Today’s Age highlights the Metro timetable changes that were planned to be implemented with the RRL opening last month.
As many would know, the introduction of Regional Rail Link was meant to be accompanied by a big timetable change on Metro to take advantage of the extra capacity unlocked, particularly on the Sunbury, Williamstown and Werribee lines.
Despite the moves towards “Metronisation” (a term the government and/or Metro appear to have coined to describe the gradual change to dedicated lines, simplified stopping patterns and more frequent services), the rail network still has numerous inter-dependencies.
This means many of the proposed changes were tied together, and it appears when the government got cagey about one of the changes, the whole upgrade unravelled, which is why the only Metro change when RRL opened was one lousy service each way on the Werribee line.
At this stage, it appears the rest of the changes are postponed until the end of the year, and I hope they all still happen, because it turns out there are some great upgrades in the package.
Notably this is not the only delay to Metro timetable changes that has occurred recently — there are improvements that have been proposed, but held back under the Coalition, as well as under Labor.
What was planned?
Here’s a summary of the timetable changes planned for 2015 — as well as changes originally proposed to have happened during 2013 and 2014 which were postponed.
This is based on my reading of information I’ve obtained. Any errors or omissions are mine.
Sandringham — Peak: upgrade to every 6-7 mins (currently 7-8)
Frankston — Peak: expresses and stopping trains each every 7-8 mins (currently 9ish). Weekday evenings: every 10 mins until 9pm.
The biggest change on this politically sensitive line would be no more Frankston Loop trains at all. This would mean trains will run via Flinders Street and Southern Cross and then through to Newport, as currently happens most of the time on weekdays.
It would affect weekend and peak (currently every second peak train runs via the Loop). This is what The Age says the government got nervous about. This will have obvious impacts as many Loop station passengers will change onto other trains at Richmond. Will that station, and those other trains cope?
In peak I usually catch these trains to and from Flagstaff Station. But I’m usually headed for Bourke Street — it’s only slightly further to walk from Flinders Street Station, so that’s what I’ll do, and I hope everybody else considers their options carefully rather than automatically still use the same station even when it involves a change of trains that makes it a longer journey than just walking an extra block or catching a tram. Werribee passengers got used to it; we could too. Ditto Sandringham, Glen Waverley AM peak, Alamein PM peak, Frankston peak express users…
The pay-off is more trains overall. The only nagging question I have is… will they use that space freed up in the Caulfield Loop? It appears not yet, not until a later timetable change to boost the Dandenong line. So why do it now? It seems to be tied to the Werribee line upgrade, as Frankston trains will mostly through-route to that line.
Glen Waverley — Peak: every 6-7 mins. Weekday interpeak: every 10 mins (currently 15). Weekday evenings: every 10 mins until 9pm. No more Loop trains weekday PM — see above.
Alamein/Belgrave/Lilydale — Peak: every 10 mins each to Belgrave, Lilydale, and Ringwood/Box Hill. Weekday interpeak and weekday evenings: until 9pm every 10 mins to Ringwood (currently 15-20), alternating to Belgrave and Lilydale, every 20 mins to Alamein.
Note, this is a reduction in service for Alamein during interpeak periods, but an upgrade in the evening.
Upfield — Peak: the source I have says every 11/22 mins, which I assume means 11 between the city and Coburg, as beyond that the single track makes more than 3 trains per hour difficult. (This is similar to operations during the Commonwealth Games, when extra trains ran to Coburg.)
Craigieburn — Peak: every 11 minutes via the Loop, and every 11 minutes direct via Southern Cross and Flinders Street, so every 5-6 minutes combined — (currently uneven, about every 6-12 minutes, with a small number of direct trains).
Sunbury — Peak: every 11 mins to Sunbury (currently 12), plus extra services to Watergardens.
Off-peak on the Sunbury line there was to have been a doubling of frequencies in 2016, every 10 minutes to Watergardens, 20 to Sunbury, but it’s unclear if this change was meant to tie in with RRL, which was originally expected in 2016.
Note the peak pattern here: Upfield/Craigieburn/Sunbury all share the Northern Loop, and would be on an 11 minute peak cycle… mind you, the direct Craigieburn trains would also share tracks with the Werribee/Williamstown lines in peak.
Werribee — Peak: every 7-8 mins (currently about 10-12) — a big boost taking advantage of the fact that Geelong trains are no longer on the line.
Altona Loop — Weekday interpeak: every 20 minutes all the way to Flinders St (currently shuttles to Newport)
Williamstown — Weekend daytime: every 20 mins (currently shuttles), making a combined Werribee/Williamstown service every 10 mins as far as Newport.
Spreading the peak: Although the grisly detail (such as actual timetables) isn’t available, there is also talk of spreading the peak over a longer period, so in some cases the highest frequency remains about the same, but it’s provided over a longer time span, encouraging more people where possible to travel outside the “peak of the peak” busiest times.
Good? Bad? Indifferent?
Overall good, though a couple of notes of caution.
The Loop changes would be painful for some, but the pay-off (as usual) is more frequent services, roughly a 20% peak boost on some lines, up to 50% in the evenings (from two trains per hour to three) and further moves towards ten minute services all-day everyday.
And this is the key to running more trains: you can’t have all the lines converging on the four track City Loop — those tracks are pretty much full. To make better use of the substantial track capacity in the CBD, some lines have to go direct into Flinders Street and Southern Cross.
Better separation of services should also help reliability, though there may be longer dwell times at interchange stations such as Richmond and Caulfield.
They’ve already started upgrading Richmond to provide more weather cover for interchanging passengers. Granted, the shelters above the ramps make it look like a jail, but given the centre and eastern end subways are often congested, at least people will be encouraged to use the subway at the city end, even if it’s raining — since widening the centre subway is a huge project that isn’t going to happen any time soon.
No doubt the timetable is tied into a myriad of other less obvious changes which move the rail system towards the “5 group railway” as Metro calls it, designed to improve reliability and frequency. For instance the reduction in seating on many trains would also be a factor here, providing more standing space for those short hops in and out and around of the Loop — though even the new layout lacks handholds to encourage people to move down the aisles.
Better separation and more consistent operation also means the lines can more clearly shown on the new rail map, improving the overall legibility of the network.
And I don’t think you’ll find any Altona Loop people who would be disappointed to see the end of interpeak shuttles.
We know the train fleet has been increasing in size. I wonder just how many trains sit idle at peak hour while people are packed into the services that are running?
I’ll be affected by the removal of peak Frankston trains out of the Loop. And perhaps this should have been held over until a big boost on the Dandenong line. But that could be years away, and I can see the big picture. I can work with it.
Overall this package of changes is good for the rail network, and helps move us ahead towards more frequent services overall. We need the extra services this provides. So yes, there’ll be some inconvenience, but hopefully the government will get the upgrades to Richmond in place, and publicly explain the changes, how they benefit people, how those impacted can work with it — then push ahead and do it.