State Budget 2016

Wednesday’s State Budget has a lot of good rail projects funded. It seems the State Government is serious about upgrading the rail network to cope for the future.

Going through the press release and also the Budget Papers (Budget Paper 3 “Service Delivery” has always been my favourite; it has all the juicy stuff in transport), I’ve tried to summarise the new spending below… hopefully I haven’t missed anything, or doubled-up.

Project Cost Notes
City Loop security upgrade $134m Recommendations from the Victorian Ombudsman. By the way, the “platform barriers” are to try and stop people getting into the tunnels, not to stop them falling on the track, which would be almost impossible to implement given non-standard train doors and no automation to ensure trains stop in the right spot.
Ballarat line duplication out to Melton, platforms, stabling $518m Means Caroline Springs has to be modified with an extra platform before it’s even opened! And it’s only duplication, not electrification.
Hurstbridge line duplication Heidelberg to Rosanna $140m In addition to level crossing removal projects
South Morang to Mernda rail extension $588m Great to see this fully funded
28 additional High-Capacity Metro Trains $875m On top of the 37 funded last year. Includes running costs ramping up to $25.4m/year
27 V/Line V/Locity carriages and stabling $280.4m Relieve V/Line overcrowding, especially since RRL opened last year
5 X’Trapolis trains $105m Seems to be a stopgap order while the HCMTs are designed and tendered
V/Line North-East line upgrades $15m An additional carriage to change from 3 x 5 car trains to 4 x 4 car trains; refurbishment of other carriages
V/Line next generation train planning $10m The V/Locity design is great, but well over ten years old
Other upgrades for V/Line $198m  
V/Line major maintenance $141m Seems to be directed at the kind of proactive maintenance intended to prevent a repeat of the wheel wear debacle from earlier this year
1500 commuter car spaces across Melbourne and regional areas $19.9m Not clear if this is included in one of the other buckets. Note the average $13266 cost per space. There are cheaper ways of getting people to stations – without them having to own a car.
Frankston station precinct upgrade $50m  
Metro rail service improvements $35m Additional services, but not detailed precisely what. Hopefully more 10 minute services.
Minor regional rail improvement works $23.6m  
Bendigo and Eaglehawk station improvements $15.8m  
Gippsland line station improvements $9m  
Business case for future improvements for Bendigo, Gippland, Armstrong Creek (Geelong) $7.6m  
Upfield to Somerton upgrade business case $5m Future planning for re-routing Seymour trains via Upfield line, which has more capacity than Craigieburn
Planning for Regional upgrades $5m Linked to imminent release of Regional Network Development Plan
South Geelong to Waurn Ponds duplication business case/detailed design $3m Would help increase train frequencies south of Geelong
Bus improvements $25.2m Numerous local bus improvements, including those pledged in Labor’s 2014 election commitments.
Metro rail tunnel funding $2.9b $2.9b over four years (the “forward estimates” period) with more to come later
Bridge strengthening for E-class trams $1.8m The only extra tram spending I spotted; so insignificant it’s not mentioned in press releases.

V/Line North Melbourne flyover

Worth noting:

  • V/Line gets a handful of extra services on the Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong and Gippsland lines every day, and three more to Wyndham Vale on weekdays as well. They also get extra services to Shepparton (extension of an existing service everyday) and Warrnambool (Sundays only it appears), and a bunch more services to Geelong on weekends (this might fix the dire hourly service)
  • The Budget Papers have some amusing references to V/Line’s “Classic fleet” of older carriages – the N and Z-class carriages are getting aircon and seating upgrades.
  • There’s continued funding for Melbourne Bike Share ($2.5m per year) and the Westgate Punt ($300,000 per year) — again, not flagged in the press releases. Interestingly the Bike Share seems to be being funded a couple of years at a time.

I’m not going to dwell on the road upgrades, other than to say it’s a relief that the government haven’t sprung a new major road project on the community. One (Western Distributor) is plenty — yet two days later there are already noises about the NorthEast Link. Obviously this is on the agenda for coming years.

In some ways the big surprise is full funding of the Metro Rail Tunnel, assuming the Commonwealth still refuses to provide any funding. I suspected this might happen — yes at $11 billion it’s a huge project, but construction is over 10 years, making it a bit over an average $1 billion per year — it’s within the state’s capabilities, though it probably means other needed projects may not happen during this time if the Feds don’t contribute.

Also somewhat surprising is the large amount of money for V/Line — it’s worth remembering that the regional train network (including the suburban sections of RRL) carry less than a tenth the number of passengers that the metro rail system carries (though over longer distances). But it’s also a natural response to the dire problems the service has had, and also a good strategy to support a vital service in regional Victoria, and better link country towns to Melbourne. Hopefully the investment in V/Line helps bring the service back up to standard, and get more passengers on board.

And plenty of improvements funded on Metro as well, including the logical expansion of the new train fleet to eventually support the entire Cranbourne/Pakenham to Sunbury line when the rail tunnel opens — and of course remembering the already substantial investment in level crossing removal and station rebuilds.

While there’s not much for buses, and even less for trams, but overall it’s good to see so many rail upgrades coming through, including sometimes forgotten but important upgrades like track duplication.

A day in Maldon

A day (and night) in the countryside began by heading out of Melbourne in the car.

I learnt a lesson on the way, somewhere near Sunshine: if you’re going to try and overtake (well, “undertake”) a truck on the left from a standing start, be at the front of the queue at the lights AND have plenty of space. The lane ended sooner than I thought, and the cars in front took off slowly. Thankfully the truck driver was paying attention, and gave me a bit of extra space to merge in.

Anyway from the Western Highway it’s a beautiful drive up to Trentham through the bush. The target was lunch at our friends’ place just south of the township. I’ll put in a plug for them as they’re selling the house: it’s a glorious mudbrick home, with a lovely walled garden and a tower! You’ve always wanted a tower, haven’t you! There’s even a sundial or two.

View from the tower, Trentham

The garden, Trentham

From there we headed north, up through the town, then via Dayesford to Maldon to stay the night in a B+B/French restaurant called the Rendezvous, in the old Eaglehawk hotel. The owners of that are also selling up. After settling in, we had a walk around the town.

Old Eaglehawk Hotel, Maldon

A small collection of engines in the station yard.
Railway yard at Maldon

They seem to also have a relative of Thomas here.
A relative of Thomas, at Maldon

Railway cat, Maldon

Maldon Main street. It was after 5pm, and the crowds had vanished.
Maldon Main Street

They have a heritage post box… and heritage rubbish bins. I remember when style was everywhere when I was a kid, but most have vanished now.
Vintage post box and rubbish bin, Maldon

Rego Brand self-raising flour. (Was this a prominent brand? I couldn’t find anything on Google, though apparently they also made cordial.)
Old advertising, Maldon

The Anglican church. Note the mining and mobile phone towers on the mountain behind.
Anglican church, Maldon

Dinner was a three-course taste-fest. I had cheese fondant, then duck, then a chocolate souffle. I’m not normally one for photographing my meals, but as you can see, I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Dinner in Maldon

(Breakfast the next morning — croissants, muesli, egg and salmon on brioche — was great too, resulting in a similarly clean plate.)

I had to get back to Melbourne, which meant we didn’t get to ride the steam train, but during a morning walk before breakfast we spotted it getting ready for its day’s duties.
Maldon, Victorian Goldfields Railway

These towns — Maldon, Daylesford and Trentham — were all once connected by regular passenger rail services. (Maldon had passenger trains from 1884 to 1941. Trentham and Daylesford had passenger services 1880 to 1978 — I remember as a kid going to Daylesford by train; it must have been shortly before services ceased. Regular train with old wooden carriages to Woodend, and a rail motor from there.)

All three towns are getting very busy on the weekends thanks to tourism. In fact some of our group went back to Melbourne the way we’d come, and found bumper-to-bumper traffic around Daylesford. Evidently the three coaches per day on weekends (two from Woodend, one from Ballarat) don’t cut it.

Even on weekdays there are only three coaches from Daylesford via Woodend/Castlemaine, and you can’t reach Melbourne before 9:27am. Chatter among the locals is that while some hardy souls commute to Melbourne from this area, most moving to the area with this in mind live in the towns along the (main line) railway line. Those in the other towns tend to drive to a station — hardly surprising.

Anyway, it’s a nice part of the world. I don’t think I’d fancy that kind of commute every day, but it’s good fun to visit.

A week in Singapore

In a couple of months I’m going to Singapore for a week, for my cousin’s wedding.

Any recommendations? Things to see and do? (The wedding itself is on Sentosa Island, at one of the resorts.)

It’s been ages since I’ve been overseas. What’s the best way to organise mobile/data coverage?

What’s the shopping like? Is it like some Asian cities where you can find good cheap suits?

Hmm, what about camera equipment? (I’d love a new lens to play with.)

The weather? Warm I’m sure. I remember from flying back from Europe via Singapore in 1998, looking at the TV weather forecast and seeing a row of 25-32s forecast…

Weather forecast in Singapore, September 1998

Any other tips?

Yes, I’ll be checking out the MTR.

Old photos from April 2006

Another in my series of old photos from ten years ago

One night while driving across town I decided to snap some pictures around the docks. It was only after I stopped the car and took a few photos that I realised how dodgy it probably looked.
Swanston Dock, April 2006

A panoramic view along Spencer Street, outside Southern Cross Station. Note the lack of Media House on the left. And the whole area seems quieter back then that it is now.

(View it larger at Flickr)

A panoramic view along platform 2, inside Southern Cross Station.

(View it larger at Flickr)

Mucking about on a huge pile of tanbark at a local park.
King of the tanbark!

Around this time I did a few timelapses around the house. Here I am constructing an IKEA Gorm shelf unit. These are tough but ugly. Initially it went into the (small) spare room, until the spare room became a bedroom. It lives on in my laundry.
Building an Ikea Gorm
(Animation made using GIFmaker)

The new improved Preston tram depot

Back in September 2010, the then-Brumby government announced an $807 million investment in new trams and infrastructure:

Dandenong based company Bombardier will design, construct and maintain 50 new low floor trams for Melbourne as part of an $807.6 million investment by the Brumby Labor Government including a new tram maintenance and storage depot at Preston.

This was an upgrade to the existing Preston depot, originally built in 1924 for construction of the W-class fleet. The renovations took some years, and had to respect heritage aspects of the complex, as well as cope with tram operations during construction. But it’s now completed, and on Sunday Yarra Trams held an open day, with an official opening from the Minister for Public Transport. I went along for a look.

The weather was fine, and there was a pretty good turnout. It’s quite an impressive facility. Some photos:

The automated tram wash. It can handle any class of tram — though presumably someone needs to close the windows (where applicable) first!
Preston tram depot: tram wash

The sanding area, where trams sand hoppers can be refilled. Sand is dropped on the track when extra grip is needed.
E-class and B-class trams in the sanding area, Preston tram depot

A traverser, for moving trams from track to track. Our guide wasn’t sure if the new, 33-metre long E-class trams might just fit. I like that it’s in “Met” colours. You can see at least one Z1 tram in the background; they will be out of service forever, retired by the end of this month.
Tram traverser, Preston depot

B-class tram up on jacks for repairs. It’s quite impressive to see up close. The depot can handle repairs to any class of tram, though normally it appears only B and E-class trams are stabled here. Minor repairs are also done at local suburban tram depots.
B-class tram being serviced, Preston tram depot

Another B-class tram with the front taken off. The depot workers had a say in how it should be laid out after the renovation.
B-class tram being serviced, Preston tram depot

E-class tram in for some work.
E-class tram being serviced, Preston tram depot

The E-class trams are not perfect, but they do bring welcome extra capacity, and importantly increase the number of accessible trams on the network. And they do look rather splendid in the sun.
E-class trams at Preston tram depot

Yarra Trams has several tram simulators. One portable one was set up in the depot for visitors to have a go on (and boy was it popular), but this is the permanent, more fully-featured version.
Tram simulator, Preston tram depot

Spike the rhino on display outside. The campaign around awareness of trams continues.

B and E class trams, and some dork in high-vis. I was surprised at how orderly the depot appears.
Daniel at Preston tram depot

The official opening:

Just outside the depot is the tram and pedestrian-only Miller Street, over the South Morang line, connecting to nearby route 86. If it looks familiar, I’m pretty sure it’s where that iconic scene in Malcolm, of the title character coming over the hill, was filmed.

One sad note. Sadly, at the southern end of the depot, well away from the operational part of the complex, two W-class trams sit neglected, vandalised.
Vandalised W-class trams outside Preston Depot

But that said, the depot upgrade is great to see. This kind of investment in the capacity and efficiency of the tram network is important to keep services improving.
Preston tram depot

Now, if only the government would get fully behind proper tram traffic priority, so these valuable assets could spend less time waiting at traffic lights and stuck behind queues of cars, and help trams reach their true potential to keep Melburnians on the move.