Low bridges in Euroa

Family business took us to Euroa on Saturday.

The station is on the western side of the town centre. The main street goes over the railway line to the south of the station — Wikipedia notes that the the road overpass was built in 1960 during the first round of standardisation. The second round, last decade, converted the other track to standard gauge as well.

North of the station the railway line is elevated… but not by much.

One bridge has 2.5 metres clearance, and this one has just 2.3 metres:
Euroa railway bridge over road

Euroa railway bridge over road

There’s also a pedestrian underpass that’s even lower – only just a bit higher than me, so about 2.0 metres. An adult wouldn’t be able to ride a bike through here.
Euroa railway pedestrian underpass

Unlike the Montague Street bridge in Melbourne (3 metres clearance), a quick search finds no records of collisions with the Euroa road bridges.

I mentioned the Euroa bridge on Twitter. I was pointed to a 2 metre clearance on a freeway overpass in Pyrmont, Sydney, and also this 1.7 metre railway bridge in Wales — just high enough to fit a conventional car, with a manually-operated part time level crossing adjacent for taller vehicles — amazingly, not too long ago something similar was proposed for the Dandenong line!

Decarbonising my home

While my most pressing home renovation need is the bathroom (planning to do this the next time my sons are away on a trip), I was also thinking:

Governments should be doing a lot more on climate change, but what are the major emissions in my home, and how could I decarbonise?

The car. I recently bought a petrol car, because given how little I drive, I couldn’t justify the cost of hybrid or electric, and with brown coal power generation, electric cars arguably just move emissions from the tailpipe to elsewhere. Hopefully by the time this car is replaced, most electricity (certainly in my house) will be green and electric vehicles will be more affordable. So let’s leave the car aside just for the moment.

In the house itself, several of the appliances involved are quite old and inefficient, and may need replacing anyway in coming years. So there’s an opportunity to move away from gas (unavoidably fossil fuel) to electricity (which can be renewable).

Gas central heating — this system is more than 20 years old, and not very efficient by modern standards. Maintenance also seems to be increasing.

Current thinking seems to be that split system air-conditioners are more efficient than has central heating, particularly from electricity from renewable sources.

There’s a cost there of course — each area of the house would need a new unit fitted. I got one for the main living area a year ago for cooling, which is the other obvious benefit of installing them.

Good insulation also helps. I’ve done the roof, and we have external blinds for summer, as well as ceiling fans, but wall insulation is worth doing too.

My ancient stove

Gas cooking — my ancient gas cooker still works around 90 years after it was installed. It’s got minor problems though with gas leakage, and both the oven and cooktop are small and lack precision. We’ve learnt to live with this, but modern facilities would be nice – for instance an oven that’s big enough to cook multiple pizzas.

Replacing these with electric could be the way to go. Electric cooktops can be induction or ceramic — I like the sound of induction, though that may require replacing some of my cookware.

Gas water heaterten years ago I got solar hot water with a gas booster. It’s worked well, though a bloke who came recently to clean the panel mentioned that parts are likely to need replacing before too long — perhaps in the next five years.

Options might include a conventional electric hot water heater (expensive to run) or a heat pump, which can be expensive to install (up to about $3000), but are apparently quite cheap to run. Though come to think about it, I think I paid about $4000 for the solar hot water system.

Solar panels on a roof in Bentleigh

Electricity — currently I pay for green power, but an obvious upgrade would be to invest in PV panels, which have dropped in price markedly, and the new subsidies make it more affordable, even if the feedback tariff isn’t very high anymore.

One benefit of removing the solar hot water would be making more space on my relatively small roof for more PV panels. Some owners of houses with a small roof have been quite creative about maximising the number of panels – see photo above.

There are also different options for PV panels, which some expensive ones generate more power — and of course one can install batteries to make use of the power generated rather than feeding it back into the grid (typically during the day) and having to buy it back at peak times (typically in the evenings). Batteries are really expensive though, well over $10,000 it seems.

Can rooftop solar generate enough power at the hottest part of the day to run air-conditioning?

I also need to keep in mind future development around me. My neighbours on the western side have rebuilt their house as two storeys, reducing sun onto the roof in the afternoon. If the same happened on the eastern side I wouldn’t be surprised — there’s been a lot of similar development in my street.

Put all these things together, and (for a cost) I could move off gas completely, and move most of my power generation to solar, cutting my household emissions to hopefully near zero.

I’m sure I’m not the only one pondering these issues. What are other people doing?

Melbourne’s station parking problem

Melbourne’s rail network already has some huge car parks, up to 1000 spaces at some stations, as many as a medium-sized shopping centre. There are more than 40,000 spaces across the Metro network, and thousands more on V/Line. Unlike in some cities, they’re all free.

The common complaint is that all station car parks fill up between 7 and 8am each weekday.

Presumably because car parks are so visible and politically popular, the politicians love building more. Here’s Labor’s pledge:

The problem is that building big suburban car parks is not an efficient way to get more people onto public transport.

  • It takes away valuable land around stations
  • It adds to local traffic congestion
  • It undermines more efficient alternatives by slowing down buses and trams, and making walking and cycling less pleasant
  • It requires that users can drive and have a vehicle that want to leave there all day, meaning it’s expensive for commuters
  • Like all solutions involving individual motor vehicles, it doesn’t scale due to the space required
  • It’s really, really expensive. The 1600 planned spaces for western suburbs stations will cost an average of $14,000 each, but at Tarneit it’s an eye-popping $37,500 per space (presumably multi-storey).
  • And worst of all, it’ll STILL be full by 8am (because demand always outstrips supply — Tarneit is a station that didn’t even exist 4 years ago, and it already has 1000 spaces) — so it won’t actually fix the problem
  • This means it only caters for (some) peak commuters, and undermines the efficiency of the whole train system by providing poor access for the rest of the day

I’m not going to tell you to vote for the other guys, because they want to do the same thing.

For example the Coalition has pledged $30 million for an additional 450 spaces, an amazing $66,000 per space. That’s about 7,600 daily fares, or more than 30 years of Monday to Friday commuting — almost 40 years if using a Yearly fare.

It’ll never even come close to recouping its costs. How is this seen as a sensible investment?

The Greens notably have policies around better buses, rather than more car parks, but are unlikely to be running the government anytime soon.

Sure, bigger car parks will get a few more people onto trains, but it’s far from the most efficient way of doing it. What about finding a method that’s cheaper, causes fewer problems, is more scalable, and doesn’t assume train passengers have a car?

Tarneit station

Park and ride has its place. It’s appropriate for urban fringe areas where land is cheap and not suited to other uses such as residential or commercial development, walking and cycling distances for people are too far, and density doesn’t support good bus services.

Perhaps it’s time to consider applying a small fee to help offset the cost and discourage those with alternatives, combined with a rebate for those driving to the station from areas with no other options?

There is one arguable benefit from big car parks at stations that someone well-connected pointed out to me the other day: it’s a method of land banking for future development.

Elsternwick might be an example. Some years ago, the decades-old ground level parking got converted to multi-storey, freeing up space for apartments and retail. I don’t think the retail has been a raging success, but the theory is good… though in practice, given the cost of multi-storey, I’m not surprised it doesn’t happen very often.

Alternatives to driving to the station

The mystery to me is: in suburban areas, when the walking/cycling and bus options are all crap, but could be viable with a little more investment, how come the answer from both sides is always “spend $$$ on more parking”, given it doesn’t solve the problem, and creates others?

“But Daniel, nobody wants to use the bus”. Nope, completely untrue. Here’s a crowd at Tarneit who are more than willing to catch a bus home, but they’re left waiting. Route 167 only runs every half-hour. Apparently the solution is to pay millions to get them to drive to the station instead.

Tarneit station bus stop

“But Daniel, most people drive to the station!” No they don’t. Even in zone 2, a minority of people drive to the station.

The stats for 2013-14 show 27.9% of weekday access to stations (excluding the CBD) was by car. It was higher in zone 2, lower in zone 1, but driving to the station is a minority mode in all areas, with only some individual stations having a majority of arrivals by car.

It just looks like most people drive, because the car parks take up so much damn space.

Station access 2013-14 (PTV data)
(This graph is from the 2015 post, which used slightly older figures. Unfortunately there are no figures after 2015 showing the effects of zone changes, and none for V/Line stations like Tarneit and Wyndham Vale.)

Now, I’m not about to tell people they should go and walk along terrible unlit footpaths, or use a second-rate bus service.

People will use what’s most convenient. Remember, transport is supply-led.

But the infuriating thing is that every time the government has tried upgrading connecting buses, people have flocked to them. Even my local 703 route, which is okay during peak but very poor after the PM peak, gets a crowd every morning and every night.

703 bus arrives at Bentleigh station

Other stations with feeder buses running at good frequencies also get lots of people connecting by bus.

  • Bayside City Council is currently trialling a free commuter bus service, running every ten minutes each morning and evening peak to/from Middle Brighton station. Details

Some stations also have substantial levels of bicycle access, often outstripping capacity of bike cages. At Newport, where the Parkiteer cage is regularly full, locals resorted to the Pick My Project initiative to try and get another one… it wasn’t selected. Given one cage storing 26 bikes takes the space of about 2 cars, and is something like an eighth of the cost, why isn’t government just routinely installing more bike parking, either cages or another design, as demand grows?

And at almost all stations, more people walk to the station than drive, despite often adverse walking conditions.

All these can be improved at far less than $37,500 per car space. Why are these modes not getting more investment?

Public transport shouldn’t require that users own a car. There are proven fixes that are cheaper, can get people to the station even if travelling after morning peak, that don’t take up lots of space around stations, and don’t contribute to local traffic congestion.

If only the politicians could see it.

Old photos from October 2008

My monthly post of ten year old photos

My day job had me working in Collins Street, and occasionally we’d get to go to the upper levels and check out the view. That’s Manchester Lane at the bottom left, and near the top left you can just see the Shrine. Newspaper House dates from a 1933 revamp of an 1884 building, and at the time was owned by Herald and Weekly Times. The renovation also added the lovely mosaic on the first floor.
Collins Street, October 2008

Looking down at Swanston Street you could see the Burke And Wills statue, well before it got moved to make way for the metro tunnel works now underway.
Bourke and Wills, October 2008

A-class trams at the Town Hall superstop
Trams, Collins Street, October 2008

How many people would know that a 108 goes most of the way of a 109? Not many I suspect, which is why the mystery route numbers were always a bad idea.
Tram 108 to Montague, October 2008

Before the days of Myki, queuing for a V/Line ticket at Southern Cross station. You have to wonder how many people actually missed the train and had to wait an hour or more for the next one because of the queue.
Queues for V/Line tickets, Southern Cross Station, October 2008

Above you can see the flatscreens were working for V/Line… not so for suburban services, which were using temporary CRTs on the concourse.
Southern Cross Station - temporary screens, October 2008

Myki had yet to start properly — that would be in December 2008 in Geelong — but it already a spot had been reserved at SoCross for an information booth.
Myki booth at Southern Cross Station, October 2008

The disrespect that some traffic engineers have for public transport is evident in this photo — they had allowed off-peak parking in front of the bus shelters for one of the busiest bus stops in Melbourne. Checking Google Streetview, not fixed as of November 2017, but at least now it’s a loading zone, not general parking, except on Sundays.
Lonsdale Street bus stop, October 2008

I think this was an RTBU campaign to get more railway stations to have staff. What happened instead was the rollout of Protective Service Officers, mostly after 6pm.
RTBU campaign for station staff, October 2008

On a trip to the country, I found this wind turbine. I’m betting critics of the newer type don’t feel the same wrath at these more traditional models.
Windmill in the country

A protest at Flinders Street Station in favour of more sustainable transport. Note the “no tunnels” signs; this was in the wake of the Eddington Report, which is where the East West Link gained prominence, and was in the lead-up to the Victorian Transport Plan, which was the Brumby Government’s response.
Transport protest, 26/10/2008

More level crossing removals?

Things have been busy, so I’m a bit behind on blogging things. A few things in brief, then the big news.

Wednesday night delays

Last night saw major delays affecting the Mernda and Hurstbridge lines between about 4pm and 5:30pm, impacting peak hour. This was due to a track fault at Flinders Street, and it appeared that Metro re-routed those trains to other platforms, which caused flow-on effects onto the Burnley lines.

Big delays for tens of thousands of people.

But there was a silver lining in a very dark cloud: other lines (those via North Melbourne and South Yarra) were largely unaffected. This is a huge improvement from a few years ago, when the operational practices of sharing drivers and trains across line groups would quickly cause delays to snowball across the network.

The question of compensation has come up again, of course. My sense is that the higher priority is to invest to avoid these problems in the future, and that the compensation scheme needs a broad review. The current threshold of cancellations/delays across the entire network across each calendar month is not appropriate — it means any people affected by huge delays like last night’s invariably get nothing.

Paul Mees Award

Last week the PTUA presented the Paul Mees Award for contributions to the transport debate to Channel 9’s Andrew Lund and The Age’s Clay Lucas. Both doing sterling work. Well deserved.

Paul Mees Award 2018: Andrew Lund and Clay Lucas

More X’trapolis trains on the way

On Sunday the government announced that more X’trapolis trains are to be ordered for the Metro fleet. The design will be updated first, and I’m told they will be compatible with the existing carriages. Hopefully they will fix the worst of the problems, such as poor suspension, lack of stainless steel, and information displays blocked by handles.

It might also be logical to build them as semi-permanently coupled six-car sets, with no middle driver cabs, given these now rarely get used.

They will help bolster the fleet as the Comeng trains start to get retired next decade, and the government tells me they see benefit in having trains other than just HCMTs — probably makes sense given the large size of the fleet, the problems in the past when much of the Siemens fleet had to be taken out of service, and wanting to keep multiple rolling stock vendors with local facilities viable into the future.

Glenhuntly level crossing

Labor pledges more crossing removals

The big news: On Sunday the state ALP pledged to extend the level crossing removal program by another 25 sites if re-elected — on top of the 50 promised by 2022. (51 actually because Park Street, Cheltenham got added due to proximity to Charman Road.)

In my opinion, this is a good policy – there are numerous benefits to motorists and public transport users alike from crossing removal. And we’re finally making progress in getting rid of the worst ones.

The Coalition has re-affirmed that it will complete projects already started, but will not expand the level crossing program. It’ll stick to its proposal of road intersection grade separations.

In my opinion, this is a bad policy – these mini-spaghetti junctions (see St Kilda Junction for an example) will be disruptive and expensive to build, result in cyclist and pedestrian-hostile environments, won’t actually fix traffic congestion (because you’ll just end up queuing at the next set of lights) and in fact won’t get rid of traffic lights – they’ll still be needed for turning vehicles.

Traffic lights might be irritants, but are never as unpredictable as level crossings, they can be overridden/ignored by emergency vehicles, they can be overridden by controllers, and the major roads that would supposedly benefit from this idea already tend to have green lights synchronised along their routes.

I guess this means voters have a clear choice.

I asked my Twitter followers about it. They may lean a particular way, but even I was surprised at how one-sided was the result: 90% preferred level crossing removals.

Underneath the skyrail near Grange Road, Caulfield

For the Coalition’s list of intersections in their proposal, see this post from November last year when they announced it.

The extra level crossings on the ALP’s list

15 of the 25 have been announced so far. Many of them are grouped – I’m told a key learning is the benefits of doing adjacent sites.

  • Sunbury line: Gap Road, Sunbury
  • Werribee line: Old Geelong Road, Hoppers Crossing. Potential to do this at the same time as the two Werribee crossings already on the list, and avoid multiple train shutdowns
  • Mernda line: Cramer, Murray and Oakover Roads, Preston. Likely to be rail over road (eg skyrail). These are either side of Bell Street, which is already on the list, so presumably all four would be done at once
  • Frankston line: Neerim and Glen Huntly Roads, Glen Huntly, and Chelsea Road, Argyle and Swanpool Avenues, Chelsea. All likely to be rail under road.
  • Upfield line: Reynard and Munro Streets, Coburg. Also likely to be skyrail. Given the proximity to Bell Street, which is already on the list, one would hope all three are done as one project.
  • Belgrave/Lilydale line: Union and Mont Albert Roads

Glen Huntly Road? Hallelujah. This tram/train crossing delays trams, and forces trains to crawl across at 20 km/h, even when they’re expresses. It slows down journeys for every single Frankston line passenger. As a former local, I’m a bit disappointed it won’t be skyrail, as it could provide additional open space adjacent to the shopping centre, but I hope at least they’ll look at moving the station to between Glen Huntly and Neerim Roads, to improve connections to local buses as well as trams.

Citybound platform at new Ginifer station - Nov 2016

The government has also released a document showing how sites are prioritised. At least, it shows the methodology. What it doesn’t show is how each site comes out when evaluated in this way. But it’s still well worth a read.

On grade separation of level crossings vs intersections, the choice the major parties is stark. It’ll be interesting to see which way the election goes.

See more in this Age article: Here’s how your vote will shape Melbourne’s transport network