New Ararat Timetable and Clarity of Information

Two weeks ago, a new timetable for V/Line services was introduced. This has been terrific news for the Ararat Line, which has seen a dramatic increase in services. On Weekdays, there are now 5 train services to Melbourne, and 4 back to Ararat, while on Weekends, there are now 3 in each direction.

This is a fantastic outcome for weekends, which previously had a six plus hour gap between services (either train or coaches) and now makes a quick trip to Ballarat or Melbourne to go shopping or see the footy more viable. I took the first new service in each direction on 27 August, and they both seem to have been fairly well patronised for brand new services, with people connecting to and from new coaches to Horsham.

A closer look at the new services

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The new Ararat timetable for weekends. Compare the 11:08 service on Saturday to the 11:15 service on Sunday.

One oddity in the new timetable, is the Saturday service at 11:08, which is given 7 additional minutes compared to all other services. At first glance, this seems a bit random, but it is due to the Overland being scheduled in to come into Ararat on the Standard Gauge from Geelong at 11:13. This means the Vlocity on the Broad Gauge needs to be well clear by this time.

Due to a train from Melbourne terminating at Wendouree, the Ararat train ends up needing to wait twice, once at Wendouree, and then again in Ballarat Station. The only way around this I can see is having the train from Melbourne terminate at Ballarat. This timetable however, is the first to have a proper consistent weekend service to Wendouree, and it would be a shame to lose it. Ideally, the solution would be a second track to, and second platform at, Wendouree, which would help with this, and clearing peak services.

Alternatively, the Overland is notorious for being late, and as such just scheduling it later probably wouldn’t have much more effect than making the timetable more accurate.

Another issue is the 16:49 to Melbourne is now formed by a train that arrives at 16:39. This 10 minute turn around leaves very little room for make up time.

Providing information

This morning, Saturday 9 September,  I took a walk down to the station to see how well the Overland interacts with the new timetable (and also to see if the Overland was on time).

What I found when I arrived at the station, is that the train from Wendouree that was forming the 11:08 service was late, and didn’t arrive until 11:08 itself. It then took the crew 7 or 8 minutes to change ends, get prepared and depart, at the time of 11:16 anyway.

V/Line this weekend are running coach replacements on the Ballarat Line, and as such, there is only a service between Wendouree and Ararat. These services are supposedly running to an altered timetable, according to their twitter:

However, the V/Line website has no mention of this, nor of any alterations to services that coaches are running. Their official information page is bare-bones to say the least.

In 2017, I do not think it is good enough to only give travel advice to give yourself additional time to travel. Different services have different service patterns, and V/Line needs to publish replacement coach timetables that accurately reflect which coaches are serving what stations, and when.

During the Bendigo Rail Works last year, when the line was closed for a month, V/Line published a full timetable for their replacement coaches. This should be the minimum standard for any shut down, of any length.

bendigo train replacement

And I understand it’s hard for coach times to be 100% accurate due to traffic and other factors, but having a guide is better than nothing.

In conclusion:

New service to Ararat: Fantastic! and it seems as though people are making use of them, which will hopefully continue over time.

Oddities in the Timetable: It would be better if they weren’t there, especially additional waiting time outside of Wendouree, but necessary with how the Broad and Standard Gauges interact at Ararat (or at least how they should).

V/Line’s communication to passengers: As lousy as ever, and in desperate need of improvement. I would estimate that almost the majority of frustration that travelers have, whether they are long distance or commuters, is from not knowing why a service is delayed, or how far away it is.

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Fun with Fares

Is V/Line charging too much for travel in Zone 1? This probably isn’t news to anyone, but I thought it was a little odd.

A full fare ticket from Ararat to Southern Cross (or Footscray) costs $28.20. This might seem a bit pricey until you remember it’s a 200+ km trip which makes it a bit more reasonable. The concession fare is of course half that, at $14.10.

If you were to travel to Sunshine just 6 minutes down from The ‘Scray, however, which is in both Myki Zones 1 and 2, the V/Line Paper Ticket Fare is $21.80 for full fare and $10.90 for concession. You can then exit the station with your paper ticket, touch on with your Myki and travel the rest of the way to the city for a Myki money fare of $4.10 full fare, or $2.05 concession.

On weekends and public holidays, the daily cap for Myki is $6.00 which means you save 40 cents no matter what. On a weekday it might be marginally more expensive, but cheaper if you make a return journey.

Just one of those funny things about fares when you go from V/Line pricing units to Myki Zones, a full $6.40 difference in fares between Sunshine and Footscray.

If we could get Myki all the way out to Ararat (and Maryborough, and Echuca as well) that would be great too.

The new PTV Rail Map is finally here!

ptv-map-official-2017
Look at all those pretty colours! PDF Version available from PTV.

I want to say before I start, I actually really like the new map. It’s miles better than the current Yellow and Blue one that actually doesn’t tell you much information, and it has been extended to cover the V/Line routes as well, showing all V/Line and Metro services.

The project that got the ball rolling originally started back in 2014, and the previous versions released to the public went through several different versions, some of which were featured on Daniel Bowen’s Blog.

There’s just a few little things that kind of bug me about the new map, and I’ve listed some down below. Unfortunately, this is the version of the map that is being published everywhere, so opportunities for improvements will have to wait until the next version, which possibly won’t be until the Mernda Extension is finished in 2019, given Southland is already on the map.

Line Groupings

The map splits up the Network into its operational groups and assigns them colours. Some of these colours differ from the drafts that were posted back in 2014, with the Cross-City group switching from Purple to Green and the Dandenong Group switching from Green to Light Blue. This changes seems to have been made to allow V/Line to be given its rightful purple colour.

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The Line groups and their colours going into 2017. Will the rainbow boards be changed to match? Probably.

Unfortunately, the Glen Waverly Line and Alamein Lines have been placed back in with the Lilydale and Belgrave Lines, despite running separately for most of the day. The draft map showed that these lines generally had different operating patterns, and that passengers were more likely to need to change for these services. The new map does not show this.

Curves

The most minor of complaints from me comes from the curve between Flinders Street and Richmond. The curves do not all line up nicely as they should, with the Dandenong Group’s curve not having the same centre. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. The Cross-City Group’s curve between Flagstaff and Southern Cross uses a similar trick.

ugly-curve
How did they not notice that ugly curve? What were they thinking sending this off to the publisher like that?

Interchanges and Station Status

The map uses a nice little bubble to denote an interchange station, except at Essendon for some reason. The reason is that the station bubble also indicates a station that has a particular level of customer service. Which is what Essendon has. So why isn’t it a bubble, and not two ticks which don’t appear anywhere else on the map?

Some of the other V/Line interchanges are also rather inelegant. Sunshine and North Melbourne, where some V/Line lines stop, and others do not, have this weird compromise going on. Sunshine is particularly ugly. I whipped up this example in 5 minutes, with the Sunbury Line being moved to the other side of the line, and the Bendigo Line passing right through without the need for a convoluted bubble joiner. A similar thing could be done at North Melbourne, which suffers from the same fate.

sunshine-re-route
Like I said, I did this in 5 minutes. An actual version would be much neater.

I’ll explain the Bendigo Line being an open line in a minute (depending on how fast you read).

Southern Cross has the V/Line lines turning away from each other to show that they do not run through to each other, but it does make it look like they run into other lines. Having two distinct boxes as I’ve done below makes it a little clearer I think.

another-southern-cross
A possible design for Southern Cross that doesn’t resort to crashing the Vlocities into those Siemens. Again, an actual version would be much neater.

I’m not convinced the station names need to denote the level of customer service either. The map has an attached station index, where this, and the zone number could be placed. The Zone numbers are entirely missing outside the grey area on the map being Zones 3-13 and beyond.

V/Line’s inclusion in general

I like the idea of including V/Line services, however, when they extend out from the centre of Melbourne in 8 different directions, it makes them hard to fit on a single map. While Victoria is longer east-west than it is north-south, most of the rail services are heavily concentrated in the centre of the state, meaning that trying to represent lines geographically are significantly harder.

Of course, this isn’t a geographic map, but it helps when things are more or less where they should be. Echuca for example, is actually to the North East of Bendigo and is quite close to Shepparton, something you will never get from this map. Bairnsdale is nowhere near Belgrave. The Werribee line has to turn back inland to meet the Geelong line, as the Warrnambool Line is condensed to make room for the massive legend box.

The use of a solid coloured line to denote them also makes them look like frequent services, or at least comparable to Metro. This is why I used an open line to denote the Bendigo Line. While the RRL has 20 minute frequencies most of the time, the other commuter lines are still much less frequent, hourly or even less at some points of the day. Much like this map has done with the Stony Point Line, an open line implies that you should check the timetable when travelling, as you cannot turn up and go.

I think the hatching of the long distance lines is also problematic. In the City Loop, it is used to show weekend services. The Long Distance services run every day of the week, so the use of the information is inconsistent. I think a better option would be to have them as an open grey line. Better yet, don’t include them, and instead have arrows to show some continuing services, as the Tube Map showing the Elizabeth Line was to do. This would help things be a bit more geographically accurate.

elizabeth-line-56cd62d6bc9dd
Look at those little arrows in the top right and centre left to show the services are long distance. Sourced from City A.M. as TfL are now using a different version.

Summing Up

Overall, I like the new map, I think it’s a great step forward. Really it comes down to what information you want to display on a map, and how that information is presented. On overseas networks such as the London Underground you can plan a journey simply by looking at the map. That isn’t yet the case here due to frequency and inconsistent operation, but this makes it much easier.

Some of the complaints I had about the draft maps have been addressed, such as the V/Line Purple, but other things I liked such as the Glen Waverly Line being separate has gone. At least we’ve got rid of the Yellow and Blue abomination now, kill that thing with fire.

yellow-and-blue
Who seriously thought this was a good idea? Like really?

Thoughts on the Regional Network Development “Plan”

The Regional Network Development Plan was released on Monday to a little bit of fanfare. Not much though. And it’s easy to see why when reading it, it’s only 56 pages long and falls short of actually being a plan. Google defines a plan as “a detailed proposal for doing or achieving something.” This document provides no real details, just a rough outline for when those details are going to come out. That said, there were some ideas that I picked up on when I read through.

Moving to frequencies of 40 min off peak and 20 min peak on all commuter lines, with additional services on the long distance lines as well.

This is good news for regional Victorians. However the blanket approach to all lines might not be making the best use of rolling stock. The Bendigo Line for example, runs trains half empty beyond Kyneton. Having a 30 minute service to Kyneton would help this. This would also mean that trains to Bendigo could run limited express or express between Kyneton and Footscray, saving 10-20 minutes from every Bendigo trip.

Extra services are always welcome for long distance trains. However, a lot of work still needs to be done. Echuca only has one train service in each direction per day, and runs at limited speed between Bendigo and Echuca, despite the upgrades to level crossings that have already been completed but never enacted. Hopefully the responses from the “Plan” get the government into action on actually improving things.

New standards for stations to be developed, more parking, secure parking at some of the stations on the long distance lines, platform extensions to allow 9 car running on some lines/services

The secure parking is a good idea, especially for stations on the long distance lines where frequency is so low that people may have to stay in Melbourne overnight.

Developing standards for stations is a nice idea, as long as the result isn’t a lot of paint over existing problems just to cover things up, much like the Bayside Rail Project.

Platform extensions for longer running is great. The V/Line platforms at Footscray were built with 9 carriage long platforms. Sunshine was built with enough room for 7 carriages. Wyndham Vale and Tarneit were both built with room for 9. Extending other platforms (presumably on the Geelong Line) to allow for 9 car VLocity running would be useful for providing more capacity for the Geelong Line which service both Vicotria’s second biggest city, and the booming western suburbs. Hopefully it means other stations that are currently too short for trains get extended as well. Clarkefield station missed out on being extended when Macedon, Gisborne and Riddells Creek were done last year.

Trialing coaches to outer suburbs instead of all the way into Melbourne

A good idea, as long as there are connecting services available for people to change to.

Possibility of rolling out myki long distance – lots of public feedback on requiring two ticket types for different journeys. Review of current fare structure. Only in the long term plan (10+ years) to reflect new ticket technologies

This is exciting, especially with the ticketing system currently being convoluted in how it works. V/Line ticketing staff generally make people from Melbourne pay for their train and coach journey on a paper ticket, believing it will be cheaper, but this is not always the case, especially when travel in Zones 1 and 2 has already been paid for.

Disappointingly, this seems to have been put on the back burner with the “new” ticketing technologies – that have been in use in Melbourne for 4 years, and in regional centres before that – not to be rolled out on long distance services until at least 10 years in the future. While there may be some complicated aspects involved, such as seat booking and first class surcharges, the system should be robust enough to introduce these. If they can’t be added at all, then there was something wrong with the design brief for myki in the first place given it was always meant to be an integrated ticketing system.

Lots of focus and acknowledgement of freight, improvements to corridors carrying freight not coming at the cost of losing it

Freight makes the network tick, and the network access charges it provides gives return to the network for maintenance, much more than passenger trains which are highly subsidised. The plan acknowledges that improvements to passenger train frequencies can come at a cost for freight trains. An example of this is on the Bendigo line where the number of passenger trains going through the single track section between Kyneton and Bendigo means freight trains are now a rare sight. Track amplification is needed both for passenger frequency improvements and freight reliability.

Developing local area campaigns for local transport

Kyneton, where I live, has a local bus service. I have no idea on the days it runs, its timetables or routes because I have never seen any advertisement for it, not even at the station. The only time I have heard it mentioned was when some elderly tourists asked the station attendant when the next bus to town was. “Tomorrow” was the answer. Creating advertising campaigns for local bus services is the best way of getting people to use the services.

In conclusion

In all the plan is okay, but not as a plan. It’s more a collection of nice ideas that all need their own detailed plans to happen. This is in stark comparison to the Metropolitan Network Development Plan which detailed very clearly the stages and all the works that need to happen over the medium to long term to maximise the efficiency of the suburban network. This document seems a bit too rushed and light on details in comparison, and is more of a reactionary release than a vision for the future.

A Second Myki Reader at Kyneton Platform 2?

While Myki was rolled out on Vline trains during 2013, the hardware to make this possible had been rolled out a long time before, with Myki readers present at most Vline stations. How these readers were distributed around the stations however, was questionable. This post is a case study of my local station, Kyneton and the oddity of its reader on Platform 2.

The Background

Kyneton station has 3 readers on Platform 1, one for each entrance to the station. Platform 2 however, only has one reader. The single Myki device causes significant queueing for passengers in the afternoon peak.

Platform 1 is the busiest platform at Kyneton, with all trains to Southern Cross using it, as well as many off peak trains to Bendigo. Having three readers is therefore justified. However, passengers travelling to Melbourne can arrive anywhere between an hour (the frequency of trains on the Bendigo Line) to the very minute that their train departs the station. This means that there are no real queues to board the train, some people are more prepared than others, and there is a more even spread of arrival times. However, passengers disembarking the train do not have the option of arriving early, instead arriving at the station at the same time as everyone else.

The problem with queues at Kyneton seemed to have a solution in sight, however, in August last year, when I noticed some installation works, corresponding with the upgrades to Passenger Information Displays that happened across the Bendigo Line.

 The Solution?

However, progress on the installation was slow, with the stand for the reader being installed, and nothing else happening over several months.

On the 10th of September, local member for Macedon Mary-Anne Thomas announced that an additional Myki Reader had been installed on Platform 2 at Woodend, another station prone to crowding in a similar manner to Kyneton.

On the 9th of December, the installation at Kyneton was still not completed, with still just the stand being present on the platform.

On the 18th of February, I finally asked the local Member, Mary-Anne Thomas, what was taking so long on the installation. Her reply was that V/Line were having trouble accessing the ticketing rack at Kyneton.

The ongoing saga

So it turns out it’s not just that V/Line wont install an extra reader, they can’t actually access the services they need to access to install the reader.

Here’s hoping it will eventually be installed. The Temporary fencing that has surrounded the electronics cabinet probably isn’t cheap after being there for six months.

IMG_8869
At least it isn’t obstructing too much platform space, but its been there so long it’s almost like it’s a part of the station now. 

Changes to Pedestrian Access at St Vincent’s Plaza

St Vincent’s Plaza, named for St Vincent’s Hospital which it services, sits in the middle of Victoria Parade.  It also serves the Eye and Ear Hospital, as well as the Melbourne Campus of Australian Catholic University.

St Vincents Plaza Jan2016
St Vincent’s Plaza from above, screenshot taken from Google Maps

Over the latter part of 2015, Victoria Parade was given a makeover, receiving Bus Lanes and associated infrastructure upgrades to support these. These upgrades included some changing of the sequencing of traffic lights, removal of roadside parking, new bus shelters, and changes to kerbs. Unfortunately, not all of these changes are beneficial to pedestrians or public transport users.

Impossible to Cross in One Go?

Many people walk from Parliament Station to Victoria Parade, either to get to St Vincent’s or to the nearby ACU campus. However, it is impossible for a person to walk the whole distance across Victoria Parade travelling South-North, with the light sequencing at each crossing either side of St Vincent’s Plaza not lining up.

Birds Eye View of St Vincent's Plaza with Labeled Crossings
One day I will learn how to make effective labels to convey information. Until then, this.

At Crossings A and B, Crossing B starts before crossing A does, and ends before most pedestrians cross A, unless they run. However, there is a chance to continue crossing, a ‘dead space’ in the pedestrian sequence. Cars who come from Gisborne Street turning right into Victoria Parade have a longer sequence than the pedestrian light where cars heading east on Victoria Parade have a red light and therefore cannot enter the intersection. This means that the Pedestrian light could potentially stay green for the entire time cars are allowed to turn right from Gisborne Street without interrupting traffic, and letting pedestrians cross the road in one go.

At crossings C and D, crossing D similarly starts before crossing C. Many pedestrians start their crossing before C has a green signal, and many continue to cross at D once again after the red signal has started flashing or turned red.

Crossing E on the same intersection also has some interesting dead space. While all traffic signals are at red, it has a green man. This ends as the eastbound signal starts, and once it is green, the Green man is shown again, and meaning there is several seconds of the red man showing where there is no conflicting traffic movements, only for it to turn green again.

The Dead Space on crossing D also has created some problems with crowding. As a Part of the changes to Victoria Parade, the Brunswick Street Turning lanes were widened to allow a bike path. While this has a great benefit to cyclists heading into the city, to install these lanes, the footpath was narrowed, and has not been widened. This can lead to crowding and difficulty walking between the two crossings.

Crossing F also features dead space, with a long gap in the red signal for southbound traffic from Brunswick Street to the green signal for pedestrians to cross. This could also be improved for pedestrian access to St Vincent’s Plaza.

A new Crossing?

Before upgrades, many people, most of them students from ACU, took their chances and crossed the road between the northbound tram platform and the opposite corner. This was a perfectly safe move to make, as long as there was eastbound traffic on Victoria Parade, as it can only continue eastwards, and not turn.

With the upgrades to Victoria Parade, it was obviously seen fit to upgrade this unofficial crossing to an actual one. However, to make it an actual crossing, it had to discourage the crossing of the northbound tram tracks, and a railing was installed, meaning that the main use of the crossing was discouraged.

IMG_8871
A railing was installed as part of works last year to discourage illegal crossings over the tram tracks.

Most who use this crossing have just alighted from a Route 11 tram. These trams head north, not past the front door of the university, and thus all students alight here. They then cross both tram tracks to cross at crossing D. Route 109 and 12 trams do not have such extreme cases of this crossing per tram, as their numbers of alighting students are split between St Vincent’s Plaza and Lansdowne Street, the next stop on those routes.

This railing also means that many pedestrians are unable to use this new crossing, as many trams move forward to face the intersection, blocking the crossing, before they have a clear signal to cross into Brunswick Street.

IMG_8936
A Tram moving forward before receiving a white signal, blocking access to the crossing

Despite the high use this crossing already receives however, the signals have yet to be commissioned (as of March 25 2016) and do not react when the buttons are pressed, deterring pedestrians who are not familiar with the intersection from crossing.

The Future

The complicated intersections between Gisborne Street, Victoria Parade and Brunswick Street obviously prove to be a difficult intersection to manage for all forms of traffic, pedestrian, car, tram and bicycle.

As ACU expands, and as the area gradually increases in density, the amount of traffic, especially pedestrian going through this intersection is only going to increase. Some improvements could be removing the dead spaces in cycles and improving the size of footpaths in the median strip to prevent crowding.

Some more radical suggestions for the future could include:

  • Moderate: Extending the bike lanes south into Morrison Place to link them with the dedicated bike lanes on Albert Street, Victoria Parade having no dedicated bike lanes of its own.
  • Radical: Rebuilding the St Vincent’s Plaza tram stop so that the North Platform is an island platform backing onto the centre platform. Using a right hand drop, eastbound pedestrian traffic would be encouraged across the new crossing.
  • Extremely Radical: A footbridge above or subway underneath the platforms, linking one side of the street to the other. These could either link into St Vincent’s and the Eye and Ear Hospital, or across into ACU. Spacing would probably be an issue however, especially in ensuring DDA compliancy.

Naming Melbourne’s Train Lines

A fun little exercise I tried out in response to some other blog posts I have seen around, such as here and here.

This is based on the eventual conclusion of the PTV Network Development Plan (plus a few of my own conclusions and assumptions), if that ever happens.

Victoria Park Doncaster

Hurstbridge

Named after the station that is to become the Interchange, and also provides some symmetry to the Royal Park Line.

Ringwood Belgrave

Lilydale

The Interchange between the two points. As these lines will still be going through the City Loop, the ‘Ring’ portion of the name is also evocative of this.

Flinders Alamein

Glen Waverley

Laverton

Williamstown

I liked the idea of naming the lines after inner-city streets, given that they are all historical and not too controversial. The Glen Waverley line already runs direct to Flinders Street Station most of the time,  as do trains from Williamstown and Laverton. Laverton here, by the way, refers to services via the Altona Loop.

Swanston Pakenham

Cranbourne

Bacchus Marsh

Sunbury

The Sunshine-Dandenong line that will be created by the Melbourne Metro Rail Project. Going under Swanston Street, I think the Swanston Line would be the perfect name for it. I also think that electrification to Melton, when it does occur, should proceed to Bacchus Marsh straight away.

La Trobe Craigieburn

Baxter

The Frankston Line and Craigieburn lines are to be joined through the City Loop. As much of this occurs under La Trobe Street, it might as well be named that.

Royal Park Wallan

Sandringham

I found this line a hard one to suggest a name for. I went with one of the biggest landmarks on the line, which is almost half way between the two termini, Royal Park. It also helps create a nice symmetry with the Victoria Park Line.

Spencer Whittlesea

Wyndham Vale

Once again taking the name of the street it will go under, the Spencer line will be the result of a Melbourne Metro 2 Project, connecting the South Morang Line to the Werribee line, via Fishermen’s Bend. I’ve taken the liberty of extending the Mernda Extension even further to Whittlesea as a projection for future growth out in the Northern Suburbs.

Geelong Waurn Ponds

South Yarra

Under the current Vline Service it is called the Geelong Line, and I see no reasons to change that.