10 minute trains – there is a rollout plan – but when will it get funded?

High-frequency trains (all day, every day) are critical for any big city, to ensure large numbers of people can get around quickly and easily.

As a PTUA study found some years ago, Melbourne is one of the few big world cities that doesn’t have them. To draw an analogy, it’s as if outside peak hour, we closed the freeways and highways except for one lane in each direction.

To delve into hyperbole for a moment: it’s the tyranny of infrequent services on so-called trunk routes. Those in power are basically saying: if you choose to use public transport, your time is not important. We’d prefer you drove.

But there is a rollout plan for ten minute trains.

Footscray station, Sunday morning

This week the Coalition announced that as part of a package of transport upgrades that include extending the South Morang line to Mernda, the line would also go to every 10 minutes off-peak on weekdays from October 2015.

Notably the service upgrade is costed at only $20 million (it’s unclear for how long, but often these recurrent figures are given in terms of 4 year budget cycles).

This underscores that higher all-day frequencies, which make public transport much more easy to use, don’t have to cost that much money. We have a big train fleet and plenty of track capacity to cope with extra services outside peak hour. The costs are largely in drivers and power, though it also adds to pressure on maintenance facility capacity, which is why this is being slowly expanded.

PTV, which established by the Coalition government to manage and plan the network, actually has a plan to gradually roll out ten minute services across most of the rail network — it’s part of their “Network Development Plan – Metropolitan Rail” (which I blogged about here). The process started with the longer (thus busier) lines a few years ago, and while it’s not ideal that progress is driven by politicians rather than transport planners, I suppose that’s the reality — so in a way it’s good that the importance of high frequency all-day services is recognised at the political level.

I’ve summarised the rollout (past, and proposed) of ten minute services (and new lines) below.

Notes:

  • The first toe dipped in the water of ten minute services was a short-lived experiment on the Werribee line. It wasn’t a good choice — the single track Altona Loop meant it was impossible to provide even frequencies on the line, so it never actually provided a ten minute service. It was abandoned in 2011. There were similar problems initially on the Frankston line, with half the trains running via the City Loop, and half direct — leading to very uneven frequencies at Flinders Street.
  • The 2016 proposal was originally tied to the opening of Regional Rail Link, but RRL will now open around April 2015. It’s unclear if it will be accompanied by any additional 10 minute services on Metro lines.
  • As noted above South Morang (weekdays) is now said to be happening in October 2015 if the Coalition is returned to government. It’s not clear what will happen if Labor is voted in.
  • One oddity from the plan: It appears the Sunbury line (between the city and Sydenham) would go to ten minutes, but then back to twenty minutes when the Airport line opens. This seems a bit strange, and perhaps someone messed up the plan — or perhaps it’s because eventually the Melton line would be electrified and combined with Sunbury trains provide a 10 minute service between Sunshine and the City.
  • By the time it’s complete, most of the network would be running every ten minutes, so you’d be able to get around much of Melbourne quickly and easily, and without having to look at a timetable to avoid long waits, including when making connections off other services.

Unfortunately PTV has almost totally failed to promote the existing ten minute services (despite them and the government promoting many far less useful improvements to trains), but anecdotally at least patronage does seem to be increasing — it’s not unusual on Saturday mornings to see a few standees on Frankston line trains inbound, which in the past few years have doubled in frequency and length, thus quadrupling capacity.

The question is… when will the politicians grasp how beneficial high frequency trains are, and fund the PTV rollout plan — not just a line at a time, but for the whole network?

The Frankston line X’trapolis – are you impressed?

You’d think from the tweets from Coalition MPs this morning that the arrival of the first X’trapolis train in service on the Frankston line was a miraculous huge leap forward for train travellers — a rocket-powered, laser-guided teleportation device that can get you to your destination in seconds.

It’s a bit like the Danger Mouse theme tune: “He’s the ace / He’s amazing / He’s the strongest, he’s the quickest, he’s the best!”

The government press release is equally enthusiastic:

X’Trapolis trains are the newest, biggest and fastest trains on Melbourne’s network. Running this train on the Frankston line will reduce crowding and get more people out of their cars and onto public transport.

X’Trapolis train debuts on Frankston line today

The truth is a little more nuanced.

X'trapolis train, South Morang line near Merri

Are these trains better?

So the claim is that these trains are bigger, faster, quieter and smoother.

Bigger? I’m not sure of the logic behind that. The trains are a similar length, and with a similar number of seats to other models, and a similar total capacity.

Faster? Perhaps — both the X’Trapolis and Siemens trains have theoretical speed limits of 130 kmh, but the Siemens is currently limited to 115, which is the same as the Comeng top speed. They have good acceleration, similar to the Siemens trains (1.2 m/s/s), and when I asked Metro’s CEO Andrew Lezala about it when the Bayside Rail Project was first announced, he said the overall speed was similar to the Siemens trains, presumably meaning if the entire line group went to X’trapolis and Siemens trains, they could theoretically speed up the timetable. And that, I suspect, is where the real, tangible benefit will be.

Quieter? I’m not sure there’s that much in it.

Smoother? Arguably not. Many people have complained about the ride quality of the X’trapolis trains, though some of this is due to track conditions, especially on the outer semi-rural ends of the Hurstbridge, Lilydale and Belgrave lines. Some train drivers have complained of getting back problems.

The newest X’trapolis trains do have very clear destination signs, and many more handles inside to hold onto if you can’t get a seat.

They also have slightly fewer seats, making an arguably more efficient layout, allowing people to move in and out and around the carriage more easily. And they have big bold interior displays, though these are obscured by the handles!

Bayside rail project - original timeline

Was their rollout rushed?

Clearly yes. The original estimate was that these trains wouldn’t start on the line until around October 2015. But of course, that’s well after the election, so they’ve brought it forward by an entire year.

As noted by Channel 7 on Monday, and The Age on Tuesday, there is just one X’Trapolis train deployed onto the Frankston line. It has been specifically speed-limited so as not to accelerate towards still-closing boom gates too fast, and has two drivers in the cab as a precaution.

The train seems to run just two round trips each morning, both timed to avoid the height of peak hour (so making poor use of the claimed additional capacity) before heading to sidings at Burnley for the rest of the day.

So will people be impressed?

It’s a publicity stunt, nothing more.

Yet I know some people suffer from train envy — I remember a friend from the then Epping line saying he wished they got the Siemens trains. Perhaps he wouldn’t have wished that had he seen the often filthy state of the seats.

But ask someone who regularly catches these trains if they’re anything special, and I doubt they’ll go over-the-top in praising them — they’ve had this model for years now.

In any case, it seems not everyone was impressed:

I suppose it’s good the politicians (who hold the purse strings) are so interested in public transport. But it’s important that the money isn’t all put into show ponies like “new” trains which aren’t really new, but into ensuring the whole system is frequent, reliable, fast, clean, and safe.

Five years ago today: A day on the trains

Five years ago today I posted this video: A Day on the Trains.

The footage for it was gathered over the space of a month or two in the dying days of the Connex Melbourne Empire in late 2009, and it was designed to capture a few scenes I thought might be changing in the coming years.

Obviously some things have changed, others remain the same.

  • Liveries: Connex (Metlink) became Metro (Metlink), and then became Metro/PTV
  • Metcard is gone, replaced by Myki
  • Many of the old CRT screens at stations have been replaced by newer flat screen displays

What else can you spot?

The system has become more busy, with more services on some lines. Punctuality has improved (thanks in part to padded timetables and station skipping), but cancellations haven’t. And transport is just as big an election issue as ever.

PS. I’ve since learnt that the skewing effect of large objects moving rapidly past the camera is called rolling shutter.

Deer Park PSOs

This is Deer Park station. (Superb pic snapped a few years ago by my friend Tony.)

Deer Park station (pic by Tony Malloy)

And this is the new pod for Protective Services Officers at Deer Park station.

Deer Park station

According to the official list, PSOs are now deployed there.

Marcus Wong’s PSO tracking spreadsheet says they started there on July 1st.

Deer Park of course is one of the stations that gets the least frequent train services in Melbourne. It’s served by V/Line’s Ballarat line trains, and about every second service runs express through the station.

Given PSOs are only on duty after 6pm, they’ll see very few trains and people compared to their cousins at Metro stations.

People: The official PTV station stats don’t include the V/Line stations, but the unofficial stats I got a couple of years ago had a figure of 79 boardings at Deer Park every weekday, the fourth-lowest in Melbourne. It’s probably reasonable to assume that many of them board at the station in the morning, and come back and alight there in the evening.

Trains: The station is adjacent to the fast-growing suburb of Derrimut, but the few people using the station is reflective of the small number of trains stopping there.

After 6pm:

  • Weekdays from the city: 6:08pm, 6:28pm, 7:47pm, 8:45pm, 10:15pm and 11:45pm (Friday only)
  • Weekdays to the city: 7:08pm, 8:25pm, 10:18pm
  • Saturdays from the city: 7:33pm, 9:08pm, 10:33pm and 12:08am
  • Saturdays to the city: 7:05pm, 8:11pm, 10:10pm
  • Sundays from the city: 7:33pm, 9:08pm, 10:33pm
  • Sundays to the city: 7:05pm, 8:11pm, 10:11pm

The PSOs are professionals of course. But gee it must be dull waiting up to an hour and a half between trains, and seeing barely any people pass through the station.

On the bright side, those few people hopefully feel safer. Anecdotal evidence matches a recent survey by UniPollWatch which found 85% of passengers believe PSOs have made the rail network safer, and The Age’s online survey said 77% feel safer.

So from that point of view, the scheme is working. But it’s an expensive policy to have two officers at every station, no matter how busy or quiet. It’s unclear if it’s actually reducing crime, and it’s also unclear if it has increased evening patronage on the rail network — particularly at places like Deer Park with hopelessly infrequent train services.

The officers are rotated around through different stations. Just as well — they’d be bored out of their skulls if they were at quiet stations like Deer Park all the time.

  • From the sounds of it, many locals use the 400 bus to Sunshine, rather than the local train. The bus runs much closer to housing in Derrimut, about every 20 minutes in peak on that part of the route. Only every 40 minutes off-peak and weekends, but that’s heaps better than the trains. No doubt many others drive.
  • When Regional Rail Link opens next year, trains through the station will increase markedly, but it’s unclear if any extra will stop. The possible 2021 V/Line timetables suggested a train every half-hour from Melton during off-peak daytime hours, which would be a vast improvement, though nowhere near the service level of Metro stations a similar distance from the city.
  • PTUA analysis of crime stats from before the PSOs were introduced was based on Metro/Connex data, and didn’t include Deer Park or other V/Line stations, but it did make clear that Melbourne-wide, about half of all reported assaults at stations aren’t after 6pm; they’re during the day.

Level crossings: Which are funded to be removed, which are promised?

I’ve been trying to sort out the status of all the level crossings from the various lists. Some are fully funded, others are funded for planning, and some are merely promises/pledges from the politicians.

I ended up going back to the ALCAM 2008 list, and working through which have already been grade separated, and which are now proposed.

Mckinnon level crossing

The full list is below, and I’m sure will make for a riveting read (note also some footnotes at the bottom) but first a summary of what I found:

The ALCAM list included 1,872 crossings across Victoria. 180 are railway crossings in the metropolitan area. Another 5 are on the light rail lines to St Kilda and Port Melbourne. The rest are on non-metro lines (including on the Stony Point line, and V/Line areas within metropolitan Melbourne), so typically have much fewer rail services and less road and pedestrian traffic.

Of the 180 metropolitan crossings, 9 have already been grade-separated: 4 by Labor between 2007 [See note 8] and 2010, and 5 by the Coalition since then, leaving 171 level crossings around Melbourne (excluding light rail).

The most expensive funded or completed crossing by far is Main Road, St Albans, at $200 million. The cheapest was Kororoit Creek Road in Altona, at $48.5 million, which included road duplication, but no new station.

The average cost since 2007 is $130.1 million. Some have included new railway stations. Some such as the $173.9 million grade separation of Footscray Road in the Port of Melbourne area have included large-scale roadworks. (The project also included two much further down the priority list, and not counted as “Metro”: Appleton Dock Road, ranked 1325 and Enterprise Road, ranked 651.)

8 more level crossing removals are currently fully-funded by the Coalition, either via the budget or as part of the Dandenong rail project. A further 7 have planning or early works funding from the Coalition.

Not hard to see why pedestrians, cars, buses, ambulances get delayed in Clayton. Grade separation needed!

Coalition claims

Strangely the Coalition has repeatedly claimed to have completed or commenced 40 grade separations. I can only count 5 completed, 8 fully funded and 7 partially funded = 20.

The only possible way to get close to their claim is to include Regional Rail Link bridges, which are on a new line, so are not “level crossing removal” because there was never a level crossing there. There’s also Christies Road on the Ballarat line, which is a road extension over an existing line, not on the RRL route but done as part of the project. Again, no level crossing has actually been removed, though at a stretch you might count all of these 13 as “grade separation”. If you did, you’d also need to count three similar instances along the Epping to South Morang extension, funded by Labor.

(There are four river bridges on the RRL line as well, but they can’t count as they don’t involve roads or level crossings.)

So unless I’m missing something, the closest I can get to the Coalition’s claim of 40 grade separations is 33.

I asked anonymous Coalition blogger SpringStSource about this some time ago, but have not had a reply. Since then the 40 claim hasn’t been used as much, but was repeated by Coalition MP David Southwick at the MTF Glen Eira forum a couple of weeks ago, and tweeted by Treasurer Michael O’Brien last week as well.

Update: Michael O’Brien has advised me that funding was provided in the 2014-15 budget for investigating another 7 (as-yet unnamed) grade separations. From page 17 of the Budget Information Paper: Infrastructure Investment: $21 million in new funding provided in the 2014-15 Budget to commence planning for seven priority level crossing removals as the next stage of the Metro Level Crossing Blitz program.

Labor promises

Meanwhile Labor is pledging to remove 50, with 40 on their list from last year, and another 2 so far added.

Their priority list includes many (but not all) of the top crossings in the ALCAM list. They say they’d do this over 8 years (two terms), funded by sale of the Port.

All of the current 8 fully funded crossings are included on the list pledged by Labor so far. Effectively this means those 8 will happen no matter who wins the election… well, if whoever wins fulfils their promises.

Does this make Labor’s pledge empty on those 8? Perhaps, though Labor pledged them before the Coalition funded them.

The top 300 crossings

Note the Location really refers to the types of trains, not where it is. Some “Non-Metro” are in Melbourne. The Risk Score is a formula based on a number of factors, including the likelihood of collisions; the number of trains, motor vehicles and pedestrians; and the consequence. See this document, section 4/page 3.

Edit: This list is only the top 300, which includes all of the Metro crossings. There are actually another 1,572 non-Metro crossings not included here. You can see them on the original list. (Thanks David S for noticing my error.)
Continue reading