From today there were changes to the City Loop. Clifton Hill trains are now running clockwise all day on weekdays (though oddly anti-clockwise on weekends, just to keep people guessing) and Werribee trains are running direct via Southern Cross and Flinders Street in peak hours, bypassing the loop.
Is there angst about this? You bet. Few people like change. Some people will have a longer trip. And in an ideal world, every train would run via the stations most people like to use.
But if you take a look at a rail network diagram, and consider the circumstances, you’ll start to see why it’s important to do it.
We all know the trains are packed. It’s the number one problem in peak hour. They’re packed of course due to a lack of services — partly due to the lack of track capacity in the loop caused by running just about every train through it. And also due to reliability problems — if a train runs late, it ends up having to pick up more passengers.
How do you fix those problems? Well you start by avoiding situations where trains cross each other (“conflicting moves”), because if there’s a delay on one train, it causes others to have to wait, and the whole timetable goes to crap.
While one can argue it should be done by building flyovers, a solution is needed right here and now. The changes from today get rid of two such instances: where Werribee trains cross other routes to enter/exit the city loop, and where Clifton Hill trains cross to enter the loop (AM only).
What’s the impact? Maybe not quite as big as you might think. For a start, Flinders Street is the most popular station, so those people actually get a quicker trip.
But it’s not about what stations people use, but their final destination. So it comes down to how far people will walk (“pedshed“) from the most convenient station to their destination. It obviously varies according to the person, but a reasonable distance might be about 800 metres — or about ten minutes walk. This is about 3 blocks in the CBD.
Would you volunteer to walk for ten minutes from the station to work, where before you walked much less? No. But if it avoids changing trains to do so, then many people would. For instance I’m generally heading to close to Flinders Street, but my train in the morning takes me out of my way to Parliament first, so I usually get off there and walk the 3 blocks rather than stay on the train around the loop (which takes ages), or change trains at Richmond.
So for the people losing their loop trains, how much is within 2.5 to 3 blocks of Southern Cross and Flinders Street? A fair bit of the CBD, in fact. (Remembering that just getting out of Southern Cross is about half-a-block of walking, though it’s no worse than getting out of the lower platforms at the underground stations.)
Of course if the weather is crap, or you’re in a hurry, you might not want to walk, but do the change trains thing or catch a tram. But the point here is that many of the people using the underground stations at the moment will find it just as convenient to use Southern Cross or Flinders Street.
For those that really do have to use stations other than Flinders Street, Clifton Hill people can stay on their morning trains and go around the loop. From what I saw this morning, delays at Flinders Street were minimal, and in fact the change means that people going to Flinders Street no longer have to go the long way around twice a day, which is fairer.
Werribee people can change trains to and from loop trains. With the AM peak being the more crowded period, the better option then is to change at Southern Cross onto the Clifton Hill trains, as these are less crowded than the others.
Ideal? No. Fun? No. But people on the Sandringham line have been doing this for years (oh, and Williamstown, and Alamein), and it’s common practice overseas. Provided the reliability improves as a result of the changes, and the extra services reduce waiting times, I think people will get used to it.
And it makes space for the extra trains coming soon, which will help fix the overcrowding. Which is the biggest problem needing solving.
(Now standing by for ranting from the affected people. Particularly interested to hear if anybody has better ideas for increasing train frequencies.)
PS 12/11/2008. If you want to rant about it directly to Connex, there’s a “live blog” with John Rees from Connex, today 12/11/2008 from 10am to 11am.