Since Sunday, the Frankston line has officially been connected to the Werribee/Williamstown line – the green line on the rail map.
So, let’s go catch a train.
Outside some stations, the Smartbus signs can tell you the time and destination of the next trains in each direction. In this case, the next citybound train is the 8:16pm to Flinders Street.
On the station concourse are these screens. They say the next train is the 8:16… to Werribee.
Down on the platform, yes, the 8:16 is going to Werribee. And somewhere in that long list of stations is Flinders Street in the City.
As the train arrives, the headboard finally spells it out: Werribee via City.
This is confirmed by the sign inside the train.
(This is on a Siemens train. It appears the X’Trapolis and Comeng trains are not able to show information X via Y destinations, at least not for cross-city journeys.)
There are two obvious problems here.
The first problem is consistency, so that passengers (especially new and occasional users) are not confused. As I understand it, there are technical limitations on the various devices and systems involved, meaning some can only show one destination. The Siemens trains are the exemplar here. Well, apart from the slightly squashed spacing on the headboard.
The second problem is emphasis. Displaying cross-city destinations is welcome, and helps people travelling from say Ormond to North Melbourne. But in most cases it has come at the expense of emphasising the main destination for most people: the City.
People on the other end of the Frankston to Werribee/Williamstown cross-city line are seeing the same thing: Frankston (etc) is more prominent as a destination than Flinders Street or the City.
Would someone in Frankston always know that a train to Laverton runs via the City? Does someone in Werribee always know that a train going to Carrum runs via the City?
Apart from mentioning the City, should they also distinguish between via the Loop and direct? I think there’s arguments both ways. Arguably it doesn’t matter at many suburban stations, as you should board the first citybound train regardless which CBD destination you want. And almost all stations now have detailed screens on the platforms which will still tell you precisely where the train stops.
For some stations (including on the Frankston and Werribee lines), whether the train is stopping all stations or express is the more important piece of information.
Even then, care is needed. Confusingly some inbound Frankston trains are shown as “Express” (see below) because after running through the City, part of their outbound run to Werribee skips some stations. This is part of a broader problem where any stations skipped means the train is an “express”.
The app is (was) worse
It could be worse. When looking at departures from a station on the Cross-city group, the PTV app splits citybound trains into multiple lines.
In the case of Frankston line stations, it lists them separately under “City”, “Werribee” and “Williamstown”.
This meant if you just wanted to know the time of the next Citybound train, you had to look in three different places.
It’s similar on the other side of town: their citybound trains were displayed under “to City” and “Frankston line”.
And it appears that the app couldn’t show details of trains in the cross-city categories – this just produced an error.
The good news is that as of Wednesday they rectified this by switching the app back to just show trains going as far as the City. Which means the cross-city destinations aren’t immediately visible, but showing citybound trains in one spot is much more usable for most people.
But it’s still a problem for lines with branches. For instance the Cranbourne/Pakenham line for outbound passengers is shown in as two separate lines in the app, and on the brand new (and very handy) Ridespace web site. Same issue on the Ringwood line. Travelling from Hawthorn to Camberwell? You’ll have to look in three places.
Apart from the problems with passenger information, this week there are still issues with transposals – where you board a train going to A, and during the journey (typically at Flinders Street) it changes to go to B.
The promise was this would be stopped wherever possible. However it’s clearly still happening, including trains crossing between lines that are supposedly now running independently.
It’s only week one, so I’m hopeful this will be eliminated as time goes on.
These are not new problems
Transposals have been a problem for a long time, especially in the PM peak for Northern Loop passengers who board the train at Southern Cross, only to find its destination changed by the time it reaches Flinders Street.
Some of the app problems are years old, and have endured despite numerous updates.
While showing cross-city destinations prominently is new (perhaps not seen since the 1980s), trains running cross-city isn’t – many Frankston trains have run through to Werribee since at least 2010. And branches are definitely not new.
Okay, so the shiny new screens on stations are fed by older background systems, but you’d have hoped newer systems like the PTV app would be ready to show this information properly now that cross-city operation has been made fulltime.
This will be especially important once the Metro tunnel opens in 2025, providing a second cross-city group.
Meanwhile, paper and web timetables for Frankston confusingly still show Cranbourne/Pakenham train times, and vice versa, despite these now running independently, and being largely irrelevant to the other.
Likewise, Werribee and Williamstown timetables show Sunbury line times. But not, curiously, vice versa.
To their credit, PTV/DOT knows about all these issues, and they are trying to address them. In some cases fixing them may not be easy – some of them are embedded in various legacy systems that run the train network.
But hopefully in time they’ll be resolved.
- Which lines to display together and which to display apart isn’t always obvious. More reading: What if the train lines were given letters?