Confusing network maps from V/line

Back in April 2014 Public Transport Victoria released a draft of an easier to read train map for Melbourne, and not a minute too soon – the current version implies non-existent options routes such as a Sunbury to Upfield line. So what about the V/Line network map?

Confusing V/Line network map

It suffers from one major defect – the same “phantom through running” problem that afflicts the current suburban rail map. Here is a closer look at the troublesome section:

Confusing V/Line network map - original version

‘Melbourne (Southern Cross)’ is displayed in larger text, which implies it is the center of the network, but what is going on elsewhere. Can I take a train from Geelong to Seymour? How about Bacchus Marsh to Nar Nar Goon? Or Clarkefield to Wandong?

An additional complication is the station stop at North Melbourne – since December 2013 trains from Geelong no longer stop there, because the new RRL tracks through the station lack platforms. As a result, V/Line jiggled their network map to show that trains from Geelong no longer stop there.

Confusing V/Line network map - Geelong line following initial RRL opening

However even that map is out of date – in July 2014 Ballarat and Bendigo trains were also moved onto the Regional Rail Link tracks, but the network map was not updated.

Footnote

V/Line also has a network map that also include their road coach services – the insert focused on Melbourne is a little better designed, showing the North Melbourne stop correctly, and avoiding any implications of non-existent through running.

Slightly less confusing V/Line network map

Waurn Ponds trains skipping Marshall station

With the opening of the new Waurn Ponds railway station back in October 2014, V/Line had to modify their Geelong line timetable so that trains could actually serve the new station. It is on this new timetable that I found an oddity – two early morning trains bound for Waurn Ponds that stop at every station except for Marshall. So what is the reason for this move?

V/Line Geelong line timetable - Waurn Ponds train runs express through Marshall station

The reason for these services train skipping Marshall station is infrastructure – beyond Geelong station trains in both directions have to share a single track.

Single track on the Geelong line

After Geelong station the line passes through a 422 metre long tunnel, which emerges at McKillop Street.

Sprinter 7009 exiting the Geelong Tunnel

The first station is South Geelong, where only a single platform is available for trains to stop at.

3VL40 arrives into South Geelong, school holiday crowds filling the platform

The railway then passes over the Barwon River on a long bridge.

3VL23 and classmate crosses the Barwon River bound for Marshall

Then over a second bridge over Waurn Ponds Creek.

N474 leads the up Warrnambool over Waurn Ponds Creek

A single platform awaits passengers at Marshall station.

VL14 and two classmates await departure time from Marshall

With the same at Waurn Ponds station.

VLocity 3VL44 and classmate awaiting departure time from Waurn Ponds station

Trains in two directions

If the line beyond Geelong was a single track, then it would make running more than one train at a time extremely difficult. However, V/Line does manage to do this, through the use of additional track provided at selected stations.

At South Geelong there is a second track running opposite the platform, allowing the locomotive to shunt around the carriages, ready to lead the train back towards Melbourne.

Trains pass at South Geelong

There are also two dead end sidings located beyond the platform, allowing additional trains to be parked clear of the main line, ready to form a Melbourne-bound service.

N452 departs South Geelong and the finally opened platform extension

At the former terminus of Marshall, there is also has a second track opposite the platform – provided to allow locomotives to run around their carriages, ready to form a train in the opposite direction.

The shunter looks on during the run around at Marshall with N460 and a SN set

So what are V/Line doing?

Given the rail infrastructure that exists beyond Geelong station, running an intensive service on the line is difficult – empty trains can’t miraculously appear at Waurn Ponds station each morning, ready to take intending passengers to work in Melbourne.

Instead each morning trains have to make their way out to Waurn Ponds, but due to the single track, they cannot pass citybound services between stations. While South Geelong has a passing track, but it only allows trains from Melbourne to head back the way they came, or into a dead end siding, so that is out.

Which brings us back to the two trains each morning to skip Marshall. With a second track located opposite the platform, trains in an opposing direction can pass each other, but with a major complication – there is no platform on the second track!

With the majority of commuters each morning being bound for Melbourne, the counter-peak trains headed to Waurn Ponds have drawn the short straw, and are sent into the second track at Marshall to allow the citybound train to pick up passengers from the platform.

3VL33 stabled in the loop at Marshall, to form the next up

Back in the old days

Allowing two trains to both pick up passengers at a single platform station used to be done differently in the old days – there were two ways to do it:

  • The first train to arrive would stop at the platform, pick up passengers, reverse back and into the passing track, clearing the platform for the second train
  • The first train would stop in the platform, and the second train would stop in the passing track, with passengers for the first train walking through the first train!

The last time either trick was used in Victoria was in the early 2000s when West Coast Rail operated the rail service between Melbourne and Warrnambool – their trains used to cross paths at the single platform Winchelsea station, south of Geelong.

Into the future

In April 2015 a new V/Line timetable is due to be introduced for the Geelong line – with all services running via the new Regional Rail Link, it includes trains every 20 minutes off peak as far as South Geelong, with every second train stopping all stations to Waurn Ponds (one train every 40 minutes).

Again, the reason for the limited service beyond South Geelong is due to infrastructure constraints – every second train has to use the siding at South Geelong station to clear the tracks, allowing a train every 40 minutes to head all the way to the end of the single track line.

‘Aussie Pride’ – stay classy!

What better way to celebrate Australia Day than to celebrate the things that our great country can build – like your Holden Commodore ute.

Unfortunately this bloke misread the memo – he put a big “Aussie Pride” sticker on the back window, but then switched the Holden badge for a Chevy one.

Aussie pride is: putting a Chevy badge onto your Holden ute?

As for a finishing touch, the other month on eBay this classy registration plate was up for grabs – “WE FULL” on an Australian flag backdrop.

Super classy 'WEFULL' Victorian registration plates for sale on eBay

Further reading

Qantas bookings and a ‘4609 error’

The other week I headed up to Sydney, taking the train up on way, and a Qantas flight home. Unlike other airlines in Australia, Qantas still offers a full meal service on many of their domestic flights.

Qantas A380 VH-OQF

The meal service caught me out last time I flew with Qantas – I forgot to specify a vegetarian meal for my girlfriend, leaving her to chow down on bread rolls and chocolate bars!

This time she made sure that I made a special request, so I headed over to the Qantas website to add it against our booking. I entered her selection, and clicked save, only for this error page to appear:

Error page from Qantas when adding a meal preference to my booking

It read:

Your reservation is confirmed, but your special request could not be processed for these flights. Please contact us for further information. (4609 – 0)

A very useless error message, made all the more useless because they don’t actually tell you how to contact them!

After finding the Qantas call centre phone number on their website, and waiting on hold for 15 minutes – I finally got an answer:

You can’t make a meal request for a flight that doesn’t offer a meal service

It least this time forgetting to specify a vegetarian meal wouldn’t have affected my other half, but it would have been nice if the website had have told me the issue upfront, instead of wasting time on the phone!

Footnote

On the day of the flight I got a call from Qantas – “we have a planeload of international passengers who are going to miss their connection – are you able to move to the 8pm flight?” I said yes, and when we boarded said flight we discovered that they *was* a hot dinner on offer.

Turns out Qantas flights departing between 6pm and 8pm offer a ‘dinner’ service, with refreshments at other times.

Yet another ‘tram priority’ trial in Melbourne

Over the weekend Melbourne newspaper the Herald Sun ran a piece about an upcoming trial of tram priority by VicRoads, Public Transport Victoria and Yarra Trams. So what to make of it – an important move to make Melbourne’s tram service faster, or just another report to gather dust on the shelf?

B2.2086 running a route 57a service, stuck in traffic on Maribyrnong Road

At present attempts at tram priority in Melbourne are half hearted – usually just a ‘head start’ green phase for trams before the right turn arrow kicks in.

The ‘head start’ is implemented with a white ‘T’ aspect on the traffic signals, which applies only to trams.

New 'T' lights at the Franklin Street siding

These ‘T’ lights can be found at many traffic lights around Melbourne, but their usefulness is dubious – some intersections use the ‘T’ lights to prevent trams from proceeding, and instead prioritise right turning cars!

As for the upcoming tram priority trials, the Herald Sun article has this to say:

Plan to allow trams to move through intersections before cars
Aleks Devic
January 17, 2015

Trams would be given the green light to go through intersections before cars under a plan to improve traffic flow and safety on shared roads.

VicRoads is also working with Public Transport Victoria and Yarra Trams to trial tram priority on three key routes.

The trials will occur on Balaclava Rd between Normanby Rd and Nepean Highway; Dandenong Rd from Chapel St to Glenferrie Rd/Hawthorn Rd, and; Nicholson St between Blyth and Bourke streets.

VicRoads acting road operations director Keith Weegberg said full-time and part-time tram lanes and platform stops were also being implemented.

“Many tram routes, as well as key bus and cycling routes, have signal phases that allow them to travel before cars with the aim of improving traffic flow, ensuring the safety of all road users and giving public transport priority,” Mr Weegberg said.

The reasoning for yet another trial being carried out isn’t given, which is strange given tram priority trials were carried out on Nicholson Street back in November 2011. The Yarra Trams media release at the time had this to say.

Important timetable information

One of the most effective ways to improve tram service reliability and network capacity is to improve tram signal priority. Currently, Melbourne’s trams spend more time stopped at traffic lights than most other tram networks in the world.

On Tuesday 15, Wednesday 16, Thursday 17, Tuesday 22, Wednesday 23 and Thursday 24 November, we will be testing tram priority along Nicholson Street.

What does this mean for passengers on Route 96?

On these days, trams will not run to the timetable along the length of Route 96. Frequency of service will remain unchanged but tram arrival times may differ from the schedule displayed at the stops.

Yarra Trams apologises for any increased waiting times associated with the trial which is a key step towards improving your tram service on Route 96.

You can always find out when your tram is coming in real-time with tramTRACKER®.

The November 2011 trial was also covered by Channel 9 news, who detailed how VicRoads controllers remotely operated traffic signals to give trams a clear run through intersections.

Both the Yarra Trams media release and the Channel 9 report stated that the results of the trial would be released in the coming months, but I haven’t been able to find anything of the sort.

So what will come out of these upcoming trials on Balaclava Road, Dandenong Road and Nicholson Street – faster trams on Melbourne’s streets, or just another report that never sees the light of day?

Footnote

In April 2011 The Age obtained a Department of Transport report on tram speed following a Freedom of Information request:

Tram jam: Melbourne’s car glut puts the brakes on public transport
Clay Lucas
April 21, 2011

Melbourne’s trams are slowing to a crawl, stuck in traffic as car numbers on the state’s roads soar by 100,000 a year, according to a report written by Yarra Trams and handed to the Baillieu government days after it won office.

With the number of people catching the tram growing by 50 per cent over the past decade, there has been a ”rapid deterioration of travel speed”, the report says – with trams now travelling 15 per cent slower than in 1999.

Melbourne has the world’s longest tram network – 250 kilometres – but it is also one of the slowest, with an average speed of just 16km/h as trams spend more than 17 per cent of their journey time stopped at traffic lights.

If Melbourne followed the boldest international examples, tram travel times would be slashed by up to 30 per cent, the the Tram Priority report says.

I wonder how much slower Melbourne’s trams have become since 2011.