Regional Rail Link tour part 2 braindump

About a year ago, a group of us from the PTUA went on a tour of the Regional Rail Link, a massive 50 kilometre-long rail project providing new tracks from Southern Cross, via Footscray and Sunshine, then along a new corridor through Melbourne’s new outer-western suburbs to West Werribee.

The project will provide extra track capacity for V/Line trains on the Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo lines into the city — in other words, the bulk of V/Line services into Melbourne — but will also allow more trains on the busy Werribee and Sunbury lines.

A few weeks ago we did part two of the tour, to look progress in the last 12 months, which has been considerable. The project is expected to finish up in 2015, about a year earlier than previously expected.

Southern Cross new platforms

The city end

At Southern Cross, new platforms 15+16 went into service in December last year, primarily for Geelong trains. As noted last year, platform 16 is outside the glass, but it’s still undercover, and passengers seem to be surviving so far.

The works have resulted in a greatly simplified track layout between Southern Cross and North Melbourne, and a lot of wiring and signalling has apparently been ripped out and replaced, which over time should cut signal faults in the area.

Apart from into Southern Cross 15+16, extra track has been provided from the existing flyover into platforms 1 to 8. This resulted in widening of the bridge so it almost touches Festival Hall — art has been installed at ground level recognising some of the music history of the Hall.

Along the street nearby, noise barriers are going up — in fact this is now a common sight along the project where housing is nearby to the new and existing tracks along the line.

Rail bridge widened near Festival Hall

Rail flyover near North Melbourne station

North Melbourne

At North Melbourne, you can get a good view of the new tracks into Southern Cross (both the ground level and revamped flyover) from the new(ish) concourse.

View of city and rail flyover from North Melbourne station

Alas, RRL trains won’t stop at North Melbourne, though there is space for platforms to be provided later to serve the ground level tracks into Southern Cross 15+16. We don’t yet know how many trains will use each set of tracks, but if trains from specific lines consistently use the ground level tracks, it would then be possible to stop at least those trains there, for connections to Metro services and the very popular 401 bus. Platforms serving the flyover tracks would be a great deal more difficult to construct.

Along the rail corridor from North Melbourne to Footscray, it’s now possible to see the bridge over the Maribyrnong river, which along with the rest of the new track as far as Sunshine, has just come into use. West of the river, these new RRL tracks have a flyover to get over the Werribee line tracks, so V/Line trains can cross to the middle platforms at Footscray without causing any delays.

Footscray

Signal box being restored at Footscray station

Footscray station

At Footscray, works seem to be largely complete. The two new platforms (1+2) for Sunbury line trains have been in use for some months, and the bridge extension is finished (along with weatherproofing improvements), providing escalators, new ramps to accompany the lifts and stairs. Having used Footscray a few times in the past few months, it’s pleasing that most of the locals have worked out the Melbourne escalator etiquette of standing on the left so those in a hurry can walk past on the right.

The RRL platforms, now known as 3+4, have been extended, like all platforms on the new line, to allow for much longer V/Line trains in the future. 4 is a little bit curved at the western end by necessity due to the confined space, though given V/Line trains have conductors to verify a safe departure, one wouldn’t expect this would be a problem.

Notably, drainage is built into all the platforms at Footscray and the other renovated or rebuilt stations, with a slight slope away from the tracks. Yes, after decades of building stations so water simply drains onto the tracks, the standard has changed This has been the case for some decades now, and is good for safety, given some highly-publicised incidents of unsecured prams rolling off platforms recently.

Although booking offices and so on are at ground level, the bridge includes some concourse elements, including Myki machines and gates for platforms 2 and 3. The Passenger Information Displays (PIDs) are also in place, though at present only showing four departures at once — I’m told they are looking at solutions to show information for all 6 platforms — possibly separate screens for the V/Line-only platforms 3 and 4.

The heritage buildings at Footscray are being completely restored. This has involved a lot of work, in part because of termites, but if restoration work done at Windsor a couple of years ago is any guide, they should look terrific when finished.

As with many of the other new and rebuilt stations, the bike cage has been provided underneath a staircase, making good use of the space.

The doughnut seller has a new kiosk which opened for the first time on a couple of weeks ago. It’s lacking the trademark-defying dodgy upside-down Olympic logo of the old caravan — not that it matters. But you can tell it’s the same doughnut vendor because the dolphin jam dispenser is back.

Parkiteer at Sunshine station

West Footscray

As I wrote in December, West Footscray station has been completely rebuilt, but is looking even nicer now than when I last saw it, thanks to murals built into the bridge, and a few more splashes of colour around the place.

The ramps have been connected to the local bicycle network — apparently they were built to be a full metre wider than the required station ramp standard of 1.8 metres, to make it easier for cyclists to pass each other. Provision is there for a future upgrade of the station to premium status, and thanks to solar panels and rainwater harvesting, West Footscray has gained a 4-star sustainability rating.

West Footscray station

West Footscray station

We didn’t stop at Tottenham station, but there has been work on the road underpass, and there’s some rather nice murals around the station entrance now which it’s hoped will deter tagging.

Sunshine

Sunshine station, which is becoming a very important interchange, has been completely rebuilt — in fact apparently just about the only remaining feature of the old station is a retaining wall on platform 1. The old dingy subway is gone, replaced by an overpass/concourse with booking office, waiting room, and fare gates.

It looks good — though very grey from some angles.

Sunshine station

Sunshine station

Junction at Sunshine station

Northwest of Sunshine, the Ballarat/Geelong and Bendigo lines converge at a junction. This is at-grade, but apparently there’s provision for a future Melton electrification project to include an overpass to allow Melton trains to pass under these lines to connect to the Sunbury tracks. In the mean time, space has been provided for Bendigo trains to wait, clear of both the Ballarat/Geelong line and the Sunbury line.

Level crossings on two sections of Anderson Road have been grade separated as part of the project.

Following along the line towards Deer Park, more noise walls are in evidence, as well as automatic pedestrian gates at the crossings, which hopefully should prevent accidents such as the fatal one in 2008 involving a pedestrian at one of those crossings.

The new line

West of Deer Park, the new Geelong line branches off the Ballarat line. Near the future Caroline Springs station there’s a new road bridge over the Ballarat line, providing additional road access into the area.

A “consolidation train” was running between Deer Park and West Werribee most of that particular weekend, to apply weight to the new tracks, as part of (literally) bedding down.

Tarneit station was closed up, but at a glance much of it appears to be nearing completion.

Tarneit station


Wyndham Vale station

We did get to have a good look around Wyndham Vale station, which looks rather good. Sunk into the ground, it’s currently got two platforms, for V/Line trains, but also has provision for another two tracks in the future, allowing electric trains to come through from Werribee and terminate there. In the short term though, that connection is expected to be provided by buses.

There are also points nearby to allow V/Line to provide short-starting services from there into the city, and would also presumably provide a termination point during major disruptions.

Works at the station seem to be almost complete. The track is in, the basic building structure is there, the lighting and so on is installed. We saw Myki equipment ready to go in, and even the waiting room has its chairs.

At ground level next to the concourse is an extensive bus interchange — it sounds like numerous routes in the area will converge here. There are stairs and ramps down to the platforms.

For anybody who’d fancy working at one of the new stations, V/Line is advertising for “Services Officers” at Wyndham Vale and Tarneit — 5 full time positions at each station.

Wyndham Vale station

Wyndham Vale station: Myki is coming

Wyndham Vale station, looking south

Wyndham Vale station, looking north

Looking south from Wyndham Vale station

The line continues south to West Werribee (aka Manor) junction, where it connects with the existing Geelong line. The entire line from Geelong through to somewhere just west of Sunshine is engineered to allow trains at 160 kmh, so for express services, my thinking is the running time should be similar to now, despite the longer distance.

At the junction, the existing track between Werribee and Geelong has been slewed to get around the new overpass (needed to prevent delays between V/Line trains and freight and passenger trains on the standard gauge line to Adelaide) — this track is now down to 80 kmh, though given it appears few trains will continue using it after next year, this wouldn’t appear to be a huge problem.

Completion next year

It seems the project is running much earlier than expected, in part to the major shut downs which over the past couple of years (including the one just finished), meaning more has been able to be done each time the existing train service is disrupted. This in turn has resulted in huge money savings — for instance some of the funds saved are going into the St Albans grade separation project. So despite some pain for existing passengers on the affected lines, there seem to have been good outcomes for taxpayers — more bang per buck.

And while there have been some problems with the project in the initial design phase, there are undoubtedly benefits in terms of capacity to run extra trains on both V/Line and Metro to the western suburbs lines, with fewer delays.

Parts of the new line from Sunshine to the City have started to be used by V/Line trains (though some trains are arriving early, as the timetables don’t really take the quicker trip into account).

It looks like the full project will be completed next year.

And I for one look forward to my next visit to Footscray station for a doughnut.

PS. Just to prove we were properly authorised and equipt to look around the construction zone at Wyndham Vale: here is bad dorkie selfie of me in high-vis. Thanks to the Regional Rail Link authority for the tour.

Daniel at Wyndham Vale

Updates/corrections: Some minor changes made to the text tense, because some was written a couple of weeks ago.

Rebranding number 6 (in 20 years): Can we stick with “PTV” for a while please?

Do I win a prize? Following on from my photos a couple of years ago of a train, tram and bus in one shot, I’ve managed to get another (at the same location) of the three of them in the PTV livery.

PTV-liveried train, tram and bus

Common livery is not the most important thing in a public transport network, but it is important. It’s a reminder that while the system may be run by lots of different companies, it is meant (in theory at least) to be one network.

The tickets and fare system are common, the routes should be designed to connect not compete, the timetables should complement each other and co-ordinate where possible.

The biggest change is in buses, where a myriad of colour schemes are coming together as one, with the operator name/logo reduced in size so it’s no longer significant — reflecting the practice in cities like London, but also closer to home in Adelaide and Perth.

Mind you it can also add to passenger confusion, in areas where passengers are used to differently coloured buses running specific routes.

Edit: This confusion can be reduced if route numbers are clearly displayed, not just on the front of the bus, but also on the side and back. Some buses have this already. It should be standard.

It sounds like only the (multi-company) Smartbus fleet will retain its distinctive bus colours.

I didn’t manage to get one of the few V/Line PTV-branded carriages into this photo. I guess that’s the next challenge (and to show the distinctive side design on a bus more clearly, rather than just the plain white front). You can see it in this snap a few seconds after the above photo… though the exposure was too short to properly show the tram LED number display. (In all honesty, none of the LED display showed in the above photo — I photoshopped it from another snap a moment later.)

Bus, train and tram

Hopefully, having completely branded everything to PTV in the coming months, the powers that be will stick with that for many years to come.

Given some of the trains in particular have gone in the last twenty years through The Met (2 versions), Bayside/Hillside Trains, Connex/M>Train, Connex, Metro, and now PTV, I think everybody’s had enough rebranding for now.

My precious umbrella is gone.

My precious Senz umbrella is gone. Left on the train to Frankston on Friday night.

We’d had a delicious dinner at Shakahari in Carlton. Good food and laughs galore, and caught a tram back to Flinders Street. The train had just gone — 20 minute wait, so we took a quick walk around Fed Square and the river.All that's left: the umbrella cover

It started to rain, so the brolly came out. When we caught the 10:15 train, I put it under the seat.

20 seconds after getting off the train, I realised it had been left behind. I ran back but the train was leaving. Argh. If you recall how long it took me to find a good umbrella, you’ll understand my frustration.

The Senz Mini had been good, but not actually 100% perfect. Last year one of the metal bits bent out of place. I contacted customer service, who asked to see a photo. They reckoned it was defective, and sent a free replacement. It was an improved model, and worked well. Until I left it behind that is.

Just off the train, I tweeted to Metro, not even knowing if there’d be a response. They replied pretty quickly and said they’d get someone at Frankston to check in the train when it arrived there, and gave me the number to ring after 11:30. Excellent.

I rang, and the bloke was very helpful, and said they’d checked, but couldn’t find it. As he pointed out, it was a rainy night, and someone else may have founded it and used it.

Metro let me know I could try Lost Property next week, it might turn up. Even if it never turns up, that’s great service from them, and I hope anybody, resources permitting, would get that kind of response on losing something on the train. (It does appear so.)

Check the WTT

Gunzels know about the Working Timetable (WTT). Squirreled away on Metro’s web site, it forms part of documents released to allow other train operators (such as freight carriers) to run trains on Metro’s tracks. The WTT shows every scheduled train service, including the ones that don’t take passengers. It also shows where a train goes when it finishes its run.

I had a plan: check the WTT, and see if the train I’d been on goes back into the city. Sure enough: the 10:15 Flinders Street to Frankston arrives at 11:17, and then at 11:25 departs back to Flinders Street, going through my station Bentleigh at 12:01am.

Yep, I was going to jump in and check, just in case they had missed the brolly under the seat. The timetable said if I rode the train one stop to Mckinnon, I’d only have 5 minutes wait for a train back.

I got down to Bentleigh station at about 11:55. The new realtime Passenger Information Display didn’t inspire confidence — it curiously said the next train to the city was at 12:17, and not taking passengers.

The PSOs asked if I wanted a citybound train. It was delayed, they said, and checked with the Metro staffer behind the counter, who said it was currently held at Mordialloc, for an unknown period.

It was all too hard. Wait for an indeterminate time for the Lost Brolly train, then again for a train back (or walk, possibly in the rain).

I thanked them and went home. I’ll try Lost Property during the week, but if it never turns up, I’ll get a replacement.

And hopefully whoever found it is able to make good use of it. It’s a great umbrella.

Some big public transport changes coming on July 27th

The July 27th public transport network changes are pretty big. Some of the information is a bit vague, so here are some points I’ve gleaned from looking around, as well as chatting to Transdev, who run a lot of the bus routes that are changing.

V/Line train approaching Clayton station

V/Line

The big thing in rail is V/Line trains from Ballarat and Bendigo will start using the new Regional Rail Link tracks from Sunshine into the City. This will mean they no longer stop at North Melbourne, because unfortunately RRL has no platforms there.

You’d expect the new dedicated tracks would help running times, but that doesn’t seem to be universal. For instance the 8:13 arrival from Bendigo took 12 minutes from Footscray into Southern Cross in the old timetable; the new one has it taking 17. The 8:25 arrival from Ballarat took 22 minutes from Sunshine in the old timetable; the new one has it at 21 minutes. In many cases V/Line trains take substantially longer than comparable Metro trains.

It’s quite possible the V/Line timetables include some padding to allow for delays (though they still consistently miss their punctuality targets). And the RRL project isn’t actually finished yet, so there might be improvements when it is.

Where V/Line timetables have changed, their connecting buses have got modified timetables — same for those metropolitan bus timetables which provide timed connections to Metro trains. This is why all the changes are coming on one date.

PIDs at Malvern - why on platform 3?

Metro

The Dandenong line is going to every 10 minutes on weekdays, which is very welcome given the number of passengers and destinations along the line. Most trains will no longer stop at Malvern, matching the weekend pattern. Curiously they recently put in realtime information on platform 3 there — which will barely get used. It really should have gone onto platform 1.

This also means the Cranbourne and Pakenham ends of the lines go to every 20 minutes — much better than the current half-hourly service.

Another big change is that peak Pakenham trains will now stop between Oakleigh and Caulfield where currently they run express. It won’t make much difference to running times as the line is so congested anyway. On the up side people at those stations will have more trains… but possibly it’ll result in more crowding on those services, which are often pretty packed.

The Frankston line gets a few changes, including — at last — removal of the incredibly confusing afternoon peak-shoulder timetable which currently has three completely different running patterns.

Morning Frankston line trains are also altered, with the two-tier timetable extended to until the off-peak timetable kicks-in. The anomalous 8:35 limited express from Bentleigh into the City no longer stops there, but there’s an additional service originating at Moorabbin to make up for it — which should mean overall more seats available for passengers at the zone 1 stations, as well as a faster ride for those coming in from zone 2.

(The government is claiming Frankston has two extra morning peak services. I might be counting them in a different way, but I’m not seeing that. I can see two extra expresses, but one less stopping train.) — Update, see below

It’d have been nice to see some other upgrades come through — more lines are richly deserving of ten minute services, for instance.

Platform 1, new Springvale station, April 2014

Trams: some route changes

Route 112 is being split back to similar to how it used to be: the 11 from West Preston into the City (and Docklands), and the 12 from St Kilda into the City and then out to Victoria Gardens. This should allow them to run the bigger trams on busy route 11 (including adding space on incredibly busy Collins St/Docklands routes), without wasting that capacity on quieter route 12.

Some part-time city routes such as 24, 31 and 95 won’t run anymore. Other fulltime routes cover that ground.

Likewise, the long-running part-time route 79 will no longer run, replaced in the evenings and weekends by its weekday cousin 78… which will mean people heading from Chapel Street to St Kilda Beach will need to change at Carlisle Street onto a 16 (or, on weekends, a 3a).

There are big question marks over what will happen when CBD trams are free from January. Some routes are swamped at present… one wonders if there will be a need to reinstate those part-time city routes to boost capacity. You’d hope PTV and Yarra Trams are feverishly working on the forecasts for that. (Ditto the abolishment of two-zone fares in Melbourne from January.)

Hey tram fans, is this the first C-class tram in the new #PTV colours? #yarratrams

Buses: northeast

Lots of changes on the buses in the Manningham area, particularly those run by Transdev, whose contract stipulates they need to re-design their routes and increase patronage — but without increasing resources. In other words, badly-needed route reform.

DART/Smartbus 908 will no longer go all the way into the city outside peak hours. It’ll terminate at Doncaster Park+Ride instead, with connections into the City. This should be okay inbound, and outbound on weekdays during the day, when the services you’re connecting to will be frequent. There might be some waiting involved outbound on weekends and evenings.

This one is controversial: route 303, which runs 4 services per day in each peak direction, is getting cut.

In general the theme is one of removing duplication, particularly part-time routes, and consolidating services by bumping up frequencies to compensate. For instance routes 200, 203 and 205 have been combined into a single route 200, which should be less confusing.

In many cases another similar route isn’t too far away from a removed one.

It does mean some trips that were a single seat ride all the way will require changing to another bus or a train, but the pay-off is a more cohesive network that provides options for more journeys, and in some cases overall a faster trip.

So, as is almost inevitable with route reform, some inconvenience to some, but overall should result in a more legible, simple, usable network… which in other areas has been shown to pay off in terms of getting new passengers on-board.

Smartbus in Lonsdale Street

Other bus changes

The 401 North Melbourne to Melbourne University shuttle gets extended to 10pm, with services every 10 minutes after 7:30pm. Excellent.

Local bus routes around the airport get a shakeup, with the main connection now being the Smartbus from Broadmeadows station, which makes sense as it’s more frequent than the other routes.

Non-Smartbus airport area routes such as 478 and 479 are re-focussed on connections from Sunbury and Airport West, for the benefit of local trips (such as workers) to the airport. The ridiculous 479′s one service per day on the weekend into the CBD has been removed. What a total waste of resources that was.

Routes 216/219/220 get a slight cutback from every 15 minutes to every 20 on weekday evenings. This probably makes sense at the southern end, as demand is light, and resources are better used elsewhere — I understand the whole timetable has been re-written for the first time in decades to better reflect traffic conditions. Hopefully the slight reduction in frequency doesn’t mean crowding at the western end of the route. Apparently it will get more substantial changes next year, along with other long routes such as the orbital Smartbuses, which have also had just timetable adjustments this time around.

The Brimbank area gets an overhaul, with some good reform which has irritated some current users, but should result in a more usable network overall. While some are saying they are negatively affected, some locals I’ve spoken to say they welcome the more direct routes.

The Port Melbourne area will also get revised, with simpler routes, and some routes such as 250/251 which formerly ran through the city to Port Melbourne, have been split to improve reliability.

The 232 Altona to city bus over the Westgate Bridge will no longer stop in Port Melbourne — despite little difference in timetabled running time in peak, it’ll stick to the freeway.

In the outer suburbs such as Cranbourne and Frankston, there are some extra services on some routes.

Impacts on journeys

I’m not across all the changes: you should really go to the source. (Initially the information on the numerous bus changes was pretty vague, but it’s improved a lot in the past week or so, with a lot of detail on specific areas.)

Those in areas affected by some of the bigger changes should take a look at the Journey Planner, and check the alternative routes available. Despite the protests at the changes, the new routes actually make a lot of sense. In many cases I’ve seen, people might face a slightly longer journey on the bus, but gain higher frequencies, longer operating hours (eg full-time routes instead of peak only) and in one case I looked at, a shorter walk to the bus stop.

In other cases I’ve looked at, a change to another bus or a train will now be required to get into the city, but the overall trip is faster.

Transdev have also said they’re willing to help passengers on their routes with looking at their specific route changes.

Overall

Overall it looks like a pretty good package. The continued rollout of RRL infrastructure as the project nears completion; some good upgrades to the Dandenong line; cleanup of the incredibly messy Frankston line timetable, and perhaps most significantly, widespread bus route reform to remove duplication and part-time routes, replaced by more frequent, fulltime routes — these sorts of changes are vital to untangle Melbourne’s bus spaghetti.

Some areas miss out of course. I for one am really hoping a significant upgrade to western suburbs lines (Werribee/Altona/Williamstown, and Sunbury) when RRL is completed.

But it’s good stuff. If they gave us a package this significant every year, the government would be kicking goals.

I’d be interested in comments on other changes people have noticed… and how their trips are affected.

Update Tuesday 15/7/2014: Some great comments being submitted – keep them coming.

I wanted to particularly note that passengers on bus route 303 have been active in calling for their route not to get cut. While I have reservations about peak-only routes because it can be confusing for potential users, particularly where they largely duplicate other routes, some users have shown evidence that suggests the buses have more than the 20-24 people per service the stats say they have.

Update Sunday 27/7/2014: In this press release, the government claims: “There will also be two extra morning weekday trains on the Frankston line.

The first was easy to find: it’s the 6:38am Frankston to City limited express. The other one was harder to find, because it is actually against the peak flow, and in fact after 9am: the 9:09am Flinders Street to Mordialloc. That’s not even filling a big service gap; it’s just a run from the city back into stabling.

My recollection is the Coalition used to rightly criticise Labor for announcing extra trains that were against the peak direction, and not terribly useful to many people. Now they seem to be doing exactly the same thing.

Some photos from July 2004

Another in my series of old photos from ten years ago

In 2004 the situation with crowded trains hadn’t really hit as a big political problem, which is why it took until 2006 for the government to decide not to scrap all the Hitachi trains after all, but expand the fleet. It was certainly occurring at that point however, and I snapped this photo one morning at Richmond. I was particularly pleased with it — it conveys the sense of frustration from passengers really well.
Crowded train, Richmond, July 2004
[Another pic from that same morning]

At Southbank there used to be a regular display from a group called Chalk Circle… one day I found that had this image of The Goodies.
The Goodies, chalk art at Melbourne Southbank, July 2004
[Original blog post]

They’re a common hazard now, but chuggers were around even back then:
Chuggers at Southbank, July 2004

The view looking west along the Yarra. Despite it being almost 20 years since trains ran over the Sandridge bridge, it still looked like a rail bridge. It’s only in recent years that it’s been fully renovated and made available to the public again.
Looking west along the Yarra, July 2004

Jeremy using the computer at home (see another view here). Note the floppy drive. In the foreground is a Harry Potter DVD — I’d ordered it from Amazon UK because in Australia at the time you couldn’t buy the widescreen version.
Jeremy using the computer, July 2004

By way of a bulk sale of their Summertown CD, my mate Tony organised a private concert in his house of Deborah Conway and Willy Zygier. [Original blog post]
Deborah Conway and Willy Zygier, July 2004