Following a little jaunt out to Caroline Springs on Tuesday (more on this in the next post), with some tweets along the way, I had an interesting Twitter conversation with a disgruntled Geelong line user.
One of my tweets noted that a huge crowd waiting at the platform for a Geelong train had in fact fitted into the train when it eventually arrived. (The exchange is reproduced below.) My correspondent took umbrage at this, thinking it implied the Geelong line is all fine.
My view is that showing a photo of one train that a platform that looks okay doesn’t imply that every train is fine. It doesn’t even imply that the train in question didn’t become overcrowded down the line when it picked up more passengers.
Here’s the thing:
I have been told repeatedly by those in power — ministers (from both sides), senior bureaucrats, operator staff (from the CEO down), that they appreciate (and pay attention to) my observations because I call out both the positive and the negative. Good, bad or ugly.
It’s also gained the PTUA credibility with the media, who know they will get an honest assessment of a situation.
But it’s starting to happen now, and apart from paid lessons, we have headed down to Masters a couple of times. And both times, other L-platers have been doing laps as well.
As it turns out, it’s not perfect at South Oakleigh, because there’s an active supermarket at the other end of the car park, and an alarming number of motorists like cutting through the car park at diagonals to get to it. Sure, you may save five seconds, but you risk smashing into a learner driver.
Figuring out the clutch and manual gears seems to be about as hard and frustrating as I remember it being when I first learned.
(I’ve been thinking about upgrading my old car, which might include going to an automatic — more on this soon. Something for family discussion.)
Anyway, we’ll keep practicing, so thanks again, Masters.
As the parent of a new L plater, I'd like to thank Masters Hardware for providing empty car parks right across Australia.🚘🅿️😀
Smartbus advertising at Caulfield station. It was nice to see them promoting the frequent service, but there was only one problem: it wasn’t true. The Smartbus serving Caulfield (route 900) has never been better than every 15 minutes in peak. (And really, the frequency/radio thing is a bit lame.)
The Town Hall tram stop in Collins Street. Yes, even back then, the entrance ramp was a bottleneck at busy times. Note the canvas roller for the destination displays – these days they’re all LEDs.
Train bingo at Richmond – tracks to/from platforms 2, 3, 4 and 5 have trains. Back then, Richmond’s platforms and ramps were largely uncovered. More shelter was added in 2015.
Delays on platform 5 at Flinders Street. As I recall, it was a stinking hot day.
Glenhuntly station, then my local for some days of the week. A Comeng train crosses while a Z3-class tram waits. Despite the current level crossing removal program, this hasn’t changed – trams still wait while trains crawl across.
Also Glenhuntly; a Comeng train on platform 2, while a Siemens train arrives on platform 1. The earlier Siemens liveries were pretty ugly, but the Connex version was quite pleasing to the eye, I thought.
Another angle at Flinders Street, on the same day, in the mirror.
Back at Glenhuntly, what a surprise, someone is queuing where they shouldn’t.
Something you never see anymore: the marker for a wheelchair to board a 3-car train. 3-car trains were the bane of evening and weekend travellers, resulting in horrible crowding at times. Nowadays they’re almost all 6-cars all the time.
Comeng trains are named after the Comeng (“Commonwealth Engineering”) factory where they were built, with the carriages being brought into service between 1982 and 1989. The factory in Dandenong is now run by Bombardier, and in the grounds you can find a plaque from 1983 with the same logo you’ll still see on many of the trains.
Most of the trains are still in service, making them between 29 and 36 years old. Of the 570 built, there are still 555 Comeng carriages in service (92.5 x 6 car trains, though Vicsig has a lower figure), making them the most numerous in the Metro fleet, though they are about to be overtaken by X’trapolis trains in number.
Along the way they’ve undergone various upgrades:
Refurbishment 2000-2003 by then operators National Express (M>Train) and Connex, which unfortunately split the fleet into two incompatible halves
Specifically, the strategy flagged: $75 million for maintenance and refurbishment to extend the life of the current Comeng train fleet, with an expected phase-out from 2022-2025 — though of course it remains to be seen if this happens as quickly as that.
In the next few months we’ll start to see visible signs of this. The work is being done at the Craigieburn Train Maintenance Facility (TMF), which was opened in 2011 and is the “home depot” for the Comeng fleet.
This makes sense in the context of the Five group railway plan, which flagged that the overall train fleet would be semi-permanently dedicated to specific lines. The Comengs would run on the Northern (Upfield, Craigieburn, Sunbury) and Dandenong lines, obviously to be replaced by the HCMTs first on the Dandenong line, then the Sunbury line (when the two are connected via the metro rail tunnel from 2026) then presumably the others.
I was invited by Metro to have a look, and headed up to Craigieburn one Friday afternoon. It was surprisingly busy with people leaving the city, as well as school kids heading home.
I’ve been past Craigieburn numerous times, but the last time I stopped off was not quite ten years ago, for the opening of the new station and extension of suburban services. On that day, then-Premier John Brumby (pictured) and Transport Minister the late Lynne Kosky (I think she’s standing on the other side of Brumby) rode a train to the new station to officially open it. Brumby was whisked away by car, but Kosky, to her credit, stayed longer to answer questions and meet the public.
The new Train Maintenance Facility itself is impressively large, and is part of a larger complex of sidings north of Craigieburn station, and alongside the rail line north to Seymour, Shepparton and Albury.
After signing in, we took a look at the various changes they’re trying out.
This front cab design isn’t going to be used… it’s not very appealing, is it. Sounds like instead they’re likely to go for a stripe design with more blue.
What is changing is the marker lights (the small bulbs above the cab windows) will change to LEDs. The handlebars at the front, often used by train surfers, will may be removed (in a future project) — apparently they used to be useful for drivers to do diagnosis on faults, but are rarely used for legitimate purposes now.
The interior prototypes have been reviewed by a number of stakeholders, and include a raft of tweaks.
Several designs of seat cushion are under consideration:
More visibly different “special needs” seats (you may recognise the pattern from the trams; apparently this is likely to become the standard PTV design):
Possible implementation in a future project: wheelchair spots at second door as well as the first, which may be useful where larger number of wheelchairs need to board on a single trip:
Extra hand straps, similar to those on the X’trapolis trains, and designed not to cause an issue when tall people bump into them!
Centre poles (except in the doorways for wheelchair boarding) like E-class trams:
Not shown on the day were that handles on the backs of seats will be made larger. This may make up for the problems they have installing hand holds along the carriage, away from the doors.
They are not removing the fifth seat of each row (as has been done with the X’trapolis trains), as this is technically difficult/expensive on the Comeng fleet. However they may remove a small number of seats at the ends of carriages.
It’s not illegal to move between carriages, but it is illegal to ride (eg stand) on the inter-carriage platform while the train is moving. This is relatively common, and is a favourite spot for nicotine addicts who just can’t bear to be on a train without a cigarette.
It’s less common for people to try and enter and exit the train this way — but it does happen.
Riding there or boarding is dangerous – it wouldn’t be hard to fall and slip underneath the train, especially if it’s moving. The carriages may bounce around, and you’re only held in by a some bars and a chain. Being outside the carriage structure, there’s also no protection in a collision.
On my trip up to Craigieburn, I’d noticed a few school kids had changed carriages via these doors, some while the train was moving.
Metro can’t just lock the doors – they may be needed in an emergency situation. So they’re looking at ways of enclosing the connection, as in the Siemens and X’trapolis trains. The two designs they’re trying out are similar to what’s found in those trains.
Bellows, similar to the Siemens fleet (but leaving the doors in place):
Similar to the X’trapolis design — this one has some teething problems as they’ve found a gap appears when the train goes around sharp corners.
Upgrades to come
These upgrades will start to appear in service from about the middle of this year.
I’m told that later changes next year will include an overhaul of the air-brake system and Passenger Information Displays as well as CCTV.
I still look fondly on the Comeng fleet – back in the day, when they were the only air-conditioned carriages, in hot weather it was a joy to see one approaching.
It’s good that there’s a plan to improve them to keep them in service a bit longer, since it will mean as the newer trains come into service, they can initially be focused on growing the size of the fleet to cope with patronage growth. It would make no sense to throw away good carriages for want of a little TLC.
Barring any out-of-left field plans to keep them running (one proposal was to use them on the Geelong line, hauled by diesel engines), eventually the Comeng fleet will be phased-out next decade, having done at least 40 years service.
Thanks to Metro Trains for inviting me.
Edit 11/3/2017: Minor changes to the text to correct some errors. Some of the proposals in the prototype unit are for evaluation for later projects, and are not being implemented across the fleet at this stage.
The state government announced over the weekend that Edithvale and Bonbeach grade separations on the Frankston line would get rail under road — a little surprising given apparently challenging engineering so close to the beach.
No doubt this is politically expedient. For better or worse, that’s how democracy works sometimes, but you have to wonder how much extra disruption and cost will be incurred along the way if they have to do all that digging — though there’s no mention of property acquisition as at Cheltenham, probably thanks to the well-defined separate rail corridor on this part of the line.
One thing that strikes you about the designs is the lack of green. Perhaps this is because they’re only concept designs (they don’t properly show station buildings, for instance), but it may indicate that even if there are later plantings to beautify the area, all the current trees will be removed first.
(Some anti-skyrail protesters have aligned themselves to the worthy cause of preserving trees, but we know that in general, digging a big trench is more likely to result in tree removal, thanks to the interruptions to root systems and the desire of authorities to avoid the risk of trees falling on rail infrastructure.)
Ironically the northern end of the trench at Edithvale begins right next to the Lochiel Avenue crossing. If it’s a minor road, you’d think they’d take the opportunity to close it — even with a detour, the lack of level crossing congestion would make many car trips just as fast (and certainly less prone to unpredictable delays). Perhaps that decision is yet to be made.
At Seaford Road (about 700 metres south of Seaford station), it’ll be a lower “hybrid” version of rail over road: the road will be dropped by 1.5 metres, with rail going over the top of it at a height of about 5 metres. Basically they can’t do rail under there without destroying the local wetlands.
At Skye Road, it’s rail over for similar reasons, probably made politically easier by being adjacent to an industrial area and the existing motorway overpass (which has far more impact than current skyrail designs).
Seaford Road construction starts next year, Skye Road later this year, but the Edithvale and Bonbeach will be some time off, as they will go to the Minister for Planning to determine of an Environmental Effects Statement is required.
Hopefully there is some co-ordination between all these projects. Seaford and Skye Road are in the same section of the line. Bonbeach and Edithvale are on the other side of Carrum (where trains can be terminated).
Of course there are also crossings either side of Carrum station to be done; designs haven’t been released for these, but to minimise rail disruptions, it’s critical that all these projects be timed well.
As for these ones just announced — there’s little detail as yet concerning bus interchanges, station entrances — all the things that will make or break the new stations for public transport users.
Based on the material released so far, they’re not pretty, but this may change as the plans evolve. It’d be interesting to know what the locals think.