all your peak hour trains from adjacent platforms 10 and 11! That would make life a lot easier for peak-hour passengers.

Alas, it seems someone has decided to build a bar or a cafe or something on the site instead.

Coming soon at Flinders Street platform 11

Other missing platforms

Flinders Street used to have platforms 15 and 16, part of the old Princes Bridge station for Clifton Hill trains, now replaced by Federation Square. But of course that didn’t cause a gap in the numbering.

Box Hill has no platform 1. There’s a placeholder that was used during works, then put aside for future use when the station was moved underground in the 1980s.

Any other stations that are missing platforms?

Edit 15/11/2013: Added pic of the river entrance.

How to turn off @MetroTrains Android app alerts/notifications

The Metro app is quite handy for finding out what’s happening on the train network, and can send notifications/alerts to tell you when something’s affecting the line(s) you use regularly.

As previously noted, it’s not perfect — the SMS alerts that it replaced were customised to your specific station, so you didn’t have to try and work out if the 7:21 stops at your station — and at what time.

MetroTrains Android app

But anyway, I was puzzling over how to make the notifications stop. Unless your phone is silent, they cause a beep (which apparently can’t be turned off) and fill up your status bar thingy if you don’t keep attending to it.

If you try and add the same line again, it ignores the option to turn notifications off. I asked around on Twitter, and other people were having this problem too.

After some experimentation, it appears there are two solutions:

Not so good: Take the IT Crowd’s catchcry of “turning it off and on again” to the next level: Uninstall the app, then add it again. You’ll have a clean slate, and you can add your line(s) again.

Better: go to My Alerts, press and hold on the line you want to change. After a second or two you’ll see an option to delete it. Do so. Then go back and add it again with your preferred options.

MetroTrains Android app: Delete an alert

There’s been some suggestion from one user that a network-wide alert might sneak through with a notification even if you have all individual lines turned off. Not sure about that.

While the app does provide welcome information of problems (I’d rather know than not), they probably need to do some work on it, particularly around options for specific station times and alert tones (or not).

Meanwhile, tram users have Tram Tracker of course, and bus users… well, they’re still waiting.

Long term PTV should probably be taking the lead and being the conduit for all service information, regardless of operator, perhaps organised by area instead. For instance it would be useful to know if that power fault affecting train signals and boom gates has also affected the local buses you might use as an alternative way home.

RIP @ConnexMelbourne / @metrotrains SMS Alerts, 10/9/2001 to 29/7/2013. #metrotrains

Today Metro shuts down its SMS Alerts service. It has been running since September 2001, when it was introduced (the day before 9/11), initially for Connex Connector Plus (Connex-only yearly ticketholders) — and back when Connex only covered half the rail network, of course. It spread to all customers and all lines later, along with timetable enquiries via SMS as well.

Metro later inherited the service, but by that point the alerts were costing them tens of thousands of dollars a month in fees.

When I surveyed the timeliness of SMS alerts in 2011, I found most were received early or on time.

The @metrotrains SMS alert service is shutting down on Monday.But with the cost, it was hardly surprising Metro would be looking for alternatives. This year they’ve brought in the app for iOS and Android, and stepped-up on their Twitter and web updates as well. These avenues now all provide very high quality information. The only thing they lack compared to SMS alerts is that (apart from the app) they don’t push the information to you (the app does, though there are some issues with it), and the times aren’t personalised to your station, as the SMSs were.

Eventually it’s hoped there will be train and bus equivalents to Tram Tracker… this has been promised some time ago. No ETA yet. (Perhaps we need a Train/Bus Tracker Tracker?)

Original announcement:


Recognising the value of customers’ time was the driving force behind the introduction of a unique and exciting new service announced today by Connex Melbourne.

A first for rail transport in Australia, the tailored SMS messaging service to be introduced on September 10, harnesses the latest in communications technology to bring new convenience to Connex ‘Connector Plus’ customers.

The Connector Plus program was introduced by Connex late last year to recognise and reward customers who make long-term commitment to use regular Connex services.

Connex General Manager Marketing, Felicia Mariani, said the introduction of the new SMS service and its innovative technology follows extensive consumer research over the past year.

“Findings show customers realise with a passenger services of our size, things can happen that affect schedules – that’s part of the nature of our business. What customers do expect, however, is to be made aware of these situations in time to adjust their own schedules,” Ms Mariani said.

“We wanted to develop a product that could bridge the current communications gap with customers. The new messaging service will communicate directly with our Connector Plus customers, notifying them if their regular train services in the morning and evening peak are delayed by longer than 15 minutes or cancelled for any reason. The messages are customised to the station and times of travel nominated by the customers. In this way they only receive information relevant to their own personal travel patterns.

“One of the unique features of the messaging service, which further add to customer convenience, is the independence from any particular telecommunications company, giving access to customers regardless of their mobile phone carrier.

“This initiative has been a collaborative effort between Connex and a number of key partners. Connex appointed e-move australia to facilitate development of a unique program that would be tailored to the specific requirements of the rail industry. e-move then worked with our interactive partner, Leo Burnett Digital, which developed the strategic solution and along with its wireless partner, Platypus, designed the web-based application and database to drive the program.

“The coming together of these partners provided Connex with a one-off tailored solution that responded to specific needs of our customers more thoroughly than existing ‘off-the-shelf’ products.

“Connex will continue to explore innovation and technology to improve the reliability and convenience of our services,” concluded Ms Mariani.