Thursday, April 29, 2010

New Metro Train Timetables

Starting June 2010

In summary:

1. Changed weekday services on Caulfield Group, including additional services, more Frankston peak expresses (but removed from the City Loop), more uniform peak express stopping patterns, weekday off-peak stopping patterns swapped between Frankston and Pakenham/Dandenong lines and 10 minute weekend frequency at Hawkesburn, Toorak and Armadale

2. More peak trains starting/finishing Craigieburn and addition of Coolaroo Station, and

3. More frequent weekday early evening service to Eltham.

Details here

In addition more to come in August

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Monday, April 19, 2010

The new Wyndham local bus network

A new local bus network with added coverage, new routes and widespread 7-day service commenced today in the City of Wyndham. Wyndham is an outer suburban municipality 25-30km west of Melbourne. It contains both established and new housing areas and a mixed demographic profile dominated by young families. Major suburbs include Hoppers Crossing, Werribee, Point Cook, Wyndham Vale and Tarneit.

I have had a soft spot for the previous Wyndham network and admired its planned connectivity with trains. However it was not without its disadvantages, which included:

* Lack of coverage in new housing areas such as Manor Lakes, Wyndham Vale, Tarneit and Point Cook and industrial areas in Laverton North.

* No evening or Sunday service in most areas

* Indirect routes, including some confusing circular services

* The lack of frequent, direct and legible routes between major trip generators

These have all been acknowleded by public and expert opinion through the area's local bus review. The new network is the response to these. Unlike elsewhere, where review implementation has been gradual, Wyndham saw wholesale changes, all starting today.

Features of this new network include:

* New and extended routes for added coverage of Manor Lakes, Wyndham Vale, Tarneit, Point Cook and Laverton North

* Better legibility by breaking up the confusing circular bidirectional route 440

* 7 day service (including public holidays) in most areas

* Service extended to 8 or 9 pm in most areas

* A 40 minute frequency to apply 7 days a week on most routes (this is superior to the hourly minimum standards that apply in most outer suburbs)

* Greatly improved service to the Werribee Mansion and Zoo, including a more direct route, higher frequency plus Sunday and public holiday running

Some other points about the changes are below:

* Majority of routes have 7 day running at frequencies higher than the minimum standards. However some finish earlier than the 9pm standard that applies in other areas.

* Route 436 has lost its 9pm Saturday service ex Werribee. However this service continues to run Sunday – Friday. Plus the route gains a more frequent Sunday service.

* The replacement of Route 438 to Manor Lakes by routes 446, 447, 448 and 449. These provide service to north-west Werribee, Wyndham Vale and/or Manor Lakes.

* The old circular Route 440 has been deleted and incorporated into other routes. Its closest successor is the new 446. This somewhat indirect route operates from Laverton to Hoppers Crossing via Werribee Plaza, north-west Werribee, Werribee Station and Princes Hwy.

* Route 443 is a circular route serving areas south of Werribee. It demographics are less favourable for patronage than routes north of Werribee. However it receives bidirectional coverage until 9pm 7 days a week (only 1 bus is required to achieve this).

* Routes 413, 416 and 437, which serve areas potential further from railway stations, have earlier finish times than the 9pm minimum standard. However their service frequencies exceed the minimum standard (40 vs 60 minutes) 7 days a week.

* Service frequencies are constant during the day, and the resources previously used for higher peak frequencies on some routes (eg 440) are now used elsewhere.

* A portion of Laverton (Bladin Street) receives frequent service (6 - 7 buses per hour approx) as two new routes now serve it (in addition to two existing routes).

* Express running continues on Route 445 which remains unchanged.

* The Wyndham Vale/Manor Lakes area routes (446, 447, 448 & 449) have similar departure times 7 days a week. These make for a form of ‘memory timetable’. However the Point Cook area routes (413 and 416) do not.

* Use is made of Route 413 and 416 to provide a 20 minute combined service on weekends between Hoppers Crossing, Point Cook and Aircraft Station. However during the week both buses depart within a few minutes of one another, providing a ‘lumpy’ timetable with long waits. An opportunity may exist to operate the weekend timetable on weekdays and thus double effective frequency.

* While the number of routes serving north-western Werribee, Wyndham Vale and Manor Lakes has doubled, the effective frequency has remained the same because the four new routes (446, 447, 448 and 449) all depart Werribee almost at the same time. Then there are no services for 30 minutes until the next pulse of 4 buses. Again it may be possible to co-schedule existing routes to provide a more evenly spaced combined service, along the lines of the concept below.

To conclude, today's changes introduce improved coverage, widespread Sunday running, and some span improvements. The 40 minute service frequency is better than average (especially on Sundays) for outer suburban buses and is only slightly less than weekend SmartBus standards. It is an adequate 'safety net' frequency but may be less suitable for commuters making connections from the train. Nevertheless, as proved in other areas where bus reviews have been implemented, substantial patronage growth is likely in Wyndham for some time to come.

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Thursday, April 08, 2010

Clear the platforms!

Record population growth is taxing city infrastructure, bringing demands on it to do more. Metro CEO Andrew Lezala has forecast doubled patronage and extra services. More trains, more drivers, a less fragile network and changed practices will be needed to deliver the promised metro-style service.

Both the first rail franchise contracts and the Melbourne 2030 plan set ambitious patronage targets unbacked by substantial network improvements. The patronage gains happened but at the cost of deteriorating reliability. Anticipated further growth and the rise of trains as a political issue led the government to announce major new expenditure on rail infrastructure.

I often imagine how the current railway would cope with doubled or tripled patronage. Existing small delays, whether to trains or people flow, would become major if the current network is asked to handle higher loads without modification.

A rethink of the rail network to maximise passenger throughput will be required. Attention will need to be paid to every pinch point in the system. Everything from pedestrian access to ticket validation to platform space to train boarding to timetabling that maximises service frequencies could be up for review.

The following, now accepted as normal, may vanish if we are to double or triple the railway’s carrying capacity:

* Traffic lights near stations that require pedestrian to wait 90 seconds to cross (eg Spencer Street). This causes crowding on street corners opposite stations in peak periods. The expensive solution requires more subways, such as exist at Flinders Street or Parliament. Cheaper ways to disperse passengers quickly could include a pedestrianised plaza or street in front of the station (eg Flinders Street between Swanston and Elizabeth) or shorter traffic light cycles.

* Ticket barriers that do not respond instantly. Current barriers take a second or so to respond to Myki (or Metcard). If the test barriers inside the Myki discovery centre are any guide the new barriers will be almost instantaneous.

* Trains remaining at platforms for too long. Platform space will become scarcer at major city stations as schedulers try to squeeze in more services. Functions that require trains to be at the platform for more than a minute or so (eg driver changes) may need to be done at outstations where space is less tight. Additional platform staff (or even first aid officers) may need to be stationed at busy points to speed the deployment of wheelchair ramps or assist ill passengers. Such scheduling and staffing changes will be cheaper than adding platforms to city stations, especially if substantial underground works are required.

* Passengers waiting on platforms. Waiting costs the passenger time and the railway valuable platform space. Platform occupancy is a function of passenger numbers x average wating time. Maximising commuter throughput requires more frequent trains to sweep platforms of waiting passengers. Fewer distinctive stopping patterns would also mean the train currently at the platform is boarded by a higher proportion of those on the platform, clearing more space for the next train’s passengers streaming down the stairs.

* Fewer stopping patterns and higher frequencies will create a different mentality amongst passengers, much like already exists if catching a peak period service to say Caulfield, North Melbourne or Camberwell. Passengers will be encouraged to think in terms of ‘turn up and go’ instead of catching a particular train, at least during peak times and increasingly peak shoulders as well. Real-time information will stress ‘minutes to’ over scheduled arrival time. Such ‘turn up and go’ service levels represents the greatest good for the greatest number and help connectivity with buses and trams. However some trade-offs may need to be accepted, for instance passengers for stations such as Glenhuntly, Surrey Hills or Glen Waverley may lose their expresses, while fringe areas such as Cranbourne or Hurstbridge may have shuttles instead of direct services.

* System performance will be measured more in terms of maintaining train throughput than exact timetable adherence. In other words a peak period where all train are delayed by a few minutes but intervals remain fairly short will hardly be noticed by passengers. Whereas a 20 minute halt caused by a faulty train, ill passenger or points failure would represent a major disruption. Infrastructure maintenance could stress ‘improving reliability’ and ‘preventing breakdown recurrence’ over merely keeping the system going and it is noted that significantly higher maintenance funding is part of the new train contracts.

* ‘Access engineering’ for station facilities, platform utilisation and people flow will also become important. Currently we see this during major events, such as New Years Eve, where one way pedestrian flows are enforced. Other ways to increase efficiency include appropriate and well-placed passenger information (badly placed PIDs can cause their readers to block direct paths and confused wanderers can slow the flow of others), designing infrastructure and services to provide for cross-platform transfers (instead of negotiating ramps and platforms), discouraging loitering near entrances and clearing ‘junk’ from platforms.

There are no doubt other changes that would be required to accommodate metro-style railway operation and higher patronage. However some would be surprisingly cheap to implement. An example of this is the clutter on some major station platforms that is currently hindering access, reducing waiting space and reducing possible passenger throughput.

The following pictures provide examples of platform clutter at some major stations. This might not have hindered a railway carrying 100 million trips per year, and the facilities may have provided some convenience. However once patronage exceeded 200 million trips with the aim to double again, the clutter may become more of a hindrance.

Richmond: A long line of unbroken wind barriers reduces permeability for those wishing to make cross-platform changes. Richmond can be widswept place to wait on a cold day, so removal is not recommended. However seperation of wind breaks would make the platform more open.

Richmond: clutter near entrance/exits. Ideally this would be further along the platform to spread people along it and discourage gathering near entrances.

Richmond: large billboard on platform. Again reduces permeability and visibility (a potential safety issue at night). While removing the billboard would cost advertising revenue, the amenity gains for passengers would likely outweigh this. And, provided that changing the signage could be done without disrupting train services, there may be scope for the track pit to be used for billboards.

Southern Cross: luckily not permanent, this barrier was erected due to roof damage caused by hail about two weeks ago.

Flinders Street: a billboard right near the stairs slows exit (and thus keeps the platform more cluttered than it should be). People looking at timetables may also block others. A more appropriate position for advertising may be in the more spacious station concourse.

Flinders Street: A kiosk selling some of the greasiest food known to man! The rent helps pay the bills, but its footprint takes up scarce room that a metro system may require for its passengers.

Flinders Street: A cluttered exit on a suburban platform.

Flinders Street: In contrast to the above, Platform 10 is open with no clutter near entrances/exits. Making all platforms like this might increase a station's throughput capacity, or at least improve comfort for passengers. There will need to be some seating, though a frequent metro service will make this less necessary than now where off-peak intervals between services are typically 15 to 40 minutes.

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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Passenger information display under test and in operation: Route 902's first week

Tuesday

Wednesday

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Monday, April 05, 2010

Chelsea to Airport West: Pictures from Route 902's first day

Several major changes to Melbourne bus routes occurred today. The most important was the introduction of Route 902, our second orbital SmartBus route. The photos below are of the bus on its maiden end-to-end trip, starting at Chelsea and ending at Airport West, approximately 76km or over three hours later.

Chelsea (terminus)

Springvale

Glen Waverley

Nunawading

Doncaster Shoppingtown

Eltham

Greensborough

Campbellfield

Broadmeadows

Airport West (terminus)

Observed patronage was low at the start of service (6am on a public holiday) but steadily built up during the day. Many people were seen exploring the route, taking advantage of the two week's free travel.

Several other routes were created or altered as a result of Route 902's introduction. These include Route 281 (shortened to Templestowe to avoid duplication with Route 902 and extended to Deakin Uni on weekdays), Route 735 (extended to Forest Hill Chase and Nunawading to compensate for the deletion of 888/889) and Route 858 (serves Edithvale and Chelsea Heights as a replacement for the 888 and 889). In addition National and Ventura introduced new timetables and shortened Routes 200 and 203 to Bulleen terminus (Routes 305 and 903 cover the Bulleen - Doncaster Shoppingtown portion).

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Friday, April 02, 2010

Ad-hoc versus system design: the cases of railway station posters

Has anyone looked at poster cases at railway stations lately? If so one will see several different designs erected at various times. Careful inspection will reveal that different tools are required to open and update the contents.

This apparently minor detail can give hints about how passenger information is delivered to the platform and the extent to which this represents conscious design or a 'grafting on'. And what is regarded as standard practice for the architect or design engineer might not be favoured by administrators, and vice versa.

Different styles of poster case at stations

An engineer required to design passenger information at stations would likely specify just one design of poster case. All would be a common size so that savings can be made with bulk purchase of materials. And the same basic design would be reproducable in the future if needed for new or upgraded station. Standardisation implies inflexibililty in one area (unimportant to passengers) but permits flexibility elsewhere (to optimise the sequence of information presented to passengers) as posters can be swapped between cases if needed.

As an example, a government-funded station car park extension may have been finished long ago so promotion is no longer needed (the blank case pictured previously advertised this). Or the Myki ticketing system will eventually be as established as Metcard is today, so promotion space for it is no longer necessary. Meanwhile a rail occupation may require numerous additional posters. This is especially if it coincides with public holidays and special events. In such instances, all poster cases at a station are needed to fully inform passengers, and there is a risk that (say) a ticketing poster may occupy space needed for (more important) service information. Having standard poster cases should also cheapen maintenance as the range of replacement parts needed would be less.

The engineer would likely also specify one standard opening tool for all cases at the station. He would know that this assists the railway staff member whose job it is to replace posters as they would only need to carry one tool and not three. Needing only one tool reduces the chance of a tool being forgotten or lost and thus the chance of a poster or timetable not being able to be updated. Hence a simpler system based on one type of poster case accessible with one key should also be reliable than where there is a variety.

Other professionals would also agree, though for different reasons. The architect would want some unity of design, rather than the tacked-on look of many additions to stations. And the chance that non-standardisation causes some cases to be empty would worry the merchant or marketer who sees blank shelves or cases as selling opportunities lost. The passengers, most of whom are not in the above professions, would likely prefer whatever provides the most reliable information when they want it.

A differing perspective may be offered by the manager or bureaucrat. Managers might favour speed and short-run budgets compared to the engineer's standardisation or the architect's design coherence. Well defined goals such as an individual project's delivery may trump broader issues such as the passenger experience or sequence of information received. Those ordering new poster cases may work outside the railways (eg in ticketing) and could even want 'their' posters to have a different style and key. Manufacturing a short run just to continue an existing design may prove expensive, given there are no railway workshops anymore. Thus it could be more rational for managers to order poster cases off the shelf, even if they are a different size or uses different opening methods to cases already on the platform (photos below).

Standard type (used by train operator)

Promotional (used by Department of Transport)

Myki (used to promote new ticketing system)

The photos show that the manager or bureaucrat perspective has generally prevailed over that of the design engineer's. It also indicates that information may be delivered in seperate 'channels' or 'silos' (marked 'railways/existing ticketing', 'transport projects' and 'new ticketing') through different styles of poster cases for each.

This is mostly not too much of a problem. However instances can arise where one area (eg new transport projects today, rail occupations tomorrow) requires more information than poster cases reserved for it. In addition poster placement may not perfectly align with passenger information needs at different locations around the station, and the use of different poster cases may limit flexibility. Also as noted before, having a variety of poster cases and opening tools may have implications for overall system simplicity and thus information reliability.

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