There’s a debate raging about whether or not electric trains should be extended to Sunbury. Some Sunbury passengers are arguing that they want to keep V/Line services.
There might be a bigger issue here: whether Sunbury people want to be part of suburban Melbourne or not. I gather that came up at last night’s public meeting.
It’s of course totally understandable that if you’re happy with your V/Line train, you wouldn’t want to change it. People quite rightly value the express ride, the comfy seats, and the presence of conductors.
But while Connex-bashing is a very popular sport, some of the arguments don’t quite stack up.
V/Line trains do not stop at all stations. “If electrification occurs, the trains will stop everywhere and add 15 to 20 minutes,” Mr O’Farrell said. — The Age
In off-peak hours, the quickest V/Line trip seems to be Sydenham to North Melbourne in 19 minutes. The off-peak Connex time is 27 minutes.
Interestingly in the middle of peak hour, V/Line trains from St Albans to North Melbourne take up to 22 minutes, just one minute less than the Connex trains, no doubt due to network congestion. Even if you added extra stops at Sydenham and Keilor Plains (at a minute per stop, which is the benchmark), it would only be 3 minutes slower by suburban train.
So, it appears the maximum difference is 8 minutes, but at peak hour it may be as little as 3 minutes.
And the (slightly) longer trip time is compensated by shorter waiting times. In peak hour currently 10 suburban trains arrive at North Melbourne between 7:30am and 9am. It’s half that on V/Line, and if the project went ahead, those V/Line trains would become suburban ones. Off-peak there are 3 suburban trains an hour, vs 1 per hour on V/Line. So switching to suburban trains would mean about three times as many services, both in peak and off-peak hours, for Sunbury.
Sydenham suburban train users also have a quicker trip for those heading into the loop (but a bit slower for those wanting Southern Cross).
“They (V/Line) don’t have the number of cancellations and they don’t have the delays.”
Interestingly this turns out not to be true.
The latest figures for February show Connex out-performed V/Line on the line, in delivering services (98.9% to 96.2%) and on-time performance (90.2% to 82.1%). Of course, February was a real mess for both operators, with heat and fires and lots of equipment failures.
But in fact, every single month for the past year, Connex has out-performed V/Line on these two factors.
(Figures compare V/Line Bendigo, which includes Sunbury, and Connex Sydenham services. “On-time” is the usual weasel definition: within 5 minutes and 59 seconds.)
It’s worth noting that some Sunbury residents do want electrification, as is shown in the online discussion on the Sunbury Leader web site.
And it’s not all about the current users — it’s also about attracting new people out of their cars and onto the trains. Previous experience has shown that when electrification arrives, with more trains (especially outside peak hours), more capacity on those trains and services that run later into the night, 7-days-a-week, patronage goes through the roof. The Craigieburn extension resulted in patronage growth of 250% in just the first year.
In the case of the Sunbury line, it’s also about better using the track capacity on the line. Whereas the electric trains are carrying around 1000 people each (far from ideal), some V/Line trains are carrying only about 200 to 250 people each. And because the four AM peak trains originating at Sunbury serve only two stations (Sunbury and Digger’s Rest) and then run express much of the way, they use up a lot of track capacity. Replacing them with electric trains would add capacity to the trains and to the track, and based on current usage should actually get the numbers per train back down below the “desirable” 798 figure.
All that said, it’s totally understandable why current Sunbury train users don’t want a change. Connex has a reputation that is not entirely undeserved.
And nobody can deny that on V/Line, the seats are nicer, more comfortable, and the conductors are good for passenger service and security.
What should happen is a better quality of service on the suburban trains. Ensure there are staff on all the stations from first to last train, more TravelSafe staff on the trains, particularly in the evenings, and make sure that the trains and stations are kept clean. These things, along with better reliability and higher frequency services would help ease the pain for current Sunbury train users, as well as bringing lots of new people onto the rail system.
And that’s the bottom line, isn’t it?
(Not that I expect to convince the Sunbury people who don’t want it.)