These changes are now expected to take effect in mid-December, following on from minor adjustments made in July.
Along the way, there have been some tweaks to the plan, but from what I’m hearing, there’s still a fair bit in it:
Frankston, Sandringham and Werribee trains will all run direct to Flinders Street, all the time
Currently, Frankston trains run via the Loop on weekends, and some via the Loop in weekday peak hours (anti-clockwise in AM, clockwise in PM). Sandringham and Werribee trains currently run via the Loop on weekends only.
It’s unclear if this means all Werribee services will through-route to Frankston all of the time, (the “Cross-City Group”) but I’d expect to at least see this more often.
Frankston trains are expected to return to the Loop in 2025 when the Dandenong trains get diverted permanently to the Metro Tunnel.
Williamstown trains will run all the way to the City on weekends
This is excellent – it avoids passengers having to change to and from shuttles at Newport, and doubles the weekend frequency from Newport to the City, cutting waiting times and crowding.
The great thing about this is that combined with the Werribees all running direct, it’s providing a significant service improvement but doesn’t actually use any additional driver resources. This is because the current timetable sees for most of the day, two trains running the Newport to Williamstown shuttles, and their drivers spending most of their time waiting in sidings.
It appears this change will not include evenings, but hopefully it does include early mornings (before 10am on Sundays) given the bad crowding at this time of day.
The Caulfield Loop (eg Dandenong trains) will run anti-clockwise all the time
Currently they run anti-clockwise on weekends and on weekdays until about 1pm; clockwise after 1pm.
This change is to facilitate the new trains, for which signal upgrades have been provided only in one direction through the Loop, but the side-effect is a second Loop tunnel will now be consistently in one direction, following the Clifton Hill tunnel switching to clockwise in 2008.
The once-proposed plan to have Burnley Loop trains skip Richmond in the PM peak seems to be off the table for now, which is probably good – it would have been very confusing and disruptive for some people.
So the question will be how many people heading home from Parliament and Melbourne Central to the Caulfield lines will be tempted to board Burnley Loop trains as a short cut to Richmond. If they do so in significant numbers, they might crowd those trains. For Dandenong line passengers, if they go the long way round, their trip might be a few minutes longer, but they’ll have much a better of getting a seat. This will be something authorities need to communicate to people.
As was noted last year: it’s a shame the Northern Loop doesn’t switch to clockwise all day to help with this by providing a quick way of getting from Parliament to Flinders Street.
Metro also needs to make sure they don’t transpose (swap) Dandenong line trains to other destinations as they traverse the City Loop, to ensure for example that a passenger boarding a Pakenham train at Melbourne Central actually ends up at Pakenham, not diverted to Cranbourne. I’m told their intention is to set each train’s outbound destination on the journey in, with no changes made after that.
They also need to ensure that Dandenong trains don’t wait at Flinders Street more than a minute or so. No long recovery time sitting at the platform with a train full of passengers.
Dandenong trains will no longer stop between Caulfield and South Yarra
Currently they only do so early in the morning and late at night. Again, this change is related to the new trains, which require slightly longer platforms, provided at some stations but not others.
This will mean a frequency reduction for the MATH stations at some times of day. But it also means a slightly faster trip for people on the busiest line on the network at those times.
It’s probably a reminder that better interchange facilities are needed at Caulfield to move passengers quickly between the Dandenong and Frankston line platforms. This will be even more important once the Metro tunnel opens.
There are a few other operational changes
This includes shifting Northern Group (Upfield/Craigieburn/Sunbury) driver changes to North Melbourne in PM peak, which makes sense to minimise delays in the CBD where track and platform capacity is scarce. And the new Pakenham East depot will start being used for stabling.
Other lines (Clifton Hill and Burnley) do not appear to be changing this time round. I don’t have detail of changes to V/Line, but presumably the Gippsland line is seeing tweaks at the very minimum, given it shares tracks with Dandenong trains.
Why make these changes? Because they enable more services. Untangling the Loop in particular is allowing more peak services to run, with extra services expected to be added from December on most of the affected lines.
It also makes the City Loop area more easily navigable at all times of the week, and in a more predictable way.
V/Line passengers will have a way to travel from City Loop stations to Southern Cross during PM peak for the first time. And you’ll be able to make quick hops from North Melbourne to Southern Cross direct on weekends, and from Richmond to Parliament direct after 1pm on weekdays. (Parliament to Richmond on weekday mornings will still be tricky.)
Removing some of the variations in Loop operation means a more predictable, usable rail system. Consistency helps people navigate the system, particularly as travel patterns shift to a more diverse range (and times) of trips.
It can also help with passenger information – including signage on stations, and removing some of the complicated bits of the rail network map.
Obviously patronage is well down at the moment, and even with COVID-19 restrictions expected to ease, this is likely to still be the case in December when these changes come in. So the full effect may not be seen until well into next year. A little surprise as people come back to work? Providing information about the new patterns will be important.
It would be great to see the Government build on these changes by committing to boost off-peak frequencies as well. Then we’ve got a real chance of a rail system that’s up to scratch for a city of 5 million.
The information in this post is gleaned from various sources. Of course, nothing is guaranteed until it’s officially announced.
UPDATE 22/10/2020 – I’m told that this timetable change has been postponed.
- The rumour mill says there are smaller changes coming up on the trams, probably in November, including City Circle going from a 20 minute to 15 minute frequency as more refurbished W-class trams become available, and the introduction of E-class trams on
route 30LaTrobe Street.
Personally I hope they keep route 12 running via LaTrobe Street, though I notice they haven’t altered it on the network map, so I suppose in theory it’s still only a temporary change.
- Meanwhile, Infrastructure Victoria has released their paper on public transport fare reform. Some interesting proposals around off-peak discounting, which makes a lot of sense, though they need to be accompanied by increased all-day frequency. Separate pricing for train, tram, bus and “express bus” though – that seems problematic.