Station codes: yes, FKN is the code for Frankston

From time to time I’ll refer to the Frankston line on Twitter with the abbreviation FKN.

I’m not just trying to get a cheap laugh. Well okay, perhaps I am, but what people might not realise is that’s actually the official station code for Frankston.

Every station (and a good many other places, such as passing loops and sidings) in the state has a three letter code, used in railway circles. Occasionally you’ll see them creep into the public arena:

"Fkn" - the official abbreviation for Frankston

Here’s a complete list of Melbourne codes:
Continue reading “Station codes: yes, FKN is the code for Frankston”

What if Bentleigh had got Skyrail?

A few people have asked me about this in the past few months — what if Bentleigh had got “skyrail”?

It’s interesting to consider, though it was never going to happen.

Firstly, the timing was wrong. The Coalition had fully funded the Ormond level crossing for removal in May 2014, with designs already having determined that it would be rail under road. In late-2014 the incoming Labor government spotted an opportunity to piggyback the Mckinnon and Bentleigh crossings onto it, which made logistical sense as well as political sense — Bentleigh being a marginal electorate, they knew to have the multiple crossings removed before the 2018 election would be a plus.

It was only after the Level Crossing Removal Authority came into being that alternative strategies such as elevated rail have been considered.

Secondly, having rail over road may have caused complications at the southern end, where the rail line goes under Brewer Road, necessitating rebuilding of the road overpass.

There are pros and cons with every design. By missing skyrail, we missed out on some good outcomes.

No doubt some locals are relieved rail is going into a trench. But rather than elevated rail and a park outside their back fence, they get an impassable cutting. The jury’s still out on whether noise is worse at ground level from skyrail or trench rail.

Better outcomes from skyrail?

Murray Road pedestrian/cyclist crossinglocal campaigners are continuing to fight for this, but the presence of a storm water pipe means the project team says the only viable solution is an at-grade crossing. Will it happen? Only if the safety audit comes up green and the minister can stomach approving an additional (non-car) level crossing as part of a level crossing removal project. With skyrail it would have been easy.

More pedestrian access — apart from Murray Road, there could have been additional pedestrian/cyclist (and possibly even motorist) crossing points anywhere and everywhere. The most obvious locations are midway along Glen Orme Avenue (Ormond, where the tennis courts access is provided), connecting Foch Street and Leila Road (Ormond), Blair Street and Ward Street (Bentleigh), and connecting the car parks just south of Centre Road. Mind you there aren’t unlimited opportunities, as for most of the length of the rail line in this section, there are houses on at least one side.

More efficient train operation. Apparently it can be a difference of up to 6% of energy consumption, as stations underneath ground level require extra braking and extra power to depart and accelerate out. This will be particularly apparent with the design as planned, where the line will come back up to surface level between stations.

Better stations. With a high proportion of costs of trenched rail going into moving underground services, and bus replacements, if these can be avoided then more can be spent on the stations and other outcomes — this seems to be what’s proposed on the Dandenong line. It’s not really working out cheaper overall, but stations are getting fully-enclosed weather cover, and (at least some; it’s not finalised) escalators — none of the Ormond-Mckinnon-Bentleigh stations will have escalators, although parts of the platforms will be underneath the roads, partly enclosing them from the weather.

Future 4th track without disruption. Supposedly if skyrail goes ahead on the Dandenong line, the 3rd and 4th tracks will be able to be built largely without disrupting the initial two tracks. It’s unclear what will happen if the 4th track ever goes in on the Frankston line. It might require partial closure again to widen the cuttings.

Pictured: Nicholson Street: October 2015 vs December 2015 after tree clearing
Nicholson St, near Mckinnon station, October 2015 (from Google Maps)
Nicholson St, near Mckinnon station, during level crossing removal works

Saving more trees. While a special effort has been made to remove and store the palm trees for re-planting later, almost every other bit of flora in the corridor has been cleared away. From some angles it resembles a moonscape.

As this Dandenong line FAQ notes: One of the benefits of the elevated rail design is the ability to retain trees and vegetation close to the rail corridor. By elevating the rail line, we minimise our impact to the root systems of trees, and are able to retain a significant amount of trees within the rail corridor.

Parkland underneath. Glen Eira council is forever reminding us that they have less green space than anywhere else in the state. Some of what little green space there is in Bentleigh will be taken by car parking, to make up for a small loss of spaces at Ormond. Skyrail could have enabled more green space right along the line.

Continuous bike/shared user path. The current project will restore the bike path from Bentleigh to Mckinnon, but there still won’t be a connection from Mckinnon to Ormond — cyclists and walkers have to divert via local streets, because the rail corridor is too narrow. If it were skyrail, a shared user path could easily fit underneath.

A more prominent train system. Some might not consider this important. But out-of-sight, out-of-mind is a concern. At ground level or elevated, the trains are prominent. Hide them away and they are less obvious to people. Does that influence how people think about their transport choices? I don’t know.

Trains will still be visible in their trench of course, if you’re a pedestrian walking by, but less so if driving past. Hopefully good prominent signage and stations will make up for that. (I’d like to see signage include a countdown timer to the next trains, more prominent than the one we once had.)

Better views from the train. OK, no biggie, but it’s more pleasant looking out over your suburb than staring at a plain (or graffiti-covered) wall. It’s also easier to navigate if you can see where you are.

That said, the current plan is for trains to return just about to street level between stations. Roller coaster!

Train trench, Gardiner. Opened in January. Already tagged.
Train trench near Gardiner station

And then of course there’s the disruptions

Road and rail shutdowns. The LXRA claims Dandenong skyrail will involve about 15-20 weekend shutdowns, and two longer shutdowns of 9 and 16 days. Yesterday the government claimed that if it was done as trenches, the Dandenong line would require shutdowns “for 230 days during construction” and that “these closures would be between 30 hours and eight weeks long”.

For the Bentleigh project, it’s shaping up as numerous weekend shutdowns, plus 9 days (January 2016), 10 days (Easter 2016) and the big one: about 35 days (TBC; June-August). That’s a total of about 70-80 days in all, though in some cases (such over the past weekend) they closed the line for the weekend as early as 7pm on Friday.

The list of line closures so far is:

  • Third track closed (thus reducing capacity, and resulting in several cancellations daily) Mon 16/11/2016 until the project is finished in July 2016
  • Last two trains after midnight, Fri 13/11/2015
  • 1am Sat 21/11/2015 to last service Sun 22/11/2015
  • 1am Sat 28/11/2015 to last service Sun 29/11/2015
  • 1am Sat 12/12/2015 to last service Sun 13/12/2015
  • First service Sat 23/1/2016 to last service Sun 31/1/2016
  • 8:45pm Fri 12/2/2016 to last service Sun 14/2/2016
  • 7pm Fri 4/3/2016 to last service Sun 6/3/2016

And expected as the project progresses:

  • 9pm Fri 19/3/2016 to last service Sun 21/3/2016
  • Closure of Ormond and Mckinnon stations 25th March to late July 2016
  • First service Fri 25/3/2016 to last service Sun 3/4/2016
  • Closure of Bentleigh station from 4th June to late July August 2016
  • Expected line closure from 25th June 2016 for about 5 weeks

Each time, they warn of travel time increases by up to 45 minutes. During the January shutdown, lot of people gave up and drove, switched to other train lines (causing crowding elsewhere), or made other arrangements.

Closures don’t just affect train passengers — many involve closing roads, which affects local businesses. There were claims of huge loss of earnings at Burke Road, Gardiner (though it was never the busiest of shopping centres). To counter the problem, the government has organised (no doubt at considerable expense) full colour brochures promoting local shops, sent to every resident in the area, and an accompanying web site. (I notice that the site lists Milsims Games, which moved out of Bentleigh some years ago.)

Would there be fewer shutdowns with skyrail? Parts of the alignment are very tight — perhaps tighter than the section through Carnegie. The north side of Mckinnon station looks like it’s a similar width to the narrowest section between Carnegie and Murrumbeena, but it’s got three tracks in it, not two. And what you don’t want to be doing is acquiring properties if it can be helped. (For the current design it was avoided.)

Hopefully it would have been possible to stagger the construction, building elevated new rail lines above the older ground level lines while they continued to operate.

The key is minimising weekday shutdowns, especially outside school and university holidays. Weekday shutdowns require 100+ buses in operation, as well as numerous support staff — two at every station replacement bus stop, plus many more at the interchanges from first to last service. There are often temporary road markings or modifications, signage, traffic light modifications and traffic monitoring. It’s a very, very expensive undertaking. (We don’t know quite how expensive, but by comparison, recent V/Line bus replacements have cost up to $300,000 per day.)

Risk of unplanned disruptions. So far I’m aware of only one incident: on February 12th, excavation at Bentleigh for the crossing hit a gas pipe, causing a leak, with a sudden road and rail line closure for some hours. As passengers who have been caught up in one know, any unplanned rail closures are messy. Buses often can’t be got to the scene quickly, and are rarely sufficient, especially if the closure extends into peak hours.

Truck movements. Apparently 280,000 cubic metres of earth are to be dug up and moved out. Expect to see thousands of truck movements in the area, particularly during the main shutdown in June/July/August.

E.E.Gunn Reserve partly closed. Parts of this park will be closed for months to temporarily store the earth. One of the benefits of skyrail is that components can be built off-site and shipped in and assembled, like some kind of massive Ikea flatpack — and of course there’s little or no earth to dig out and take away.

Stations shut. As noted above, Mckinnon and Ormond stations are shortly to close for about four five months. Bentleigh will close for a shorter period of about two three months. (Some of this overlaps with the entire line closing for about 5 weeks.)

Bentleigh now vs what if Bentleigh had skyrail? Yeah, my Photoshop skills aren’t up to much.
Bentleigh level crossing
Bentleigh if it got skyrail

Would it have been possible?

A Vicroads contact suggested skyrail might not work over North Road, because of space issues, but a slight re-alignment might have solved that. Certainly the road overpass in Brewer Road in Bentleigh may have caused problems.

Would it have been politically feasible? I wonder if the government could have stomached the risk in the very marginal seat of Bentleigh? They may yet face a similar conundrum further south on the Frankston line.

We might never really know, but had the concept of elevated rail been considered earlier for the Bentleigh area, the potential was there for a project with far fewer disruptions, and some markedly better outcomes for locals.

I love Bentleigh

Do you want to do this thing, they asked? For a weekly feature in the local paper.

“Sure!” I said… all I had to do was nominated places (mostly restaurants) in my neighbourhood that I like. Easy, and it might help push the cause.

I got my photo taken in one of the local parks. You can’t tell from the picture, but I was crouching uncomfortably to get the flowers into shot, and it was starting to rain. But the photographer was a cheery bloke who made it work.

Fairfax Weekly Review 3/6/2015

This seems to be part of the Fairfax local paper strategy of filling its pages entirely with lifestyle pieces rather than news. It ended up basically being a plug for all my favourite local businesses.

I think I may have given a bigger plug to the Frankston line’s 10 minute services than PTV or Metro have managed since they were introduced.

Ten years ago: Arise Lord Vader

Here’s another in my series of ten year old photos.

Arise Lord Vader — episode 3 got a lot of promotion. Or, as I joked at the time: Connex was aligned with the Dark Side.
Arise Lord Vader - Flinders Street station, May 2005

The Dungeon: platform 13 at Flinders Street. The screens have been replaced with a flat model, and an escalator was installed to the concourse, but I’m not sure it’s changed that much otherwise.
Platform 13, Flinders Street Station, May 2005

M and I must have been out on a dog walk and found this sign. Edgewater (then under construction, now a thriving infill suburb) is in that abyss somewhere.
Edgewater, May 2005

Also on the dog walk. Evidently the residents of Rippon Street were very proud of their second prize from 16 years earlier. Google Streetview shows the sign was still there in March 2014.
Near Vic Uni Footscray Park, May 2005

It was ten years ago this month that we had the funeral for Tram Stop 7 (on Collins Street and Russell Street) — since merged with the Exhibition Street stop in favour of a mid-block tram stop. I think it was the first time the “one stop per block in the CBD” rule started to be diminished — these days it’s near-impossible to know where the closest stop is to Street X. It got plenty of media interest. Naturally to this day you see trams stop there for the traffic lights, but unable to pick up or drop off passengers. (More pictures)
Funeral for a tram stop, May 2005

My desk back then. Old computer (bought earlier that month), old fat screen, old bulky printer. Copy of Train Simulator on the desk. Blue Linksys router in the background — WiFi antennae up, I don’t even recall if I used WiFi for anything back then.
My desk, May 2005

Handling big events – the real problem is a lack of services

The Herald Sun had an interesting article describing the trip home from the football on Friday night, and the delays suffered by those in the crowd.

Apart from the football at the MCG, there was also a concert in the tennis centre, and soccer at Etihad Stadium. Edit: plus rugby at AAMI stadium.

In fact an earlier Age story had explicitly warned that the city would be busy.

Richmond station, NYE after early fireworks

The Herald Sun article notes a variety of issues: delays at the Richmond station gates, crowded platforms (and queues on the ramps), screens with wrong information, and trains too full to board.

Here’s the annoying thing: getting a hundred thousand people home should be easily handled by the public transport network, the trains in particular, if it’s planned right. The system deals with over double that every evening peak hour, and also on New Year’s Eve (though fare collection is waived then).

Obviously there are a few problems here…

Richmond station doesn’t handle crowds well. The current station is 55 years old; in 1960 it replaced a smaller station built in 1885.

Although the subway (at the MCG end) connecting the platforms is pretty wide, the ramps and platforms aren’t, and crowding tends to occur at the western end (particularly on platforms 9+10) when large numbers of people arrive at once. This is difficult to solve without expensive upgrades, which are needed, but probably aren’t going to happen any time soon. Encouraging people to move along to the far end of the platform will obviously help.

Yes, the gates slow people down, but this is probably not a bad thing if there’s crowding inside the station anyway — regulating the flow of people (and stopping them if necessary — a scenario common in places like London) helps stop it getting worse. So I suspect the populist calls to “throw open the gates” are a little simplistic.

Revenue collection is important — and large numbers of people using the service helps pull in the kinds of Real Money needed to keep it running and to upgrade it. On weekends in particular, just leaving the gates open would lead to a large amount of fare revenue lost.

One solution would be to include fares in the costs of event tickets — this is common in other cities around Australia, and might also make it possible to permanently close Yarra Park to car parking. Obviously this would mean even more provision being made for crowds using PT — and it probably needs to be shown first that this is a viable option.

It’s worth noting that free public transport (and a venue parking ban) was included with Commonwealth Games tickets in 2006. This didn’t prevent long queues getting back into the station after big events, as shown below.

Richmond station, Commonwealth Games 19/3/2006

For the Commonwealth Games, they had someone with a PA making frequent announcements, making sure the crowd was kept informed. If they’re not doing that now, it would also help.

I’m told there’s also signage around the MCG entrance pointing “parents with children” to the wide gates. What they really mean is “prams and wheelchairs”. The current wording creates unnecessary cross-flows, and should be re-written or removed.

Richmond station, Swan Street entrance, before an MCG game

PTV/Metro are encouraging people to go the long way around to the Swan Street entrance, and this is a good thing — though maybe they need to try harder, and remind people that apart from it only being an extra 2 minutes’ walk, it’s also likely to be quicker overall, as there is less queuing.

But the real problem here is the lack of extra trains.

You can get away with few extra trains if the base level of service is frequent, but at 10-11pm at night, it’s simply not — it’s a 30 minute service. (Notice how the reports of problems have been primarily at night, not after day games when the base timetable is every 10-20 minutes?)

Here’s how the timetable looked on Friday night: this is the Frankston line timetable being shown, but it also shows Dandenong line trains as far as Caulfield. The yellow shows the extra services.

Frankston/Dandenong line timetable showing extra services, 8/5/2015

On Friday night, PTV and Metro put on just a single extra train on the SE/E/NE lines after the Etihad soccer (crowd: 50,871), and another 1-2 extras on each of the SE/E/NE and Sunbury lines after the MCG AFL game (crowd: 52,152).

But the Herald Sun cited soccer crowds still heading home when the AFL finished almost an hour later, so it’s self-evident that it wasn’t sufficient. And this specific AFL game was a big win for Geelong — how many Collingwood fans left early, reducing the crowd size after the game?

It’s not just a Richmond problem either. Here’s Jolimont a couple of weeks ago (picture from Shane Shingles on Facebook)

Crowds at Jolimont after the football. (Pic: Shane Shingles)

I don’t get to the football a lot, but I’ve been to other big events which should be served well by public transport, and it’s often disappointing how long the crowd waits on the platform for a train home.

I know a bunch of planning goes into big events, but it’s hard not to draw the conclusion that more trains are needed, and they may need a few trains (and drivers) on standby to run if crowds are larger than expected, or the event finishes early or late. This in turn requires the operational flexibility to deploy resources independent of a set-in-stone timetable.

If they were really smart, just after the events start, they could crunch the Myki system data and work out how many people had arrived, and where they were likely to be travelling home to afterwards (their originating station that day), and check that against the services running on each line. At the very least, they should be analysing it for following weeks (though obviously it varies according to who is playing).

Clearly if the PT system is to maintain and grow its market share to big events, it’s going to have to provide a better service, or people will start to switch back to their cars.

A single train can move 1000+ people, and each track can run a train every 3 minutes or so. There’s no better way of moving tens of thousands of people out of the sporting/events precinct — if the system is planned and operated well.