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THERE'S one thing worse than being late because your train is running late. That's being late because it's running early.
The first time it happened, about a fortnight ago, I dismissed it as an aberration, unlikely to ever be repeated.
But it has emerged as a definite trend, and we downtrodden, long-suffering train travellers are entitled to know why
Timing is everything to a commuter, particularly when you're a Virgo pedant.
At least when your train is late you're expecting it and, because it happens so often, you've probably factored it into your travel plans.
But when I turn the last corner, right on time with almost two minutes to spare to cover the remaining 150m to the station, I don't expect to see my ride already pulling in.
I certainly don't expect to see it pulling out of the platform before the advertised departure time, as it has at least three times in the past fortnight while I've huffed and puffed and ducked and weaved through traffic in a vain attempt to be on board.
Then, to add insult to potential injury, on one of those occasions the premature departure of the 9.04 was followed by an announcement that the next train would "not run today".
The cancellation meant a minimum 22-minute gap between trains - and take a wild guess about the chances of the 9.26 turning up early!
The other thing I've noticed lately, as a creature of habit who prefers the front carriage because it saves time when I reach Flinders Street and pull up directly opposite the Elizabeth St exit, is the increase in female train drivers.
Indeed, one wonders whether that shift in the gender balance could explain the increasing number of trains running on time - or early.
Women, after all, are well known to be better organised than your mere male.
Metro communications manager Geraldine Mitchell confirmed the increase in female drivers, but she had not considered the possibility it may confirm my early-trains theory.
Admittedly, only 60 (6.4 per cent) of Metro's 935 drivers and trainees are women. But their numbers are increasing and will continue to grow after a recent recruiting campaign.
Mind you, whatever you think of the female influence, there's a bit of leeway involved when it comes to punctuality on our rail network.
Trains can be up to four minutes and 59 seconds late or 59 seconds early and still be classed as running on time under the company's agreement with the State Government.
Perhaps you can try the same arrangement with your boss.
Metro's performance thresholds require them to run at least 98 per cent of scheduled services each month and for more than 88 per cent of those services to be punctual.
The company proudly reported last week that more than 90 per cent of Melbourne's trains had run on time for three consecutive months.
It's the first time that's happened since Metro took over Melbourne's train network seven years ago and I guess congratulations are due, even if they are stretching the definition of punctuality.
I'm as reasonable as the next pedant cursing loudly as the back end of a train disappears into the distance before the clock strikes 9.04.
I understand we're talking about 250-tonne trains, not Swiss watches, and we can't expect absolute precision.
But let's get back to the good old days before this gets out of hand.
We train commuters are a patient bunch. Through necessity, most of us have turned waiting into an art form.
But you can't wait for an early train.
This article first appeared on www.heraldsun.com.au
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