Melbourne trains – which carriage should I choose?

When travelling by train in Melbourne, there is a question that not many people ask – which carriage should I travel in?

Alstom Comeng crosses the Cremorne railway bridge over the Yarra, with the CBD skyline behind

Choosing the carriage that is closest to your exit is one idea.

Just a small crowd at Southern Cross platform 9/10 - a pair of escalators have no hope of handling the number of passengers the old ramps did

Some people call it ‘prewalking‘ – and by doing so, you won’t get stuck behind the dimwits who don’t know how to use a myki gate.

The downside of planning a quick exit is that other people get the same idea, resulting in uneven loading across the train.

Not going to fit on this crush loaded Siemens train

In Melbourne the most crowded carriages are usually near the middle of the train, so if you want to get a seat, going against the tide might be a good idea.

On the other hand, if you are a wheelchair user in need of assistance, you don’t get much of a choice.

Train driver assists a motorised scooter user board the train via the portable ramp

You have to wait at the front door, otherwise the driver won’t get out the portable ramp to help you board.

With wheelchair passengers using the front door, this means passengers with bikes need to head elsewhere.

'No bikes in first carriage door' notice at the end of the platform

Loading your bike into the third, fourth or sixth carriage gives you more space to park it, while not interfering with any wheelchairs also travelling on the same train.

If you travel further afield on the V/Line network, you have more decisions to make.

First off, you have the option of a quiet carriage.

'Quiet carriage' signs on a VLocity car

First trialled in January 2013 and later rolled out to the entire network, passengers were expected to turn down their electronic devices, switch mobile phones to silent and keep their conversations quiet when travelling in the carriage. Just don’t expect any enforcement of the policy by staff – V/Line says the rules are ‘self-regulated‘.

Another way to escape the hoi polloi is to head for the first class carriage.

'First Class' notice beside the door of an ACN carriage

Once upon a time you actually had to pay more to buy a first class V/Line ticket, but in 2007 it was changed to a flat upgrade fee: currently $4 for short trips, and $8 for longer ones.

But the most complicated part of travelling with V/Line is finding a seat on long distance services under their ‘compulsory’ reservation policy.

Notice at Southern Cross Station that reserved and unreserved carriages are available on a Bairnsdale service

On the V/Line website they state reservations are compulsory for services to Albury, Bairnsdale, Shepparton, Swan Hill and Warrnambool – even when travelling a short distance. However the reality is quite different – each of the trains in question has at least one carriage where seats are not booked, allowing any Tom, Dick or Harry to walk up and jump on the train at the last minute.

Into the time machine

In the old days travelling on Melbourne’s suburban trains used to be a lot more confusing, with the option of first and second class travel, and smoking and non-smoking carriages.

SLV image H31188 - Harris suburban train
SLV image H31188. Photographer unknown. Undated but circa 1956 to 1968.

One class suburban travel was introduced on 14 September 1958, while smoking was banned from suburban trains on 14 November 1976.

Some examples elsewhere

If you head north to Sydney, CityRail informs passengers:

At night, rave near the guard’s compartment naked with a blue light

Sorry, make that:

At night, travel near the guard’s compartment marked with a blue light.

Over in Czech Republic some wags suggested singles only ‘love carriages’ on the Prague Metro.

Nádraží Holešovice station on the Prague Metro
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

A group in Melbourne came up with a similar concept in 2014 with their ‘Social Carriage‘ idea.

'Social Carriage' on the front page of the May 9, 2014 edition of mX

While if you travel to Japan, India, Egypt, Iran, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates, you’ll find the exact opposite – women-only passenger cars:

Women's car of Keio Line at Shinjuku Station, Tokyo
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

And on the New York Subway or the Hong Kong MTR, finding out which carriage is closest to the station exit is easy – the ‘Exit Strategy NYC‘ and ‘StandWhere‘ apps tell you exactly where to stand.

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16 Responses to “Melbourne trains – which carriage should I choose?”

  1. mpp says:

    Another consideration in the warmer months, particularly at peak hour, is the quality of the air-conditioning.

    In an X’trap there is no ventilation at the middle doors of a carriage. In a Comeng there is no ventilation at the ends of each carriage.

    When the weather is very hot and the trains are heavily crowded, this lack of ventilation can make for a more sticky and uncomfortable journey. So my tip is to avoid those areas.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      On the subject of air conditioning, it isn’t uncommon in summer to find a B2 class tram with one hot end and one cold end, thanks to a defective air conditioning unit at one end.

  2. Michael says:

    I usually try to travel in T (trailer) carriages because they’re less noisy than M (motor) cars. I always prewalk to a part of the train closer to the exit gate at my destination – why waste time at the end of the ride when there’s always waiting time at the start? Another choice I make is to try to sit (or stand) in the centre of a carriage, because the space between bogies has the smoothest ride. Obsessive? You bet.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Alstom Comeng trains with disc brakes are the worse for the whining noise beneath the M cars – the Mitsubishi motor alternators are to blame here. Our train are so low tech they use a 1500 volt DC motor to generate 415 volt AC power which then powers the air conditioning!

  3. TheLoadedDog says:

    In the weeks following the second Glenbrook accident, in which several people in the lead car of a V set were killed when it ploughed into the motorail wagon on the back of the Indian Pacific, it seemed everybody in Sydney was squeezing into the middle carriages. My dad noticed it and mentioned it to me. I thought he might have been imagining it, but I checked, and he wasn’t.

    Me? I’m something of a prewalker (thanks, hadn’t heard a term for it before), and that’s not too bad in Sydney, as our stations tend to have a mix of platform exit locations, so things balance out a bit. If I’m feeling particularly gunzelly, I sit in the front carriage, on the left, so I can check out the signal aspects.

    Up here, there is another choice in the mix: upstairs, downstairs, or the middle level at the ends of the car. For me, it’s the middle for short hops, or if I’m on a V set, in which there is the odd single seat here and there for when I’m feeling particularly misanthropic. If I’m headed for the stairs, it’s invariably downstairs for me, as there upstairs saloons seem to attract the bogans.

  4. TheLoadedDog says:

    D’oh! Should read “the” not “there” in the last sentence. Stupid muscle memory. Stupid sexy Flanders.

  5. Moya says:

    I enjoy using the women-only carriages on the trains in Kuala Lumpur. Aa a foreigner, there’s a sense of relief from prying eyes, and friendly smiles from the women. Not surprisingly, the carriage attendants are young men.

  6. TheLoadedDog says:

    Oh, while I’m at it, probably best to explain to your Melbourne readership the meaning of “At night, rave near the guard’s compartment, naked with a blue light.” This was the result of some judicious scratching of the lettering of “At night, travel near the guard’s compartment, marked with a blue light.” Not that I’m condoning vandalism, but I did get a giggle out of that. In the late 90s, it was next to impossible to find a sign that hadn’t been erm… enhanced.

  7. Andrew says:

    The women only carriages in Kuala Lumpur were empty, except for us who made a mistake. The women were all in the carriages with the men. We realised our mistake just as a female train attendant was approaching and we moved to stand in the general carriage.

    As I am not a frequent Melbourne train traveller, I don’t know enough about station exits to choose a carriage. If I do know the station I am destined for, then I will choose a carriage I judge that will be closest to the platform exit, but I don’t always get it right.

  8. Chris Gordon says:

    I travel mostly on X’Trapolis trains and enjoy window seats, but the seats need to line up with windows and not pillers. There is a simple rule to follow, good window seats face the cabs in M cars and face the middle of the carriage in T cars. So once I decide what carriage to catch based on the service and how busy it is, ie if I board at the start of the journey or mid journey as well then I pick the carriage most likely to give me that window seat and an arm rest.

  9. Adam says:

    During a brief time I lived in Werribee I usuallt went in the last carriage towards the city to get an easier change for a loop train at North Melbourne, and I wasnt the only one either, the carriage getting full very quickly. It wasnt until I had to come home in peak hour that I realised why, as I was in an extremely crouded train all the way to Hoppers Crossing, with almost noone getting off beforehand and then all at once the carriage was empty due to the entrance location at Hoppers.

    Also, on a side note I hate when the seats dont line up with the windows!

  10. George says:

    What is the difference between cattle and first class? Is it just roomier seating, or is there some other difference?

  11. Marcus Wong says:

    First class carriages have wider seats that face the direction of travel and a fold down tray table – two by two across seating, instead of the two by three across in economy class in the same trains. So not much difference!

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