Tuesday, October 16, 2012

BrizCommuter becomes MelbCommuter

Melbourne - what no fence?
Last week, BrizCommuter was lucky enough to be working in Melbourne, a city with a considerably better train service than Brisbane! BrizCommuter made more than 20 train journeys. Below is BrizCommuter's review of Melbourne's train system, currently operated by Metro Trains Melbourne.

Fares and Ticketing

BrizCommuter ordered his Myki card (Melbourne's public transport smart card) online, and unlike ordering the go card online, BrizCommuter was able to choose the amount of funds that were pre-loaded. The Myki card arrived in the post with no problems. It should be noted that use of Myki is now mandatory, with paper ticketing options (metcard) having recently been withdrawn. TransLink should follow suit in Brisbane!

Fares are lower than lower than Brisbane, and are capped at a sensible daily rate of $6.56 (for zone 1 which covers approx. 15-20km from the CBD). At the weekends, the cap is even cheaper at $3.30, making weekend travel much more attractive than using a car! As with Brisbane, Myki can be used on multiple transport modes, which in Melbourne is trains, buses, and trams.

BrizCommuter came across quite a few faulty readers at train stations, however in all cases it was obvious that the touch on or off had failed to work. BrizCommuter didn't get any fixed fares during his stay. Whilst the display on the Myki readers is far more readable than Brisbane's go card readers, the balance display was often a little too quick for BrizCommuter's linking. The luminous yellow readers are also much harder to miss than the metallic grey go card readers.

Frequency and Reliability

BrizCommuter was impressed by the frequency. A trip out on the Packenham/Cranbourne Line saw daytime off-peak frequencies of every 15 minutes, and counter peak frequencies of every 10 minutes on the journey back. A late evening Sunday journey on the Sandringham Line still saw trains running every 20 minutes.

Reliability was somewhat concerning with many peak services by often running 10 minutes late by 6pm, with some cancellations observed. A few cancellations were even observed on weekends. Announcements about the delays varied between none existent to poor. There was even one announcement of a train running 7 minutes late, and it turned up only 1 minute late!

Other observations

Anyone familier with Melbourne's train network will know about The Loop. This 4 tunnel system allow trains from 4 groups of lines to run on their own track around the CBD and back out to the line group where the train originated. It was very good political thinking and design at the time, and made the north and east side of Melbourne's CBD more accessible. However, The Loop is run in very confusing manner, and it seemed that even many locals are confused! Each loop often runs in a different direction in the morning, than it does in the evening. It can also be run in a different direction on weekends. To add to the confusion, some train lines do not use the loop on weekdays, but use the loop on weekends. This makes interchanging, between east and west lines (and vice versa) a guessing game, and on one occasion BrizCommuter ended up having to travel around the loop twice! Departure times from CBD stations are also inconsistent between the time of day and weekday/weekend. BrizCommuter would like to see loop services operated in a more consistent manner, although whether Melbourne commuters would agree may be a different matter. Below, is a link to a "navigating the City Loop" guide from Melbourne's Public Transport Users Association (link opens in new window):

BrizCommuter didn't see any issues with lack of guards. In fact stations dwell times seemed faster than in Brisbane and Sydney, and timetables are less padded. Most platforms are level with the train floor although some gaps are quite large. There are lots of roaming security late at night, and BrizCommuter never felt unsafe. Queensland Rail's continued use of guards seems to defy logic in this age of increased operating efficiencies for passenger rail systems.

It is also interesting to note that in many locations in Melbourne's suburbia, there are no fences surrounding the railway line. Just grass and a few trees to stop people walking on the tracks.


Melbourne has one of the world's best suburban rail systems outside of Europe, and is one of reasons why Melbourne always rates highly in "liveability" comparisons. With frequent peak and off-peak services, and reasonable fares, it is not surprising that trains are reasonably busy at any time of the day or night. 10 minute off-peak frequency is being increasingly rolled out around the network. Brisbane needs to urgently learn from this! On the down side, reliability needs to be improved, and services using the The Loop may need to be more consistent.

1 comment:

  1. Great read Brizcommuter, it's great to read an "outsider" perspective.

    You told a really honest story, and I can agree with you even as a local I get confused by the loop direction. But it's not a huge issue because at the major stations such as the city loop stations and Richmond, dedicated screens inform you which trains go via the loop and which go direct to Flinders St.

    Weekend frequency is indeed great, only a few months ago some lines had 40-60 minute gaps in services for Sunday, including the Pakenham line which you travelled on (I think).

    I'd have to disagree about station guards though. I think we need them. You may have missed seeing it during your travels, but there are a LOT of occassions where a single person delays the whole train by 15-30 seconds because they put their foot in the door to stop it from shutting.

    You are absolutely correct about poor communication, and I have emailed Metro to express this. Many station staff merely announce when the next train is (which the automated voice does anyway), but as soon as there is a disruption communication is terrible.

    The PA systems also need to be upgraded due to low volume + crackly voice.


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