A quick look around the new Bentleigh and Ormond stations, opened today

Months after closing for level crossing works, the shiny new Bentleigh and Ormond stations have opened today.

At Bentleigh yesterday, it was still a construction site.
Bentleigh station 28/8/2016

But today the concourse was awash with officials handing out cupcakes, a choir from Sing Australia, train spotters snapping photos, and passengers relieved to have their station back.
Bentleigh station re-opening day
Bentleigh station re-opening day

Bentleigh is the only one of the rebuilt three stations with Premium status, meaning it’s got fulltime staff. Curiously the booking office is adjacent to the bypass gate, but evidently the bypass gate is not designed to be operated from inside the office as seen on some other systems. Maybe that’s an improvement to come.
Bentleigh station ticket office

All three stations have ramps, lifts and steps down to platform level. The ramps, meeting DDA standards, are pretty long, but some people were using them in preference to the stairs.
Bentleigh station ramp to platforms 1/2
Bentleigh station platform 1/2

While I was there, the Frankston line’s only X’Trapolis train came past for a visit.
Bentleigh station, an X'Trapolis train pulls into platform 3

At Ormond station, much of the platform area is under North Road, giving it (moreso than Mckinnon) the appearance of an underground station like Box Hill. (I heard both pro-skyrail and pro-trench rail opinions from passers-by.)
Ormond station platform 2
Ormond station looking under North Road

Ormond station: underground, overground

More music and cupcakes at Ormond, but how many cupcakes can one eat in one morning? Works are obviously continuing.
Ormond station works continue on opening day
Ormond station works continue on opening day

It’s great to see these stations re-opened. It was smart thinking to get them functional enough to handle passengers, and then continue with minor works while the stations operate.

Members of the project team that I ran into this morning seemed very pleased with the results, and so they should be.

After three months (Bentleigh) and five months (Ormond) with no trains, the locals seem very pleased to have them back.

And if you’re wondering, the peak hour express trains (and third track) return next week.

I need a new phone

On Thursday night my phone, a Nexus 5 that I got about three years ago, finally started playing up.

Android phone booting

It would continually boot, with a buzz, and a proclamation on the screen of “Google”! Then repeat. Bzzt… Google! Over and over.

Scouring online, I discovered this is a reasonably rare, but not unique, situation. The power button was jammed down.

The next morning, before work, I went looking for solution. No problem, said people on the forums… there’s a quick and simple fix. And they pointed to a Youtube clip someone had uploaded showing how to do it.

Quick and simple. Get your jewellers screwdrivers (okay, I have a set), take off the cover, then remove the battery, unplug all these ribbon cables, then…

At the point where they said to take out the motherboard, I thought yeah, this isn’t going to be the kind of quick and simple fix done just before going to work.

Then I found another suggestion in the forums:

Give the phone a good whack against the side of a desk. A couple of hits and the power button may go back into place.

I tried it. Bang. Nope. BANG. BANG. There it is! Wow, it worked! All without pulling the phone apart.

Except… no. It couldn’t be that easy, right? It wasn’t. 36 hours later it was playing up again. Bzzzzttt… “Google”!

So I need to buy a new phone.

The Nexus 5 had been excellent. Three years is a long innings for a smartphone, and over that time it hadn’t slowed down markedly, and Google had kept feeding it updates, without them having to be filtered through the phone manufacturer and phone company first. (In fact, they’ve only just announced updates for this model will cease in a few months.)

So I wouldn’t hesitate to get another Nexus.

For now I’m getting by on a borrowed HTC Desire 510. It’s functional, but I’m reminded of how much bloatware HTC and the other manufacturers and the carriers put on Android phones.

The Nexus 5’s replacement, the Nexus 5X (RRP $579), has been getting good reviews, and might be a good option.

And apparently in the next few months a new set of Nexus phones are expected.

No, I wouldn’t go an iPhone (SE from $679 RRP; 6 from $929). I love Apple’s hardware, but I love that I can plug an Android phone into any computer and move files around — I couldn’t stand being locked into iTunes and Apple’s ecosystem.

The four circles of bustitution

Good news! The shiny new Bentleigh and Ormond stations open on Monday.

This means after three and six months respectively of bus replacements, we can — if you’ll excuse the phrase — see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I’m hoping lessons and experience have been gained through the level crossing removal project that can be applied to the rail infrastructure projects to come. I’m told that the project team will write up their findings, and present them to the government, to inform later project teams. Whether these documents are public or not seems doubtful.

As far as bus replacements go, what have we learnt?

For a start I think there are four levels of bustitution, with varying levels of chaos.


Level 1: Planned, small scale

  • Buses are replacing trains at Bentleigh and Ormond, right now until Monday — I’m finding that in contrast to the level 2 chaos during the 37 day main shutdown, the bus service can cope okay.
  • Carnegie and Murrumbeena, coming up in September for early “skyrail” works — they seem to have plotted bus routes that avoid the level crossings which is wise. Hopefully this’ll run fairly well. It’s only for a month, then “temporary” stations will be in place for the rest of the Dandenong skyrail project. (That said, Carnegie closes again for a few weeks in November.)
  • Knox Tramlink — when the extension of the 75 tram (originally planned to run to Knox City) was curtailed to Vermont South, a bus replacement was put in. Extra services on bus 732 basically meet every tram (except overnight on weekends), and have done so for over a decade. I’m sure the buses cope with the loads, but I doubt the route reaches its full patronage potential, and I doubt it’s good efficient use of buses and drivers.

Small scale bustitution (perhaps serving 1-3 stations) means the demand is not too great.

Don’t get me wrong, it can get busy, but you’re talking hundreds or thousands of boardings per day, not tens of thousands.

This means it’s practical to serve these journeys by bus. They’re not as fast, or comfortable, but it’s manageable if they’re resourced properly, which the Bentleigh/Ormond ones have been, though of course all those buses and drivers and despatch staff come at a cost.

Crowded bus #bustitution

Level 2: Planned, large scale

  • The recent 37 days of fun between Moorabbin and Caulfield, replacing all trains
  • Numerous weekend and evening closures on the busier lines such as Clifton Hill, Ringwood, Dandenong and Frankston

Large scale, taking out an entire busy train line, means there are likely to be tens of thousands of passengers per day.

Peak hours are a particular issue, with crowds testing the limits of bus routes, even with significant resources put into drivers, vehicles, road modifications (eg parking bans to maximise road network throughput) and despatch staff.

With adequate advance notice, some people will avoid it by driving or catching buses to other lines. The Sandringham line and the Nepean Highway bore the brunt of the Frankston 37 days, with extra Sandringham trains running. Some people migrated over to the Dandenong line as well.

The remaining people squeeze onto buses, and provided it runs smoothly, it’s bearable, though not necessarily pleasant. When any little hiccup occurs, such as traffic congestion affecting bus throughput, long delays can easily happen.

Queue for buses #bustitution

Level 3. Planned, large scale, largely unannounced

  • Last Monday August 15th, Frankston line.

Despite Metro being warned numerous times to properly warn people, only template-conforming emails and posters were out there, with the key detail “THIS AFFECTS PEAK HOUR!!!” lost in the noise.

The result was almost nobody knew about it. Those who would normally avoid it were caught up in it instead, resulting in long queues for both stopping and express buses.

The photo below was an example: as our bus arrives at Glenhuntly, it’s already full. A huge crowd was waiting; most of them couldn’t board the bus. I saw another bus pull up behind, but who knows if they could squeeze onto that either.

There were numerous horror stories for express bus users as well, with waits of 25 minutes or more at Moorabbin to board buses.

Level 4. Unplanned

  • On Friday 5th August the Sandringham, Frankston and Dandenong lines were shut between the City and Caulfield/Elsternwick during evening peak. No buses were provided; advice was to use nearby tram services instead, which were overwhelmed.

All too common when an unplanned rail outage occurs; caused by equipment faults (such as last night on the Upfield line) or trespassers or accidents.

Almost inevitably it’s chaotic because it’s difficult to call up buses at short notice. It can be particularly bad in peak hours when large numbers of people are travelling, and most buses being busy with normal runs.

The situation is often made worse by some lines having very few places to turn trains around, meaning replacement buses have to cover a lot of ground.


Some thoughts…

  • Routing buses along main roads made more sense than trying to get them right to the stations via crowded side streets. (This is not a new Metro thing. Connex plotted out lots of main road bustitution routes, but as far as I can tell, few if any were ever used during their time running the network.)
  • The temporary shelters (pictured above) worked quite well, both as shelter and to make it easier for passengers and bus drivers to find the stops. Not as good as station cover, but better than nothing.
  • Running express buses on a separate route to stopping buses helped reduce delays and share the load on different roads. It also helps reduce frustration for people waiting at the skipped stops, which is why I think if possible they should do it all the time, not just in peak hours.
  • It appeared the despatchers worked pretty hard at times. Overhearing two-way radios made it clear they weren’t just resting on their laurels.
  • Despatching buses outbound in evening peak is pretty simple if you have enough buses. Just wait for arriving passengers to fill them up, and send them off.
  • Morning peak and off-peak/counter-peak times, you need to keep a steady flow of buses moving through the system to keep waiting times to a minimum.
  • It helped a lot that the buses terminated at Caulfield, which has lots of train connections, cutting interchange times. No wonder they use this as a bustitution hub for the Frankston, Dandenong, Sandringham and Glen Waverley lines.
  • There remains confusion about fares. Replacement buses are basically free, but the signage and the official rules don’t adequately reflect this.
  • All door boarding can speed things up a lot, but there seems to be no official policy on it. Some bus drivers would open both doors, some wouldn’t. I saw one shut the back door while people were trying to enter it.
  • Traffic changes help but often aren’t perfect. Temporary clear ways can keep buses moving, but delays are often experienced at intersections which could be overcome by traffic light alterations (made for the 37 day shut to benefit trucks) and/or traffic controllers prioritising buses.
  • Disabled access is a problem. Old high floor buses are often used. There need to be plenty of accessible buses in the mix, or despatchers need ready access to maxi cabs.

Huddling in the shelter #bustitution

The biggest lesson of all? Buses aren’t trains. They struggle with train loads of people, and they struggle with traffic, even when very well resourced.

Which means: Avoid large-scale bustitution wherever possible.

It’ll be good to have our trains back and our new station open next week.

A look around Bombardier’s Dandenong train factory

I was lucky enough to get to look around Bombardier’s Dandenong factory a few weeks ago.

As these publicity photos off their web site make clear, the company builds trains for (clockwise from top-left) Victoria (V/Line), Brisbane (Queensland Rail), Adelaide (Adelaide Metro), and Perth (Transperth) — EDIT: though these are not all built at Dandenong.

Bombardier publicity photos: from top-left, clockwise: Victoria, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth

They also build the E-class trams for Melbourne, though only the V/Line and tram jobs are running at the moment.

The factory is close to the junction of the Cranbourne and Pakenham lines, and they have a test track alongside the Cranbourne line.

V/Locity trains

When I was first looking around, a V/Line V/Locity carriage rolling along sideways on a traverser, which can move carriages between tracks. They use it to move them between the various areas of the factory.
V/Locity carriage being moved on a Traverser

These photos aren’t actually in order, but here we go…

V/Locity cab front:
V/Locity cab fronts

V/Locity carriage side. Almost all the components of the carriages (and trams) are made here, or provided by local suppliers. This is quite unlike the X’trapolis trains, which are largely imported and then fitted out and maintained locally.
V/Locity carriage side

V/Locity carriage base.
V/Locity carriage base
V/Locity carriage base

The bits being stuck together
V/Locity carriage being built
V/Locity carriage being built

Once finished, the new carriage goes out on the traverser (see above) and gets tested.

In another area of the factory, V/Locity carriages come back to base for regular servicing.

V/Locity carriage being serviced

Other maintenance is done at Bombardier’s Ballarat facility. My PTUA colleague Ben got a tour of it, and posted some pictures too:

E-class trams

So far they’ve built 40 of the 70 E-class trams on order. The government has options for more.

E-class tram frame being built:
E-class tram cab

E-class tram base. Looks pretty solid.
E-class tram base

The doorway ramp has been a bit controversial. Many tram users have commented on its problems. This is because the trucks (wheel bogies) underneath the tram body are especially built up to withstand the sometimes varying quality of Melbourne’s trackwork. Apparently they were based on an East German design!

Thus you should generally get a smoother ride on an E than a C or D, both of which were designed for smoother more modern tram networks typically seen in Western Europe.

V/Locity Tram wheel set:
V/Locity wheel set

Building up the tram…
E-class tram under construction

E-class door mechanism. Amazing the amount of wiring that goes into these trams.
E-class tram under construction

Where the sections of tram join together.
E-class tram under construction

Stick the cab windscreen on the front, and it’s almost built. It just needs a bumper bar…

Ah, here’s one we prepared earlier:
E-class tram bumper bars

Outside there are some E-class prototype sections. I forgot to ask what the one further from the camera is. Anybody recognise it?
E-class tram prototype

For the history buffs, there are a few plaques around the site. An earlier incarnation of the factory was Comeng (Commonwealth Engineering), which of course made the Comeng trains, as well as many of Melbourne’s trams.
Comeng plaque from 1983

The first V/Locity carriages were built back in 2004, as part of a fairly small order, which meant the refinements and innovation that could have gone into the design didn’t really happen at the time. This did happen with the E-class trams — that’s why they took a while for the first to be delivered.

Where possible they also do incremental improvements to the design as they go. Tweaks for the E-class trams are already being made.

But at some point, especially for the V/Locities, a whole new design is going to be needed — one that doesn’t date back 12+ years.

If there was one message I got from the guys at Bombardier, it’s that larger orders help ensure that time and resources go into improving the designs, as well as secure the local workforce. It was no surprise to learn that they’re bidding for the new High-Capacity Metro Trains tender, and were shortlisted.

The government’s rolling stock strategy is a good move in this direction, but obviously it helps if the actual funding for orders comes through as well – it’s looking like the HCMT order will do this.

With the demise of the local car industry (and local manufacturing generally), it makes sense for the government to ensure the local rolling stock industry has a strong future. So far, things are looking pretty positive, but it’ll be interesting to see where it goes from here.

Many thanks to Bombardier for the tour.

  • Update: Later the same day as this blog was posted: Herald Sun: New trains for Melbourne could be made in China (Paywall) — The Herald Sun has learnt of widespread industry concern the 65 new trains would be manufactured in China and assembled in Victoria, under a consortium backed by Changchun Railway Vehicles, a Chinese state-owned manufacturer. — The Victorian government noted there is a 50% local content requirement, though this apparently includes maintenance. Changchun was part of one of the shortlisted bidders, and apparently the only one that proposed significant off-shore manufacturing.

Photographing the moon

(No time to write a new blog post; scrabbled around and found a draft I never completed.)

There’s been a full moon again this week. It was very impressive last night. I didn’t snap it, but here’s a photo from last year when I was first dabbling with my (then new) DSLR camera:

The moon

It requires a bit of fiddling to get good photos of the moon. This page summarises what’s needed.

My first go isn’t bad, but doesn’t show the detail of professional shots. One of these days I’ll buy myself a better zoom lens and try it again.