Going loopy (or not)

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).

Werribee conflicting movesClifton Hill conflicting moves, AM peak

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.)

View Larger Map

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.

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24 Replies to “Going loopy (or not)”

  1. A highly thoughtful post, Daniel.

    My local train is the Epping line; and it benefits me if it goes through the loop before reaching Flinders Street, however I am not particularly disgruntled as I can see the logic behind it.

    But to be fair, those who use the Werribee line have been doing it tough for quite some time. Having to put up with a tedious and bottlenecking Altona single-track section isn’t pleasant.
    I’m not so sure of engineering mechanics behind it, but should the Melton line become electrified (ie become part of the ‘Connex fleet’), do you think the ‘under Footscray’ track currently used by Vlines should be used by suburban trains? I’m thinking in terms of future expansion (which, if history is to be believed, is unlikely to happen under this government).

  2. LOL Before there were any loop stations everyone had to walk or catch a tram, and in this day of longer working hours/less spare time for exercise/growing obesity this should be seen as a bonus.

  3. Here’s something I found amusing. I used to catch the 5:16pm Frankston home from Southern Cross, but this train is no longer running through the loop, so it departs Flinders St at 5:22. So I tried the Metlink Journey Planner to see which train I should get from Southern Cross to get me to Flinders.

    Well… The journey planner suggests I take the 5:13pm Pakenham from Southern Cross and change at Caulfield – but this train is so busy that half the people getting on at Southern Cross end up standing. Wasn’t the point to alleviate crowding on the Dandenong/Pakenham lines???

    On the other hand, it was most amusing at Flinders last night to watch the confusion on faces at a Frankston train not going through the loop. Especially for those people realising at Richmond…

  4. Oh, and my train was half empty, meaning that crowding on that train is dramatically reduced by increasing crowding on others.

    I’m not criticising the changes, I understand why there were needed, but it will be interesting to see if the crowds even out over time as people change their habits. I did, and I rather enjoyed my trip direct to Flinders this morning – all sunny and none of the dark tunnels (they make me sleepy and then I’m like a zombie when I get to work).

  5. Is the City Loop being operated the way the planners back in 1969 intended it to? For timetable changes they should get people like Paul Mees to fix it, but the government deliberately reject him.

  6. I’m on the Hurstbridge line, and use Southern Cross Station so it is working well for me, especially as the forecast 6 minute wait at Flinders Street I noted when I checked the proposed new timetable a few weeks ago is now actually only 1-2 minutes. My 8.40 from Ivanhoe has also become express from Clifton Hill to Jolimont, which is excellent. However, both mornings so far we have sat waiting between Jolimont & Flinders St to enter Flinders Street station because a train coming the other way was blocking our entry. I am hoping that’s just teething problems? It’s not single track in that stretch as well, is it?

    Confusingly, yesterday morning the driver announced as we were coming into Jolimont that our train would not be going through the loop, and if we wanted loop stations we would need to change at Jolimont. But change to what? None of the Epping/Hurstbridge lines are going straight to the loop anymore. Created mass confusion, with many jumping out at Jolimont and being called back by fellow passengers that they could, actually, stay on this train. All the Hurstbridge trains around 8.30am were running about 10 minutes late, so I have to acknowledge it wasn’t the most positive beginning! This morning the driver took great pains to decribe, accurately, what really would happen.

  7. Absolutely no changes to the Upfield line. *yawns*

    Oh, but they’ve generally stopped running 3-car trains in peak hours. Hooray!

  8. Logically it all makes sense but the issues with the old trains need to be sorted out. On the Glen Waverley line yesterday in peak time one of the old trains was being used -doors wouldn’t close.The driver had to keep getting out to check them and then eventually at Richmond,after a silent delay of abt 10 mins announced because of the door issue train would not run through loop so a train change was necessary ;because of all the delays and stuffups-result half an hour late to work !! Come on Connex !

  9. I can’t beleive that people in Melbourne expect a direct, one-seat journey from every corner of the massive urban sprawl to every corner of the CBD.

    I couldn’t give less of a stuff for Sandy pax who want to go around the loop – heck, let’s take Franga out of the loop so Dandenong can get a better service.

  10. And Reuben, the track under Footscray Station doesn’t get used by V/Line trains. It does, however get used by Pacific National, QRNational, Patrick PortLink & El Zorro.

    Would be a perfect place to send Ballarat/Bendigo V/Line trains through out of Melbourne – assuming that you had somewhere else to divert the freight through, first.

  11. Liz, I’d just jump on the first train to Flinders St (off the top of my head, from platforms 11 or 13). Or Richmond I guess.

    Yes, the change to a single AM and a single PM Frankston train is far from ideal. I’m betting the following evening train in particular is packed.

    Niki, probably (hopefully) teething problems. Are you sure it was a train coming the other way? It might have been another train already on the platform at Flinders St.

    Nick, no it’s not quite as originally intended, but it’s closer. It was certainly never intended that every train run via the loop.

    Sue, yeah the Hitachi doors are notorious for jamming, and need more maintenance.

    Somebody, I think it’s worth exploring deferring or diverting the freight trains for a few hours a day to put the V/Line’s through the tunnel. Be tricky/expensive to build platforms there though, so probably couldn’t stop at Footscray.

  12. Assuming those aforementioned freight trains run on a low frequency (I, unscientifically, assume they do since I rarely see any freight trains near Southern Cross), do you then think it would be good to make greater use of that track?

  13. Reuben, you wouldn’t see most freight at Southern Cross, because there’s nowhere down there for them to go. Most would be heading to/from the docks.

    PaulW, Yeah, there’s something a tad dodgy about embedding Google custom maps. I’ve changed the link to go direct to it, so hopefully that works.

  14. Sorry Daniel, speaking as a Werribee train user for the past 15 years, this change officially sucks. As we say in Warcraft, Werribee got nerfed. Not only does it take longer to get to work and longer to get home (as if over an hour wasn’t long enough already), but they’ve not added any new services to the line at all. I read that there was supposed to be services every ten minutes and there is, providing you don’t need to go any further than Footscray.

    Good luck getting a connection that meets up with your trains at Southern Cross in the morning. That ain’t happening. My mum was stuck on the escalators and helplessly watching the train pull away. When are they going to open up the underpass to make changing platforms at Southern Cross quicker and easier?

    The crowding was ten times worse on my morning train today because people suddenly figured that they needed to catch an even earlier train to have a chance of getting to work on time. So standing room only by Laverton and no one at all could get in at Yarraville.

    Yay Connex! Not.

  15. I wish it were like this when I was in uni…though I didn’t live far from the city by any means those extra 8-10 minutes on the loop (or 20 if they made you inexplicably sit at southern cross for 10 minutes!) meant a lot. sometimes, i would get off my epping train at parliament and change to one going around the loop to flinders street, just to make it to class on time.

  16. Reuben – in relation to freight at Southern Cross, the only ones which pass through there BG trains heading to the Pakenham and Frankston Lines – during daylight you’ll see less than 5.

    Most of the freight through that tunnel is SG freight coming from Sydney and Adelaide, which terminate in the Dynon yards. It’s relatively frequent, but having said that it is possible to stand trackside for an hour without seeing anything (or sometimes, standing there for 40mins and seeing 5 trains!)

    The idea of a freight curfew is interesting, but it seems a poor compromise. Were it to be managed efficiently (shunt moves not blocking the mainline, etc) I couldn’t see how that passenger trains couldn’t fit around the freights.

    If ARTC is serious about running double stack trains into Melbourne they’ll either need to build a new tunnel, or relocate the loading of freight to elsewhere.

  17. Speaking of the Southern Cross underpasses, I saw the doors open to one the other day and it looks like absolutely nothing has changed down there, looks like a bit of a ghost town. I’d love to check it out sometime, I reckon it would be quite eerie.

  18. Platform 11 has no track next to it and even a fence between the platform and where the track should be.

    I think that you mean either platform 10 or 12.

    I believe the PTUA supports putting the track back at platform 11.

  19. For the great many passengers who get off at Flinders St, that awful walk to Collins St has proven to be just too much. Yes, tram it for a block. And they HAVE to be on that first tram.

    Most of the people complaining about these changes in the media have been the “ignore any signs and just turn up as usual” type. Most simply cannot grasp the fact that the system is not infinite nor perfect.

    Give it a couple of weeks so people can get their act together. After some thought, people might actually find something beneficial about the changes, though don’t expect to hear as much about the good.

  20. Ren, they did add services to the Werribee line: two in the AM and one in the PM. Like I say, bypassing the loop is not ideal for some people, but reliability should be better, and there should be yet more services next year. Also in a couple of years when the Laverton work is completed, all peak Werribee trains will go via the express route, which should make up for it.

    Somebody, I understand Sydney has a peak hour rail freight curfew. If more track capacity is needed for a few hours a day, it might be worth looking at on some lines, though obviously there would be impacts.

    Freight trains, for instance may not operate in the Sydney area during the suburban peak periods due to the curfew arrangement. In the interests of Sydney urban passenger reliability, there is a 2.5 hour freight curfew in the morning and a 3.5 hour curfew in the evening peak periods which are highly disruptive to freight operations and a main reason for the low freight reliability level. If freight trains fail to reach Sydney terminals by 6am, they are effectively โ€˜parkedโ€™ until the curfew finishes. These restrictions have a severe impact on freight services.Source

    Tom, I was referring to platform numbers at Southern Cross where you can catch trains going to Flinders Street in the PM peak.

  21. Yeah well, sorry, but I’m with Ren on this ‘un – it is a sucky change for anyone using the Werribee line and it does increase the commute time of anyone who has to disembark at a Loop station. I had to be at Parliament at 9am today and only made it by the grace of a late loop train (Epping line) on another platform that I was able to run, panting and puffing and heavily pregnant belly a-flailing, to catch. Changing for s different train, walking, or tramming it isn’t all that easy for every commuter – we’re not all fully able bodied, y’know ;-)

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