Extreme Commuting Victoria: From Southern Cross To Seymour

Back in January I carried out an extreme commuting experiment where I travelled to the furthest reaches of the Sydney commuter train network to see how feasible/exhausting/attractive those journeys were. This week I'm armed with a Myki card and repeating the experiment in Victoria -- but with a few new twists.

The basic motivation for this trip is the same as last time: to see how far out of the city you can actually get, how well the services run, how good the mobile broadband coverage is, and how feasible it might be to do this on a daily basis. (You can read my detailed discussion of the extreme commuting phenomenon which kicked off the first series for more details.)

In Melbourne, the extremes of the "commuter belt" are easily defined: if you can't use a Myki card for the journey, it doesn't count. As in Sydney, there are country passenger lines which run to the edges of the state beyond those limits, but you need a specific booked ticket for those V/Line services-- you can't just turn up and use them. That means there are five destinations on my list: Marshall to the west, Wendouree to the north-west, Eaglehawk to the north, Seymour to the north-east, and Traralgon to the south-east. The relevant lines are in purple on the map below:

Unlike Sydney, where I was sometimes forced to change trains in the middle of the night in order to access a once-a-day service and hence did all my testing on weekends, most of these destinations have relatively regular services. A few factors influence that. The relative flatness of the land around Melbourne makes building lines easier than in Sydney. The state itself is much smaller, and the Regional Fast Rail project has improved service on many of the lines.

Because of that, I can easily do these journeys on a working day, and so that's the challenge I've set myself: to actually complete my regular Lifehacker work while also testing out each of these lines. I'm armed with a Telstra 4G dongle (though I don't expect 4G coverage much of the way), and backup batteries and machines so I can keep working throughout. There are plans to introduce free Wi-Fi on some of these services later in the year -- testing connectivity will be a good demonstration of how badly that is needed.

As with my Sydney experiment, my commuting patterns will be a little perverse: I'll be heading out of the city and then back in, which is the reverse of what most commuters do. My first destination is Seymour, some 90 kilometres to the north-east of Melbourne. (The line continues onward from there to Albury on the NSW border, though that segment of rail has a very poor reputation -- I've suffered from train cancellations myself on it.)

The journey

Melbourne's Southern Cross station is divided into metropolitan and country platforms, but the early-morning 0701 Seymour service actually departs from one of the metropolitan platforms. It's only a two-car train, though we later learn that normally there would be three -- a mechanical issue has caused problems. That also leads to the train departing a little late.

It might only have two carriages, but the presence of multiple toilets and a drinking fountain makes this a reasonable choice for commuters. The seats are relatively wide and comfortable, and there's plenty of room for luggage. On the way out, the train is busy, but far from full.

I have a 40-minute turnaround after arriving in Seymour at 0833, which is enough time to grab a coffee. Seymour station itself is an attractive heritage location (unlike the many smaller stations en route), though the tunnel leading into the main street is so low I'm in danger of banging my head.

The return journey is much more crowded -- in large part because school holidays mean lots of passengers travelling in to the city. So now I feel like a real commuter.

My main problem with the journey in that area is coverage. Between Broadford and Wandong (a 15-minute stretch), there's no signal at all, and there are a few drop-outs elsewhere on the line. As a regular traveller, I suppose you would plan to be doing offline work at that point. Nonetheless, it's a reminder that coverage maps don't always tell the full story, and that coverage can drop off rapidly near big cities.

My favourite moment in the journey is when the conductor announces "We will not be stopping at Kilmore East due to the fact there is no platform." I suspect a natural disaster, but it turns out that the platform is being rebuilt 40 centimetres away from its current location to prevent train mirrors snagging each other when two trains pass at the station.

Could you do this commute daily?

Quite easily, I'd suggest. On a weekday, there are more than a dozen trains between Seymour and Melbourne in each direction. As long as you don't miss the last train at 2120, you'll be fine.

The big difference to a similar Sydney journey (and a theme I'll be returning to throughout the week) is cost. The quoted cost for a return journey between Melbourne and Seymour for a regular commuter is $29.60, though that assumes you'll arrive in Melbourne in morning peak hour and depart in afternoon peak hour. Because I'm doing the reverse and score off-peak rates, the trip is a bit less than half-price. Even so, that's more than double the cost I'd pay for the same journey in Sydney with a bit of planning. In this case, frequency comes at a cost.

Next stop on the extreme commuting journey? Eaglehawk, just past Bendigo. See you tomorrow!


    I've been doing the Geelong to Melbourne commute for around 7 years now.

    The Marshall station you mention is only 10minutes further up the line from the Geelong station.

    You definitely get into a habit and have plenty of time to read books/watch shows.

    Over the years though Vline has slowly been adding 2 minutes here, 3 minutes there to the timetable. And now what used to be a 45minute trip is closer to an hour. And with the changes of where you can get off the vline from Geelong, it's added another 20minutes of travel to the office once I reach Melbourne.

      I've found that in general for all transport operators.

      To meet their punctuality requirements, instead of becoming more efficient, they just relax the timetabling to give themselves more time. Moving the goalposts further apart is a pretty lazy way to increase "performance".

      To be fair, it's not *entirely* their fault. Patronage on rail has increased nearly an order of magnitude, with almost zero effort put into increasing the capacity of the corridors, both in laying rail and in signalling systems.

    Word is, the Traralgon line will be getting WiFi, so your 4G test won't be necessary, plus most of the V/Line services (and most buses) accept Myki, so there's no real limit to the places you can go.

      There are plans to introduce free Wi-Fi on some of these services later in the year — testing connectivity will be a good demonstration of how badly that is needed.

    Wow, $29.60 per day would really eat into the savings you might make in rent by living in a country location and commuting in.

    I've been commuting from Ballarat for the past couple of months, and found it better than expected. After spend over a decade in the inner city and a short tram trip away from the city and work, I've had to adjust a bit, but overall the experience has been positive. I wouldn't want to be getting on the train at Bacchus Marsh, though - the seats are usually all taken after Ballan.

    3G reception is very patchy, though. The word is that this is largely due to shielding (presumably UV shielding on the windows) on the V-locity carriages. Born out by the time the train broke down at Bacchus Marsh and we had to get out. Reception inside was poor, but on the platform I had max bars on my Nexus 4.

      Hi There! I understand this is a very old post but I've recently found myself needing to commute from bendigo to Melbourne daily for work. I'm wondering what is the cheapest way of doing this! I've looked into a myki pass however it states that the days must be used consecutively, however I do get mid week days off at times. So wondering how you did it and if there's any tips or tricks?!! Thank you!!!

    Being a Seymour resident and doing this commute to MLB every working day is very tiring. The writer was lucky to get one of the modern Velocity trains and not the old SPRINTER class rattlers. The Sprinters leak every time it rains, seem to have no suspension or sound proofing at all and are always late. All for the princely sum of $303 per month. Cancellations often occur and we are pushed into road coaches, so, late again. Seats are uncomfortable, trains are often dirty with rubbish and smear marks all over the glass. Many have the smell of mould due to the leaks. Not Fast, Not comfortable, not cheap, not happy.

    29.90? Wow.

    In Adelaide, I can get from the southernmost train station (Noarlunga) to the Northermost (Gawler Central) for $3-4. And that would never be a trip you take for a commute.

      This isn't part of the metropolitan rail network.

      This is regional railway services, which extend out into rural areas far outside of Melbourne/Sydney.

        But they're still described as commuter services and ticketed accordingly. In Victoria, the fare is called a "V/Line commuter service fare".

          Yes that is correct. Don't get me started on fare structures on Melbourne [victoria's] rail network :p

          Was merely trying to show that Red the GM's comparison wasn't an entirely fair one. If I have return travel from Pakenham to Werribee [approximately the same distance as Southern Cross to Seymour], it would be on the ~$12 daily zone1/2 fair, as it is within the metropolitan network.

      That's the interesting thing about the Adelaide Metroticket (or at least it was when I lived there 5 years ago) - the further out you came from the more economical it became. The inverse of every other network where the further you travelled the more you paid.

        Yeah, it's fixed fare anywhere, and that fare is quite low anyway.

          Yep, so for those commuting to the CBD from Davoren Park (as I was at a time) it's fantastic, but those at ... let's say Ovingham ... get the short straw.

            Ah, Davoren Park.

              It was by circumstance, not by choice. My next place was in the CBD to make up for it.

                I'm about 12 min drive from the CBD atm, it's great.

    Oh and as for the cost of travel, that's just for a return ticket. You can get cheaper if you buy weekly, monthly or date to date.

    Anyone else ever feel that Southern Cross station is built back to front?

    Why have the V line trains on the inside of the metro trains. Wouldn't it make sense if it was the other way around. So they don't have to then cross over the metro train lines. Wouldn't it all work more smoothly?

      @screamface, it always has been that way. I think because it has always been the terminus for country trains and Flinders street the hub for suburban trains.
      I remember the old Spencer Street station (before it was Southern Cross) when dockland was, well dock lands and running down the dark long tunnel under the platforms to get to the suburban trains, past the heated waiting rooms full of little old ladies with arms full of shopping. That was extreme commuting .

        Yeah I remember the big underground walkway. I wish it was still there, instead of just being used for maintenance and vending machine restocking.

        It's so annoying when you want to change platforms if you get off the train somewhere which isn't at either end of the platform. Then they punish you by making you walk past the now closed of entrance ramp.

        Doing some looking around, apparently the design for Southern Cross station got criticized for not flipping the metro lines and the vline ones. It was considered a flaw which could have been addressed, however they left it the way it was.

        Also it was interesting look at some of those proposed but will never happen plans for flinders street. As well as what it was meant to look like, with a giant roof.

      I think having it how it is minimises the number of metro tracks the V/Line trains have to cross when arriving at the station.

      Plus the city loop and Flinders are the main stops from metro services, not Southern Cross.

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