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!

October 2017 update

V/Line says nine car trains are possible, but won’t be happening any time soon – from the Geelong Advertiser.

Nine-carriage V/Line trains possible, but no plans for Geelong line yet
23 October 2017

The boss of the regional rail network has admitted for the first time nine-carriage trains on the Geelong line are a possibility.

Potential for a mega-train carrying more than 660 passengers comes after calls from commuters and rail experts to reduce peak-time overcrowding on the line.

But while James Pinder said a nine-carriage train was possible, he said it was not a current priority.

Mr Pinder said V/Line’s priority was bolstering its fleet from three to six-carriage trains.

“The (VLocity) train is capable of running in a nine-car configuration. (To run nine-carriage trains) it becomes an issue around infrastructure and number of vehicles (available),” he said.

“We don’t currently have any plans to run nine-car ser­vices. To run large numbers of nine-car services we would have to have a look at (increasing) platform lengths.”

On Monday, a spokeswoman for the Public Transport Minister did not say if the Government was considering introducing nine-carriage trains on the regional network.

The Geelong Advertiser under­stands platforms at Geelong station are long enough for nine-carriage trains — which could open the possibility for Geelong to Melbourne express trains.

Platforms at other smaller stations on the line would need to be extended for a stopping-all-stations Waurn Ponds to Southern Cross train.

Mr Pinder said nine-­carriage trains did not run across the V/Line network at present.

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13 Responses to “How V/Line could cater for future growth”

  1. Steve says:

    Vlocity sets are in the progress of getting upgrades to run as 9 car sets, as delivered they could run max 8.
    Re Sunshine platforms: there is room for expansion, that’s the way Caroline Springs has been built as well. Save money now and it costs more to extend later??

    • Marcus Wong says:

      It does seem a little odd – one would expect extending platforms while trains are running costs more than building them longer to start with. Maybe Ben’s theory below around express trains could explain it?

  2. Alan says:

    With the rumoured retirement of the push-pull sets from revenue service next week, it would make sense for V/Line to use the newly-freed-up H carriages to extend the six-car H sets to eight cars to provide some relief on the peak Melton and Bacchus Marsh services until electrification. H carriages are shorter than VLocity cars, so you could easily fit 2xFSH on Sunshine platform.

    The only problem would be carriage power – they could run as two FSH (four-carriage) sets, one powered from the loco and one from a power van, but I’m not sure how many spare broad-gauge power vans are lying around.

    It’ll be interesting to see when the first 9VL set is spotted in revenue service! The 17:16 Wyndham Vale service on weekdays would be a prime candidate, given how severely crowded it gets with commuters returning home to Tarneit. Of course, the platform length at Sunshine would create an interesting problem.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Another option would be to dump the H sets onto the Seymour line as six carriage trains – with all of the new housing developments at Donnybrook and Wallan, there will be a need for extra capacity in peak times.

      The only constraint will track capacity as far as Craigieburn – suburban services on the Craigieburn line are already overcrowded, so can any more services be slotted in?

  3. Ben says:

    Odds are that they run any 9-car train express through Sunshine in the short term. They would probably only be configured that way during peak hour and they already don’t stop some Geelong/Ballarat trains there on express services.

  4. […] V/Line’s difficulty in merely keeping up with patronage growth, I don’t see the retirement of life expired rolling stock happening any time […]

  5. James says:

    Wow the 9 car Vlocities actually happened in 2022! 5 years after this blog post. Now they have to extend the Sunshine platforms, instead of doing it originally. Looks like they abandoned the high capacity next generation regional trains. Can’t find a reference anywhere except that they’ve changed to future outer commuter rolling stock in the updated rolling stock document.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Yep – started with the new timetable on 30 May 2022, they currently run express through Sunshine to just Tarneit and Wyndham Vale thanks to the short platforms.

      VLocity VL77 leads sets VL32 and VL31 express through Sunshine on a 9-car train to Wyndham Vale

  6. Robbie says:

    Meanwhile in several European nations (Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France, among others) they’re extending platforms to 400 metre lengths to accommodate coupled ICE/RailJet/IC/TGV sets. The Zurich S-Bahn operates twelve-car double-deck EMUs, consisting of either three four-car units (Re 450 / RABe 514) or two six-car units (RABe 511).

    The proposed upgrade to Sunshine station is yet again going to constrain future capacity by cutting costs now, if the plans that have been publicly released are anything to go by. What they should be doing is expanding the station to four island platforms of 250 m length (with space to accommodate future extensions to 400 m), allocating two platforms to V/line and two to Metro, and building a set of flying junctions on the Up side to eliminate route conflicts. If the platforms were arranged so that 1,2,5,6 were allocated to V/line services and 3,4,7,8 were allocated to Metro services, this paves the way for complete separation of the two operators once an extra track pair is built along both the Ballarat and Bendigo branches. It would also remove an impediment to standardising V/line.

    The flying junctions needn’t be as elaborate as the ones in Sydney that sort suburban services. One flyover that has three tracks at the Down end and bifuricates into a single track and a pair of tracks at the Up end will do the job. The Up Sunbury/Airport line would pass over the Wyndham Vale lines, and the Bendigo lines would pass over both the Wyndham Vale lines and Down Ballarat line.

    Why doesn’t DoT, V/line, Metro, or indeed anyone plan for incremental future upgrades by doing it right the first time?

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