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Two rail lines diverge in Altona North; some take the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.
Four years of patronage data on Melbourne's railway stations reveals that while passenger numbers have soared on the Werribee line, they have collapsed on the Altona Loop line that branches off it.
Between 2008 and 2012 - a period when public transport patronage grew in Melbourne - passenger numbers at the Altona Loop's three bayside stations fell 30 per cent, data released by Public Transport Victoria shows.
The rapid passenger growth has helped turn the Werribee line into one of Melbourne's most overcrowded, with load breaches on one in four peak-hour trains.
In an attempt to ease the overcrowding, the Werribee line got extra services in 2011, particularly in the peak, when a train was timetabled to run every 10 to 12 minutes.
But the improvements were at the direct expense of Altona Loop commuters, who had peak-hour trains cut to once every 22 minutes. Off-peak, the loop became a shuttle service that required passengers to change trains up to twice to get to or from the city.
Jennifer Williams, who catches public transport from Altona to South Yarra, said the 2011 changes gave Altona Melbourne's poorest rail service.''We're the only people in Melbourne that have to catch three trains to get to a City Loop station,'' Ms Williams said. ''Two you can cope with, but three is just ridiculous when you're only 17 kilometres from the city.''
Ms Williams, a member of community campaigners the Altona Loop Group, said she knew people who now drove from Altona to stations at Newport, Laverton or North Williamstown.
The Loop Group has lobbied for an end to the Altona Loop's uniquely irregular and inconvenient timetable. ''We were told by Public Transport Victoria and Metro that that couldn't happen until 2016, which made us all very depressed,'' Ms Williams said.
According to Public Transport Victoria, significant improvements will be possible only when the Regional Rail Link opens in 2016 and Geelong and Werribee-bound trains no longer share the same rail line, although there have been minor fixes.
''PTV and Metro are improving services for Altona passengers,'' Public Transport Victoria spokeswoman Andrea Duckworth said.
''Recent timetable changes have improved connections at Newport. And there's been a dramatic reduction in the number of trains making unscheduled bypasses of the Altona Loop, down from a high of more than 1000 in 2010, to around 300 loop bypasses in the past year.''
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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