Sunday, July 25, 2010

Mix of Trains and Coaches for Riga Suburban Transport

Yesterday morning I took an early suburban train (7:45 a.m.) from Riga to Jelgava and found that train load was very light – just about 5% of seats was filled in my car. Actually this is not a surprise for of-peak (weekend) train. The operator use a strategy to keep train headways of around 40 minutes with makes the service quite attractive for the costumers. But how to keep the operation costs down and keep the short service intervals at the same time? Easy – use lower capacity coaches on the instead of the heavy trains.

Mix of trains and coaches on the same line gives good cash and time savings and go well together because:
1. Busses are used for off-peak traffic when passenger numbers are lower and spacious trains are used only when crowd of pax is expected. There will be no need for peak passengers to cross-subsideze off-peak passengers and ticket prices would go down for everyone.
2. Suburbs (at least around Riga) are situated along transit corridors where both – railways and highways are present.
3. Off-peak on rail means also off-peak on roads so coach travel times would be acceptable for passengers. The travel distances are not typically extensively long (<50 km) so the difference in real travel times because of operation speed can’t be big.
4. In most cases all passengers from one off-peak train can’t be fit in 50-seat coach so number of runs could actually be increased and headways cut so making the average waiting time shorter and give a time saving (and make the service more attractive).

A problem for introduction of mixed train-coach service is lack of coach piers in Riga central station and even worse - problems of approaching some intermediate train stops. This means that some stops will be located physically separate from train stops (near a highway) or even passed. It gives serious limitations for dynamic change of vehicles because passengers can not quickly move from railway to highway in many cases (e.g. rail to highway distance in Salaspils is 1.3 km) but - if the schedule is stable and known for everyone – it should not be big headache for passengers.


  1. A single car of the passenger train (~100 seats) could operate in off-peak hours (~50 passengers load). I doubt whether confusion of passengers and purchase of additional buses would pay off if they want to remain in the sector of RAIL transport.

    On the other hand, merging of rail and bus stations is a great idea - if the intercity bus and rail stations had integrated departure timetables and would stand next to each other - e.g. by moving the existing bus station to the Stacijas laukums square (bus stops does not cover that much space, and ticket-counters could be unified). In this unified rail-bus stations in off-peak hours trains could be easily withdrawn, but passengers would suffer as they would easily find buses on the same timetable screens, the same ticket-counters, and the same place.

    If in some towns where bus station and railway station could not be merged - at least information could be merged. E.g. private information providers (such as 1188 hotline) still treat rail, bus and city bus transport separately and often miss many local service providers.

  2. I don't have a data for Latvia but for London - Edinburgh line infrastructure (excluding station costs) make 49% of all passenger train costs while energy accounts only for 3% of costs. Infrastructure costs don't depend on number of cars but just on slots used so putting less cars in a train gives almost no cost savings (not to mention expanses and time lost in re-arranging the train sets).
    Passengers don't care about the mode of transport, they care about time (travel, waiting and access) and price. As shown in the cartoon, uniform information&ticketing system would help to overcome the possible confusion. Actually coach services by train operators and airlines is nothing new yet usually it is used as separate low intensity lines not addition to the main transport mode on existing lines. Speaking honestly - the biggest barrier for such a hybrid systems is current legislation that strictly divides train and coach operation and funding.