V/Line: a ride on RRL, and 24-hour time… mostly

I finally took a ride on the Regional Rail Link last night. In summary:

Trains from the city to Geelong depart regularly, but from numerous platforms — when I was there in peak, it was 5A, then 7A, 15A, 1, 3A… and when I’d been there at lunchtime, 2B had also been in the mix. It wouldn’t hurt to have some consistency. As it is, if you just miss a train, you’re likely to have to backtrack a long way to figure out where to catch the next one.

V/Line departures: Southern Cross, peak hour

I caught the Southern Cross to Tarneit on the 17:44 to Geelong/Waurn Ponds — peak hour, quite crowded, every seat on the 5-car train occupied I think. A few people standing (probably by choice).

Tarneit station quite busy, perhaps 100 or more people alighted there. Not bad for the fourth weekday of operation. The area around the station is somewhat dominated by the car park (hopefully new development on the northern side will reduce this. Good to see the platforms have multiple exits.

Tarneit station, evening peak

Tarneit station park and ride

Hopped on another train to Wyndham Vale a few minutes later — not nearly as crowded.

Then a train back into the City — counter-peak, mostly empty. It was late, and the departure disappeared off the platform screens for a few minutes, a bit odd.

Notably, a lady hopped off the inbound train at Sunshine and changed onto the Sunbury line outbound, so while no doubt Geelong to Werribee people have been inconvenienced having to now make a bus connection, the opening of RRL has also made other trips easier.

Despite it being after 6pm and dark, I saw no sign whatsoever of PSOs at either of the new stations. They are not currently on the list of stations served by them, which seems odd.

It was too dark to see any scenery on this little jaunt, or even to fully appreciate the speed. There was a brief good view of the bright lights of the distant city between Deer Park and Tarneit. I’ll have to go back in daylight.

Riding V/Line in the dark

Footscray station platform 3 doesn’t have departure screens. This is cunning, given this is for citybound trains that you’re not meant to board there. (Sunshine does have them as that platform is used in both directions, but I’m told it doesn’t display citybound departures.)

It’s about time

It’s great to see a brand new rail line so popular already.

But something else I noticed…

24-hour time isn’t common in Australia, but V/Line uses it. It’s on their web site, on the screens at Southern Cross, and on their timetables… in fact the paper timetable has a panel explaining 24-hour time.

V/Line explains 24-hour time

Oddly, it’s not on their Passenger Information Displays at their stations. They all seem to be 12-hour time, even on the new platforms which exclusively serve V/Line trains.

Wyndham Vale station, evening counter-peak

Is it important? Not greatly in the grand scheme of things. But some consistency would be good across the greater public transport network of course. I’m undecided which is better… 12-hour time is more well and understood, but 24 avoids AM/PM ambiguity, and most people would know it from the world of air travel. It’s also used internally by operators.

It’s not the first time we’ve had inconsistency on this in public transport. The Metcard system used 12-hour times on the cards and readers, but from memory used 24-hour time when the readers showed expiry times.

It’s tax time! Have you considered donating to the PT Not Traffic campaign?

It’s tax time, and if you’re anything like me, every charity you’ve ever thrown money at has been writing to you to see if you’ll give them some more.

In the spirit of this, I’d like to put in a quick plug for donating to the Public Transport Not Traffic campaign — this is the PTUA’s campaign arm, and donations to it are tax-deductible.

PT to Parliament 2015

PTNT uses this money to help pay for a part-time campaigner — this was instrumental last year in running activities to lobby against the hugely wasteful and city-shaping (into a more car-dependent city, that is) East West toll road, and also activities such as the annual PT To Parliament event, which is a chance for residents to talk about PT issues as they ride into Parliament with their local MPs.

In coordination with PTUA, PTNT’s activities all help keep up the pressure for more investment in public transport infrastructure and services.

So, if you support the cause and you’re pondering where to send some tax-deductible donations before the end of the financial year, please consider giving to PTNT.

Of course, joining the PTUA is also very helpful and welcome! (Though not tax-deductible.)

  • I was curious how many countries have financial years ending in June. This page and chart in Wikipedia shows them: they include Australia, Egypt, NZ (government, not personal/corporate), Bangladesh, Pakistan,… and it seems not many others.
  • Ending in December, or March seems to be more common.
  • The USA used to finish in June, but got bumped in the 70s to September.

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Online services: they know all about you

I love using Google’s services, but I think everybody knows they (and Facebook and Twitter and many other big internet companies) make most of their money via advertising, and that’s based on what they know about YOU.

Like they say, the service is not the product — you are.

How much do they know about you? Quite a bit.

As F-Secure’s Mikko Hypponen remarked at a recent conference: “Go to Google and buy an ad. Go to Facebook and buy an ad. Go to Twitter and purchase a ‘promoted tweet’, because it will open your eyes.”

Computers at PAX 2014

Google popped up yesterday with a link to review my privacy settings. Amongst the information it showed was what Google thinks I’m interested in, based on my browsing history. It’s quite enlightening.

Here’s my list:

  • Apartments & Residential Rentals
  • Bus & Rail
  • Business & Productivity Software
  • Cleaning Supplies & Services
  • Computer Components
  • Computers & Electronics
  • Fishing
  • Food & Drink
  • Food & Grocery Retailers
  • Games
  • HVAC & Climate Control
  • Home Appliances
  • Internet Clients & Browsers
  • Linux & Unix
  • Melbourne
  • Mobile & Wireless
  • Mobile Phones
  • Movies
  • Music & Audio
  • Network Security
  • News
  • Outdoors
  • Programming
  • Shopping
  • Smart Phones
  • Software
  • TV Sci-Fi & Fantasy Shows
  • Travel
  • Web Design & Development
  • Web Services

They all look like things I’m interested in, with one notable exception: fishing. I have no idea why it would think that. I’m also not sure why Cleaning Supplies and Outdoors would be in the top 30, but I assume in all these cases I’ve gone to some web sites looking for something else, but featuring both those categories.

Perhaps it’s a similar scenario to the legendary (and quite amusing) 2002 article about people who get categorised by their Tivo as gay, or Neo-Nazi, or Korean, based on a program or two that they may have watched, and then try to “fool” it by watching the opposite.

Still, if Google fairly accurately flagged 28 out of 30 interests of mine, it makes one wonder just how much the big (and small) online companies know about us all as we gleefully use their free products.

  • Those with Google accounts might like to try the Privacy Checkup themselves.

RRL – good news its open (thanks to the GFC?)

I’ve been watching The Killing Season, the story of Labor and the switches in power between Rudd and Gillard. It’s really good, and episode one goes into some detail about the Global Financial Crisis, and the Rudd/Swan stimulus packages (two of them, totalling almost $60 billion) to fight it off.

The stimulus package was intended to spend money fast — the school halls and home insulation programs were evidence of that — some good outcomes from better school infrastructure and improved energy efficiency in thousands of homes, but fundamentally rushed and poorly planned.

Something that people might have forgotten is that Regional Rail Link was funded as part of the stimulus package. The Victorian government bureaucracy had been throwing the idea of a “Tarneit bypass” for the Geelong line for some years, in association with extending the Urban Growth Boundary to to encompass it.

If the GFC hadn’t happened, and if RRL hadn’t been close enough to ready to go (despite it being described later as costed on the back of an envelope) it may not have happened. Or at least, it might still be on the drawing board, perhaps overtaken by the Metro rail tunnel.

Wyndham Vale station open day

Even with the haphazard pre-planning — and for years the PTUA tried without success to get answers on the proposed changes to train schedules as part of it — it’s turned out well, perhaps far more so than the school halls and home insulation.

There are similar travel times from Geelong, despite the longer distance. Yes, they could have prioritised faster express trains, but these eat up track capacity, reduce frequency/service to skipped stations, and save little time (a minute or two per station). Thankfully, lessons have been learnt since the Regional Fast Rail project’s “flagship” trains — which were a near-pointless attempt to provide a single fast train per day from the commuter-belt into Melbourne. There’s some express running, but regular, more frequent services are far more valuable to users.

Wyndham Vale station open day

Importantly, the new stations (plus Deer Park) in the growth areas get decent rail services (at least on weekdays), with trains every 20 minutes most of the day, and timed connections to and from a re-designed local bus network.

I went along to the Wyndham Vale station open day on Saturday. It was very busy, with obviously a lot of interest from the locals, and (as at the opening of Lynbrook some years ago, overheard some saying they planned to start using the trains to get to work).

And there’s finally been some promotion of the new line, with flyers going to locals, and extensive newspaper advertising. (Now, when will they tell the Melburnians that trains run every 20 minutes to Geelong on weekdays?)

Regional Rail Link promotion

There are niggles: connections to Werribee and North Melbourne may be difficult for some passengers.

And crowding may be an issue at peak times for trains originating in Geelong and serving Wyndham Vale and Tarneit — hopefully PTV and V/Line will monitor this carefully and deploy extra carriages as they become available.

Indeed, the Wyndham Vale Leader says the 6:31am from South Geelong (7:10am at Tarneit) was looking pretty crowded this morning:

The separation of V/Line and Metro should help with the reliability of both, and provides extra capacity. But on the Metro side of the fence, almost none of this is being used yet. (From what I understand, they have enough metro trains available to do a lot more.)

RRL paths provided vs used, June 2015 timetable

On Metro, and elsewhere, numerous changes were expected with this timetable change, but have apparently been postponed until later in the year:

  • Wholesale re-write of the Sunbury and Werribee lines to take into account the removal of V/Line services from the majority of those lines — that is, timings due to previous congestion, and extra services on both (bar the two extra Werribee trains)
  • Postponing adding extra Sunbury services appears to be behind not enforcing the ban on using V/Line between Melbourne and Sunbury/Pakenham, due to the gaps of up to 40-60 minute between metro services at Sunbury. (Pakenham is okay in this regard; it’s every 20 minutes most of the time.)
  • Restoration of direct trains to the City for Altona Loop services on weekdays off-peak hasn’t happened
  • The new rail map is delayed, meaning the two newest suburban stations aren’t on metropolitan rail maps for now, and we’re stuck with the old confusing map
  • Flagstaff was going to open on weekends — not yet!
  • Numerous changes to the tram network were also held over

Hopefully it’s full steam ahead on these important upgrades to keep the network improving.

Photos from June 2005

Another in my series of photos from ten years ago

This month almost everything (bar some family snaps) was transport-related. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The south end of Elizabeth Street. Hasn’t changed much apart from, as with the rest of the city, being busier with pedestrians, and that particular tram stop has gone. And the trams are no longer in the livery some dubbed “battleship grey”.
Elizabeth Street, June 2005

Further up Elizabeth Street, outside the GPO. Tram platform stops here make this location look somewhat different today.
Melbourne GPO, June 2005

Bourke Street Mall, probably several makeovers ago. Note the Rockstar INXS advertising… I seem to recall that was a reality TV show at the time. Doesn’t the Bradman’s sign look old fashioned! Here’s the same spot today — it’s still there.
Bourke Street Mall, June 2005

Bourke and Swanston Streets. Way before tram platform stops reached this area.
Swanston+Bourke Streets, June 2005

Glenhuntly station in the fog. I was a regular there back then.
Glenhuntly station in the fog, June 2005

Flinders Street Station (at Elizabeth Street) at night. Way down in the bottom-left of the picture you can see the Metcard barriers.
Flinders Street Station, June 2005

(Here’s a similar daytime picture from 2004.)

And finally, a Werribee line train (in those yeuchy Siemens pre-Connex colours) awaits departure from Flinders Street. This photo ended up being the subject of some Photoshopping to put Rowville and Doncaster and other proposed destinations in the display, for PTUA campaigns.
Train to Werribee, June 2005

Also in June 2005: A full (off-peak) shutdown of the rail network after water leaked into the control room — an incident with similarities to yesterday’s full (peak) shutdown due to water leaking into a fire alarm system.