After yesterday’s comparison at Bentleigh, here’s one showing far more change: Laverton on the Werribee line.
There’s been a tremendous amount of residential growth along this line, and thankfully the number of trains has increased markedly over the last 20 years.
The line opened in 1859 to Geelong, but until 1983 it was only served by country diesel trains, reflected in the older timetables that show barely any services at all in peak. For some services you had to change to an electric train at Newport to reach the City.
In 1985 the Altona line was extended via Westona to Laverton, forming the Altona Loop, and most Werribee trains started using it.
Through the 1990s there was a train about every 20 minutes in peak, with almost all trains running via the Altona Loop — though some counter-peak trains ran direct to avoid conflicts on the single track.
Off-peak until the early 90s trains were only every 40 minutes (60 in the evenings), before being upgraded to 20 (30 in the evenings) to match most of the rest of the network.
Little changed until around 2006 when patronage really started to boom, and as you can see, since then the number of peak hour trains has increased markedly.
In 2008 Werribee trains came out of the City Loop in peak. This added to travel time for some passengers, but as you can see from the 2010 number, enabled far more trains run on the line, as well as freeing up space in the Northern tunnel for more Craigieburn and Sunbury trains. (Upfield trains use it too but have barely changed in that time.)
In 2010, Laverton via Altona Loop to City trains were introduced; just two at first. From 2011, all weekday (until about 7pm) Altona Loop trains started commencing at Laverton, and all trains from Werribee ran direct from Laverton to Newport, allowing a big increase in the latter. (This change introduced the much-hated Altona Loop off-peak shuttles, with Werribee trains running direct. The shuttles are finally getting fixed next week.)
The Altona Loop has well-known issues. The mostly single track means any little delay can cascade easily, so Metro frequently diverts trains off it, making an already poor frequency (mostly 20-22 minutes) even worse.
In 2015 the Geelong line was diverted off the Werribee line, theoretically allowing more space for 8 more Werribee trains in the two hour peak. Since then a handful have been added; the 2017 figure (from next week) shows another small increase for those trains.
Some Werribee line passengers have probably migrated to the Geelong line since then. The new Wyndham Vale and Tarneit stations are very busy, with Tarneit being the busiest V/Line station apart from Southern Cross.
Is it enough? No. The 2016 passenger load survey still shows 6 Werribee line AM peak trains above the load benchmark. This is down from 8 in 2014-15, but still too high.
Can they squeeze more trains onto the Werribee line in peak? Probably a few. The bottleneck will (eventually) be between Newport and the City, where the Werribee, Altona Loop and also Williamstown trains (every 20-22 minutes) all merge. The solution after that might be upgraded signalling, though by that point remaining level crossings will also be an issue.
Another choke point is between North Melbourne and Flinders Street, where some trains from the Craigieburn (currently) or Sunbury (from next week) trains share the tracks, because the Loop tunnels are full.
Meanwhile, there’s plenty to be done outside peak hours, when train numbers and track capacity aren’t a problem. Sunday mornings are a particular bugbear for local users, with trains only every 40 minutes, resulting in long waits and crowding:
— Daniel Bowen (@danielbowen) September 28, 2014
In fact, apart from switching to 6-car trains all the time, Sunday morning and weekend evening train timetables have barely changed since the 1990s. Clearly not good enough for our growing city.