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Melbourne suburban railway network

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The Melbourne suburban railway network is a mostly-electrified railway serving the Melbourne metropolitan area. Most of the system is operated by a private company under contract to the state government. Fares are set by the government, and tickets are time-based and also apply on Melbourne's trams and buses.


General description


Melbourne's suburban railway network comprises 16 broad gauge railway lines (15 with regular passenger services) radiating from Flinders Street in the central business district of the city of Melbourne, the capital of Victoria.

The suburban passenger network is purely radial; there are are no railway lines providing connections between two other lines. One line (Werribee), however, has two alternative routes. One exception to the absence of connecting lines is the "underground loop", four parallel underground track which loop around the north and east sides of the central business district. Trains on all lines can run "direct" or "via the loop" to and from Flinders Street.

The lines are as follows:

Line Distance from
Flinders Street[n 1][n 2]
Distance from junction[n 1][n 3]
(junction shown in brackets)
Alamein 15km9.321 miles
745.645 chains
5km3.107 miles
248.548 chains
(Camberwell, Lilydale line)
Belgrave 41km25.476 miles
2,038.097 chains
17km10.563 miles
845.065 chains
(Ringwood, Lilydale line)
Craigieburn 27km16.777 miles
1,342.162 chains
24km14.913 miles
1,193.033 chains
(North Melbourne, Williamstown line)
Cranbourne 44km27.34 miles
2,187.227 chains
14km8.699 miles
695.936 chains
(Dandenong, Pakenham line)
Flemington Racecourse 8km4.971 miles
397.678 chains
2km1.243 miles
99.419 chains
(Newmarket, Craigieburn line)
No regular passenger services.
Frankston 43km26.719 miles
2,137.517 chains
32km19.884 miles
1,590.71 chains
(Caulfield, Pakenham line)
Glen Waverley 21km13.049 miles
1,043.904 chains
16km9.942 miles
795.355 chains
(Burnley, Lilydale line)
Hurstbridge 37km22.991 miles
1,839.259 chains
Pakenham 57km35.418 miles
2,833.453 chains
53km32.933 miles
2,634.614 chains
(South Yarra, Sandringham line)
Sandringham 18km11.185 miles
894.775 chains
South Morang 25km15.534 miles
1,242.742 chains
19km11.806 miles
944.484 chains
(Clifton Hill, Hurstbridge line)
Stony Point 73km45.36 miles
3,628.808 chains
31km19.262 miles
1,541.001 chains
Not a branch, but a non-electrified continuation of the Frankston line.
Sunbury 40km24.855 miles
1,988.388 chains
33km20.505 miles
1,640.42 chains
(Footscray, Williamstown line)
Upfield 20km12.427 miles
994.194 chains
17km10.563 miles
845.065 chains
(North Melbourne, Williamstown line)
Werribee 33km20.505 miles
1,640.42 chains
21km13.049 miles
1,043.904 chains
(Newport, Williamstown line)
1km0.621 miles
49.71 chains
additional via Altona.
Williamstown 15km9.321 miles
745.645 chains
  1. 1.0 1.1 Distances are rounded to the nearest kilometre
  2. Distances do not include the underground loop.
  3. In determining which line branches from which, the later line to open is considered the branch, except in the cases of Hurstbridge/South Morang and Craigieburn/Flemington Racecourse, in which both lines opened together.


The network can be divided into three distinct operations:

  • The bulk of the network is electrified and operated by a private operator, Metro Trains Melbourne, under contract to the state government.
  • The government-owned regional operator, V/Line, operates a variety of diesel-powered services to locations outside the metropolitan area, but two of these serve some stations within the suburban fare zone.
  • There is one diesel-operated line (to Stony Point) operated by Metro Trains Melbourne, using trains provided by V/Line.

Infrastructure and control

The electrified network is electrified at 1500 volts DC with overhead (catenary) electrification.

Safeworking comprises automatic block signalling.

Control of the inner area is from a centralised train control centre (known as Metrol), with independent signal boxes controlling individual stations or sections of line on the rest of the system.

In common with the rest of Victoria, in Melbourne "up" is towards Flinders Street.


Services on the electrified part of the network operate seven days a week, for up to about 20 hours per day. Most services operate to or from the iconic Flinders Street station, on the southern edge of the Central Business District of Melbourne, although some services operate as local shuttle services at off-peak times. Many of the services to or from Flinders Street operate via an underground loop around the CBD, although capacity problems with the underground lines has seen more and more services avoid the loop in recent years.

At off-peak times, services operate on regular, mostly "clock-face" schedules, varying between 10-minute and 80-minute frequencies, with most being either 15 or 20-minute frequencies.

Services at peak times are more ad hoc, and often operate at or close to the capacities of the respective lines.

Most services at off-peak times stop at all stations on the route, although some stations are bypassed by some services where two services share the same route. At peak times, more express services operate on some lines.

The state government is funding a one-year trial for 2016, known as 'Homesafe', in which services will run all night on Friday and Saturday nights, on hourly frequencies.


Use of the suburban railway system has increased significantly since the late 1990s, and the system now struggles to accommodate the demand. This has been caused by a number of factors, probably including rising petrol prices, improved performance of the system brought about by private operation, a booming economy, increased government support for public transport, and a drop in the price of many fares.


Melbourne's electrified system has seen a number of different types of trains. With one exception, none of the types can be operated together in the same consist, as they do not share common multiple-unit connections, other electric signals, and in same cases they do not share the same couplers.

In Melbourne's system, driving motor carriages are designated M and unpowered trailer carriages as T. In earlier fleets, there also existed a D type, which was an unpowered carriage with a driver's cabin. (The former experimental double-deck train did not conform to this practice.)

Even since power-operated doors have been used in Melbourne, doors are opened by passengers and closed by the driver.

Current trains

The electrified suburban system is currently operated by fleets of three types of trains.

All operate in consists of six carriages made up of two symmetrical three-carriage sets, arranged as M-T-M consists. That is, each of these three-carriage sets comprise a driving motor carriage at each end of an unpowered trailer carriage.

All current trains are air-conditioned. Most trains have three doors per carriage per side, and seating is mostly in a 2+3 layout, although this is being reduced to a 2+2 layout to increase standing capacity. Suspension in most trains is by air bags.

Comeng trains

The largest part of Melbourne's fleet are the 185 three-carriage trains built in Dandenong by Commonwealth Engineering, or Comeng for short. Originally comprising 570 carriages, the Comeng trains were the first in Melbourne with air-conditioning, and originally had carpeted floors.

When private operators took over in 1999, they were required to refurbish the fleet, and this included retrofitting surveillance equipment and passenger information systems. However, the two operators each refurbished their respective portions of the Comeng fleet in different ways. So when the two operations were recombined into one, the Comeng trains comprised two incompatible fleets, and they were subsequently further modified to make them compatible again.

X'trapolis trains

With the introduction of private operation of Melbourne's suburban rail system, the private operators were required to introduce new trains to replace the Silver fleet. The first to be introduced was a version of Alstom's X'trapolis model. These trains differed from other Melbourne trains in a number of respects. Like the Comeng trains, they were air-conditioned, and were provided with on-board surveillance and passenger information systems. Unlike the Comeng and Silver trains, they came with spring suspension, and had one pantograph on each three-carriage set (on the trailer carriage) rather than two on each set, on the motor carriages. Another difference was the position of the driver's seat, which was central in the cab, and set back somewhat from the windscreen. The result of this small change was that drivers could sometimes not see the track-side signals when stopped near them. A program to reposition the problem signals was instituted, but it was largely confined to the half of the network operated by that operator, and to this day, most of the X'trapolis trains are only operated on those lines. However, a program to allow them to operate on the Frankston line has seen a single train operating on that line during 1915.

Originally 29 six-carriage X'trapolis trains were built for Melbourne between 2002 and 2004, but with rising patronage, the State Government decided that some more trains were needed as soon as possible, and chose to order a further 18 trains, with an option for 20 more. This option was subsequently taken up, and the 38 additional X'trapolis trains begin being delivered in late 2009.

The second order differed from the first order in having 2+2 seating, and a different on-board passenger information system. This latter difference meant that the old and new X'trapolis fleets could not be operated together, until a retrofit of the older fleet with the newer equipment was carried out. Until that was done, the fleet was operated as six-carriage sets only, in order to avoid the possibility of two incompatible three-carriage sets being coupled together.

Siemens trains

The second of the two original private operators ordered their new trains from Siemens. These trains differed from other Melbourne trains in having completely open walkways between carriages, 2+2 seating (since adopted for the second X'trapolis order), and only two doors per carriage per side.

36 six-carriage Siemens trains were bought, but almost immediately encountered problems. The first major problem was that they had been designed to the wrong specifications, and were too wide for some platforms. This was remedied by shaving back the edges of platforms where necessary, but this work was only carried out on the lines of this operator, and to this day they remain limited to that half of the network.

Another problem that emerged was with the trains failing to brake properly. Much time and effort has been spent on trying to determine the cause of the problem, and various temporary and permanent solutions were put in place to compensate. Permanent solutions included changes to the software controlling the trains, giving drivers more control over the braking, and a program to fit sanders to all Siemens trains. Temporary solutions included a ban on them operating as three-carriage sets, and speed restrictions on approaching all stations with a level crossing at the end of the platform. This latter restriction was to prevent the situation where the train fails to stop in time and continues past a station and onto a level crossing that may not yet be closed to road traffic.

Former trains

Tait trains

Named after the commissioner of the Victorian Railways most responsible for Melbourne's electrification, the Tait trains were the first trains built for Melbourne's electrified network. The formerly steam-operated network was electrified in the 1920s, after being delayed by World War I. In preparation for electrification, the Victorian Railways built new trains, but had them hauled by steam locomotives until electrification was ready. As such, they were not initially provided with motors, driver controls, etc.

The first trains were put into service in 1910, and the last was withdrawn in the 1980s.

Tait trains introduced sliding doors to Melbourne, allowing the carriages to be wider than the swing-door carriages in use at the time. The carriages had nine single doors per carriage side, and seats arranged in a 2+3 configuration, or right across the carriage at the ends of compartments.

Tait trains had screw couplings between all carriages, and were operated in a variety of configurations. There were even a few motor carriages with driving cabins in both ends, allowing for single-carriage operation.

Tait trains were compatible with the swing-door sets (see below), and sometimes operated in mixed consists.

Some of the configurations were:


This was a common configuration at off-peak times. At peak times an extra three carriages would be added (see next item).

M-T-T-M-G-T-M or M-T-T-M-T-T-M

These were the M-T-T-M sets with an additional three carriages for peak periods. The four car section was known as a 'block', and the additional three cars as a 'unit'. The extra three carriages were always on the east end, and upon arrival at Flinders Street, if the size of the set was to be reduced, the three carriages on the east end would be uncoupled and shunted to the stabling sidings. The G cars were also trailer cars, but were fitted with a dual lighting system. As well as the normal electric lighting, they were also fitted with gas lighting. There were times that extra carriages were needed for country (non-suburban) services on weekends, so a pilot locomotive would remove the G carriages from the west end of the three-car 'units', making them up into trains that would be hauled by a locomotive on non-electrified lines. They would be returned to the 'units' in time for the Monday morning peak periods.


Some lightly-patronised services, particularly branch shuttle services on evenings and weekends, were operated with two-car sets comprising a motor carriage (M) and a driving trailer (D). When not required for these services, they would be coupled with other carriages to make up longer sets.


Four motor carriages (M) were modified to have a driving cabin at each end, for lightly-used Sunday services. One each was operated on the Alamein and Altona branches, and a third operated the shuttle between Eltham and Hurstbridge. The fourth was a spare carriage.

This led to some interesting arrangements on the Alamein line. Each Friday evening, a train left Flinders Street for Alamein, comprising a four-car set made up as M-D-M-D, with one of the M cars being a double-ended carriage. After arriving at the end of that trip, the four-car set was split into two, and shuttle services for the rest of the evening and Saturday were operate by either one or two two-car sets, which then stabled in the siding at Ashburton (see Outer Circle Railway (Melbourne)). On Sunday morning, one of the two-car sets would travel to Alamein, where the D car was uncoupled and left in the "siding" (the length of track beyond the platform protected by a 'Scotch Block'), and the double-ended M car would operate the shuttle service. At the end of the day, the M car was recoupled to the D car, the train travelled to Ashburton where it was recoupled to the other two-car set, and the resulting four-car set then operated back to Flinders Street on Monday morning.


In 1968, as a result of growing patronage, the Victorian Railways introduced eight-carriage Tait trains on some lines (eight-carriage Harris trains had already been introduced the year before). Initially these comprised three motor cars and five trailer cars on the flat Frankston line, but in 1970 eight-car trains on the hillier Lilydale, Belgrave, and Glen Waverley trains were made up of two M-T-T-M 'blocks', and this became the standard on all lines with eight-carriage trains in 1973.

Swing-door trains

Harris trains

Silver trains

When originally added to the fleet, Melbourne's first stainless steel sets were officially dubbed 'Silver' trains. They were later commonly known as "Hitachi" trains due to having control equipment supplied by the Hitachi company, although they were built in Melbourne by Martin and King, and at the Victorian Railways' Newport Workshops. They were therefore also known as Martin and King trains for a while.

355 carriages were built, enough for 60 six-carriage trains, plus one extra to replace a carriage destroyed in an accident. Originally they were built to operate as two-carriage consists (M-D), four-carriage consists (M-T-T-M), or, by attaching one of each together, as six-carriage consists.

However, at that time the trains were never reversed end-for-end in normal operation, but with the pending construction of the underground loop this was to change, so the order was changed to increase the number of motor carriages so that they could be marshalled in the now-standard symmetrical M-T-M M-T-M sets. The driving trailer carriages were converted to standard trailer carriages either by removal of the driving cabins or simply removal of the driving equipment and blocking off the driving cabin.

With the introduction of private operation of the suburban system in 1999, the new operators were required to purchase new trains to replace the Silver trains. Most were withdrawn and sold or scrapped, but with the approach of the Commonwealth Games being planned for Melbourne in 2006 a few were retained to provide sufficient services for this large event. By the time the Games came and went, patronage was climbing and it was decided to retain the last six trains to provide an increase in the size of the total fleet. Also, one six-carriage set which had been given to the museum group Elecrail was returned to normal operation, increasing the fleet size to seven, and three extra carriages that had been sold to a private owner were bought back for spare parts.

The Silver trains were the last trains in Melbourne's fleet lacking air-conditioning for passengers, on-board surveillance, and passenger information systems. In their final years, their operation was restricted by agreement with the train drivers' union to weekday peak periods.

Double-deck train

Recent and planned developments

With considerable growth in traffic on the network, the state government has been improving and is still planning a number of improvements to the system.

The fleet of Xtrapolis trains (see above) has being enlarged by the purchase of 38 new trains. More new trains are planned for the future to replace the oldest trains in the fleet.

The Epping line was extended about 2 km1.243 miles
99.419 chains
to a terminus named South Morang. The extension was along the reservation of the former line to Whittlesea, and fulfills part a long-standing plan to extend the line along the former route. Previous plans were to extend it to the original South Morang station or Mernda. This plan may be resurrected in the future.

The Sydenham line was extended to Sunbury. In this case the extension was of suburban electric services along an existing diesel-operated line, and required electrification, resignalling, and new facilities at the terminus to stable suburban trains.

A new underground line is being planned from Footscray in Melbourne's inner west, running east to the Melbourne University, then south through the CBD following the alignment of Swanston Street and continuing down under St. Kilda Road to Domain, at which a number of tram routes currently converge. Longer-term plans are for this tunnel to continue east and resurface at South Yarra, the junction of the Caulfield lines with the Sandringham line.

See also



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