High-frequency trains (all day, every day) are critical for any big city, to ensure large numbers of people can get around quickly and easily.
As a PTUA study found some years ago, Melbourne is one of the few big world cities that doesn’t have them. To draw an analogy, it’s as if outside peak hour, we closed the freeways and highways except for one lane in each direction.
To delve into hyperbole for a moment: it’s the tyranny of infrequent services on so-called trunk routes. Those in power are basically saying: if you choose to use public transport, your time is not important. We’d prefer you drove.
But there is a rollout plan for ten minute trains.
This week the Coalition announced that as part of a package of transport upgrades that include extending the South Morang line to Mernda, the line would also go to every 10 minutes off-peak on weekdays from October 2015.
Notably the service upgrade is costed at only $20 million (it’s unclear for how long, but often these recurrent figures are given in terms of 4 year budget cycles).
This underscores that higher all-day frequencies, which make public transport much more easy to use, don’t have to cost that much money. We have a big train fleet and plenty of track capacity to cope with extra services outside peak hour. The costs are largely in drivers and power, though it also adds to pressure on maintenance facility capacity, which is why this is being slowly expanded.
PTV, which was established by the Coalition government to manage and plan the network, actually has a plan to gradually roll out ten minute services across most of the rail network — it’s part of their “Network Development Plan – Metropolitan Rail” (which I blogged about here). The process started with the longer (thus busier) lines a few years ago, and while it’s not ideal that progress is driven by politicians rather than transport planners, I suppose that’s the reality — so in a way it’s good that the importance of high frequency all-day services is recognised at the political level.
- The first toe dipped in the water of ten minute services was a short-lived experiment on the Werribee line. It wasn’t a good choice — the single track Altona Loop meant it was impossible to provide even frequencies on the line, so it never actually provided a ten minute service. It was abandoned in 2011. There were similar problems initially on the Frankston line, with half the trains running via the City Loop, and half direct — leading to very uneven frequencies at Flinders Street.
- The 2016 proposal was originally tied to the opening of Regional Rail Link, but RRL will now open around April 2015. It’s unclear if it will be accompanied by any additional 10 minute services on Metro lines.
- As noted above South Morang (weekdays) is now said to be happening in October 2015 if the Coalition is returned to government. It’s not clear what will happen if Labor is voted in.
- One oddity from the plan: It appears the Sunbury line (between the city and Sydenham) would go to ten minutes, but then back to twenty minutes when the Airport line opens. This seems a bit strange, and perhaps someone messed up the plan — or perhaps it’s because eventually the Melton line would be electrified and combined with Sunbury trains provide a 10 minute service between Sunshine and the City.
- By the time it’s complete, most of the network would be running every ten minutes, so you’d be able to get around much of Melbourne quickly and easily, and without having to look at a timetable to avoid long waits, including when making connections off other services.
Unfortunately PTV has almost totally failed to promote the existing ten minute services (despite them and the government promoting many far less useful improvements to trains), but anecdotally at least patronage does seem to be increasing — it’s not unusual on Saturday mornings to see a few standees on Frankston line trains inbound, which in the past few years have doubled in frequency and length, thus quadrupling capacity.
The question is… when will the politicians grasp how beneficial high frequency trains are, and fund the PTV rollout plan — not just a line at a time, but for the whole network?