Express running – hero or villain? Part 1

I was browsing through some Eddington stuff a while back and found some interesting information in Chapter 3 – Public Transport on a Roll. These sort of reports often contain great data on the rail system, and Eddington has been no exception. In chapter 3, there’s good information on the growth in average trip length and increases in express running. I’d been thinking about to what extent expresses are a good or bad idea in Melbourne, and this information gave me enough to get at least some good insights into the pitfalls and possibilities of express running.

Trends in express running – 1940 to today

The most important information from the report on this is shown below. It can be found on pages 74 and 75.

So what to these statistics tell us? Basically they indicate that between 1940 and today, average trip length has increased from 11km to 18km (around 64%), but that peak express running has in many cases increased even more substantially – 814% between Burnley and Camberwell, 106% between South Yarra and Caulfield, 72% between Caulfield and Cheltenham. Footscray-Newport, Clifton Hill-Heidelberg and Caulfield-Clayton had no express trains in 1940, but have many now.

Granted, this comparison is very very dodgy for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’m comparing an overall increase in trip length across the network to evening peak express increases on just a few lines, overstating the increases in express running vis a vis trip length. The lines with the biggest increases in express running are the ones which are likely to have increases in trip length substantially higher than the metropolitan average.

Secondly, some of the express numbers in the second diagram are misleading. For instance, the 57% of trains that run express Newport to Footscray are Werribee services – but in 1940 the Werribee line wasn’t a suburban service at all, and wasn’t electrified until 1984! There’s also no mention of changes in the level of express running in key sections like Jolimont-Clifton Hill and Camberwell-Box Hill.

Even with these (substantial) problems, still basically reasonable to accept this stylised fact that express running has increased at a faster rate than trip length. The DoI claims that “Express trains were introduced partly as a response to competition from the rise in car ownership.” This is probably a reasonable explanation of why express running was expanded over and above trip length increases.

In part 2, I’m going to consider whether or not this has been a good thing for rail in Melbourne.

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5 Responses

  1. I know I’ve developed something of a habit of splitting posts in half and forgetting about the second half. I promise I’ll get around to finishing ‘Alternatives to Eddington Part 2’ soon! Part 2 of this post should be done soon too.

  2. Hi Phin

    I have my issues with the Sir Rod conclusions on this matter but I’ll save that for later.

    Expressing can be hero if done properly but it is often done villain. I need to get back to my Pakenham work to show this (but my first spreadsheet shows something o fmy conclusions)

    First, it must save a lot of time to be worth doing. Yes, I’m talking about the Darling express, the Heidelberg crawlers, the skipping of Huntingdale or South Kensingont that does a fat lot of good.

    Second, it must kept all day to avoid gradient and must be logically layered to ensure different markets are served and kept in proportion (no good if the loadings vary too much between the different services)

    Third, and Melbourne is poor at this compared with Perth, is that expresses are needed right to the end of the line because most lines do not reach the end of the suburban sprawl and some people still have onward journeys.

    So there should be expresses to Pakenham, to Frankston, to Epping, to Lilydale, to Cragieburn, to Watergardens, to Werribee and to Glen Waverley (yes, the whole way!)

    Fortunately, some of these are existing Vline services, which need their operating patterns, farebox rules and so on altered, some require new services.

    For example, a Werribee express could be the Geelong stopper (with a separate Geelong express). Frankston would quite obviously be a Stony Point (or more likely Crib Point) thru. Craigieburn would be a stopping Seymour and Watergardens the stopping Sunbury or Kyneton. Lilydale would ideally be a beyond Lilydale service, but will settle for Lilydale for the foreseeable.

    To encourage appropriate use, you could add a premium cost to the Vline service. It may only be the zone beyond (eg Pakenham is Nar Nar Goon’s fare) which will discourage tighta__es and encourage those who care.

    Expresses are ‘path chewers” and this can make them villains, but as I have demonstrated on my Pakenham blog, if you follow Kenny Roger’s advice, and “know when to hold’em, know when to ‘fold’em, know when to walk away and know when to run” – you can make expresses work better than a pure all stations service.

    But you gotta have faith – faith that people will change trains en route, people will pay more for better service, that people are mature enough to watch trains speed past their station and not write 1000 letters to the Minister complaining.

    This last point was a contention between me and Mjja on the Page – I suggested that if an all stations needs to be held 3-4 minutes while an express overtakes, people gotta deal with it, build a bridge etc.

    If you board a stopper at Yarraman and when you get to Westall the train gonna sit for 4 minutes while an express pulls onto the other face of the new island platform, you got 2 choices, get of your backside, walk across the platform to the express, and catch it. Or enjoy your seat and sit there 4 minutes while it gains on yours.

    According to my calcs, this would happen 3 times in the journey from Pakenham, at Dandy, Westall and Caulfield. It would be minimised to the extent that first-rate signalling, pointwork and station design is used. And operating culture would need to improve so that trains depart on time and arrive on time.

    But you don’t need an extra track…

  3. […] running – hero or villain? Part 2 Posted on May 6, 2008 by Phin In part one, I concluded that the growth in express running has outpaced the growth in trip length, and that […]

  4. Thanks Riccardo, I just posted part 2 and I think you’ll find we agree on the broad principles, although I’ve proposed a somewhat more limited model (which could easily be extended).

    I really like your idea of using V/Line services to make more metropolitan expresses. No doubt V/Line passengers would grumble, but V/Line is only carrying something like 10 million passengers per year – while Connex is about to hit 200 million!

    I’ve got no problem with holding up stoppers to be overtaken by expresses either – as long as there’s a cross platform interchange which is ideally clean and fully sheltered. I actually think it’s desirable to run it this way. The problem is, to get it to work, you need a good management culture all the way to the top. Getting this in Melbourne is going to require serious (but absolutely necessary) reform.

  5. Re the Vline services, you’re right that they carry a much smaller numbers of people, and they chew paths. Each time you see a 2 car velo cruising through Sunshine or Caulfield you need to remember it took a path that a 6 car electric could have used.

    I don’t advocate therefore getting rid of them, but simply to say that I hope the 6 car velo becomes the norm. And that the 1.5 cars worth of velo who got off at Caulfield or Dandenong are replaced with premium pax for the run in.

    It’s money for jam, and only requires a few simple rules – must hold (or be swiped for) a premium fare, must not cause the long distance pax to stand, and must not delay the train.

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