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Today is the 'great reveal'. We see what's in the new Metro and V/Line train timetables due to start on January 31. Significant projects that triggered them include the High Capacity Metro Trains and the Ballarat Line Upgrade. Even more significant is the opportunity being taken to tidy some decades-long timetable irregularities and service shortfalls. Many were planned to have been fixed in 2015 but a nervous government on a slim margin flicked the switch to infrastructure. Service got sidelined until very recently. Hence the five year deferral of major metropolitan train timetable changes, stagnant tram timetables and widespread metropolitan bus network reform being in abeyance. Last month PTV added a website section to communicate the changes. However it undersells the improvements happening, especially on Werribee and related lines. The habit of quoting a given number of extra trips per week is a provider-oriented mindset that inflates numbers and conceals the times at which frequency is being improved. A better account is provided on this Daniel Bowen blog post. Even so some questions remained unanswered until we saw the timetables that came out last night. What we already knowSome things were clear from the PTV website item. These include the following:
* Cranbourne and Pakenham trains would enter the City Loop in an anti-clockwise direction at all times. This is a major simplification that would end that group's midday weekday-only reversal and provide a consistent direction all week. These lines would also run express full time, with Malvern through to Hawksburn being served only by Frankston trains. * The cross-city group would function consistently 7 days per week (well, almost). This provides a simplified pattern for Frankston, Werribee, Williamstown and Altona/Laverton trains. You will be able to board a train at Caulfield or South Yarra and be confident it will run straight through to Footscray and Newport. As part of this Newport will gain a 10 minute weekend frequency. Also the confusing weekday peak loop trains on the Frankston line will run cross-city like the rest of them. All this should simplify the service and allow departures from the same platforms all week. Stations south of Mordialloc will also gain with some evening services extended (previously these finished at Mordialloc or Carrum). Click for better view.
* Sandringham trains being taken out of the City Loop on weekends and will terminate at Flinders St. Hence, like the Caulfield and cross-city groups it will follow a consistent pattern all week. Additional off-peak services are added but no advice was given on what days they would run. * Peak services on the Craigieburn, Sunbury and Werribee line were upgraded to a 10 minute or better frequency over wider periods. This is a worthwhile boost to shoulder peak services on key lines that are only every 20 minutes at most other times. Peak Williamstown trains will be upgraded from the difficult to remember 22 minute frequency to an even 20 minutes. Upfield also gains a few peak services though at somewhat irregular frequencies. All this is mostly but not entirely good. For example the post am shoulder peak has frequent inbound service extended by about 30 minutes on the Sunbury line. However immediately after that there is a 24 min hole with no trains from Sunshine, one of Melbourne's busiest suburban stations that the government was promoting as a transport hub.
The timetable below shows the peak direction in the evening. This also gets a broader shoulder. However the frequency upgrades are quite small (eg from 20 to 17-18 min around 7pm) diminishing to nothing after 8pm (where the schedule remains half-hourly). A similar pattern applies for Craigieburn, where the 30 minute weeknight service cuts in at 7:45pm (currently 7:47pm).
* An improved evening frequency with the Frankston line improving from every 30 to every 20 minutes late on weeknights and after 7pm on weekends. This was stated but not very strongly. This upgrade is one of the most important restorations of service since the 1978 cuts that saw evening frequencies cut from every 20 to every 30 minutes across the network. The upgrade slashes maximum waits on the Frankston line from 30 to 20 minutes 7 days per week. Frankston has now overtaken Sandringham as the most generally frequent line on the network at all times. This sets a standard that longer and busier lines should follow. More on the recent tendency to roll out more 20 minute service here.
* Ballarat V/Line trains to be every 40 minutes off-peak on weekdays. This is a substantial upgrade on the current hourly service. Weekend service is hourly.* There will be cheaper off-peak fares for interpeak and after 7pm weekday trips for trips including Fare Zone 1. This might help spread the peak and encourage off-peak travel. No fare cut for Zone 2 only trips though.
What PTV didn't make clear (but the new timetables reveal) I've long argued that PTV hasn't been good at communicating and selling service improvements. The early advice for this timetable is not an exception. It has more good things than PTV are telling people about (as of today). Instead they rely on people to compare timetable frequencies for themselves. Few will. Let's hope they realise this and ramp up information nearer the timetable's start date. Here are the main undersold improvements: * The peak frequency of Altona trains. Like Williamstown these currently run at difficult to remember 22 minute intervals. You would think that if Williamstown is improved then Altona would as well. However the PTV communication did not make this clear. Altona passengers rightly complain that they are neglected by PTV communication. This is due to the latter's ignorance of the network (Laverton being the only station that on weekdays can be reached via two rail routes from Melbourne, one of which is via Altona). The new timetable confirms that Altona peak trains will run every 20 minutes, receiving the same upgrade as Williamstown. This is good news and restores full Useful Network service to Altona that was lost in 2011 (though I took liberties and retained it on my frequency maps).
* Late weeknight and after 7pm evening frequency on the Werribee and Williamstown lines. There will be a major upgrade with the maximum wait dropping from 30 to 20 minutes. That's like the Frankston line, however unlike Frankston it's not communicated at all. The new timetable confirms that weeknight and weekend trains will run every 20 minutes until midnight to Werribee and Williamstown, a major service upgrade. * Cranbourne and Pakenham weeknight service. Previously every 30 min after approximately 10:30pm. Now improved to every 20 min until midnight. * Weekend 10 minute service to Newport via 7-day cross-city group. Currently Werribee trains run via the City Loop and Altona while Williamstown trains operate as shuttles on weekends. The 7 day cross-city pattern will make arrangements more like weekdays. But not completely. As an example, Newport on weekdays offpeak sees 9 trains per hour, with direct services to Werribee, Laverton (via Altona) and Williamstown.
On weekends Newport service will increase from 3 to 6 trains per hour, with Werribee trains operating via Altona (unlike on weekdays where they don't). Hence this will remain as a minor weekday/weekend inconsistency. Williamstown will also be inconsistent on weekends because passengers will gain direct trains to the CBD between approximately 11am and 7pm but will need to change at Newport outside those hours.
* Major Sunday morning improvements. This has long been a sore point amongst train travellers especially in northern and western Melbourne. Services are typically every 40 minutes despite high travel demand. In contrast most eastern lines get 30 minute Sunday morning frequencies while Sydney and even Perth enjoy 15 minute intervals. In a major but (again) not promoted upgrade the new timetable improves Sunday morning frequency to every 20 minutes from Werribee, Williamstown and Frankston. Frankston's gain is less due to its higher existing service (every 30 min) but there are some oddities I'll mention later. Lines remaining with 40 minute Sunday morning service after this change are Sunbury, Craigieburn, Upfield, Mernda, Hurstbridge, Sandringham and Pakenham.
* Melton line service. It's been well communicated that Ballarat will get trains every 40 minutes. What hasn't been communicated well is what happens at major closer in stations like Melton, Caroline Springs and Deer Park. Currently these have two trains per hour at uneven intervals. This new timetable increases service to Melton and Caroline Springs to three trains per hour and an even 20 minute frequency. This is good and expands the weekday Useful Network to Melton township for the first time. Deer Park and Ardeer also gain, with the former benefiting from Geelong trains. My Useful Network maps will be revised when the new timetable comes into effect.For places like Melton, this timetable looks a lot like the first (2015) Regional Rail Link timetable. That increased weekday service from hourly to every 20 minute but left weekend service at every hour. Crowding later forced an upgrade to every 40 min, though 20 min would be desirable, at least to Wyndham Vale. The decision to leave Melton and surrounding stations with a 60 minute weekend service (despite a 20 minute weekday frequency) will likely underwhelm many residents who were hoping for more. With weekdays boosted, a weekend frequency upgrade is now the main thing standing between Melton and the full suburban level train service it needs.
Another key need, along with the planned grade separation and station rebuild, is a bus interchange at Deer Park Station to recognise its role as a major connection point in an otherwise underserviced area. Although Sunshine is publicised as the area's main transport hub, the potential of Deer Park for Geelong - Ballarat line and more local interchange (including bus) should not be overlooked, especially given its increased train frequency.
Oddities and loose endsI haven't had time to look at too many oddities or pay too much attention to stopping patterns. I have not seen the increased trips that PTV vaguely promised for the Sandringham line but didn't say what time of day. Timetable reform is supposed to make services simpler to use. There are a couple of cases where this timetable only half-heartedly does this. For example the Werribee line has inconsistencies as to whether trains run via Laverton or not. That's normally a weekday/weekend thing (apart from weeknights). Then there is whether Williamstown passengers must change at Newport. That's mostly a day/night thing (with times varying by day). If you wanted to get a train from say Frankston to Williamstown or Altona it will remain quite confusing if or where you need to change.
Observers were hopeful that the new timetable would resolve the confusion around the City Loop and its weekday midday reversal. So far they have not got off to a good start with inconsistent start locations and up to 80 minute gaps from Loop Stations on this Cranbourne line timetable. Passengers at loop stations may still need to change trains and build buffers into their itinerary to be assured of catching a particular train (such as might be required for a connection to an hourly bus).
If they can't schedule, communicate and run loop services consistently and reliably, concepts to smash the loop open (eg rebuild it to enable Richmond - Parliament - Melbourne Central - Flagstaff - North Melbourne through running) could be worth another thought. While seen by some as heresy (as not all trains would run via Flinders St) this more legible arrangement would would increase core capacity at a relatively low cost. It is not a crazy idea and was officially proposed under Stage 4 of 2012's Network Development Plan - Metropolitan Rail. More recently it has received the backing of the Rail Futures Institute in their Melbourne Rail Plan 2020-2050. I also noted a potential issue with the Frankston line concerning the interface between Night Network trips and regular Sunday morning trips. This arises because although the Night Network solved the issue of the Sunday timetable's late start of service on Sundays, it does not on other days where a Sunday timetable is effective but Night Network isn't. This happens on Good Friday every year and Christmas on most years. Before Night Network started the first trains that arrived at Frankston arrived at approximately 9am on Sunday. When Night Network was introduced the first non-Night Network train was made a bit later. That remains the case today, with the first arrival at 9:08am. This is important for Frankston because a number of very long and sometimes high profile bus routes depart shortly after 9am Sundays on their first trip. If you don't make them you face an hour wait. Assuming that Night Network is defined as when the hourly services are running, the January 31 timetable makes the first non-Night network arrival at Frankston significantly later, at 9:24am - after all the buses have gone. That likely represents as service span cut early on Good Friday and (mostly) Christmas morning. These are likely to be quiet times for travel but it is a cut nevertheless unless the previous one or two Night Network trips can be made part of the regular timetable. This should be done across all lines anyway so that 7 or 8am trips become part of the core daytime timetable on all days. A 30 or even a 20 minute frequency should also apply then to benefit early Sunday morning regional and airport connections.The other issue is the lumpy frequency - from every 60 to every 20 minutes - on early Sunday mornings for trains towards Frankston. The new timetable adds more after 9am trips but exacerbates existing oddities before 9am. Where possible one should jiggle services around these transition periods to avoid sudden frequency changes. In this case it is most unlikely that travel demand at 8am is just one-third of what it is at 9am. And bringing forward the 9:24am arrival to 9:00am approx would allow a smoother frequency transition and assist with connections to buses leaving shortly after 9am.
Also the Stony Point line remains unusual in that its last Sunday trip from Frankston remains nearly an hour later than the last Monday - Thursday evening trip. This early finish makes the Stony Point line difficult for even CBD office commuters to use. Stony Point's timetable has not been significantly changed in this timetable revision. Sandringham's timetable needs a lot of study to find substantial improvements. However the new timetable lengthens waits around 7am Saturday mornings (from 20 to 30 minutes). And there's a curious inbound express trip on weekdays at 6:05pm from Sandringham. That trip is in the current timetable but, like the other trips, stopped all stations. Because Sunday mornings were not fixed it retains the oddity where trains run half as frequently around 8am on a Sunday morning (every 40 min) as at midnight Sunday evening (every 20 min). A recurring theme of this blog is that there is little relationship between the service a line (or route) gets and objective measures like patronage levels or needs. This timetable change continues this theme with the busiest lines getting less than some quieter lines. For example the cross-city WWF lines (Werribee, Williamstown and Frankston) plus Sandringham are each quieter than Dandenong. However they get upgraded to a 20 minute maximum wait, unlike Dandenong that retains its 30 minutes. Future timetable upgrades need to adopt 20 minute maximum waits at key stations such as Ringwood, Watergardens, Craigieburn and Mernda to spread benefits more widely and boost patronage. BusesThere are some new bus timetables online. For example some in the Caroline Springs area eg 460. Craigieburn area timetables like 533 have finish dates of 30 January 2021 so it is likely that these too will have revised times. It is understood that bus timetable changes will occur in dribs and drabs over the coming months. ConclusionThese rail service improvements will make catching trains easier and cut waiting at times people need to travel. With a minor exception of early Sunday morning, when the last couple of Night Network trips are running, you will now have a maximum wait of 20 minutes between 6am and midnight on the Frankston, Werribee and Williamstown lines. Hence they join the club that the Sandringham line was the sole member of after its upgrade in the early 1990s. Yes, train timetable reform in Melbourne can have time-lines that equal the biggest infrastructure projects, purely due to a past lack of political will. We still trail Sydney and Perth (with their widespread 7 day 15 minute service) but not by quite as much. Long-neglected Melton finally got some love, with it joining the Useful Network. No longer will middle-suburban Ardeer have its sparse trains on weekdays, though the Melton line's weekend offering will remain slim. And there's some small but worthwhile shoulder peak additions on busy but historically neglected lines including to Watergardens and Craigieburn. These are the sort of relatively low cost service upgrades we should see more of. It is encouraging that after several inactive years that we are once again seeing service boosts. This should be the start of a program of upgrades across all rail groups so that by the time of the 2022 state election the service on most lines, especially those serving marginal seats, is substantially upgraded compared to now. There is no time to waste. See other Building Melbourne's Useful Network items hereThis item was written by Peter Parker http://www.melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
This article first appeared on melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
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