What if the train lines were given letters?

If you haven’t heard, the train and tram stoppages for Friday have been cancelled.

Say you know which line you want, you’ve found the correct platform, but a train comes in with some obscure station on the destination sign — how do you know if you can catch it?

Carrum train arriving at Flagstaff

You might have only a few seconds to work out if it’s on your line, and if so, whether it stops at your station. If you’re lucky your station is on the screen, and you have to quickly scan through dozens of place names to find it… but if you’re unlucky, there’s no screen, just a two-line LED display (which may or may not be close enough to read) with the unfamiliar destination and “Stopping all stations”.

With Melbourne’s notoriously inconsistent train operations, this can be quite a challenge.

One way some cities get around this is to use labels that apply no matter how far along the line the train is going.

London uses names that aren’t generally place names — some are cultural references (Jubilee), some reference the central locations they serve (Bakerloo), or have various other names.

Many system maps use colours to distinguish their lines (ours will soon), but some cities such as Chicago and Washington DC use colours as the names for their lines.

New York City uses letters and numbers.

Paris and many other cities use just numbers for the Metro (in Paris they also use letters, for the RER suburban system).

Sydney is hedging its bets – for the moment they have the old names for individual lines and also new numbers (eg T1, T2, T3…) to group the lines.

What is a “line”, anyway?

Perhaps we need to step back a bit and decide what is a train line? Are Pakenham and Cranbourne separate, or one?

I’d tend to go with: if they share most stations and a level of timetable coordination (for instance to ensure even frequencies), as well as sharing tracks, then it’s one line.

That makes Dandenong a line, with branches to Pakenham and Cranbourne. Frankston is a separate line; most stations aren’t common, they mostly use separate tracks, and their timetables aren’t co-ordinated (much).

But South Morang and Hurstbridge are separate lines because they don’t share most stations. Werribee and Williamstown? Perhaps.

Letters for Melbourne?

So… bearing in mind the aim is to help with navigation and being able to quickly work out if you can catch that approaching train, what if Melbourne’s train lines were given letters? Something like this, going anticlockwise…

B = (Brighton and) Sandringham

F = Frankston

D = Dandenong (Pakenham and Cranbourne)

G = Glen Waverley

R = Ringwood (Belgrave and Lilydale)

A = Alamein (because most of the time it’s a shuttle)

H = Hurstbridge

M = South Morang, soon Mernda.

U = Upfield

C = Craigieburn

S = Sunbury

N = Newport (Werribee, Williamstown, Altona Loop).

What about variations? They could be described with a second small letter – Rb for Belgrave, Rl for Lilydale, Dp for Pakenham, Dc for Cranbourne.

Stopping patterns? Fx for Frankston express, perhaps?

Oh, but what about Werribee and Williamstown? N1 and N2? Altona Loop? Na?

Or given most Werribee and Williamstown will be through-routed to Frankston, perhaps you give them a different name? Within Metro they’re known as the Cross-City group, but maybe you could call them Bayside or something?

What happens when a line gets extended? Do you change the name? We do in Melbourne, but in Perth they still call the Joondalup line that, even though it now runs further.

Once the metro rail tunnel opens, Dandenong will connect through to Sunbury, and eventually the Airport. What do you call it then? Call it P for the Parkville line? Or stick with D for Domain perhaps?

In the short term, colours are likely to get more emphasis, as the new map and associated station signage rolls out.

Perhaps the naming is all too hard. But with outbound trains towards Frankston having head boards of “Frankston”, “Carrum”, “Mordialloc”, “Cheltenham” or “Moorabbin”, clearly there’s scope to make things clearer.

Promoting “Turn up and go” public transport

Nothing makes public transport more usable than frequent services, where you don’t need a timetable, you just “turn up and go” — in transport planning circles this is actually known by the TUAG acronym.

Regular readers might know: the Frankston and Dandenong lines now have TUAG trains every ten minutes every day for much of the day. The Ringwood line is every ten minutes at weekends, fifteen on weekdays (inter-peak).

But people don’t know about it. How would they? There’s been virtually no promotion, and I’ve rambled on about this many times.

At last it seems someone is listening — large billboards are popping up prominent locations close to the lines with the frequent services. These three billboards are at Moorabbin, close to the Frankston line.

Frankston line: Turn Up And Go advertising at Moorabbin

Frankston line: Turn Up And Go advertising at Moorabbin

Frankston line: Turn Up And Go advertising at Moorabbin

I’m told billboards are also up along the Dandenong line, and similar posters are starting to appear on stations:

I do wonder if the non-public-transport-using layman will quite register what “Turn up and go” means if they don’t read the smaller “every ten minutes” message. I’d have put the latter in big letters across the sign. (But I’m no advertising expert.)

In any case it’s great to see them taking this seriously. Previous attempts have either been far too vague, or too short-lived and sporadic to get into people’s heads. (There were a few TV ads, for a short time.)

Trains every ten minutes every day is a genuinely good service, and makes the train service much more useful for people. It needs good promotion so that more people know about it.

Of course, it would help if it were backed-up by their own automated signage.

This sign and others like it would be great advertising — by showing to passers-by that the next train is rarely more than 10 minutes away… but for some reason the train information they show on the platforms can’t make it onto a sign 50 metres away on the street.

Bentleigh station automated signage

I’m not holding my breath for that one to be fixed. It’s been this way for more than four years. (Yeah I know it’s not quite identical information — in the station you want to see the next train on that platform; on the street you want to see the next train in each direction.)

Perhaps they’ll fix this when the station is rebuilt.

But in the mean time, advertising to better promote good things is worthwhile.

Most people know roughly where the trains go, but making them aware of the existence of services every ten minutes should hopefully get more people on board. Some promotion to help build awareness and patronage will help ensure similar frequency upgrades can spread across the network.

August anniversaries

It’s the end of the phone call that I remember the most. Before she hung up, she said: “Drive safely”.

I’m sure it was a standard line, but I’m equally sure she meant it. She was a nurse; the last thing she’d want having communicated the bad news would be the recipient having a crash on the way to be there.

I rang my sister, and simply said “He’s gone”, and we headed to the hospital to see Dad.

That was five years ago today.

I still miss him, the clever, silly man. His final years were a challenge for us, but I know that to the last, he was busy reading, writing, thinking — and watching rugby.

His loss is not something that sticks in my mind constantly, but it is something I think about a lot at this time of year.

Other anniversaries this month

In fact any August in a year divisible by five is full of anniversaries for me.

This year I’ll be turning 45. The beauty of being born in a “zero” year is it’s easy to remember my age.

It’ll be 10 years since I bought my house.

15 years since the only time I lost an hour from my birthday, thanks to the early switch to daylight savings for the Olympics.

It’ll be 20 years since Windows 95 came out, which I remember with great affection. (My eldest son also turned 20 earlier this year – something also remembered with great affection!)

It’ll be 25 years since I started the Toxic Custard mailing list, the forerunner of this blog.

That anachronistic level crossing regulation came up for review. It hasn’t been changed (yet)

It’s Rail Safety Week, an annual event to highlight the importance of staying safe around trains. It’s an important issue, and the official video is well worth a look:

Back in 2012, The Age highlighted the issue of level crossing regulations which are illogical, and out of step with engineering practice as well as public perception.

Basically, many level crossings adjacent to stations with island platforms have independently operating pedestrian gates. The gates only close if a train is approaching on that track. The regulations say that it is illegal to cross through an open gate. The signage is similarly anachronistic.

So this is perfectly safe, but technically illegal:

Crossing safely as a train passes on the other track

For Rail Safety Week, there is been an increased police presence at numerous level crossings. On Wednesday morning at Bentleigh, two police were watching pedestrians cross. Thankfully in line with common sense, they did not book people for crossing through an open pedestrian gate when another road boom gates were closed.

But as the 2012 Age article noted, some people have been fined for it in the past.

The law still needs reform. Obviously it should continue to be illegal for dangerous acts, but it shouldn’t be illegal to cross in a safe manner.

And in fact the government just did a review of precisely these regulations: the Transport (Compliance and Miscellaneous) (Conduct on Public Transport) Regulations. The revised regulations took effect in June.

The PTUA and other organisations submitted comments to the review — you can read a summary of the comments and responses from the department here. The PTUA specifically suggested this regulation be modified…

From the response, it appears they now understand there’s a problem, but are still trying to figure out how to change the regulations.

Regulation 22(2)

Even recognising the issue is progress. I guess the wheels of government move slowly.

Other notable points as I read through the regulations and the notes on the changes:

  • Apparently until now it has been technically illegal to exit a tram from the right hand side, despite numerous tram stops requiring you to do so
  • The government is still trying to figure out what they think about eCigarettes. (They may not be as dangerous to others as regular cigarettes, but personally I don’t like them.)
  • It’s now an offence to board the first door of the first carriage of a metropolitan train with a bicycle (regulation 11). As most would know, that space is for those with mobility aids — there’s increasing signage to reflect this.
  • Crossing between tram platforms on a street, while common and nowhere near as unsafe as crossing between railway platforms, is still officially verboten — and incurs the same fine (20 penalty units) (regulation 22)
  • There’s a bunch of rules that are quite specific about car parking in Designated park and ride facilities as part of a trial at these stations: Box Hill, Burwood, Camberwell, Heidelberg, Highett and Murrumbeena (Schedule 1)
  • As part of this, it appears to be legal to use public transport car parking without using public transport as long as it’s outside the hours of 6am to 7pm (regulation 51). You can also park there at those times for up to an hour if you don’t leave the car park (regulation 52) — eg to wait to pick someone up.

Bentleigh: old real estate ads

I was looking on the State Library’s web site for material related to my local suburb, and found these old real estate ads.

This one is from back when Bentleigh was called East Brighton. It’s dated 1885. It’s the area immediately to the east of the railway station, which opened in 1881, and was renamed to Bentleigh in 1907, the year after the local post office was renamed.
Ad for East Brighton Estate (Bentleigh)
(Source: State Library, Victoria)

Note that Bent Street had that name well before the area was named Bentleigh.

130 years later, this area immediately around the station is subject to a lot of real estate ads again, as many of the houses are being replaced by apartment developments. Being close to the station is obviously still an advantage.
Bentleigh development, 2015

On the other side of the railway line, closer to what is now Nepean Highway, was the Zion Hill estate. This ad is also from 1885. Note it implies it is much closer to Brighton than it really is — it’s actually far closer to East Brighton/Bentleigh. Some real estate agents were obviously in the habit even back then of exaggerating.
Ad for Zion Hill estate, Bentleigh 1885
(Source: State Library, Victoria)

Further south east from the station was the Marriott Estate. The date is unclear, but it’s assumed to be 1920s.
Ad for Marriot Estate (Bentleigh)
(Source: State Library, Victoria)

Note again the location of the estate. If you didn’t spot the small gap in the road markings, you’d assume it was a quick walk from both Bentleigh and Moorabbin railway stations (Patterson station didn’t open until 1961), but actually it’d be at least a fifteen minute walk.

Zoom up on the photo at the bottom-left and we can see a group of “recently erected” shops at Bentleigh. This is looking west towards the railway line, from roughly where Target is now. A support for the railway overhead electric wire is visible in the background, meaning this would be 1920s or later — electrification occurred in 1922.
Bentleigh shops, 1920s

The track in the foreground was used to guide heavily laden carts full of produce going to market, and manure on the way back, one of a number of such “tram” tracks built in the area.

Here’s a similar view today:
Bentleigh, Centre Road, 2015

There’s some interesting stuff in the State Library collection, much of it online — well worth a look if you’re researching local history.