The Loop

I ran this poll on an internal PTUA members’ email list. Let’s try it here.

Here’s the context:

Trains, particularly in peak hour, are packed. More trains are being purchased, but the decision has to be made about how to deploy them. (Even if it’s decided to upgrade infrastructure such as with the proposed new tunnel, that may take a decade to happen.)

All trains serve Flinders Street, which has a large capacity (14 platforms), and provides good access to the southern half of the Central Business District. For passenger numbers it’s also the busiest single station.

Suburban trains can run via the City Loop, or they can run direct between Flinders Street and Richmond, Jolimont, North Melbourne, bypassing the Loop.

The City Loop (that is, Parliament, Melbourne Central and Flagstaff) skirts the eastern and northern sides of the CBD, but it’s only four tracks, so while a train running via the Loop provides easier access to more parts of the CBD, this section is something of a bottleneck, unlike the direct tracks into Flinders Street.

Approximate current weekday CBD station loads: Flinders Street 37%, Melbourne Central 22%, Parliament 17%, Southern Cross 16%, Flagstaff 8%.

Map of City Loop

So, to the question:

As a generalisation, how would you prefer to have train timetables organised? The options are:

Run some lines via the Loop, some direct to Flinders St.

(Pros: A consistent pattern. Allows more trains, without them interfering with each other. Some passengers who use Flinders St will get a quicker ride.
Cons: Some passengers will need to either walk further from Flinders St, catch a tram, or change trains along the way, and interchange facilities at North Melbourne and Richmond aren’t perfect)

Run each line half via the Loop, half direct to Flinders St

(Pros: Nobody has to change trains if they don’t want to.
Cons: Each pattern gets lower frequencies, so if you do want to avoid a change, you may have to wait longer to avoid it. Converging lines entering the Loop tunnels may cause some delays, and/or reduce the total number of trains that can run)

Squeeze most trains from most lines into the Loop
(Pros: More or less as it’s done now; many are used to it.
Cons: Severely limits services to around about the level we have now, and not solving the overcrowding issues).

Which would you choose?

Have I missed any Pros and Cons? Got some other revolutionary idea? Leave a comment.

Seems this Google form doesn’t prevent you voting twice. Please don’t. I’ll post the results in a couple of days.

Update 25/2/2011: The poll results are here.

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29 Replies to “The Loop”

  1. One of the other cons about running a given line half and half between direct and loop services is the confusion to irregular (and even regular) users not knowing where they’re going to end up. KISS

  2. @cam: Well all trains would “end up” at Flinders St, so the only real danger is someone has to catch a tram they weren’t counting on. You’re not going to end up at Belgrave by mistake or something.

  3. I’d be happy with a consistent pattern, but the proposed changes, where some lines run via the loop in the morning, but not in the afternoon (or v.v.) seems crazy. Just keep it the same, all the time.
    However, the interchange facilities -must- be upgraded to the best practicable standard. At the moment for instance nearly all interchanges could have information displays around next train improved.

    Also, how does through-routing play out in this scenario?

    Finally, it would be great to see a poll on loop directionality – status quo vs two groups clockwise all the time, and two groups anticlockwise all the time. I believe this would probably aid the transfers required if some lines were running direct to FSS – allowing easier and consistent choice about which service is best for loop travel.
    I’ve seen some comment around drivers requiring training in each direction that would necessitate a reversal of these directions on weekends but honestly I can’t see the point in breaking consistency. Do the training outside of operational hours, or don’t do it at all – if that direction is never run, why is training in that direction required? If it’s an emergency, it’s clearly such an exceptional event that you would take appropriate caution etc.

  4. The preferred option should always be what enables the maximum number of trains through, but always with a focus on interchanging. Passengers getting off at Richmond need to know where to go for the first alternative train – preferably that same platform. Too often Myki staff haven’t a clue, and not everyone’s geared to look at the old-fashioned boards above the steps leading to the underpass.

  5. What about the idea of a City Loop shuttle service? Have north/west lines running into Southern Cross, and South/East lines to Flinders Street, with a high-frequency service constantly going both ways around the loop.

    I think commuters will have to accept that they will have to change trains at some point if we want to fit more trains in at higher frequencies. The trick is to make the delay between connections minimal. The only reason I don’t PT to work is because it includes around 20min of waiting for connecting trains in the morning, which is 2/3 of the drive time.

  6. @jon, but if you’re going to Flagstaff, for instance (which is not easily accessible by tram from Southern Cross or Flinders St), it’d be nice to have the certainty (even from looking at a network map, hopefully) that you’ll either need to change trains, or you won’t need to change trains.

    @Dave, yes loop direction might be another post/poll. Throughrouting – well if some trains/lines run direct from Richmond to Flinders Street, at least some of those could be through-routed to Southern Cross and North Melbourne, though not all, as there’s an imbalance in the number of tracks/services.

    @Kel, the departure boards (screens) at Richmond (and North Melbourne) have been upgraded recently, including at the MCG end of Richmond. All the screens in the inbound platforms list the next departures for Flinders Street and the Loop.

    @Nate, in many European cities people change off the suburban trains onto a Metro service to access the central city. But that’s because the railways couldn’t build their (wider, bigger) lines all the way in; it doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea for a city like Melbourne, where this is not an issue. Providing shuttles like that would mean you’d need a huge boost in platform capacity at places like North Melbourne and Richmond. I’m unclear on what you’d gain from this.

    Yes, absolutely agree that where interchange is necessary, it needs to be improved. It’s not a trivial exercise, but there are more opportunities to provide cross-platform interchange (as is the case for Burnley Loop vs Direct trains at Richmond).

  7. Daniel – agree Richmond is doing ok for next loop/direct service, but Flinders St and Southern Cross, two major interchanges, are pretty hopeless. Sure, you can easily see which Watergardens or Epping train is next, but if you’re simply after a loop station or train direction, you have to burrow into the detail.
    If more trains are going direct, the kind of information quickly found at Richmond needs to be easily available at these other loop entry points/interchanges.

  8. Nate they used to have a City Circle Loop service stopping at Spencer Street and Flinders Street more or less for this purpose using the Clifton Hill tunnel with a portal at Flinders Street (you can see the track leaving sharply before the portal at Jolimont station) – running around the loop all day serving passengers from direct services (e.g. Port Melbourne and St Kilda lines at the time). I think it ceased around the time the free tram service of the same name started.

    Changing at Richmond or North Melbourne would be an increasingly difficult exercise in terms of actually getting on one of these trains!

    By the way is the former City Circle portal used for anything these days??

  9. … how much of a benefit/hindrance is the loop change-over during the middle of the day? I can understand why this might be useful for the commuter in that they can then remember the one platform for getting to and from their station, but surely that has knock-on effects for the rest of the network? track maintenance for one, in keeping all those points working, plus slowing down trains when negotiating them …

  10. I chose option D.

    D. “I don’t know. I am neither qualified nor experienced to make such a broad sweeping decision that may make my life better or worse, depending on unpredictable changing circumstances. God, please God, DO NOT ask me for an opinion.”

    Yeah, I made ther right choice.

  11. I’m completely unqualified so this should probably be shot down in flames, but i’d vote for, say, epping always clockwise and hurstbridge always anticlockwise, upfield clockwise and cragieburn anticlockwise, etc – with the pairs coming in at opposite sides of the same platform at, say, north melbourne and whatever other interchange places there are. That way there would be minimal delay in changing over.

    I’m currently working nearest flagstaff, so a loop service (from upfield) is the quickest way to/from work for me, since it’s first station in the loop in the morning/last station out of the loop in the evening, but if I was able to change at either north melbourne or easily do the loop shuffle* at southern cross it wouldn’t be too bad. If the interchange was well set out. I can totally understand the fury of those whose loop services have been taken from them. If the timing and interchange sucked, it would increase travel times hugely.

    (*catch one going the other way to meet your train on its way coming out of the loop. Usually done in the afternoon if you’ve just missed a northern-bound train at Southern Cross, so you go on another line running the opposite direction to catch it on its way out at Flagstaff. Would also work on the flinders st/parliament corner?)

    Is it still the case that you can’t get from Flagstaff/Central/Parliament to Flinders St and Southern Cross in the afternoon without going out of the loop completely? It think with the change to ?epping? line a couple of years ago in the morning the corresponding morning oddity was removed (no way from flinders st/southern cross to F/C/P)

    The reversal of the loop in the middle of the day really messes up the timetable for my line, when combined with the above inability to go between certain stations. As well as other station combination delays at that time, there is a gap of 33 minutes between upfield-bound trains at flagstaff in the middle of the day, as I found out the other day when I had to leave early…

  12. @Andrew S, the City Circle portal is still occasionally used when they need to get a Clifton Hill group train out of the way for ten minutes… just send it around the loop.

    @Malcolm, I might do another blog post on loop direction; it’s worth looking at.

    @Jagger, fair enough, hope you didn’t vote!

    @Flerdle, yes I will need to shoot you down in flames. Epping and Hurstbridge share a single loop tunnel. They can’t both run simultaneously around it in different directions. Yes, you still can’t get to Southern Cross/Flinders St from the underground stations on weekday afternoons.

  13. I voted for the first option. It’s not so much that I prefer consistency, although that’s a nice bonus. Rather, it’s because I’m willing to put up with some slight inconvenience if it means more trains, because that means less waiting time and less overcrowding.

    As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I don’t drive, so I use PT a lot – not just for commuting along the same old route every day, but to go all over Melbourne. So I do a lot of transferring from one service to another. Yesterday, for instance, I was in five separate PT vehicles – four trams and a bus – and I didn’t even go particularly far from home. On an average non-working day when I have a few appointments or several things to get done, I might be in as many as ten to twelve different PT vehicles over the course of the day, hopping all over the city and suburbs.

    In my opinion, the interchange aspect of this issue is overrated. It is certainly a legitimate gripe if you exit a train at a middle- or outer-surburban station just in time to see your bus rolling away down the street, and the next bus isn’t for another 20 minutes or more. I don’t dispute that; the lack of coordinating services is a constant irritant for me too.

    But in the specific area bounded by North Melbourne, Jolimont, and Richmond, which is the subject of Daniel’s poll, I’ve never found transferring from one service to another to be a problem. To take just one example: I live on the Upfield train line, and I accept that if I want to go to Southern Cross station in the morning, the fastest way is to get off the train at Flagstaff and catch a train going the other way round the loop. If I really hated the idea of changing trains, I’d stay on the Upfield train while it did its crawl around the loop to Flinders St and then out to Southern Cross. But I can’t be bothered. I’d rather change at Flagstaff.

    Certainly, the interchange facilities could be improved. It’d be nice to get off the train at Flagstaff and know instantly from which platform the next train to Southern Cross is leaving. That’s even more important at North Melbourne and Richmond, which have several more platforms, further apart. I agree with @Dave: often people don’t care much about the fine distinctions of whether the train is going to Frankston or Belgrave or Werribee or whatever. To them it’s just a binary issue: when’s the next train going in this direction as opposed to that one, and which platform does it leave from? If people could see that information as soon as they exited the train, without having to scan several screens for several different lines, they could head straight for that platform. If such a system allowed more trains to run, then in my opinion it would be worth it: you wouldn’t have to wait long for your connecting train, and there’d be less likelihood of its being so overcrowded that you can’t squeeze on. If Metro does everything it can to make these changeovers easy and convenient, I think there’d be a lot less complaining about the need to change over at all.

  14. @Andrew S I sure agree with Daniel. Trains used to run regularly on the City Circle until the early 1990s as Princes Bridge Station was closed. There are no timetabled weekday City Circle services (there are a few non-PSR City Circle services on weekdays) but there is a few running in the early morning and late in the night on weekends, as mentoned on the Epping and Hurstbridge timetable booklets, and may run if there is a disruption between Jolimont and Clifton Hill. I think Metro should revive some more, especially in the afternoon peak as there are no direct Flinders Street services from City Loop stations.

  15. With the first option do lines either run direct to Flinders or via the loop all day? Alternatively is there a switch over in the middle of the day? For example a particular line runs direct in the morning, but in the afternoon around the loop. Another line might be vice versa.

  16. Thanks for the info, Daniel. Would it be possible with other pairs of lines coming in in the same direction? or are they all compressed like that?

    Maybe they need to duplicate the loop :-)

  17. ideally if you could run the Clifton Hill loop in the opposite direction to Caulfield loop and the Northern loop in the opposite direction to the Burnley group (I’ve no idea the actual track layouts/portals etc of the loop to know if this would work) but that would provide trains going in each direction from each level of the underground stations)

    per group, closest lines to the loop portals would obviously run through the loop, up to the signalling capacity per tunnel (20 trains/hour?), outer lines run direct (with through routing as appropriate). on the northern group for example, presumably you would run upfield & craigeburn via the loop, and run sydenham / werribee / williamstown direct to FSS

  18. When it comes to interchanges, I think things come down to being able to inform commuters in a timely fashion about where and when they need to be to catch their connecting service … on recent visits to other cities (Perth, Brisbane and Sydney) I found that the platform displays much better – in the Brisbane stations were superb: the left-most showed a reverse-time sorted list of trains leaving from the current platform, the right showed a summary for each platform at the station by line (up and down, from memory) … in general the platform displays in Melbourne are uniformly terrible …

  19. I would personally prefer a half and half – and that’s what it’s currently like on the Lilydale/Belgrave/Glen Waverley/Alamein lines in the morning rush hour.
    Lilydale/Belgrave originating trains run express Box Hill to Surrey Hills to Camberwell to Glenferrie to Richmond Platform 8, then run around the City Loop.
    Glen Waverley/Alamein/Blackburn originating trains stop all stations to Richmond Platform 7 (well some don’t stop at E. Richmond), then run to the City Loop.
    Platform 7 and 8 are adjacent, providing for easy changeovers on the same platform.

    Generally, when I need to go to Flinders Street, I get an express train, and rarely ever do I have to wait more than 5 minutes for the Flinders Street train on the adjacent platform (well physically speaking, the same platform, just other side) – most of the time, the two trains pull in at the same time. And further, the platform announcers always mention which platform to go to for the next changeover.

    The only problem in implementing this into the rest of the network would be the areas where the trains run UP DOWN UP DOWN etc., instead of UP UP DOWN DOWN like the Burnley lines (as mentioned above). One example would be the Caulfield group. But seriously, is walking for an interchange really that bad? If the trains come frequently enough, I wouldn’t mind interchanging.

  20. Thanks for the info … that would explain why the track for the City Cirle connection still appeared shiny when I last saw it!!

  21. Go the city loop shuttle service. People are much more likely to get on a train if they don’t have to wait – every 3-4 minutes in each direction, just stoping around the loop/flinders/sencer st.

  22. Not so sure about whether I think Option 1 or 2 are better from the above survey, but I definitely agree with Tango’s comments above regarding having opposite direction loop patterns for the underground stations.

    I also think that making the loop change direction halfway through the idea is quite a daft idea. I can understand the basic logic behind it, but in practice it seems stupid.

    Same goes for reversing the loop on weekends, it just confuses people and provides no real benefit.

  23. I did some digging around after this post and found a paper on the Melbourne uni website written by a Paul Mees… he states:
    “The number of suburban trains entering Flinders Street Station in the busiest hour of the day (the morning peak) would jump from 108 to 181 (MTC, 1969, p. 34), necessitating construction of a hugely expensive underground loop to handle the extra trains and passengers.”

    he goes on to say the core rail network FSS/city loop can accommodate 216 trains per hour based on number of tracks and signalling capacity… (and in 1929 FSS handled 116 trains in the busiest hour of the peak with NO LOOP! – WTF – does anyone know how many there are now? this paper says 87 in 2005)

    “The loop was intended to balance the flow of trains from east and west and to augment the ‘direct to Flinders Street’ capacity, not to replace it:
    Services would be arranged so that some of the trains on each line would run directly to or from one of the loop lines and the remainder directly to or from… Flinders Street (MTC, 1969, p. 34).”

    based on that (assuming it is accurate), it sounds like option 2 is actually how the loop was designed to operate… can anyone confirm the original designers/engineers intentions for how the loop was to operate as conceived before some clown decided to cut back the number of trains and just squeeze whatever was left running into the loop portals?

  24. “the Brisbane stations were superb: the left-most showed a reverse-time sorted list of trains leaving from the current platform, the right showed a summary for each platform at the station by line (up and down, from memory)”
    Yes, All platforms have two broad lists….”Next Trains South & West” and “Next Trains North”, since those are the only two directions you can leave the CBD via. This makes hopping around on services on the inner city section a breeze since you just “Take the first one that comes”

    So how should the loop operate.

    -2 Loop tunnels run clockwise full time
    -2 Loop tunnels run anti clockwise full time
    -No reversals
    -Remaining lines would run straight across the city.
    -Where track layouts permit, run trains to allow for direct cross platform interchange.
    -Have dedicated screens at all CBD stations, North Melbourne and Richmond showing the next trains in each direction so people can interchange quickly.

    Changing trains shouldn’t be an issue. In other cities like London there are few single seat journeys…You have to change trains.
    Plus in Melbourne, the fact all lines converge in the city means there are a lot of trains running anyway, so if you divied things up between each direction there should never be a train too far away to your final CBD destination.

  25. @Tango, I haven’t checked, but I believe there’s something like 105-110 trains into the CBD in the busiest hour now.

    Option 2 was indeed how it was intended to operate. Does that mean it’s still the best way? I think not necessarily.

    @Gavin, thanks. Stay tuned for a post on loop direction, it’s coming soon, I promise!

    Poll results are over here.

  26. @Daniel, thanks for confirming… I agree that it does not make a lot of sense to have the lines furthest from the tunnel portals on each group in contention for city loop access… by having to cross tracks to get to there, surely overall capacity would be lowered

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