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.

Train now in the top 3 methods of travel to work — ABS

I spotted this a while back, but forgot to blog it. It was published by the ABS in October 2012, but it’s still worth noting:

“While the household car is still the preferred method of travel to work for most Australians, the train has overtaken walking as one of the most preferred modes of transport,” Mr Henderson said.

“The proportion of people opting to take the train has increased from 3.4 per cent in 2006 to 3.9 per cent in 2011, putting the train in the top three methods of travel to work.”

New data from the 2011 Census released today: Method of travel to work, 30/10/2012

Crowded train

Trains being in the top three is pretty amazing given that while walking and driving are more-or-less universally available in every area in Australia (the latter subject to income and ability), travel to work by train is confined to a much smaller proportion of the population.

Of course, driving still dominates because most people have no viable choice — as I’ve said before, if we want more people to choose efficient modes, they have to be given the choice… which, remember, is the sort of investment that what most people want.

Australia-wide figures:

Car (driver) 60.2%
Car (passenger) 5.3%
Train 3.9%
Walk 3.7%
Bus 3%
Truck 1%
Bicycle 1%

FOI shows early planning under way for all-night weekend trains in Melbourne

News from London is that they are planning 24-hour Tube services on five lines from 2015 at weekends.

It’s tied to a grand plan which will also see staff taken out of ticket offices (in favour of helping customers more directly, for instance with ticket machines), more Wifi on stations, and contactless bank card (eg Paypass) payments.

All interesting, but let’s focus on the all-night trains.

Frankston line, 11:50pm Friday night

Running all-night services on weekends only is an interesting balance between meeting big city passenger demand, helping late-night economic growth, and still allowing time for maintenance — which can still happen on weeknights.

Could we do it in Melbourne? Would we do it in Melbourne? Nightrider buses might well be adequate for demand on weeknights (but don’t even run at present), but on weekends (Friday and Saturday nights) are frequently swamped with users. Particularly on the busiest lines, and particularly over summer, trains would cope better with the loads.

Here’s the interesting thing: early planning for all-night weekend trains appears to be already be under way.

For such a thing to happen, there’s any number of factors that would need to be carefully planned — maintenance regimes, rosters for drivers, signalling and support staff, stations, PSOs…

One obvious step is ensuring that any future development on the rail network doesn’t get in the way of it.

The planning for Southland station includes such a clause. In a document obtained via FOI by The Age, the requirements clearly state that the infrastructure should allow for a future timetable with trains running 4:30am to 1am on weekdays, and “Friday 0530 through to Monday 0200″ — in other words, continuous services from Friday morning through to late Sunday night.

Southland station FOI: Early planning for 24-hour trains at weekends

It doesn’t mean 24-hour weekend trains will be starting any time soon, nor that they would necessarily run on every line — a more likely initial outcome is the busiest lines only, where Nightriders don’t cope.

But it does appear that the early planning for it is happening now within PTV — ensuring that no new initiatives get in the way of doing it in the future. Great to see it’s on their radar.

Want to see it happen? Then get busy making your voice heard in the media and with your local MP.

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.

It’s logical for #PTV load surveys to exclude cancelled services

…documents obtained by the Greens through freedom of information reveal that the positive results did not include many trains that were affected by the knock-on effect of a cancelled or delayed service. Of the 437 trains surveyed, 113 were excluded.

– The Age, Train overcrowding getting worse: Greens

Here’s the thing. Load surveys aren’t measuring overcrowding for the sake of measuring overcrowding.

You don’t hire scores of people to stand on platforms with clipboards to learn that cancellations are bad because they result in crowded trains, and we should avoid cancelling services. That is obvious.

Load surveys are for designing new timetables, to identify where and when extra trains should run. So while some may disagree, I think it’s perfectly sensible for them to exclude cancellations. To not do so would make it impossible to know where services should be added.

By all means they could publish the raw figures, or a version that does include cancellations, but for the primary purpose — service planning — they have to be excluded.

Crowding, Frankston line

Photos from ten years ago – October 2003

Here is another in my series of old photos from when I first got a digital camera.

M>Train (which came after Bayside trains, and before Connex) had a rather nice livery and logo. Here’s a Comeng train heading towards the city on the outer stretches of the Upfield line. Myself and Peter, another PTUA bod, had gone out there to look at the spot for the proposed Campbellfield Station… still not built.
M>Train on the Upfield line (October 2003)

Daniel The Thinker. This was part of a bunch of pics I took for a possible animated web site menu I was pondering. It never happened.
The thinker (October 2003)

A screen grab from my first (I think) big media scrum for the PTUA. I think the topic was station staffing. Yes, they got my name wrong. Don’t believe everything you see on TV.
Daniel's first media frenzy (October 2003)

Sunset over the city, snapped up high in the building my day job was in at the time.
Sunset over the city (October 2003)

Do you remember when you could exit straight out of Melbourne Central, up to Swanston Street via a direct escalator, without having to navigate a maze of shops along the way? Ten years ago this month the plans to change it became public.
Melbourne Central Station main exit (October 2003)

A view from the Rialto, south over the river.
View south over the river  (October 2003)

The Flinders Street overpass over King Street, since (thankfully) demolished. Look at all that precious riverside land used for car parking. (Some of it still is, mind you.)
Kings Street overpass (October 2003)

A 3-car Hitachi train, looking the worse for wear, rolls into Murrumbeena station. I assume the lead cab was normally in the middle of a 6-car set, and years of residue off the pantographs hadn’t been cleaned off properly. Within a year or two, most Hitachi trains would be prematurely scrapped, leading to overcrowded trains as patronage leapt up.
Hitachi train at Murrumbeena (October 2003)

Yes, that was a Melbourne train in a US sitcom… but can anybody name the station? #MetroTrains

Half the gunzels in Melbourne are chattering about this: through the wonders of green screen and stock footage, the most recent episode of How I Met Your Mother (which aired last weekend in the USA, and on Thursday night in Australia) featured a Melbourne Comeng suburban train in Connex colours.

Melbourne Comeng Connex train in How I Met Your Mother
Update Tuesday 2/10/2013 7:30am — The video has been deleted from YouTube due to copyright, so I’ve put in a still instead.

The stock footage appears to have been shot from another platform; it’s not necessarily a 3+ platform station. The building seems to be one of Melbourne’s newer ones; probably the “down” (away from the city) platform, but as-yet I haven’t been able to identify it. Anybody want to have a go?

Update Sunday 9:45pm: I think I’ve worked it out. Will be interested to see if anybody reaches the same answer I did.

The answer is… Brighton Beach

Update Monday 12:30pm: Rather than spend hours scouring the net for pictures of stations and doing painstaking comparisons, I thought about this laterally.

As Stephen said in the comments, the question is why is a Melbourne train in a US TV show? It’s stock footage – someone’s needed to save time and/or money in getting footage of a moving train to put on the green screen, and they’ve looked through available footage for something that matches the studio shot they were setting up.

So I did a quick bit of searching stock footage web sites to see if I could find it. And I found it – 23 seconds of glorious 16:9 HD vision, shot at Brighton Beach:

MELBOURNE – CIRCA OCTOBER 2009: Suburban train arriving Brighton Beach Station (click through to watch the vision)

The HIMYM producers have cropped it and carefully placed it in the completed programme to mostly hide the people on the platform, but if you look closely, it’s a match.

Stock footage: Connex train at Brighton Beach