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

But that 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.

V/Line: a ride on RRL, and 24-hour time… mostly

I finally took a ride on the Regional Rail Link last night. In summary:

Trains from the city to Geelong depart regularly, but from numerous platforms — when I was there in peak, it was 5A, then 7A, 15A, 1, 3A… and when I’d been there at lunchtime, 2B had also been in the mix. It wouldn’t hurt to have some consistency. As it is, if you just miss a train, you’re likely to have to backtrack a long way to figure out where to catch the next one.

V/Line departures: Southern Cross, peak hour

I caught the Southern Cross to Tarneit on the 17:44 to Geelong/Waurn Ponds — peak hour, quite crowded, every seat on the 5-car train occupied I think. A few people standing (probably by choice).

Tarneit station quite busy, perhaps 100 or more people alighted there. Not bad for the fourth weekday of operation. The area around the station is somewhat dominated by the car park (hopefully new development on the northern side will reduce this. Good to see the platforms have multiple exits.

Tarneit station, evening peak

Tarneit station park and ride

Hopped on another train to Wyndham Vale a few minutes later — not nearly as crowded.

Then a train back into the City — counter-peak, mostly empty. It was late, and the departure disappeared off the platform screens for a few minutes, a bit odd.

Notably, a lady hopped off the inbound train at Sunshine and changed onto the Sunbury line outbound, so while no doubt Geelong to Werribee people have been inconvenienced having to now make a bus connection, the opening of RRL has also made other trips easier.

Despite it being after 6pm and dark, I saw no sign whatsoever of PSOs at either of the new stations. They are not currently on the list of stations served by them, which seems odd.

It was too dark to see any scenery on this little jaunt, or even to fully appreciate the speed. There was a brief good view of the bright lights of the distant city between Deer Park and Tarneit. I’ll have to go back in daylight.

Riding V/Line in the dark

Footscray station platform 3 doesn’t have departure screens. This is cunning, given this is for citybound trains that you’re not meant to board there. (Sunshine does have them as that platform is used in both directions, but I’m told it doesn’t display citybound departures.)

It’s about time

It’s great to see a brand new rail line so popular already.

But something else I noticed…

24-hour time isn’t common in Australia, but V/Line uses it. It’s on their web site, on the screens at Southern Cross, and on their timetables… in fact the paper timetable has a panel explaining 24-hour time.

V/Line explains 24-hour time

Oddly, it’s not on their Passenger Information Displays at their stations. They all seem to be 12-hour time, even on the new platforms which exclusively serve V/Line trains.

Wyndham Vale station, evening counter-peak

Is it important? Not greatly in the grand scheme of things. But some consistency would be good across the greater public transport network of course. I’m undecided which is better… 12-hour time is more well and understood, but 24 avoids AM/PM ambiguity, and most people would know it from the world of air travel. It’s also used internally by operators.

It’s not the first time we’ve had inconsistency on this in public transport. The Metcard system used 12-hour times on the cards and readers, but from memory used 24-hour time when the readers showed expiry times.

Deer Park PSOs

This is Deer Park station. (Superb pic snapped a few years ago by my friend Tony.)

Deer Park station (pic by Tony Malloy)

And this is the new pod for Protective Services Officers at Deer Park station.

Deer Park station

According to the official list, PSOs are now deployed there.

Marcus Wong’s PSO tracking spreadsheet says they started there on July 1st.

Deer Park of course is one of the stations that gets the least frequent train services in Melbourne. It’s served by V/Line’s Ballarat line trains, and about every second service runs express through the station.

Given PSOs are only on duty after 6pm, they’ll see very few trains and people compared to their cousins at Metro stations.

People: The official PTV station stats don’t include the V/Line stations, but the unofficial stats I got a couple of years ago had a figure of 79 boardings at Deer Park every weekday, the fourth-lowest in Melbourne. It’s probably reasonable to assume that many of them board at the station in the morning, and come back and alight there in the evening.

Trains: The station is adjacent to the fast-growing suburb of Derrimut, but the few people using the station is reflective of the small number of trains stopping there.

After 6pm:

  • Weekdays from the city: 6:08pm, 6:28pm, 7:47pm, 8:45pm, 10:15pm and 11:45pm (Friday only)
  • Weekdays to the city: 7:08pm, 8:25pm, 10:18pm
  • Saturdays from the city: 7:33pm, 9:08pm, 10:33pm and 12:08am
  • Saturdays to the city: 7:05pm, 8:11pm, 10:10pm
  • Sundays from the city: 7:33pm, 9:08pm, 10:33pm
  • Sundays to the city: 7:05pm, 8:11pm, 10:11pm

The PSOs are professionals of course. But gee it must be dull waiting up to an hour and a half between trains, and seeing barely any people pass through the station.

On the bright side, those few people hopefully feel safer. Anecdotal evidence matches a recent survey by UniPollWatch which found 85% of passengers believe PSOs have made the rail network safer, and The Age’s online survey said 77% feel safer.

So from that point of view, the scheme is working. But it’s an expensive policy to have two officers at every station, no matter how busy or quiet. It’s unclear if it’s actually reducing crime, and it’s also unclear if it has increased evening patronage on the rail network — particularly at places like Deer Park with hopelessly infrequent train services.

The officers are rotated around through different stations. Just as well — they’d be bored out of their skulls if they were at quiet stations like Deer Park all the time.

  • From the sounds of it, many locals use the 400 bus to Sunshine, rather than the local train. The bus runs much closer to housing in Derrimut, about every 20 minutes in peak on that part of the route. Only every 40 minutes off-peak and weekends, but that’s heaps better than the trains. No doubt many others drive.
  • When Regional Rail Link opens next year, trains through the station will increase markedly, but it’s unclear if any extra will stop. The possible 2021 V/Line timetables suggested a train every half-hour from Melton during off-peak daytime hours, which would be a vast improvement, though nowhere near the service level of Metro stations a similar distance from the city.
  • PTUA analysis of crime stats from before the PSOs were introduced was based on Metro/Connex data, and didn’t include Deer Park or other V/Line stations, but it did make clear that Melbourne-wide, about half of all reported assaults at stations aren’t after 6pm; they’re during the day.