Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Timetable Tuesday #20: Weeknights on the trains - how your line compares

Instead of discussing one (sometimes obscure) bus route, this week's Timetable Tuesday is different. I examine the whole Metro train network, showing your line against the rest. Then I compare 2019 services with 1975. Finally I  guess how long improvement might take based on recent gains.  

Last week I issued two series of network maps. The first series showed frequent services operating during the day.  The second series showed which routes operated at 10pm. That's important because most bus routes finish around 9pm and it's not immediately obvious which run later.

Today I'll look at weeknight service on the suburban train network in more detail. Rather than sample frequencies at a particular time, I'll show how frequencies fall over the evening on the various lines. 

How your line compares

Weeknight frequencies for all Metro train lines (and Geelong) are below (click to enlarge). Times are from the CBD.  Most of the longer lines operate an intense peak service with express running.  Generally that steps down to a 15 or 20 minute all stations service after about 6:30 or 7pm. Frequency later drops to 30 minutes on all but one line. Shorter lines like Williamstown, Upfield and Alamein are similar except for a lower pm peak frequency. Frequencies are to the end of the line except for a couple beyond contiguous urban development (like Sunbury and Hurstbridge) where I've used an intermediate station.  

Most striking is the disparity in service frequencies across the network. Lines can be divided into three main groups.

* 30 minute evening service all night: Applies on the Sunbury, Craigieburn, Upfield, Mernda, Lilydale, Belgrave, Alamein and Glen Waverley lines. Normally have a brief period of 20 minute service until the 30 minute frequency kicks in from approximately 7:30 - 8pm. The Hurstbridge line to Eltham almost falls in this group but has some ~20 min gaps later.  

* 30 minute evening service after about 10pm: Applies on the Werribee, Williamstown, Ringwood, Pakenham, Cranbourne, Dandenong and Frankston lines. Mostly have 20 minute service until approximately 10pm, with a drop to 30 minutes afterwards.  A recent upgrade extended Dandenong's 10 minute service to after 9:30pm.

* 20 minute evening service until last train: Provided on the Sandringham line only. But at one time it was widespread. Keep reading.

Weeknight timetables have had some service upgrades in the last 20 or so years. Until about the early 2000s, the Belgrave/Lilydale lines were the busiest on the network. Around then early evening frequencies got upgraded. Hence the 15 minute service to Ringwood.

Not much happened for a decade or so after that. Then new greenfields timetables were introduced to Werribee, Williamstown, Pakenham, Cranbourne and Frankston. That upgraded early evening service from 30 to 20 minutes.  20 minute service continued on these lines for about two hours after the others had dropped down to half-hourly.  Somewhere around that time the Hurstbridge line got some small evening upgrades as far as Greensborough or Eltham. Another upgrade happened a bit after electrification when Sunbury got all evening trains to finish there rather than about half.

There isn't much of a patronage relationship between which lines received evening upgrades and which haven't. For example the Dandenong line is long and busy with Williamstown short and quiet. However it and Werribee are part of a weekday through-route linked to Frankston. That got a mid-evening 20 minute upgrade. So Williamstown and Werribee had to as well. 

Sunbury (as far as Watergardens), Craigieburn and Mernda are all busy lines. All have had electrification extensions. All penetrate growth areas. But the cores of these lines retain the same decades-old 30 minute weeknight frequencies. By not introducing more frequent greenfields train timetables, the state government has foregone the full benefits of its transport infrastructure investments. This is something that the Auditor-General warned about with the Regional Rail Link

Comparison with 1975

So much for 2019. What about some historical perspective? The working timetable book above, found at a secondhand shop in the back streets of Spotswood, is one of my favourite transport purchases. It has all metropolitan rail timetables for January 1975.

The regional network was larger, with trains to Werribee, Healesville, Mornington and others. The electrified suburban network was smaller ending at places like St Albans, Broadmeadows and Epping.  However metropolitan trains to Pakenham were just starting.   

Below is a repeat of the above evening frequency exercise using the 1975 timetable. Timetables for Geelong, Werribee or Cranbourne weren't available or on the metropolitan network. But other lines, though sometimes shorter, were. The suburbs spread out less. And not all trains ran to the end of the line. So on some lines I thought it fair to judge frequencies at closer in stations such as Gowrie, Thomastown or Montmorency.   

The 1975 timetable is notable for two reasons:

* Particularly in the north and west, evening peak frequencies are lower. And they fall away earlier.  People were more likely to finish work on the dot at 5pm back then. And rarely did they linger later in the city. Services were down to an off-peak frequency at or shortly after 6pm. 

* Notwithstanding the earlier post-peak drop-off, evening frequencies stayed higher for longer. On most lines trains ran every 20 minutes to 11pm and often until the last train. Lines with comprehensive 20 minute evening service include Williamstown, St Albans, Broadmeadows, Upfield (Gowrie), Epping, Ringwood, Glen Waverley, Dandenong, Frankston and Sandringham. To put this in context, interpeak and Saturday daytime services also ran every 20 minutes on most lines then. So  back then night and interpeak frequencies were mostly similar. 

To summarise, weeknight trains were more consistently frequent in 1975 than they are in 2019. Then, with one exception, you could randomly arrive at Flinders Street and board a train on any major line within 20 minutes. Even around 11pm.

That's no longer possible in 2019. Typical frequencies have dropped to 30 minutes for all or some of the night. Even on lines with high day and night patronage such as to Dandenong and Watergardens.

2019 vs 1975 weeknight service comparison summary

Day and night train service to outer areas like Belgrave, Lilydale and Pakenham is better now. Ditto for areas that weren't electrified in 1975, such as Werribee, Sunbury, Craigieburn and Mernda. Sandringham and Alamein have also gained. 

But, otherwise, if you live near a suburban station that had a full service in 1975, you probably have an inferior evening service frequency today. Especially after about 10pm. Dramatically lower in the case of St Albans, Broadmeadows, Thomastown and Glen Waverley. Somewhat lower for Ringwood, Williamstown and Frankston. Dandenong is better early in the evening but worse later. Montmorency remains uneven but is on balance worse off. 

Even further back 

Victorianrailways.net has a 1939 suburban timetable. The pattern we saw when going from 2009 to 1975 continued back to 1939. That is the intensively served network was smaller but evening frequencies were better on it. More specifically there were approximately 15 minute evening frequencies to what are now innerish middle suburbs like Williamstown, Essendon, Coburg, Reservoir, Heidelberg, Box Hill and Brighton Beach. Some others like East Malvern, Oakleigh and Moorabbin had 20 minute frequencies. Hence the likes of Essendon, Coburg and Reservoir have seen a halving of evening train frequencies in the last 80 years.

Conclusion and prospects

Evening train frequency cuts made in the late 1970s, at a time when patronage was falling (and people stayed home watching their new colour TVs) have proved exceptionally enduring. It has taken years to achieve even partial service restorations on some lines.  

In more exact numbers, timetable upgrades in the last decade have restored weeknight 20 minute frequencies on about half the lines for about half the evening. Assuming we maintain this pace we will have a consistent 20 minute weeknight frequency on all lines in thirty years - ie 2049.

This will tie in well with the government's proposed Suburban Rail Loop (SRL) due in 2050. Given the current high enthusiasm for infrastructure and low enthusiasm for service, the SRL may even be complete before we see all evening 20 minute train service to (say) Craigieburn.

While the above might be slightly tongue in cheek, it does match the evidence. After decades of building less rail infrastructure than Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, Melbourne is picking up the pace. We have become the new experts at building things.

But we're less good at using what we build fully, eg by adding service. Whereas, in one major timetable upgrade in 2017 Sydney increased the proportion of stations with a 15 minute service from 29% to 70% (with 93% of passengers).  We could do worse than follow their example so our new infrastructure gets better than half-hourly trains at night.

You might enjoy these well-regarded books on transport topics

Better Buses, Better Cities: How to Plan, Run, and Win the Fight for Effective Transit Steven Higashide NEW!

The Public City: Essays in honour of Paul Mees Gleeson & Beza

A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, Institutions (Access Quintet Book 4) David Levinson

Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives Jarrett Walker

Transport for Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile Age Paul Mees

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1 comment:

Tom said...

Alamein gained because it was decided to end the practice of it only getting evening shuttles for half the Belgrave/Lilydale trains in the 1990s, upgrading it from the hourly service it was left with after the 1978 cuts.

Somewhat ridiculously, when the Ringwood 15 minutes until 10 PM upgrade took place, it was in the form of half-hourly Ringwood trains, rather than de-shuttling the services beyond Ringwood until the frequency dropped, meaning uneven loadings. It also makes upgrading the Alamein, Belgrave and Lilydale services to every 20 minutes requires either increasing the Ringwood service to every 10 minutes (or less likely cutting it back to every 20).