Where’s the community’s focal point? It’s the railway station.

Two sleeps until the election.

Apart from trying to get citizens out to a public meeting, where in the neighbourhood is the best place to meet as many people you can, face-to-face?

Judging from what the politicians and lobby groups have been up to, it’s the railway station — on weekdays, at least.

I’ve lost count of the number of flyers I’ve been handed at Bentleigh station over the past few months. Undoubtedly it’s due to being in a marginal seat.

Supporter of Labor, and independent candidate Chandra Ojha, handing out flyers at Bentleigh station

Public Transport Not Traffic campaigners (including myself) at Bentleigh station. Campaigner Tony (who worked harder than me that morning) is not pictured; he snapped the photo.

The Greens candidate Sean Mulcahy at Bentleigh station

The political parties and one of the independents, as well as various unions and lobby groups (including one supporting national parks, and also Public Transport Not Traffic) have been prominent at the station in the last few weeks.

Mostly they are in the morning. It’s easier to hand out flyers as you get a steady stream of people, and if the train isn’t imminent, they can stop for a minute to ask questions. In the evening few people want to linger; they’re keen to get home. Plus it’s harder to hand out to scores of people arriving in a burst, followed by minutes of nobody going past.

Chalk one up for the trains. Cleverer people than I might ponder if this helps skew policies. As the Liberals’ fake commuter newspaper shows, it certainly helps influence campaign literature.

You’re certainly unlikely to have a face-to-face encounter with politicians and their supporters while driving your car. Sadly those people who are unable to use trains because suburban connecting buses are so poor will also miss out.

On the weekends the campaigners tend to be elsewhere in the shopping centre, though sometimes at the station. The advantage for them of street shopping centres is I doubt they’d ever get permission from a Westfield or Gandel to set up in Chadstone or Southland.

Of course this week, they’re also at early voting centres, and will be swarming around polling places on Saturday. (The first inkling I had that Bentleigh was at risk of swinging from Labor to Liberal in 2010 was when I heard that then-Premier John Brumby had been seen at a local polling place, Mckinnon Secondary College. On voting day you’re most likely to see the senior pollies in marginal seats.)

I’ve been tracking the various flyers handed to me in person via Twitter at Bentleigh station. Here are a few instances of flyers and local campaigning from the past month or two:

PS. On Monday the PTUA put out its election scorecard. If you’re interested in public transport issues, and they’ll influence your vote, check it out.

Photos from the past week

A bunch of photos from the past week or so…

OK Google, where’s the nearest rubbish bin? (If you haven’t heard, they’ve all been removed from CBD railway stations.)
OK Google, where's the nearest rubbish bin?

The trains were a real mess last Monday. This is the moment we all got kicked off a train at Richmond when it became faulty. The following train was, naturally, even more packed once we all piled in — and diverted to another platform forcing large numbers of people to clog up the subways to change.
Passengers alighting faulty train

Chuggers on the south-west corner of Bourke and William Streets, in contravention of City of Melbourne regulations.
Chuggers

How you can tell public transport is a hot topic: lots of media turn up for the launch of a new V/Line train. Frances Bell from ABC TV is recording her Piece To Camera while Channel 10′s David Woiwod and ABC Radio’s Alison Savage are also present.
Launch of new V/Line train set

A bit spooky — from The Age on Thursday, a day early for Halloween.
From The Age 30/10/2014

An alien at Southern Cross. (My Halloween mask, for the work party.)
Alien at Southern Cross

It looks like the City of Melbourne painted this yellow rectangle to indicate to motorcyclists that they shouldn’t park adjacent the tram stop entrance. It looks like some of the motorcyclists couldn’t figure it out… so it still looks like more education of the guidelines is needed. (See my post last year about the unenforceable, and largely ignored guidelines for motorcycle parking.)
Motorcycle parking adjacent tram stop

I like this: a promotion for Tram Tracker, the near-real-time (but not quite) app for finding out where your tram is. Yarra Trams’ Operation Centre really does look like that, although there’s never been a giant dog on duty when I’ve gone past.
Tram Tracker promotion

I seriously wonder if SPC Ardmona might sell more Australian-made tinned tomatoes if the tins weren’t always so beat-up. It’s the tomatoes that are meant to be crushed, not the tins. Mind you, I’ve seen some supermarket shoppers literally drop their cans into their trolleys with a crash, without a care for noise or dents. For myself I’d prefer my tin cans to be structurally intact (and stackable).
SPC Ardmona tinned tomatoes

Metro Bingo :-(

Given the Flemington/Showgrounds line isn’t running this morning, and the Stony Point line has planned bustitution, I’m going to go ahead and declare that we have Metro Bingo this morning due to the storms.

Metro Bingo :-(

And no, it’s not much better on many of the roads.

Road conditions

Good luck to everybody (myself included, shortly) trying to get to work this morning.

PS. My trip in wasn’t too bad. Although the train was running about 30 minutes late, I had only waited a few minutes for it. It was crowded but not packed.

Judging from the re-tweets/favourite reactions to this, I’m not the only one who thinks huge umbrellas aren’t a great thing on busy streets:

The train journey home was actually less smooth. Our train broke down at Richmond and was taken out of service.

And a reminder: in times of train troubles, it pays to know your alternative routes. Connecting from another line via bus or tram is possible from almost all stations, and, particularly if you’re there when the disruption starts, is generally faster than waiting for hastily-organised replacement buses to arrive. Check this excellent web site: Alternative Metro Travel Options

10 minute trains – there is a rollout plan – but when will it get funded?

High-frequency trains (all day, every day) are critical for any big city, to ensure large numbers of people can get around quickly and easily.

As a PTUA study found some years ago, Melbourne is one of the few big world cities that doesn’t have them. To draw an analogy, it’s as if outside peak hour, we closed the freeways and highways except for one lane in each direction.

To delve into hyperbole for a moment: it’s the tyranny of infrequent services on so-called trunk routes. Those in power are basically saying: if you choose to use public transport, your time is not important. We’d prefer you drove.

But there is a rollout plan for ten minute trains.

Footscray station, Sunday morning

This week the Coalition announced that as part of a package of transport upgrades that include extending the South Morang line to Mernda, the line would also go to every 10 minutes off-peak on weekdays from October 2015.

Notably the service upgrade is costed at only $20 million (it’s unclear for how long, but often these recurrent figures are given in terms of 4 year budget cycles).

This underscores that higher all-day frequencies, which make public transport much more easy to use, don’t have to cost that much money. We have a big train fleet and plenty of track capacity to cope with extra services outside peak hour. The costs are largely in drivers and power, though it also adds to pressure on maintenance facility capacity, which is why this is being slowly expanded.

PTV, which established by the Coalition government to manage and plan the network, actually has a plan to gradually roll out ten minute services across most of the rail network — it’s part of their “Network Development Plan – Metropolitan Rail” (which I blogged about here). The process started with the longer (thus busier) lines a few years ago, and while it’s not ideal that progress is driven by politicians rather than transport planners, I suppose that’s the reality — so in a way it’s good that the importance of high frequency all-day services is recognised at the political level.

I’ve summarised the rollout (past, and proposed) of ten minute services (and new lines) below.

Notes:

  • The first toe dipped in the water of ten minute services was a short-lived experiment on the Werribee line. It wasn’t a good choice — the single track Altona Loop meant it was impossible to provide even frequencies on the line, so it never actually provided a ten minute service. It was abandoned in 2011. There were similar problems initially on the Frankston line, with half the trains running via the City Loop, and half direct — leading to very uneven frequencies at Flinders Street.
  • The 2016 proposal was originally tied to the opening of Regional Rail Link, but RRL will now open around April 2015. It’s unclear if it will be accompanied by any additional 10 minute services on Metro lines.
  • As noted above South Morang (weekdays) is now said to be happening in October 2015 if the Coalition is returned to government. It’s not clear what will happen if Labor is voted in.
  • One oddity from the plan: It appears the Sunbury line (between the city and Sydenham) would go to ten minutes, but then back to twenty minutes when the Airport line opens. This seems a bit strange, and perhaps someone messed up the plan — or perhaps it’s because eventually the Melton line would be electrified and combined with Sunbury trains provide a 10 minute service between Sunshine and the City.
  • By the time it’s complete, most of the network would be running every ten minutes, so you’d be able to get around much of Melbourne quickly and easily, and without having to look at a timetable to avoid long waits, including when making connections off other services.

Unfortunately PTV has almost totally failed to promote the existing ten minute services (despite them and the government promoting many far less useful improvements to trains), but anecdotally at least patronage does seem to be increasing — it’s not unusual on Saturday mornings to see a few standees on Frankston line trains inbound, which in the past few years have doubled in frequency and length, thus quadrupling capacity.

The question is… when will the politicians grasp how beneficial high frequency trains are, and fund the PTV rollout plan — not just a line at a time, but for the whole network?

The Frankston line X’trapolis – are you impressed?

You’d think from the tweets from Coalition MPs this morning that the arrival of the first X’trapolis train in service on the Frankston line was a miraculous huge leap forward for train travellers — a rocket-powered, laser-guided teleportation device that can get you to your destination in seconds.

It’s a bit like the Danger Mouse theme tune: “He’s the ace / He’s amazing / He’s the strongest, he’s the quickest, he’s the best!”

The government press release is equally enthusiastic:

X’Trapolis trains are the newest, biggest and fastest trains on Melbourne’s network. Running this train on the Frankston line will reduce crowding and get more people out of their cars and onto public transport.

X’Trapolis train debuts on Frankston line today

The truth is a little more nuanced.

X'trapolis train, South Morang line near Merri

Are these trains better?

So the claim is that these trains are bigger, faster, quieter and smoother.

Bigger? I’m not sure of the logic behind that. The trains are a similar length, and with a similar number of seats to other models, and a similar total capacity.

Faster? Perhaps — both the X’Trapolis and Siemens trains have theoretical speed limits of 130 kmh, but the Siemens is currently limited to 115, which is the same as the Comeng top speed. They have good acceleration, similar to the Siemens trains (1.2 m/s/s), and when I asked Metro’s CEO Andrew Lezala about it when the Bayside Rail Project was first announced, he said the overall speed was similar to the Siemens trains, presumably meaning if the entire line group went to X’trapolis and Siemens trains, they could theoretically speed up the timetable. And that, I suspect, is where the real, tangible benefit will be.

Quieter? I’m not sure there’s that much in it.

Smoother? Arguably not. Many people have complained about the ride quality of the X’trapolis trains, though some of this is due to track conditions, especially on the outer semi-rural ends of the Hurstbridge, Lilydale and Belgrave lines. Some train drivers have complained of getting back problems.

The newest X’trapolis trains do have very clear destination signs, and many more handles inside to hold onto if you can’t get a seat.

They also have slightly fewer seats, making an arguably more efficient layout, allowing people to move in and out and around the carriage more easily. And they have big bold interior displays, though these are obscured by the handles!

Bayside rail project - original timeline

Was their rollout rushed?

Clearly yes. The original estimate was that these trains wouldn’t start on the line until around October 2015. But of course, that’s well after the election, so they’ve brought it forward by an entire year.

As noted by Channel 7 on Monday, and The Age on Tuesday, there is just one X’Trapolis train deployed onto the Frankston line. It has been specifically speed-limited so as not to accelerate towards still-closing boom gates too fast, and has two drivers in the cab as a precaution.

The train seems to run just two round trips each morning, both timed to avoid the height of peak hour (so making poor use of the claimed additional capacity) before heading to sidings at Burnley for the rest of the day.

So will people be impressed?

It’s a publicity stunt, nothing more.

Yet I know some people suffer from train envy — I remember a friend from the then Epping line saying he wished they got the Siemens trains. Perhaps he wouldn’t have wished that had he seen the often filthy state of the seats.

But ask someone who regularly catches these trains if they’re anything special, and I doubt they’ll go over-the-top in praising them — they’ve had this model for years now.

In any case, it seems not everyone was impressed:

I suppose it’s good the politicians (who hold the purse strings) are so interested in public transport. But it’s important that the money isn’t all put into show ponies like “new” trains which aren’t really new, but into ensuring the whole system is frequent, reliable, fast, clean, and safe.