Clever placement of #MetroTrains #DumbWaysToDie characters in stations

A lot of the unfortunate jellybean characters are depicted around CBD railway stations at the moment as part of Metro’s Dumb Ways To Die campaign. I was amused at the placement of this one:

Clever placement of this #metrotrains #DumbWaysToDie sticker at Flagstaff

…but this one is even better. (Only a short video — don’t bother with the sound; it adds nothing.)

Perhaps I’m easily amused, but that did make me laugh. Very clever.

Metro people

Lily Dale
Dan Denong
Flin der Street
Lyn Brook
Ben T’Leigh
Pat Terson
Mal Vern
Frank Ston
Cam Berwell
William Stown
Glen Ferrie
Victoria Park and Clifton Hill (of course!)
Thomas Town
Wes Tall

Mural, Patterson station

Syd Enham
Mel Bournecentral
Al Tona
and his brother Wes Tona
Glen Roy
Craig Ieburn
Edith Vale
Ken Sington
Merlyn Ston
Clay Ton
Dennis and Chelsea!

Any others?

How punctual are our trains compared to German suburban trains?

Many European countries put serious resources into their public transport systems and have networks that are the envy of the world, but don’t necessarily assume they are better than us in every single respect.

For instance, one might assume that German trains are never late — or at least that their punctuality is light years ahead of ours.

I discovered the other day that it is not so.

Berlin S-Bahn (from Wikipedia)
(Pic: Wikipedia)

In the year under review, we significantly improved the punctuality of our trains. For punctuality up to five minutes, the average rate increased from 91.0 % in 2010 to 92.9 % in 2011. Both local and long-distance transport services posted higher annual rates in this category: long-distance transport achieved a rate of 80.0 % (previous year: 72.4 %) and the figure for local transport came in at 93.2 % (previous year: 91.5 %).

Deutsche Bahn annual report

The long-distance figure isn’t directly comparable to V/Line, because V/Line uses a 5:59 or 10:59 threshold for “late” depending on the distance involved.

But the local figure (for instance S-Bahn suburban services) is comparable to Metro, as both DB and Metro use five minutes.

So, DB’s punctuality figures were 91.5% in 2010, and 93.2% in 2011.

Metro’s punctuality figure for 2010 was 86.6%; for 2011 it was 87.0%; for 2012 it was 91.1%, so (at least recently, with the help of strategies such as skipping stations, which if done counter-peak has overall positive outcomes for passengers) Metro is in the ballpark with DB.

Bonus trivia: When I was a kid, I recall Lego trains such as 7740 came with various stickers for different operators, including Deutsche Bahn and Victorian Railways. I always used the Deutsche Bahn stickers, of course — their DB logo was perfect for me.

White tracks

Near Flinders Street Station, some tracks have been painted white.

White tracks near Flinders Street station

White tracks near Flinders Street station

Looks odd, doesn’t it. Apparently it’s to reduce heat, and thus reduce the possibility of track buckling and other problems.

Update: See this web page: Solacoat/Coolshield Reducing Temperature of Railway Tracks

The Metro emergency gate that wasn’t

I noted this about a month ago. The idea of an emergency gate in the Elizabeth Street subway at Flinders Street Station seemed like a good one, but it seemed doubtful that the automatic release would include the padlock.

Emergency exit

So I tweeted:

Ok. I have my doubts that this emergency exit *padlock* is automatic, @MetroTrains Care to confirm?

And Metro replied:

@danielbowen thanks for this. We’ve alerted our management at Flinders St.

As one would hope, they take safety very seriously, and it looks like they’ve solved this problem… by removing the sign.

Non-emergency gate

One can only hope that should there be an emergency, a staffer with a key for the padlock can get down there quickly to unlock it.

PS. I’m speaking at the Wheeler Centre tonight, with Paul Mees and Meredith Sussex, on “Transport and Movement”. Details here.

Fewer seats? – How many seats do we want on our trains?

The debate about train seats has come up again, thanks to The Greens uncovering minutes of a meeting between Metro and the Department of Transport discussing the removal of train seats from Comeng trains. (MX story / Channel 7 story)

DOT was generally comfortable with the proposals as presented by MTM. Options to be assessed were only to include low cost options necessary to achieve a 900 load standard with no reduction in dwell time performance.

Comeng train interior

The proposal is to remove the third seat in groups of three, widening the centre aisle.

I make it 12 seats in a “T” carriage (trailer, with no driving cab) if they don’t widen the aisle at the far ends of the carriage, or 16 if they do, making it roughly a 13-16% reduction — though it would vary according to the type of carriage (Motor or Trailer, and EDI/M>Train refurbishment or Alstom/Connex refurbishment).

This would differ from the Connex trial layout, which took out more seats near the doors, but left more in the centres of the carriages, including a narrow aisle. Overall that layout removed more seats than seems to be proposed now.

As ever, it’s aimed at fitting more people on board (the minutes talked about an increase in the “load standard” from 798 per 6-carriage train to 900) and improving flow within the carriages, which would help station dwell times (the time taken to load and unload a carriage) — in this case, they’re specifically looking to be able to carry more people without increasing dwell times.

This latter point is important: if you want the train system to run more efficiently, with the maximum number of trains on the most congested parts of the network, eg the City Loop, at peak times, you need to improve dwell times. (Connex claimed in 2009 that the trial layout did help this.)

What kind of train system do we want?

I’ve just finished reading Jarrett Walker’s excellent book “Human Transit“, which ponders a lot of these kinds of issues. He calls them “plumber questions” — the kinds of questions a plumber asks a client. There’s not necessarily a right or wrong answer, but you do need to give some guidance as to the outcome you want.

In the case of train seats, it’s one of the questions related to what kind of train network we want. (Another was posed a year ago: Should every train run around the Loop?)

Broadly speaking…

Do we want a (small m) metro? Frequent services, aimed at more than just 9-5 CBD workers (eg including short suburban trips, counter-peak trips); fast dwell times for efficiency; less seats to maximise speed and capacity.

Or do we want a commuter rail service? Less frequency, particularly outside peaks; more seats because it’s primarily about long trips; primarily concerned with CBD trips, meaning just five stations have to handle huge passenger loads; but can lead to longer dwell times and lower peak frequencies because you don’t take advantage of metro efficiencies like more doors/less seats.

It’s not actually black and white. Melbourne is probably destined to remain somewhere in the middle.

The CBD outstrips public transport demand for all other destinations, and will continue to do so until traffic and parking demand is such that paid parking and gridlock becomes prevalent in the suburbs. (It’s getting there, but slowly.)

But there’s no reason we can’t have frequent (10 minute or better) trains all day everyday, just like real metros, supporting suburban non-work trips, and ensuring patronage is not just about peak hour, therefore providing a better return on the investment that’s been made in rail infrastructure, fleets and staff.

And remember, handling the booming 9-5 CBD commuter load better means optimising operations, including internal designs of carriages. The current designs from the early 2000s (before the boom) try to maximise seats, and in the face of surging demand, this has left passengers left behind on platforms, sometimes when there is space in the middle of carriages, because those aboard have not moved down. This is a direct result of narrow aisles and virtually nothing to hold onto except around the doorways.

How many seats?

Taken to extremes, seat removal might result in something like this:

Brisbane train

Where’s this? It’s Brisbane. I suspect few want to see that kind of outcome here.

Note that only some of the carriages are set out like this, with maximum standing space, whereas others have more seats:

Brisbane train interior

But it got me thinking… how do other cities design their carriages? What ratio of seats to carriage space do they have? I did a quick comparison, and came up with the following.

City Train type Carriages Seats Seats/square metre
London Underground 1995 6 248 0.88
Hong Kong East Rail Line Metro Cammell 12 625 0.71
Brisbane SMU 260 6 472 1.19
Perth B series 6 384 0.90
Melbourne Comeng Alstom (current) 6 536 1.24
Melbourne Comeng Alstom (proposed) 6 464 1.07

(Some of these are estimates, as I couldn’t find very reliable figures. A authoritative figure for seats in Perth’s trains was elusive, and the length of carriages sometimes included couplings, which aren’t part of the useable area inside. But you get the general idea, hopefully.)

The current changes to Melbourne carriage designs (first seen in the second series X’trapolis trains) are leading to wider aisles and more handholds to encourage people to move down, and help stop as many congegating in the doorways. But from what I can see, they still provide more seats than in many other big cities.

The Comeng proposal is similar (the seats per square metre figure will come down to about 1.07 by my calculations), though we’re not yet sure if it includes more handholds.

I think it’s probably a reasonable proposal, provided it includes more handholds along the carriage, and provided it’s accompanied by a service frequency boost (particularly outside peak hours, when there’s no problem with track or fleet capacity) so the total number of seats offered on each line doesn’t drop (or possibly even increases).

And even if there’s no frequency boost in peak, if you’re outraged by the idea of removal of any seats, consider this: In the face of continually rising patronage, would you rather be able to squeeze onto a train with 15% less seats, or be left behind on the platform?

What do you think?

Anti-pigeon defences

And now for something completely different: anti-pigeon defences.

Pigeons can get everywhere, making nests, leaving droppings. These ones seem very interested in the next trains from Caulfield.
Pigeons 1, Metro 0

It’s probably gone mostly unnoticed, but over the past few years, various methods to prevent them roosting have become commonplace.

In the case of Caulfield station, they’ve put in a lot of netting that cordons off parts of the platform roof areas, including the tops of the signs. (I haven’t checked if they’ve fitted the sign above, which is in the subway.)

Solar-powered road signs now often have spiky bits on them, as do increasing numbers of shop signs, including big ones like this. (I think it looks a little odd up close.)
Anti-pigeon defences

On this building in Centre Road, Bentleigh, there are fake owls around the top. I’m not sure how effective they are.
Fake owl

But despite these methods, sometimes the pigeons still win.
Pigeons 1, Shop sign 0

Pondering: Why aren’t MetroTrains promoting the hell out of their ten minute services?

(I’m at home today awaiting two tradesmen, so I’ve been a little creative.)

Here’s what I can’t figure out: since late-2010, the Frankston line has run every ten minutes between the peaks. In 2011 they tidied this up and made all those trains run direct to Flinders Street, and then through to Newport, with alternating trains going to Williamstown and Werribee.

Seriously, every ten minutes, Frankston, City, Newport, all day. That’s good enough that you can explore, hop on, hop off, and not worry about a timetable, between about 7am and 7pm Monday to Friday. It’s a model for all their lines.

So why aren’t they promoting the hell out of this?

My unofficial 10 minute promo poster

This is my quick mockup. It’s far from perfect. I’m not a graphic designer, nor a copywriter, but you get the idea. They should start with posters on their own stations; that’d be (almost) free.

Trains every 10 minutes is a good product, worth promoting

The Frankston to City to Newport service may not be perfect, and the bus connections to properly connect to it are particularly problematic at some stations, but this is one of those examples where an investment has been made in upgrading the product offering to a level where it’s actually good, and there’s been virtually no promotion of it.

It’s also a prime example of where Metro should be trying to grow patronage — during off-peak periods — because the infrastructure and fleet has been provided to meet peak demand, so any more passengers you get on board during off-peak is a bonus, providing you cheap revenue for little extra cost.

Metro's Mont Albert posterTo be fair, they are promoting off-peak travel a little bit. But they appear to be ignoring which lines have the good service, and instead promoting the destinations — even when the trains run to a mediocre 20 minute frequency.

I suspect a promotion needs a mix of both service and destination to be successful. And oddly, apart from ads in MX, the only place I’ve noticed their “Toorak” posters is at Toorak station… shouldn’t they be placed at least on every station on that line, if not network-wide?

(I’d be interested to know how many people have noticed Metro’s Neighbourhoods promotion.)

Meanwhile, online

Meanwhile, apparently Metro’s publicity department are busy tinkering with Twitter — making the popular (10,000 followers) feed no longer useful by stopping posting service updates to it — though they now seem to be saying they will post major (multi-line) disruptions.

An odd decision. Metro’s Twitter feed was informative (but not chatty). Now it’s getting chatty (but not informative). There’s no reason it can’t be both.

(Picture credits for the mockup: Frankston — avlxyz on Flickr; Yarraville — awmalloy on Flickr; Spotswood — Wikipedia/Mick Stanic)

PS. I’ve remembered that Yarra Trams actually has adverts/signs along some of its tram routes promoting upgraded frequencies. I’ll see if I can find a picture. And to clarify Peta’s comment, yes, I’d say put posters like this on stations from Frankston to Newport; not necessarily other places on the network — not until those also got upgraded frequencies.