Monday, June 28, 2010

Flinders Street: Melbourne’s rail hub

Flinders Street is the core of the Mebourne suburban train network. All trains, whether direct or via the City Loop go there, except for some suburban off-peak shuttles. Driver shift changeovers also occur at Flinders Street, which is why you often see many drivers there awaiting the next shift.

Trains towards Flinders Street are termed ‘up’ while all those from it are termed ‘down’. Train identifiers, or TD numbers, used for internal purposes, change to form the next service at Flinders Street.

This next service could be either (i) the train returning to its origin group of lines via the City Loop, (ii) the train returning to its origin group of lines having previously operated via the City Loop, (iii) the train continuing as a through service to the other side of the city via Southern Cross and North Melbourne, or (iv) the use of Flinders Street as a stub terminus, where drivers change ends and trains return to the origin line.

Of these the first two are most common. Through-running is less widespread and less publicised, frequently being subject to change. Compared to through-running, stub operation is less economical of track and platform space so is confined to the less intensively served lines (eg Sandringham, with a 9 minute peak frequency).

It is also at Flinders Street where decisions are made to alter train patterns, so that up trains form a different down train to that specified in the working timetable. These short-notice alterations, or transposals, assist recovery from late running and are extremely common. Less commonly, late trains may be altered to operate direct rather than via the loop, providing Flinders Street with a somewhat more reliable service than loop stations.

However changing drivers and transposing trains at at Flinders Street can cause difficulties for staff and passenger information. There is often uncertainty as to what service an incoming train will form until the last minute. And display screens do not have real-time information, unlike the ‘minutes to’ indicators at other stations.

Information in walkways

Platform information displays at Flinders St

The above images indicate the absence of real-time information at Flinders Street, despite its importance for efficient mobility on a complex system prone to delays. Without information passengers cannot make the best choice of which platform to change to. Passengers for stations served by trains on multiple platforms might go ‘platform shopping’, unnecessarily clutter walkways and slow those alighting. Conflicting uneccessary pedestrian movements (eg to/from platforms 4 & 5 on the diagram below) can reduce people throughput and the station's efficiency.

In contrast passengers armed with real-time information when they alight can proceed directly to the required platform (sometimes but not always indicated by announcements), without unnecessary deviations. This improves walkway throughput and platform efficiency. These are both important considerations given increased pedestrian flows (from a busier network) and revised timetables (that promise more through services or rely more heavily on passengers changing trains). For similar reasons the larger information displays need to be plainly visible from (but not directly in the line of) busy walkways (where lookers block those who know where they’re going), and a ‘keep left’ rule, encouraged by unidirectional ticket barriers, could be encouraged.

It was mentioned earlier that trains are frequently transposed. Some transposals do not affect passengers. But where city-bound trains are listed in the timetable as through services but are cut short transposals matter. On other occasions trains that have served loop stations before arriving at Flinders Street may have their destinations changed from that timetabled. Whose job is it to inform the passenger of these changes?

If the driver was continuing straight through, it would be reasonable to expect them to provide an announcement. However as mentioned above, Flinders Street is the major point where drivers change over. The driver alighting at Flinders Street is only concerned about his next service and may not know the fate of the train he has just left. Conversely his replacement is only concerned with where the train is going, not from whence it came or where the timetable states the train should go.

Platform staff have little information beyond printed timetables and even if they did this may not help those already on the train. Hence information is often limited and the full benefit of though services is not always realised due to the high chance that they are terminated short (and other services – typically late running but earlier scheduled trains - are extended instead).

Could altered driver rostering change this? Changed procedures so that more drivers stayed with the same train as it entered, stopped and left Flinders Street Station would provide a continuity often currently missing. If backed by announcements as to what the train will form before it stops at Flinders Street this could provide improved information for passengers.

However moving driver changovers from Flinders Street to suburban stations, although desirable for short dwell times and information continuity, poses other challenges. Transposals will still be required, and these are likely to be easier to arrange if drivers were pooled in the same location that decisions are made (rather than dispersed across several suburban stations).

A possible solution is to schedule trains so that through-services constitute the regular operating pattern. Even if trains continued to be transposed (as they will be) transpositions would affect fewer passengers. Eg if a late-running Frankston train formed a later Laverton (or Williamstown) service rather than its scheduled Werribee train, the bulk of passengers making cross-city trips (eg South Yarra to Footscray or Caulfield to North Melbourne) would be unaffected. This is because few passengers on the Frankston line would be travelling further than Newport, but a fair number would want Southern Cross, North Melbourne or Footscray.

This arrangement may come about if Victorian Transport Plan proposals to link the Frankston and Werribee lines via Flinders Street and Southern Cross come about. While potentially controversial, this operating pattern would need to apply at all times, not just peak periods.

In the interim, greater attention to information and announcements could make passenger throughput more efficient, improve legibility and speed end-to-end travel. When patronage was static or falling these sorts of matters tended to be pushed into the background as unimportant. However with different operating patterns, more trains, higher patronage and crowded walkways, the ‘scientific management’ of pedestrian flow, based on appropriate information given at the point of need, is going to have to be rediscovered to maximise passenger throughput and speed travel.

1 comment:

JJ said...

There needs to be standardised passenger information displays at all stations which include realtime information on more than 1 future train.

I would think this should be one of metrotrains number one priorities.