Flat junctions cause problems, but so does poor timetabling

In today’s Age, former National Party leader and Deputy PM Tim Fischer is quoted as saying the new Regional Rail Link should have had a flyover where the Geelong and Ballarat lines converge.

And due to congestion, trains sometime have to wait for five minutes for the track to be clear, he said.

“Nobody builds major commuter junctions anywhere in the world without grade separation. It has now become choke-point Charlie.”

He has a point.

Flat junctions mean trains often have to wait for each other. RRL has three: that one, where the Bendigo line joins them at Sunshine, and another just northwest of that where the Bendigo line connects with the Sunbury line. (In the long term you’d think those lines would need to be separated… I hope the level crossing removals underway in St Albans have future provision for that.)

Train from Ballarat, seen from the train from Geelong, both approaching Deer Park

But as always it’s not just infrastructure, it’s also operations.

On my little jaunt to Geelong a few Saturdays ago, coming back I noticed our train slowed before joining the Ballarat line. And as shown in the photo above, a train from Ballarat was also approaching… it slowed and waited for us.

The train I was on leaves Tarneit at 15:27, runs express through Deer Park and Ardeer, getting to Sunshine at 15:39.

The Ballarat train we saw leaves Rockbank at 15:26, Deer Park 15:38, Ardeer 15:41, Sunshine 15:44.

Given the extra stops, it’d be reasonable to assume the Ballarat train is timed to arrive at the junction within 2-3 minutes of the Geelong train.

The timestamp on the photo, which hopefully is accurate, is 15:35. In fact another outbound Ballarat train is due out of Deer Park at 15:35.

This was a weekend, when both those lines run hourly. Why on earth would they be timetabled like that, within a few minutes of each other?

In this case the train from Geelong delayed an inbound Ballarat train, but running late could easily delay Ballarat trains in both directions… every hour, every weekend.

(It also makes for a very poor connection at Sunshine for people travelling Geelong to Ballarat… almost an hour’s wait. Spacing them out, and stopping Geelong trains at Deer Park etc as on weekdays, would also help improve the service for those growing suburbs.)

So Mr Fischer makes a good point needing to invest to avoid congestion — flat junctions cause problems, as does single track — but some of it is avoidable through a little more thought in the timetables.

Trainspotting 2015 (and why each model is called what it’s called)

This is an update of a 2010 post where I quickly compared the different types of trains then in service.

Since then the Hitachi trains have been taken out of service, and I also thought I’d briefly describe where the names come from.

(The Hitachi trains got their name because the design was by Hitachi, though they were all built in Australia by Martin & King and Commonwealth Engineering.)


X’Trapolis trains run most services on the lines to the north-east (via Clifton Hill) and east (via Burnley) of Melbourne. In part because their numbers have increased markedly over the years, they are expected to be introduced to the “Cross city” (Frankston, Williamstown, Werribee) lines later this year. There are 87 trains of 6 cars each = 522 carriages.

This model of train, whose full name is the X’trapolis 100, is made by Alstom, whose nameplate you’ll find on the floor in the doorway; while they are largely imported and fitted-out at Alstom’s factory in Ballarat.

They’ve been criticised in the past for poor suspension, leading to a lack of comfort (particularly for drivers) and because they are not stainless steel (and thus may be prone to rust in the future). But they arguably have the most efficient current seat layout, and are the only model of train with sufficient handholds for standees. They also have very clear information displays, though in the newer models these are poorly located.

X'Trapolis train
Alstom X'Trapolis train sign


Siemens trains serve the western (via North Melbourne) and south/south-eastern (via South Yarra lines). For many years they had brake problems, so when the government ordered extra trains to grow the fleet, they were avoided. There are 36 trains x 6 cars = 216 carriages.

They’re made by Siemens (obviously), a company that pretty much invented electric trains, but the actual model was originally known as the “Mo.Mo”, short for “Modular Metro” — because the modular design allowed carriages to be built in a number of different ways, and they’re used in a number of other cities around the world.

Melbourne’s version of the Mo.Mo has been criticised for its lack of doors, and lack of handholds along the carriages, as well as the brake problems. Additionally the seat cover design originally chosen by then-operator M>Train is notorious for attracting/showing dirt and grime, and (presumably due to a lack of cleaning) these trains often have a large amount of interior graffiti visible. On the bright side the new seats are much better, they have pretty good ride quality and a walk-through design (without intermediate doors as on the X’Trapolis).

Siemens train at Bentleigh
Siemens train


The Comeng train, used throughout the network. There are 92 of these trains = 552 carriages. Comeng is short for Commonwealth Engineering, the then once government owned enterprise which built the trains during the 1980s. The Dandenong factory where they were made is now run by Bombardier, who make Melbourne’s E-class trams, and V/Line’s V/Locity trains (and similar trains for other Australian cities).

During the first privatisation of the rail network from 1999 to 2004, the Comeng fleet was split up and refurbished to different, incompatible standards. These differences are still visible today, with the most obvious difference being the Connex/Alstom carriages got a smoother more rounded front, a much smaller front LED destination display, and green handles/poles/seat backs inside — whereas the M>Train/EDI carriages have yellow handles inside. They also have different plates above the end doors (see below), as Alstom put new ones in.

After the rail system was brought back together in 2004, work was done to make the fleet compatible again. In the past they tended to have problems with their air-conditioning failing in the heat (!) but this was resolved via upgrades after well-publicised failures in the summer of 2008-09.

Comeng train (made up of Alstom and EDI carriages) on viaduct
Alstom Comeng train signage
EDI Comeng train signage

Some trains only run on some lines because it involves a bunch of work to test and certify trains to run on all lines — sometimes this requires modifications to tracks, signals, platforms or even trains.

In the future, Metro intends to sectorise the rail network, dedicating parts of the fleet as well as maintenance facilities to particular lines, to avoid having to move trains from one line to the other — much like the tram network runs today.

As of the 2013 operations plan, the thinking was as follows:

  • Cross-city (Frankston, Sandringham, Werribee, Williamstown) — mostly Siemens (with them being used for the Sandringham high-capacity signalling trial)
  • Caulfield/Dandenong (Cranbourne, Pakenham) — Comeng, moving to the new high-capacity trains in the future
  • Northern (Sunbury, Craigieburn, Upfield) — Comeng
  • Clifton Hill (South Morang, Hurstbridge) — X’Trapolis
  • Burnley (Glen Waverley, Alamein, Belgrave, Lilydale) — X’Trapolis, though at the time they noted they didn’t have enough for the entire group, so some Comengs would also be used.

Since then, more X’Trapolis trains have been ordered, which may cover the Burnley group, but the (arguably blatantly political) plan to move some of them onto the Cross-City lines has also been initiated, so who knows how it’ll look in the future. Presumably though the plan is still to have mostly the same types of trains on specific lines, to minimise crossover and so timetabling can take into account particular speed/acceleration/deceleration characteristics of the train types used.

Source for train numbers: VicSig: Suburban fleet

Update: Added Hitachi train name info.

The Billing Season

Once a year, the planets align, and I get hit by heaps of bills — often all three utilities, plus car rego and home insurance…

It’s pretty much a consequence of having bought a house mid-year (in 2005) and bought a car mid-year (in 2008) as well. Plus other, quarterly, bills seem to arrive around the same time.

Everything arrives around the end of July, and is payable in August or September, then hits the credit card bill in October. Yes, it’s The Billing Season.

Home and contents insurance (for a year) with fairly high excess I may one day live to regret — $639.95

Car registration (a year) — $270.40 registration + $443 TAC charge + $44.30 insurance duty = $757.70, up about $45 from a couple of years ago.

Car insurance (a year) — ye olde 2000 Holden Astra covered for $2900 (hmm, about a third of what I actually paid for it in 2007) plus Third party property damage = $317.02

So rego and insurance together costs $1074, or about $3 a day, even if you drive nowhere (eg excluding fuel and maintenance).

Rates — total this year of $1427.10 (up from $1351.20 last year) thanks in part to the fire services levy — which moved the cost of fire services from insurance to rates… which makes sense; the burden shouldn’t be just on those who bother to insure. First payment of $356.75 due at the end of September.

Electricity — I recently switched to Powershop, which is interesting — you can pay in advance (and choose between different options at different prices) or just pay afterwards like with a conventional provider. It’s quite interesting seeing what specials come up. Anyway it’s currently costing me $3.83 per day, down from $4.82 at this time last year. But they don’t have a fixed rate all year, and costs may rise a bit as summer demand kicks in, though to an extent you can pre-purchase to minimise that. If anybody wants to switch to Powershop, let me know — if I refer you, we both get a $75 credit.

Gas — $464.50 for 61 days = $7.61 per day over the winter, when we use the heating a fair bit, so this should drop off in coming months.

Water — $212.10 for 76 days, but this includes a government rebate of $100. Without this, it would be $4.10 per day. Apparently we’re using an average 247 litres each day. I’m not sure why the rebate has kicked in now… it’s ages since we switched to the efficient shower head, and I don’t recall any more recent changes. Or was that the thing where they overcharged us in the past?

It’s time to buy a new Yearly Myki Pass — the cost these days for the discounted Commuter Club fare is $1395 including PTUA membership — compared to $1501.50 for a retail yearly. Some people saw price cuts in January, but most fares went up by CPI+2.5% (which is a reason to buy your Yearly Pass before December when the old prices stop being offered).

As a bonus, the drains had their biennual(ish) partial blockage, caused by a tree behind my property. The plumbers came and this time recommended a water jet which they say will clear away more of the tree roots. $250 later, the drains are clear again. I’ve got a coupon for a 20% discount next time.

Some costs are more regular: I get monthly bills for my ISP and phones, for instance, mostly processed automatically.

One other trend is obvious: more bills are arriving online than a year ago. It’s not hard to see why Australia Post is in trouble.

I’m not complaining about all the costs above. I do okay in the income stakes. But perhaps I should try to shift things around so they don’t all hit at once.

New camera

Obviously the best camera you have is the one you have with you.

Normally that’s my phone. Sometimes I’ll also have my ~4 year old Canon IXUS 115, which is compact, but takes some great photos.

But for my birthday I treated myself to a DSLR, a Canon 700D (spotted on sale + cashback offer + birthday contribution from family + birthday present to myself = hard to resist), and have been snapping away during lunchtime walks. Here’s a couple of pics from earlier this week with a telephoto lens borrowed from one of my sons. (We’re definitely a Canon family.)

Footbridge, Princes Bridge, MCG, Melbourne

Looking north up Queen Street, Melbourne

More to come, you can be sure of it.

Old photos from September 2005

Another in my series of photos from ten years ago.

Bourke Street (at Swanston Street) tram platform stops just being completed, it looks like. Note the old “The Met” tram stop sign — in a mix of brands with the then-new Metlink and Yarra Trams. The realtime display must have been pretty new. And of course, lunchtime trams were crowded some ten years before the Free Tram Zone was instituted.
Bourke Street, Melbourne (2005)

Ditto Bourke Street (at Elizabeth Street). At the right, St George Bank has since been bought by Westpac and rebranded as Bank Of Melbourne, but is still in that building. The same building has a Kathmandu (which is moving to the Galleria, at left, this summer). You can also see a glimpse of an Angus And Robertson sign — they’ve since departed. This tram stop (and some others) later needed to be rebuilt to modify the height for level boarding.
Bourke Street, Melbourne (2005)

One morning walking to work I spotted this at the Old Treasury Building, aka the City Museum. Some kind of revolutionary demonstration? No, just filming on the steps.
Filming an ad for Holden Viva, Old Treasury building, Melbourne (2005)

What were they filming? This Holden Viva car commercial:

I’d won the footy tipping in 2004… here I am handing over the trophy to Rob for winning, on Grand Final Day 2005. These days of course the One Day In September is now in October. I won again in 2014, but Rae won 2015, so I’ll be handing the trophy back on Saturday. (Pic by Tony)
Rob and Daniel and the footy tipping trophy, Grand Final Day 2005 (Pic: Anthony Malloy)

Gog and Magog. I used it for this piece of amusement, and also in this piece on the Free Tram Zone.
Gog and Magog, Royal Arcade, Melbourne (2005)