How long is a railway station platform?

Last Monday’s meltdown soured the return of trains after upgrades on the Dandenong and Frankston lines – which included works for the Metro tunnel, and also power upgrades extensions to some platforms.

So, how long is a railway station platform?

Generally, as long as the trains that serve it, plus a bit for spare.

There are exceptions, especially in regional areas of some countries, though this is rare in Victoria.

In Melbourne, suburban trains are currently standardised to 6 cars*:

  • Comeng 6 x 24 metres = 144 metres
  • Siemens 4 x 24.1 metres + 2 x 23.8 metres = 144 metres
  • X’Trapolis 4 x 24.46 metres + 2 x 22.76 metres = 143.36 metres

What about older trains?

Tait train (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

As early as 1908, and probably taking into account existing platform lengths, planning work for electrification determined that trains would be up to 6 carriages x 17.4 metres — the Tait (red) trains were built to this about length too.

Some then-existing shorter swing-door carriages were extended to that length, with trains being steam-hauled until each line was electrified. Information I’ve found is a little vague, but I believe with buffers/couplings the total carriage length was 18.81 metres, making a 6-car (electric) train 112.86 metres long.

Prior to that, trains had been various lengths, and the standardisation of lengths led to some lines getting more powerful steam locos, to cope with the additional weight, particularly on the hillier lines such as Ringwood and Hurstbridge.

In the 1920s, after electrification was completed, crowding resulted in extra carriages being added, making 7-car trains = 131.67 metres, requiring some platform extensions.

In the 1950s, Harris (blue trains) were introduced as 7-cars, with carriage lengths varying from 19.2 to 22.86 metres each. (Some of these still exist as V/Line’s aging “H” sets)

From 1967, some of the busiest lines ran as 8-cars during peak, to relieve crowding. I’m unclear of the precise carriages used in 8-car formations, but it would have meant trains at least around 154 metres long. This necessitated some platform extensions.

Platform measurements, Glenhuntly

From the 1970s, Hitachi trains were introduced, with longer carriages 23.41 metres long, of up to 6 cars = 140.46 metres, just slightly shorter than the current fleet.

The 1980s saw the 4D (double-deck) train trial. This was 4 x 20.32 metres = 81.28 metres, but if they’d ever got expanded to 8 cars, that would have been 162.56 metres. But in actual fact only 4 cars were ever built, and in peak they were connected to a 3-car Comeng set = 153.28 metres. It was decided they were unsuitable for Melbourne, and the cars were scrapped.

Still, the City Loop had been built to cater for a possible future roll-out of double-deck trains – both tunnel sizes, and platform lengths of about 160 metres. It wouldn’t surprise me if this was based on the standard Sydney double-deck train lengths of the 1960s, when the Loop was being designed.

Platform lengths grew with the train lengths, and at some stations it’s not hard to see how they’ve been extended over the years.

Today, new platforms are built as 160 metres, with the older existing platforms measuring around 150-160 metres, while most current trains are about 144 metres long.

In some spots, you can see where they’ve been measuring platforms to verify the length.

Glemhuntly platform 3 - measurements

The future?

And what about the future “High Capacity Metro Trains” (known as HCMTs for short – I think perhaps they need a snappier name). These are expected in service in 2019?

In their initial 7-car formation, these will be about 160 metres long.

With that length, they will just fit into the City Loop platforms, possibly with the rear cab out in the tunnel.

Part of the upgrade works underway to accommodate the new trains is improved power supply, facilitating not just the longer trains, but also more of them, with good reliability and enough juice that they can accelerate quickly. It was part of this that failed so spectacularly last Monday afternoon.

Extensions to some platforms have been needed.

  • South Yarra platform 6 and Caulfield platform 4 occurred last year.
  • During the early January works, South Yarra 5 and Caulfield 3 were also extended, though these don’t appear to be complete yet – at Caulfield there are still poles and signals in the way.
  • I haven’t gone looking recently, but presumably extensions are also underway at other older stations that need them between Caulfield and Cranbourne/Pakenham.
Caulfield platform 4 extension

10-car trains

In the future, the plan is to later go to 10-car HCMTs – about 230m long – on the Cranbourne/Pakenham to Sunbury line, via the new metro tunnel post-2025. Because underground platforms are very difficult to alter later, the tunnel stations are being designed with this in mind.

The newest skyrail stations have been built to 160m, but the LXRA tells me they have provision for 230m later, with straight sections beyond the current platforms, signal placements chosen carefully, and piers and foundations built so the new sections of platform can be slotted in with minimal disruption.

Older stations will no doubt be a lot trickier.

Hughesdale station looking east from the skyrail platform
Hughesdale station looking outbound

7-cars with the existing fleet?

I saw an idea proposed on Twitter: could they re-marshall the existing Comeng, X’Trapolis or Siemens fleet into 7-car trains?

It’s an interesting idea. But even assuming they’d have enough power (6-car Comeng trains for instance have four motor cars), they’d be at least 168 metres – too long for the City Loop platforms, which would be near-impossible to extend.

It would also cause problems in stabling yards, which would need re-design or alteration to cope with longer trains. This is why the HCMTs are getting a new maintenance and stabling facility near Pakenham.

What about other lines?

Lots of lines have crowding, and it appears all new station construction (such as the Mernda extension and other level crossing projects) has sensibly planned for 160 metres. So perhaps we can expect 7-car HCMTs eventually across the network. But it involves some big changes, so don’t hold your breath.

And longer trains aren’t the only answer. More trains is the other obvious solution to crowding, which includes:

  • more separation of lines to maximise track capacity and reduce flow-on effects of delays
  • smarter timetabling (consistent stopping patterns)
  • level crossing removals (to cut the impact on the road network as train services increase)
  • better signalling (such as in-cab high capacity signalling)
  • higher frequencies in shoulder-peak and off-peak, to help spread travel demand

Melbourne’s got busier, and is continuing to grow. We need all of this. Bring it on.

*Note that lengths for some models of train have varied, and the information I’ve found can be a little unclear as to whether measurements are rounded, and whether they include buffers/couplings and so on which would contribute to the total length of a train. So treat the above figures as a rough guide. Any corrections? Please let me know!

Old photos from June 2008

Here’s another in my series of old photos from ten years ago… this time, June 2008.

You might remember that Frank Woodley did TV ads for Metlink, to encourage bus usage. Here’s the cartoon version, on a bus stop.
Metlink Frank Woodley bus promotion, June 2008

Speaking of advertising, I quite liked this ad for the Get Smart movie (originally posted here). Come to think of it, I’ve still never seen the movie.
Get Smart movie advertising, June 2008

Hitachi train, sporting its Comeng-era seat covers
Hitachi train, June 2008

Gambling addiction is a serious problem, but this is still one of my favourite photos: The Machines Will Win. (See also: Part II)
You know in the end the machines will win (1/2)

(For those with short memories, that’s a Metcard machine; the predecessor to Myki, and just as disliked when it first got introduced.)

The signage at Bentleigh station, back when the train times worked.
Bentleigh Station Smartbus signage, June 2008

Punt Road – then, as now, sometimes the buses can’t reach the bus lane because of all the traffic. Hopefully the re-design of this intersection will fix that.
Punt Road, June 2008

The last few photos are from a visit to the Eureka skydeck in late June 2008…
Eureka Skydeck, June 2008

The view of the Westgate Bridge/Kingsway intersection. It conveys the vast amount of space used by motorway interchanges.
Westgate Freeway viewed from the Eureka Skydeck, June 2008

A more youthful looking me, back when I wore a tie, with Government House and The Shrine of Remembrance in the background
At the Eureka Skydeck, June 2008

The city skyline. Note despite the two lanes of traffic across Princes Bridge, the cars were still queuing.
Central Melbourne, viewed from the Eureka Skydeck, June 2008

Hitachi trains: forty years on

Forty years ago this week (on Christmas Eve to be precise) the first Hitachi train went into service.

Here’s an article and some blueprints published in the Victorian Railways internal newsletter in June 1970, showing off models of the then-proposed trains.

(Click on the pictures to view them bigger in Flickr.)

"New metropolitan trains"

Hitachi trains article

Hitachi trains plans

The “driving trailer” carriages were later converted to trailer carriages, with additional motor carriages built to make up the 3-car sets we see today.

Most Hitachis were scrapped during the 2000s, when it was originally thought they would be completely replaced by Siemens and X’Trapolis trains. Initially a few were kept for the Commonwealth Games, to be scrapped afterwards, but strong growth patronage meant they were saved, and some others brought back — famously some were bought back off a collector who had purchased some and kept them on his farm.

They don’t have air-conditioning and passenger intercoms, but are otherwise known for being a pretty reliable train. Air-con only really matters a few days a year anyway — on all except the very hot days, opening the windows does wonders. It’s far more important that they be around to relieve overcrowding. If you’d rather not travel in a Hitachi on a hot day, you’ve always got the option of waiting and catching the next train.

(With thanks to Chris G for the tipoff)

One day…

When the Hitachi trains were built in the early 70s, it was before the days of dot matrix displays. Destination rolls weren’t easily changed, so they included a few places they thought that might one day get rail services.

Forward planning, much of it in line with the stated rail extensions in the 1969 transport plan.

Here, courtesy of an old railways book I have, is a list of destinations which had been added in anticipation:

Hitachi train, ParliamentWERRIBEE[1]

Interesting omissions include Cranbourne (opened 1995) and Warragul (a few suburban trains went out that way during the 90s).

[1] Werribee — was electrified and got suburban trains in 1985.

[2] Sunbury — No electric trains yet, but funded and expected to open in 2012. Controversial because some locals would prefer to keep their V/Line trains, though I think the project brings numerous benefits.

[3] Deer Park West and Melton — Electrification and duplication from Sunshine to Melton is included as part of the Victorian Transport Plan, but is not currently funded.

[4] Craigieburn — Eventually got electric trains in 2007.

[5] South Morang — Funded and expected to open in 2013. Controversial because of the astronomical cost, partly explained by the project including lots and lots of other stuff. Interestingly the official government information now appears to be devoid of an expected opening date.

[6] Doncaster — Despite bridges on the Eastern Freeway being specifically built to accommodate a train line, it hasn’t eventuated. A big upgrade to bus services, under the name DART (Doncaster Area Rapid Transit) is about to start.

[7] Mulgrave — The State Coalition has pledged to do a feasibility study of the line to Rowville (including Mulgrave) if it wins the state election, one of its few policies announced so far.

[8] Baxter — Not planned, but the PeninsulaLink plans do include provision for expansion of the existing line underneath part of the freeway under construction. Extending to Leawarra (where Monash’s Peninsula campus is) and Baxter makes sense, if only to move the train stabling and massive car park out of Frankston, which can be redeveloped as part of the multiple CBDs strategy.

[9] Mornington — Gone backwards. The station and some of the train line that were there have been demolished/ripped-up… the only indicator left is Railway Grove.


Going back further, here are some that were on the blue (Harris) trains:


The red (Tait) trains appear to have listed only stations which today get suburban trains — or did at the time (St Kilda and Port Melbourne, for instance).

[10] Trains once ran here, though I don’t think they were ever electric trains.

  • Source: Electric Railways of Victoria”, by S.E.Dornan & R.G.Henderson, AETA 1979
  • The full lists that I once laboriously typed up and posted to Usenet — and include a few stations which are no longer used to terminate trains, such as Glen Huntly and Westona