Melbourne’s trains in ‘the good old days’?

Welcome to Melbourne’s railway network. Do you sometimes think that your trip home used to be better in ‘the good old days’? That pushing your way through crowded platforms is something new?

Packed platforms at Parliament station in the City Loop

It’s been that way for decades, as this 1960 photo of Flinders Street Station from the Herald and Weekly Times collection shows.

Crowded railway platform at Flinders Street Station, 1960

How about electrical faults bringing the network to a halt in the middle of peak hour? (The Age, 7 November 2008)

Oaks Day train failures, 2008

That isn’t new either – including the passengers escaping stranded trains by walking along the tracks. (The Argus 12 March 1954):

Trains stranded due to blackout. The Argus, 12 March 1954

And the old chestnut of level crossings delaying motorists? (The Age 29 December 2011)

Melbourne level crossings, 2011

People have been complaining about that one for years as well. (The Argus 30 March 1950)

Melbourne level crossings, 1950

So who knows what the next 50 years will bring to Melbourne’s railway network?

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14 Responses to “Melbourne’s trains in ‘the good old days’?”

  1. Terry says:

    All the crossings that got a mention there have all been grade separated. Hopefully the ones we are concerned about now are also fixed

    • Marcus says:

      Hi Terry. In the 1950s and 60s there was a reasonable number of grade separations carried out: mostly at important roads that passed through local shopping strips, today many people describe these concrete overpasses as urban blight.

      Some examples are Melbourne Road (Newport), Warrigal Road (Oakleigh), Burnley Street (Burnley) and Heidelberg Road (Clifton Hill) – I’m sure there are more out there…

      • Myrtonos says:

        Any idea if there would be that many complaints if the four grade separations you mentioned had been done before they were surrounded by buildings?

        • Marcus Wong says:

          I’ve got a feeling that back in the late 1950s organised ‘NIMBY’ groups didn’t exist, which was the reason there wasn’t any blowback – anti-freeway activism didn’t take off until the 1970s.

  2. Andrew says:

    Indeed, the good old days. In about 1980 an old acquaintance, a woman in her seventies then, complained about about having to get out of the train in rail yards and walk to Flinders Street. I remember the interminable waits in the rail yards before the train was able to pull into Flinders Street.

    While I am not asking, I’d be interested to learn of running time comparisons on various routes. That is, how long did a train take to travel say from Oakleigh to Flinders Street in the 1950s compared to now. What about the Geelong train too?

    • Marcus says:

      Hi Andrew. The waits at Flinders Street still exist today, and I do wonder whether the removal of the Jolimont Yards has sped up the progress of trains through the area, or if congestion at the platforms is the real issue. Similar delays occurs between North Melbourne and Southern Cross, and one can blame the much higher number of V/Line trains using the area than the old days.

      As for running times of suburban trains, newer trains have greater acceleration, but the speed limits may be the same, and there is more congestion at junctions due to the greater number of services. So finding the overall impact would need further research.

      • Andrew says:

        Thanks for you response Marcus, but Melbourne’s trains used to carry far more people than they do now and I expect there were more trains and all the trains came into the only city station, Flinders Street. Yes, there was a wait in the yards at times, but it is quite remarkable how well the system used to work compared to now.

        • Marcus says:

          The efficiency of the old mechanical interlocking compared to the new computer based systems might have something to do with it: in the old days the signalman could look out the window and see where everything was, and had enough flexibility to route trains in a way he thought was most efficient. Today everything is remotely operated from a dark windowless control room.

          Another thing to consider is dwell times: once upon a time able bodied passengers could jump out an open door while the train was still rolling into the platform, and trains would depart as soon as the doors looked clear. Today passengers need to wait for the doors to be released on arrival at the station, and the train can’t leave until the last passenger has stopped forcing the doors open.

          • myrtonos says:

            At that time, we had more level crossings that today. I believe we did have the money and resources to grade separate a lot of level crossings during the 1970s, but we instead put it into freeways such as the Tullamarine, Eastern and South Eastern.

            And here is another example where the manual operation was at an advantage: Most of our level crossings (more than 180) had proper gates which barred the railway when open to road traffic. At crossings with roads with footpaths, there were also wicket gates with manual locks. When a train was due, the signalman or gatekeeper would wait for a gap in the road traffic and then swing round the gates, and then locking the wicket gates after the pedestrian crossing was clear.*

            Because the person operating these gates could see the crossing, and checked before locking them, these did not need emergency exits. It because of this and because the main gates covered the full road width when not baring the railway that level crossings worked in this way did not need bells or alarms.

            But we had so many level crossings that this was expensive, and the solution was to replace nearly all these gates by lifting barriers that closed a pre-programmed amount of time after two red lights start flashing alternately and bell starts sounding, and the wicket gates by crib crossings and later pedestrian gates or pedestrian boom barriers, these being programmed to close a certain time after the level crossing is activated and they needed emergency exits too!

  3. mich says:

    Stopping unnecessarily at level crossings is retarded. Wonder why so many cars “stall” on the tracks ? Because people who can’t drive manual cars properly stopped there.

  4. Sunshine and Huntingdale both match the style of Newport/Burnley/Clifton Hill/Oakleigh.

    • Ryan Thistlethwaite says:

      Newport is awful for the community, Clifton hill as well from my memory and yes – Sunshine is another horrible example. They are particularly bad infrastructure for the people that actually live there. Are borderline hostile to pedestrians and their design lends itself to the areas becoming a highway in the middle of community centres.

  5. FightForRail says:

    I fail to see the problem with those structures. I feel that is the way to go, as it would be somewhat cheap to construct.

    Perhaps we could paint them in such a way as to make them look better?

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