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.

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.

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. That should have entered the single track, before passing the inbound train I was waiting for at Rockbank at 18:50, which in turn would have reached me back at Caroline Spring at 18:55.

But the 18:45 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:

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.