Sometimes it’s easy to be cynical. Progress in public transport can be slow.
But there is some progress.
I found this from May 2007 — it was an email from me to a local politician who had asked about public transport issues in the southern suburbs of Melbourne.
I’ll intersperse my original points with some comments about progress in the past ten years. This focuses mostly on the Frankston line, but much is applicable to others.
Frankston line – while the Dandenong line has been earmarked for extra services, the Frankston line is also very crowded during peak hours, to the extent that passengers regularly can’t board trains. This is in part because some stations only get trains every 15 minutes (eg Glenhuntly, Ormond, McKinnon) even in peak hours.
Progress! There was a shake-up of the peak-hour timetable in 2014. Frankston line trains are mostly every 8-10 minutes now in peak, with a two-tier service so the load is spread between stopping and express trains.
In 2007, there were 16 trains into Richmond from the Frankston line between 7:01am and 9am. Now I count 21.
Other lines still need upgrades. The Ringwood line had an AM peak revamp, but PM peak is still a mess of different stopping patterns, which is confusing, and limits capacity.
Network-wide load standard breaches in 2009 numbered 54 (“above benchmark”) in the AM peak, and 48 in the PM peak.
By 2017, these had reduced to 17 and 7 respectively, helped by additional services, as well as modifications to carriages to provide more standing room (aka fewer seats) which led to the benchmark changing from 798 per train to 900. Cheating? Perhaps, but reflects a shift: it’s more important to just fit onto the train than for a few more people to get a seat.
Thanks to patronage growth, particularly residential growth around stations, there is still crowding at peak times, to the point where (to my eye) it is causing load breaches. And of course reliability is an issue — a cancellation causes widespread chaos.
Peak shoulder and inter-peak
Additionally, trains fall back to half-hourly after 7pm, which increases pressure on peak hour services, as people don’t want to wait half an hour for a train. Running frequent services (including expresses) for longer would allow more people to travel outside peak hours, and would not require any extra trains or infrastructure.
Progress! The last Frankston express train used to be at 6pm; they now run until about 6:40pm.
Where there used to be just two trains per hour after 7pm (departures from Flinders Street: 7:15, 7:45, then every half-hour), the Frankston line now has 5 departures out of the city between 7pm-8pm, then every 20 minutes until 10pm.
Some other lines have also improved, though the busy Sunbury and Craigieburn lines drop back to every 20 minutes at 6:30pm, then back to half-hourly at 8pm.
Between the peaks (during the day) things have improved on some lines. Trains between the peaks have run every 10 minutes all day on the Frankston line since 2011, with the Dandenong line following in 2014.
Other lines still need upgrades. Many are still only every 20 minutes during the day.
Evenings and weekends
Upgrades to evening and weekend services would also encourage more people to travel by train. At the very least, long trains should be used (overcrowding regularly occurs in evenings and weekends on the Frankston line and others), but more frequent services should also be provided.
Back then, most evening and weekend trains (when no football/cricket was on) ran as 3-cars.
Nowadays almost all services on all lines (except suburban shuttles) now run as 6-car trains, so the ridiculous situation of lots of people squeezing onto a short train rarely happens.
Evening frequencies: Many lines now run every 15-20 minutes until about 10pm, though on some it’s been implemented in a very hamfisted way. For instance Ringwood has the half-hourly service with 6-car trains, doing their old confusing Belgrave/Lilydale alternate through-train/shuttle arrangement, interspersed with extra 3-car trains to Ringwood. The timetable needs a complete re-write.
On weekends, trains out to Frankston, Ringwood and Dandenong have run every 10 minutes since 2012, doubling the previous daytime frequency. Most other lines still only get trains every 20 minutes.
After 8pm on weekends is pretty similar to how it was before; mostly half-hourly until midnight.
Southland Station – this reached pre-feasibility stage in late 2004, and there has been no word on it progressing since then. Southland is a major activity centre, and serving it by rail should be a no-brainer.
Finally built and opened late last year! And from what I’ve seen, getting plenty of patronage.
Southland station busy with shoppers👍.
Up to two-thirds of people not spotting official path, or choosing not to use it. Really needs to be better signed and more direct. (Hint: nobody calls it "Westfield".) pic.twitter.com/N96od8fZpc
— Daniel Bowen (@danielbowen) February 11, 2018
Many bus routes need upgrading, to provide better feeder services into stations (thus relieving overcrowded station carparks) as well as being more time-competitive for other trips. For instance, route 623 serves major destinations such as St Kilda Beach and Chadstone, but does not run on Sundays, is only hourly on Saturdays, and finishes by 6pm on weekdays.
Some small progress. In the late part of last decade, as part of the MOTC plan, many routes got Sunday and evening services added.
But frequencies haven’t improved. Most routes are still just half-hourly on weekdays, hourly on weekends and evenings. Not going to cut it for most people.
While upgrades to level crossings have helped safety, the government should be looking at elimination of crossings, such as the one removed at Middleborough Road, Laburnham earlier this year. Removing crossings can help train reliability, aid pedestrian amenity and safety, and help buses and trams by reducing traffic congestion. A prime candidate would be Glenhuntly Station, where both trains and trams have to cross very slowly, causing delays.
Definitely progress! After only a few grade separations in the past few decades, it’s happening in a major way now, with dozens to be done in the next few years.
There is progress
So there is progress, on some lines more than others.
Patronage has grown in this time: across Melbourne there were 162 million train journeys for 2005-06; this rose to 233 million in 2015-16 – an increase of 43%.
The upgrades are actually working, getting more people onto public transport. This is a good thing.
The question is: are these upgrades enough? Is the transport system keeping up? And is the rest of Melbourne getting what it needs?
Probably not. Many points of the rail network, and the greater public transport network, are under stress from crowding, and it’s not all at peak hour. The fast-growing western suburbs need particular attention.
On Wednesday, Julie Szego wrote in The Age that Melbourne is now a big city, with big city problems.
So while there’s been welcome progress on the trains in the last ten years, in the next ten we as a city need to see a lot more.
Big cities demand big city solutions. It’s not more motorways, it’s more mass transit, starting with frequent trains all day every day on every line.