Here’s the good news: the October 2010 Metro Load Standards Survey (released to the Greens under FOI) shows that overcrowding has dropped markedly.
Measured in terms of (deep breath) Rolling Hour Average Loads Above Desired Standards, the number of breaches has dropped from 38 in October 2007 to 6 in October 2010.
Part of this has been through putting on more frequent services, particularly at peak times, which is now possible given the train fleet is now expanding (about half of the order for 38 trains is now in service), and maintenance practices have changed which means there are more trains available. Other crowding has been fixed by running six-car trains at off-peak times where before they ran three-car trains.
Why has this happened? Because after years, decades of neglect, there’s finally investment in the rail network. An order for 10 trains in 2007 was expanded to 18, then to 38, and now to 45. Why? I think a key reason is political pressure brought about by extreme embarrassment from prolonged media coverage.
Remaining load breaches
Of course, despite the progress, there’s still bad crowding at times. The surveys try to filter out the problems due to cancellations and excessive late-running (which is fair enough — the data is being gathered specifically to plan new timetables, not just to count sardines). As The Age noted, a number of trains had loads in excess of 1000 (the “target” is 798). The most crowded train was the 8:08am from Sandringham to the city, with a very squishy 1017 people aboard, and second was the 5:14pm from the City to Werribee, with 1007.
The major problems remaining in peak are on the Epping and Hurstbridge lines. They got no extra services in the May timetable change, but should get some when a re-write of their timetables happens late this year or early next to coincide with the opening of the South Morang extension.
Off-peak problems were on the Craigieburn and Werribee lines. I’ve checked the detail and in both cases they were in the evenings, when short trains were running. That should be fixed by the May change to run long trains after evening peak.
And even once the crowding is fixed, they’ve got to stay on top of it by ensuring the system is reliable (keeping cancellations and delays down) and continues to expand to meet demand.
Crowding is only one problem on the network of course. Door-to-door travel time (and competitiveness with the car) is another key one which has to be addressed, and encompasses frequency (still substandard at most times on most lines), interchange times, and of course the quality of connecting bus and tram services, which in most areas, are in dire need of attention.