Old photos from June 2007

Time for another in my monthly series of photos from ten years ago… something of a bumper crop this time.

Let’s start with a view over the city from Quarry Park in Footscray. Apparently the Melbourne Star observation wheel had been under construction since 2006, but I can’t see in anywhere here.

I can’t actually see any few cranes in the photo, but in the last ten years, the skyline around central Melbourne has certainly got more crowded.

View from west to Melbourne City, June 2007

Nearby to the spot where the above photo was taken, the Edgewater development was taking shape, and being promoted, of course. I wonder how many people actually moor their boat here?
Edgewater, June 2007

I suspect I was waiting for a train on the evening on the 8th of June, as I snap quite a few photos around Southern Cross.
Southern Cross Station, June 2007

At the time the rebuild of the station was relatively new. This bloke seemed to be setting up the platform screens (since replaced by something more beautiful, though many of the screens are now located behind pillars!)
Southern Cross Station, June 2007

Evidently the 15th of June was a foggy morning. This is Bentleigh station, well before it got rebuilt below street level, and with Hitachi trains still running. Some naughty bloke is riding a bike along the platform. Unwise.
Bentleigh Station, June 2007

Later the same morning, pretty hazy in Elizabeth Street, just north of Collins Street. Since then, massive block-long tram platform stops have been built here, though as of 2017, only route 19 has (some) low-floor trams.
Elizabeth Street, June 2007

Hazy at lunchtime in Swanston Street. This area has been remodelled, also now with tram platform stops.
Swanston Street and Bourke Street, June 2007

Back at Southern Cross, I quite like the blur effect of this Connex-liveried Comeng train arriving.
Southern Cross Station, June 2007

I must have been mucking about with long exposure times. Looking across the platforms to an X’trapolis train.
Southern Cross Station, June 2007

Just this week they announced that A-class trams will be getting internal stop displays, but back in 2007, a similar system was being trialled on this Z-class tram (number 178).
Test screens inside tram 178, June 2007

…it also included this internal display, which hasn’t ended up being rolled-out.
Test screens inside tram 178, June 2007

…and the external LED displays must have been new, or I probably wouldn’t have bothered to snap the outside of the tram. It now seems unlikely Z-class trams will get the full suite of displays, as they’ve started being phased-out as E-class trams are deployed.
Test Z-class tram 178 destination signs, June 2007

Some kind of advertising promotion at Richmond station. Given crowds at this station these days, I wonder if they’d allow such markings on the platform today.
Promotion, Richmond station, June 2007

At Windsor on Dandenong Road, more platform stops were being built.
Windsor tram stop construction, June 2007

East St Kilda. This lane between two houses on Alexandra Street is probably meaningless to you lot, but holds special significance to me. It’s where I learnt to ride a bike.
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I’m not sure why I snapped this picture of a Darrell Lea store in Swanston Street, but it’s since disappeared, along with most of the other stores.
Darrell Lea shop, Swanston St, June 2007

Who remembers The Choir Of Hard Knocks? Evidently on the 22nd of June they had an event in the Degraves Street subway.
Choir of Hard Knocks event, Degraves St subway, June 2007

Regent Theatre, promotion for the Priscilla musical.
Priscilla musical promotion, Regent Theatre, June 2007

Should Swanston/Flinders be a scramble crossing?

It turns out some are floating the idea of the Swanston/Flinders Street intersection being converted to a pedestrian scramble crossing (aka a Barnes Dance/Barnes Walk).

THE CBD’s busiest intersection, at Flinders and Swanston streets, could get a pedestrian-friendly makeover under changes forced by the Metro Rail tunnel project.

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle has revealed one option Melbourne city council is considering is the introduction of a traffic light sequence in which pedestrians can cross the whole of the intersection from different directions.

— Herald Sun: Metro tunnel forces rethink of pedestrian crossing at Flinders and Swanston streets (pay wall)

The only scramble crossing at present in the CBD is at Elizabeth/Flinders Street. It works well when cars stay out of it during the pedestrian phase.

Bourke/Spencer is probably the top candidate elsewhere in the CBD. Swanston/Latrobe could also work well.

As for Swanston/Flinders, potentially it could work, though the best locations for them are where there are lots of pedestrians in all directions.

At this intersection, most of the traffic is north-south from the station to the shops on the western side of Swanston Street. There are also heavy flows between the station and Federation Square and the tram stop, but this is well south of the intersection — though there is a case for moving the tram stop (and enlarging it) to be closer to the intersection, for better interchange with trams on Flinders Street.

There might be other, easier alternatives, but whether a scramble crossing works or not probably depends on the design of the traffic light cycles. If they minimise green time for cars, and maximise it for pedestrians, as well as having more spots in the cycle to let trams through, then it’s got potential to improve things.

Federation Square tram stop, 5:20pm on a weekday

Indeed, issues around the Federation Square tram stop are a reminder of the importance (alluded to in the Herald Sun article) that we need to think big picture.

What are the effects the metro tunnel will have on pedestrian movements? (It’s likely to provide underground walkways from the current station to the new one.) What about trams along Flinders Street, set to increase with some Elizabeth Street trams running to East Melbourne? And could/should there be a move to reduce or even eliminate private vehicles from Princes Bridge and this section of Flinders Street?

There are safety benefits to scramble crossings — accidents from turning cars reduce, though this is less important at this particular location where there are virtually no turning movements at the same time as walk signals.

And I do think there’s another important benefit to scramble crossings: on a psychological level, they improve the walking environment. Giving the entire space to pedestrians, even if only once each traffic light cycle, sends the message that (here at least) pedestrians are not, and should not be marginalised.

I bought an investment property

As you grow older, you find yourself doing things you genuinely had no idea you’d be doing. At least I do. Perhaps other people have all their plans worked out way further in advance.

When I was growing up, we had little money, and I couldn’t dream of owning my own home.

At age 30 I found myself living alone for the first time, it still wasn’t on the radar. It took me until 35 to get to the point where I could buy.

Through my 30s and into my 40s, things have really come together moneywise. Good steady job + low interest rates + house appreciated markedly (roughly doubled in value; I couldn’t afford to buy in Bentleigh now).

Last year I wrote about money, and that I was pondering buying an investment property. This came about via refinancing my home loan at the suggestion of my sister, and chatting to a mortgage broker about it.

My house was revalued by the bank. It’s worth just on double what I paid for it. Based on that, the mortgage broker said I’d have no trouble borrowing enough for an investment. Rent could be expected to be roughly in the zone of the interest payments.

Virtually any other type of investment would have to be self-funded. I’ve dabbled in shares (disastrously), and the bank wouldn’t lend to me to buy a race horse or gold!

10+ year objective: boost my retirement fund, and help my kids buy when the time comes.

So I decided to try an investment property. But where to buy?

Daniel’s theory of property investment

Let’s assume I want something in the same city where I live, rather than some far-flung location.

First of all, I’m aiming at something within walking distance to a railway station, shops, parks, other amenity. Similar factors to where I would want to live — it seems to be a good formula.

If one assumes the jump in prices has started in the inner-suburbs and is steadily working its way outwards (with gentrification etc), then the strategy is to buy just ahead of that wave. To go with a stereotype, as the CBD gets busier and the commuter population gets larger, then you aim to catch the next lot of CBD white-collar workers moving in.

In the Frankston line corridor, this wave of house price rises has obviously already gone through Bentleigh (where I live), Moorabbin, Highett, Cheltenham, but then you get to the beachside suburbs like Mentone which have been expensive for some time. I’ve missed that wave.

One could look in other directions, such as west, but what about along the Dandenong line? Oakleigh, Clayton, Springvale have already gone up or are doing so now.

For bonus points, look for government infrastructure upgrades in the area to provide a boost, a rejuvenation of some kind. For instance, level crossing removals.

So I ended up targeting Noble Park, which has the following going for it:

  • Still affordable for townhouses/units (which I’d prefer over apartments… a house would be ideal of course, but out of my budget)
  • local shops including a Coles supermarket (unlike nearby Westall, Sandown Park and Yarraman)
  • quite a walkable suburb
  • 37 mins from city on the train – making it much closer to the CBD than the booming outer suburban fringe
  • By 2018, will have local crossing removed and a shiny new station, which is likely to spark urban renewal
  • Also new trains coming on line about then
  • From 2026 the Metro tunnel will mean direct access to Domain and the University/Hospital precinct
  • Possible future airport rail link in the next couple of decades
  • Fairly close to Monash Uni

Down sides? Well despite being close to Monash Uni, the public transport links to there aren’t very good. In fact all the local buses are fairly appalling.

The area has a reputation for crime, though perhaps undeserved. Parts of the suburb seem a little run down, though not really worse than anywhere else.

Remember, it’s about investment potential. I’m betting that the whole area will get nicer over the next (say) ten years.

Investment property. No "Sold" sticker. And tags on the sign. Hmmm.

Unknown: Will the impact of skyrail be positive, or negative? I’m betting positive. If the open space isn’t totally dominated by car parks, and if they keep it clean, it’ll add to the neighbourhood rather than detract from it.

In contrast to areas like Carnegie, where it’s seen as controversial, it seems pretty accepted in Noble Park, in fact I even saw one real estate ad crowing about it.

I started hunting for a property late last year. Scoured the web sites, and drove down regularly on Saturdays with M, whose patience never seemed to wear thin.

I went to a few auctions, even placed some bids. Gradually it became apparent that some types of property were probably beyond my financial means, if I wanted something in the area most desirable.

Finally in May I found something up for private sale, put in an offer, haggled a bit, and it was accepted.

A unit, with two bedrooms, at the back of a block of four. Brick, with a bit of a back garden, and very close to the station. So that skyrail had better work out!

A great deal of paperwork has followed, including applying again for the loan, even though it was “pre-approved”. But it’s done. I’m buying it.

It’ll be rented out to tenants. (I’m hoping to be a good landlord, not a git landlord as some were back in the days when my family rented.)

This is going to be interesting. Will the rental return be as healthy as forecast? Will it keep abreast of any interest rate rises? Will the area appreciate like I hope?

We’ll see what happens next!

New phone: Motorola G5 Plus

A reminder that despite how it may sometimes seem, not all my blog posts are about transport. If you want to view only the transport posts, try here. For convenience, this link is also on the menu at the top, under Transport.

Over the years I’ve had many mobile phones.

Here’s an update to that old list:

November 2013: Google Nexus 5 — I did that Apple-like thing of preordering this before I’d actually seen it in the flesh. This was a terrific phone. Fast, good camera, great features, no bloatware, and being a Google device, got updates really quickly.

I loved some of the features I only discovered well after I got it, like the pedometer which is now tracking my steps, and NFC, which has all sorts of uses such as checking public transport smartcards (in smart cities like Sydney and Singapore where this is enabled) — see below.

Then the phone died in late-2016. The power button got stuck, and it continually switched itself on and off.

I replaced it and then stuck it in a drawer until a couple of weeks ago when my son Jeremy needed a phone to use while his was being repaired. He found a way to repair the power button, and it’s still going strong!

Opal NFC phone app

October 2016: Google Nexus 5X (which cost me $489 at the time) — the spiritual successor to the 5. I really wanted to like this as much as the 5, but I didn’t. It was a good phone, but not a great phone. It feels a little laggy at times.

Perhaps that’s one of the perils of buying a phone that was released 12 months earlier.

There’s also probably a point at which (for all phones, tablets, and other devices) you should stop installing major upgrades to the operating system, which often bring major new features requiring perhaps more horsepower than the device can provide. Instead, it might be better to just install the security patches… at least until they run out.

Daniel buys a new phone

Having a good, fast reliable phone is more important these days than it has been in the past. I’m not sure that back in the day, any of us Gen Xers really appreciated that by the 2010s we’d literally have such a useful computer that we could carry around in our pockets all day.

I decided last week to get a new phone, and after some research settled on the Motorola G5 Plus (currently retailing for about $380), for three main reasons:

Get something faster. The 5X was released in 2015. Interestingly, you can still buy it new through some dealers (though Google themselves no longer sell it, having moved to the Pixel — at about double the price). I think there are now better value phones in the $400-500ish range.

Fear of the boot loop. I don’t know if it’s common or not, but a known hardware problem with the 5X phone is that occasionally they will get into a state where they continually boot, and (barring hacks to fix it) have to be sent back for repair or replacement. This is something I could deal with at home, but there’s no way I’d want it to happen while on our overseas holiday later this year.

Dual SIMs. I’d like to have mobile data for maps and so on while travelling, but I’d also like to be reachable on my usual phone number. Telstra international roaming isn’t cheap: $85 for 300 Mb or $160 for 600 Mb.

In contrast, a Three UK prepaid SIM, including 1 Gb data and texts and calls for a month, costs 10 pounds (A$17), or 12 Gb for double that cost, and it includes roaming in Europe. (I’m still looking at the options, but this appears to be one of the best.)

The solution to cheap local rates + keep your usual number? A dual-SIM phone. Use data and outbound calls on the cheap local SIM, and still be able to receive calls/texts on my Australian number. And the money savings will help subsidise the new phone.

(I wonder if the phone companies dislike this?)

In fact I suppose I could even choose to use a second SIM at home to get cheap data and/or try and get around the Telstra capacity problems on peak hour trains between Malvern to South Yarra — though from what I’m told, the other carriers are no better.

Motorola G5 Plus phone

So I bought a new Moto G5 Plus, and sold the Nexus 5X on Gumtree over the weekend. (eBay won’t let me sell a mobile phone, due to Paypal having a grudge against me, for reasons they’ve never been able to explain.)

I listed it for $220, and got all sorts of cheeky offers from as low as $130. I refrained from telling them they were dreaming. Eventually accepted an offer of $180 from a bloke who had a Sony phone he quite liked, but dropped it and smashed the glass. Whoops.

And the new phone? So far so good, apart from the wallpaper, which I’ve changed to my own design, and the “Hello Moto!” audible greeting, which was the first thing I switched off!

New trains – 2000 people?!

The Age broke the story last week that the new High Capacity Metro Trains (HCMTs) are being designed to cope with up to 2000 people, at a density of up to 6 people per square metre, and seats for 30-40% of the total load.

Cue the outrage (from some quarters) — but it’s important to look at the numbers, because when you break it down, it’s not actually much different to what we already have.

The important thing is that the load standard is different to the gross/maximum/crush load capacity.

Let me summarise it in a table, then you can read the long boring explanation if you wish.

Cars Load standard Per car Gross capacity
/ crush load
Per car
Comeng* 6 900 150 1526 crush load 254
Siemens* 6 900 150 1584 crush load 264
X’Trapolis* 6 900 150 1394 crush load 232
HCMT 7 1100 157 1380 gross capacity 197
HCMT 10 1570 157 1970 gross capacity 197

*Crush load figures for the existing fleet are from before seat modifications were made.

The current train “load standard” is 900 people per 6 carriages, with about half of those seated, and half standing. (The magic number used to be 798, or 133 per carriage. Recent changes made it 900, or 150 per carriage, with more changes to come).

But 900 is NOT the capacity. It’s meant to be the upper limit for a comfortable load; the trigger point at which they should be planning for more services.

In a crush load, such as was seen on many lines on the morning of the Age story, you might get 1500 people onto a 6-car train — in fact the Comeng fleet “crush” capacity is said to be 1526.

Channel 7’s Brendan Donohoe enterprisingly got a metre square and took it on a train to show how 6 people per square metre looks. Not much different to the above.

So if the current crush load is about 1500, that’s 250 per carriage.

The 1,970 quoted for the new fleet is not a “load standard”, but a “gross capacity”, aka a maximum for planning purposes.

(At first I thought this was similar to a “crush load”, perhaps in more politically-correct terms. But perhaps not; at 197 per carriage, it’s quite a bit lower than the current figures of around 250 per carriage.)

The 1,970 figure is also for a much longer train.

From the documents I’ve seen, the load standard for the initial 7-car configuration will be 1100, or 157 per carriage. Not much different from the current 6-car load standard of 900, or 150 per carriage.

Extending the trains from 7 to 10 cars later (on the Sunbury and Dandenong/Cranbourne/Pakenham lines via the metro tunnel) will therefore extend the load standard to 1570.

Comeng train

Planning for a crush load of up to 1970 on a 10-car train is not unreasonable.

It means that the carriages will safely carry that many people (factors such as weight and braking come into play), and if they get the interior design right, there’ll be places for everyone to hold on.

This is a big issue with many of the current fleet: the Siemens and Comeng trains have very few handholds apart from around the doorways.

Most of the X’Trapolis fleet is better, but those handholds are mostly too far towards the side of the carriage, meaning you have to reach over seated passengers to grab them.

Singapore MRT train in peak hour

Having participated in stakeholder consultation for the new train design, I can tell you: the carriages have a mix of seating: longitudinal (along the carriage) at the ends, providing more standing space, and areas for wheelchairs and bicycles, and transverse (across the carriage) seating in the middle areas.

The semi-permanent marshalling into 7 or 10 car sets, with no intermediate driver cabs, will save space, and the walk-through design will make it easier to move to the next carriage if it’s less crowded.

And they intend on having more vertical poles than the current fleet, meaning far more places to hold on, as well as handholds from the ceiling.

Crowded train, Richmond

So rather than get outraged at the prospect of 2000 people crush-loaded into a train, the real questions are:

Will the new train fleet be designed to better cope with that many people?

Will there be enough seats for people travelling long distances, and/or those who can’t stand?

And will there be enough trains running that trains that crowded are the exception rather than the rule?