Trains: Why run along the platform if you can walk through the carriages?

I post this picture to make two brief points:

Siemens train, interior

Even at 3pm, there are a reasonable number of people heading home. It’s before the school and uni loads really hit — and remembering that there’s only 10 minutes between services on this line.

Frequent all-day services help people who can be flexible with their travel avoid peak hours. And every person who does relieves the crowding for those who do have to travel in peak without being penalised by long waits. The trains (and their drivers) of course can do a round-trip — this train left the city at about 2:45pm — it’d be back in the city by about 5pm for a peak journey.

Some train types are walk-through. This is a Siemens train made up of 2 x 3-car sets. You can walk through the 3-cars. X’trapolis trains are similar (but have end-of-carriage doors, and over-protective notices saying you shouldn’t do it when the train is moving).

It astounds me to see people who have decided they must have a specific carriage running along the platform to reach it before the train departs, even when the train is lightly loaded. Why bother?

Some might not know they can walk through, but the observant regular traveller should figure it out pretty quickly, shouldn’t they?

(Note: You can also walk between carriages on a Comeng train, though it’s not for the faint-hearted, and officially shouldn’t be done when the train is moving.)

#Myki: touch-on, touch-off, touch-on, touch-off

Here’s an interesting issue with Myki which has always been around to an extent, but which has got worse with the switch to exact two-hour fares.

The problem

"Keep Calm And Catch Public Transport" Myki card holder from Travellers AidThe Myki software uses the two hour expiry of a fare as the time after which it assumes the next touch of your card is also a new fare.

This implementation is in contrast to the fare rules, which say your fare lasts for as long as the trip, as long as you started it (touched-on) before the expiry date.

Here’s an example: Board a 903 bus at Mordialloc (zone 2) at and touch-on at 9am. Ride to Northland (which is in the zone 1/2 overlap) and touch and alight at 11:10am.

What should happen is you get charged a 2-hour zone 2 fare.

But because it’s more than 2-hours since you touched-on, the touch as you alight will be treated as another touch-on.

You’ll end up paying a default fare (zone 1+2 because that bus route eventually terminates in zone 1) for the original touch.

Plus if you don’t notice as you exit the bus that it’s touched you back on again, you’ll pay another zone 1 fare on top of that, because it will have assumed you travelled from Northland (zone 1/2 overlap) to Altona (zone 1), $3.58.

So a total of $9.64 for what should be a $2.48 fare.

The silver lining is it’s not a very common scenario.

But it can happen, on some bus routes (such as the very long Smartbus routes), and on trains as well, where cross-town trips may take over two hours.

Solutions?

For trains, as you exit the station and touch, as long as you notice it’s touched you back on and charged a default two-zone fare, perhaps the easiest thing to do would be to wait 30 seconds, then touch-off again — invoking the “Change of mind” feature. The 30 seconds is so the reader doesn’t think you accidentally touched twice. You’re still charged the initial two zone fare, but that’s okay, because any conceivable trip of more than two hours would be a two zone fare — except perhaps if there was a long delay en route.

This isn’t possible for buses, because they have no “Change of mind feature”, and even if they did you might still be overcharged.

It’s also a bit tricky if an epic train trip ended at fare gates, perhaps at the end of the line at Frankston for example. Staff on the gates should be able to figure it out for you.

The official solution

Squirrelled away in the bible, the Fares And Ticketing Manual, in a revision posted a couple of weeks ago, they suggest a solution to passengers affected by this:

If a customer using myki money does not touch off the myki within 2 hours after it was touched on, a default fare may be charged when the myki is next touched to a myki reader. Such a touch will also be treated as a touch on

To prevent this happening, a customer may touch off the myki prior to the end of a journey, but must then touch the myki on –

(a) in the case of a journey on a tram or a bus, immediately after the myki was touched off; or

(b) in the case of a journey on a train, before resuming the journey.

In other words, you should touch-on as you board the bus. Then along the way, you should touch-off, then touch-on again. And finally at the end of your epic trip, touch-off again.

Presumably this advice is intended for staff to pass onto affected passengers — few Myki users would be aware of this, nor should they be expected to read the manual (but it’s good the manual exists, so that interested people can get this info).

If they’d thought about how the software might be used in the real world, then (at least on buses) they should be able to figure out that as you exit the bus after a long trip, you didn’t really magically travel to the end of the route (before the bus itself got there) and then board it again.

It’s a reminder that the implementation of Myki leaves a lot to be desired.

PS. For longer V/Line trips, the fare extends to 3 hours for 6 or more zones, and to 4 hours for 12 or more zones. See: PTV: Myki on V/Line.

Waste of money: New automatic signs for platforms where few trains stop

Those LED automated signs on station platforms are known in the biz as Passenger Information Displays, or PIDs. In recent months they’ve been installed at a lot of stations along the Frankston line.

They’re handy because they provide you with realtime departure information, without having to press the Green Button, which often doesn’t work or takes ages to get to the vital bit of information: how many minutes away is my train? PIDs are also useable by the deaf and hard of hearing.

At Frankston line stations with more than 2 platforms, they’ve concentrated installing them on the “island” platforms — if the budget is limited, this makes sense at stations such as Ormond and Bentleigh, where most trains (and most passengers) use those platforms. Few use platform 3.

Passenger Information Display, platform 3 at Malvern

It appears someone decided the “island” rule should apply at the MATH (Malvern, Armadale, Toorak and Hawksburn) stations. So at Malvern, some months ago, PIDs were installed on platforms 2+3. At Armadale and Hawksburn, they’ve been installed on all four platforms. (Toorak doesn’t have them at present, so I guess I should have said MAH.)

Problem is, few trains stop on platforms 3+4. This has been the case for a couple of years, and since the July timetable change, even fewer trains stop there — basically only after 10pm on weekdays, and before 10am and after 8pm on weekends. The rest of the time, all the trains stop on platforms 1+2.

This is because stopping patterns are being standardised so that Dandenong line trains generally run express Caulfield to South Yarra. Consistent patterns make a lot of sense — they are more predictable, and can be shown on maps — and the Dandenong line has been prioritised for expresses because it carries more people than the Frankston line, serves more growth areas, and it also carries express V/Line trains. In the future I wouldn’t be surprised if no trains stop on platforms 3+4 except under unusual circumstances (such as a disruption on the other tracks).

So the signs are either left blank most of the day, or showing a message telling you to go to another platform.

This could be done with a cheap static sign — if needed at all. All these stations have automated displays up on the concourse which direct you to the correct platforms.

There are scores of stations, and hundreds of platforms around Melbourne that are still without PIDs. What an appalling waste of money to install them where they’ll almost never be used.

Update 28/8/2014: In the past week or so, PIDs have been installed at Malvern on platforms 1 and 4, though they are not yet in use.

Regional Rail Link tour part 2 braindump

About a year ago, a group of us from the PTUA went on a tour of the Regional Rail Link, a massive 50 kilometre-long rail project providing new tracks from Southern Cross, via Footscray and Sunshine, then along a new corridor through Melbourne’s new outer-western suburbs to West Werribee.

The project will provide extra track capacity for V/Line trains on the Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo lines into the city — in other words, the bulk of V/Line services into Melbourne — but will also allow more trains on the busy Werribee and Sunbury lines.

A few weeks ago we did part two of the tour, to look progress in the last 12 months, which has been considerable. The project is expected to finish up in 2015, about a year earlier than previously expected.

Southern Cross new platforms

The city end

At Southern Cross, new platforms 15+16 went into service in December last year, primarily for Geelong trains. As noted last year, platform 16 is outside the glass, but it’s still undercover, and passengers seem to be surviving so far.

The works have resulted in a greatly simplified track layout between Southern Cross and North Melbourne, and a lot of wiring and signalling has apparently been ripped out and replaced, which over time should cut signal faults in the area.

Apart from into Southern Cross 15+16, extra track has been provided from the existing flyover into platforms 1 to 8. This resulted in widening of the bridge so it almost touches Festival Hall — art has been installed at ground level recognising some of the music history of the Hall.

Along the street nearby, noise barriers are going up — in fact this is now a common sight along the project where housing is nearby to the new and existing tracks along the line.

Rail bridge widened near Festival Hall

Rail flyover near North Melbourne station

North Melbourne

At North Melbourne, you can get a good view of the new tracks into Southern Cross (both the ground level and revamped flyover) from the new(ish) concourse.

View of city and rail flyover from North Melbourne station

Alas, RRL trains won’t stop at North Melbourne, though there is space for platforms to be provided later to serve the ground level tracks into Southern Cross 15+16. We don’t yet know how many trains will use each set of tracks, but if trains from specific lines consistently use the ground level tracks, it would then be possible to stop at least those trains there, for connections to Metro services and the very popular 401 bus. Platforms serving the flyover tracks would be a great deal more difficult to construct.

Along the rail corridor from North Melbourne to Footscray, it’s now possible to see the bridge over the Maribyrnong river, which along with the rest of the new track as far as Sunshine, has just come into use. West of the river, these new RRL tracks have a flyover to get over the Werribee line tracks, so V/Line trains can cross to the middle platforms at Footscray without causing any delays.

Footscray

Signal box being restored at Footscray station

Footscray station

At Footscray, works seem to be largely complete. The two new platforms (1+2) for Sunbury line trains have been in use for some months, and the bridge extension is finished (along with weatherproofing improvements), providing escalators, new ramps to accompany the lifts and stairs. Having used Footscray a few times in the past few months, it’s pleasing that most of the locals have worked out the Melbourne escalator etiquette of standing on the left so those in a hurry can walk past on the right.

The RRL platforms, now known as 3+4, have been extended, like all platforms on the new line, to allow for much longer V/Line trains in the future. 4 is a little bit curved at the western end by necessity due to the confined space, though given V/Line trains have conductors to verify a safe departure, one wouldn’t expect this would be a problem.

Notably, drainage is built into all the platforms at Footscray and the other renovated or rebuilt stations, with a slight slope away from the tracks. Yes, after decades of building stations so water simply drains onto the tracks, the standard has changed This has been the case for some decades now, and is good for safety, given some highly-publicised incidents of unsecured prams rolling off platforms recently.

Although booking offices and so on are at ground level, the bridge includes some concourse elements, including Myki machines and gates for platforms 2 and 3. The Passenger Information Displays (PIDs) are also in place, though at present only showing four departures at once — I’m told they are looking at solutions to show information for all 6 platforms — possibly separate screens for the V/Line-only platforms 3 and 4.

The heritage buildings at Footscray are being completely restored. This has involved a lot of work, in part because of termites, but if restoration work done at Windsor a couple of years ago is any guide, they should look terrific when finished.

As with many of the other new and rebuilt stations, the bike cage has been provided underneath a staircase, making good use of the space.

The doughnut seller has a new kiosk which opened for the first time on a couple of weeks ago. It’s lacking the trademark-defying dodgy upside-down Olympic logo of the old caravan — not that it matters. But you can tell it’s the same doughnut vendor because the dolphin jam dispenser is back.

Parkiteer at Sunshine station

West Footscray

As I wrote in December, West Footscray station has been completely rebuilt, but is looking even nicer now than when I last saw it, thanks to murals built into the bridge, and a few more splashes of colour around the place.

The ramps have been connected to the local bicycle network — apparently they were built to be a full metre wider than the required station ramp standard of 1.8 metres, to make it easier for cyclists to pass each other. Provision is there for a future upgrade of the station to premium status, and thanks to solar panels and rainwater harvesting, West Footscray has gained a 4-star sustainability rating.

West Footscray station

West Footscray station

We didn’t stop at Tottenham station, but there has been work on the road underpass, and there’s some rather nice murals around the station entrance now which it’s hoped will deter tagging.

Sunshine

Sunshine station, which is becoming a very important interchange, has been completely rebuilt — in fact apparently just about the only remaining feature of the old station is a retaining wall on platform 1. The old dingy subway is gone, replaced by an overpass/concourse with booking office, waiting room, and fare gates.

It looks good — though very grey from some angles.

Sunshine station

Sunshine station

Junction at Sunshine station

Northwest of Sunshine, the Ballarat/Geelong and Bendigo lines converge at a junction. This is at-grade, but apparently there’s provision for a future Melton electrification project to include an overpass to allow Melton trains to pass under these lines to connect to the Sunbury tracks. In the mean time, space has been provided for Bendigo trains to wait, clear of both the Ballarat/Geelong line and the Sunbury line.

Level crossings on two sections of Anderson Road have been grade separated as part of the project.

Following along the line towards Deer Park, more noise walls are in evidence, as well as automatic pedestrian gates at the crossings, which hopefully should prevent accidents such as the fatal one in 2008 involving a pedestrian at one of those crossings.

The new line

West of Deer Park, the new Geelong line branches off the Ballarat line. Near the future Caroline Springs station there’s a new road bridge over the Ballarat line, providing additional road access into the area.

A “consolidation train” was running between Deer Park and West Werribee most of that particular weekend, to apply weight to the new tracks, as part of (literally) bedding down.

Tarneit station was closed up, but at a glance much of it appears to be nearing completion.

Tarneit station


Wyndham Vale station

We did get to have a good look around Wyndham Vale station, which looks rather good. Sunk into the ground, it’s currently got two platforms, for V/Line trains, but also has provision for another two tracks in the future, allowing electric trains to come through from Werribee and terminate there. In the short term though, that connection is expected to be provided by buses.

There are also points nearby to allow V/Line to provide short-starting services from there into the city, and would also presumably provide a termination point during major disruptions.

Works at the station seem to be almost complete. The track is in, the basic building structure is there, the lighting and so on is installed. We saw Myki equipment ready to go in, and even the waiting room has its chairs.

At ground level next to the concourse is an extensive bus interchange — it sounds like numerous routes in the area will converge here. There are stairs and ramps down to the platforms.

For anybody who’d fancy working at one of the new stations, V/Line is advertising for “Services Officers” at Wyndham Vale and Tarneit — 5 full time positions at each station.

Wyndham Vale station

Wyndham Vale station: Myki is coming

Wyndham Vale station, looking south

Wyndham Vale station, looking north

Looking south from Wyndham Vale station

The line continues south to West Werribee (aka Manor) junction, where it connects with the existing Geelong line. The entire line from Geelong through to somewhere just west of Sunshine is engineered to allow trains at 160 kmh, so for express services, my thinking is the running time should be similar to now, despite the longer distance.

At the junction, the existing track between Werribee and Geelong has been slewed to get around the new overpass (needed to prevent delays between V/Line trains and freight and passenger trains on the standard gauge line to Adelaide) — this track is now down to 80 kmh, though given it appears few trains will continue using it after next year, this wouldn’t appear to be a huge problem.

Completion next year

It seems the project is running much earlier than expected, in part to the major shut downs which over the past couple of years (including the one just finished), meaning more has been able to be done each time the existing train service is disrupted. This in turn has resulted in huge money savings — for instance some of the funds saved are going into the St Albans grade separation project. So despite some pain for existing passengers on the affected lines, there seem to have been good outcomes for taxpayers — more bang per buck.

And while there have been some problems with the project in the initial design phase, there are undoubtedly benefits in terms of capacity to run extra trains on both V/Line and Metro to the western suburbs lines, with fewer delays.

Parts of the new line from Sunshine to the City have started to be used by V/Line trains (though some trains are arriving early, as the timetables don’t really take the quicker trip into account).

It looks like the full project will be completed next year.

And I for one look forward to my next visit to Footscray station for a doughnut.

PS. Just to prove we were properly authorised and equipt to look around the construction zone at Wyndham Vale: here is bad dorkie selfie of me in high-vis. Thanks to the Regional Rail Link authority for the tour.

Daniel at Wyndham Vale

Updates/corrections: Some minor changes made to the text tense, because some was written a couple of weeks ago.

Rebranding number 6 (in 20 years): Can we stick with “PTV” for a while please?

Do I win a prize? Following on from my photos a couple of years ago of a train, tram and bus in one shot, I’ve managed to get another (at the same location) of the three of them in the PTV livery.

PTV-liveried train, tram and bus

Common livery is not the most important thing in a public transport network, but it is important. It’s a reminder that while the system may be run by lots of different companies, it is meant (in theory at least) to be one network.

The tickets and fare system are common, the routes should be designed to connect not compete, the timetables should complement each other and co-ordinate where possible.

The biggest change is in buses, where a myriad of colour schemes are coming together as one, with the operator name/logo reduced in size so it’s no longer significant — reflecting the practice in cities like London, but also closer to home in Adelaide and Perth.

Mind you it can also add to passenger confusion, in areas where passengers are used to differently coloured buses running specific routes.

Edit: This confusion can be reduced if route numbers are clearly displayed, not just on the front of the bus, but also on the side and back. Some buses have this already. It should be standard.

It sounds like only the (multi-company) Smartbus fleet will retain its distinctive bus colours.

I didn’t manage to get one of the few V/Line PTV-branded carriages into this photo. I guess that’s the next challenge (and to show the distinctive side design on a bus more clearly, rather than just the plain white front). You can see it in this snap a few seconds after the above photo… though the exposure was too short to properly show the tram LED number display. (In all honesty, none of the LED display showed in the above photo — I photoshopped it from another snap a moment later.)

Bus, train and tram

Hopefully, having completely branded everything to PTV in the coming months, the powers that be will stick with that for many years to come.

Given some of the trains in particular have gone in the last twenty years through The Met (2 versions), Bayside/Hillside Trains, Connex/M>Train, Connex, Metro, and now PTV, I think everybody’s had enough rebranding for now.