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.

Govt congratulates itself on transport. But are the stats really that good? #SpringSt

Last Wednesday in State Parliament:

The SPEAKER — Order! I have accepted a statement from Minister for Public Transport proposing the following matter of public importance for discussion:

That this house congratulates the coalition government for improving affordability, safety, reliability and punctuality on public transport, and its investment in rail and road infrastructure, and notes Labor’s record of failure during its 11 years in office.

Hansard 5/4/2014*

Yes that’s right, the government moved to congratulate itself on transport.

Crowded train

It’s only when you listen to Parliament or read the transcripts that you realise just how polarised the politicians from the two major parties are. Basically no matter who’s in power, it’s:

Government: It’s all good!

Opposition: No, it’s all bad!

Here are some excerpts from the Minister for Public Transport’s speech, and a look at the figures backing them up:

Train crowding

I have the statistics in front of me in terms of the number of overcrowded morning peak trains: in October 2009 it was 42, in October 2010 it was 36 and in October 2013 it was 15. There are more people getting seats on trains now; the trains are far less overcrowded under the coalition government than under the Labor government.

If one looks at the overall network, then indeed the trend on crowding has been down. Here’s a graph showing AM and PM load breaches. (The surveys are carried out each May and October. These figures are from each October.)

Melbourne trains: Load breaches October 2007-2013

I think there are some problems with the government’s claim:

Firstly, the reduction in load breaches was already underway before the November 2010 election.

Secondly, the fixes aren’t instant. You order some trains, they take a few years to arrive and deploy onto the network, and only then do you see a reduction in crowding. To imply Labor did nothing and that the Coalition fixed it all is just plain false. Both sides can take some credit for buying extra trains.

Thirdly, the network-wide figures hide some of the detail. When you dig down (and by the way the Coalition deserves credit for publishing all the data), you will find that the Dandenong and Werribee lines haven’t fared so well: in fact splitting out their figures shows both bottomed-out in October 2010 under Labor, before rising again under the Coalition:

Dandenong/Werribee lines: Load breaches October 2007-2013

The Werribee line crowding issues are likely to be resolved by the Regional Rail Link, which will take Geelong trains off that line, allowing more suburban trains to run.

The Dandenong line? Well the growing crowding is why the Dandenong line upgrade project is needed. But how long it is until relief comes is anybody’s guess. It’ll be years away — well after this November’s election, no matter who wins that.

Train punctuality

What the community has always asked for — and I know that the Labor government spoke about things that were not negotiable — is more punctual trains, and that is what we have been delivering. Year after year we have been working on getting punctuality up.

In January 2010, under the Labor government, 87 per cent of trains ran on time and in January 2014, 92 per cent of trains were running on time.

I blogged about this a few months ago… again, it’s true that punctuality figures are up.

But just like buying more trains, these things take time to prepare. Most of the punctuality improvement was in early in the government’s term, thanks to a timetable introduced in April 2011, the preparation for which was largely carried-out when Labor was in power (and, it’s been suggested to me, that preparation started even before Metro came on the scene in late-2009).

Plus if you have an operator that regularly skips stops, and puts padding in the timetables, then you can expect punctuality stats to improve.

Here’s another graph, showing how the timetables have been padded recently on the Frankston line. Is it reasonable to add running time if trains are always late? Perhaps, if the delays are due to things like consistently greater passenger numbers, and can’t be resolved. But what if the extra time means trains regularly run early or have to sit idle waiting for the timetable? Not so good.

Frankston line running times

Safety and security

When you look at the satisfaction with personal security on Metro services, you see that the satisfaction surveys that have been carried out show that 50.8 per cent of people said they felt safe in 2009-10 and that today it is 68.5 per cent of people.

He’s got a point here. With deployment of PSOs, I have no problems in believing that many people perceive it to be safer at night than it was before, though those of us who have regularly used trains at night for years might say there’s little real difference. And there is yet to be any clear evidence that it’s resulting in more patronage, as hoped, or that overall crime has reduced.

Major rail projects

The award-winning regional rail link project is being rolled out by the coalition government and is running ahead of time and within budget. There are 23 additional peak-hour services into the west and north-west and 10 additional peak-hour services into Victoria’s regions.

Further improvements will also flow to V/Line as part of the $2 million to $2.5 million Cranbourne-Pakenham rail project — and of course the people of Pakenham get this fantastic new depot the size of AAMI stadium to house and maintain all of the trains.

Regional Rail Link was initiated under Labor, and substantially funded under Federal Labor. Would it have happened under the Coalition? Well certainly not if Tony Abbott had been running the country. What about the State Coalition? We’ll never know — until recently apart from $500 million additional funding for RRL, they had not funded any really big public transport initiatives — the Dandenong line package has at last broken the ice.

The community should never trust the Labor Party with these announcements. It cannot be trusted with its alphabetical list of grade separations on roads it says are going to be grade separated. If members look at these particular figures, they will see that one works out at over $160 million, but the Labor Party is going to do them for $120 million each. This is not about buying fruit; these are grade separations projects. They are tendered, they are highly competitive tenders and they do not cost $120 million each.

This is something that still puzzles me, because the Middleborough Road grade separation (which included rebuilding Laburnum station) cost under $70 million in 2007.

The Nunawading project in 2010 cost substantially more — $142 million — but was a much bigger, more complex project. Even with the increase in construction costs, it seems silly to claim they all now cost $160 million, no matter how simple or complex.

And given Labor’s plan is to do 50 in 8 years, there would be economies of scale coming into play — the same economies of scale that have resulted in two crossings removed at Mitcham in one project costing $140 million.

Conclusion

The full speech and the reactions are worth a read, but I can’t possibly go into every point here.

There’s no doubt the statistics for some of these areas look good, especially if one cherry-picks — notice no mention of cancellations?

But it’s one thing to read out a bunch of numbers in Parliament and conclude everything’s improved out of sight — it’s another to look behind the figures at the real life experiences of passengers on the network.

Crowding and punctuality may have improved on paper on average, but there are still real problems in these areas on some lines, not to mention other issues such as service cancellations, late and infrequent buses, tram crowding and lack of on-road priority, poor connections, lack of real-time information, dirt and graffiti, late starts on Sundays, disruptions due to equipment and other faults… the list goes on.

There is some good news of course. Cancellations due to track buckling and aircon failures have reduced markedly, and some lines now have more frequent, less crowded services.

But to pat yourself on the back (and I’m not even sure what the point was) just seems a little bit out of touch with reality, and with public perception.

*The Hansard in this blog post is the proof version — I’ll verify/correct it when the final Hansard is published.

Smoke, steam, nostalgia: Steamrail Open Day 2014

The Steamrail Open Day a couple of weeks ago was good fun, though in some ways very similar to the previous one in 2012… But I’ll post some pics anyway.

This is a Tait train (“Red rattler”) — dating back to the 1910s, and very common when I was growing up, but phased-out in the 1980s.
Tait train (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

If you’ve ever wondered what the destination signs looked like from the inside, here it is. I was fascinated by these as a kid. Note the mirror allowing the operator to verify what was on the sign. These old painted canvas rolls are, of course, way more legible than most of the modern LED dot matrix varieties… and representations of them are now very common in home decorating. (You know, those big signs with white writing on a black background, and lots of words, not necessarily place names, all in a row.)
Tait destination roll (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

Sometimes it’s only by seeing things in the flesh that little details come back to you. In this case, I’d completely forgotten that the old red train manual doors had a catch, so it was easy to fix them in a position that let the air in, but wasn’t big enough for someone to fall out of.

Inside the old carriages you’ll find notices about the railway bylaws… in principle not so different from today’s.
Railway bylaws (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

Also of note, and in use until the 70s, are the Smoking and No Smoking sections. (This was from a diesel rail car.)
Smoking/No Smoking sections (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

Old and new (1)
Old and new (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

Old and new (2)
Old and new (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

I’m all for nostalgia, but it’s not hard to see that air pollution may have been one factor in phasing-out coal out of regular use on the railways (though I’m sure economics was the main driver). Well, kind of phased-out… it still powers our electric trains of course.
Smoke and steam (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

On the way home, the platform mirror at Footscray was in just the right position to catch this scene.
Platform mirror, Footscray station

The Dandenong line upgrade: What’s included, what’s missing?

To the surprise of many, the state government yesterday announced a major $2 billion upgrade of the Dandenong/Pakenham/Cranbourne lines — they’re saying it’ll be enough to boost capacity by about 30%.

The government’s press release is here, or you can watch a video:

What’s included?

25 new high-capacity “next-generation” trains. They’ve been talking about this for years. The newest trains on the Melbourne are basically a 10 year-old design with some tweaks. If the talk has been correct, this new batch will have more doors (to cut dwell times at stations), fewer seats, walk-through passenger areas, no middle cabs (pointless as almost all services now run as full 6-car sets) and lots of handholds. Probably a tad longer (perhaps even a 7th carriage) — overall carrying about 20% more passengers per train.

In other words, they’ll be similar to the sorts of high-capacity trains you see in other big cities around the world. Of course squeezing more people in needs to be balanced out with enough seats so that people travelling long distances don’t have to stand all the way. (See also: How many seats do we want on our trains?)

Grade separation of four crossings. They’ll hit the worst of the remaining ones: Clayton Road (where the level crossing often causes long delays to buses and ambulances), Centre Road (so close to Clayton Road you’d pretty much have to do it at the same time), Murrumbeena Road (infamous for long delays to road users) and Koornang Road. In the process there’ll be new stations at Carnegie, Murrumbeena and Clayton.

Early works on more. Planning and early works funding for the grade separation of Grange Road (Carnegie), Poath Road (Hughesdale), Corrigan Road, Heatherton Road and Chandler Road (Noble Park). When these are eventually done, and given the Springvale grade separation is currently underway, the entire stretch from Caulfield to Dandenong will have no level crossings, making it possible to run a lot more trains, without causing a ruckus by blocking up road traffic — as in fact happened yesterday when following a disruption, some motorists waited up to an hour.

Springvale grade separation under construction

High-capacity signalling. As I explained a few weeks ago, “moving block” signalling makes it possible to run a lot more trains along a line. Presumably this will include at least the busiest section, from the City Loop to Dandenong, but it may also include the full lines, out to Pakenham and Cranbourne. It will also need all trains running on the line to be fitted with in-cab equipment, including V/Line trains.

Maintenance depot at East Pakenham. At a guess, this is where the new trains will be serviced, and I’d hope some extra track for this facility will also allow Pakenham suburban trains to shunt out of the way of V/Line trains.

Power upgrades to make sure there’s enough juice for all these new trains.

It appears the package is fully funded, not an election promise. It’s not clear where the money came from, but according to the government it is actually funded: The $2.5 billion for the Cranbourne-Pakenham project will be included in the Budget and is “all new money”, Dr Napthine said.

The project is scheduled to start in 2015, with completion in 2019.

Dandenong line, 6pm

What’s not included

Duplication of the Cranbourne line. I’m very surprised not to see this listed, though the rumour is that works will address at least some of it. I hope so, because the cost of it would be tiny in comparison to the rest of the package, and having a single section of track will hamper efforts to get the most capacity out of the project.

Third or fourth track to Dandenong. With little CBD stabling capacity, you wouldn’t go to the expense of a third track unless you are also building a fourth. This package doesn’t appear to include this, though it’s said to be in the longer term plan for the line, particularly if the Port of Hastings is eventually developed. Hopefully the grade separations and new stations are being built with this in mind.

Metro rail tunnel. This is commonly seen as a solution to rail capacity at the CBD end, but actually it doesn’t matter that much yet. Two tracks from Dandenong into the City Loop means that, provided no other trains share that loop tunnel, capacity shouldn’t be an issue. This could, of course, mean bye-bye to Frankston loop services.

Enough new trains for the whole line. If you have peak services every, say, 3-4 minutes, and a round trip of about 140 minutes, you’d need about 40 trains, plus a small number of spares. Obviously there’s scope to expand the order later, but for consistent loads and running times to maximise line capacity, ideally you’d want every train to be the higher capacity model.

In practice they might decide they’ll target them at the “peak of the peak” hour, or on the busiest of the two lines, until they eventually have enough bigger trains.

Connecting buses. No doubt they’ll benefit from the removal of level crossings, but there’s no word on service upgrades. Getting the trunk route to the south-east working well is great, but its potential is so much greater if there is a network of frequent connecting services for the benefit of people travelling to or from locations beyond walking distance of stations — at present many connecting buses are hopelessly infrequent. Smartbus routes are a good model here, and can be provided on more routes and services boosted, particularly on weekends.

It’s also unclear if quirks in the train timetables will be fixed: late Sunday starts, infrequent services early on weekends, 30 minute waits after 7pm on weekends (and after 10pm on weekdays). Hopefully these will be included in the service upgrades to accompany the infrastructure and fleet improvements.

Train passing signal

The verdict

Overall it’s a great upgrade. It will bring the Dandenong line into the 21st century, with modern trains and signalling, providing a big boost to capacity… it will bring the operation of the line much closer to world’s best practice.

There’s one glaring exception: the remaining single track on the Cranbourne line. Surely if you’re throwing a couple of billion dollars into the line, you’d have to fix this. Hopefully that is the case.

V/Line passengers may be unhappy that they’ll still sit behind suburban trains for the metropolitan portion of their trip. That’s an annoyance, but they alone aren’t reason enough for extra tracks… V/Line’s figures indicate for the entire morning peak, the 5 trains arriving in Melbourne between 6:59am and 9:28am carry 856 passengers — about one suburban train load. Certainly something needs to be done to improve travel times for regional passengers (and attract more of them off the road), but the immediate concern is suburban capacity. And the new signalling and measures to reduce suburban train dwell time delays will help.

It does make sense to target one line with a package of upgrades to ensure its performance will be humming as demand continues to grow. But it begs the question of when other lines and other public transport users around Melbourne will benefit from this kind of modernisation.

See also:

Metro 1/Metro 2/Metro Rail Capacity Project – The Metro rail tunnel’s many names

There seems to be a little confusion over the various names of the Metro rail tunnel — for instance the name Metro One pops up regularly, especially out of the City Of Melbourne. The confusion is not surprising, as the name and design of the tunnel has changed a bit over the years.

Melbourne Metro tunnel station artists impression

Origins

The first glimpse of the idea came when Professor Graham Currie raised it back in 2005, I suspect helped along by ideas out the transport bureaucracy. Back then it didn’t have a name, but was compared in the media reports to the London Tube.

Professor Currie said the tunnel would link Melbourne University in the inner north to South Yarra station in the south, running for several kilometres under the central business district and St Kilda Road.

– The Age, Call for ‘tube’ line underneath Melbourne, 7/11/2005

Metro 1 and Metro 2

By the time of the Victorian Transport Plan in 2008, the tunnel was official government policy, an eventual 17km long tunnel linking Footscray with Caulfield, and to be built in two stages.

The Melbourne Metro – Rail Tunnel Stage 1 has an estimated cost of more than $4.5 billion. Stage 2 of the project will connect St Kilda Road (Domain) to Caulfield following the completion of Stage 1. Subject to Commonwealth support, development of Stage 1 is expected to start in 2012 and be completed by 2018.

–Victorian Transport Plan, 2008

Around that time they seemed to have a fascination with the word Metro, ensuring that it was also adopted as the name of the rail system itself when the new operator took over from Connex in 2009.

Metro rail systems are designed to run higher capacity trains from end to end of lines using dedicated tracks – the trains can run at higher frequency without interfering with other routes. The focus is on simple timetables, frequent services and consistent stopping patterns. Metro systems like those in London and New York have key interchange stations to allow people to change trains easily or switch to trams and buses to get to where they want to go.

–Victorian Transport Plan, 2008

This all makes sense, and it’s in that context that the rail tunnel has been emphasised — separating out rail lines and building extra CBD capacity to allow more lines to run independently.

So “Metro 1″ was just the first stage, from Footscray to Domain, serving the Sunbury line. “Metro 2″ was the remainder, to Caulfield, hooking up with the Dandenong line.

The big problem with building stage 1 and then waiting a while for stage 2 was that the capacity of the Sunbury line into Domain, and then having to reverse back out, 14 trains per hour, isn’t hugely greater than capacity of that line into the City Loop will be after Regional Rail Link is completed.

melb-metro-2008-2020

One tunnel to link them all

By 2012, the plan had been revised, with the tunnel shortened to run from Footscray to South Yarra, and to be built as a single project, and including a station to allow for urban renewal at Arden.

This submission builds on previous submissions to Infrastructure Australia – Melbourne Metro 1 (Ready to Proceed) and Melbourne Metro 2 (Real Potential). It is an interim step towards a submission defining a single project that will deliver the benefits of the two metro schemes. In doing so elements of the previous two submissions are combined and the project scope is being
refined in an effort to reduce costs.

Infrastructure Australia submission from the Victorian government, 2012

Metro tunnel plan

The Metro tunnel was worked into the (very interesting) PTV Network Development Plan for rail, released last year. It also included a second tunnel, eventually to divert the South Morang line via Parkville and Flagstaff, then to Southern Cross and out to Fishermens Bend.

PTV rail network: Stage 4

The latest name: Metro Rail Capacity Project

A couple of months ago the project was officially renamed… which makes sense as the rail tunnel is just one component of a multi-faceted push to increase capacity across the rail network, including on lines that won’t get served by the rail tunnel(s).

Mind you, I can’t see this new name really catching on in popular usage because if the tunnel ever gets built, it’ll be the most expensive, most visible component.

In November 2013, the Melbourne Metro project was officially renamed as the Metro Rail Capacity Project. The new name better reflects the significant capacity benefits that the project will provide to the Sunbury, Upfield, Craigieburn, Pakenham, Cranbourne, Sandringham, Frankston, Werribee and Williamstown lines. On day one the project will enable an additional 20,000 passengers to travel on Melbourne’s rail network in the peak hour, as well as relieving congestion on St Kilda Road trams.

PTV

And now?

Reports in the past week or two indicate the state government seems to be fumbling the project. The Premier has actively talked it down, suggesting it could result in Swanston Street being dug up for two years.

Various wild ideas have been thrown around, some trying to merge the original North-South Metro tunnel and the South Morang/Flagstaff/Fishermens Bend one:

  • Footscray to Parkville (or possibly skipping that altogether), then via Flagstaff and Southern Cross to terminate at Fishermens Bend — thus missing the busiest part of the CBD — not much of a boost to capacity then is it, if it doesn’t go where the passengers want to get to
  • Footscray to Southern Cross, then Fishermens Bend, Port Melbourne, Domain and South Yarra — successfully bypasses most of the CBD, yet likely to be just as expensive (possibly more so) than the original plan. This one has no specific status; it was floated by the anonymous SpringStSource
  • Footscray, Parkville, then through the CBD under Russell Street, Domain and South Yarra — no doubt this would involve less surface disruption, as Russell Street isn’t as busy as Swanston street. But making people walk a full city block to interchange to trains and most trams would be far from ideal. This one was reported by The Age, but it’s unclear where it came from — it appears to be an idea from within PTV.

From what I can see, the 2012 plan is better than any of these, given it serves Parkville, Domain and busy Swanston Street — the only caveat being that it actually excludes an interchange at South Yarra, and is unclear about increased capacity from South Yarra to Caulfield. (Also to fully use the capacity, the Dandenong line needs to be sorted out, especially with regard to level crossing eliminations.)

Frankly I don’t trust reports that cut-and-cover has to be used all the way along Swanston Street, with two year long closures of the entire street, particularly as the tunnel has to be quite deep to get under the existing City Loop and Yarra River.

While they sort out when the tunnel will be built and where it should go (they’re a bit distracted by that other tunnel — the one nobody voted for), it’s once again worth mentioning that upgraded “moving block” signalling will provide a heap of extra train capacity — and there’s a heap that can be done to improve the tram corridor as well, with proper traffic light priority, especially along St Kilda Road. These upgrades can buy a few more years of capacity for a much smaller capital outlay.

And remember, “metro”-like frequent trains, every 10 minutes or better on all lines all day every day is largely possible right now, with existing infrastructure — and would be a huge boost to public transport network usability.

Inevitably though, the tunnel has to be built.

The CBD is growing, and getting busier, and suburban growth is concentrated on the Dandenong corridor and the western suburbs, which the tunnel will serve.

When it comes to public transport, those agglomeration benefits they talk about aren’t imaginary. Mass transit capacity is critical to continued accessibility and economic growth of central Melbourne, and thus the state.

PTV’s plans for in-cab signalling – could boost track capacity by 50% #MetroTrains

A while back I had a read through the PTV rail network plan looking to summarise their view on the rollout of high capacity (in-cab) signalling. Sorry this post has been so long in coming.

This short (three minute) video explains it nicely, but one analogy is that the current system is like driving around the burbs using nothing but traffic lights to determine when to stop or go. This of course would be extremely inefficient — you could only have one car per section of road between traffic lights. So of course we drive mostly by sight, simply keeping a safe distance from the car ahead.

For trains, the stopping distances are too long to be able to drive by sight, but in-cab signalling provides the signals inside the driver’s cab instead of trackside, with the system advising how fast the train can go while still keeping a safe distance from the one ahead.

The PTV plan’s intro text on the topic describes the impact of an upgrade:

Most of Melbourne’s signalling system, known as an Automatic Block system, currently uses coloured lights next to train tracks to advise the driver of what speed it is safe to travel – essentially the same technology introduced a century ago. The signalling capability in the city and inner suburbs, where two or more lines share tracks, typically allows for average two to three minute headways (the time between trains), extending to three to five minutes on each suburban line.

Safe distance between trains is ensured by providing a signal sighting / driver reaction time, a minimum breaking [sic] distance and a safety margin.

The existing system typically operates at around 15 trains per hour and could operate at up to 24 trains per hour in an ideal operating environment. In reality, a frequency of 22 trains per hour is seen as the practical achievable capacity to ensure an acceptable level of reliability can be attained.

In-cab signalling in systems overseas sees around 33 or more trains per hour running, so obviously you get a big benefit from increased rail line capacity — if you’re going from 22 to 33, then that’s around 50% more trains. Coupled with upgrades providing more capacity in each train, you can move a lot more people.

The costs?

So how much do you need to spend to get this big increase in rail capacity? Perhaps not too much actually.

A UK tender from a couple of years ago outlines the costs for this upgrade for part of the London Underground:

The contract, valued at approximately £354 million GBP (approx € 402 million euro / $ 577 million US), is a part of London Underground’s SSR Upgrade Programme (SUP). Bombardier will provide the proven CITYFLO 650 ATC system, its innovative communication-based train control (CBTC) technology, similar to that running successfully on the Metro de Madrid in Spain.

Bombardier will equip the 310 km of track line (40 km in tunnels), 113 stations, 191 trainsets, 49 engineering trains and six heritage trains by 2018, followed by a two-year warranty period.

Bombardier press release, 14/6/2011

This portion of the London Underground is roughly 40% of the size of Melbourne’s entire rail network, in terms of track length and number of trains (but with much less track in tunnels). On that basis, performing the same upgrade for the entire Melbourne network would cost about £885 million GBP, or about A$1620 million.

It’s worth noting however that Bombardier and London Underground have scrapped that particular contract, citing incompatible equipment. Obviously it’ll be interesting to see if they can re-let the contract to another supplier for a cost in the same ballpark.

Even if you took the rough Melbourne figure and added 50%, you’re still looking at around $2.5 billion, which is a bargain for being able to put about 50% more trains onto the tracks — the equivalent carrying capacity of scores of motorway lanes, but with nothing like the impact. (And the induced traffic would be train passengers, not motor vehicles.)

The plan

So what’s PTV’s plan to roll new signalling, once they get the money? In summary:

Stage 1: Sandringham trial (in part because that line is relatively self-contained)

Stage 2 (which includes the metro rail tunnel): Sandringham (full installation), City to Clifton Hill, and Sunbury to South Yarra (eg via tunnel)

Stage 3 (which includes Clifton Hill to Flagstaff tunnel): Werribee/Williamstown, Craigieburn, Upfield (including re-routing of Seymour trains via that line), Dandenong lines

Beyond stage 4 – rest of network

Also note their video includes a glimpse of in-cab signalling, at about 3 mins, 5 secs in:

So what happens now?

The plans are in place… but one of the options must surely be to roll out the new signalling before the rail tunnels, providing a big capacity boost across the network more quickly.

Either way, nothing happens until the government provides funding.

And at present, they’re a bit busy pouring money instead into the East West tunnel, despite that nobody asked for it.

Summer timetables = planned train crowding (See a problem? Get the evidence)

If you missed it last night:

Channel 7: Frustration over summer timetable: Scores of train services have been cancelled and the Metro system will run to a limited summer timetable, even though most people will have returned to work. Jacqueline Felgate reports.

Here’s a PTUA press release, and the raw footage:

It was shot on a city-bound Frankston train on Wednesday morning. All week this particular service (the 7:59) has been packed, because at many of the stations it serves, there are no trains for twenty minutes either side of it due to the summer cancellations. Plus it stops at additional stations to plug the gap.

Before you pipe-up and say your station only gets trains every 20 minutes all the time, please take a look at the number of unique stations served by those trains, and the loads boarding at each station. The Frankston line is a very busy line, and the stations involved, Bentleigh to Hawksburn, are very busy inner-suburban stations.

Reaction

Most have taken this as it’s intended: that it might be excusable for trains to be packed when every available train is in service, and/or rails are full to capacity, but to get this level of crowding and long waits between trains because of deliberately cutting services, just to save some money? Very poor effort from Metro and the government.

Is crowding widespread even when all trains are running?

Others have responded along the lines of: So what? The trains on my line are always this crowded, every peak hour.

If that’s the case, where is the evidence?

A little history: In the latter part of last decade, there was a lot of publicity around crowded trains, on almost every line. The media were regularly FOI’ing reports, and staking out hot spot stations (thanks, ahem, to some good tip-offs) getting great footage of people crammed in and others left behind on platforms.

Here’s a good sample, from 2007:

Labor and the Coalition came to realise this was a serious political problem. Train problems basically lost Labor the election. Between them, the two flavours of government bought several dozen more trains — by my count, 45 up to 2011, and another 8 in the 2013 budget, so 53 in all — expanding the train fleet by about 25%. (The Coalition has funded 15 of the 40 they promised over two terms.)

The extra trains mean we’ve seen a lot more services running on the most crowded lines (for instance Werribee used to run mostly every 20 minutes; it’s now about every 11 minutes in peak, plus additional Laverton trains), and the load surveys say overcrowding is well down.

Meanwhile, patronage growth (and particularly peak patronage growth) is not booming like it was a few years ago, though in coming years with the expansion of Docklands, it may shoot up again.

So if there is still widespread regular bad overcrowding like 6-7 years ago, it’s not very visible.

There are some cases of crowding, of course — the May 2013 load survey indicates the Dandenong line is currently worst, with 7 load breaches in AM peak, and another 7 in PM peak, with the Werribee line a close second. Happily, RRL will enable extra services on the Werribee and Sunbury lines… the no relief in sight for the Dandenong line at present though.

But given big boosts in fleet capacity over the past few years, crowding does not appear to be the kind of systemic, network-wide problem it once was.

If you’re regularly experiencing bad overcrowding on a normal day with all services running and no major delays, then please, please, please get some pics and/or video so there can be a renewed campaign to get action to fix it.

You have a camera in your phone. Please use it.

Don’t be embarrassed. If someone asks you what you’re doing, tell them. (I’ll do another post to on this topic soon.)

If it’s a problem that occurs during delays due to signalling, track failures, or bad weather, then that’s a bit different — it’s a question of reliability, not capacity.

If the problem is crowding during off-peak times, then that shows the need for more off-peak services, when there are resources (trains and track capacity) available… the major barrier isn’t fleet and infrastructure, with their long lead times, but funding (drivers, power, maintenance). Again, get the evidence.

Packed car parks? Well that’s not really a train problem at all — it’s a problem with feeder services, and walking and cycling facilities. Get the evidence.

Oh, your problem is Myki? Don’t get me started. But again, get the evidence.

And once you’ve got the evidence? PTUA may be able to help, but if not (they’re all volunteers), there are other ways to let people know.

Update 13/1/2014

Tonight it appears Metro have started adding back trains into the reduced timetable to help relieve overcrowding. Restored services were noted tonight on the Frankston, South Morang, Sandringham and Dandenong lines.

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.