Short Sydney trip day 3: Geeks galore

Posted 27/11/2015. Back-dated.

The third and final day of my obsessively-blogged short trip to Sydney, and it was destined to be pretty geeky. After breakfast and checking out, we caught a train to Penshurst (changing at Wolli Creek, which I assume is a pretty new interchange station), then a walk in the sun to The Gamesmen, a shop we’d run out of time to visit on Saturday. It had a pretty neat mini-museum/shop of retro games, though as Isaac remarked afterwards, the things he was most interested in buying weren’t for sale.

Display in The Gamesmen, Penshurst, NSW

From there we caught a train back into the CBD, hopped off at Town Hall and wandered around the central shopping area, cutting through the very impressive QV building and heading up George Street, which was partially closed due to light rail construction.

We looked inside the Apple Store in George Street. Melbourne CBD doesn’t yet have one of these, and it’s a different beast to the suburban Apple stores. Apple obviously has made an attempt to make this something of a geek landmark, all gleaming metal and glass.

And like Apple’s interfaces, there’s a minimalist design inside, which doesn’t tell you what’s up on the next level — you’ll just have to click, I mean climb and go and find out. The stairs were weirdly silver metal, like walking around inside a giant Apple computer.

Apple Store, SydneyMicrosoft Store, Sydney

Broken down laptop in the Microsoft Store, Sydney

In nearby Pitt Street, we found the Microsoft Store, also unknown in Melbourne. It’s like they tried to copy the Apple Store, but ended up with something not quite as fashionable. Both stores had helpers in red t-shirts. Hopefully that’s not redshirts in a Star Trek sense. And typical Microsoft, one of the laptops on display had stopped and was in Repair mode.

We found some lunch in one of the shopping centres, then took a look in the very grand Museum of Contemporary Art at Circular Quay. It was okay, but I think not as interesting as the Art Gallery of NSW which I visited last year.

The weather was glorious as we wandered around the Quay, stopping to buy ice-creams at some place called Royal Copenhagen, though Princess Mary didn’t seem to be in attendance.

The previous night we’d noticed one huge cruise ship in port. Today a completely different cruise ship was docked — a P & O liner — it turned out the next day P & O had no less than five cruise ships in the harbour.

Selfies by Sydney Harbour
Selfies by Sydney Harbour

Boats on Sydney Harbour
Only a matter of time before there’s Water Uber?

We had a look around the Opera House, joining many other tourists snapping away on our cameras, before climbing the nearby Moore Steps and finding a park to have a little rest on the grass.

By this time it was getting late in the afternoon, so we went back to the hotel and picked up our luggage, then headed for Museum Station and a train to the airport. Being peak hour, the train was pretty busy, and notably there must have been 100+ people getting off at the Domestic Airport station — pretty good for a service running every 6-9 minutes as they do in peak.

Domestic Airport station, Sydney

Qantas plane

View out of the plane from Sydney
An uneventful flight back — a dish of chicken gumbo for dinner — we landed back in Melbourne on time. I was furiously chewing gum again, and managed to bite my own tongue as we landed. Ouch.

We walked back to the car park, encountering the taxi queue along the way. The lead taxi was parked right across the pedestrian crossing, blocking the ramp — making life difficult with wheeled luggage. I angrily tapped on his boot as we walked around, and he moved a paltry few inches up, not really helping at all. Honestly, I know taxi drivers aren’t perfect, but I really expect better from people who drive for a living. This guy might as well have been trying to get people offside deliberately — the last thing the taxi industry needs right now.

Anyway, it was a quick trip home from there.

Total steps that day, according to my phone: 20,215.

We had a great time in Sydney. Yes, it cost a fair wad of cash to go up for only 3 days, and to attend the Doctor Who Festival, but the weather was perfect (we arrived the day after the 41+ degree heatwave), and the whole trip was very enjoyable.

Sydney Sunday: Doctor Who galore

Sunday! And so we get to the main excuse reason for the trip to Sydney on this specific weekend: the Doctor Who Festival.

I’ve been to Comic-Con in Melbourne twice, but this was a different beast: 98% dedicated to Doctor Who, with little bit of Sherlock (which has many of the same producers/writers/crew members/fans!) getting a look-in too. But its official status meant this event got big guns in the guest department: star Peter Capaldi, former Doctor Sylvester McCoy, semi-regular cast member Ingrid Oliver (as Osgood), showrunner Steven Moffat, writer Mark Gattis, special effects supervisor Danny Hargreaves. These things don’t get to Australia very often — that’s why I was willing to build an interstate trip around it.

Doctor Who Festival Sydney: miniature Dalek props in a Dalek city

But first: Doctor Who is currently airing on Saturday nights in the UK, and in Australia the ABC puts it on iView as soon as the UK broadcast is finished: in this case, 8am Sunday.

So we got up at about 7:30am, showered and dressed and went downstairs to enjoy the slightly bland but plentiful breakfast buffet, then with our unlimited hotel WiFi organised ($9.95 per 24 hours), we fired up iView on the iPad, plugged it into the TV and watched the episode. Which I won’t talk about in case anybody hasn’t seen it.

Then we headed for the bus stop outside Museum Station, where Google Transit told me we needed a 373, 377, 392, 394, 396, 397, 399 or M10 bus. This was a common theme for the inner-city trunk bus routes: as each bus approached, I’d look back at the phone and see if the number matched one on the list.

The bus took us to Moore Park and the Hordern Pavillion, where after a lengthy walk trying to find a way in (like the restaurant the night before, sadly clearly designed to prioritise arrivals by car), and a mild panic trying to find the right ticket barcodes (thank goodness everything was available in my email, and thank goodness for mobile internet), we entered the Festival.

Inside the Doctor Who Festival

Doctor Who Festival Sydney: I feel like I've forgotten something

The main hall was a mix of displays and small theatre areas: a very impressive fullsize Lego TARDIS, sessions on writing, production, Cosplay, a big display of costumes and props, some merchandising, a special effects display, “pub” quiz, and areas for autograph signing and photos with cast members.

People were snapping away at anything that moved, and many things that didn’t. Two uber-fans behind us in the queue for the costumes and props seemed amazed that few people were taking photos of Matt Smith’s actual coat.

A Festival crew member showed us the stick from the recent Dalek episode — actually made of rubber, making it safe despite the pointy end, and had the advantage of not being caught up in quarantine as an actual stick would.

Doctor Who Festival Sydney: Adam Spencer with Sylvester McCoy

Doctor Who Festival Sydney: Adam Spencer with Peter Capaldi, Ingrid Oliver and Steven Moffat

After a circuit, we went into the Sylvester McCoy session — which was very entertaining, as he strolled around the theatre taking questions.

We had pretty good seats despite not having paid the premium for the front section, so we stayed put in the theatre for a short time until the Capaldi/Moffat/Oliver session started. Before it was a trailer for the new Sherlock episode, which got applause from the audience.

On stage, Moffat noted that it would be a good idea not to talk about the climactic events of the latest episode, given many wouldn’t have seen it yet. Oliver said the first time she really appreciated the popularity of the show among fans was seeing lots of people dressed up as her character. They took some pretty good questions… though the one that got the biggest laugh was when one little kid asked Capaldi how much longer he’d be quitting.

After that we grabbed a bite to eat then went back into the hall to join a long queue for photos with Capaldi. These had been pre-booked at $60 a pop, which seems to be the going rate for a photo with a star of this calibre. Churning through one about every 30-45 seconds during a session lasting a bit under an hour must mean a fair wad of cash is collected, though a whole infrastructure of queues and staff is needed to make it all run smoothly.

It must be a bit exhausting for the star, but he seemed to be managing okay. He was chatty with everybody, greeting them by name (with help from assistants), and he seemed to have figured out a range of poses for photos that would make the punters happy.

I told him I was enjoying his stint as the Doctor, and I loved him as Malcolm Tucker too. I don’t know if he was taking it all in, but we posed for a simple handshake (other people got more “in-character” poses). So here’s me making a deal with Malcolm Tucker:

Hatching a deal with Malcolm Tucker... or maybe it's the 12th Doctor Who

After collecting the photos that we wandered around a bit more, before looking in on a special effects presentation.

Special effects whiz Danny Hargreaves blew bits off a “stunt Dalek”, and with the help of some audience members and a sonic screwdriver, had sparks flying off a Cyberman.

By then, we’d just about had our fill of Doctor Who.

Was it worth $195 each? Well, you know, YOLO. The boys were delighted. I refrained from paying the $170 additional for premium tickets (which gained you a showbag, access to a “lounge” and a fast track queue to good seats up the front of each session).

Doctor Who Festival Sydney: A Cyberman gets his comeuppance

Bus way outside Moore Park/Hordern Pavilion

Finding dinner

Eventually it was time to go; we headed back to the bus stops, and were about to cross ANZAC Parade to wait for a bus back when we saw a bus approaching on the parallel bus way. I’m not clear on why some buses do and don’t use it, but it took us back to the hotel for a bit of a rest.

Time for dinner: I thought we could catch the ferry to Manly and have fish and chips — especially as we’d hit the ridiculously low Sunday Opal $2.50 cap, so all PT would be free for the rest of the day.

The Manly ferry only runs every 30-40 minutes at that time, so I checked Google Transit for the quickest bus to Circular Quay. It showed a “5 CC” bustitution service that would take us there — but while I’m pretty sure we were standing at the suggested bus stop adjacent to Museum Station, the regular 5 CC buses didn’t stop there. After seeing a few of these zoom by (and other buses not going to Circuular Quay) we walked up one stop and quickly got a 5 CC to the Quay… only to miss the ferry by a couple of minutes.

Circular Quay

Trains at Milsons Point station

Sydney Opera House

Another ferry for Milsons Point was leaving shortly, so I identified via Google Maps that there was a fish’n’chip shop nearby to there, and we caught that instead. Dinner in the park under the northern end of the Harbour Bridge, then we walked back across it at dusk.

A further walk through the CBD, via a supermarket to get some fruit to eat and also something flat for storage of our precious printed Capaldi photos, then back to the hotel for some sleep.

Total steps that day, according to my phone: 14,938.

Short stay in Sydney: day one

(Back-dated. Posted 24/11/2015.)

Booking hotels

When I book hotels, I treat location as the highest priority. I’m aiming to make it easy to get around the city we’re going to without a car. For this trip, I was aiming for easy access to: Hordern Pavilion, Sydney CBD, and the airport. Anything else was a bonus.

We’re talking about a situation where being 500 metres further from a railway station may mean a long miserable walk in the rain. Many of the travel web sites don’t make this easy: LastMinute/Wotif/Expedia (and I group them together because they’re all actually the same company — they have the same results just shown slightly differently) make you click around a lot to see different options on a map. Am I the only one who prioritises location like this?

The other difficulty sometimes is finding a hotel that can accommodate three single beds. I suppose I could just book three single rooms, but the cost is likely to be prohibitive.

I ended up booking at the Travelodge in Wentworth Avenue — it was okay last time (way back in 2006); they had available rooms, and in-house breakfast — which would be worthwhile on the Sunday when time was going to be short.

It turned out to be a good choice. It’s not a luxury hotel by any means, but it does the job. The breakfast buffet was good and plentiful, though not terribly exciting. The WiFi worked okay (a 100 Mb limit is pretty low, but I knew we’d need to cough-up $9.95 for 24 hours of unlimited bandwidth on the Sunday — more about this later). The only niggle I have is that they clearly don’t have enough lifts working, as one was out of service for the entire stay, resulting in queues at busy times.

View of plane landing, from the Aircraft Viewing Area near Melbourne Airport

Leaving Melbourne on a jet plane

Flying up

After agonising about how to get to Melbourne Airport, the final straw was discovering the Frankston line was closed for works on the day we were flying out. (Philip left a comment on that blog post that also helped convince me: in short, it’s not a sin to drive once in a while when PT is awkward. What really counts is your daily travel, eg the work commute — which for me is always PT.)

So I pre-booked parking in the Airport long term car park. As I went through the booking process, I noticed it asked towards the end if I wanted to upgrade to the short term car park, at a rate which may or may not have been cheaper than the usual short term rate. That might be one for the bargin-hunters to investigate.

We were a bit early getting to the airport, so we went a little further to the aircraft viewing area, just north of the north-south runway. We watched a Jetstar plane landing. Kind of spectacular to see that close up.

Back to the airport and into the long term car park. The entrance locations encourage you to park up the back, but thanks to Roger’s comment tip, we looked for a spot at the end closest to the terminal, and easily found one. The shuttle buses run every 4 minutes apparently, but we walked to the terminal instead. The route is slightly circuitous, but easy to do, and you get to see the sights — like the taxi queuing area, and the new Terminal 4. Woo hoo.

Personal iPad on Qantas flight

The flight itself was uneventful, apart from a bit of roller-coasting as we took off — well, we were in the back row. They had personal iPads for entertainment, with a clip thing to attach it to the seat in front of you. Hopefully the clip doesn’t cause injuries in the event of a sudden landing.

I deliberately booked the flight up knowing we’d be served lunch, and back knowing we’d get dinner. Not that airline food is ever outstanding. For the trip up it was a spinachy cheesy pastry thing. Very tasty, but not exactly a gourmet lunch.

I had gum to chew during take-off and landing to try and reduce the effect on my ears. I’m not sure it helped very much, but at least the gum serves as a distraction for any nerves. I noticed my chewing sped up markedly during take-off.

Hello Sydney

After landing, we went down to the railway station, bought another Opal card (we had two already) and topped them all up to cover our planned travel (though it’s a bit hard to estimate how much one will use). Onto the train, which terminated at Central as the City Circle was closed for upgrade works.

This meant a 15ish minute walk to the hotel from Central instead of a 3 minute walk from Museum, but the weather was fine, and we got to see the Grand Concourse of Central Station, which was pretty nice. How come they’ve managed to have it looking so much nicer than Flinders Street’s concourse?

Sydney Central station

Sydney Museum station closed

After checking-in and dumping the bags, and a bit of a rest, we headed out again.

We had a detour as we realised some things had been missed during packing: socks, underpants and PJs for one of our number. We walked around looking for somewhere to buy said items, and ended up walking back down past Central and UTS (there’s some spectacular architecture on the way, in particular the Central Park building) to Broadway, were we found a K-Mart to buy said items — as well as a Doctor Who pop-up shop.

Central Park building, Broadway, Sydney
Central Park building, Broadway, Sydney

It was a reasonably long walk, so using Google Transit I figured out how to catch a bus back, which almost worked, though it took a slightly different route through the CBD than expected… hmmm…

We dumped our shopping back in the hotel and then walked a bit more into the CBD, finding Town Hall Station and hopping onto a train headed south.

The plan had been two-fold: visit a shop in Penshurst where they have a retro gaming “museum” display, and then get dinner at Sizzler in nearby St George (near to Carlton station) — which isn’t gourmet either, but the boys had been quite taken with the concept of All You Can Eat after our Perth trip — and they don’t have any Sizzler in Victoria anymore.

Alas, thanks to our shopping detour, time was racing on, so we saved Penshurst for another day, and went straight to dinner. The Sizzler has a multi-storey car park (I’m sure I’ve remarked before that the best restaurants don’t have car parks) and it was actually quite difficult to find the pedestrian entrance. It’s as if having eaten enormous amounts of food, the last thing they’d want is to let you walk any of it off on the way home.

And so we feasted — it’s tasty enough, but as I said, not gourmet — and remember, don’t eat the bread — it’s a trap to fill you up. Interestingly I seem to remember the Perth outlet serving pizza slices, but this was mostly variants on salad, as well as pasta. Afterwards we walked back to the station and caught the train back into town.

A further walk from Town Hall back to the hotel, then we settled down to rest after a full day, and watch O Brother Where Art Thou on SBS — one of my favourite movies.

Total steps that day, according to my phone: 15,890.

The metro tunnel will cater for single deck trains only

It’s important to have a long-term plan. PTV has one for rail which is published here:

PTV Network Development Plan – Metropolitan Rail

— I’ve blogged about this plan when it was released.

Upgrades such as the Melbourne Metro Rail Tunnel and the new fleet of trains tie into this plan, and complement each other: the tunnel and its stations will be designed for the longer trains that the new fleet will deliver.

Here’s one snippet of information I had been asked about, and was wondering about, but was able to confirm with the project team recently: The metro rail tunnel will NOT be built to cater for double deck trains.

Obviously long tunnels are expensive. A decision has to be made about their size, and the smaller the better. In this case, they are not willing to invest the extra cost for provision for possible future double deck trains.

Sydney train approaches station

We’ve tried double deck trains before

The City Loop does cater for them. In the 70s when it was built, there were no definite plans for double deck trains (Hitachi trains were coming into service at the time), but they were considering it for the future.

A trial of a double deck train (the Federally funded “4D” — Double Deck Development and Demonstration Train) was done in the 1990s. Here it is in operation at Parliament:

It was modelled and based on Sydney’s double deck trains, but seemed to have continual reliability problems. It mainly ran on the Belgrave and Lilydale lines, but some other lines had the requisite bridge clearances. No doubt if a further rollout was planned, more bridges would have been modified.

Reliability aside, the authorities decided that such trains were not the way of the future. No more were built. The train was eventually sold to RailCorp NSW for spare parts, and scrapped in 2006.

The policy of staying single-deck is, when you look around, reasonably obvious: the recently rebuilt Springvale station doesn’t have a lot of space to spare above our current single deck trains.

(By the way, as I understand it, double stacked containers are not compatible with overhead wiring, so we won’t see them on our suburban tracks.)

Platform 1, new Springvale station, April 2014

There have been other Melbourne trials of new public transport vehicles. Marcus Wong has a great blog post about various tram types tested and rejected here. At least one test was successful: the initial B-class trams (2001 and 2002) in 1984-5 was followed by over 100 more brought into service in the late 80s and early 90s.

Is single deck or double deck better?

Arguments about this will rage forever I suspect, but there are pros and cons to each.

For a higher carrying capacity, single deck trains need to be longer, providing more doors, and theoretically faster loading and unloading. Faster loading means you can push more trains down the line, and helps counter some or all the capacity benefits of double deck.

Longer trains have an obvious cost: longer platforms and it may have other impacts such as on signalling and stabling. This is where Melbourne is going — the new fleet will start at 7 cars and extend to 9 or 10.

Double deck trains have higher capacity for the length — about 50% more. But they are obviously higher, meaning some existing tunnels and bridges need modification (which may or may not be practical) and extra cost when building new track, especially tunnels.

The power-to-weight ratio of the train could be an issue. Double deck trains obviously concentrate a lot more weight per carriage, while single deck trains that spread the load out over more carriages and wheel sets may assist good acceleration.

Some people will cite security issues, as the decks mean it’s not possible to look along the length of the train. Some also cite risks with level crossings, as the lower deck is vulnerable to a motor vehicle impact, though I’m not sure if that risk has been quantified.

Sydney train

Most cities have stuck with single deck for their high-capacity, short trip urban and metro networks, though the Paris RER is a prominent example of double deck high-capacity suburban operation, and they’ve designed double deck carriages with a third doorway, presumably at the cost of capacity. But I’m not sure any new lines or networks are being designed for double deck operation.

A number of European countries including Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland use them, but primarily for longer distances, where dwell times are less important.

NSW is moving to single deck for their new metro line. Meanwhile the UK is considering double deck for its commuter lines (eg NOT the Tube, which has tunnels that are very space-constrained).

No double deck for you!

The metro tunnel decision means for better or worse, Melbourne is sticking with single deck.

I don’t have a major problem with this.

It’d be nice to see the findings from the 90s trial out in public, but as long as the reasons for the decision have been thought through, carefully considered, and are understood, the focus can be on optimising the network for single deck operation.

Photos from November 2005

Leaving aside current events for a moment, here’s yet another in my series of ten year old photos

On Saturday 5th November 2005, The Age got the scoop on a big report to be launched by the Metropolitan Transport Forum.

The media was all over it, and caught me at Ripponlea station for a chat. I can see Nick Etchells, who still works for Channel 7. I think the other bloke is Channel 9, but I honestly don’t recall.
Being interviewed at Ripponlea station, 5/11/2015

Hmm, this looks like me, but with less grey hair.
Being interviewed at Ripponlea station, 5/11/2015

As my blog post from the time noted, the report kicked off a series of articles in The Age and other media.

The MTF report was launched by Peter Batchelor, who simultaneously managed to strenuously disagree with it, saying “An outsider comes in and makes a comment from far away, the reality is Melbourne has a terrific public transport system”. (My recollection is that on television he said “far far away“, which made his response seem even more like a fairy-tale.)

But such was the sustained criticism that the government eventually responded saying they’d launch a “Transport And Liveability Statement”, which morphed into the “Meeting Our Transport Challenges” report of May 2006. Among MOTC’s initiatives were the orbital Smartbuses (one didn’t eventuate but most were delivered), Doncaster Area Rapid Transit (DART) upgrades to buses, and the introduction of evening and Sunday bus services on most other bus routes, all welcome but it certainly wasn’t a miracle cure. I might write about MOTC another time — it caused something of a stir.

Footscray: speed sign stupidity. At the time I calculated that a vehicle driving at the speed limit would cover the distance between the two signs in 1.8 seconds.
Farnsworth Avenue, Footscray

Remembrance Day: Flinders and Swanston Street intersection stopped. Blog post from the time — this still happens at a handful of CBD intersections at 11am on 11/11, though I’ve been unable to find a definitive list of which intersections.
Remembrance Day 2005, Melbourne - Flinders/Swanston Streets

With my nephew Leo, then just a few months old.
Me with my nephew Leo, November 2005

A train hauled by a K-class steam engine runs express through Bentleigh. For a time, Steamrail did regular Caulfield to Mordialloc shuttles (stopping only at Mckinnon) as part of the Mckinnon festival.