Bentleigh station bus

It only took eight years

It’s a miracle!

Back in 2011, the train information on this Smartbus sign at Bentleigh station was switched off.

In 2016 during the level crossing removal project, the bus stop and sign were removed, then put back.

For a while the sign wasn’t working, but then the bus times were switched on. But not the train times.

On Monday, for the first time in over 8 years, the train times re-appeared. Eureka!

Bentleigh station Smartbus PID working again

Thinking ahead, and more broadly: the real-time bus information that was once unique to Smartbus is now more widespread. It’s made its way onto smartphone apps.

The opportunity here is for authorities to get some solid passenger wins for relatively little investment.

  • Roll-out street displays to more stops, showing departure countdowns for all routes. Sure, most people have a smart phone that can access this information, but it’s still better to “push” it to people.
  • Put Smartbus-style Passenger Information Displays (PIDs) announcing the next stop into all new buses – London, a place that is serious about their buses, has done this. For that matter, all of Melbourne’s trams are getting it.
  • Enhance them to be able to show other messages such as the current route, and disruption information (see London example below)

Displays inside new buses should be a no-brainer, given the other required infrastructure is already in place – when a Smartbus ends up on a “normal” route, it appears the displays work correctly.

Unfortunately the current program of 100 new buses for Transdev has missed this. They are adding new generation Myki readers, USB ports for charging, and better external destination displays, which is good. But no internal displays.

(Marcus Wong points out in his blog today that they’ve also missed an opportunity to shift to more hybrid or electric buses.)

Displays at stations are also handy, as bus drivers can see imminent train arrivals, and may be able to wait for connecting passengers.

London bus alert for Underground

Of course, more direct routes and better bus frequency and operating hours are the best thing to get more people using buses.

But making them user-friendly for new and regular users is also important, and should be an easy win.

Brighton Cemetery

Remembering James Coppell Lee

I was in Brighton Cemetery on Saturday (long story) and noticed this statue from a distance, so thought I’d have a look.

Someone famous? Not really.

Brighton cemetery

A young man, tragically drowned off Mornington. The statue was made by his workmates.

Thanks to Trove, I found quite a detailed report of the accident.

Forced by a blinding rainstorm to abandon a proposed fishing expedition off Mornington early on Saturday morning, a party of youths attempted to turn their boat shorewards when the light craft was over whelmed by a big sea, and one of its occupants was drowned. Two other members of the party were rescued in an exhausted condition after a stern struggle in the surf.

The Argus, 29th December 1919

Trove also shows that in the following years, his parents placed notices in his memory.

And it all happened 100 years ago this December. With the weather turning, this might be a good reminder of the importance of taking care in the water this summer.

State Library

State Library station

This blew my tiny mind.

Mind blown: State Library / Museum station

Speaking of Metro tunnel station names, the project publicity is increasingly talking about (new) North Melbourne station.

It’s a shame the old one wasn’t renamed to West Melbourne (as per the plan) last year when all the maps were reprinted for the opening of the Mernda extension.

Hopefully they get it done soon, well before the tunnel opens.

Home improvement

Yes, sometimes my blog isn’t about transport. If you’d prefer to see only transport posts, you can use this link.

Here’s a post where I ramble on about recent upgrades around my house.

Wall insulation

I had wall insulation installed earlier in the year.

The winter gas bill came in recently. It’s down 37.7% from the previous year.

We were away for a bit of time, but nowhere near that much. I’d call that a win.

My current thinking is I’d like to slowly transition off gas and onto electricity, moving towards solar PV.

  • Re-do the kitchen (it needs it!) including a move from gas cooking to electric (induction?)
  • Replace the hot water with electric heat pump, removing the existing hot water solar panel to be replaced by PV panels
  • Replace the ancient gas central heating with reverse cycle heating/cooling – the only question being whether individual units or a central unit is better. (Can individual units be controlled in unison via a timer program?)

We got a new TV

Back in 2011 we got our first widescreen digital television: a 32 inch (80 cm) Samsung.

Rather annoyingly it still works fine, but I was thinking of buying something bigger than 32 inches, perhaps around 43 inches. (Are television sizes one of the last holdouts of imperial measurements?)

Then my sons spotted the 49 inch Sony X70F on Amazon, which seemed irresistibly cheap at $649 – slightly cheaper than the cost of the 32 inch TV in 2011.

Choice’s handy guide to model numbers indicates that the X70F is last year’s model, but it’s got all the features we want, including 4K. We bought it. It’s since gone up to $849.

We also bought a TV stand so it could fit on the old (narrow) cabinet. What I didn’t realise was the stand on top of the old cabinet positions the TV far higher than suits the room. The stand is height adjustable, but only up from where we have it.

Sigh. Oh well, the old cabinet was also due for replacement (an ancient unit from Ikea that’s at least 25 years old – remember their Nunawading store and when they sold products that were real solid wood?), so I ended up buying a new cabinet as well. It’s lower but wider so has more space. Yes, Ikea again.

It took an evening to re-cable everything into the new cabinet, but it’s tidier.

New big TV

Is a 49 inch (124 cm) TV too big for my small livingroom? Perhaps. Some advice seems to be aim for a TV with a size of about half the distance you sit away from it. On that basis it’s okay, but that’s really aimed at not seeing pixelation at the highest resolution. … Oh well, I’m sure I’ll get used to it.

This article from 2016 reckons most people are now buying much bigger screens, and in the USA, the average size is now above 50 inches.

The bathroom

I moved into my house 14 years ago. My best guess is it had a makeover in the mid-1990s when the property was subdivided and most of the backyard was sold off and developed.

So the bathroom was some 25+ years old and looking pretty tired. I finally got it revamped over winter.

I was able to arrange the perfect timing: Peter the bathroom guy was able to do the project in early July, when my sons were away, and during the Caulfield to City bustitution – giving me an excuse to stay home and avoid it, at least in peak hours.

Peter’s way of working is to provide a shopping list for most of the required bits and bobs, so I got to decide on and go shopping for tiles, grout, tapware, showerhead, toilet, vanity unit, towel rails.

I discovered that there are any number of places that will sell you all this stuff – but almost all of them are only open during weekday business hours, and Saturday mornings – which was not very convenient at all.

Only Bunnings has the smarts (and resources) to be open all weekend, and until 9pm on weekday evenings. In return for their long hours, and relaxed returns policy, they did very well out of me on this project.

Thankfully my house has a second toilet. No full second bathroom though. I got used to washing each morning in the laundry sink, with occasional showers courtesy of nearby family so I could wash my hair. It’s manageable, but it was good to have the actual bathroom finished.

In the end the work took a week and a half. Could it be quicker? If two people worked on a small bathroom, they’d just bump into each other.

Renovating the bathroom

Any lessons learnt? I do wonder if next time I might not use a mixer tap for the vanity unit basin. The reason is the default (middle) position is likely to be used by people when they don’t want hot water. This actually runs the hot and cold together, which means the hot water heater starts up. It might be more energy-efficient to have separate hot and cold taps, even if they mix into one outlet.

During the work we discovered why some of the pipes had been rattling – and fixed/replaced them. We also found the water takes a long route around the house before getting to the bathroom, which is why the hot water takes a while to start. Unfortunately it sounds like that would be quite complicated to actually fix.

Not to worry – the overall result is great.

Now I just have to get around to repainting affected sections of wall… put it on the list with the drill spots from the insulation.

Maybe when I get the kitchen re-done, I’ll get some painters in to do it all.

Now, what’s next?

Brisbane Airport, view from train

Passengers for the Airport, change trains at Sunshine

Trouble afoot for the Melbourne Airport rail link?

Age: The new proposal would see airport trains use existing rail lines between Southern Cross and Sunshine, and add a new line between Sunshine and the airport, sources close to the project have said.

Herald Sun: …while most prefer an express route with only one stop, the state governmentโ€™s plan to include the airport rail project in its $50 billion Suburban Rail Loop means travellers may have to change trains at Sunshine to get to the CBD.

This casts light on some of the thinking inside the State Government: that the airport trains might share tracks into the City, or that they might not reach the City at all!

I think we perhaps could live with the former, but the latter would be problematic.

There also seems to be talk of a bog-standard service frequency of every 20 minutes, which is half that of the Skybus and the busiest off-peak suburban lines.

Sydney Airport - bag claim

The goal of an airport rail link

Step back for a sec: It’s important to think about service outcomes, not infrastructureโ€ฆ and we should also not assume that everything needs to be resolved in one hit at enormous cost – with most people talking about a premium fare of some kind, super-expensive infrastructure is likely to drive up fare prices.

Let’s take it as read that the route is via Sunshine, with a stop there for interchange purposes.

My view is the goals are we need a travel time of 20-25 mins or so from the City to the Airport, and a service frequency of 10 mins. That’s what’s going to ensure the train is competitive with car travel, or taxi, and that it’s at least as fast as the existing Skybus, including ensuring interchange (whether in the CBD or at Sunshine) is quick and easy.

Bear in mind those two aims.

Sharing tracks

There are two sets of tracks from the City to Sunshine: the Sunbury line (which by 2025 will connect into the Metro tunnel) and the Regional Rail Link tracks, carrying V/Line services to Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo.

The Sunbury line only carries 3 trains per hour at present at off-peak times, but hopefully will be 6 before too long. And those off-peak trains stop at every station, so Airport trains wouldn’t be fast enough if they shared those tracks.

By my count, the RRL tracks carry 6-7 trains per hour off-peak at present. So with some tweaking (and assuming electrification), you should be able to get another 6 airport trains per hour onto that line without too much trouble, and all running pretty fast from the City to Sunshine – typically they take 12 minutes at present.

It’s peak that is the problem. Between 5pm and 6pm there are currently 16 outbound trains on the RRL lines, so it’s getting close to full, particularly with the current situation of numerous flat junctions (yeah, fix those for a start).

Melton and Wyndham Vale trains are likely to run as electric services on the suburban tracks in the future, which might help, though you’d expect some of those paths to be needed by additional longer distance trains, to further relieve crowding.

But peak is only a few hours a day, and the competition (the Tulla Fwy) is also congested then, so as an interim measure, while they figure out/fund/build more track capacity, you could probably live with slightly longer running times or slightly lower frequencies to the Airport.

If the freeway clogs up every day in peak, does it matter much if the train travel time goes a bit over 25 minutes at the same time? It would still be quicker, and as long as the travel time is predictable and consistent, it would still be time-competitive.

This would not be a unique situation. London’s Heathrow Express and Gatwick Express trains both run 4 trains per hour, and share tracks with other services. Gatwick Express in particular has running times that vary a bit according to other traffic on the line.

And this is of course no different to many other public transport routes, including street-based trams and buses.

Sure, eventually you’d need more capacity. That could mean extra tracks between Sunshine and the City. But it could also be the Metro 2 tunnel – latest thinking includes it providing a route for (electrified) Geelong trains direct into the City, taking them off the Sunshine route, freeing up yet more RRL paths. This would have a number of other benefits too.

But if we’re going to demand dedicated tracks all the way from day one (really, a multi-billion dollar tunnel for a measly six trains per hour?) it’ll just mean it takes longer to build, and will help push up the fares.

Dear tourists, don't go looking for the airport train. First departure not expected for about a decade.

Changing trains

Forcing people to change at Sunshine however, I think would be far more problematic.

It’s not unreasonable to expect an airport train would provide a one seat journey from the CBD, attracting a significant business market.

Also worth remembering that passengers from the suburbs (or in fact anywhere in the CBD that isn’t walking distance to the terminus, presumably Southern Cross) would have already changed service at least once.

The Metro 1 tunnel will provide better access to Sunshine for people along the Sunbury to Cranbourne/Pakenham line, including from Parkville and ANZAC (Domain) stations. Sunshine is also readily accessible from the Ballarat, Geelong and Bendigo lines (assuming the latter is altered to actually to stop at Sunshine – for some reason it doesn’t at the moment).

But from other lines, it’s problematic. Doubly so for Alamein and Stony Point passengers, who may have already changed trains to reach the City… and not forgetting people who had to catch a bus or tram to the station at the start of their trip. Plus a lot of people would have luggage to wrangle.

There are some cities where you need to change trains between the CBD and the Airport. Singapore is one of them, with a cross-platform interchange and reasonably frequent service at most times of day.

But it’s slow. A random check of Google Maps reckoned around 49 minutes from Changi Airport MRT station to City Hall MRT, not helped by stopping all stations – but the change of trains alone was 7 minutes. Driving can be as fast as 20 minutes. That might be okay in Singapore where car ownership is restricted, but would it fly in Melbourne? I doubt it.

Singapore: Tanah Merah station, interchange for Changi Airport

And one more thing: It’s a hard enough sell at the best of times convincing Melburnians to change trains. I reckon an airport rail link that doesn’t serve the CBD would be political suicide.

Competitive travel times

Ultimately, the airport rail link needs to be price and time-competitive with taxis and driving from a variety of locations around Melbourne, including the CBD which is the hub of the existing public transport network. It must also be convenient for people, especially those with luggage.

It’s understandable with lots of infrastructure projects underway that the government is looking to see if it can cut costs – but they will need to take care that the airport link meets these goals.

Let’s hope they carefully consider the options.

More reading: Ben Lever (PTUA Ballarat) highlights the other upgrades needed, whether or not a new tunnel is built