It wasn’t just a 37 day project

What they got done at Bentleigh, Mckinnon and Ormond during the 37 day shutdown of the Frankston line to remove the level crossings was very impressive, and I’m told the project team are (rightly) proud of the results.

But… particularly when evaluating different methodologies and plans for future projects, one needs to be very careful to get all the facts.

It’s simply incorrect to imply that 37 days was the full extent of disruptions.

The full scope of interruptions to trains has been far greater.


5th July vs 6th August – mouse over to see the difference – or for phone/iPad, see below

Here’s a list of the extended station closures and service alterations:

  • Third track closed, resulting in no peak hour express trains from Mon 16/11/2015 until Sun 4/9/2016 — 10 months. This was clever thinking, because it’s provided construction access in a narrow corridor. This might not be available on other projects.
  • For the same ten months, several planned regular peak hour cancellations, obviously adding to crowding on other trains.
  • Closure of Ormond station 25/3/2016 to late August 2016 — 5 months
  • Closure of Mckinnon stations 25/3/2016 to 31/7/2016 — 4 months
  • Closure of Bentleigh station from 4/6/2016 to late August 2016 — 3 months

And the rail closures (not including an accidental disruption due to a gas leak early in the project):

  • Last two trains after midnight, Fri 13/11/2015 — this was before Night Trains started
  • 1am Sat 21/11/2015 to last service Sun 22/11/2015 — 2 days
  • 1am Sat 28/11/2015 to last service Sun 29/11/2015 — 2 days
  • 1am Sat 12/12/2015 to last service Sun 13/12/2015 — 2 days
  • First service Sat 23/1/2016 to last service Sun 31/1/2016 — 9 days
  • 8:45pm Fri 12/2/2016 to last service Sun 14/2/2016 — 2 days
  • 7pm Fri 4/3/2016 to last service Sun 6/3/2016 — 2 days
  • 9pm Fri 19/3/2016 to last service Sun 21/3/2016 — 2 days
  • First service Fri 25/3/2016 (Good Friday) to last service Sun 3/4/2016 — 3 days
  • First service Sat 25/6/2016 to last service Sun 31/7/2016 — 37 days — including normal weekdays
  • 1am Sat 13/8/2016 to last service Mon 15/8/2016 — 3 days — note this includes all of Monday, a normal weekday
  • 1am Sat 27/8/2016 to last service Sun 28/8/2016 — 2 days — a planned closure on the Monday has thankfully been avoided

(In most cases, rail closures were confined to Caulfield to Moorabbin. In some cases this was stretched to Mordialloc, mostly for other projects such as Southland station, though early on this was done as part of work to isolate the power at Moorabbin.)

So in fact there have been substantial disruptions in addition from the 37 days: 10 months of service alterations/cancellations, stations closed for up to 5 months, and so far (that we know about) 29 full days of closures — eg a full total of 66 days with no trains.

Weekend closures are less disruptive than weekdays, but still affect a large number of people, especially on weekends with major sporting and cultural events.

The full project spans over a year of works.

Preparatory work was required, such as moving existing services, ahead of major works. Further (mostly relatively minor) work is required to bring the project to completion.

It’s like when you go in for a short surgical procedure. There’s all kinds of preparation before the actual event, and recovery time afterwards. It’s not just a half-hour thing, it can take all day.

I’m not saying the project should have been run differently. Actually it’s been a really good strategy to isolate the main disruption to a five-ish week period, and overall things have gone pretty smoothly.

But we need to be clear on what actually happened, and not assume it was just 37 days.

View from Brewer Road, 5/7/2016
View from Brewer Road, 6/8/2016

  • By the way, Marcus Wong has fact-checked the rhetoric: It’s unlikely the 37 days was the “biggest rail closure since the City Loop” (though it probably ranks in terms of numbers of passengers disrupted). And it’s not the first time three crossings have been removed simultaneously (though the recordholders are over 95 years ago).
  • In my view there hasn’t been nearly enough publicity about this coming Monday’s closure (as well as the weekend). The blaze of publicity about the line re-opening probably has people assuming there are no more weekday shutdowns. Not so! PTV notice here.

Update 23/8/2016: the new Bentleigh and Ormond stations will open on August 29th.

The fascinating world of high tech garbage collection

A transport podcast I’ve just discovered is Transit Insight.

There’s a key difference with this one: it’s run by, and features, people who actually work in the public transport industry.

There are a lot of other good podcasts out there, but almost all of them feature advocates or academics.

I’m working my way through their episodes, but last week I listened to this one: The Dirty Details of Keeping Transit Clean.

It’s quite fascinating to hear about these issues from the perspective of the people who manage them. For instance (with some good humour) they pondered why some people feel the need to vandalise toilets, and noted the ways of trying to prevent or minimise such damage. Unfortunately this sometimes involves designing facilities to the same standard as used in prisons. (Sounds like the old Flinders Street Station toilets.)

They also talked about rubbish bins with solar power to compress the garbage. They noted the “BigBelly” brand, and said this reduced the need to empty the bins to a fifth the normal rate.

This got my attention, because I’d noticed the City of Melbourne is trialling these very same bins. There are several at the southern end of Elizabeth Street, and according to this article, several more in the Southbank area.

While apparently they cost $6000 each, given some of the older bins get emptied up to eight times a day, it would appear they will pay for themselves.

BigBelly bin, Elizabeth StreetPresumably because they’re in high-traffic locations, any food waste stored in them won’t be in there long enough to become a problem. These new bins have sensors to phone home when they’re nearly full, so they can be prioritised for emptying — something also being trialled in 50 older bins as well.

How well does this all work? I guess they’ll find out during the trial.

Alongside smart toilets like the now common Exeloo, this is clever stuff… though evidently not smart enough to prevent people stacking recyclable waste beside the bins.

And having written this blog post, I now feel like I know more about CBD garbage collection than I probably needed to know.

Census – vital, but confidence has been eroded

It’s Census night.

Normally it’s relatively uncontroversial, but this time it’s different — a number of concerns have been raised by people, especially those interested in privacy and data security.

Some of the issues raised include:

Names and addresses to be kept for four years. This obviously creates a risk of privacy breaches if the data is compromised. It can happen, many organisations have suffered breaches, but you can only hope the ABS is taking every possible step so that it doesn’t.

Some argue that’s a red herring anyway – the linking to other data is what can really compromise your privacy, because the “Statistical Linkage Key” is likely to be able to be tracked back to individuals.

The definition of ‘census’ is “an official count”. I actually want to stand up and be counted. But only counted; not named or profiled or data-matched or data-linked, or anything else. The privacy risks of doing anything else are just too great.

Anna Johnston, a former deputy privacy commissioner of NSW.

It’s online by default. I think this was a logical move; like the ATO, they’re looking for ways to speed up processing, improve accuracy and cut costs. (From memory I did it online last time.)

The logon came through the snail mail. Obviously not as secure as it being handed to you by a Census worker.

If you stop halfway through, apparently it sends you a password so you can later resume, as plain text via email. That’s a pretty silly security slip-up. (It seems the workaround is to make sure you do it in one go.)

The web site is enabled for old insecure protocols such as SHA-1. This can make possible “man in the middle” attacks that could intercept your data, but presumably only old browsers that don’t support SHA-2 would be vulnerable.

They probably should have just used SHA-2 exclusively, given we’re talking about very old (15+ year) browsers and operating systems (older than Windows XP), which probably have lots of other vulnerabilities as well, because they’re no longer supported.

(As far as I can see, using a recent web browser gets you onto a site that uses SHA-2, so it should be okay? Besides, Stilgherrian says it’s only the Census help web site that is vulnerable.)

Not so much a privacy concern, but apparently you can’t enter accented names. That’s just silly stuff. Perhaps that’s linked to them wanting to generate the Statistical Linkage Key partly from your name, but it seems odd given we’re a multicultural society.

How serious are the privacy issues? As a friend, who is an expert in cyber security, noted:

…Realistically, the ABS are the least of our worries. MyGov is way way way worse, and there’s no pitchforks in the streets about MyGov.

Hmmmm!

Confidence

Even if you dismiss the issues as minor or not worth worrying about, what’s more annoying and disappointing is they seem to have shaken the confidence of enough people that the results may be in doubt.

Several senators are refusing to fill in their names. Former privacy commissioners and a former Australian Statistician (eg ABS head) are objecting. Apparently some people have booked overseas flights to be out of the country tonight so they can legally avoid filling it in.

You’ll always have some paranoid people who won’t fill it in, or who mess it up. But this time it seems different.

Accurate census information is important.

The Howard government made most (all?) Census information free (previously much of it attracted a fee to access), and lots of organisations rely on it, for planning and for lobbying.

For instance PTUA and similar groups have often used census data to show the reality of transport in our cities, data to counter the road lobby’s rhetoric that we need more tarmac.

Census data showed that at most, 6% of journeys to work in Melbourne are along the alignment of the proposed East West Link tollway, compared to 45% of people working close to home, and 20% working in the CBD, showing EWL was never going to be a cure for traffic congestion in the area.

And it’s the same in all sorts of fields.

So anyway, I’ll fill in tonight’s census, but I’m not very happy about how it’s being run this time.

I just hope the data coming out of it isn’t fatally flawed, that the ABS’s promises on privacy are fulfilled, and that they think very carefully about how they run the next one.

PS:

Update Friday 12/8/2016: Problems with the web site distracted from privacy concerns. Many people had issues filling it in online. First capacity (and allegedly a Denial Of Service attack) stopped people using it on Tuesday, Census night. It wasn’t until Thursday that the site was running again, and stupidly they blocked non-Australian DNS servers from seeing it, so people like me who use Google’s DNS couldn’t get to it.

By Friday when I got back to try and do it, my iPad (not using Google’s DNS, and meeting the minimum requirements of Safari on iOS 7) couldn’t make it work either. Eventually I completed it using a laptop. It really shouldn’t have to be this hard.

I still don’t know whether a temporary train replacement bus counts as a train or a bus. Physically it’s a bus, but statistically, isn’t it part of the train service?

The chains of Bentleigh

My local suburb is increasing in density, and (not entirely disconnected from that) it’s also interesting to see how the retail strip is doing.

The shopping centre has grown around the railway station, which is still the epicentre, though the east side of the tracks is where most of the busiest shops are located.

The chain stores (often referred to as “anchor tenants”) have maintained their presence here, and in fact new ones are moving in.

  • The banks may have pulled out of many suburbs (leaving only an ATM of you’re lucky) but the big four (Commonwealth, ANZ, and Westpac, as well as Westpac subsidiary Bank Of Melbourne) are staying. NAB strangely doesn’t list their branch on their own web site, but I’d swear there is one near the station (see above).
  • The three big supermarkets Coles, Woolworths and Aldi have branches. No IGA though – there is one in nearby East Bentleigh.
  • Target is on the site of an old Coles variety store
  • Medicare was here until last year; it’s now closed. But there is a post office and dealers for Telstra and Vodafone.
  • Real estate agent offices abound: chains include Woodards, Buxton, Hocking Stuart, Hodges, Century 21.
  • Flight Centre and some smaller chains such as Glick’s bagels, Cartridge World, Discount Lollie Shop and Paint Spot. Brumbys and Baker’s Delight also have branches
  • And food giant of the moment Domino’s pizza, as well as Crust Pizza and Nandos chicken and Subway are all here, though other fast food outlets such as Maccas, KFC and Hungry Jack’s seem to prefer to be on the highways or major arterial roads.

All these chains sit alongside hundreds of individual retailers, who while they might compete, are probably glad that the chains are there to bring in the shoppers.

Chemist Warehouse, Bentleigh

The newest chain store arrivals are Mexican restaurant Taco Bill’s and Chemist Warehouse, the latter taking up residence just a couple of doors from Priceline… they must be delighted.

I suspect restaurants benefit from more local competition, growing the local market of diners. I’m not sure the same can be said for chemists. 

Despite the utilitarian warehouse design of Chemist Warehouse (well, it is in the name), I don’t mind them — though I’m always amused by their advertising. “Australia’s Cheapest Chemist” it proclaims, but if you look closely it actually says “Is this?” in front of that. So technically they’re not making the claim, they’re asking the question. Hmmmmmmm.

Moved to Chemist Warehouse, Bentleigh

It turns out Chemist Warehouse is not a new pharmacy — it’s a moved and rebranded one. Perhaps not a surprise – the Pharmacy Guild has strict location rules preventing too many chemists in one area.

These rules were recently extended by the government until at least 2020:

Rules that restrict new pharmacies from opening near existing pharmacies will be extended for another five years despite numerous government-commissioned reviews recommending they be abolished. — SMH 18/5/2015

That aside, rebranding is a clever move. I rarely saw anybody go into the old chemist. The new one has brand recognition and more promotion — and already, from what I’ve seen, is getting a lot more customers.

I guess that’s the advantages of being part of a chain.

Other rail-based suburbs I’ve lived in, such as Murrumbeena and Glen Huntly, may not have the benefits of lots of chains, but it’s pleasing to see them still getting customers in, thanks to things like quality local cafes.

Hopefully all these local centres will continue to thrive. They’re so much more interesting than the malls.

Mckinnon station is open

After the big 37 day Frankston line shut down, the trains are back, and the new shiny Mckinnon station has re-opened.

The other two stations, Bentleigh and Ormond, will open late in August.

Here are some pics from Mckinnon from the past month…

28/6/2016 – the station had been closed since 25th March, a couple of months before the line closed on 24th June. Four days later all traces of trains had been removed and the cutting was being dug out.
Mckinnon station, 28/6/2016

Mckinnon station, 28/6/2016

20/7/2016 – within a few weeks, the station entrance was starting to take shape.
Mckinnon station, 20/7/2016

23/7/2016 – the platforms being built.
Mckinnon station, 23/7/2016

31/7/2016 – by last night, the station was hours away from opening.
Mckinnon station, 31/7/2016

The Myki equipment was in, and the departure screen was on, showing “ghost” train times. Notably, the clock was 10 minutes fast.
Mckinnon station, 31/7/2016

1/8/2016 – opening day! Due to circumstances entirely unrelated to public transport (no, really — I’d rather have still been asleep — why does nobody believe me?), I managed to turn up at 6:20am. For an unstaffed station, it was looking pretty staffed.
Mckinnon station, 1/8/2016

The screen clock was still 10 minutes fast, and apparently there was no quick fix, so they put black tape over it. (It was fixed by 10am when I visited later.)
Mckinnon station 1/8/2016

The lifts and stairs aren’t finished yet; just the ramps provide access to the platforms. Completion is obviously a few weeks off, but there’s enough to make it usable.
Mckinnon station, 1/8/2016

Platform 2 is the citybound platform for now. Note the “Safety zone” floor signage is overlaid with tactiles, making it not very readable.
Mckinnon station, 1/8/2016
Mckinnon station 1/8/2016

Platforms 1+2 will normally get most usage. They also have more rain protection than platform 3, but there are some significant gaps. (The ramps also have no cover, but are unlikely to be used much once the stairs and lifts are opened.)
Mckinnon station, platform 2, 1/8/2016

Later in the morning. Still obviously some work on the building.
Mckinnon station, 1/8/2016

I didn’t plan it that way, but when I was passing, so were Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan and Member for Bentleigh Nick Staikos. (Source: Victorian government)
Jacinta Allan, Nick Staikos, Daniel Bowen at Mckinnon station, 1/8/2016

It’s an amazing achievement to get the rail line back open in 37 days, though a lot of preparatory work was done in advance, such as moving underground services.

Metro notes the works still to be completed:

McKinnon Station will be open and ready for customers to use with myki machines and readers, tactiles, and platforms with accessible ramps in place from Monday 1 August. Over the coming months, we will complete works on the concourse and platforms, including the installation of lifts, stairs, CCTV, passenger information displays and speakers. Other works include rebuilding the customer car park, taxi rank, bus stop, Kiss ā€˜Nā€™ Ride and bicycle facilities, the public toilet, and landscaping works. Thank you for your continued patience during this time.

I’m sure locals will be pleased the station is open. In a few weeks Bentleigh and Ormond will also open; in the mean time trains won’t stop there and the buses are still in operation. (I had today off, but on work days I’ll probably walk to Patterson or Mckinnon).

Only two tracks are in operation; the third will re-open in September, and express trains will resume.