How V/Line could cater for future growth

Patronage on V/Line rail services has surged in the past decade, with the delivery of new VLocity trains struggling to keep up. So what options does V/Line have other than ‘keep buying more trains’? Let us take a look via the magic of photoshop.

An up Geelong train arrives into Southern Cross only 9 minutes late

Longer trains

Currently the longest trains run by V/Line are six car VLocity train, at around 150 metres. Until 2015 V/Line used to run 7 car trains on the Geelong line: something impossible to do today given that VLocity trains only come in 3 car sets.

Add an extra three car set to that consist, and you get a nine car long train stretching 225 metres from end to end.

[FAKE] Triple 3-car VLocity units in PTV livery

As part of the Regional Rail Link project 250 metre long platforms were provided at Footscray, Tarneit and Wyndham Vale stations so running such a long train is possible today – the ‘VL9’ marks on each platform indicate the stopping mark for these hypothetical trains.

'VL9' - nine-car VLocity set stopping mark on the RRL platform at Footscray

More carriages per train

When originally delivered each VLocity train consisted of two carriages seating a total of 140 passengers, with a drivers cab at each end. Coupling multiple small trains together is inefficient, so in V/Line ordered their first three-car long VLocity set, which entered service from August 2008.

VL01 leads two classmates on an up Geelong express service at Corio

These new sets consisted of the same driving carriages found in the existing 2-car long sets, but with an extra motorised carriage placed between them. Lacking a toilet or drivers cab, these new carriages increased the total passenger capacity to 216 seats – each pair of 3-car sets having 12 extra seats compared to a six carriage train made up of three 2-car long sets.

Add an extra carriage to each three car VLocity set, and you get similar benefits – an eight car train made up of two 4-car sets will only have four cabs and four toilets taking up valuable passenger pace, compared to the six cabs and six toilets found on a nine car train made up of three 3-car sets.

[FAKE] 4-car VLocity unit in PTV livery

Smarter carriage layouts

If you have ever stood at Southern Cross Station of a morning and watched a VLocity train empty out, you might have noticed how bloody long it takes until the last passenger exits.

Passengers depart a VLocity train at Southern Cross platform 3

The reason: each carriage only has two narrow doors, located at the end of the passenger saloon.

V/Line passengers board a VLocity train at Southern Cross platform 2

This layout made sense for the original purpose of the VLocity train – express runs to country areas – but are woefully inadequate for their new use ferrying commuters from Melbourne;s outer suburbs to the CBD.

One possible solution – replace each opening with a set of double doors, increasing the amount of standing room inside the saloon, and making a wider opening for passenger to enter and leave the train at stations.

[FAKE] Hypothetical VLocity-derived high capacity regional train

So what is V/Line actually doing?

Strangely enough, V/Line has actually known about the problem for some time – their ‘Initial Strategic Operations Plan’ dated November 2011 has the details, obtained by the Greens under the Freedom of Information Act.

For the Geelong line:

From 2018

V/Line anticipates that by this point in time a high capacity style DMU will be required for Geelong services. It is expected that these trains would operate in 8- or 9-car consists and would each be able to carry 750 – 800 customers. It is expected that the eight peak hour services would be operated with the high capacity DMUs.

And the Ballarat line:

From 2018 (assuming Melton duplication but no electrification)

High capacity DMUs would be required to operate from Bacchus Marsh to cater for the forecast patronage from Melton. These could be added to those expected to be procured for operation on the Geelong corridor. Any units purchased for use on Melton services would not be wasted after electrification because of the need to eventually retire H sets and Sprinters. High capacity DMUs would be suitable replacements for those vehicles

V/Line GM of network engineering Jim Hunter delivered a presentation to the Monash IRT in September 2016, raising the same issues with the VLocity fleet:

Classic fleet performance
• The Classic fleet performance in relation to acceleration and braking plus mean distance between failures is preventing the full potential of the Vlocity fleet being utilised.

VLocity patronage capacity
• The VLocity fleet cannot meet the projected growth in patronage required without full body redesign from the bogie up.

As well as the change in traffic pattern to ‘outer suburban’:

Southern Cross is by far our busiest station, with four out of five journeys starting or ending at Southern Cross.
• Tarneit recorded the second highest number of trips with 76,082.
• On the Ballarat line, there were 63,601 trips at Melton and 50,668 at Ballarat.

But it took until 2016 for the State Government to announce funding to plan for such a ‘high capacity next generation regional train’ – from the PTV website:

High capacity next generation regional trains

The 2016-17 State Budget includes $10 million in development funding for High-Capacity Next Generation Regional Rolling Stock to cater for the future needs of regional Victoria.

A next generation high capacity regional train will be commissioned in the coming years to cater for strong patronage growth and provide new peak services.

With only development money allocated so far and more VLocity trains coming off the production line based on a 15 year old design, V/Line passengers will be stuck on overcrowded trains for some time to come.

A door related footnote

Another worthwhile addition to a redesigned VLocity train would be a separate crew door to the cab – with the present configuration passengers standing in the front doorway block the driver’s door and prevent them from existing the train in an emergency. From 2010 V/Line rolled out illuminated warning signs behind each cab door, but do you think any passenger has ever noticed it?

Illuminated 'keep clear' sign behind the cab of 3VL37

And platform lengths

The current Victorian Rail Industry Operators Group Standards mandate 160 metre long platforms at suburban stations, and 180 metre long platforms at regional stations. The Regional Rail link project provided 250 metre long platforms at Footscray, Tarneit and Wyndham Vale stations, but only a 190 metre long platform at Sunshine.

Trio of trains at Sunshine: pair of V/Line services outnumber the single Alstom Comeng

Why? There is plenty of space at the city end, so I have no idea!

Then and now at ‘E’ Gate

Once upon a time the land between the Melbourne CBD and the water was occupied by a sea of railway sidings, not windswept streets and poky apartments. The bulk of this past life has been demolished with the development of Melbourne Docklands, but some traces still remain today at ‘E’ Gate.

South end of the Melbourne Steel Terminal

‘West Tower’ was constructed in the 1960s as the modern control room for the complex of sidings that made up the ‘Hump Yard’.

PROV image VPRS 12903/P1, item Box 688/20

Today ‘Hump Yard’ is gone, replaced by the Docklands Stadium, but the tower itself still remains, looking over an empty car park.

The western side of West Tower

Nearby were the North Melbourne wagon workshops, icehouse and goods loading sheds.

PROV image VPRS 12903/P1, item Box 692/10

The sign remains today, but everything listed on the sign is gone – the land earmarked for the new ‘E’ Gate development.

Sign outside the former South Yard, now the Melbourne Steel Terminal

The only thing left to be removed is former wagon workshops, now the home of Metro Trains and Yarra Trams maintenance depots.

Looking back at when V/Line ran longer trains to Geelong

Next time you are squeezed onboard an overcrowded a train to Geelong, remember this – until a few years ago V/Line used to run trains longer than they run today. So how did they come about, and why did they disappear?

7 car Vlocity heads back empty to Geelong from Marshall

Some background

The story starts back in December 2005, with the introduction of the VLocity trains to the V/Line fleet. Each set consisted of two carriages seating a total of 140 passengers, with a drivers cab at each end.

VL12 at South Geelong

The maths for carrying more passengers was simple – put two units together to make a four car train, or three units to make a six car train.

On the Geelong line the busiest trains were the four ‘super’ expresses: a pair of trains stopping at Marshall, South Geelong, Geelong, North Geelong, North Melbourne and Southern Cross each weekday morning, matched by a pair of trains heading in the return direction in the evening.

VL01 leads two classmates on an up Geelong express service at Corio

We then saw a politically motivated 20% cut in V/Line fares in 2007, resulting in an explosion in patronage, especially on the Geelong line.

One response to this was the ordering of additional trains for V/Line, who saw their first three-car long VLocity set enter service in August 2008.

3VL41 heads back to Melbourne at North Shore

These new sets consisted of the same driving carriages found in the existing 2-car long sets, but with an extra motorised carriage placed between them. Lacking a toilet or drivers cab, these new carriages increased the total passenger capacity to 216 seats – each pair of 3-car sets having 12 extra seats compared to a six carriage train made up of three 2-car long sets.

These new three car long VLocity sets also expanded the combinations of trains that could be made:

  • two car
  • three car
  • four cars (two 2-car sets)
  • five cars (2-car with 3-car set)
  • six cars (three 2-car sets)
  • six cars (two 3-car sets)

But with patronage still growing and suburban and V/Line trains sharing the tracks out of Melbourne, running more services on the Geelong line wasn’t an option. But V/Line did see one possible solution – an even longer VLocity train, made up of two 2-car sets with a 3-car set.

Minor infrastructure changes were required, as this September 2008 media release by then Minister for Public Transport, Lynne Kosky, detailed.

Monday, 08 September 2008

Platforms at two Geelong stations will be lengthened to allow V/Line to run the biggest short-distance passenger trains in the state from the end of this year.

The bigger trains are in response to a massive 23 per cent growth in passenger numbers in the past year alone on the Geelong line – Victoria’s busiest regional passenger line.

Public Transport Minister Lynne Kosky said peak Geelong trains already operated at the maximum six-carriage length, and seven-carriage trains would operate on semi-express peak services when platforms could accommodate the longer trains.

Marshall was the first station to undergo platform extension works throughout September and would be followed by South Geelong.

“The Brumby Government is taking action to build on our record investment in regional rail services and that is why we have committed $236 million to purchase 50 new carriages to allow for longer trains on our most popular routes,” Ms Kosky said.

“V/Line is now receiving one new carriage every month and will do so until 2012. By that time, more than 3800 extra seats will be added to the network.

“I know Geelong passengers have suffered some overcrowding and I’m pleased to announce that some peak hour Geelong line trains will be increased from six to seven carriages from the end of this year.

“It is important that we complete these infrastructure upgrades before we introduce longer trains to ensure passenger safety and accessibility.”

The Geelong line is V/Line’s most popular route and has more peak hour services and carriages
than any other line but booming patronage means more carriages are needed.

“With V/Line patronage at a 60-year high, the platforms works and extra carriages will make a real difference for Geelong line passengers,” Ms Kosky said.

Work begins

By October 2008 work was well underway on extending platforms along the Geelong line.

Connex moved quickly, extending North Melbourne platforms 5 and 6 to the south by one carriage.

Extending platform 5/6 to the south to fit longer V/Line trains on the Geelong line

Work on the extension of platform 5/6 to permit 7 car Vlocity consists

Work at South Geelong also commenced, relocating an existing siding to make for for a platform extension towards the east.

New pointwork for the siding, to permit platform extension

While at Marshall station the platform opened just a few years before also had to be extended – a short section at the Melbourne end.

Platform extension at the up end

And a longer extension at the Warrnambool end.

Platform extension at the down end

And they begin

November 2008 saw the first seven car long VLocity train run on the Geelong line, but with one problem – the platfomr extensions at South Geelong were yet to be finished.

Old points removed and straight railed

Passengers for South Geelong were warned not to board the rear carriage of the new longer trains.

Signage at Marshall for the 7 car train, the South Geelong platform is not finished

With a second conductor having to travel onboard each train, preventing passengers from using the door that hung off the end of the platform.

7 car train hanging off the platform at South Geelong

It took another month for the platform extension to appear at South Geelong.

Platform extension about complete

With the half finished platform finally opening to passengers in January 2009.

N452 departs South Geelong and the finally opened platform extension

Seven car VLocity trains then became became an everyday part of the V/Line timetable, stopping at Marshall, South Geelong, Geelong, North Geelong, North Melbourne and Southern Cross each weekday morning, matched by a pair of trains heading in the return direction in the evening.

Fade to black

In May 2009 Regional Rail Link was approved, to allow V/Line trains on the Geelong line to avoid sharing tracks with suburban trains on their way into Melbourne, traversing a new route via the growth suburbs of Wyndham Vale and Tarneit.

Early works on Regional Rail Link didn’t stop seven car long trains on the Geelong line.

Future Manor Junction and a down Geelong service, one of two 7-car consists that run on the Geelong line in peak

Neither did the removal of the stop at North Melbourne, or the opening of the new platforms 15 and 16 at Southern Cross Station.

VLocity 3VL37 leads a 7 car VLocity consist into the RRL platforms at Southern Cross

But it was another simultaneous change that saw the end of the seven car trains to Geelong – a desire by V/Line to standardise their VLocity train fleet.

Operating a mix of two and three car trains might be flexible, but makes operations more complicated, so in November 2012 an additional 19 VLocity intermediate carriages were ordered – enough to lengthen the last remaining two car sets to the new ‘standard’ three car length.

VLocity 3VL00 on an up Geelong service approaches the Boundary Road bridge at Tarneit

The end finally came in June 2015 when Geelong trains commenced using the new Regional Rail Link tracks, with the new timetable adding extra stops to the former ‘super’ express services, and cutting the trains back to just six cars in length.

Pair of VLocity units pass Wyndham Vale South on a down Geelong service

The two car long VLocity trains hung around a little longer, running as part of five car long trains, until the final set was converted – VL14 in June 2016

VLocity VL16 and classmate depart Tarneit on a down Geelong service

Today the platform extension at North Melbourne remains in place, empty and unused.

Unused 7th car section of platform 5 and 6 at North Melbourne station

While the new Regional Rail Line platforms at Footscray bear the painted letters ‘VL9’ – stopping mark for a nine car VLocity train that is yet to come.

'VL9' - nine-car VLocity set stopping mark on the RRL platform at Footscray


More detail on the Geelong line platform lengthening works of 2008 can be found on the Railpage Australia forums.

Meanwhile on the Seymour line

Over on the Seymour line V/Line stops overlength trains at short platforms at Donnybrook and Heathcote Junction every day in morning peak – a story for another day!

Carriage set VSH26 departs Donnybrook

The more things change…

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Australian War Memorial image #126587 - Miss Peace Harber, one of the first women railway employees, changing the indicator clocks at the Degraves Street entrance of Flinders Street Station.


Miss Peace Harber, one of the first women railway employees, changing the indicator clocks at the Degraves Street entrance of Flinders Street Station. (Australian War Memorial image #126587)

Today they need one to adjust the settings of a misaligned LCD screen


Anonymous maintenance contractor adjusts the settings of a misaligned LCD display at Southern Cross.

It seems that even today a long stick is a key part of finding out where your train is.

Why ‘make trains longer’ isn’t that simple

When faced with a overcrowded peak hour train, “why don’t they add another carriage” sounds like a obvious fix – but unfortunately the answer isn’t always that simple.

Craigieburn line at Newmarket station - no hope of fitting on this train!

To start with, the ‘extra carriages’ have to exist. In the case of the Melbourne suburban fleet, trains are formed into fixed 3-carriage sets.

3-car X'Trapolis passes over the Richmond Flyover bound for the eastern suburbs

With a drivers cab at either end and electrical equipment scattered between the different cars, these 3 car long trains can’t be broken up into single carriages and then added to other trains to make them longer, at least without lots of modification to make it all work. The same applies to many other rail networks – you can’t just mix and match carriages to make a train.

Once you get the extra carriage sorted, you need a platform long enough for passengers to board.

X'Trapolis train arrives into Parliament station platform 4

It doesn’t make sense to build platforms longer than the longest train, so once you start adding carriages, you also need to start extending platforms – a difficult enough activity in busy urban areas, which becomes incredibly expensive if you are dealing with underground stations.

Now that the passengers can board the train, your troubles aren’t over – you need to get those trains running.

Comeng departs North Melbourne platform 5, as a Siemens train waits for the signal to clear

Signalling systems are used to keep trains a safe distance apart. They do this by dividing the tracks into a series of blocks, where only a single train is permitted, and a ‘clear’ zone behind each train to provide a safety margin.

Diagram by the UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

Once you start making trains longer, they can start to overlap the signalling blocks, which doesn’t affect safety, but does reduce the capacity of the railway, thanks to longer than required gaps being left between trains. The only solution – twiddle with the existing signalling system to allow for longer trains, or upgrade to a moving block signalling system to run even more trains on the same tracks.

You also need to supply more electricity to power these bigger trains.

Comeng passes the Campbellfield substation on an up Upfield service

So upgrades to the traction power system might also be needed.

Now that the trains are moving, those extra passengers need to go somewhere once they arrive at their destination. Are there enough escalators linking platforms to the station concourse?

Passenger congestion for the escalators from platforms 9 and 10 at Southern Cross Station

Are there enough ticket gates to let these extra passengers exit the station?

Wow - the morning queues at Flagstaff are getting even worse!

And are there wide enough footpaths around railway stations so they can get to their workplace?

Pedestrian congestion outside Flagstaff station on William Street

I said it was difficult, didn’t I?

And two bonus issues

The problems don’t end when the passengers leave the train – trains have to be parked somewhere between runs, usually in sidings designed to accept trains of a given length.

Comeng, Siemens, Comeng, Siemens, Comeng, Siemens... 8 trains stabled at Melbourne Yard, and all alternating like so!

The same considerations apply to maintenance facilities and workshops.

Siemens in the shed at Newport

Once you start extending trains you either need to break up trains into smaller sections to make them fit existing sidings, or extend the sidings as well.

One dirty hack

One way to make longer trains work on constrained rail networks is selective door operation – leave the infrastructure as is, and only allow passengers to use part of the train at short platforms. This only avoids the need to lengthen platforms, but doesn’t address any of the other issues I’ve listed above, and can result in a net loss of capacity, as platform dwell time blows out due to passengers passengers crowding the doors that are in use.

Coming soon: how is Melbourne getting around these problems?

Melbourne currently has new 7 car long ‘High Capacity Metro Trains’ on order – one carriage longer than our existing trains. How will they fit onto our existing network – a future post will cover this.