Crosstown traffic / Bacchus Marsh stopover

All of us have data being captured about us all the time.

For many of us that includes Myki travel data (though even that is tiny compared to the myriad of information captured by our smartphones).

Mostly for me it’s the drudgery of everyday work commuting, but every so often there’s something of interest.

Crosstown traffic

26/01/2018 13:49:14 Touch off  Train 1/2 Bentleigh Station - - -
26/01/2018 13:09:15 Touch on   Train 1   Footscray Station - - -

This is not a typo. On Australia Day (public holiday timetable) we managed to do Footscray to Bentleigh in 40 minutes.

There was a little bit of trickery involved. The train from Footscray ran into the Loop clockwise (being a weekend), and as we came into Melbourne Central the app told me a train from there clockwise to Richmond was imminent, so we swapped onto it, then just managed to get a connection at Richmond onto the Frankston line to Bentleigh.

Jumping through that hoop saved us about 10 minutes — a timetabled journey with just one change should take about 48 minutes.

Still, it shows that good frequencies along direct routes mean a fast trip, even when it involves connections.

You’d struggle to get across town that fast in a car. Google Maps reckons 30-50 minutes on the weekend if driving — there’s frequently congestion in King Street if you drive through the CBD, and taking the Bolte or Westgate then Kingsway is no better, as the exit onto Kingsway is often clogged.

Melbourne, like any big city, has transport demand from many places to many places. Public transport needs to cope better with this.

The more routes (be they train, tram or bus) go to frequent (10 minutes or better) services, the better connections will be, and the more trips will be competitive with driving, and the more people will choose public transport instead.

Ballarat station

Copycat from Ballarat

08/02/2018 23:02:22 Touch off  Train 1   Southern Cross Station	- -     -
08/02/2018 21:34:15 Touch on   Train -   -                      - -     -
08/02/2018 21:28:04 Touch on   Train 8   Ballarat Station	- -     -
08/02/2018 19:39:43 Touch off* Train 8   Ballarat Station	- $6.72	$26.98
08/02/2018 19:04:15 Touch on   Train 2/3 Bacchus Marsh Station	- -     -
08/02/2018 18:29:49 Touch off  Train 2/3 Bacchus Marsh Station	- -     -
08/02/2018 17:23:46 Touch on   Train 1   Southern Cross Station	- -     -

I thought I was being so clever.

I wanted to get to Ballarat, but I had missed the 17:10. The next train all the way was at 17:50.

But the timetable also showed a 17:35 to Bacchus Marsh, arriving there at 18:18, just ahead of the next Ballarat train. So perhaps I could have a quick stop-off at the Marsh?

That went fine until by Sunshine the train was running late. No need to panic though, it’s just one track each way; they can’t overtake, right?

Wrong. The train was held at Melton for a few minutes to let the Ballarat train fly past. D’oh. That’s a lesson for next time.

So I had an unscheduled half-hour in Bacchus Marsh. Which was charming.

The kicker is this made me late for a PTUA Ballarat branch meeting. Oh well, they welcomed me when I eventually got there, and we had an interesting discussion.

After some dinner I headed back. The 21:34 touch-on was the conductor checking the fare. (When conductors check fares, they also set the default fare to the end of the service, making it important that you touch-off after using V/Line.)

Also notable: breaking the trip at Bacchus Marsh meant my Myki Pass covered part of the trip, and I got charged just $6.72 the rest of the way to Ballarat, rather than the usual $21.60 (minus $4.30 for Zone 1/2 on my Pass). This is the anomaly facing V/Line users thanks to changes to metropolitan fares — some trips are dirt cheap, some are expensive.

That $6.72 also seems to have covered my fare home afterwards: Marsh touch-on at 19:04 to commencing the trip back at 21:28 is more than 2 hours, but because it’s a trip across six zones, the “fare product” is 3 hours, not 2.

Cheap with the stop-off? Yes. But I’d have preferred to be there on time.

Train myths: a hundred years ago the Ballarat line was quicker – No it wasn’t

The Committee for Ballarat has an excellent campaign going to improve rail services. Unfortunately as sometimes happens, some myths crept into the rhetoric around the launch of the campaign.

“In the early 1900s you could do the Ballarat to Melbourne trip by steam rail in an hour — these days it takes an hour and a half.”

Committee for Ballarat — quoted in the Ballarat Courier

It’s tempting to automatically assume things are crap now, and were better back in the “good old days“. But this is entirely wrong.

Southern Cross station, V/Line train

We know this because Mark Bau’s excellent web site of old timetables includes a timetable from 1905. This shows, for instance, a stopping train departing Spencer Street at 7:40am, arriving at Ballarat at 11:08am — a trip of some 3 hours and 28 minutes.

An express train (stopping only at Melton, Bacchus Marsh, Ballan, and Ballarat East (quite similar to many express services today) departed at 4:40 and arrived at Ballarat at 7:25, for a travel time of 2 hours and 45 minutes.

Nowadays a typical train stopping along the way might be the 9:07am, arriving Ballarat 10:33 (1 hour and 26 minutes), whereas one of the fastest appears to be the 4:36pm express train, arriving at 5:41pm, or 1 hour and 5 minutes.

In other words, it’s now about twice as fast to catch a train to Ballarat as it was a hundred years ago. (And the services are more frequent, too, though only about hourly at off-peak times.)

Of course, this doesn’t invalidate the aims of the Committee’s Fast Track campaign, which aims for more frequent trains, more reliable services, faster travel times and better mobile phone coverage along the route.

How many catch V/Line in peak hour?

Last night on the TV news they seemed to be struggling for an accurate figure of how many were affected by the closure of the Geelong line. One said “hundreds”, another said “up to a thousand”.

Figures on V/Line’s web site, which summarise the number of people on each train so you can plan your trip to avoid the packed ones, indicate that about three thousand catch the Geelong line each peak hour.

The figures appear to show 100% when the services are over-capacity — eg when people end up standing or sitting in aisles on the trip.

POTD: Overcrowding on V/Line

Looking at all the lines, the figures (into Melbourne before 9am; out of Melbourne between 4pm and 6:30pm) are:

I knew they’d grown strongly since the Regional Fast Rail upgrades were completed mid last decade, and the 2007 price cut, but I’m almost surprised to see the Bendigo and Ballarat lines up within about 10-15% of the Geelong figures. This probably emphasises why V/Line and the Department of Transport have been so keen on the Regional Rail Link project, to get all the busiest lines on their own tracks within the suburban area.

The Bendigo figures are likely to drop when Sunbury and Diggers Rest stations join the electrified Metro network later this year. This will also free up some carriages to run on other lines.

Obviously off-peak passengers are also affected by line closures, and we don’t have figures for them. To a greater extent than Melbourne suburban services, V/Line services are very concentrated in the peak (trains every few minutes in some cases), but quieter outside it (mostly hourly). Something they could/should do to help spread the peak load is upgrade off-peak frequencies.

PS: I see some real figures have made it into an Age Online story this morning.