Sunday, June 13, 2010

The June 2010 Caulfield group train timetable - Week 1

A week has passed since the new train timetable commenced. This timetable introduced major changes on the Pakenham, Cranbourne and Frankston lines, such as more consistent train spacing, more regular stopping patterns and the removal of most Frankston express trains from the City Loop.

Following are several observations from peak travel during the first week:

Service levels

The introduction of more direct Flinders Street trains has allowed a higher overall service. Trains are more regular with each stopping pattern operating approximately every 10 minutes (see extract from Metro Frankston timetable below).

The 20 July 2009 Caulfield group timetable had 37 trains arriving at Flinders Street between 7:00 and 8:59am weekdays. The June 2010 timetable has 42 arrivals, an increase of 13.5 per cent. In the afternoon the number of scheduled departures from Flinders Street between 4:00 and 6:59pm was 46 in 2009. The June 2010 timetable increased this to 55 services, or a rise of 19.5 per cent.

Some additional counter-peak services were added. Off-peak service levels remained unchanged. However Hawksburn, Toorak and Armadale gained a doubled weekend service due to the conversion of Frankston express trains to stoppers.

Over the last five or six years years train patronage had risen much faster than the number of services added. This has led to overcrowding. This month's changes respresent the largest peak period service 'catch-up' in this period.

June 2010 Metro timetable showing more regular peak service patterns

Loop operating patterns

The new timetable saves some passengers from an unwanted trip around the loop while others who previously had a direct service will need to change (and have a longer trip). Hence there are winners and losers from the new timetable, even though it is overall in the network's interest.

Why? An inefficiency with the Caulfield group timetable was that up to now everything, except for a couple of direct services, ran via a single platform on each of the three City Loop stations. At this point the trains were pretty much full and there is limited capacity to add more trains to the loop.

Yet we were still sending many passengers (destined for Flinders Street and Southern Cross) via the loop. And they were occupying space on trains (normally seats in the pm peak) to the exclusion of loop passengers (particularly those boarding at Parliament in the pm peak). This was fine ten years ago when patronage was less, but had become inefficient more recently.

The new timetable lessens the load on the loop by ensuring that a greater proportion of passengers travelling through it are users of loop stations rather than travelling to/from Flinders Street. Passengers travelling to/from Flinders Street are given more opportunities to bypass the loop, with the incentive to do so overwhelming for Frankston line passengers south from Cheltenham.

The seperation of loop and Flinders Street passengers is advantageous to both groups. Flinders Street passengers get a quicker and more direct ride while loop passengers have more room as there will be fewer Flinders Street passengers on board.

Southern Cross passengers can choose to change at Flinders Street or board a loop train. Currently the two are roughly similar. The loop option operates via two more stations and is geometrically less direct. However the loop option is probably 'safer' (even for passengers travelling beyond Cheltenham) as it doesn't have the transfer penalty or dwell times of Flinders Street.

If it is found that loop trains are more heavily loaded than direct trains, Southern Cross could be a useful fulcrum for a future rebalancing. Providing Southern Cross with a reliable no-change option to/from the Caulfield group via Flinders Street would take nearly all of the beyond Cheltenham traffic out of the loop, as well as some Caulfield passengers. Such arrangements could operate within a larger cross-town pattern operating between (say) Werribee and Frankston, such as generally ran before the City Loop opened and shown in Victorian Transport Plan diagrams.

Crowding

The added capacity has clearly reduced crowding. More trains are merely comfortably full rather than crush-loaded. Boarding at pinch points such as Parliament in the pm peak is easier.

Passengers from Flagstaff, Melbourne Central and Parliament wanting a Frankston express train need to change at Richmond. The express trains were not unduly full and for Parliament passengers boarding would have been easier than under the old timetable at Parliament.

On-time running

On the first day I stood at Parliament between 5:00 and 5:30pm to observe loadings and on-time running during the 'peak of the peak'.

It was almost a textbook service. Trains got up to about 2 minutes late but had been brought back to 0 or 1 minute by the time I left. Lower train loadings made for faster boardings and the platform was unusually uncluttered. While part of this would be expected due to the university semester break, much of the improvement can still be attributed to the new timetable.

Ill passengers and infrastructure faults caused delays on other occasions. However less crowding should speed up boarding times. The first opportunity to judge the new timetable's effect on punctuality will be when the June Track Record comes out in early July.

Information and interchange

With altered stopping patterns and (especially) more direct running, passenger information was critical. Stations received posters advising of the revised schedules, newspaper advertisements were run and staff handed out timetables at normally unattended stations. There were also more than usual announcements from stations.

Morning passengers on direct trains were advised to change at Flinders Street (Platform 1) for loop services. The thinking behind this appears to be to even out loading - whereas trains at Richmond are full, those leaving Flinders Street Platform 1 have spare capacity as they have already disgorged their Flinders Street loads. However, especially for Parliament passengers, changing at Richmond is quicker and this is likely to be the option people use, despite the fuller trains (that boarding passenges are only occupying for a few minutes). Also Southern Cross passengers may be able to save walking by boarding trains on nearer platforms such as 4/5 instead of 1.

Flinders Street direct trains were programmed with extended 'change at Flinders Street' announcements for Southern Cross and loop passengers. These announcements (including Southern Cross) were applied to all express trains, even those that in the public timetable are shown as continuing to Southern Cross, such as the 6:59am from Frankston (see timetable above).

On at least one train the automated train announcements were right more often than the printed timetable. On Wednesday and Friday the 6:59am service continued to Williamstown or North Melbourne, and hence ran the full scheduled service via Southern Cross. However on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday it terminated early at Flinders Street, changed ends and formed an empty, Sandringham or Cheltenham service.

A strong 'greater good' argument exists in favour of such transposals to allow faster recovery from earlier delays. However it is also desirable that timetables do not over-promise and only show through services that can be reliably run.

Overall

The first week of the new Caulfield group timetable can be considered a success, with more frequent, consistent and regular trains lessening crowding. However the greater number of direct services increases the number of transferring passengers at near-CBD stations. This imposes more stringent passenger information and interchange requirements than in the past. More will be said about these in a future post on Flinders Street Station.

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