Caroline Springs train/bus connections: could be a lot better

Caroline Springs Station opened in January, and is already being used by a fair number of people.

But the station has a weakness: it’s in the middle of nowhere, a not-very-pleasant one kilometre walk from the nearest houses.

Which means you pretty much have to use transport to get there: bike, bus, or car.

Of course you shouldn’t have to own a car to be able to use public transport, and relying on getting passengers to the station by car is not only extraordinarily expensive, it doesn’t scale up as the station gets bigger.

Bus to train; train to bus

So given the trains are fairly infrequent most of the time, and the connecting 460 bus is fairly frequent (3 per hour on weekdays; better than most of Melbourne’s appalling middle/outer suburban buses), and the connections are critical to the usability of the station, how good did they make the connections?

It’s easy enough to compare the train and bus connection times. I looked at “up” (bus to Caroline Springs, then the train to the City) and “down” (train from the City, then the bus from Caroline Springs) connection times. Of course some people might travel between the suburb and destinations further out, but I’d assume most would be travelling towards the City.

Caroline Springs Station

All the connection times are in a spreadsheet here. (Did I mess anything up? Leave a comment.)

Summary results:

Day Direction Trains with bus connection Total trains Average wait time % 10 mins or less
Weekday To City 23 24 0:15 26%
Weekday From City 24 25 0:11 50%
Saturday To City 13 13 0:13 38%
Saturday From City 13 15 0:15 38%
Sunday To City 11 12 0:22 18%
Sunday From City 10 12 0:13 50%

Overall the connections are pretty good at peak times. Most connection times are under 10 minutes, meaning a minimum wait for changing between the trains and bus.

But outside peak times it’s a real mixed bag. At lunchtime weekdays you might face a 28 minute wait for the bus. And if you arrive on the 3pm train from the City during school terms, it’s a 12 minute connection, but outside school terms (eg this week) there’s no bus until after 4pm!

On weekends they’ve clearly prioritised trips to the City in the morning, and trips back in the afternoon. If you live elsewhere but want to visit friends or relatives in Caroline Springs for the day, you may end up facing a 25+ minute wait in both directions. It’s probably quicker to take the bus instead to/from Watergardens, where the trains are far more frequent and the connection times will be shorter.

On Sundays, most connections to the City are terrible. In 8 out of 11 cases, you’ll be waiting more than 20 minutes for the train.

Caroline Springs Station

Where the bus connections really fall down is in the late evening.

  • Monday to Thursday, the last two trains (arriving Caroline Springs at the not exceptionally late times of 9:58pm and 10:47pm) have no bus connection.
  • On Fridays, those two do, but the later arrival (11:58pm) doesn’t.
  • On Saturdays, the last train (arriving 12:17am) has no bus connection.
  • On Sundays, the last two trains (arriving 9:17pm and 10:37pm) have no bus connection.

Oh, and if you’re up early on a weekday and hoping to catch the first train to Melbourne at 5:17am, you’ll have to find another way to get to the station; the first bus arrives an hour later.

Bus stop at Caroline Springs Station

Should connections be guaranteed?

Timed connections have improved since PTV started overhauling them when South Morang station opened in 2012. Before then, there appeared to be little or no thought given to suburban bus/train connections.

Of course, even good connections are only good if services are on time. If they’re not, it’s not clear what the protocol is. Trains can’t really wait, but a departing bus should be able to wait if the train is delayed — and let’s face it, with ongoing punctuality problems on V/Line, this is not unheard of.

Maintaining that connection depends on the bus drivers having information about when the train is expected, and when I looked I saw no evidence that this was the case.

Do V/Line’s operational people notify the bus company if that happens?

There’s nothing in the literature I saw that indicates any kind of guarantee of connection. This is especially important late at night. You don’t want to be missing the bus home because the train was 6 minutes late and the bus driver took off before it arrived. And if you can’t rely on the connections, will you use them?

PTV-liveried train, tram and bus

Connections are important

You wouldn’t build a road without connections to other roads, and nor should you run public transport that way.

Connections are essential for ensuring individual routes form a network, making each route useful for far more people.

Connections of course are a lot easier when one or both services are frequent. One of the benefits of the 10 minute suburban trains where they exist is that even if the bus is late, you’ll never wait very long to continue your journey. And if you’re coming off a train onto one of the tram or Smartbus services (at least when they’re running frequently) then likewise, a high level of coordination isn’t necessary — it just works regardless.

But this isn’t possible everywhere, so authorities need to get better at how they plan and manage good connections around the public transport network.

The ins and outs of fare gates

Fare evasion is a drain on the public transport network. But sometimes the “tough on fare evasion” rhetoric isn’t matched by practical, non-confrontational approaches to reduce it.

Across the public transport network, there is a mix of strategies. On Melbourne’s train network as on many big busy systems, there are too many passengers to check all tickets manually, so other means such automated fare gates come into play.

Before Myki, and before Metcard, there were “manual” fare gates. At central city stations, paper tickets would be visually checked by staff as you passed through a gate/past a booth. Checking an individual ticket was quicker, but this required huge numbers of staff to cover peak times. On weekends in the 80s and early 90s there were usually minimal staff on duty, often resulting in queues to enter and exit places like Flinders Street Station even at relatively quiet times.

And suburban stations had physical gates, which not only stopped people running in and trying to catch a departing train, but also enabled station staff to do ticket checks. By the late-80s, staff cuts meant this became more and more rare, and they were all removed (or opened permanently) during the 90s. (In fact, just before Metcard arrived in the 90s, station staff were often so scarce it was impossible to buy a train ticket at some times of day.)

Caulfield station gate

How many trips go through gates today?

Automated fare gates were initially installed with Metcard at central city stations only, but they’ve gradually spread.

Nowadays the policy is that all Premium Metro stations (staffed first to last train) have gates installed when they are built or rebuilt. By my reckoning, that means that the number of stations with gates has grown to 25:

  • Flinders Street (apart from an ungated entry/exit at Elizabeth Street sometimes opened at peak times due to crowding)
  • Southern Cross
  • Flagstaff
  • Melbourne Central
  • Parliament
  • Richmond
  • South Yarra
  • North Melbourne
  • Bayswater
  • Bentleigh
  • Box Hill
  • Camberwell (platforms 1+2 only)
  • Caulfield (platforms 2+3 only)
  • Dandenong
  • Footscray
  • Frankston
  • Glen Waverley
  • Glenferrie
  • Mitcham
  • Ringwood
  • South Morang
  • Springvale
  • St Albans
  • Sunshine
  • Williams Landing

(Have I missed any? Leave a comment.)

Myki gates being repaired

So, based on the 2015 patronage (station entry) figures on the PTV site, we get the following:

  • Total boardings per weekday: 750,050 / per week: 4,362,850
  • Boardings at gated stations (including partially gated) 400,880 (53.4%) weekday / 2,344,910 (53.7%) per week
  • Boardings at ungated stations: 349,170 (46.6%) per weekday / 2,017,940 (46.3%) per week

So 53% of station entries are through a gate. But how many passenger trips is that? That is, what proportion of trips pass through a gate at the start or the end?

A calculation based on some assumptions:

  • Assume that 95% of entries into central (City Loop plus North Melbourne and Richmond) stations are going to the suburbs (rather than to another Central station)
  • Also assume that most passengers take two trips per day, from home to a destination, and back again. Therefore their destinations when entering at a central station are distributed to the gated or non-gated suburban stations to the same ratio as the entries into them.
  • Treat the partially gated stations as fully gated.

My brain was hurting after figuring out a way to do it in Excel, but eventually I got a figure of 82.4% (on weekdays) of passenger trips having a gate at the start or end of the trip. (For the whole week it was 82.3%)

Also notable in the figures:

  • That 95% assumption doesn’t actually make a huge difference to the final result if it’s tweaked to say 90% or 98% or even 100%.
  • There are far more suburban entries than central entries, which means there must be a (perhaps) surprising amount of suburb to suburb travel — about 23% of all station entries. I suspect this reflects the growing importance of activity centres like Glenferrie, Caulfield, Box Hill, Footscray, Frankston and Dandenong, as well as places like Huntingdale (for Monash University Clayton).

So anyway, about 82% of Metro trips are going through a gate. In theory.

Southern Cross V/Line gates

Keeping them closed

But fare gates only work at discouraging fare evaders if they are kept closed.

Sometimes, a gate is simply left open. There’s no consistency, and it’s a long-running problem that includes central city stations.

Fare evaders can of course jump gates, but why would we make it so easy for them that they don’t even need to do that? (Not that Melbourne’s fare gate design makes them particularly difficult to jump.)

“But Daniel!” you say, if gates are kept closed you need a staff member standing next to them all the time! Not so. And this is where we get into station design.

Parliament station (north end) Myki gates and bypass gate

Design

World’s best practice is to design station concourses so that the booking office is adjacent to the gate, and the staff member inside has control to release/open the gate to let through people who can’t get through themselves — those with wheelchairs, awkwardly large luggage, prams and so on.

With many stations being rebuilt during level crossing removals, there’s an opportunity to get this right. This is precisely how the new Bentleigh station is configured.

Which means that sometimes, you’ll find all the gates closed, as they should be, and the staff member on duty watching from behind the window, ready to help.

Caulfield station, inbound passengers during evening peak

Interchange

At interchange stations, there are problems with passengers having to leave the paid area (and often go out onto the street) to change platforms. Prime examples include Caulfield, Camberwell and Footscray. Ideally these need over or underpasses for interchange, to make it a quick process that doesn’t require touching on and off along the way.

Another, far more expensive option is to reconfigure the lines and the platforms so that the most common changes of train are cross-platform.

Caulfield is notorious for delays in evening peak coming off platform 4. And it’ll get far worse when the metro rail tunnel opens next decade, requiring more changes between the Frankston and Dandenong lines.

Gate numbers and speed

The number of gates, and speed are issues to ensure delays don’t snowball. The newer Vix gates are about twice as fast as the older Myki gates. And on a bad day, the older gates are hopelessly inconsistent.

Flagstaff, shown below in 2011, used to clog up at busy times. The installation of faster gates, as well as an increase in the total number of gates (achieved by moving the booking office) has mostly fixed those problems.

Queue at gates, Flagstaff station, 8:52am (back when there were hybrid Metcard/Myki gates)

Configuring for peak

Another issue is something central city station staff are used to, but suburban station staff are still figuring out (and/or may need training on): balancing the peak vs off-peak directions.

Sometimes you’ll find queues to exit the station because there’s insufficient gates switched to the peak direction. This should be easily fixed.

Station gates

Ticket checks on every trip

Getting people to pay their fare is a mix of making it easy to do so, and hard to avoid.

Ultimately, fare gates can be used to help reduce fare evasion, being a cost-effective way of giving people the expectation that they will get checked on every trip.

But if we’re going to have fare gates around the network, and if they’re going to work well, they need to be designed and used properly.

* * *

See also:

  • Marcus Wong: How fast are Melbourne’s ticket gates? (the pre-Vix variety)
  • Want to make the system free? First find $700m per year to pay for it. Then show how it will get people out of cars when the overriding factors are about service quality, not fare cost.
  • There is ongoing debate about the merits of gates vs Proof Of Payment systems (eg with random checks for compliance). Some city metros (particularly in Germany) have gone to POP.
    In Melbourne, this is how tram fare enforcement works. My personal view is it has been shown to be problematic in terms of low checking rates and confrontations between inspectors (Authorised Officers) and people who haven’t paid, either inadvertently or deliberately.

PS. An industry insider has noted another side effect of fare gates is that because staff need to be nearby (visible) this has a significant effect on safety, and perceptions of safety — far more so than stations without staff, and even staffed stations that don’t have gates. Interesting.

The State Coalition pledge for 10 minute trains

On Sunday the Coalition pledged to upgrade more lines to trains every ten minutes off-peak.

Here’s the Channel 9 story – have a watch:

There’s not much detail yet — nothing on David Hodgett’s web site that I can see (though it’s a bit broken; you can’t see news items beyond the first page). Nothing on Matthew Guy’s web site, nor the Liberal Victoria web site.

But from Hodgett’s quotes in the story, what they appear to mean is 10 minute services on every line where the infrastructure supports itwhich is most of them.

This would have huge benefits across the rail network, and for the PT network as a whole, by making anywhere-to-anywhere trips much easier by cutting waiting/interchange times, and help grow capacity and patronage without putting extra stress on peak hour.

Given increasing travel (and traffic congestion) at what used to be seen as “off-peak” times in the middle of the day and on weekends, as well as our growing population, this is just what’s needed.

And it would bring us up to the type of train service offered in most big cities around the world.

It’s not actually that radical. PTV and Metro already have an unfunded plan for just such a rollout. It’s really a matter of timing.

Flagstaff station

For such an obviously good idea, the cynics really came out on this one — perhaps far moreso than if Labor had pledged it.

The Libs never do anything for public transport!

Most of the 10 minute services we have now were actually introduced under the Coalition government in 2012. It was also under the Libs in 1999 that the appalling Sunday 40 minute services mostly got doubled to 20 minutes.

Both sides do good stuff and bad stuff. It’s certainly not as simple as saying Labor’s good at PT while the Coalition is bad. (Indeed, one sweeping and partly flawed generalisation is that Labor is better at infrastructure, and the Coalition is better at services.)

There’s no capacity for this!

This does not put stress on signalling, track capacity or the train fleet, because it’s off-peak, not peak. It does not need major infrastructure such as the metro tunnel.

It needs extra drivers, and extra maintenance capacity, as well as other running costs such as power.

It’ll cause chaos at local level crossings! It’ll devastate communities!

No it won’t. We’re talking about fewer trains than in peak, and at times of less traffic on the roads as well.

It doesn’t cause huge problems on the lines that already have it. And in fact improving train services like this is likely to get more people out of their cars, as long as they’re actually promoted to non-train users (which is rare).

There’s only one remotely sensible argument I’ve heard against doing this now (rather than later), and it’s this:

Is it the right time to be bringing lots more patronage onto the off-peak/weekend service when there are so many infrastructure projects in progress? Level crossing removals on most lines, track and signal upgrade works, works to enable new trains in some cases. It adds to stress on the replacement buses and doesn’t provide the best environment to win over customers permanently and produce ongoing travel pattern changes.

I think that’s a fair point, but there are likely to be works such as level crossing removals going on for decades, as hopefully this will be an ongoing program.

Perhaps one way of playing it is to implement frequency increases as lines get their worst level crossings removed. For instance:

  • The Sunbury line for instance now has no level crossings between the city and Watergardens (apart from a minor crossing into a rail yard at Tottenham). And the line has no more crossings scheduled to be removed except Melton Highway, which will only effect the lesser-used outer end of the line.
  • The Sandringham line has no crossing removals scheduled.

In fact, frequent trains can make life a lot easier when bus replacements are in operation. Buses are sometimes delayed by heavy traffic, and train connections not held. If the train is missed, it’s a lot better if the next one is only ten minutes away.

Electric train passing

Other things:

In the news clip, Labor claims to have introduced a large number of services since 2014. Not so. Barely any in fact.

I’d love to see this policy implemented. But before they definitely win my vote, I’m concerned as to what else the Coalition will pledge in their policy platform. They still seem obsessed with the disastrous East West Link.

Nonetheless, this is a great policy pledge from the Coalition. If Labor are sensible, they’ll match it.

So darling share this wine with me, we’ll be together on the eve of World War 3

Friday night concert! I was sold on Things Of Stone And Wood – though my compradres were really going for the support act, Club Hoy.

It might be cruel to call TOSAW a one-hit wonder, though none of their efforts charted as well as Happy Birthday Helen. But the song was on an album called “The Yearning” (1993) which I really really liked back in the day… perhaps apart from the title track, which seemed overly earnest and solemn. I liked it so much I had both the album on CD, and the EP of the single. Listening to the album today, it’s still terrific.

Friday night’s concert was a full performance of “The Yearning”, a near 25th anniversary performance. I admit, the last two concerts I’d been to were similar setups: Ocean Colour Scene’s Moseley Shoals, and Deborah Conway’s String Of Pearls.

A nostalgic Gen X-er and his money are easily parted.

Northcote Social Club, 24/3/2017

M and I made our way to Northcote and met up with Tony and Elizabeth. We found some dinner and as we chatted over some food, which gave Elizabeth and I a chance to hear Tony and M’s tale of being shushed for talking at a concert many moons ago by a fan of the support act. Don’t talk over Dave Graney!

A notice in the window of the Northcote Social Club gave us the running times of each act (and a song lyric on the sign above), and we opted for dessert over Rick Hart (sorry Rick).

We headed into the club at about 9:30 and found a spot close to the stage.

Club Hoy at the Northcote Social Club, 24/3/2017

Club Hoy came on, and were really good, despite two blokes behind us talking incessantly about the other concerts they’d been to (and presumably talked through).

After a few songs, another bloke trying intently to listen to the band turned around. “Shhhh!”

“Sorry mate”. They disappeared. I laughed and laughed (quietly). Thank you, defenders of support acts everywhere.

They finished up, and suddenly from nowhere, TOSAW fans filled the room, with the two biggest blokes in the place crowding out some of our view. Alas, Tony and Elizabeth bailed at this point to return home to their respective families before it got too late (it was about 10:30pm), which was a great pity because I think they missed a great show. (But I would say that; I accept I’m a Club Hoy newbie and a TOSAW fan.)

Things Of Stone And Wood, Northcote Social Club 24/3/2017

Lead singer Greg Arnold doesn’t look a day older – his long hair, beard and moustache probably help, and I was left wondering if he’s had them since 1993 or if he just grew everything out for the anniversary tour.

No matter. They rocked. It was a great show, with TOSAW tragics singing every word, but everyone present in the sold-out club seemed to enjoy it. And let’s face it, a good deal of what makes a great show is whether the crowd gets into it.

There was some nice band repartee as well. They seemed genuinely delighted to be there in front of such an appreciative crowd, and don’t seem to mind being known popularly just for Happy Birthday Helen (“it took us around the world”).

They answered something I’d long wondered: was The Yearning (track 7) meant to lead straight into Single Perfect Raindrop (track 8)? Why yes! But due to a miscalculation of sorts, on the cassette the effect was ruined, because you had to turn the tape over. No such problem on the CD.

After the 14 tracks of the album, they went on to play a few later songs, including one that sounded very familiar when I heard it: Wildflowers — which they remarked is unfortunately relevant again.

…as well as the B-side “She Will Survive”, with its very memorable lyrics about Jane Austen.

And then it was over. What a great show, and a great night out for $40.

If you remember them from back in the day, and have a chance to catch them (that show was sold out, but they’re on in Geelong this weekend), I can thoroughly recommend TOSAW.

A quick look at Caroline Springs station

On Tuesday I headed out to the new Caroline Springs station for a look around. It opened at the end of January.

I caught the 17:59 train from Southern Cross. It was heading to Bacchus Marsh, and it was full — at least by V/Line’s standards, which means every seat was taken — reflected in their official capacity figures. In fact, a dozen people were standing in my carriage by the time we left Footscray. Since the last time I’ve ridden an H-set, it appears that V/Line has fitted the seat sides with handles to help cope with standing passengers.

Passengers arriving at Caroline Springs

We rolled into Caroline Springs about 5 minutes late, and the first thing you notice is that it’s in the middle of nowhere; about 800 metres from the nearest houses. This of course is a complete contrast to most of Melbourne, where suburbs developed around the railway stations, at least up until about the 1930s when the rail network stopped expanding.

I touched-off with my Myki, and followed the crowd. A reasonable number of people were getting off the train here, given it’s only a half-hourly service in peak hour and the station’s only been open a couple of months.

Evidently Caroline Springs Station’s working name was Ravenhall, because it turns out that’s what shows up on the Myki transaction record… they still haven’t changed it! Local MP Marlene Kairouz says it will be fixed.

The other thing that changed is that the original plan for a single platform was revised in 2016, before the station opened, but after much of the station was built. It was sensibly modified to have two platforms, with a short extension to the duplicated track from Deer Park West to just past the station. Looking at the completed station, you can’t really tell it’s been modified along the way.

Subway at Caroline Springs Station

Leaving the station takes you via stairs (ramps also provided) and an underpass to the only exit to the north. There’s a car park, a bus interchange, and a bike cage. Several bikes were in the cage, but most people walked to their cars, with a few boarding the waiting bus, which left a couple of minutes later.

Car park at Caroline Springs Station

Bus stops at Caroline Springs Station

Bus stop at Caroline Springs Station

Bike cage at Caroline Springs Station

There’s a bike path that goes into the station precinct, and ends at the bike cage. I’m not sure if the road from the suburb, Christies Road, has bike lanes or if there’s any kind of separate bike path or connection to the nearby Deer Park Bypass trail.

Bike path to Caroline Springs Station

Here’s an odd thing: in the underpass was a surprising number of millipedes, mostly on the walls, some on the floor. This is not something I’ve seen before so visible in a station, but around Australia, including in Victoria, millipedes have caused train delays and even been blamed for a train crash in Western Australia. In 2012 they forced V/Line to ensure all trains were at least two carriages. I hope they’re aware of this latest occurrence.

Subway at Caroline Springs Station

Millipedes in the subway at Caroline Springs Station

As I looked around the car park snapping photos, the PA sprung to life: “For the gentleman taking photos, is there something we can assist you with?”

I snapped a couple more, then walked back into the station and paused by the booking office window. The station assistant came out of the back office where he’d presumably been watching the CCTV like a hawk. “Nah mate, I’m good, thanks.”

Touching-on my Myki as I re-entered the paid area, I waited for the train, and looked around the platform, taking a few more photos and trying not to look too suspicious to my vigilant friend.

There’s a fully-enclosed waiting room with an information screen and timetable display inside. With little weather cover around the station, that’ll no doubt be useful on cold winter mornings.

Waiting room, Caroline Springs Station

This next photo shows along the platform there are markers for where the different length trains should stop. You can also see the base of a future staunchion, which seems to have been installed as part of provision for electrification of the line, which is expected next decade. Good forward planning. The sign on the fence refers to the adjoining conservation zone, which probably means there will never be development immediately around the station.

Platform at Caroline Springs Station

Looking west you can see where the double track ends, with just single track extending beyond towards Melton.

Caroline Springs Station

The single track is going to be duplicated as far as Melton as part of a project to upgrade the Ballarat line that was announced last year.

Oddly they list “duplication of 17 kilometres of track between Deer Park West and Melton” — perhaps the already-duplicated section to Caroline Springs was technically part of the same project or something. No matter – it made sense to do it while building the new station.

Single track of course plays havoc with train operations. Any little delay can very quickly snowball, as trains have to wait for each other.

In this case, there should have been another train from the city to Ararat, due at 18:45, which should have enter the single track, before passing the inbound train I was waiting for, at Rockbank at 18:50, which would have reached me back at Caroline Spring at 18:55.

But that train to Ararat was some 26 minutes late departing the city — and may have delayed (or been further delayed by) the inbound trains following mine. It’s a precision juggling act that won’t be required to the same extent once the line is duplicated.

V/Line blamed the long delay on the late arrival of another service… this was a train from Waurn Ponds on the Geelong line, which had suffered extensive delays right through that evening’s peak hour. It beats me why they run their operation like this, with delays on different lines cascading onto each other… but Metro’s not much better at times.

The Ballarat line upgrade project will bring a much needed boost in terms of track capacity and reliability. It’s good that Caroline Springs finally has its station, but further upgrades will help passengers at stations in Melbourne’s fast-growing outer suburbs, and right along the line.

Provided they can keep the millipedes under control.

Postscript: An update from Marcus Wong: