Recently, there were two sets of disruptions on the Belgrave line with buses replacing trains for multiple weeks. First there were buses replacing trains between Belgrave and Ringwood during most of November. Then there were buses replacing trains between Ringwood and Box Hill stations during most of January.

I tried to avoid the need to travel to work as much as possible, and I had two weeks off during the middle of January.

Buses UFTG to Ringwood

Boarding the buses was quite pleasant experience at Upper Ferntree Gully in the morning, considering there were few people waiting. Sometimes I had to wait almost 10 minutes for the next bus, which in turn meant the bus was more likely to be stuck in traffic jams due to later time.

I found the trip was very inconsistent, especially with the express bus services. Some buses would go via Canterbury Road and some via Boronia Road. Some of the buses to Belgrave would come back via the Eastlink to Boronia Road, most would not. This meant the trip time varied greatly, depending on which traffic jam the got stuck in.

The return trip was less convenient. I found that if I caught the bus replacement service to Upper Ferntree Gully and then the 7:01PM 688 bus I would arrive at home at around 7:17PM (scheduled). If I instead caught the train to Croydon, I could catch the 6:38PM bus with time to spare and arrive home at 7:18PM (scheduled). So it made sense to go via Croydon instead of UFTG.

In practise the 688 from Croydon was often running late. Sometimes due to waiting for late trains. Sometimes because some of the drivers would made an unscheduled detour and stop at Sky High. I have no idea if this is because the driver was confused with the timetable or if it was deliberate.

Buses Ringwood to Box Hill

This was very inconsistent experience. Sometimes the queues were long, sometimes short. Some buses went via Maroondah Highway, some went via the Eastern Freeway and Eastlink tunnels (much faster). One went via the Eastern Freeway and turned off before Eastlink on Springvale Road (very slow).

I found during the first phase, when all trains were stopping all stations, some trains went direct from Flinders Street to Richmond (probably the Blackburn services), and some went around the loop (probably the other trains). It was faster to catch the direct services, plus these were a lot less crowded. Even after some express services resumed, the direct services where scheduled to take the same time as the express services, and in practice were often faster.

Towards the last week staff were obviously under more and more pressure to fill the buses to maximum capacity - standing room included - as fast as possible. I objected to standing on a bus for 30+ minutes, especially since I knew that the following train would be standing room only. I preferred to wait for the next bus. However staff would say things like "there are seats still at the back" even though there was no possibility of me reaching the seats in time. Sometimes I would get off the bus again when I could see that there were no seats. Some people didn't mind standing to get a faster trip, it would have been better if they filled the standing room with people who wanted to stand, not by tricking people who wanted a seat.

Conclusion

The buses replacing trains was mostly OK, although rather inconvenient. In the morning I left at 7:05am, and arrived at work at around 9:10am - normally would be 7:20am to 8:45am - so around 40 minutes longer. In the evening I was leaving at 5pm and arriving home at 7:18pm - normally I can leave work at 5:10pm and get home at 6:35pm, so around 53 minutes longer trip. Some of the time in the return trip was waiting for the 688 bus up the mountain, and there is a gap between 6:18pm and 7:01pm with no services which didn't help.