If V/Line became V/Bus

 
  712M Chief Commissioner

Just speculating here.. As many of you may know, the Ballarat and Bendigo lines have been closed for a number of weeks over the past 2 years for various RRL works and on weekdays there have been a huge amount of buses ordered to replace the train service.

My question is whether it is cheaper to impliment the RRL works timetable permanantly with express coaches from SCS to nearly every station for every service (some peak trains are replaced with up to 7 coaches) permanently or continue to run trains? All hypothetical of course, but one does wonder when train operating costs are so high.

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  railblogger Chief Commissioner

Location: At the back of the train, quitely doing exactly what you'd expect.
Apparently one bus company charges $1000 for the Melbourne-Bendigo run (not sure whether its SAS or express). I'm not sure how much it costs to run a train though.
  trainbrain Deputy Commissioner

Will not happen, I would then have to work longer hours than I do now............
  don_dunstan Minister for Railways

Location: Adelaide proud
You'd have to consider the implications of a permanent bus service.  

Buses get stuck in traffic; peak hour services (if they run direct to the city) would be stuck in the same traffic jams that clog the Westgate and Ring Road every day.  I was on a replacement bus from Ballarat earlier this year which in theory should have been slightly quicker than the train; in practice it was much slower because we were stuck in traffic on the Westgate.
  Gwiwer Rt Hon Gentleman and Ghost of Oliver Bulleid

Location: Loitering in darkest Somewhere
Trains can be cheaper over all than a fleet of road coaches.  A five-coach train to Bendigo would require perhaps 7 or 8 road coaches to replace it to cater for a full load.  Not all passengers travel the full distance of course therefore not all of those coaches are expected to go all the way but they are required and cannot be used elsewhere for perhaps six hours allowing for a round trip.

Up to eight drivers instead of one are required.  Up to eight tanks of diesel are being drained though whether or not more diesel in total would be used is something the experts would have to quantify.

Road vehicles are subject to delays caused by other traffic while the railway has its own usually clear right of way.  Road accident rates (not usually involving coaches but often delaying them) are far higher - rail passenger casualties per kilometre make that statistically the safest form of land transport.

Many passengers prefer rail to road with the preference becoming more significant over longer distances.  Seating is usually more comfortable and there is the opportunity to get up and walk about.  Some trains offer a snack bar which can be used on the move without having to delay the service for a refreshment break.  Using the toilet on a train is often easier roomier than trying to use the usually cramped cubicle on a swaying and bouncing road coach - that's if one is provided at all.

Rail has advantages in terms of maximum and average speeds; 160kph is our best main line speed against 110kph on our freeways.

The state sees fit to support our rail services and as a part of that to invest heavily in the RRL.  As a temporary effect of that being constructed road coaches are in use to cover some routes some of the time.  There were complaints where the lines were closed for extended periods during RFR works and there probably will be again.  Some people will simply take it all on the chin.  But if road coaches were to be the permanent way forward  based on cost alone then we would not have RFR, RRL nor a fleet of modern VL trains in Victoria and instead perhaps an ailing collection of little-used coaches while most people drove and contributed to the overall road congestion, air pollution and their personal stress levels.
  Lad_Porter Chief Commissioner

Location: Yarra Glen
It's not V/Train, it's V/Line, and they already operate many permanent bus services - some over closed or previous rail lines, others to extend the confines of the existing operational rail network, and yet others in parallel with existing rail services.
  The Vinelander Minister for Railways

Location: Ballan, Victoria on the Ballarat RFR Line
Rail has advantages in terms of maximum and average speeds; 160kph is our best main line speed against 110kph on our freeways.

Gwiwer
Interesting discussion. A few more points without going over the top...

  • The upcoming bustitution on the Ballarat line for the RRL works means up to an extra 30 mins travel time each way, maybe longer if traffic is bad.
  • Buses are speed limited to 100KPH. I regularly travel Swan Hill to Mildura & VV on the bus and 100 is it...max Exclamation


Mike.
  DalyWaters Chief Commissioner


  • Buses are speed limited to 100KPH. I regularly travel Swan Hill to Mildura & VV on the bus and 100 is it...max Exclamation


Mike.
The Vinelander
Whilst the train between Bendigo and Swan Hill has a maximum speed of????
  Gwiwer Rt Hon Gentleman and Ghost of Oliver Bulleid

Location: Loitering in darkest Somewhere
Whilst the train between Bendigo and Swan Hill has a maximum speed of????
DalyWaters

90 - 100kph for the most part

And 115kph (160kph when formed of VL stock) on the Melbourne - Bendigo run which provides a much better average speed and typically shorter journey time than by coach.
  DalyWaters Chief Commissioner

90 - 100kph for the most part

And 115kph (160kph when formed of VL stock) on the Melbourne - Bendigo run which provides a much better average speed and typically shorter journey time than by coach.
Gwiwer
Ah, yes.  However, Vinelander used the example of Swan Hill to Mildura.  So the fair comparison is Bendigo to Swan Hill.

Anyway, there are two spheres to V/Line's operation.  In NSW they are performed by different companies.  In Victoria, there is one V/Line which covers both Interurban and Intercity passenger movement.

The Interurban is the areas which see roughly an hourly service.  These areas go to the centre of Melbourne.  The bus journey strikes it's difficulties coping with the city traffic.  Having said that, in off peak replacement coaches on the Geelong line have made the journey to Southern Cross in 54 minutes.  Mostly though, this service is better handled by train.

Beyond the Interurban areas, the passenger demand is nowhere near that of Interurban trains.  That leaves a frequency of only three trains each way each day in most directions.  If buses were used for the services beyond Marshall, Wendouree, Eaglehawk, Seymour and Traralgon, the cost savings would be substantial.  Not only that, the service frequency could be increased to be almost the hourly of the interurban trains in some cases.

Having said that, people prefer to travel by train.  It is an indulgence we should be grateful to have, despite the lesser frequency.
  Revenue Chief Commissioner

I've travelled on the train to Swan Hill - and enjoyed it. But you do have to wonder whether the cost of the service is justified. By the time most passengers had alighted at Bendigo - there really weren't that many people on the train for the journey. I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't run trains to Swan Hill, Warnambool, Bairnsdale, etc.  I think that having a rail link is an important symbol for those cities and makes them feel connected to the city in a way that has broader importance than the number of passengers carried. However, it does raise the question as to whether the operation of those trains could be made more efficient, and whether we are spending money in the right areas.

A few hypothetical examples:

If I want to travel from the city to Lilydale late at night I might need to change at Ringwood. If I want to travel from Cranbourne to the city late at night I might need to change at Dandenong. How come we are prepared to accept these kinds of changes in Melbourne but they are regarded as being a major deal in regional areas (eg. changing trains at Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong).  Should we really have five carriages travelling to regional areas?

I understand there are technical difficulties associated with Sprinter trains operating on some regional lines, but leaving that aside, is there really anything wrong with a passenger having to transfer between trains at a regional location to complete their journey via a guaranteed connection? I expect to change train when travelling far shorter distances in Europe.

Is a staffed kiosk an absolute requirement? Does it need to be staffed for the entire journey?

You can't check luggage on Eurostar, TGV, ICE services - is it really a necessity for long haul V/Line services?

It would be interesting to do a survey of people in, say, Warnambool, ask them if they would rather have their current three trains a day, with on board catering, the ability to check luggage and a single seat for their entire journey, vs. an alternative scenario of having five trains a day, but having to change at Geelong via guaranteed connection, without catering and no checked luggage.

So I think the debate isn't just about train vs bus - I think it should also be about making train services as cost effective as possible - and more frequent.  A number of cost savings have been implemented already - checked luggage was phased out from interurban services. We don't have on board catering except on long haul services.  This is balanced by having higher frequencies (and overall, passengers clearly think the product has improved).

Frequency is really critical - it means that passengers know that if they miss a train they're not stranded six hours until the next one (which makes them more likely to use the service in the first place). It caters to a greater range of journeys (including within regional Victoria). Less waiting time and more flexibility. If there are measures that can be taken to make the network more efficient to enable that to happen then they should be considered.

Alternatively buses can play a role in providing frequency. In the same way that Qantas operates some 767s between Melbourne and Sydney to give them capacity and some 737s to provide frequency, you might have a similar approach with V/Line....three train services a day, and a number of bus services. So it doesn't need to be an either/or approach.

I think there's probably still quite a lot innovation possible in this area that can deliver customers with a better outcome without massive expenditure (but of course, everything does cost money!).

Another hypothetical example - would the people of Warnambool prefer four trains a day, or three trains and three coaches....?   All interesting questions.  Smile
  DalyWaters Chief Commissioner



Another hypothetical example - would the people of Warnambool prefer four trains a day, or three trains and three coaches....?   All interesting questions.  Smile
Revenue
or no trains and a coach to Geelong departing every hour between 0600 and 1900?
  trainbrain Deputy Commissioner

I agree with Revenue, trains and bus work well when they work together in this day and age. Echuca is a prime example, I have seen all services well occupied, both train and coach services completment each other. On Saturdays and Sundays it seems services are directed towards the tourists.
  Gwiwer Rt Hon Gentleman and Ghost of Oliver Bulleid

Location: Loitering in darkest Somewhere
There isn't a single one-fits-all answer.  Every town and every travel corridor has its own peculiar demand characteristics.  Public transport provision is at best an effort to best match those demands with available resources in a cost-effective manner.  For lower demand corridors the cost-benefits may not stack up but as the UK discovered during the Beeching era if you cut off the loss-making rural branches you bleed the main lines of the traffic which fed into and out of them to the point where they, too, can start to lose money.  Not everyone will switch to road transport if there is no train.

Taking the Swan Hill example if it were possible to operate VL sets out there that would provide a perfect opportunity for better matching service provision to demand.  Two 3VL units coupled might run to Bendigo with one each then going forward to Swan Hill and Echuca.  The round-trip time to Echuca being much less than to Swan Hill would mean that set returned earlier and was joined to a different partner for its next up working.

The design of V/locity units isn't ideal for long-haul operation inasmuch as they don't have through gangways.  That requires an additional crew member to provide ticket checking and immediate assistance in each unit.  If they were used on long-haul runs (for argument's sake of more than 2 hours) then a trolley service of refreshments would probably be appreciated by enough passengers to justify its provision and it could be outsourced on a franchise basis so that VLP were not required to staff a buffet counter.  One of the advantages of the train as I noted above is that it doesn't have to stop for half and hour at mealtimes (or force the passengers to go hungry thanks to our world-trailing rule of no eating / drinking on a coach) and one can in theory obtain refreshments at any time. There is no reason this has to be offered from a fixed snack bar however but a trolley would be stuck in one VL unit without access to the other which returns us to that particular design issue.

It is in the nature of travel patterns that there is a significant peak towards major cities in the morning and back later in the day.  I'm not suggesting that anyone commutes between Swan Hill and Melbourne daily.  The point here is that an enhanced level of service provision needs to meet the actual demand patterns.  Instead of two trains to Swan Hill having five at two-hour intervals may not be the best solution.  Having three early departures towards Melbourne, a mid-day then a late afternoon working while unevenly spaced may be a better timetable for local needs.

Guaranteed connections tend to work to passenger's advantage only in one direction.  Down from Melbourne passengers for the Swan Hill line might change at Bendigo onto an empty train and find enough seats.  On the up they might find those seats already filled if the train has perhaps come in from Echuca.  Having to then stand for the next couple of hours won't improve repeat business or reputation.  If we were able to introduce multiple-unit operation as I suggested above however then portions could be joined / split as required and everyone has a through train and a seat with no additional resources being needed.
  DirtyBallast Chief Commissioner

Location: I was here first. You're only visiting.
If buses were used for the services beyond Marshall, Wendouree, Eaglehawk, Seymour and Traralgon, the cost savings would be substantial.  
DalyWaters
The cynic in me suggests that V-Line, or more particularly the gov't, is not uncomfortable at all with the present situation beyond Traralgon.
  Gman_86 Chief Commissioner

Location: Melton, where the sparks dare not roam!
The government is on record saying they want trains returned to Bairnsdale ASAP, those trains are usually well patronised and would cost quite a bit more to replace with coaches. The Bairnsdale, Warrnambool, Shepparton and Albury trains are all very well patronised, so much so that the gov't are hoping to soon introduce extra services on most of these lines (nothing official yet, but not a well kept secret). Seeing as most of these lines are required for freight anyway, it would be complete madness not to utilise this infrastructure to move people as well as goods.

Maybe the question that should be asked is what can be done to get more freight onto the rails, therefore getting V/Line more income from freight operators and bringing the required gov't subsidies down.

Use it more, not less.
  big_al Junior Train Controller

Location: Swan Hill
Swan Hill is also well patronised beyond Bendigo these days also, especially with only 3 carriages, I have been travelling on a semi regular basis between Swan Hill and Melbourne since Nov last year, practically every 2 weeks or so and the trains have been 3/4 full leaving Swan Hill in the morning.
  don_dunstan Minister for Railways

Location: Adelaide proud
....

The design of V/locity units isn't ideal for long-haul operation inasmuch as they don't have through gangways.  That requires an additional crew member to provide ticket checking and immediate assistance in each unit.  If they were used on long-haul runs (for argument's sake of more than 2 hours) then a trolley service of refreshments would probably be appreciated by enough passengers to justify its provision and it could be outsourced on a franchise basis so that VLP were not required to staff a buffet counter.  One of the advantages of the train as I noted above is that it doesn't have to stop for half and hour at mealtimes (or force the passengers to go hungry thanks to our world-trailing rule of no eating / drinking on a coach) and one can in theory obtain refreshments at any time. There is no reason this has to be offered from a fixed snack bar however but a trolley would be stuck in one VL unit without access to the other which returns us to that particular design issue.

.....
Gwiwer
I must say I like this idea a lot as it partly solves the issue of Vlocity sets not being really well suited to long-haul.  Roll the trolley on at Bendigo and roll it off again when the train gets back to Bendigo (or the other way round); sell the service to a private enterprise with contracted service standards.  The only issue I can really think of is that of food safety on the trolley (if you are serving hot food) and also whether it can be 'parked' somewhere on the train when not in use (ie when service finishes towards the end of the trip).
  Revenue Chief Commissioner

Catering is one of those vexed questions. Large overheads and high staff requirements. Having said that, Melbourne to Swan Hill is a long time to go without food if you haven't planned ahead. No easy solutions.

There aren't actually any rules against eating on coaches that I'm aware of. It's not an offense. My understanding is that for buses (both metro buses, regional coaches, etc) there aren't rules against eating, but the Government hasn't ever chosen to tell the bus companies they must allow it (e.g. passengers suffer so that bus companies save on cleaning costs). Having said that, having hot food on a bus is annoying for other passengers - but there has to be a middle ground (eg. no hot food).

This goes to the question of how to make coach services more attractive.

As an industry, we really do shoot ourselves in the foot sometimes in relation to coach services. There are a lot of ways that coach services could be made more attractive. For example:

- 2+1 seating, and greater leg room (if you take out 25% of the seats, then most coaches should still be able to cope with their demand)
- Allow food and drink (no hot food/alcohol)
- Better customer service from driver (perhaps even distributing free bottles of water to boarding passengers)
- Clearer bus stops and information (to reassure passengers the bus will turn up - to counter the perception buses are less reliable)
- More express services (a collegue of mine once had a plane cancelled from Mildura and the bus ran express from Mildura to Melbourne and did it SOOOO much faster than normally schedulled V/Line services)
- Clearer customer information (eg. have signage listing the stops, travel times, etc.)

Jetblue is one of my favourite airlines (American carrier). They have E190s and A320s. They use the E190s to establish new routes, or to provide frequency on corridors where an all A320 service wouldn't be justified. They also switch planes around based on seasons (eg. during Ski season they might operate a route A320s and operate it with E190s the rest of the year). It should be the same with V/Line and buses.  A combination of trains and buses are used together. I think there are probably some more opportunities to grow patronage in a few places.

The 'interchange' penalty is an interesting question as well. For example, if a customer is travelling from Warnambool to Melbourne, and they leave Warnambool on a coach, do they really want to change to a train at Geelong - or does the customer just want to be taken to Melbourne as quickly as possible (eg. is the time taken to transfer - and the fact the  bus needs to be early to avoid missing the train, etc..  way too long). Should the bus stop in Geelong at all?  All interesting questions.   Smile

I'm interested in any ideas that make coaches and buses more attractive to passengers.  Smile
  DalyWaters Chief Commissioner



- 2+1 seating, and greater leg room (if you take out 25% of the seats, then most coaches should still be able to cope with their demand)
- Allow food and drink (no hot food/alcohol)
- Better customer service from driver (perhaps even distributing free bottles of water to boarding passengers)
- Clearer bus stops and information (to reassure passengers the bus will turn up - to counter the perception buses are less reliable)
-

I'm interested in any ideas that make coaches and buses more attractive to passengers.  Smile
Revenue
The 2 + 1 seating is a no brainer.  It is so typical of our modern society that accountants have decreed that the maximum capacity must be got into all public transport.  For V/Line, it started with those awful N cars that forced economy passengers to knock knees in a stark reminder that they are the travelling poor, being in economy.  Of course, the people who make the decisions on the seating layouts are relaxing in the reclining seats of first class.  For my way of thinking, the pitch of first class, with rotating seats, should be the minimum for all seats on long distance trains.

By the same token, the coaches that V/Line runs are primarily replacing trains that used to run.  Having accepted that coaches are much cheaper to run, why did they then have to go with the tight seat pitch of operators whose primary business is hauling school kids.  Sunraysia Buslines had some big battles with the DOT/DOI back in the days when the Vinelander was dropped.  The DOI wanted maximum seats, Sunraysia argued for better seat pitch.  Fortunately for the passengers, Sunraysia won back then.  The have different owners now so I don't know what the pitch now is.

Some bus companies in New Zealand and Thailand have 2 + 1 seating in their coaches.  Of course they are popular but they are not big revenue earners on a per head basis.  The use of such coaches here would have been a much fairer replacement when trains went here.

Hot food, alcohol and milk products are definitely not suitable for buses.
  melbtrip Chief Commissioner

Location: Annoying Orange
Catering is one of those vexed questions. Large overheads and high staff requirements. Having said that, Melbourne to Swan Hill is a long time to go without food if you haven't planned ahead. No easy solutions.

There aren't actually any rules against eating on coaches that I'm aware of. It's not an offense. My understanding is that for buses (both metro buses, regional coaches, etc) there aren't rules against eating, but the Government hasn't ever chosen to tell the bus companies they must allow it (e.g. passengers suffer so that bus companies save on cleaning costs). Having said that, having hot food on a bus is annoying for other passengers - but there has to be a middle ground (eg. no hot food).

This goes to the question of how to make coach services more attractive.

As an industry, we really do shoot ourselves in the foot sometimes in relation to coach services. There are a lot of ways that coach services could be made more attractive. For example:

- 2+1 seating, and greater leg room (if you take out 25% of the seats, then most coaches should still be able to cope with their demand)
- Allow food and drink (no hot food/alcohol)
- Better customer service from driver (perhaps even distributing free bottles of water to boarding passengers)
- Clearer bus stops and information (to reassure passengers the bus will turn up - to counter the perception buses are less reliable)
- More express services (a collegue of mine once had a plane cancelled from Mildura and the bus ran express from Mildura to Melbourne and did it SOOOO much faster than normally schedulled V/Line services)
- Clearer customer information (eg. have signage listing the stops, travel times, etc.)

Jetblue is one of my favourite airlines (American carrier). They have E190s and A320s. They use the E190s to establish new routes, or to provide frequency on corridors where an all A320 service wouldn't be justified. They also switch planes around based on seasons (eg. during Ski season they might operate a route A320s and operate it with E190s the rest of the year). It should be the same with V/Line and buses.  A combination of trains and buses are used together. I think there are probably some more opportunities to grow patronage in a few places.

The 'interchange' penalty is an interesting question as well. For example, if a customer is travelling from Warnambool to Melbourne, and they leave Warnambool on a coach, do they really want to change to a train at Geelong - or does the customer just want to be taken to Melbourne as quickly as possible (eg. is the time taken to transfer - and the fact the  bus needs to be early to avoid missing the train, etc..  way too long). Should the bus stop in Geelong at all?  All interesting questions.   Smile

I'm interested in any ideas that make coaches and buses more attractive to passengers.  Smile
Revenue

I was on the train about 2 years ago on the Warrnambool railway services (going  to watch  blind cricket in Warrnambool) anyway I was talking to a group of  people on the train and the topic come up - would be better if the Warrnambool services only run to Geelong and not to Melbourne.

If this was going to happen and then people agree the following must happen:
·         Melbourne to Geelong to have frequent service (20  minutes)
·         Warrnambool services should run minimum 5 per day each way – may be with  extra bus services
·         People from  Warrnambool or between Warrnambool and Geelong should have the ability arrive in Melbourne before 9am

Other ideas where the following:
·         Better train/bus connection at the Geelong railway station
·         Double deck trains for Melbourne to Geelong service
·         Better integrated and easy ticket system that can be understand for non-public transport user
  woodford Chief Commissioner


Having said that, people prefer to travel by train.  It is an indulgence we should be grateful to have, despite the lesser frequency.
DalyWaters If buses were used for the services beyond Marshall, Wendouree, Eaglehawk, Seymour and Traralgon, the cost savings would be substantial. Not only that, the service frequency could be increased to be almost the hourly of the interurban trains in some cases.

Many years ago when the then liberal government cancelled the VLine service beyond Seymour the passenger numbers went down drasticly. It took a years for the pass numbers to return to normal after the train service was resumed.

More recently when the BG service was suspended for the regauging, the station staff at Seymour told me plenty of people were driving down to Seymour from as far away as Yarrawonga to avoid taking the bus. Note, I was one of those driving down to Seymour rather than take the bus.

One could almost certainly save money by replacing a 4 car train carrying a couple of hundred people with only a single bus.

From my experience buses are hated like poison.
  Revenue Chief Commissioner

From my experience buses are hated like poison.
"woodford"


Yes, but why and how can that be fixed?

Not every town will be able to have a train services, and for towns with trains there will often need to be buses as well. We need to find solutions.

When I travelled by bus from Siem Reap to Vietnam the buses were well appointed, had a 'bus attendant' who distributed snacks and drinks. The bus stopped at good places for food and drink along the way, etc. It was a interesting journey. It was also very comfortable as the bus was so cheap that my friend and I both purchased two tickets each - so that we had a double seat to ourselves.

It show me how good a bus service can be.

I'm not proposing that we have bus attendants, but maybe it wouldn't cost much for someone supervising the bus departures at Southern Cross to give customers a small bottle of water and a cookie or something.

We've got to be able to make the total customer experience better on buses - and then work out how to explain it to customers.

I think I've mentioned before that at the Grand Prix in order to reduce the length of the taxi queue there is a large sign saying "Limosine Bus - Hotel Transfers" - that the punters quite happily hand over $5. These are people who have avoided using the trams back into the city.....but somehow making it a "Limosine Bus" makes it desirable.
  The Vinelander Minister for Railways

Location: Ballan, Victoria on the Ballarat RFR Line
Whilst the train between Bendigo and Swan Hill has a maximum speed of????
DalyWaters
Irrelevant. The train provides...

  • First class.
  • Room to walk about the cars.
  • On board refreshments, with pretty good coffee.
  • Usable toilets
  • Hugely increased seat pitch over a bus, even in Economy class
  • More comfortable ride.
  raudteejaam Junior Train Controller

By the same token, the coaches that V/Line runs are primarily replacing trains that used to run.  Having accepted that coaches are much cheaper to run, why did they then have to go with the tight seat pitch of operators whose primary business is hauling school kids.  Sunraysia Buslines had some big battles with the DOT/DOI back in the days when the Vinelander was dropped.  The DOI wanted maximum seats, Sunraysia argued for better seat pitch.  Fortunately for the passengers, Sunraysia won back then.  The have different owners now so I don't know what the pitch now is.
DalyWaters
Their seat pitch is acceptable, though not as good as a train.

Incidentally, if you want to see how a coach service SHOULD be run, go to Turkey. Their onboard service, IMHO, is some of the finest I've found on a regular route coach, complete with bow-tie wearing attendants who provide complimentary tea, coffee, water and snacks; plus the odd longer stop at roadhouses, all in brand new vehicles. Thailand would come a close second, but I never got anything but a crap-box coach in Thailand.

Anyway, back on topic now Smile

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