Express running – hero or villain? Part 2

In part one, I concluded that the growth in express running has outpaced the growth in trip length, and that this was done more or less to make rail more more competitive with the private car.

Has it been the best way make rail competitive though? The DoI thinks so, and contend that “express trains are a highly valued part of the metropolitan train timetable”.

The problem is that express trains are very path hungry when they have to share the same tracks as trains which stop all stations. So unless there’s more than two tracks, line capacity – and consequently frequency – is lowered. This isn’t just a problem for stations which are expressed, it reduces capacity for the whole line.

Of the 430 km of rail lines in Melbourne, 335 km are double track, 65 km are single track, and only 30 km are triple track or better. This means that on 78% of the network, there is a significant trade off between frequency and express running, and that 15% of the network (the single track bit) can’t handle either frequent or express services.

The DoI knows this, but claims that while “Reducing the number of express trains would help to increase capacity, but would significantly increase travel times from the outer suburbs and may dissuade commuters from using the train at all.” Really? In Melbourne, the rule of thumb is that every station expressed will save 1 minute compared to if the train called at the station. But you need to run sweeper services in between the expresses to serve the stations which are expressed. So, on the 78% of Melbourne’s network that is double track, every station expressed brings you 1 minute closer to the stopper in front, reducing the headway. Of course, stopping all stations trains can come in behind the expresses at whatever the signal headway is.

The upshot of this is that express running will increase average wait time on double track rail. Given that total travel time = time on train + wait time + walk to and from stations, the benefits of express running are mitigated. For more information on this, have a look at Riccardo’s training track page on true end to end journey time. Furthermore, we need to remember that lower frequency means lower capacity, meaning that the line can transport fewer passengers.

I’m not saying express running is bad per se, but rather that we need to be aware of the costs and benefits. Often, express services are a good idea, but generally on long, busy lines with the infrastructure (preferably 4 tracks) to support frequent services. I should note that where some express running is fixed into the timetable (like V/Line trains in Melbourne) then metropolitan expresses may be easier.

Consequences for Melbourne

There is a case for express running on parts of the Melbourne rail system. If expresses are needed anywhere, it’s on the Belgrave/Lilydale, Frankston and Cranbourne/Pakenham lines – lines which are closer to commuter than metro on their outer stretches. These lines do have a quite a bit of amplification to make it easier – Belgrave/Lilydale has three tracks to Box Hill, Frankston has three tracks to Moorabbin, and Cranbourne/Pakenham has a third track planned to Dandenong (who knows whether that will happen though).

Triplication adds some capacity, and worked ok for the sort of commuter service standard that was envisaged during construction in the 60s, 70s and 80s – but that sort of service standard is poor and ultimately unsuitable for Melbourne today. Most lines need 6-10 trains per hour all day every day. If express services are to be used, they should run at the same fixed pattern, all day every day – giving these lines a two tier service. The focus should be on shorter, more frequent expresses that can be delivered reliably within the parameters of the service standard.

What does this mean in terms of running patterns? For Belgrave/Lilydale, stoppers should run from Box Hill to Flinders St, and expresses stop only Box Hill – Camberwell – Glenferrie – Burnley – Richmond – Loop. For Frankston, stoppers should run from Moorabbin or Cheltenham to Flinders St, and expresses stop only Moorabbin/Cheltenham – Caulfield – South Yarra – Richmond – Loop. For Cranbourne/Pakenham, stoppers should run from Oakleigh to Flinders St, and expresses stop only Caulfield – South Yarra – Richmond – Loop. Additional infrastructure would be required, and ultimately 4 tracks to the intermediate termini is desirable. Here’s what it might look like to commuters:

Hurstbridge and Werribee currently see express running. For more detailed information on my plans for these lines, see here and here. For lines with V/Line trains, there needs to be a concerted effort at segregation, for a more detailed look at what I’d recommend in the western suburbs, have a look at this post.


14 Responses

  1. Good to see your blog output back on the up! But leaving me little time to answer 🙂

    Agree 4 tracks is better than 3. Then you can run turn up and go services on 2 layers, and get the trains back.

    You gotta ask yourself…to run a three track system they have to have sidings at Dandenong, Cranbourne, Westall, Pakenham to store enough sets to support a peak directional service on that line. And lots of dead or unpublished running.

    Shame they can’t just amalgamate them into 12 car sets at closing time, run them into the City Loop and leave them there, say have 2 such sets with their noses just touching the platform ends at Parliament, Flagstaff and Melbourne Central, would account for 36x 6 car sets just like that! Plus keep the balance indoors at Westall, Epping, Newport and Bayswater, so that no trains get vandalised.

  2. I should add I will never accuse Sir Rod of corruption, incompetence or hidden agenda, but I will say that like most parts of society, he is following “unwritten ground rules” terms in his t-o-r which are not written down.

    Basic questions like are some passengers more equal than others?

    If you want an unequal outcome, fine, I can suggest some very useful unequal outcomes, but say so. Whoops. that’s an unwritten ground rule. Can’t mention when some people are being treated differently from others.

  3. Is 4x or 3x to Oakleigh enough? Shaving 7 minutes off Pakenham or Cranbourne times still leaves a long time on trains. Maybe Springvale but that still only takes 9 off. Riccardo’s VLine style timetable could work, but should SAS after Dandenong, and needs to stop at Oakleigh (am naturally biased as catch train from Oakleigh). See what you think.

  4. Oh and Riccardo, what I was thinking was the 3x track express counter-peak services could do limited expresses (ie. Caulfield/Malvern-South Yarra, Hawthorn/Heyington-Richmond) Really a let down on Belgrave/Lilydale but should 4x to Camberwell. Bloody NIMBYs.

  5. The situation could be improuved on the Caulfield lines by putting in flyovers before Richmond and after Caulfield and re-signaling the middle two tracks to run the other way than they do now, so the two down tracks are next to each other and the two up tracks are next to each other with the expresses on the outside tracks and the stoppers using the inside tracks and island platforms. I believe a project of that general nature was removed from the City Loop project.

    Agreed on the 4th trach to Camberwell. Run the Alamein trains to and from FSS all day with the Belgrave and Lilydale trains running express.
    Two issues though:
    Firstly land aquisition would be rewquired at Hawthorn Station due to yard sell-offs and
    Secondly the junction at Burnley would have to be redesigned or a conflict would be created due to flyover issues.

  6. I think there should be 4 tracks to Box Hill, but like many sections of the network (in this case, the Union and Mont Albert Road level crossings), there is not enough space/cost is too high/government lack of willpower/NIMBY etc. In an ideal world (but not Riccardo’s super transport plan), there’d be 4 tracks to Ringwood, Dandenong, Moorabin/Cheltenham (or Frankston), Sunshine, Newport, Clifton Hill or further and 4/3 along the Broady line. This could allow local services to provide frequent services to major transit hubs, aiding decentralization, and long distance (double-deck!) trains to connect these hubs with the City.

    Sounds simple, but in Victoria, it’s impossible.

  7. Thanks for all the comments.

    Riccardo, blog output is increasing as my exams get closer and closer… Stabling in the loop (and undercover elsewhere) is sensible. I haven’t a clue why say West Block hasn’t had wires strung up and been used as a suburban depot.

    Calembeena, you’re right – only running express from Oakleigh doesn’t give you a high base level of express running. But it could be extended – as you say – to Springvale or further. Also, this is only the base service standard I’m talking about – if you can fit extra V/Line services in or have spare rolling stock then more can be run at peak hour. However – I’d advise against buying peak only stock because it doesn’t represent good value for money.

    Tom, completely agree – no point going for 4 tracks unless you’re prepared to build the flyovers to make it work properly. This is where Melbourne has failed in the past.

    Oben, completely agree re. encouraging decentralisation – we need a lot more of it. Ideally you would have 4 tracks to Dandenong, Frankston, Ringwood etc, but we also need to consider opportunity cost. For example, if I were given the choice of 4 tracks to Ringwood or only 4 to Box Hill and extension of Alamein to Chadstone and Monash I’d pick the latter. It’s all about allocating scarce resources to where they are needed most.

    I think you’re right about double deck – many people think they are wrong for Melbourne, but I think they would work well as outer suburban commuter rail where dwell times aren’t such an issue. For the inner and middle suburbs they are a poor choice though – it’s all about getting the metro/commuter divide worked out.


  8. I probably wouldn’t use peak-only rollingstock.
    Maybe rip out the seats in Comengs, add longtitudinal seating and use those for 1st tier trains.
    Then leave Siemens/Xtraps as is, apart from maybe taking seating out between the last doors and the driver section on M carriages. Run these on 2nd tier.
    Run all of these as frequent services both offpeak and peak, encouraging less crowding on peak trains.

    When I said counterpeak I just meant down in the mornings and up in the afternoons, which means you don’t get backlogs of trains either at FSS/Loop or at the termini.


  9. Thanks Calembeena – very good idea. The Comeng trains have plenty of life left in them running short haul services. Give them a Hitachi seating layout (or perhaps even more longitudinal seating) and fix the aircon and they’ll be fine for another 15-20 years given proper care and the occasional refurb.

  10. Good comments all. Yep, the Comengs could survive on short runs for many years, could become our new Taits (just stick drivers cabs on both ends!)

    Flyovers or dives are essential (just check my new training track on cross-platform interchange)

    I would support 4 tracks to Box Hill but both lines would then need high frquency to make the investment worthwhile, and get rid of the level xings (and combine Mont, Surrey, Chat and Cant into 2 stations)

    I think most of the alignment from Camb to Burnely could take it, only a couple of tight spots as suggested (Hawthorn station and you would need to rebuild the Burnley flyover)

    You could get rid of the Alamein flyover, use that track as the fourth track, and make East Camb the junction (with escalators to and from the island platforms) – but would annoy Alamein pax who want to connect onto 72 tram with two changes.

    The four tracks would need to be signalled as up-up-down-down (at least at the junctions).

  11. Why would you stop expresses from the Ringworm line at Burnley of all places? In most cases one would only take a train for local trips from the Ringwood line stations to Glen Waverley line stations at times of day when bus or tram services are poor or non-existant as frequent routes link those, which carry many more people than who change at Burnley.

    Cheltenham would be better than Moorabbin as a terminus for Frankston line all stoppers IMO – partially due to there being quite a few local trips made in the Cheltenham-Caulfield section, a fair few of who are going to the Westfield.

    I’d like to see express trains deleted from the Glen Waverley line – it’s too short and they waste train paths.

  12. You have a point, but I’d like to see Burnley better than it is. Get rid of all the depots and crap warehouses, this is a prime railway junction for high rise walk up traffic, plus it has a tram and could even support buses N-S along Coppin, Burnley and Yarra Boulevards

    I’d like to see no more trains from Hawthorn or beyond stop at E Richmond

    What to do about Southland? One of those classic cases where the developer refuses to believe anyone would catch the train to their shop, despite the fact that tens of thousands of people shop in the CBD and catch the train to do so.

    I agree the Darling-GWY trains are a waste of time, so little is saved with the tram grids and the short express distance. If any expressing happens at all might as well be to Mt Wav minimum

    But you know what I’d really like? 🙂

    Bury the GWY under the ground, four tracks so that a new Dandenong line can be built along the easement, get rid of some of the stations, but keep Heyington above ground and rename it Skevs and sell it to Skevs (let them pay for it) and build a new station called Picnic next to GE and run a metro style service on the short bit.

    Anyway enough dribbling from me!

  13. i’d rather only let Blackburn and Alamein stop at burnley. Let them go direct to FSS or even through-route to Werribee or somewhere. Whereas GWY express RICH-Heyington and Bel/Lil express RICH-Glenferrie-Camberwell-Box Hill in peak direction and RICH-Hawthorn in counterpeak direction. Run 6m to GWY, Alamein, Blackburn and 12m to Belgrave and Lilydale and you have a decent train service.
    If only…

  14. but for that to work you would need no late running, lots of X-plat interchange at Glenferrie, Camberwell and Box Hill with two island platforms sharing the xpress track in the centre and the local tracks on the outside. On the centre track at those stations trains would always only open their left-hand doors, thus making it easier for people to change trains.

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