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Bendigo express at Castlemaine

Update: I sent this post to Public Transport Victoria who forwarded it to V/Line. This is their response: 

Thank you for your feedback regarding Bendigo timetabling. Your suggestion was sent to our Timetable and Planning Department for consideration.

We have consulted with Metro trains and I can advise that most of the services listed will be able to be moved to a later departure time from Southern Cross and maintain their current Metro pathway i.e. reduce the overall journey time in the Metro area from our next timetable change due in August 2017.

Exciting! I will look forward to seeing how it pans out in August.

I used to assume that when a V/Line train slowed to a crawl behind a stopping Metro train it was because the Metro train was late. Surely our professional timetablers would not intentionally run the fast train right behind the slow train? But I was wrong, it is the timetable’s fault.

There are seven trains from Melbourne to Bendigo between 9 pm and 4 pm. They are all an hour apart and they all depart from Southern Cross at the 14th minute of their hour. They do not all arrive at the end of the Metro network, Sunbury, at the same time, however.

This is the timetable as of the 29th of January, 2017 (services run left to right instead of top to bottom):

Southern Cross Footscray Sunshine Sunbury
To Sunbury 09:03 09:11 09:20 09:48
To Bendigo 09:14 09:21 09:26* 09:52
To Sunbury 09:15 09:23 09:32 10:00
To Watergardens 10:02 10:10 10:19
To Bendigo 10:14 10:21 10:26* 10:48
To Sunbury 10:22 10:30 10:39 11:07
To Sunbury 11:02 11:10 11:19 11:47
To Bendigo 11:14 11:21 11:26* 11:51
To Watergardens 11:22 11:30 11:39
To Watergardens 12:02 12:10 12:19
To Epsom 12:14 12:21 12:26* 12:48
To Sunbury 12:22 12:30 12:39 13:07
To Sunbury 13:10 13:19 13:47
To Eaglehawk 13:14 13:21 13:26* 13:51
To Watergardens 13:30 13:39
To Watergardens 14:10 14:19
To Epsom 14:14 14:21 14:26* 14:47
To Sunbury 14:30 14:39 15:07
To Sunbury 15:10 15:19 15:47
To Echuca 15:14 15:21 15:26* 15:53
To Sunbury 15:31 15:40 16:08
*Does not stop

In bold you can see that Bendigo trains (Bendigo, Eaglehawk, Echuca and Epsom) are just seven minutes behind stopping Metro trains from Sunshine towards Sunbury, which is where V/Line and Metro must share tracks. During this time of day Metro trains on the Sunbury line run every 20 minutes. That is 20 minutes of ‘space’ to drop in the express Bendigo train. So why are Bendigo trains just seven minutes behind Metro trains when they could be up to 19 minutes behind?

I do not know, but I decided to see what the timetable would look like if Bendigo trains were further behind stopping Sunbury trains. I decided not to give them the whole 19 minutes because that would offer no room for delay, instead I gave them 16 minutes. A Sunbury (or Watergardens) train would depart Sunshine at the 19th minute of the hour, as they do, the Bendigo train would pass through Sunshine at the 35th minute and the following Sunbury line train would depart Sunshine at the 39th minute, as they do.

To calculate how long it would take a Bendigo line train to run express from Sunshine to Sunbury I calculated the time from the speed and distance. That would be 11 kilometres at 80 kilometres per hour between Sunshine and Watergardens, which came to nine minutes rounded up, and 15 kilometres at 130 kilometres per hour between Watergardens and Sunbury, which came to seven minutes rounded up. 16 minutes overall.

Adding 16 minutes to the 35th minute of the hour comes to the 51st minute of the hour which just happens to be precisely the time two of the seven Bendigo trains arrive at Sunbury and very close or better than the other five. So you could depart all, but one, of the seven Bendigo line trains from Southern Cross nine minutes later, at the 23rd minute of the hour, instead of the 14th with no loss to the arrival time, but give passengers nine extra minutes to complete their business in Melbourne and provide what would feel like a much speedier trip.

This is how that would look:

Southern Cross Footscray Sunshine Sunbury
To Sunbury 09:03 09:11 09:20 09:48
To Bendigo 09:14 09:21 09:26* 09:52
To Sunbury 09:15 09:23 09:32 10:00
To Watergardens 10:02 10:10 10:19
To Bendigo 10:23 10:30 10:35* 10:51
To Sunbury 10:22 10:30 10:39 11:07
To Sunbury 11:02 11:10 11:19 11:47
To Bendigo 11:23 11:30 11:35* 11:51
To Watergardens 11:22 11:30 11:39
To Watergardens 12:02 12:10 12:19
To Epsom 12:23 12:30 12:35* 12:51
To Sunbury 12:22 12:30 12:39 13:07
To Sunbury 13:10 13:19 13:47
To Eaglehawk 13:23 13:30 13:35* 13:51
To Watergardens 13:30 13:39
To Watergardens 14:10 14:19
To Epsom 14:23 14:30 14:25* 14:51
To Sunbury 14:30 14:39 15:07
To Sunbury 15:10 15:19 15:47
To Echuca 15:23 15:30 15:35* 15:51
To Sunbury 15:31 15:40 16:08
*Does not stop

The 09:14 is trapped between two close stopping trains so it has to remain where it is.

Now we get to the disappointing bit, but do not let yourself down just yet. We cannot just move around Bendigo trains because they have to share the line with other V/Line Regional Rail Link trains, which would have to be altered too, BUT, I checked, there are no conflicts, even in the other direction at Sunshine where trains have to cross paths, there are no conflicts. I admit that the 13:20 train to Warrnambool would be a little close to the 13:23 to Bendigo, maybe they could be switched around, but even without it is still a quicker trip.

There is nothing to stop these simple alterations from improving our lives right now, except V/Line, Metro Trains, Public Transport Victoria and the State Government.

Have a good day.

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