Which has more trains? The Upfield line or the Geelong line?

I can’t remember who asked the question, but it was a good one:

Which has more trains? The Upfield line or the Geelong line?

They’re quite different rail lines.

The Upfield line serves Melbourne’s northern suburbs, and runs via the City Loop. It runs electric Metro services through 16 stations (plus 3 City Loop stations). The route is 23km long, and takes about 36 minutes.

The Geelong line serves Melbourne’s outer-western growth suburbs at Wyndham Vale and Tarneit (along with Deer Park, also on the Ballarat line) as well as the city and suburbs of Geelong, all the way out to Waurn Ponds. It runs diesel V/Line services. It’s about 93km to Waurn Ponds via Regional Rail Link, also with 16 stations, taking about 75 minutes.

And the answer to the question? If I’ve got my numbers right, overall the Upfield line has more services each week: 749 vs 714.

But the Geelong line has more on weekdays (122 vs 108), and has a lot more services during peak.

Upfield vs Geelong train services

(Counts both directions. Night Coaches excluded. Night Network services were counted as part of the following day.)

Some things I noticed:

While the Upfield line peak is only three trains per hour (every 18-20 minutes), the Geelong line is more intensive, with 8 trains arriving at Southern Cross between 7:30 and 8:30am (some originating at Wyndham Vale).

The Geelong line is more tidal. Counting peak as before 9am, and 3pm-7pm, there are six more trains in the peak direction than counter-peak, meaning V/Line has to find central city stabling for those trains during the day. The Upfield line is balanced, partly because the peak service is basically no more frequent than off-peak.

Upfield train approaching Jewell

On weekends there’s no contest: the Upfield line runs every 20 minutes for most of the day, with the Geelong line at half that frequency — woefully inadequate for a train line serving suburban areas.

There are more trains in the evenings on the Upfield line, half-hourly, but not by much, as the Geelong line runs about every 40 minutes.

Monday to Thursday nights, the Geelong line has a last train that’s far later than any Metro line: departing Southern Cross at 1:15am.

On the Upfield line, stopping patterns are fairly simple. Between North Melbourne and Upfield every train stops at every station.

The only variations are at the City end due to the City Loop:

  • some trains via the Loop clockwise (weekday AM and weekends)
  • some anti-clockwise (weekday PM)
  • and some direct via Southern Cross (Night Network, after midnight on Friday and Saturday nights)

Geelong-bound train approaches Tarneit

There’s a myriad of stopping patterns on the Geelong line, at least on weekdays.

Firstly, trains originate and terminate at: Waurn Ponds, Marshall, South Geelong, Geelong and Wyndham Vale, as well as a few running to/from Warrnambool — combined with varying platforms at Southern Cross, this leads to confusion for passengers at the Melbourne end looking for their next train.

And the station stopping patterns are all over the place. Just between Geelong and Melbourne inbound, just before 10am on weekdays, I can see:

  • All stations to Tarneit, then express to Sunshine
  • Express North Geelong to Lara to Wyndham Vale, then express Tarneit to Sunshine
  • All stations except Ardeer
  • Express North Geelong to Lara, and express Tarneit to Sunshine
  • Express Lara to Wyndham Vale, and express Tarneit to Sunshine
  • Express North Geelong to Lara, and express Tarneit to Footscray
  • Express Lara to Sunshine
  • Express Tarneit to Ardeer
  • Express North Geelong to Lara, and express Wyndham Vale to Footscray
  • Express Lara to Tarneit, then express to Sunshine
  • All stations (from Wyndham Vale)
  • Express Lara to Footscray
  • Express North Geelong to Lara, express Little River to Tarneit to Sunshine
  • Express Geelong to Footscray
  • Express North Shore to Lara to Wyndham Vale, and express Deer Park to Sunshine
  • Express North Geelong to Corio, and express Deer Park to Sunshine

Unless I’ve miscounted, that’s 16 different stopping patterns in just the first 22 trains to Melbourne on a weekday. Amazing. It must confuse the drivers no end.

With all these variations, plus the line sharing tracks from Deer Park in with the Ballarat trains, and Bendigo trains from Sunshine in, it’s no wonder the punctuality is a mess. For it to work, every train would have to be right on time, every time… which they aren’t, because regional train designs are really slow for loading the large numbers of passengers who use these services.

The Geelong line has single track at the outer end, for most of the way from Geelong to Waurn Ponds, though this is set to be duplicated soon. For now though, it causes issues, including some counter-peak trains not stopping at Marshall because while there’s a passing loop, there’s no platform on it.

Camp Road grade separation, Upfield line

The Upfield line’s single track is also a bottleneck. So you’d think it would be a priority to fix? But no — the recent Camp Road level crossing removal (costing around $85 million) made provision for it, but didn’t actually fix it.

The single track doesn’t just make running frequent services difficult; it also means any little delay can quickly snowball – and to avoid this, Metro will often terminate/originate trains at Coburg instead, leaving a big gap in services between Coburg and Upfield. This just yesterday in morning peak hour, following an earlier disruption:

Despite this, it is actually possible to run more trains on the Upfield line, every 10 minutes as far as Coburg. How do we know this? Because it happened during the 2006 Commonwealth Games to better serve venues at Royal Park. These days there’d need to be some jumping through hoops at the city end, since the Northern Loop is full until the Metro tunnel is completed, but some trains direct into Southern Cross would be possible.

Changes coming?

Regional Rail Link brought trains to Melbourne’s outer west, but brought with it the challenges of services for regional Victoria sharing with suburban travellers — something at which V/Line really hasn’t excelled.

In the near future we’ll get an idea of what the State Government has planned for the regional rail network. Separating it from suburban services — giving Tarneit and Wyndham Vale a Metro service — has to be a priority.

And hopefully the Upfield line (and all the other Metro lines) will get full duplication and frequent all-day services… in our growing city, this is nothing less than Melburnians need and should expect.

Public transport compo: what is the threshold?

If you’re confused about tram and train compensation thresholds, you’re not the only one.

PTV announced earlier this month that:

PTV CEO Jeroen Weimar said both Metro and Yarra Trams narrowly missed their new targets for punctuality in February, but met their targets for reliability.

PTV’s web site has figures for February 2018 that clearly show that of the three major operators — Metro, Yarra Trams and V/Line — all failed to meet their punctuality targets:

PTV: February 2018 performance

As shown in this Transport For Victoria info graphic, the performance targets changed in the new contract.

The target we’re interested in right now, punctuality, went up to 92% for Metro, and 82% for Yarra Trams:

Transport For Victoria: new performance targets from December 2017

Trams in Flinders Street

What about the compo?

Okay, so if Metro and Yarra Trams missed their targets, can you claim compensation?

It turns out no, you can’t. If you go looking on the Metro or Yarra Trams web sites, nowhere does it mention that compensation is payable for February.

Why is this? I sought clarification from PTV.

It turns out the target is different to the compensation threshold.

Punctuality:

Punctuality target Compensation threshold February 2018
Metro 92.0% 90.0% 91.8%
Yarra Trams 82.0% 79.0% 81.7%
V/Line 92.0% 92.0% 82.7%

(Previous punctuality thresholds: Metro 88%, Yarra Trams 77%)

Reliability:

Reliability target Compensation threshold February 2018
Metro 98.5% 98.0% 98.8%
Yarra Trams 98.5% 98.0% 98.7%
V/Line 96.0% 96.0% 96.3%

(Previous reliability thresholds: Metro 98%, Yarra Trams 98%, eg unchanged)

So as you can see, Metro and Yarra Trams beat the reliability and punctuality thresholds, even if they didn’t quite meet the punctuality targets. (Only V/Line is paying compensation for February.)

It’s also apparently the thresholds, not the targets, that trigger financial penalties.

So in this case, even though Metro and Yarra Trams missed their punctuality targets… the only consequence appears to have been a light public berating by PTV.

A quick look at the new Metro and Yarra Trams contracts

It’s no huge surprise that the State Government has announced incumbent operators MTM and KDR will continue to operate Metro Trains and Yarra Trams respectively.

The current contracts started in 2009, and expire in late-2017. These new contracts will run through to 2024, with an option for another 3 years to 2027.

Despite an RTBU campaign, clearly the state government didn’t want to take the system back into public ownership.

The new contracts resolve several weaknesses in the old contracts, including unplanned service alterations such as station skipping, Loop bypasses, short shunting, with penalties applying for these.

It’s important to remember that these are sometimes justified. For instance if a counter-peak train carrying few passengers is delayed, and that train will subsequently form a peak hour service, is it better to let it run late for both of those services, or to skip some stations (with due advice to any passengers affected) to get it back on time to carry a peak load?

There will be a ban on intrusive advertising will ban all-over ads that block windows, making it difficult to see in or out. It sounds like some limited covering of windows will still be allowed, so we’ll have to see the fine detail of this, and how the operators and their advertisers actually implement it — it’s not like most tram and train exteriors don’t offer a lot of other real estate.

There will be an automatic refund for network-wide incidents such as the July train shutdown — though again, the precise details will be significant. In July, some people who were turned away from railway stations by staff and didn’t touch-on were therefore not eligible for compensation.

(I suspect the tram system is likely to be more resilient, as central control might be a less essential part of everyday operation.)

And there are “passenger experience” measures with penalties attached, tracking things like cleanliness.

One particularly interesting snippet: apparently Metro will put buses on standby at five strategic locations, in readiness for major disruptions. I’m assuming that would just be during peak hour when it’s difficult to get buses deployed. I wonder how many rail operators do this — though I also wonder how many rail systems this busy have 150+ level crossings regularly causing disruptions due to suicides or accidents.

These infographics from Transport For Victoria highlight a number of the changes — scroll across to see more:

Presumably the planned Comeng train refurbishment includes these previously flagged changes to interior layouts and seating, and inter-carriage connections. It’s unclear what the planned upgrades to B-class trams, and other train types will entail — note the X’traps and Siemens refurbs are getting a lot more money than the Comengs.

The performance targets are rising. What’s perhaps significant is that the targets are above the figures achieved by the operators for much of the past year, so they’ve set themselves a challenge to improve.

Here’s a comparison of Track Record figures from the past 13 months (August 2016 to August 2017), to the new thresholds:

MTM has missed the new train Delivery target twice (including July, when the big shut down occurred) and missed the Punctuality target 9 times.

KDR has missed the new tram Delivery target three times (March, April and May 2017), and missed the Punctuality target 6 times.

Unfortunately, compensation will still not be automatic, except for network-wide disruptions. For monthly breaches of the target, it’ll still only apply for Myki Passholders who bother to put in the application.

And unlike some compensation in the past, it will still only apply if the network-wide average falls below the threshold, so if your line is crap but the rest are okay, no compo for you.

Punctuality is particularly a problem for the trams, because they fall victim to other road traffic, which is outside their control. The operator can only do so much when it’s ultimately up to government to institute measures such as dedicated roadspace and traffic light priority to get trams moving. (As noted in this recent post, Melbourne’s trams spend an incredible 17% of their time simply waiting for traffic lights.)

William St tram prang

The increased spend on proactive maintenance and renewal is also likely to be important, to help prevent issues such as track, signal and fleet faults that regularly cause cancellations and delays.

Some things don’t appear to have made the cut this time around — I would like to have seen a move towards headway running (maintaining a service frequency, rather than strict departure times) when high frequency services are running — more on this in an upcoming blog post.

And in the information published yesterday, there’s been no mention yet of planned service upgrades (such as PTV’s plans for 10-minute services), timetable consolidation (eg PM peak on the Ringwood line is still a mess of different stopping patterns), infrastructure projects to be included, or the move towards “metronisation” that was flagged in the 2009 contracts.

Hopefully the full contracts will be published soon.

From what we’ve seen so far, it looks like a step forward. Now let’s see if it all results in an improvement in service quality.

* * *

PS: This from ABC Online today:

Metro’s paper timetables mess

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that fewer people use paper train timetables than used to.

The proliferation of departure information via the official web sites, Google Maps and the official Journey Planner, as well as the official app (with its real time information) and many other apps, means people can get that information far more readily than they used to.

Some stations also have frequent services all day, so why would you even bother checking?

Here’s my totally unscientific Twitter poll the other day:

— It’s doubly unscientific because a poll online will get responses from people who are online. Many of the people who do use paper timetables are unlikely to see it and respond.

But it’s still interesting to see how many respondents never look at paper timetables, preferring online — 85% total — options that didn’t exist a generation ago.

It’s also interesting that quite a few people just go to the station — with or without assistance from apps — thanks to high-frequency services.

Anyway… some people still use paper timetables, so they need to be produced, and should be up to a high standard.

Which brings me to the current timetables. A new Metro timetable started on Monday, and Metro has duly published paper timetables, as well as pushing the information via all the other media.

But flicking through the paper timetables, I found a number of issues. Here’s a few scans from the Craigieburn and Upfield line timetable booklet.

Actually apparently they’re not a timetable anymore, they’re “Train guides”. But no matter.

Metro train guides (timetables) August 2017

Here’s the abstract map in the front of the booklet. I suppose these are trying to give you a context for where in Melbourne each line runs. But they over-simplify the line’s direction (the Upfield line runs almost due north), they only list a station or two, and the kilometre distances (a bit hard to see in the scan) are inaccurate in some of the other line booklets.

Craigieburn Upfield timetable August 2017

Why are these two lines in the same booklet anyway? Despite the description, they are not part of the same line. They share no stations outside the central area (if you include North Melbourne). Online, neither PTV nor Metro treat them as one.

Do local train users treat them as one line? Judging from the number of peak services (Craigieburn has three times as many as Upfield), it seems the demand in peak is totally different, so I’d guess not.

Listing Craigieburn and Upfield together makes the timetables harder to read. I seem to recall these lines have been lumped together since at least The Met days. It appears to be for operator convenience, not for the benefit of passengers.

And why only mention interchange to the Sunbury line? What about Werribee and Williamstown?

The text describing the operating hours appears to be correct, but overly-complicated. I wonder if a better way of presenting this could have been found:

Train timetable August 2017 - Operating hours

The line map showing all the stations on the line/s is severely broken. These are presumably inspired by the new(ish) network map:

Craigieburn Upfield timetable August 2017 - Map

Let’s leave aside the tiny coloured train interchange dots, which I doubt are very useful to people.

The problem is the map itself. In reality, travelling citybound, if you turn left from North Melbourne, you’ll head into Flagstaff, not Southern Cross.

If you’re going outbound and turn left from North Melbourne, you’ll be headed towards Craigieburn, not Upfield.

The whole thing is backwards. If you flipped it horizontally, it’d be accurate!

It turns out that many of the booklets have things muddled up. Here’s Cranbourne/Pakenham. The City Loop is right, but the outer branches are the wrong way around:

Cranbourne Pakenham timetable August 2017 - map

All the booklets for lines through North Melbourne have the City Loop oriented the wrong way around. And the Werribee/Williamstown booklet has shuffled its branches around too:

Werribee Williamstown timetable August 2017 - map

Train maps are often abstract, and not to scale. But they should at least present the stations in the correct order, and reflecting actual geographic directions, not getting them backwards or back-to-front.

The Werribee/Williamstown issue has at least been acknowledged, but how do these things get into print?

Moving on… This description of the City Loop tells you how the trains on this line run when Citybound, but not Outbound. Until the Loop runs in a consistent manner, this will be confusing. Would a diagram with arrows have been better?

Craigieburn Upfield timetable August 2017 - Information pages

I know that Night Train services (introduced 2016) are technically different to the Midnight to 1am services (introduced 2006), but they operate on exactly the same nights, so to reduce passenger confusion, it’d make sense to brand them the same, and show them the same way in the timetables. For now however, only the services introduced in 2016 are shaded blue.

Craigieburn Upfield timetable August 2017

They do get marks for indicating that Night Train services continue over the page.

I’ll just mention again that putting Craigieburn and Upfield train times in one booklet makes it harder to read.

In my skimming, I haven’t found errors in the train times themselves, but they usually do a good job on this bit.

However bus timetables are another matter. Craig Halsall on Twitter is logging scores of errors in timetables and maps around the network. PTV should offer him a job.

Many may be getting their train timetable information elsewhere, but print train timetables will be with us for a while yet.

And no matter what the medium, authorities need to clearly and accurately convey service information. The colours and fonts chosen mean the booklets look nice. But there are so many little issues — they really need to do better.

New timetables on 27th August, as Southland Station nears completion

New public transport timetables kick in on August 27th. Last week (or maybe it was the week before), PTV released details, including full timetables for the routes affected:

Altona Loop users rejoice! (A bit)

There will be no more Altona Loop shuttles. Weekday Altona Loop services will run through to Flinders St.

This also means Werribee trains will run express Newport-Footscray-North Melbourne, so both Altona and Werribee people win from this.

Of course the mostly single track through Altona means bypasses are set to continue. At least we now know the Kororoit Creek Road grade separation will include some duplication. Hopefully that makes a difference.

There hasn’t been a wholesale re-write of the timetable, so peak Williamstown and Altona services remain at every 22 minutes, while off-peak is 20!

V/Line V/Locity train on viaduct between Flinders Street and Southern Cross

More Geelong trains

The Geelong line will go to every 40 minutes on weekends. With constant overcrowding on the current hourly trains, this was only a matter of time, though heaven knows why they didn’t push the upgrades a little further to half-hourly, which would have meant more trains, a clockface timetable (40’s alternating hours has always been problematic) and preserving the bus connections, many of which are every 30-60 minutes.

As it is, bus connections will break. The premier Geelong bus service, route 1 from North Shore to Deakin, is every 30 minutes on weekends, and will remain so. It doesn’t take a genius to see that buses every 30 minutes don’t interface well with trains every 40 minutes.

V/Line have said in response to queries that it’s because the Sunbury line is every 20-40 minutes on weekends, and the Bendigo line is tied in with that, because they share some tracks… and the Bendigo line in turn interfaces with the Ballarat and Geelong lines. V/Line claims this prevents the Geelong line going to every 30 minutes.

But then, this is the organisation that has three out of four hourly services currently meeting at Deer Park Junction within a few minutes of each other, so I don’t think it’s unfair to say that their timetabling leaves something to be desired.

So has that been fixed? Well, yes and no:

  • Ballarat line at Deer Park, inbound: 15 past the hour. Outbound: 34
  • Geelong line at Deer Park, inbound: 12 and 52, or 32. Outbound: 07 and 47, or 27

So if the inbound Geelong train is 3 minutes late, every second hour it’ll delay an inbound Ballarat train. If it’s even later, it’ll delay an outbound Ballarat train as well, thanks to the flat junction.

You’d think they could have figured out better spacing between the Geelong and Ballarat trains. Aside from junction conflicts, Deer Park passengers will have 2-3 trains per hour: either at 12, 15, 52 past the hour, or at 15 and 32. Hmmmmm.

It remains to be seen whether V/Line continues to run their daily game of Mystery Platforms at Southern Cross.


Southland

The August 27th timetable for the Frankston line already includes Southland times:

Frankston line timetable showing Southland times

For those wondering about stopping patterns, the full timetable shows peak expresses will still run to/from Cheltenham, not stopping at Southland.

On Sunday afternoon I went and had a quick look at the station. It’s looking good. These views from the top of the shopping centre carpark.

The platforms are looking close to complete. Even some signage is now up.
Southland Station under construction

View looking towards the City. I’m guessing the structure closest the camera is the PSO pod and/or toilets. There seems to be plenty of coverage on the citybound platform; less so on the outbound platform.
Southland Station under construction

View looking towards Frankston. The southern ends of the platforms (as well as the entire citybound platform) are adjacent to houses, but it appears you won’t be able to see much from the platform. A few better view from the top of the Southland carpark :-/
Southland Station under construction

It’s good to see the pedestrian route through the carpark has been modified recently; it now heads more-or-less directly to the station entrance.
Southland Station - shopping centre car park

I’m not sure you’d say the station looks beautiful. I guess we’ll see what it looks like when it opens.

The station may look close to completion, but that is not to say that it is opening imminently. While the structure looks more and more functional every week, I’m hearing November is the likely opening date, with electrical and signalling works still underway.

I suppose until the station actually opens, the extra minute or two allowed in the timetables will be one less excuse Metro has for train delays.

It’ll be good to finally have it open – hopefully in time for the Christmas shopping rush.

Other timetable changes

Other changes on August 27th include additional trains on a number of lines: Werribee, Craigieburn (with all peak trains now via the Loop), Sunbury (some peak trains direct via Southern Cross), and some trains extended to Eltham.

There are also more V/Line services to Shepparton, Traralgon (approaching hourly on weekends, but not quite there yet), Bendigo, and Ballarat/Ararat. A number of local buses, both in metropolitan Melbourne and around Victoria, also have timetable changes.

All in all, some good upgrades. Enough? No, of course not – missing in action is any hint of a rollout of PTV’s 10 minute suburban train plan – but this is a step forward.