Future triffid in the garden?

I got my hot water heater replaced with a solar boosted unit 7 years ago when the old one died.

The tank includes an overflow pipe, out of which small amounts of water sometimes drop.

Because it’s only a small amount of water, I made no special arrangements for it. It drops straight onto part of the side footpath and (theoretically at least) drains away.

After a little while, I noticed some moss had started to grow on that section of footpath.

Triffid in the garden?

Fast-forward to 2015, and the moss has grown and been joined by who knows what from who knows where… it’s now a proper little garden — probably of horrible weeds, but still.

I could cut it all back, but I’m intrigued to see how much it grows from here.

If my blog goes silent, you’ll know it really was a triffid.

Can an industry insider be a “Community Representative”? #PTV

Public Transport Victoria (PTV) has some new board members from July 1st, announced by the minister last week, and among them is a new appointment to the role of Community Representative.

Bus to mansion and zoo

What is the Community Representative’s role? Unfortunately the legislation is pretty vague about this, simply saying:

the Minister must appoint a person who is a community representative to be one of the directors of the Public Transport Development Authority.

It doesn’t seem to say anything about the role other than calling it “community representative”.

The new Community Representative is Mr Tom Sargant. From his LinkedIn page, we can see that his career has included:

  • Director Technical Services at PTV from April 2012 to July 2013 (recent enough that he’s still in the Victorian Government Directory)
  • Deputy Director of Public Transport – Engineering and Asset Management at the Victorian Department of Transport, March 2004 to April 2012; and
  • Head Of Infrastructure at National Express (which ran M>Train and M>Tram) from April 2000 to March 2003

I have a feeling I’ve met Mr Sargant in the distant past when he was at the Department of Transport, and I don’t recall him being anything other than helpful and competent. I’ve got nothing against him as a PTV board member in general…

But to me it doesn’t quite seem in the spirit of things to appoint someone with well over a decade’s experience running the public transport system to a position of Community Representative, which I’d have thought is meant to provide an outside, independent perspective.

Otherwise, in what sense is the person a community representative?

Can someone who is an insider really fulfil that role?

What do you think?

Next gen trains are coming – what can we expect?

We’re starting to learn a lot more about the proposed next generation of trains for Melbourne’s suburban rail network — known in the biz by the acronym “HCMTs” — High Capacity Metro Trains.

The rolling stock strategy released in May had some detail — and more has been revealed by an Expression Of Interest document put out last week — I’ve managed to get a copy.

So here’s what we know about what the government wants:

It’s 37 trains costing $1.3 billion TEI (that’s Total Estimated Investment) including supporting infrastructure — primarily a new depot (stabling plus a Train Maintenance Facility, or acronym TMF) at Pakenham East to store and service them.

That’s enough trains to run the entire Cranbourne/Pakenham (aka Dandenong) line — via the Loop, eg the configuration until the Melbourne Metro Rail Tunnel (which by the way seems to be going by the acronym MMRT) comes into service.

Interior of Hong Kong MTR SP1900 train
Interior of Hong Kong MTR 1900/1950 train. Source: Wikipedia. I’d expect our new trains to have more seats than this.

The trains/depot project accompanies the level crossing removals between Caulfield and Dandenong, so they can run very frequent trains without impacting road users, as well as other works such as signalling, platform extensions and power upgrades.

Of course the Siemens and Comeng trains currently running on the Dandenong line will move to other lines. And they’ve also recently funded 6 new X’Trapolis trains, as well as a $75 million “life extension” upgrade for Comeng trains on other lines.

HCMTs will cater for an average load of up to 1100 people. It sounds like this would become the new “load standard” (currently 798) for this part of the fleet.

The actual “gross” capacity would be 1380 — that’s with 40% (345 552) seated, plus 4 passengers standing per square metre), but with potential “extended” (more carriages) and “crush” (fewer seats) configurations — see below.

They want the contract signed by end of 2016, prototype mock-up trains by early 2017, and the first train on the rails from late 2018 — presumably just in time for the 2018 election.

Money starts flowing from the state to the PPP operator once the fifth train is delivered.

They’re assuming 15 trains delivered per year, with all trains delivered by 2022, and the contract would include 30 years of maintenance from that date.

At least 50% local content (design and manufacture), which obviously supports jobs. And obviously there will be ongoing maintenance jobs where the new depot will be at Pakenham East.

Project delivered as an “availability-based” PPP, which includes the HCMTs and the TMF and ongoing maintenance.

Comeng trains at Bentleigh
Comeng trains. These will have upgrades to keep them going, but the oldest will start to be retired next decade.

Anticipated expansion of the order at a later stage. Over time it would be the intitial 37 HCMTs for the Dandenong line, another 25 for the Sunbury line when the two are linked/through-routed by the Melbourne Metro Rail Tunnel. On top of that, another 38 (making a total of 100) to allow retirement of the oldest Comeng trains mid next decade, while still boosting overall fleet carrying capacity.

Of the initial fleet of 37, they want 35 available to run the Dandenong line peak service, and 24 available at off-peak times (including weekends). Potential for 24 hour service, though initially planned for 19 hours/7 day service, 150,000 km per annum.

Based on current round-trip times, I make that roughly a train every 4 minutes in peak, every 6 minutes off-peak.

In terms of reliability, they want 50,000 kilometres between failures (going by the lovely acronym MDBSAF — Mean Distance Between Service Affecting Failure) of three minutes, and asset availability over 95%, with a performance regime for that, with incentives and penalties.

Realtime automated status/fault monitoring.

Minimum 35-year HCMT design life, and minimum 50-year TMF design life. They also want a train simulator to help train drivers.

The depot Train Maintenance Facility needs to have capacity for 40 trains initially, with provision to expand to 80 extended trains.

The depot stabling needs capacity for 18 trains initially, provision for up to 30 extended trains. The PPP will construct the stabling, but not manage it (unlike the TMF). There’s state lane east of Ryan Road, between the railway line and the Princes Freeway, which is where it will be.

Extending trains

The trains will initially be 7 cars, “semi-permanently” coupled together, with a maximum length of 160 metres.

They want provision to be able to extend them to 9 or 10 cars (230ish metres), to cater for 1570 people. Obviously this will require platform extensions. The Melbourne Metro Rail Tunnel will be built with long platforms, and recently rebuilt stations such as Springvale, Footscray and West Footscray all have provision for them. No doubt designs for the stations to rebuilt with grade separation will also include provision.

But they also want an option of a reduced length train, which can later be expanded to the 7 or 9-10 car configuration. Not really clear on why this is.

Unlike the current fleet (which is designed to quickly configure trains as 3 or 6 cars), these will have no intermediate cabs. Walk through access all the way along, as seen on trains in places such as Hong Kong.

And yes, they definitely want them single deck, not double deck. (Check this ABC Fact Check from last year for some good material on the debate around capacity.)

Acceleration of at least 1.1 metres per second squared up to 35 km/h (but not greater than 1.3). Similar braking speeds. Maximum speed 130 km/h. One of the benefits of running a single type of train on the Dandenong line is to maximise throughput/capacity.

They want at least the same performance in the Shortened or Extended configuration.

While initially planned to be deployed on the Dandenong line, they need to be compatible with the entire rail network, and they will run in mixed traffic with other types of trains.

Walk-through Siemens train
Siemens trains have a walk-through design, but fewer doors and more seats than the new fleet will have. Not to mention far too few handholds and grab rails.

Train design

End couplings compatible with other trains and locomotives (possibly with an adaptor) for recovery purposes, but otherwise not visible.

Seating that is reconfigurable relatively quickly, such that they can change it later at the rate of one train per week, with the train able to carry crush loads if the seating was reduced from 40% to 30% of passenger numbers.

Consistent door spacing to allow for future platform screen doors.

They haven’t directly specified the number of doors, but have said the number, location and size need to support dwell times of 40 seconds based on up to passenger alight/board of up to 1100 people at a busy station.

They also want automated systems to estimate passenger numbers… which I’m speculating might allow for later platform information advising passengers which carriages of the approaching trains have more space in them.

6 dedicated spots for wheelchairs behind the cab. Priority seats clearly identified close to doors.

Provision for bicycles in non-cab cars.

Handholds/grab rails — at least one available for each standing passenger.

External destination displays on the ends of the trains, and every second car along the side. Internal displays in each carriage.

Internal CCTV, of course, kept for at least 14 days. Intercom and alert systems.

Safeguards to ensure the train doesn’t move unless doors are closed and locked.

Train able to handle power between 1300-1800 volts, and degraded performance down to 1000 volts and up to 1950 volts. Ever get the feeling that the power supplies are becoming a big issue on our aging rail network?

Air-conditioning rated for conditions of up to 46 degrees. Provision for future WiFi.

It’s going to be interesting to see how this develops. Sounds like we’ll be seeing quite a modern design of train, in line with the practice of busy Big City metro systems worldwide… just the thing we’re increasingly going to need on our busy rail system.

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Oz Comic-Con 2015 – and marriage equality

Science fiction and fantasy conventions used to be a homespun affair, run by the local clubs, featuring broadcasts of rare episodes and out-takes (before it all got released on DVD) and fan films. If there were guest artists, often they would appear only if they happened to be in the country at the time, and fees for photos and autographs were unheard of.

These days it’s big business. Not that it’s a bad thing. I like that geek culture is no longer a hidden-away, niche enterprise, and those who are interested in it have big events like Oz Comic-Con and Armageddon, and SupaNova, and others to go to every year.

And yet for all the big budget exhibition halls and merchandise stalls and paid guest appearances, it’s still the fans and their costumes that make it what it is.

OzComicon 2015: Batman

On the train into OzComiCon on Sunday morning, we were keeping a lookout for others attending — of course it’s sometimes a guess as to whether someone’s in costume, or just dresses eccentrically. I’d had a plan for a costume but wasn’t organised enough to get it all prepared, so went in civvies, but it was just as well as at lunchtime I had to duck out to talk to Channel 9 about the airport rail link.

This year it was at MCEC (along with SpecTex15 — a trade show about specialist textiles… their attendees were a little less outlandishly dressed).

Given the number of Doctor Who fans out and about, it was a shame that there were no related guests or sessions, but I went to an interesting Star Trek: Deep Space 9 session with Terry Farrell (Dax) and Rene Auberjonois (shapeshifter Odo).

Mostly it was light-hearted, but at one point they noted Friday’s marriage equality decision of the US Supreme Court, and Farrell said she was proud of the episode where she kissed another female actress — although the genders of both characters was unclear, she said that it had provided a chance to indirectly have the show stand up for people who then might have been unable to be public about their own relationships.

I’m struggling to paraphrase it well; she expressed it in a much more graceful and passionate way, and got a round of applause from the audience. In any case, it fits in well with the generally progressive vision of future society that has long been the hallmark of the Star Trek franchise — everything from the once-controversial multi-racial cast to the absence of money.

Anyway, here are some photos from OzComicon… as you can see, it was pretty busy, and people in costume were only too pleased to pose for photos.

Who you gonna call?
OzComicon 2015: Who you gonna call?

Whatever you do, don’t cross the franchises!
OzComicon 2015: Whatever you do, don't cross the franchises!

Lego TARDIS! Lego Pac-Man!
OzComicon 2015: Lego Tardis and Lego PacMan

Captain Picard from Star Trek: Next Generation snaps a photo of a Star Wars Storm trooper.
Captain Picard snaps a stormtrooper

Lots of cosplayers pose for a photo outside… you can see the picture in this News.com.au story: Costume-clad fans flock to Oz Comic-Con Melbourne 2015
OzComicon 2015: Gathering for a photo
(View this photo at full size)

More media coverage:

Speaking of marriage equality, I’m somewhat surprised to see this that this tweet netted over 300 retweets and a similar number of favourites in 24 hours, and got quoted on Buzzfeed. Cool!

V/Line: a ride on RRL, and 24-hour time… mostly

I finally took a ride on the Regional Rail Link last night. In summary:

Trains from the city to Geelong depart regularly, but from numerous platforms — when I was there in peak, it was 5A, then 7A, 15A, 1, 3A… and when I’d been there at lunchtime, 2B had also been in the mix. It wouldn’t hurt to have some consistency. As it is, if you just miss a train, you’re likely to have to backtrack a long way to figure out where to catch the next one.

V/Line departures: Southern Cross, peak hour

I caught the Southern Cross to Tarneit on the 17:44 to Geelong/Waurn Ponds — peak hour, quite crowded, every seat on the 5-car train occupied I think. A few people standing (probably by choice).

Tarneit station quite busy, perhaps 100 or more people alighted there. Not bad for the fourth weekday of operation. The area around the station is somewhat dominated by the car park (hopefully new development on the northern side will reduce this. Good to see the platforms have multiple exits.

Tarneit station, evening peak

Tarneit station park and ride

Hopped on another train to Wyndham Vale a few minutes later — not nearly as crowded.

Then a train back into the City — counter-peak, mostly empty. It was late, and the departure disappeared off the platform screens for a few minutes, a bit odd.

Notably, a lady hopped off the inbound train at Sunshine and changed onto the Sunbury line outbound, so while no doubt Geelong to Werribee people have been inconvenienced having to now make a bus connection, the opening of RRL has also made other trips easier.

Despite it being after 6pm and dark, I saw no sign whatsoever of PSOs at either of the new stations. They are not currently on the list of stations served by them, which seems odd.

It was too dark to see any scenery on this little jaunt, or even to fully appreciate the speed. There was a brief good view of the bright lights of the distant city between Deer Park and Tarneit. I’ll have to go back in daylight.

Riding V/Line in the dark

Footscray station platform 3 doesn’t have departure screens. This is cunning, given this is for citybound trains that you’re not meant to board there. (Sunshine does have them as that platform is used in both directions, but I’m told it doesn’t display citybound departures.)

It’s about time

It’s great to see a brand new rail line so popular already.

But something else I noticed…

24-hour time isn’t common in Australia, but V/Line uses it. It’s on their web site, on the screens at Southern Cross, and on their timetables… in fact the paper timetable has a panel explaining 24-hour time.

V/Line explains 24-hour time

Oddly, it’s not on their Passenger Information Displays at their stations. They all seem to be 12-hour time, even on the new platforms which exclusively serve V/Line trains.

Wyndham Vale station, evening counter-peak

Is it important? Not greatly in the grand scheme of things. But some consistency would be good across the greater public transport network of course. I’m undecided which is better… 12-hour time is more well and understood, but 24 avoids AM/PM ambiguity, and most people would know it from the world of air travel. It’s also used internally by operators.

It’s not the first time we’ve had inconsistency on this in public transport. The Metcard system used 12-hour times on the cards and readers, but from memory used 24-hour time when the readers showed expiry times.