Something that Melbourne’s trains have got very wrong (but that our trams have got basically right) is the concept of a service standard. Riccardo has blogged on this issue a lot so I won’t go into great detail about the intricacies of the issue. Suffice to say, a service standard shouldn’t be % of trains run within 6 minutes of timetabled or % of timetabled services run – it should denote how many trains per hour should be provided on a given line, the stopping patterns and the nature of the rollingstock. Measuring how many of this trains run on time is important, but is not a service standard in itself.
So, what sort of service standard should we be looking at for Melbourne? I’ve said on numerous occasions that most of Melbourne’s lines need to be running at least 6 trains per hour all day every day. Basically we should run as many trains as the infrastructure can handle. In this post – the first of a series – I’ll be looking at the service standard for the Clifton Hill group (the Hurstbridge and Epping lines).
When deciding on a short to medium term service standard, we need to consider two main things – the underlying patronage potential of the area and the infrastructure capacity of the line. The good news is that in 2004, the DoI published a report – the Clifton Hill Group rail review phase 1 – gives some insights into these issues.
Measuring patronage potential of an area directly can be difficult. Using the distributional patterns of existing patronage on a given line can help though. Obviously, such figures aren’t perfect and don’t account for supplier induced demand. But detailed AM peak up direction figures were readily available on pages 7 and 8 of the DoI report. Here they are:
This tells us that on the Epping line, patronage is highest towards the end of the line (which is also a growth area) and that Hurstbridge has high patronage as far as Greensborough, but not much beyond there. Supplier induced demand becomes an issue with the Hurstbridge line figures, as many peak hour trains terminate at Greensborough. This makes the figures trickier to use, but given low population density of the area and the line’s incursion into green wedge, it’s fair to say there’s not all that much new patronage potential beyond Greensborough or Eltham.
The Hurstbridge and Epping lines are some of Melbourne’s trickiest on the infrastructure front, with long single track sections and in some sections antiquated signalling. The good news is that there is reletively little congestion in the Clifton Hill loop. The following diagram, taken from page 11 of the DoI report, shows the infrastructure constraints as well as the peak service level as of 2004.
Capacity between Clifton Hill and Jolimont will be improved somewhat with the construction of the second track between Clifton Hill and Westgargh as well as reversing the AM loop direction. The Clifton Hill-Westgarth duplication really should have had a flyover at Clifton Hill though. Eltham to Hurstbridge will benefit from the signalling upgrade that’s going on at the moment.
Setting a service standard
What the above diagram shows us is that the infrastructure can handle 6 trains per hour to Epping and 9 trains per hour to Greensborough. The Clifton Hill-Jolimont bottleneck will be eased within the next couple of years. Capacity is more constrained beyond Greensborough, but there isn’t much patronage there anyway. This shows that we could run 6 trains per hour (giving us a 5 minute average wait time and turn up and go convenience) all day as far as Greensborough and Epping without any new infrastructure spending. Eltham and Hurstbridge would receive fewer services – say 3 trains per hour for Eltham and a shuttle every 40 minutes between Eltham and Hurstbridge. Run this level of service all day every day, 5:30am to midnight. If the capacity is there, run even more trains during peak.
Now we need to look at stopping patterns. Every Eltham train would run express Clifton Hill-Jolimont. All Greensborough services would stop all stations. Every second Epping train would run express Clifton Hill-Jolimont. During peak hour, any spare capacity could be used to run extra super-express trains on the Hurstbridge line – as is the case now.
Such a plan would require more drivers – there’s no doubt about that. It’s beyond my capabilities to work out exactly how many drivers would be required. However, if you look at some of my old system wide calculations, it’s clear we’re not looking at big money.
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