V/Line Geelong and the “good old days”

I’m working on some more substantive posts, but meanwhile, here we go again: a random claim that the trains used to be faster than today.

“In 1955 it took under one hour to travel by train to Spencer St station (Southern Cross). In 2017 it takes 70 minutes. Hmmm. Something is wrong with this picture.” – Glenn, reader comment in The Geelong Advertiser

Yes indeed something is wrong with this picture: it’s not true.

Let’s take off the rose-coloured glasses.

1954 times

Once again via Mark Bau’s excellent timetable web site, the 1954 timetable shows the fastest train to Geelong was 55 minutes, nonstop, at the not-very-convenient time (at least by today’s standards) of 8:25am (outbound).

The more useful (for Geelong to Melbourne commuters) outbound train at 5:10pm (the “Geelong Flyer”) took 57 minutes — also the time of the fastest inbound train. The 6:10pm outbound train took 60 minutes. These were all nonstop.

Trains that stopped along the way, therefore were useful to more people using intermediate stations (remembering that Werribee was part of the country service back then), took around 77 to 100 minutes — the slowest being the 7:05am Melbourne to Geelong, stopping along the way at North Melbourne, Footscray, Newport, Laverton, Aircraft, Werribee, Little River, Lara, Corio, North Shore and North Geelong.

Comparing to 2017

The fastest train I can see in the 2017 timetable takes 55 minutes (5:33pm outbound from Melbourne), the exact same time as the fastest train in 1954. This not only takes a longer route via Regional Rail Link (about 81 Km vs 72.5 Km via Werribee), but it also makes three stops along the way: Footscray, Sunshine and North Geelong.

The fastest inbound trains are 59 minutes, for instance the 7:23 from Geelong, stopping at North Geelong, North Shore, Corio, Lara and Footscray.

Most other trains take 62 to 65 minutes, and have more stops. The slowest I can see is 68 minutes; the weekend lunchtime and evening trains from Warrnambool, for instance the 1:49pm from Geelong, stopping at North Geelong, Lara, Wyndham Vale, Tarneit and Footscray — a diesel loco-hauled train, which has slower acceleration than the newer V/Locity sets commonly used on the shorter-distance services to Geelong.

(Have I missed something? Leave a comment.)

V/Line North Melbourne flyover

It could be better

This is not to say V/Line shouldn’t be better. I’ve written before that their timetabling results in unnecessary conflicts and delays, and how their departures from Southern Cross are a complete mess.

The operation of the new Regional Rail Link track, opened in 2015, which gave them their own route from western Melbourne into the city, leaves a lot to be desired.

For instance, inbound V/Line trains are given ten minutes between Footscray and Southern Cross — amazingly, this is two minutes more than most Metro trains, which make an additional stop at North Melbourne. Sad!

Still, the fact remains that the Geelong line is just as fast as it was in the 1950s for express trains, and in fact is much faster for services that stop along the way.

And this is despite there being far more trains on the line today — back in 1954 there were only 9 trains per weekday to Geelong. Today there are 44.

Update 4/4/2017: Another example in last night’s Channel 9 News, where one gentleman reckoned it was faster from Melbourne to Wodonga 50 years ago.

Once again, checking the timetables shows he’s incorrect. The 1967 timetable shows it was at least 4.5 hours then. The current V/Line timetable shows it’s now 3.5 hours (delays excluded).

Update 7/4/2017

Today the Geelong Advertiser claimed “Geelong trains to Melbourne slower now than in age of steam”.

Federal MP Sarah Henderson repeated the claim on Radio National, and doubled down when quizzed about it on Twitter.

It’s nonsense of course. The fastest train then was 55 minutes; the fastest now is 55 minutes. So how did the Addy reach this conclusion?

In separate article they went into some detail.

A search a current V/Line timetable shows the average travel time for the 10 Melbourne to Geelong V/Line services after 5pm on a Friday night is 61 minutes.

So instead of comparing the fastest then to the fastest now, or the average then to the average now, they’ve compared the fastest then to the average now.

If we’re going to compare apples with apples, the 10 services after 5pm cover 5pm-7pm. In the 1954 timetable in this time range there are only two trains:

  • 5:10 -> 6:07 (57 minutes)
  • 6:05 -> 7:35 (90 minutes)

So an average of 73.5. Which is more than 61 today. Not so impressive then, was it?

V/Line has a lot of issues. Being slower than the 1950s isn’t one of them, and distracts from fixing the actual problems.

In fact, just as happened today, it allows the government’s response to focus on discrediting the comparison, and get away without addressing the issues.

If we’re advocating for change, we can do better.


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.

Retrospectives transport

In the good old days

One of the persistent myths is that in the “good old days”, before trains and trams had locked doors, nobody ever fell out.

When the old VR ran the suburban network trains, and stations were manned and had barrier gates, trains had a lot of doors and it was never a problem. Nobody fell out either, people were RESPONSIBLE for their actions way back then.

“The Don” comment, Herald Sun web site, 8:37am 19/9/2011

This is patently untrue.

Exhibit 1

A search of the National Library’s “Trove” archive of newspapers for train fell out finds scores of cases from around Australia, some fatal, some causing only minor injuries, some adults, some little kids.

Man Sustains Concussion.

Thomas M. Hassett, aged 51 years, of Holt street, Richmond, fell out of a train near Werribee on Saturday morning, while leaning out of a door. The train was immediately stopped, and the train crew ran back to where Hassett was lying on the side of the line. He was placed on the train and taken to the Spencer street station. An ambulance then transferred him to the Melbourne Hospital, where he was admitted with concussion and several broken ribs.

The Argus, 5th January 1925

A search for tram fell out also finds many cases.

Exhibit 2

The Brisbane tramway museum has a page about fatal tram accidents; they found a register of what appears to be all of them from Brisbane’s tramway history, from 1897 to 1969 (a few years after trams had been converted to buses).

Their attempted categorisation of the data (it’s not easy to do apparently) concluded that amongst 509 deaths over 70-odd years, 64 were due to “Falls from moving trams”, 59 were from “Alighting from moving trams”, and 25 “Boarding moving trams”.

(The biggest categories were “Collisions with motor vehicles” 110 and “Pedestrians knocked down” 118.)


Many of us fondly remember summer days, riding in trams and trains with the doors and windows open, the cool air blowing through. Many of us fondly remember stepping out onto the running board of trams, jumping off before the tram had come to a stop.

(Less pleasantly, I recall as late as about 1995, riding a V/Line H-set on the Ballarat line, and people kept leaving the double-doors open, leaving a huge gaping doorway that anybody could have easily fallen out of if the train had been moderately crowded.)

Sure, there’s nostalgia. But the reality is there were accidents, people were injured or killed, and the quest for better safety is a worthy one.


Etiquette and crankiness


Although there have been many convictions for rowdy conduct in the trains to Frankston at weekends, offences of this kind constantly occur. At the Malvern Court on Monday, before Mr. Cohen, P.M. and Messrs. Patterson, Hattam, and Carroll, J.P.’s, the Railway Department proceeded against Bernand Molloy, 214 George street, Fitzroy, and George Spence, 399 Drummond street, Carlton, on a charge of having interfered with the comfort of other passsengers in the half past 7 down train to Frankston on December 30. Inspector P. Roy represented the department, but the defendants did not appear.

The evidence of Detective O’sullivan, who was in company with Detective Wilson on the occasion, showed that three men, including the two defendants, entered a first class compartment at Flinders street. They had bottles of beer with them. Molloy, sat with his legs dangling out of the Tait carriage, and was guilty of indecent conduct. The three were jostling and pulling one another about, and used filthy language. There were several passengers, including ladies, in the carriage. One of the men jumped from the train into the pit at Malvern and escaped; the others were taken out at Caulfield, and gave wrong names and addresses.

Mr. Cohen said that this sort of thing was becoming very frequent, and he was glad that the department was taking action. He travelled on that line, and there never seemed to be any officers about. Defendants would be fined £10 each, with 5/ costs.

The Argus, Tuesday 6 February 1917.

That was ninety years ago. So a lack of consideration for fellow passengers from some has always been a problem.

Witness the two young males with their feet on the seats all the way from Bentleigh to Parliament on Monday morning. One apparently fast asleep and possibly oblivious to the fact that the carriage filled to the brim, the other trying to look like he was asleep, but not actually in the land of nod.

I’m hoping they got a little surprise at Parliament, as a group of inspectors got on further down the carriage, and were encouraged by a passenger (grin) to go give these blokes a wake-up call.

On Tuesday the Frankston line was suffering from signalling faults. Track 3 was out of action, so trains from the city went onto track 2, with trains to the city (both express and stoppers) squeezing onto track 1. The result was predictable overcrowding, and though my trip was made in good time, it was uncomfortable, and at some of the MATHS stations, people couldn’t squeeze on.

I could hear a couple of people getting cranky when (a) asking people to move down into the carriage (that was the first thing I’d done when I boarded) and (b) trying to get out and having another person closer to the door refuse to momentarily step out to let them through.

You’d always hope people would be more considerate of others. Sadly it’s not always the case.

See also 19/1/2004: PT etiquette guide