1200 people on a train is 50 per cent too many: rail overcrowding getting worse

More than half of Melbourne's railway lines are consistently overcrowded in the morning peak, with some trains carrying hundreds more passengers than they are meant to.

In the worst case, on the Cranbourne and Pakenham lines, trains built to carry just under 800 passengers are crammed with more than 1200 people before they reach the city, data shows.

There is 'overloading' on all train lines servicing the north and western suburbs.
There is 'overloading' on all train lines servicing the north and western suburbs. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones

The data, obtained through freedom of information laws by the Victorian Greens, reveals the system is failing to cope with passenger growth.

Between May 2014 and May 2015, an extra 4500 commuters joined the Dandenong rail corridor crush in the morning over a four-day survey period, but just one extra morning peak service a day was added to the timetable.

The situation was mirrored on six other lines that experienced rapid patronage growth in the morning peak last year but were given few or no extra services.

The Frankston, Sandringham, Craigieburn, Upfield, Sunbury and Werribee lines all grew by between 5 and 12 per cent in just a year, yet only the Sunbury and Werribee lines received extra services to handle the swelling load.


Barely any peak-hour services have been added to the metropolitan rail timetable since 2014, because the Andrews government rejected a planned timetable upgrade that had been drawn up under the former Napthine government.


Meanwhile, Metro is progressively increasing the capacity of each train from 798 to 900 passengers, by ripping out seats near the doors to increase standing room.

The Greens obtained the unfiltered patronage data from Public Transport Victoria's most recent passenger load survey, completed in May 2015.

PTV conducts twice annual counts of passenger numbers at stations just outside the City Loop to determine if crowds are within the load standard of 798 per train, as agreed in Metro's franchise agreement with the state.

The count is done on four weekdays and patterns of overcrowding are meant to trigger extra services on affected lines.

However, the survey excludes services that are affected by cancellations or late running, because these are held to distort a typical day of operations. These excluded services are often overcrowded, meaning PTV's survey results contain fewer load breaches than the raw data.

Greens leader Greg Barber said the true picture was worse than PTV's survey indicated, with 199 of a total 464 services having breached the load standard. About 10 per cent of those services carried more than 1000 passengers.

"Raw data shows the government has been caught understating how overcrowded trains are," Mr Barber said.

"This problem has been getting steadily worse for years. This problem hasn't snuck up on the government, but their only response has been to rip out seats to squeeze more people in."

Mr Barber said the data supported the Greens' call for an investment in high-capacity signalling, which would enable trains to run more frequently.

Tony Morton, Public Transport Users Association president, said it was unfortunate that rail overcrowding was getting worse in the west and north of Melbourne, given billions had been spent to remove bottlenecks between Metro and V/Line trains on that part of the network.

"This is what the Regional Rail Link was meant to deal with and we haven't done the timetable upgrade that was meant to follow naturally on from that project, which was the rationale for spending $4 billion on a new rail line," he said.

Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan pointed to the planned Melbourne Metro rail tunnel and the multibillion-dollar upgrade of the Cranbourne-Pakenham corridor as evidence the government was "investing more in major capacity-building projects than any government in Victoria's history".

"We've added extra services to Sunbury, and to the Werribee/Williamstown lines, and extra services will be considered across the network with the next metropolitan timetable change later this year," Ms Allan said.

The raw data presents a contrasting picture for Melbourne's northern and eastern suburbs, where rail patronage has shrunk.

Peak-hour patronage on the Alamein line, Melbourne's quietest, dropped a further 14 per cent in the year to May 2015.

It went backwards by eight per cent on the Glen Waverley line, and by five per cent on the Belgrave/Lilydale lines and the South Morang/Hurstbridge lines.


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