The seagull incident

You’ve probably heard all about this by now.

From Facebook:

Guys this is the true crime story of the decade:

Yesterday a friend told me what might well be the best story I’ve ever heard. She had caught the train in from Frankston. And while she was waiting for the train to come, she noticed a man sitting down on the platform with a bag of fish and chips. But he wasn’t really eating them. He was just sort of letting them air.

This attracted a few seagulls, who began to circle the platform. Instead of shooing the birds away, the man offered them a few chips. He’d toss one a foot or so away from him. It was like he was beckoning them to come closer. He kept doing this, eking the chips out slowly, until there was a big group of seagulls in front of him, 15 or 20. A tiny army. He’d throw them a chip every now and then – just enough to keep the birds interested, but not enough to sate them. It was frustrating. They were getting angry. Squawking. It was like he was rearing them up for… something.

Then the train came, and everyone got on. But the man stayed on the ground with his chips. Just when the train was about to leave. It happened.

Right before the doors closed, the man threw the entire bag of the fish and chips into the train. The entire flock of seagulls followed the bag. And the doors closed. Inside the train: pandemonium.

The next train stop was five minutes away.

It’s a great story. And as I recall, there are certainly plenty of seagulls around Frankston station.

A ferry comes into Circular Quay, Sydney
Note: this is not one of the alleged seagulls. Nor is this Frankston station.

You can call me a cynic if you like, but apart from the fact that it’s being told second hand, there are a few holes in this story that leave me doubting it’s true.

  • It’s two minutes to the next station at Kananook, not five. Yeah, maybe not a big deal. If it were real, it might seem like five.
  • If the miscreant threw the bag into the carriage as the doors closed, few if any seagulls would have time to react and follow it.
  • If he threw the bag in earlier, he wouldn’t know the doors would be about to close, because it’s a terminus station.
  • Here’s the clincher. It’s 2016. Do we really believe this could happen and nobody got mobile phone video or photos of it?

I’m prepared to be proven wrong, but I suspect it’s all fictional.

  • Update: Mashable has identified that the story is identical to a joke told by the late Maurie Fields on Hey Hey It’s Saturday circa 1989
  • Triple J have an interview with someone claiming to have been there, and saying it actually happened around 2007. If that was true, it would explain why there’s no smartphone footage of it, but it doesn’t explain the other issues with the story.

Update 5/2/2016: Well played Metro, well played.

A little Bentleigh history has been uncovered

I love a bit of local history, even if it’s fairly recent.

For my fellow Bentleigh peeps — as part of the level crossing removal project, the old underpass into the station has been partially uncovered.

Bentleigh station: old underpass uncovered

It looks to have been a similar layout to Mckinnon: steps straight to the street, as well as a (probably non-DDA-compliant) ramp parallel to the tracks.

Bentleigh station: old underpass uncovered

Bentleigh station: sign in the old underpass

The underpass was filled-in in 1996. In 2005 then PT minister Peter Batchelor said “it was closed because of some deficiencies in its design, because it had problems with flooding when it rained and it had other operational issues”.

I don’t know if perceptions of risk of crime were also an issue, but despite calls for it to be re-instated, it never was… but with the entire crossing being grade separated, it hardly matters now.

Others were filled-in over the years — Yarraville is a particular one that springs to mind as now causing long delays to pedestrians. At North Williamstown, the underpass was filled-in just last year. At the time, the government claimed it had to be done to allow installation of pedestrian gates.

For those that aren’t being grade separated any time soon, it would make sense to look at whether the underpasses can be brought back into service.

Level crossing removals progressing

On Thursday the state government announced two more level crossings in their first term batch of 20: Scoresby Rd and Mountain Hwy, either side of Bayswater station. This provides some interesting challenges due to the adjacent train maintenance facility, which presumably can’t be moved. The press release notes:

They [the crossings] will be removed through a combination of lowering the rail line and raising Mountain Hwy and Scoresby Rd, which will enable trains to continue to access the maintenance yard between the crossings.

With these two, they’ve now started work on 19 of the 20 pledged:

  • Gardiner and St Albans (both initiated by the former Coalition government)
  • three on the Frankston line (Ormond was initiated by the Coalition) — more about these below
  • Blackburn and Heatherdale
  • Furlong Road, St Albans
  • the nine between Caulfield and Dandenong
  • the two at Bayswater

So they only need to fund and start work on one more and they’ll be hitting their first term target… though of course for economy they should be trying to continue to group the crossings where possible.

Bentleigh level crossing

Ormond-Mckinnon-Bentleigh aka North-Mckinnon-Centre

My local crossings are continuing apace.

The project timetable has been altered — the major works will now take place in mid-2016, instead of in the January 2017 holidays. Obviously this has implications in terms of the number of people travelling, especially students for 3 of the 5 weeks — though bear in mind most people are back at work by mid-January, so perhaps the main difference is the presence of students.

Obviously how well this goes depends on how well replacement bus services are run. More on this below.

Saving Dorothy

For residents north of Ormond and those who use the E.E.Gunn reserve, the project team has confirmed that the Dorothy Avenue underpass will retain access for cars:

Following detailed design, and extensive community consultation, we can now happily confirm that the Dorothy Avenue underpass in Ormond will remain open to pedestrians, cyclists and cars following completion of the level crossing removal works.

Through the detailed design process, the rail gradient has been improved to allow the necessary clearance for pedestrians, cyclists and cars. — October update

Apparently they sought and got dispensation for the usual (for freight trains) maximum 2% gradient between North Road and Dorothy Avenue. It’s closer to 2.5% (the normal limit for suburban trains), but this has been ruled okay for freight for short distances.

The result is that the works won’t need to touch the overpass at all. One team member described this as “Saving Dorothy”, which to me sounds like it could be a sequel to The Wizard Of Oz.

It’s good that this was achievable, and I think this makes sense — if it were closed, every time there was an event at the reserve, there’d have been a lot more traffic in the surrounding streets. And given North Road won’t have its level crossing, the number of rat-runners should reduce.

Train alterations

As I flagged in this blog post, Frankston express trains will stop all stations from mid-November. PTV were very slow at loading the timetable, but it’s there (at least for the first week) now.

A handful of trains won’t run each day, but most will. This is perhaps understandable given longer running times, but may result in crowding.

As now, some trains will run direct, some via the Loop. (I’m writing this on a train. I can overhear someone on the phone claiming they will all run direct and he’ll have to change for the Loop with heaps of other people. He’s in for a pleasant surprise.)

PTV has a brochure about service changes, though there are multiple errors in the map (they show the old 626 route, and show tram 64 curtailed at North Road). Confusingly it also has the Sandringham line shown in grey — blue would make more sense, since it’ll still be running. The car parks are in the wrong positions, as well.

I’m told a new version will be out shortly; hopefully it fixes these problems.

Bustitution

After the taster of bus replacement services a couple of weekends ago, the arrangements are being reviewed. Bus stop locations are being reconsidered — some apparently were put in without much time available. Sounds like many will move closer to the main road intersections, which was the main problem with them.

They’re saying that during the peak of replacement services, some 100 buses will be deployed between Caulfield and Moorabbin, with 75 normally in service, and 25 on standby. That should be quite a sight to see, but it indicates the scale of moving the usual Frankston line peak loads, and how many cars a rail line keeps off the roads in peak hour.

Instead of express and stopping buses, all buses will stop on demand (eg press the buzzer for your station). I think this makes sense — it will speed up loading and despatch considerably — just fill and despatch the buses as people arrive — and prevent passenger confusion. When I sampled it, the express buses were only seconds faster than the stopping buses.

Apparently overall the main road route has been well-received, as it’s much more efficient, though there are some concerns about those with mobility challenges getting from the station. Some kind of on-demand taxi service is being considered.

They’re also working on more traffic light green time for buses (particularly a problem southbound at North and South Roads) and temporary clear ways.

Some traders are worried about the reduction in activity around the stations during this time. This hasn’t been very apparent on weekends, but I suppose weekdays are a different story.

Level crossing removal works near Ormond

New stations coming soon

A few other design issues are moving towards a conclusion, for instance the Murray Road issue and whether a south side entrance can be provided at Ormond Station (hopefully at least for platforms 1 and 2 — platform 3 isn’t nearly as important, as under normal circumstances it is barely used, and providing it may be difficult due to the local streetscape).

It’s great to see this project progressing. For locals, remember to stay up to date via the official web site.

Update

Honestly, sometimes I despair. No wonder the bloke on the train thought there will be barely any Loop services during the level crossing works — this poster (snapped by Andrew at Mckinnon this morning) purports to show the modified timetable. What it instead shows is just the modified express trains. This means about half the services are missing — almost all the Loop trains.

Incorrect Frankston line works timetable seen at Mckinnon Station

You just wonder sometimes if anybody checks this stuff before it goes out.

I’ve passed this back to the project team to get it fixed.

Update 10pm — another, similar poster seen at Flagstaff at 6pm implies Frankston line trains won’t run through the Loop during peak.

Incorrect poster for altered Frankston line services during level crossing removals

I’m told the Mckinnon poster has been removed already… not sure about other stations.

In some ways this issue isn’t new — I’ve seen other notifications in the past that focus solely on the additional/altered/removed services. But passengers don’t think like that. They need to see the changes in context. Displaying timetables like this which only show half the services is just pointless and misleading.

Update 9/11/2015 — Metro continues to display these misleading posters — they’ve appeared at more stations and online over the weekend. I’ve heard multiple reports of people (including Metro staff) reading them and concluding that they show the train timetable whereas they actually show just the altered services.

After all, if it looks like a timetable, it must be a timetable, right?

Apart from missing all the short services originating from Carrum, Mordialloc, Cheltenham and Moorabbin, it doesn’t even show all the trains departing from Frankston: the 7:07 and the 7:30 aren’t shown, because they’re not altered.

And just to underscore the lack of thought that went into this, the fine print at the bottom adds this irrelevancy: the disclaimer about bicycles, surfboards and dogs not being permitted on buses. What buses?!

As I said: useless and misleading.

Melbourne’s rail viewing platform

In quiet Railway Place, North Melbourne, just south of the station, there’s long been a viewing platform for rail enthusiasts to gaze upon the glory of the tracks between Southern Cross and North Melbourne.

Rail Viewing Platform, near North Melbourne station

It must have at least pseudo-official status as it’s marked in the Melway (map 2E, reference F1).

Google Maps doesn’t show it… but I guess that’s in keeping with GMaps not having public transport data

Rail Viewing Platform, near North Melbourne station

Rail Viewing Platform, near North Melbourne station

Happily, the recent Regional Rail Link upgrades to the rail flyover left it in place, and it now provides a close-up view of the many V/Line RRL trains now using it to get into Southern Cross.

Unfortunately RRL’s widening of a bridge in Footscray resulted in the demolition of a former trainspotters’ favourite, the Small Poppies cafe on Nicholson Street, overlooking the western side of the station (including the Bunbury Street tunnel) though this had long since changed hands, and wasn’t such a great venue for simply dropping in.

If you’re ever passing North Melbourne and want to have a sit down and watch a few trains, the Rail Viewing Platform is recommended.

  • eMelbourne says it was built in 1994. Designer Bernice McPherson; architects Craig Perry and Peter Dann, and officially opened by Michael Leunig

The Murray Road conundrum: can a crossing be provided?

As I’ve touched upon in previous posts, there are numerous technical hurdles with the Bentleigh area level crossing removals.

Via the stakeholder group I’m learning that a lot of the cost with any removal where the railway line is dropped down under the road is related to carefully moving all the services that are buried — gas, water, phone, electricity and no doubt others. A lot of the cost is also in “occupations” – shutting down the rail line and providing replacement services.

My previous post on the project has a lot of detail on the overall project, if you’re not familiar with it, but one issue has come up repeatedly which hasn’t been resolved:

Can a pedestrian crossing be provided at Murray Road?

Murray Road, Ormond

Ormond (Map: Melway online)

Murray Road sits midway between Ormond and Mckinnon stations, which is one of the longest sections of track in this area that has no crossings.

While the road has the same name on both sides of the railway line, it appears the road was never joined, or perhaps it was joined only before the railway line was built in about 1880.

The history is hazy, but I’ve heard numerous accounts (including a blog commenter) of a pedestrian underpass having been there in the past — possibly an informal crossing which was really part of a creek/flood plain running underneath the tracks, which is clearly shown in this MMBW plan of the area.

Murray Road crossing - MMBW

Apparently the underpass was filled-in in the 1980s when the third track was added, and any trace of it has since disappeared, with the local roads having been fully sealed over the top, and houses built right up to the line on the western side.

The only real indicator I could see is a small park on the western side with obvious water-related infrastructure present, with manhole access to pumps, floats, vega and penstock.

(What is a Penstock, anyway? Oh — Wikipedia says it’s a “a sluice or gate or intake structure that controls water flow, or an enclosed pipe that delivers water to hydro turbines and sewerage systems.” And a vega? It might be this: “a meadow located within a forested and relatively small drainage basin”.)

Murray Road, Ormond: Penstock

Because of this underground water and the pipes that carry it, the level crossing removal project has to build the line back up to street level between the new Ormond and Mckinnon station underpasses. And this appears to be the key problem in providing a pedestrian crossing.

Above, between, below?

Not unreasonably, the government doesn’t want to build at-grade pedestrian level crossing. The project is focussed on removing level crossings, not building new ones. In fact there’s a government policy of not providing new crossings, and the project team says the only way it would be done is if the Minister for Public Transport specifically approves it, based on advice from the relevant authorities.

The safety record for at-grade crossings isn’t great, though it seems to me the big problems occur where they occur on busy streets, particularly in busy shopping centres and adjacent to railway stations.

Putting in an overpass appears to be problematic, with issues of privacy from views into back yards, and a lack of space to build ramps that would be required to make such a structure accessible. The project team says acquisition of public and private land would be required.

But what about an underpass?

Space is tight, and DDA (ramp) access is obviously an issue, but some local campaigners believe it should be possible to provide an underpass alongside the existing water pipes, either parallel or at an angle across the line.

Apart from the water pipes, there’s also a high pressure gas line somewhere there, and the project team says flooding would be likely to be an issue, with installation of a flood wall being necessary.

There might be impacts on the eastern (Cadby Avenue) side of the line, but this could be an opportunity to use a traffic-calming road chicane to slow down cars — chicanes are common around Glen Eira, with several in nearby streets.

There are concerns that an underpass might have to have blind corners, reducing visibility and safety. But these are not an insurmountable problem — mirrors and effective lighting can be used to improve visibility.

Theoretically another option would be to lower the rail line at this point instead, but the project team says that too would not be practical due to the cost of relocating services, particularly the storm water drain.

Murray Road, Ormond

Why would a crossing be useful?

To the west, Ormond Primary School is on Murray Road. To the east, there is Joyce Park and the northern end of Mckinnon Secondary College. And in fact a few years ago, a pedestrian crossing on Jasper Road was built close to Murray Road.

Providing an east-west route on that alignment would bring a vast improvement to mobility for those walking or cycling in the area, and is likely to reduce car use for local trips which are currently impractical on foot.

It would certainly be a lot safer for cyclists, who currently have little choice but to use the nearest main roads. North Road is a traffic sewer, with no bike lanes. Mckinnon Road is quieter and with bike lanes, but as local member Nick Staikos noted recently, narrow bike lanes that are full of parked cars aren’t very useful as bike lanes. Mckinnon Road doesn’t actually have a great safety record — there have been multiple bike vs car accidents recently.

What the outcome will be isn’t really clear. One would hope the project team are doing their best to explore every option to see if a crossing of some kind is possible.

A huge project like a grade separation shouldn’t be planned in isolation.

This has the broader point about level crossing removals having a big (positive) impact on local communities, and that they should be considered as part of broader transport and land use planning for these areas.

No doubt there are similar cases right across Melbourne, where grade separation should provide an opportunity to provide more places to get under or over the rail line, to improve amenity and access.

Notably, none of this would be a problem if the line was being elevated. Perhaps that was never going to happen here, given the housing in close proximity to much of the rail line and the North Road (rail under) plans having progressed well before the decision to include the other two crossings, but there are some clear lessons here for other locations.