The old railway line to Rutherglen and Wahgunyah

On the road to Rutherglen a few weeks ago, we came across this: the old railway. Some photos below.

Apparently it opened in 1879, with passenger trains running until 1962, and freight trains until 1995. These days the nearest operating railway is at Springhurst a few kilometres away, on the main line to Albury and Sydney.

If you take a look at Andrew Waugh’s excellent VRHistory web site, you’ll see maps that show just how extensive the Victorian Railways were. By 1940, the network reached most populated parts of the state, before it contracted in the decades following.

By the way, it’s notable that some argue that not only should the South Morang line be extended to Mernda, but also another 10 kilometres to Whittlesea where it used to run. I’m not convinced. Just because there used to be a line to Whittlesea doesn’t automatically mean it should be rebuilt. The Urban Growth Boundary doesn’t extend out that far. Serving the population, not empty fields, is the priority for public transport upgrades.

The old railway line to Wahgunyah, near Rutherglen, Vic

The old railway line to Wahgunyah, near Rutherglen, Vic

The old railway line to Wahgunyah, near Rutherglen, Vic

Nagambie’s new life-size statue of Black Caviar

On the way up to Rutherglen for the wedding, we detoured past Nagambie on family business and to stop for lunch.

Nagambie’s bypass opened earlier this year. Traffic between Melbourne and Shepparton therefore no longer goes via the town, and it’s obvious that they’ve been trying to work out how to ensure some people still come through and patronise local businesses.

Their answer? Black Caviar!

The undefeated champion horse was born in Nagambie in 2006, and for some time now there have been signs up on the highway approach into town proclaiming this. But last Thursday they went one better, unveiling a lifesize statue of the mare, in a prominent position on the main street, by the lake.

Black Caviar statue, Nagambie

As you can see, it’s an impressive piece of work, with a lot of detail.

Its spot by the lake is handily located right next to the V/Line bus stop, also used by private buses from Melbourne airport. (V/Line trains also serve Nagambie a few times a day; the station is a few hundred metres away. The V/Line buses help fill gaps between trains in the timetable.)

Black Caviar statue, Nagambie

When we stopped past on Friday, so were others. There was a light but steady stream of people coming past, taking photos, reading the plaques.

Each side of the pedestal the statue is on has a plaque, and each has different information about the horse. This one is down the back end:

Black Caviar statue, Nagambie

It appears special solar-powered CCTV has been installed to protect the statue:

Black Caviar statue CCTV

Around the town, there were still balloons and signs up, and some businesses had Black Caviar specials for the week.

Nagambie: Black Caviar colours around town

(One for the gunzels: a picture in a nearby noticeboard of a diesel engine in Black Caviar colours.)

What the national media might have missed when covering the story on Thursday was the controversy around the location of the statue.

Angry residents gathered at Nagambie yesterday vowing to fight the decision to put up a statue of super horse Black Caviar on the site of the former Chapel of the Lake.

The church, built in 1885, was destroyed in 2003 when a truck crashed through the middle of it.

Where the church stood, bricks from the original building have been formed into a cross and a small display explains the history of the site.

Shepparton News 22/6/2013: Black Caviar statue fury

One family member who is a local couldn’t figure out why the Black Caviar statue wasn’t placed further along, leaving the church memorial in place. It’s not like Black Caviar had a specific link to that exact spot by the lake.

Oh well, if you’re driving past Nagambie and fancy getting off the freeway, or are coming past in a V/Line bus, check out the statue.

(Note for geeks: Black Caviar is, of course, not to be confused with Caviar Black hard drives, now known as Western Digital Black.)

Video from my trip to Europe in 1998

15 years ago I got back from my first trip to Europe. Here, finally, are the video highlights.

Daniel’s 1998 Europe trip highlights from Daniel Bowen on Vimeo.

Includes England (south-east, London, and York), Scotland (Edinburgh, Inverness, Plockton), Brussels, Bruges, Amsterdam.

Worth noting…

  • The blog posts written at the time are available here: Europe 1998.
  • This was pre-Oyster. Most of the travel around London was old mag stripe travelcards.
  • I can’t help noticing how red my face got when walking in the wilderness of Scotland.
  • Sorry about the picture quality. This was filmed on Video 8, and has come via VHS. This edit excludes most of the footage from visiting my family in England.

The long and winding road

We went to Walhalla for a night to camp on Sunday (it’s been about a year since last time). Apart from a little rain on the way up, nice weather — though a little hot when the sun got going.

Camping at Walhalla

The rain didn’t affect the camp site when we were there, but had other consequences.

After you get off the freeway and head through Moe towards Walhalla, you end up on twisty, windy roads for quite a way. A ute with a P-plate came up behind me… I figured it was a local driving who would probably know the road better than I, so I came to a straight section and slowed down and indicated left to let him overtake me, which he did.

Only a few seconds later he skidded down into a tight curve, and smashed into a safety barrier.

We stopped and I called out to him to ask if he (and his passenger) were okay. He said yeah, but he didn’t sound too happy. The barrier was bent, and so probably was his car.

The barrier wasn’t saving him from falling down a ravine or anything, but it does emphasise the importance of driving to the conditions… no matter how well you might think you know the road, it’s not a great idea to zoom along when it’s been raining and is slippery.

Late-night camp food

Camping itself was terrific fun, just like last time. Good company, fun times around the fire, and improvised camp food which this time around resulted in a wondrous creation: chocolate and strawberry jaffles. Yum.

On the way home we had the honour to stop off at the prestigious BP Officer inbound freeway service centre, opened by Mr Dean Salter (vice-president of BP Australia) himself in 2011. Gosh. Such an honour.

Wow. So prestigious. Almost makes up for the Gulf Of Mexico Deep Horizon spill, doesn't it.

Could High Speed Rail from Melbourne to Sydney be as fast as air travel?

Sydney Central station

The Federal government’s High Speed Rail study assumes a route from Melbourne via Canberra to Sydney of between 823 and 842 km (mostly following existing highways), with trains reaching up to 350 km/h, and a three hour trip time from Melbourne to Sydney.

Some people who argue against the idea like to claim there is no way this estimated three hour travel time could be competitive with air, when the plane trip is only a bit over an hour.

But if the train was Melbourne CBD to Sydney CBD, how does plane compare to that?

On Thursday, I had a quick trip up to Sydney. Here’s how the trip up panned-out (times as close as I can estimate from photos, receipts etc).

9:04am. Step off suburban train from home at Southern Cross. Briskly walk towards the Skybus terminus.

9:10am. Skybus departs towards airport. (There were five more people aboard than seats available.)

Skybus

9:31am. Skybus makes first stop for international and domestic flights other than Qantas/Jetstar. I stay aboard, though given the traffic in the airport, and the fact that the second bus stop is actually a little way past the Qantas terminal entrances, I always wonder if I should jump off here and walk the rest of the way to Qantas.

9:34am. Alight Skybus at the Qantas stop.

9:38am. Attempt to check-in. This doesn’t work and the machine tells me I need to seek assistance from staff. I don’t know what went wrong, but the staffer got it figured-out. It might have been because my boarding pass for the trip back was linked to a colleague’s who’d flown up earlier in the day.

9:45am. Go through airport security.

9:55am. Board plane.

Just after 10:00, after the last stragglers board and squeeze their barely-fitting carry-on suitcases into the overhead lockers, the plane pushes back.

11:20am. Plane lands. Apparently it’s a distance of 713 km (more or less, obviously since the exact flight path would vary), so if it’s a 75 minute flight, that would be a speed of about 570 km/h.

We (eventually, after aforementioned people struggle to get their suitcases sorted out) alight.

Sydney: Domestic airport station

11:33am. Find and enter the Domestic Airport station entrance.

11:37am. Buy rail ticket from the vending machine. By the way, it came with a compulsory receipt (which I needed to claim back from work), which unlike Myki receipts, did not include my name nor the bulk of my credit card number.

Sydney airport train ticket and receipt

11:38am. Go through station gate and down to the platform.

11:43am. Board train to city.

11:54am. Train arrives at Central station. (I stayed on for another 4 minutes, or two stops, to St James, which dropped me in the heart of the CBD.)

By air: 164 minutes. By rail: 180 minutes?

So in fact, the Melbourne CBD to Sydney CBD trip took from 9:10am to 11:54am, or 164 minutes, and that was without having to buy a Skybus ticket (I always buy them online to avoid the queues), without checking in baggage, without long queues at security (there were about 3 people ahead of me in the line), nor any significant delays on the flight, and with a short wait for the train (but I didn’t just miss one, for instance due to buying the train ticket).

I’m not a regular business traveller, but to my untrained eye, this trip appears to be close to the ideal Melbourne to Sydney plane ride. But CBD to CBD, it was only 16 minutes shorter than the theoretical fast train travel time of 3 hours — though one would need to take into account check-in and waiting time for train, of course.

On the train it is likely you’d be able to make phone calls, use the internet and any portable electronic devices one might have handy — with no “turn everything off” blackout period during departure and arrival, as on a plane. You’d also be able to move around more freely.

Certainly it would produce less carbon emissions. And the government’s study is predicated on a train also serving Canberra along the way, making trips to/from there more convenient.

There are significant hurdles to getting High Speed Rail built, of course, particularly the huge infrastructure cost. But in a busy air corridor like Melbourne to Sydney, it’s not hard to imagine that it might work quite well.

I suspect that once they proclaim me emperor, I’ll tell the airlines that starting in, say, 10 years, their flight paths between Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney will be cut by 10% per year. And I’ll recommend they start investing in and building a high-speed rail line to replace their planes, on condition that it’s a joint venture to maximise train frequencies (rather than split them between companies).*

And before you say it’s impossible, Lufthansa Airways is in the train business. (So is Virgin, of course, but Virgin’s into just about every business one can think of.)

  • *Footnote: sadly all of this paragraph is unlikely to ever happen.
  • The high speed rail study did say that they looked at a Sydney terminus at Parramatta or Homebush, which would cut costs, but obviously lengthen the travel time to the Sydney CBD.

Railway lines down freeways: good idea? Only if there’s no viable alternative

Some people will tell you that rail lines down freeways are a great idea, because “the train overtaking cars is a great advertisement for public transport.”

Perth has done this, primarily because it’s been the easiest way of extending the train network. So the Clarkson/Joondalup and Mandurah lines both run down the middle of freeways.

And it’s long been proposed to build Melbourne’s Doncaster line this way, which I think makes a lot of sense.

But having seen the Perth examples up close recently just re-inforces my view that it’s only a good idea if there is no viable alternative — for a number of reasons…

On the Clarkson/Joondalup line, Perth

Stations on freeways are very pedestrian un-friendly

As I’ve noted in the past, you are pretty much killing off any pedestrian use into the stations… and this is actually how the bulk of people reach railway stations in Melbourne at present.

You either end up having to put in lots of car-parking (which on level ground can cost tens of thousands of dollars per space, let alone the astronomical cost of multi-storey — and severely limits your patronage, as well as denying access to those who don’t/can’t drive) or you have to bring in people by feeder bus — which needs a lot of effort/cost to make it work well.

Perth has actually made the effort to put in reasonable connecting buses at some of its stations, and (from what I saw waiting around at Murdoch in the evening peak) these are pretty well used, though the adjacent car parks were busy too.

Stations in freeway reservations are also unlikely to be destinations, because shops, universities, businesses and so on — all the things that have grown around most of Melbourne’s suburban railway stations — won’t develop. These are important to make stations and trains well-used at times other than peak, and make the whole thing more viable, by catering for more than just CBD 9-5 commuters.

It’s worth noting that the Mandurah line diverges away from the Kwinana Freeway at both ends — the CBD (at a cost as it included tunnels and two underground stations) to ensure people hopping off could walk to work, and the Mandurah end, presumably because (some) land was available and cheap, so they didn’t feel constrained to just the freeway. (That said, the Mandurah line doesn’t actually reach central Mandurah; you have to catch a bus the last little bit of the way.)

Near Murdoch station, Perth

Trains only overtake cars in peak hour

Let me tell you, it was great being in a train overtaking all the peak hour traffic on the Mandurah line. The trains were fast, frequent, and very popular.

Frankly, it was equally great being in a car in peak hour traffic being overtaken by trains.

But this only happens when the traffic is heavy. At all other times, including the peak-shoulder, trains don’t overtake cars because the traffic is moving faster.

Trains are at a particular disadvantage in off-peak hours, when the cars zoom along, and trains are less frequent. The result is — especially if you’re sitting at a station — the disheartening sight of waiting for 10, 20, 30 minutes while the traffic whizzes past you. That’s not a great advertisement for public transport; it’s a great advertisement for driving.

And if you’re driving and the average speed of the train is about the same (eg car at 100 kmh versus train at 130 kmh but with regular stops) you might not see any trains in the direction you’re travelling (only in the opposite direction). Again, that’s not a great advertisement for public transport.

Last resort

Don’t get me wrong — a railway line down a freeway is better than no railway line. For instance in the case of Melbourne’s Doncaster line, a very obvious easy affordable project would be a “phase 1″ from Victoria Park to Bulleen, with a bus interchange at Bulleen. That would get thousands of passengers on scores of at-capacity buses out of inner-city traffic on the freeway and Hoddle Street, and encourage thousands more to get out of their cars.

But overall, down freeways is not the first choice for where you should build railways.

Perth day 7: Heading home

All good things come to an end, and so it was with our Perth trip.

We had a sleep-in, then packed up our stuff into the car and headed out.

The flight wasn’t until lunchtime, but we had one more place to go before heading home: the boys have a strong interest in retro video gaming. (I can’t imagine where they got THAT from.) There are two retailers you can buy this kind of stuff from: Cash Converters, and a small chain called Gametraders.

So we arranged for my aunt to drive us to the only Gametraders in Western Australia, which is in a shopping centre called Centro Galleria, in the suburb of Morley, fortunately not too far from the airport. “Kate” (the name my aunt has given to her GPS unit) guided us there, and the boys had a happy time looking through the range, and buying a few ancient cartridges to play at home when they got back.

(I should note at this point that my cousin Justin also has an interest in video games, and in fact at my aunt’s house is his enviable collection, most or all of it still in boxes, in various cupboards. Very impressive.)

Perth airport

From there we headed back to the airport. I’d checked-in on my mobile phone earlier, but this time we were able to check-in our suitcase (arguably it’s quicker at your destination to leave it as hand luggage, but it’s less hassle wheeling it around the airport while you wait if it’s checked-in), and we also elected to get printed boarding passes, since on the mobile it had been a bit laborious calling up the three of them onto the screen when boarding.

While we waited we got a snack: some wedges (a reasonable-sized tray; enough for the three of us) and a drink.

Brigands! Pirates! Buccaneers! Gyroscopes! $13.70 for a bottle of water and some wedges?! #PerthAirport

I got a copy of The West Australian to read on the plane, and Qantas were giving away The Australian as well, so I had plenty to read. The flight itself was fine; no delays.

Flying home

The in-flight movie was Game Change, about the 2008 US Presidential Campaign, and Sarah Palin in particular. I found it interesting, though the kids were completely bored by it. Fair enough.

After landing, we did our usual thing: luggage, Skybus, then train home. The two-hour time-difference resulted in a little jetlag, but it certainly didn’t detract from a great holiday — thanks in no small way to the extraordinary hospitality of my aunt. Thanks Aunty!

Perth/WA trip day 6: caves, wineries, and back to the big smoke

Tuesday 10th July

We’d be heading from Margaret River back to Perth today, so we packed up the serviced apartment and loaded everything into the car, then headed to cave number two of our tour: Lake Cave.

Lake Cave, Western Australia

Lake Cave has guided tours, and while we waited for it to begin, we pondered the displays and the new-fangled terminology used. Their “Caveworks” display is not a museum exhibit — it’s an “eco interpretive centre”. And these are not just caves inside national parks that you can look around — no, they’re “living windows”.

The cave itself, like Jewel Cave the day before, is quite spectacular, particularly the steps down to the entrance mouth, which is itself a collapsed cave. Inside there were some amazing formations, and the guide noted that in the early days of cave exploration and tourism some damage had been done as there wasn’t much care taken by visitors.

Lake Cave, Western Australia

Lake Cave, Western Australia

On to Mammoth Cave, which includes no mammoths. It’s self-guided, using an industrial-strength iPod, and again, was spectacular in quite a different way, with vast caverns to explore. The way out reminded me a little of the Mines of Moria in the Lord Of The Rings film.

Mammoth Cave, Western Australia

Mammoth Cave, Western Australia

Mammoth Cave, Western Australia

Mammoth Cave, Western Australia

After all those caves, we craved lunch, and after a quick look at the Leeuwin winery (where I took a photo of some very wary cows), we ended up stopping off at the very impressive Voyager winery for food. It was so amazingly pristine that it gave me the impression of being a product of the slave trade, and they had the most massive Australian flag you’ve ever seen. We had a very nice, very posh lunch there, then headed north.

Cows at Leeuwin winery, Western Australia

Voyager winery, Western Australia

Some winery I can't remember the name of, near Margaret River, Western Australia

Our next stop was the amazing Canal Rocks formation, near Yallingup. We clambered all over them to have a look. My aunt reckons the same rock formations can be found in Madagascar, showing that we were all once part of Gondwanaland. It’s hard to describe them, so I’ll just post a few pictures.

Canal Rocks, Western Australia

Canal Rocks, Western Australia

Canal Rocks, Western Australia

Canal Rocks, Western Australia

North again, and another brief snack and toilet stop at Dunsborough, with each of us devouring something tasty from the bakery there. The boys, despite their unfavourable review of Spearmint milk a few days before, were rather impressed with the wide variety of flavoured milks in the bakery fridge.

In a fridge in Dunsborough, Western Australia

Then it was the drive back to Perth, happily against the peak hour traffic, which was pretty busy at that time of day.

After arriving back at my aunt’s house and unpacking and having a rest, we headed out for dinner: at Sizzler.

Sizzler is something that used to be common in Melbourne but has disappeared now… according to the Sizzler web site, they’re only now in WA, Queensland and NSW.

It’s all-you-can-eat buffet, surely words of joy to two hungry teenagers. The pricing is such that you basically order a main meal and get bottomless salads, pasta, soup, desserts and other yummy stuff all included.

My recollection is that Pizza Hut restaurants in Melbourne used to do a similar deal (but more pizza-oriented, obviously)… but Pizza Hut seems to have got out of the restaurant business; they only really do takeaway now.

Sizzler was pretty busy, even on a Tuesday night. Cunningly, they feed you “free” cheese-on-toast while you wait for your meal to arrive, surely a strategy to get you to fill up on the cheap stuff and eat less from the buffet.

The food itself is reasonably tasty. We all know that the deal is it’s not going to be fine cuisine, but neither is it horrible greasy euchy fast food.

I lost count of the number of times we went for refills of everything, but by the time we finished we were thoroughly stuffed full of food, and waddled out, very satisfied after a long day of travel.