Andrew notes a certain fascination among some people with the London Underground.
For me, it’s the concept of an entire network of railway services where you don’t need a timetable. You just turn up and go. The result is people treating the trains as the default way of getting around for a lot more trips than you see here.
This raises an obvious question.
Why can’t Melbourne’s trains run like the London Underground?
I travelled in London underground, France : Metro. in the 80s. There are many world class transport model. Are we anywhere near there being a develop country(as if). I can only say at the end of the day, we are still talking about it and nothing is done. — Commenter on The Age web site
Jon Faine put a similar point to Minister Kosky a few weeks ago, and it didn’t seem like she answered it very well.
I think what both the Commenter and Faine meant is why can’t you have every train line running (at least in peak hour) a train every few minutes?
The short answer is you could. With some caveats. But you’d need to make some changes to the way the trains work, so they were more like… well, the London Underground.
Recently there’s been speculation on some of this about my line, the Frankston line, with the Herald Sun and the local paper noting “secret” plans to take the line out of the loop. This is actually no secret; it’s seen on one of the Victorian Transport Plan diagrams.
So, let’s compare the Frankston line with the London Underground’s Victoria line. And I apologise for the amount of detail I’ll have to get into.
The executive summary? Train lines work at their most efficient (maximum number of trains running) when there are no junctions, no shared track, no variations in stopping patterns.
The moment trains share tracks, they have to be very punctual (almost impossibly so) otherwise at peak hours, one little delay has a flow-on effect.
Melbourne: This is a big problem with the city loop. There are four loop tunnels, but fifteen lines, and most of them share those four. So for instance a delay on a Dandenong train means a Frankston train has to wait, delaying the following Dandenong train… you get the picture.
It also limits the number of trains that can be added into the schedule, since the shared track has a limited capacity (about 20 to 24 trains per hour).
This is why there seems to be a long-term plan to cut Frankston line trains, for instance, out of the loop. Reduce the shared track.
London: To compare, the Victoria line is two tracks from Walthamstow Central via central London to Brixton. No shared tracks at all.
Get rid of them, or if you can’t get rid of them, add grade-separation where possible so trains conflict with each other less. If you can do neither of those, you certainly make sure junctions aren’t used anywhere near the busiest part of the network, eg the city centre.
Melbourne: What does this mean? Well, once you’ve got your tracks worked out, don’t bugger them up by having trains switch back and forth. So for instance for maximum throughput, you don’t want to switch half the Frankston trains to run through the loop and half not, and the same with the Dandenong trains, because that gets you back to square one — where one line interferes with each other and delays compound.
London: The Victoria line has no junctions except at the ends of the line, and into the depot.
If a train line has a mix of stopping patterns, you waste a lot of that track capacity. So to standardise is the best bet.
Melbourne: The Frankston line has the following mess of stopping patterns in the morning:
- All stations
- Express Malvern to South Yarra
- Express Cheltenham to Caulfield to South Yarra
- Express Caulfield to South Yarra
- Express Cheltenham to Bentleigh to Caulfield to South Yarra
- Express Mordialloc to Cheltenham to Moorabbin to Bentleigh to Caulfield to South Yarra
- Express Moorabbin to Caulfield to South Yarra
- Express Moorabbin to Caulfield, and Malvern to South Yarra
Obviously this has evolved with tweaks and fiddling over the years. And there’s a third track between Moorabbin and Caulfield which helps with some expresses. But it’s still hopelessly inefficient, as well as confusing to passengers.
London: The Victoria line has only one stopping pattern: all stations. As a result, trains run every two minutes in the peak hour, so they maximise the use of the track. It also means nobody ever gets caught on a train that’s not stopping at their station (well, unless it’s terminating early, or they’re on the wrong line!).
Remember though the Frankston line is about an hour long to the city. So some expresses for long distance passengers are clearly desirable.
Melbourne: As with all of Melbourne’s train lines, trains terminate at Flinders Street, and drivers change there. Because this is smack in the middle of the city, and is the busiest single railway station on the network (in terms of numbers of passengers), this leads to delays.
London: The Victoria line (and the other Underground lines) runs through Central London, but has no terminus station there. The trains just go right through, with no driver change-over.
So in Melbourne, if you do that, obviously trains through the loop can just keep going back out to the burbs. For trains that don’t run the loop (as is flagged for the Frankston line), you could hook it up to another line on the other side of town, and run trains through that way.
So how would you run the Frankston line for maximum efficiency?
Off the top of my head, here’s one theoretical way of doing it in the morning peak (which may or may not be the best for passengers, and thus is not necessarily a PTUA position.)
Let’s assume that because the Dandenong line is busier, and for many people coming in from Pakenham and Cranbourne a longer trip, that it gets use of the Caulfield loop, and it runs express from Caulfield to South Yarra.
So Frankston trains would run direct from Richmond to Flinders Street. You’d want to improve interchange facilities to/from loop trains at Richmond (if possible re-arrange things so that cross-platform changes can be made, as on platforms 7+8), and encourage people on Dandenong loop trains to switch to direct trains if they were heading to Flinders Street, to even-out the train loads.
Frankston trains would standardise and stop all stations from Caulfield to South Yarra. But in peak times you could use the third track to run trains from Frankston express from Moorabbin to Caulfield and have others originating at Moorabbin, to spread the load and give the people from beyond zone 1 a quicker ride. So the only junction in use would be at Caulfield.
You wouldn’t terminate the trains at Flinders Street, but through-route them to one of the north/west lines. Obviously as Werribee/Williamstown is also direct into Flinders Street, that might be the one to hook up.
Now, our signalling can’t really cope with trains every two minutes, but three minutes should work right now, with future upgrades possible.
So (without me thinking properly through the implications at the western end) you’d have trains every 6 minutes at each station along the Frankston line, and every 3 or so minutes from Caulfield into the city and out to Newport (tweak it a bit to fit a few Geelong V/Line trains in there somewhere).
Important: Run them all day every day at least every 10 minutes so people never have to look at timetables (maybe drop the expresses at quiet times), call it the Bayside Metro, get the minister to cut the ribbon, and away you go.
At the cost to some passengers of having to change trains for the loop, and a bit less express running, waiting times would be slashed, there’d be consistency and simplicity, and reliability should increase, and with that patronage. And you’d provide a direct link from Caulfield to Footscray without having to build a multi-billion dollar tunnel. And it’s more trains than the line currently gets, so crowding should reduce.
Something similar could be done on every other line to maximise the number of trains running.
Then yes, Melbourne’s rail network would be more like the London Underground.