The ‘flyer train’ fad of the mid-2000s

Last week I wrote about the history of third track proposal between Box Hill and Ringwood – and now to look at a transport fad of the 2000s: ‘flyer trains’.

Down Craigieburn service running express from North Melbourne to Essendon, Glenroy, Broadmeadows and Craigieburn

Rail patronage was still in the doldrums during the early-2000s, so transport planners floated the idea of off-peak express trains between the Melbourne CBD and the outer suburbs.

EDI Comeng departs the city at Richmond

With the Bracks Government including them in their Linking Victoria program:

The Government’s Metropolitan Rail upgrade program, part of the Linking Victoria program, includes the introduction of express ‘Flyer Trains’. These trains will reduce travel times on suburban lines serving Melbourne’s outer suburbs and key growth corridors. The new train services will operate on the Frankston, Dandenong and Ringwood lines.

Dandenong line

A feasibility study is underway in conjunction with the Regional Fast Rail project to identify the most cost-effective way to deliver faster regional and metropolitan train services. The staged development of a third track between Caulfield and Dandenong is envisaged as a long term solution.

Frankston line

M>Train, the operator of trains on the Frankston line, is spending over $5m in speed improvement works on the line. Express and other services will benefit from these works. Flyer Trains will be implemented with stopping patterns that maximise the advantages of the upgraded infrastructure.

Ringwood line

A combination of infrastructure works and new train timetables are being investigated to deliver faster train services from Lilydale to Belgrave. Triplicating parts or all of the train line between Box Hill and Ringwood is being considered. Improvements in rail services will also be integrated with transport improvements introduced as part of the Scoresby Integrated Transport Corridor project.

So what happened?

The PTUA poo-pooed the idea.

Myth: ‘Super expresses’ will encourage more public transport use

Fact: Of those who currently do not use public transport but might if it were better, the vast majority are not central-city commuters. Greater use should be made of limited express runs – especially outside peak hour – but ‘super expresses’ (such as Dandenong to the city non-stop) are not only useless to the majority of travellers, but also undermine the efficient use of our rail infrastructure.

Prior to the recent boom in train patronage, the government regularly floated the idea of enticing travellers with ‘super expresses’ or ‘flyer trains’ from the outer suburbs all the way into the city. The idea is intuitively appealing, at least for those of us who live a long way out of town but work in the CBD.

The problem is that making such a ‘super express’ work is not as easy as just adding an extra train to the timetable. Rail lines work most efficiently, carrying the maximum number of people, when all trains have the same stopping pattern. But the more stops a train skips, the greater the ‘dead time’ that must be allowed between it and a previous stopping train, in order that it not catch up and be slowed down by it.

Super-expresses are an example of the ‘commuter‘ model of public transport, which is based on the outdated notion that public transport is specifically for nine-to-five commuters to the city centre. Experience in cities like Vancouver shows that the alternative ‘urban’ model, based on a full-time network of frequent services, is much more successful both at attracting passengers and recovering its costs.

But triplicating the line between Box Hill and Ringwood did get somewhere, with provision made during the 2007 Middleborough Road level crossing removal project.

X'Trapolis 72M on a down Lilydale service arrives into Laburnum station

Triplication between Caulfield and Dandenong was floated in 2005, and included in the 2006 ‘Meeting Our Transport Challenges’ plan.

Alstom Comeng departs Westall on a down service

But petered out following the construction of a turnback platform at Westall.

EDI Comeng arrives into Westall platform 3 with a terminating service

But both projects were quietly forgotten following the explosion in rail patronage from 2006, which the government was unprepared for.

Today’s priorities – removing level crossings.

X'Trapolis 105M passes under Blackburn Road, arriving at Blackburn station on the up

And rolling out all-day 10 minute train services to more lines.

With track amplification now preferring pairs of tracks – Southern Cross to Sunshine as part of Regional Rail Link completed in 2015, and Caulfield and Dandenong at some indeterminate point in the future.

VLocity VL04 leads a down Geelong train past North Melbourne station on the RRL tracks


Turns out everything that’s new is old – from the 1959-60 Victorian Railways annual report:

On 30th November, 1959, off-peak express services for shoppers were introduced on the Ferntree Gully, Lilydale and Frankston lines.

I haven’t found a follow up reference to these services, but I suspect they were short lived.

PROV image VPRS 12800/P4, item RS/1199

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8 Responses to “The ‘flyer train’ fad of the mid-2000s”

  1. Daniel says:

    Connex’s 1999-2001 Ringwood to Camberwell expresses ran only once an hour: see page 7 of – it’s really not surprising hardly anybody used them. Stopping at few stations and only an hourly service (compared to the 4 trains per hour of stoppers).

    There was also a special promotional fare, which at least provided some relief from the expense of a two-zone trip:

    For a while in the late-80s/early-90s there were also some shoulder-peak expresses on the Frankston line, which from memory were also marketed at shoppers, but CBD shoppers in this case. In practical terms it meant the express trains normally only seen in peak ran inbound until about 10am, and ran outbound from around 3pm. See 1990

  2. Tom the first and best says:

    I suspect that 1959 may have been when they introduced the off-peak limited express running where 2 lines ran the same section.

    On the Frankston line this was Malvern-Richmond, later (about 1998) shortened Malvern-South Yarra and then dumped in favour of Pakenham/Cranbourne line off-peak express running Caulfield-South Yarra due to high patronage growth. The lack of mention of such expresses on the Dandenong line, which had preak express runs and provided the off-peak stoppers until the switch, supports my suspicion.

    On the Ferntree Gully/Lilydale lines it is less clear. It may have been as simple as the off-peak introduction of all except East Richmond. It could have been the introduction of off-peak express running as far as Camberwell, when the Alamein line was not operating with a shuttle.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      1959 was also the year when ‘suburban’ 20 minute of-peak service frequencies were extended to the likes of Broadmeadows, Upfield, Lalor, Dandenong, Frankston and Glen Waverley – before then they received hourly services as they were considered towns located outside Melbourne.

  3. Tom the first and best says:

    (Above reply meant to be separate comment, sorry)

    The current lack of post morning peak shoulder higher service levels, of which the lack of arriving in the city 9-10am express services is the Frankston line version, is a major lost opportunity for higher PT use. It would move some patronage out of peak hour (the end of express service and peak frequencies push people onto an earlier service than they would otherwise need to get to their jobs/classes/appointments because of the arrival time gap created) and help encourage PT usage for radial trips that don`t reach the city and are later in peak (the Belgrave is one of the biggest victims here, it switches to half-hourly at 8:04am, despite having intermediate work destinations like Box Hill).

    • Marcus Wong says:

      On the Sunbury line the sudden drop to 20 minute services at 9am results in off-peak trains being more crowded than the ‘peak’ trains before.

      Crash loaded Comeng train on a citybound off-peak Sunbury line service at Footscray

      • Tom the first and best says:

        That further confirms my view, morning post-peak shoulder is is great need of frequency increase do deal with its own patronage and help reduce peak crowding as well.

  4. […] transport planners came up with another way to deploy express trains – off peak ‘flyer trains’ to Dandenong, Frankston and Ringwood; and triplication to Ringwood and […]

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