Train Routing

Last year I spent several months living on one side of Melbourne and working on the other and travelling by train to work. Every day I had to catch two trains each way with an average wait of 5 to 10 minutes for each train to arrive giving a total of at least half an hour a day spent waiting for trains.

The obvious solution to this problem is to have trains not go back and forth on one line but instead go from one side of the city to the other. This map shows that there are 14 train lines out of the city with about 5 major lines. The smart thing to do would be to have every major line have one train every 5 minutes during peak hours and to have every train go back out on a different line. Then if you are on one of the major lines and want to travel out on one of the other major lines then every 20 minutes there would have a train that would take you straight there without changing trains!

Currently we don’t even have such frequent trains, during peak hour the trains on most lines run no more often than 5 per hour, the Sydenham line has trains 4 times per hour during peak hours and the trains are crammed full before they get half-way to the city.

If the trains ran more frequently and were routed through the city then commuters who travel through the city would save 20+ minutes per day without going to any effort and 30+ minutes a day if they chose to start their journey at a time to avoid changing trains. This would be a significant incentive for catching the train instead of driving!

For the commuters who travel to work via a single journey then having trains run every 5 minutes at peak times would mean that an average of 2.5 minutes was spent waiting for a train each way (an average of 5 minutes per day) instead of the current situation of 15 minutes per day or more. This would mean triple the number of trains on the Sydenham line which may sound excessive. However the trains are currently so crowded that there could be twice as many trains and all seats would still be full. If there were three times as many trains then I expect that more people would catch the train (surely some people would be convinced to drive to work by the idea of spending 20 minutes with barely room to stand), it’s not inconceivable that there could be three times as many trains and all seats could still be full!

The next issue I have been considering is the time taken for a tram ride to/from the central city areas in peak hours. Peak hour trams stop at every stop because there are always people getting on and off. If a tram could stop less frequently then it could make a slightly higher average speed. One way of achieving this would be for the peak hour trams to stop at every second stop outside the center of the city. On the way in half the trams would accept passengers at each stop (each tram would be designated as either odd or even and labelled as such – the tram stops are already numbered). But if you have twice as many trams then the average wait would be the same while the duration of the trip would be reduced. On the way out of the city the tram driver would announce that after stop 10 (to pick a random number that might work) the tram would only allow passengers to get on or off at even/odd stops. If you knew that your stop was on an even number and the tram was an odd-numbered tram then you would change trams to an even tram. The small delay in changing trams would be made up by a faster trip overall.

Politicians are always talking about ways to alleviate the water shortage caused by climate change and to improve the economy. Having people spend an extra 10 minutes a day working because of saved time on the trains would help the economy. Encouraging people to catch the trains via more frequent and efficient service as well as less overcrowding would help reduce climate change – which is the best way of improving our water supply and the only way of helping the farmers long-term!

5 comments to Train Routing

  • Odd/even trams would never work. It would drive people crazy and result in a public transport system that no-one will use.

    There are much better ways to speed trams up, by giving them priority at traffic lights and enforcing fairways to keep cars out of their way.

    There were enough complaints as it was, when they started removing tram stops from the CBD. If people have to walk further to their tram, they are going to be discouraged from catching them at all.

  • With regard to routing trains from one side of the city to the other, when the original contracts for the rail privatisation were drawn up, the operators were meant to have a number of trains each day that were routed across the city, but they never eventuated. And only twenty-five years ago, before the Port Melbourne and St Kilda rail lines were converted from heavy rail to light rail, they used to travel through all the way to Sandringham.

    The big problem, however, is how do you decide which routes go where? Should all Frankston trains go to Broadmeadows? Should all Upfield trains go to Lilydale?
    How do you know that most people from Dandenong would want to go to Werribee, and for those that don’t, they’re stuck changing trains anyway, so is it worth the problems that it’s going to create for the large numbers of people who will have to change trains to go around the loop?

    How do you cope with mismatched frequencies – for example, the only way to run trains more frequently on the Upfield line would be to run extra trains only as far as Coburg, as there there is only a single track beyond Gowrie – and there’s problems coming back in, as the western loop is already at capacity and there’s no way for those trains to get across to the lines to Spencer St without crossing tracks and blocking off the other lines.

    And not all platforms at Flinders St can get to every track, which can make it difficult for a train that arrives there from the east to travel out to the west.

  • A variation of the train routing already operates – mostly in peak hour. Long before the rail network was sold off there was a division between the North East & East and the South, West and North West. Some services from the Burnley Group (Alamien, Belgrave, Glen Waverley and Lilydale lines) are routed to the Cliffton Hill group (Epping/Hirstbridge lines), the same is done with the Northern group (Broadmeadows, St Albans, Werribee and Upfield lines) and the Caufield group (Cranbourne/Pakenham, Frankston and Sandrigham lines). These grouping were also used when the network was split in half prior to privatisation. If you can find an old (large single sheet) timetable for any of the Northern or Caufield group lines you will see the routing information was even included on the timetables.

    So you already have 1 out of 3 of your wishes.

    For other good ideas on how to fix Melbourne’s public transport system you should check out the Public Transport Users’ Association.

    btw I am with Paul, the odds/evens thing won’t work.

  • James

    Did you get a positive response to the idea of alternating trams stops for inner Melbourne? I am proposing the same thing to local government. Do you have any data from overseas or interstate to support the cause?


    Tram efficiency and use could dramatically be improved if, at peak hours (including Saturdays), a system of alternating stops were used by increased numbers of trams. The off-putting thing about trams is that they take too long and don’t come frequently enough. If consecutive trams alternated their stops, missing every second one, then travel speeds and frequency would be significantly increased (even doubled). The next tram would collect passengers at the stops missed by the previous tram (and timetables would reflect this, as well as ‘live’ stops being indicated). This would mean faster transits, and better reliability and patronage (revenue). If more trams were put on because of the room given by increased flow, this would make tram travel more effective still.

    Passengers accept the trade off of slightly more distant tram stop for a significantly faster service. In Melbourne tram stops are very close together for a public transport system. While this has served us well in the past, it is gets trams encumbered by traffic and lights. As a result, many people don’t rely on catching trams for either their speed or timing. It shouldn’t take 40 minutes to get to the city from Toorak. Make them twice – or a third – faster, and that changes. It means cars come off the road making trams even more efficient.

    A pre-planned and pre-publicised trial could easily be run on regular busy routes to test this strategy.

  • etbe

    James: The above comments are the only responses I received, it doesn’t seem positive.