Yesterday’s morning commute. Not good.

8:17 or so, boarded train train at Mckinnon. Not my usual station. Long irrelevant story. Happily got a seat.

8:36. Train stops at Hawksburn. Driver on PA tells us that the train will be delayed at least ten minutes due to signal failures near Richmond. He advises us to go to platform 3.

Switching platforms at Hawksburn due to signal fault

8:37. Most (perhaps 80%) of passengers on the train get out and switch. Large numbers of people means it takes a few minutes for everybody to change over. Some wait behind in the train.

8:47. After waiting a few minutes on platform 3, the train on platform 1… departs.

This is the sort of thing that really makes people angry. It’s not the driver’s fault, but if train control had been able to tell him the problem was there in the first place, they could have got a message onto the PA to say it was cleared, with time for many people to get back onto the train. Or they could have told him to tell people to stay put on the train in the first place.

Some remote PA announcements are made. They are telling people at Malvern, Armadale, Toorak and Hawksburn that city trains will be on platform 3, but also (if I heard it right) telling South Yarra people it’s platform 1. This causes confusion, as some miss the “South Yarra” bit.

8:50. A lone Metro staffer says to me “you’re seeing us at our worst”. Yeah. I ask why the original train took off without anybody being told first. He doesn’t know. (I’m not even sure why he was there, since Hawksburn is neither a Host nor Premium station, but there were whiteboard A-frames and timetable booklets out on display, so he wasn’t just passing.)

He apologises to people, he hasn’t got any information other than what’s on the automated departure board. People aren’t angry at him personally, but certainly are at the situation.

A passenger says to me “it’s always like this at Hawksburn.”

The board says there’s another train on platform 3 in 3 minutes. Most of us wander down there.

8:51. A train pulls into platform 3. It’s already pretty packed. A small number of people squeeze aboard, but most can’t. One couple risk jumping on and riding between the carriages. Stupid thing to do.

A train arrives on platform 1, picks up a few passengers, and leaves again. It wasn’t on the board. Perhaps they’d told it not to display platform 1 departures earlier when there was a disruption on that track. Marvellous.

8:55. Another train comes through. Despite space on board, and the fact that another train is in front of it which will cause it to be delayed anyway, it doesn’t stop.

A V/Line train comes through, doesn’t stop of course. Fair enough.

8:59. After a few more minutes, another train arrives. Some of us manage to squeeze on board, but many are left behind.

Penultimate insult: a few minutes later I can see a train on the parallel (formerly disrupted) track. It has loads of space on it, of course.

9:15, just a tad under half an hour late. Final insult: Flagstaff station. Busy escalators, queues to get through the gates. The Myki reader is almost slow enough for me to give up, but eventually responds. A line of Authorised Officers is checking tickets. Nothing against them personally, but on this occasion they might have been more helpful elsewhere providing customer service.

All in all, not a good morning trip, and surely there can be some improvement at how disruptions are handled. In the grand scheme of things it wasn’t a hugely long delay like that suffered on the Werribee/Geelong line the night before, but it was very, very frustrating.

I thought long and hard about the video, and eventually decided to pixellate part of it. All sorts read this blog, and I wouldn’t want officialdom studying it to try and apprehend those people for doing something stupid — they should be spending their time identifying and fixing what went wrong here.

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25 thoughts on “Yesterday’s morning commute. Not good.”

  1. 1
    Jen says:

    I heard on the radio that the lifts at Box Hill weren’t working so they were suggesting to people who needed to get up to street level (? I’m not familiar with Box Hill station) should travel to Surrey Hills station. How does that help if you need to go somewhere in the Box Hill area?

  2. 2
    Philip says:

    There seems to be total isolation of the people who (manually) control the signals, the train drivers who follow the signals and the people who control the information displays. Coupled with PA announcements on platforms that are not duplicated on trains or even repeated by train drivers (most of the time), and the apparent total disregard of the non-PR staff for the travel requirements of the passengers, it’s hard to label the management of the system as anything other than disastrous.

    This ‘failure to communicate’ happens all the time at some place or other.

    I stood on the platform at Lilydale last week as the 0733 departed at 0731 with the display still showing 1 minute before departure. Several other regular travellers were also caught out by this ridiculous event. Station staff behind their glass, when challenged about this while the train was still moving out of the station, claimed that the time was actually 0733 even though their own wall clock showed 0732. No announcement had been made about the impending departure of the train; passengers only knew it was about to leave if they noticed the boom gates coming down. This wouldn’t matter on a network with frequent trains, but with a 10 minute wait in the morning peak it’s not good enough.

    I thought Metro’s management was going to break down the old ‘giant train set’ mentality of the various groups involved in running these trains and get it all running as it should, but this hasn’t happened.

  3. 3
    Liz says:

    This lack of communication happens all the time at Flinders Street. You get on a train but it sits there for a few minutes before taking off. In that time, the train changes, eg, from a stopping all to an express or loop to direct (or worse, another line!). The displays in the train don’t change (if they say anything useful to begin with. ie. not just ‘Metro Trains’ or ‘Frankston Line train’), the screen displays on the platform usually do (not that they can usually be seen once you’re seated on the train). If you’re lucky there is an announcement on the platform but if you are on a Siemens, you can’t hear it cos the doors keep closing. This is why I hate going to FSS cos there is no guarantee that once I board a train that I can be confident I am on the right one. At least once the train comes via a loop station, it has usually decided where it is going.

  4. 4
    Paul says:

    Ah, well, there is a small advantage (??) to using the trains on route that has only two tracks, i,e Craigieburn line. If there is a ‘disruption’, at least we know that the trains are all sequential and can’t pass each other (theoretically, they could at Essendon, but I’ve never seen it done and the third platform (ironically, Platform 1) is to short anyway). So we just wait and try to get on a train that is already over full and think, wow, the people at Kensington will have no hope of getting on this one.

    The discrepancy between ‘network’ anouncements, local ones and on-board ones is an interesting issue. At Essendon, the local announcements are frequently over ridden by network ones, but the local staff don’t seem to notice because they never repeat their message, so passengers are left wondering.

    Then, of course, local platform announcements cannot usually be heard on board a train, why aren’t they repeated on the train?. So, when I get on a train in the evening and it says its going to Upfield, why am I surprised when I look up from my paper and discover we have just departed Kensington and are thus headed for Craigieburn. This happens repeatedly, such that now I always check at Flinders street to see where the train is going.

    Then there was the time the driver and Flagstaff staff argued about where the train was going….

  5. 5
    Nathan says:

    Similar issues in relation to communication often at Glenferrie, though not with as serious results as Daniel’s example. Quite often what’s allegedely going to happen on the PID is not what actually occurs; eg it says a train will arrive in 3 minutes but then the train arrives early. Do I get on, will it stop at Hawthorn, where I want to go? Or is it express to Richmond?

    In relation to the new way of doing things in relation to Belgrave/Lilydale/Alamein trains going through the loop in the morning, so far I have tried a number of things as it’s really better for me to go direct to Flinders Street.

    a) change at Burnley… I only do this if the Glen Waverley line train is there at the same time, which has happened to me twice so far. Would be nice if there was an annoucement at Burnley for each train that arrived as to when it’s opposite was going to arrive.
    b) change at Richmond… I’ll only do this if I hear the announcement of the next train coming is 3 minutes or less
    c) change at Parliament… I’ve done this once, but it’s a risk because you don’t know when the next platform 3 train to FSS is coming. Would be good if there was an announcement regarding this as well.
    d) go to Melbourne Central and walk/tram from there. Which is quicker for me than walking/tramming from Parliament.

  6. 6
    Andrew says:

    Transport operators need to be judged by how they handle things when something goes wrong. Platform staff are never going to be well informed when there is a problem and it seems neither is the driver, so leave the announcements to central control staff who have an overview. There needs be enough staff at central control so that not only can they be working to fix problems but there is someone working with them who can stay informed and make public announcements to trains and/or platforms.

  7. 7
    Tango says:

    Does metrol have the ability to directly access specific train or platform PA systems?

  8. 8

    @Tango – platforms yes (unless controlled from a different signalbox), trains no, but they can radio the driver in theory.

    A big part of the ‘problem’ with METROL is that as far as they are concerned, trains are moving dots on a screen and nothing more. So they’re isolated from the crowding situations. But arugably that’s necessary, because it’s their job to make sure that as many trains get through the section as quickly as possible, without being distratced by a small part of the overall picture.

    @Jen – Surrey Hills has staff who can help arrange a taxi.

  9. 9
    Bonnie says:

    Between 1986 and 1992, I lived in the south-eastern suburbs, and I regularly commuted to the city from Malvern or Caulfield stations.

    I remember the regular morning Platform 1 / Platform 3 dash that occurred regardless of which station I went to. Almost every morning I’d find myself running from one platform to the other. Will the next train be arriving at Platform 1 or 3? Is it worth waiting here on Platform 1 for the stopping all stations train, which the PA announcement said is due in 5 minutes, or going to Platform 3 to catch the express to Richmond due in 8 minutes? Will either train actually show up? Oh, look, there’s a train pulling in to Platform 3 right now! Damn! Run panting up the Platform 1 ramp, fly past the ticket office, mutter a curse in the direction of station staff for not making an announcement about this train, run down the Platform 3 ramp… and watch the train pull out just as I reach the gate. Now what? Stay here and wait for the express, or go back to Platform 1? Will the express actually arrive? Shouldn’t I get on the first train that actually *does* arrive, rather than the first one that’s *due* to arrive? But how the hell will I know which platform that will be, with sufficient time to actually get there if it’s not the platform I’m already on?

    All that, as I said, is more than 20 years ago. I now live in the inner north, near a station with only two platforms – inbound and outbound – so there’s no cross-platform dash anymore, and in any case I catch the tram much more often than the train these days. Occasionally I’d wonder whether they’ve fixed the problem down at Malvern and Caulfield, or whether passengers are still making the same frantic morning dash that I did. Surely they’ve fixed it by now! It has been more than 20 years, after all. It was never rocket science to begin with, and just think of all the advances in technology since then!

    Judging by the comments on this thread about Hawksburn, Glenferrie, Burnley, Essendon, Lilydale, Flagstaff, and Flinders Street, I suspect that not much has changed at Malvern and Caulfield either. How hard can it be to get platform announcements right? Does anybody in charge of this railway system ever actually try to use it?

  10. 10
    Jagger says:

    Hope every passenger remembered to zap their myki!

    meanwhile, I’m on my 3rd day of driving. Looks like I escaped this life just in time. Whole new world!

  11. 11
    Daniel says:

    @Bonnie, there has been one solid tangible improvement in this respect at the MATHS stations; an automated board on the concourse which (theoretically) shows the next few departures.

    I suspect during the incident I related, they overrode it so as not to show platform 1 departures, on the basis that trains on that line were thought to be delayed.

  12. 12
    Bonnie says:

    MATHS – that’s a cute acronym! (Took me a minute to figure out what it meant.)

    My apologies, then; platform information has improved in the last 20 years, at least on some stations. I take back the rude things I was thinking about the train operators.

    However, if the comments here are anything to go by, it seems there’s still considerable room for improvement in regard to platform announcements / displays on days when things are going wrong – and those are the days when passenger tempers are already at their most frayed, due to storms, heatwaves, cancellations, train breakdowns, or whatever.

  13. 13
  14. 14
    Andrew says:

    Daniel, you’re a nice guy, but you’re too polite in your post. Enough is enough. I think we need to get angry and demand action. The last government didn’t do anything, the last train operator didn’t do anything, the new government isn’t doing anything, the new train company isn’t doing anything. How long are we going to put up with this utter mediocrity? Your one hour trip to the city was totally unacceptable in my view. Sure, things go wrong, but if this train operating company had a proper information and communication strategy and staff who were interested in performing their jobs to a high standard, things would be a lot better. If i was a staff member at Metro working on a train platform, i would be presuring and demanding action from my management to make my job easier to do rather than standing around ignorant and embarassed. I recently reported to metro that the automated platforms announcements at armadale platform 1 wre not working, meaning that we didn’t get any notification of cancellations, delays or changed platforms. They hadn’t been working for several months. The reason I didn’t report it earlier is that I believed the 2 staff that are at Armadale each morning for host station duties would be following it up. But Metro wasn’t even aware of it. This morning at Richmond, people were complaining to the staff that there were no city loop trains and there were hundreds of people waiting to go into the loop. The staff member yelled back at the passenger, dont yell at us, put in a complaint, it will make a difference. Well the passenger was putting in a complaint. why aren’t staff takig this feedback back to management?! There are a lot of useless, disempowered people working at metro, it must be awful for them, but everyone has to take some responsibility!

  15. 15

    @Andrew

    I’ve made literally dozens of complaints to Metro, Metlink, Myki, etc, etc. They make very little difference.

    I talked to platform staff at Flinders Street the other day about the missing display heading up to Platform 1 from Elizabeth St. It’s been gone for about 2 months. She said they’ve repeatedly asked the station managers about it and they keep saying it’ll be there shortly. Presumably they’re getting the same story from above, etc, etc.

    I sent an email complaint, two days later I got a response saying I’d get a response within 10 business days. The 10th day was today, I didn’t get a response, although I haven’t used that entrance since Monday so *fingers crossed* the display might be up by now.

    We’re also still yet to have the Metropolitan Transport Map that was “coming soon” in 2006 (they did remove the “coming soon” wording at my advice as I compared it with an insult to the public that actually visits their site). Each year I’ve made my annual “where’s your map?” query. Each year the same response.

  16. 16
    Carly says:

    Bonnie I commute from Malvern and there’s still the platform 1 to 3 dash from time to time… yes there are the boards but it’s not always right and there have been a few times I’ve been waiting on one platform & see a ghost train off-the-board randomly arrive on the other. By the time you see the train coming from Caulfield & can be sure it’s stopping there’s no time to dash from platform to platform. Consequently there’s always a big group of people staying up the top until the last minute.

    I agree communication is pitiful. I really wish there was an equivalent of Tram Tracker for the trains because being armed with that info would make it much easier to make decisions about where to change etc etc… I think if people knew precisely when trains were leaving and could make plans based on real-time info the general mood would be sunnier.

  17. 17
    Bonnie says:

    @Julian’s experience has been mine as well. I wouldn’t say I’ve made dozens of complaints to transport-related bodies; I’ve made perhaps between 10 and 15 written complaints over three decades. I agree that it appears to make very little long-term difference.

    A boss I had many years ago used to say, “If you want to complain about something, you can’t have a generalised bleat. You have to be specific.” That’s advice I have tried to follow ever since. Whenever I make a written complaint to someone (transport operator, telco, bank, insurance company, Medicare, department store, whoever), I let them know that I expect these things:
    1. an apology;
    2. complensation for my monetary loss, if applicable;
    3. an explanation of how the problem occurred;
    4. specific details of what is being done to prevent it happening again, to anyone.

    In my experience writing to PT-related bodies, if they bother to reply at all, then I usually get (1) and not much else. (2) is rarely applicable, because I have a yearly ticket and the problem has usually caused inconvenience, aggravation or distress, rather than financial loss. I sometimes get (3), but the thing I want most is (4), and that is almost never forthcoming. It’s as if the PT authorities feel they’re really not accountable to us, the passengers. They’ll only tell us why the problem occurred if they feel like it, and they’re sure as hell not obliged to tell us what they’re doing to fix it.

    It was because of the futility of sending these complaints, and the feeling that I was just one lone voice, that I joined the PTUA. (Well, that, and the discounted yearly ticket.) I figured that if I added my one lone voice to the collective voices of the PTUA, then maybe something would change. @Julian, @Andrew, and others reading this thread: if you are fed up with complaints that seem to go nowhere, and you’re not already a PTUA member, I encourage you to join.

    @Andrew, as for your assertion that Daniel is too polite for his own good: certainly Daniel is far more polite than I am. But that’s why he’s president of the PTUA and I’m not. I don’t think it would be helpful for the PTUA if Daniel ranted and foamed at the mouth every time he had a bad PT experience. Certainly he’d still get airtime – the media would probably love it – but the public would very quickly tire of such tantrums, the way they tune out every time certain politicians and other public figures appear on TV. No, I think Daniel’s polite and reasonable approach is the correct one. It’s the power of numbers that we need, not anger and aggression.

  18. 18
    Anthony says:

    It’s all part of the plan!!! (or have they dropped that now).

    @David re @Jen – have you ever had to wait for a wheelchair accessible taxi before? I have a wheelchair bound friend who depends on them, but often is late for his appointments because, even though he books them, they nearly always show up late – anecdotal I know, but it’s part of the experience!!!

  19. 19
    mike smith says:

    @Bonnie: Compensation for monetary loss might be taxi fare that you incurred as a result of the train not being available.

    What KPI’s are the train authorities meant to be meeting? Are they?

  20. 20
    Daniel says:

    Regarding complaints, it’s worth remembering that ultimately the politicians are responsible. Metro or the other operators are all paid by the government to provide the service, but the government pulls the strings. It’s vital to keep ensuring the politicians know there are problems, through contacting them directly, contacting media, and other lobbying. See http://www.ptua.org.au/help/

    @Carly, there are equivalents of Tram Tracker for trains and buses in the works.

    @Bonnie, yeah the art of lobbying is a complex one that I might blog about at some stage.

    @Mike, for KPIs etc see

    http://www.transport.vic.gov.au/trackrecord

    http://www.metrotrains.com.au/About-us/Metro-Performance.html

    http://www.yarratrams.com.au/desktopdefault.aspx/tabid-121/

    http://www.vline.com.au/about/performance/intro.html

  21. 21
    Liz says:

    Another balls up this evening. Two FKN stopping all trains bypass the loop and then the next one is cancelled! Chaos at Caulfield…

  22. 22
    Daniel says:

    heh, you must have been at Caulfield about the same time as me. I saw the text about the 5:06 (from FSS) bypassing the loop and caught the next Dandenong train to Caulfield then changed. Didn’t hear any announcements about it at Flagstaff.. Frustratingly it appeared the 5:06 left Caulfield early, before people could change onto it. Luckily the next one (which also bypassed the loop) wasn’t crowded.

  23. 23
    Liz says:

    I got the text about the 5:06 but was aiming to get the 5:18 from SXS. It was on the screen with a long wait but then the mins disappeared and it was about 5:25 before the announcement that it was bypassing the loop. In which time I’d passed up 2 Dandy trains to get me to Caulfield in the hope of catching it, but figured the 5:27 was due any minute. THEN they said it was cancelled so I just jumped on the next train to Caulfield, grumbling the whole way. I think I got to Caulfiled at 5:47 and the next stopping all arrived about 10 past 6 and it was truly sardined, but I managed to squeeze on. Grr…

    On a related note, how come the SMS’s no longer say “The 5:18 from Southern Cross…” as per my set up and instead always tell me the FSS time? Not useful! More annoying is “The 7:20am train from Frankston to the City has been cancelled”. Given I am travelling from Ormond, how is that helpful??? Don’t make me do the maths that early in the morning!!!

  24. 24
    TrainDriver says:

    Sadly, due to Metro’s highly restrictive media policy, I must remain anonymous.

    I will say that railway staff at the “coal face” are under huge stress, and often make suggestions to management. Sadly, the railway culture is still rooted in the 19th century, as is most of the infrastructure, and we are never listened to.

    It’s very important to remember that Metro, and Connex before them…and M/Train for that matter, are here to make money, and lots of it. They achieve this by running trains as close as possible to schedule. This is why you are seeing a lot more delayed trains being sent direct to Richmond instead of the City Loop.

    As for displays on various areas of the network, the platform displays are controlled by a system called PRIDE (ironic, eh?) which can be bypassed locally if station staff are given enough notice of a change by METROL – this hardly ever happens which is why announcements often contradict each other. On the trains, announcements are controlled by on board computers in each set. However, the computers are different for each train type, so software and announcements can vary depending of the type of train you’re on.

    Most of the problems you experience today are the result of decades of neglect. This decline began in earnest in the late 1970s and has continued up until now. Many blame Kennett, and rightly so in many cases, but in truth, the rot started long before he came along. As for Labor, despite their promises, they simply made it worse and only

    started putting money back in when they thought it would get them some votes. In short, flexibility has been progressively engineered out of the system over the decades. And it continues now as Metro seeks to spilt the system into five individual groups, and remove dozens of crossovers (points). As recently as last month, a major and vital crossover at Southern Cross was removed by Metro, further reducing flexibility.

    Add to this the crazy situation of Siemens trains only running on nine lines, and the X/Trapolis fleet restricted to a mere six lines, X/Trap Mk 1 units unable to couple to X/Trap Mk 2 units, and dozens of more issues like them, and you have a completely dysfunctional network.

    Metro’s answer to all this – blame staff, and particularly drivers, for late running with well targeted leaks to the media, and pull more trains out of the City Loop, to name but a few. Catch trains on the Frankston line?? Well, there’s a clear example. Most Frankston trains run direct these days, and Metro now claims that on time running has improved. Well, sure it has, but at the expense of passenger convenience.

    I could go on, but anyway, please understand that we, as staff, are well aware of the issues, and we do the best we can with the tools we’re given. Abusing us for things that are completely out of our control is not going to help. Personally, I’ve been abused verbally, assaulted, and even spat on by passengers. Ever wonder why many of us seem

    aloof?? Try working on our side of the fence for a day or two.

    There is a lot of extra money being put into upgrades & repairs around the network now, but it will take many years, and some progressive thinking, before much improvement is seen.

    I don’t always agree with Daniel, but he is spot on when he says the problem is based largely at a political level. Public transport is funded by your taxes, so make sure your politicians see it as a vote winner to get the results you seek.

  25. 25
    Liz says:

    @TrainDriver – I might complain a lot but it’s never personal, you can tell that station staff are just as much in the dark as passengers. I *may* have offloaded some frustration at a Caulfiled attendant the other day, but it was not personal and I did feel sorry for her listening to everyone’s whinges.

    I can definitely see that staff are trying to improve things. Often when I complain to the attendants at Ormond, they tell me they have already brought it up at staff meetings but their ideas never seem to get any traction.

    PS. THREE trains diverted out of the loop last night in peak, based on that I will pretty much always have to catch the next train to Caulfield and hope for the best there… (even though last night I went to Flinders and watched a platform scramble when one of the Frankston trains was moved to, as the announcement said ‘Platform 6 OR 7’!?!?!)

    It’s such a joke, if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry…

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