Why are #MetroTrains cancellations rising? Is it because the government skimps on signalling?

Mr Lezala also took a swipe at the State Government for failing to invest properly in signalling.

“We have new signalling systems here … with no redundancy in them so when we get a thunderstorm it fails – brand new systems – because we didn’t have enough money to build redundancy in,” he told a Metro breakfast.

“I think Treasury need to take that one, actually, because you get what you pay for.”

Herald Sun

A train approaches North Melbourne station

This might help explain why the trend for cancellations (or to be precise, percentage of the timetable not delivered) is up, not down.

Metro: Percentage of timetable not delivered (network-wide)

For all the noise the government has made about investing in upgraded rail infrastructure, it’s still common to see disruptions due to signal, track, points failures. If Lezala is right, we’re getting a lot of new equipment which isn’t being installed with the required redundancy to ensure it’s really reliable.


Some thoughts on PTV’s rail wishlist, umm I mean Network Development Plan

I had been writing a blog post about proposed rail lines, and even went to the trouble of drawing a map of what was known about the various proposals floating around. Yesterday a very detailed PTV Network Development Plan for the rail network was released with lots of much prettier and more comprehensive maps.

The portents of its release have been there. In the past few weeks, several studies into proposed rail lines have been released: Doncaster, Rowville, and the Airport. The PTV document incorporates these, and lays out how they would build them, and a few more besides.

PTV rail network: Stage 4

What some people hadn’t registered until now is that the wish list now includes not one rail tunnel, but two.

The “metro” (north-south) rail tunnel has been proposed for a few years now — that’s the one leading from the Sunbury line at South Kensington via Parkville, the city to Domain, then to South Yarra to connect with the Dandenong line. The Rowville and Airport studies both conclude that their new lines rely on this for capacity through the CBD.

The Doncaster study had flagged the theory that a second tunnel — re-routing the South Morang line from Clifton Hill via Fitzroy and Parkville to Flagstaff — is necessary to provide enough capacity for the Doncaster line to run into the city via Jolimont. The PTV document says this should then extend to Southern Cross and eventually to the new suburb at Fishermens Bend.

What’s good

Wishlist maps for the Melbourne rail network are a dime-a-dozen. Every gunzel has drawn one. But it’s rare to see something official, and PTV are to be congratulated for publicly putting out the Plan.

Forward planning is essential. Vicroads do it all the time, and put their proposed motorways into the Melway. It’s been lacking in public transport, leading to debacles like the Footscray pedestrian bridge being partly demolished only just after it had been built.

And there’s a lot to like in the document. It explains how each project will build on the overall capacity and reliability of the network. The overall strategy is a good one — to move towards self-contained lines, with a minimum of junctions and interactions with other lines that limit train throughput.

Even stage 1, the 2016 service plan (basically “how do we run the trains once Regional Rail Link is built”), includes some great outcomes for passengers, including seven day services every 10 minutes from the city to Newport, Dandenong, Ringwood, Glen Waverley, Sandringham, Sydenham and Craigieburn (joining Frankston, which already has it).

Governments might baulk at the cost of some of the later more expensive upgrades, but those initial service upgrades should be a priority for funding. They bring great benefits for little cost.

PTV rail network: Frequency upgrades

The Plan also includes things you don’t normally hear about, like modern in-cab signalling systems, which allow up to 50% more trains to operate on a line, for a relatively low outlay.

And while it only covers Rail (apparently the Bus and Tram plans will be out later), it does have a section talking about connections between modes, including timetable coordination.

What’s bad

There are heaps of good ideas in the Plan. If I have anything bad to say about it, it’s that the running theme with both it and the Doncaster/Rowville/Airport studies appears to be along the lines of: there won’t be enough central core capacity in future year X, therefore we can’t build any new rail lines until the metro and/or Fitzroy rail tunnel have been built first.

It’s a kind of innate conservatism in the planning: that new lines have to be built with all possible future growth catered for, and if we can’t do that, we shouldn’t build them at all.

This is quite unlike the road lobby, who will happily build virtually anything, knowing that if later growth blows the capacity, it will just provide the political impetus for the next big project (and in the mean time it will still provide some “benefit”).

For instance, the Eastern Freeway was built knowing full well it would terminate at Hoddle Street, creating a snarl there.

The risk of wanting the multi-billion dollar tunnel before anything else can happen is that if funding for that is delayed, everything else is delayed.

In reality, there is scope for building lines and extensions now. Extending South Morang to Mernda, for instance, should be a no-brainer. Dipping a toe in the water towards Doncaster, by building the first, easy bit to Bulleen, would get scores of buses and their passengers out of inner-city traffic. The line to the city would cope for a good few years yet, especially if high capacity signalling was included.

The Plan has the Altona Loop duplication waiting until stage 4. It could easily be done earlier. Even much of the signalling won’t get upgraded until after the metro rail tunnel is built — when the signalling would deliver similar benefits in terms of capacity, but years earlier and at a fraction of the cost.

The Road Lobby knows all about salami tactics. The Rail bureaucracy need to learn the same strategies.

The way forward

Criticisms aside, it’s great this plan is out. If the relatively cheap upgrades that are part of the 2016 stage haven’t yet been fully funded, the government should show it’s serious about the rail network, and fund them pronto. (Yes, Southland station is included in that.)

It’d be nice to see signalling upgrades across the most congested parts of the network in the short term. It’s cheaper than building tunnels, and although there’s some complexity in ensuring all trains on those sections have the right equipment, the capacity benefit of up to 50% is obviously beneficial.

Whatever the precise order of implementation, the government (and politicians on both sides) need to start pushing these projects. In particular, the current government would do well to remember that they were voted in on the back of public transport issues — not the proposed east-west road which was barely mentioned during the election but somehow has morphed into their top infrastructure priority.

As for plans for the rest of our multi-modal network, while the tram and bus Plans haven’t yet been released, let’s hope they’re not too far away… and that they’ve been prepared in tandem with the rail Plan!

More reaction:

music Retrospectives

My retro iPod

I just realised my iPod is nearly nine years old. That’s an age in the world of computers and electronics… does that make it a retro item?

My iPod

It’s a third-generation iPod, back from before they had silly features like apps, movie playback, and colour screens… And yes, it’s still going strong, though admittedly most of its use is at home in its cradle, playing music into the stereo.

And yeah, the ear phones aren’t in such good shape, which is why I’m not using them currently.

Going green

Going solar – when should I jump, and how many panels?

Pondering adding to the solar hot water on my roof with PV panels for electricity generation.

My last electricity bill says I used up 659 kWh in 92 days, costing $187.61 (only including the cost for power and the 100% GreenPower surcharge; excluding the $76.41 service charge which I’d incur no matter how much power used)… that adds up to 2614 kWh in a year costing $744.32, or about 28.5 cents per kWh.

According to Origin Energy’s online quote (which I’m using as a rough measure, because I use them at the moment and they have a 2-years interest-free deal — obviously other companies may have better offers):

  • a 1.5 kW system costing $2315 will generate about 1971 kWh in a year
  • a 2.07 kW system costing $4315 (which includes a $250 discount because I got the solar hot water through them) will generate 2628 kWh in a year
  • a 2.76 kW system costing $5815 (ditto on the $250 discount) will generate 3626 kWh in a year

Leaving aside feed-in tariffs, and assuming for a moment that every kWh generated I actually use (which wouldn’t be the case), theoretically the 1.5 system would save me $562 per year, taking about 4 years to pay off.

The 2.07 system would pretty much save me the full cost of power every year, but take almost 6 years to pay off.

The 2.76 system would give me an excess of about 1000 kWh of power each year. The feed-in tariff is only 8 cents per kWh these days, so I’d be saving $744 plus another $80 or so, so it’d take about 7 years to pay off.

Some factors to consider:

If I cave and get some kind of cooling system, then my energy consumption will of course go up.

From what I understand, PV panels are dropping in price pretty fast. The longer I wait, the cheaper they’ll be (which is why I’m a little cynical about the ads you see on the telly implying if you don’t get in and order quickly, you’ll end up paying more).

Meanwhile, electricity prices are expected to rise only moderately in the next few years.

The bigger the system, once paid off, the greater potential in future years to make more money back from the feed-in tariff.

But I also need to check how much space I actually have left on the north and northwest-facing sides of my roof, given the solar water panel already up there.

And of course, once I jump in and switch to solar, I’ll be markedly reducing my personal emissions, which will be good!


How many errors can you find in the Parkiteer map?

Parkiteer is a good programme… from my observations, more and more people are using it for secure bike parking at stations.

But how many errors can you spot in this bike cage map that has been appearing in MX for the past few weeks?

Warning: this map not to scale, is geographically inaccurate and has spelling mistakes.

“Glen Waverly” spelt wrong

“Glen Waverly” in the wrong spot — it’s actually north of the Dandenong line

Cranbourne/Pakenham lines have been strung together

Ditto Belgrave/Lilydale lines

Leaving out the Williamstown, Upfield and Alamein lines presumably isn’t a mistake, but reflects that they have no bike cages

Two Caulfield stations! — however this is a problem that even Metlink/PTV has had for some time; if you use their station/stop search, you’ll find two Caulfields:

PTV: Caulfield Stations

Any other errors?

Below the map the logos of the organisations running Parkiteer are shown. Bicycle Network Victoria runs the show, but the Metro logo is also listed… I’m surprised they didn’t check the map of their train network was accurate.


Should parking at Melbourne railway stations be free?

Here’s something I didn’t know: Perth’s Transperth transport system has some paid parking, and you can pay for it with a Smartrider card.

Pay ‘n’ Display car parks are also fenced, but are patrolled by car park attendants between 7.00am and 9.00pm Monday to Friday excluding public holidays. A flat fee of $2.00 per day, or part thereof, applies. — Transperth web site

Car park, Laverton station

Bear in mind that provision of new parking spaces costs on average over $15,000 per space.

For multi-level parking, it can cost 3-4 times that amount. For the recent WA election, there was a promise by the Liberals of $47 million for a new multi-storey carpark at Edgewater station, providing 560 spaces. That’s about $84,000 per space. If every space was filled 365 days a year, paying $2 per day, it would take 115 years of for them to make the money back (and that doesn’t count the interest bill for borrowing the capital cost).

It appears that many Perth stations have between 30% and 60% of their parking with a $2 fee attached. I guess having at least some paid is to increase the likelihood of people arriving after rush hour being able to still find a spot. It may also be that the paid spots are those that have been added more recently, so the fees have helped pay for them. Bear in mind that because many Perth stations are in the middle of freeways, walk-up patronage is much lower than in Melbourne.

Another interesting one in Perth is they have some parking spaces which are locked-up between 9am and 3:30pm each weekday. Perhaps car theft is a big problem there.

It raises an obvious (but probably controversial) question: should they charge for parking spaces in Melbourne?


You could have a charge for all station car parks, probably on weekdays only (as in Perth) when demand is high.

Or you could charge more in zone 1. Or have a charge in zone 1 but none in zone 2. That would help reduce the current zone fare difference, discouraging people from driving to zone 1. Plus typically (but not always) at zone 1 stations there are more and better feeder services available, which people should be encouraged to use.

Or you could only apply it to specific stations where there is very heavy demand, particularly around zone boundaries (hello Laverton!)

Or some free, some paid parking at each station like in Perth.

You might be talking boom gates (more infrastructure required), or you might use pay-and-display tickets (more staff required).

Given the government decision that every traveller is expected to have a Myki, I would think you’d want it possible to be paid using that, to avoid having to have cash collection and so on, though also allowing payment with coins might help for occasional users.


Given tight budgets at the moment, it could fund extra services, particularly feeder buses so more people can get to the station without driving at all. (After all, you shouldn’t have to own a car to be able to use public transport.)

It could help defray the huge cost of providing parking (though at $2 a day it would take at least 20 years to do so). And given that huge cost, user-pays is not inappropriate — remember, despite how it seems, most train passengers don’t drive to the station — and land around stations is some of the most valuable in Melbourne.

It would discourage non-passengers from using those spaces. At some stations such as Camberwell, local office and building workers are known to fill up commuter parking. (What might be practical to solve this, without actually charging, is to make entering and/or exiting a carpark dependent on a touch from a Myki, with the system treating it the same as a fare for that zone… thus actual PT users would be charged no more, but non-PT users would be charged.)

It might help reduce demand so that people who genuinely need a park at the station are able to get one, even if travelling after 8am or so (earlier at some stations) when they currently fill up.


It means an additional cost for people who may not have any practical choice but to drive to the station… which might encourage some to simply drive all the way to their destination. (When this has come up in the past has been the PTUA position.)

The cost of collecting the fees would need to be taken into account… apart from things like boom gates, it might also require re-modelling of car park layouts, and even a mechanism for ensuring people don’t enter a car park when it’s already full (or perhaps just allow free exit within 15 minutes, like with Myki at stations — also useful for “kiss and ride” drop-offs).

Can Myki handle this type of transaction if it’s not considered part of the zone system, but an additional charge? If not, it might result in additional costs.


Culture News and events

My late father’s account of the Murdoch-owned “Sydney Mirror” story in 1964 that led to a suicide

In looking through my late father’s papers, I found the following, which he wrote about an incident on Rupert Murdoch’s Sydney Daily Mirror in the mid-1960s.

I found it fascinating in light of the News Of The World controversy that was uncovered during 2011, though of course one should not jump to conclusions about the practices in the 1960s versus more recently, particularly at News’s current Australian newspapers.

I want to make it particularly clear that I’ve never had an issue with reporters I’ve dealt with at the Herald Sun, various local Leader publications, and other News Limited papers (or from other publishers).

(The Daily Mirror merged with the Daily Telegraph in 1990.)

My dad, circa 1969Perhaps more recent debate about Australian media reform is also relevant.

I have not modified the text apart from making minor typographical corrections, adding some paragraph breaks for ease of reading, and inserting an image of the newspaper article (found separately in my dad’s papers) into the text.

I note the same incident is discussed in this recent article by Richard Neville (named below as then editor of Oz — which should not be confused with The Australian, which started later in 1964). Other references can be found by searching Google for the boy’s name.

However, aside from a quick look at these, I have not verified that any of the information in the account below is accurate, such as checking with those named for their side of the story.

Preparatory note

A likely scenario to this incident is: In 1963, Murdoch was eager for Calwell to beat Menzies. In 1964, NSW had a state ALP Govt to which, of the four Sydney dailies, only Murdoch’s Mirror was sympathetic. Elections were due in 1965. It is possible that a Kitchen-Cabinet decision was taken to let him off the hook. He had then only two dailies, worked just up stairs from us, and was in those days accessible in personality.

The boy lived in Zetland, which comes under Sydney Central Police. What still seems striking is the helpless outrage, not only of whole communities, but of an entire police force.

David Bowman has asked had I any hard detail on a parallel incident on Murdoch’s News Of The World (London). News Of The World would have six school sex stories every year, and you cannot check the consequences, the way you can this one, by putting the Sydney Sun and Mirror stories side by side, say in the Mitchell or National Libraries, then checking in Oz that the incident did actually occur, then picking up the name of the boy in the Perth Sunday Times.

Early in 1964, the circulations of Sydney’s two afternoon dailies, the Mirror and the Sun, were running about level. The Mirror was continually angling to win, if only for that day, the race for circulation.

Both papers run first at 9.30am to hit the streets at 11am. The edition sent to press at 11.30am to hit the streets at 1pm is normally not greatly altered during the rest of the day. Therefore a story well prepared the preceding day can knock the rival paper off balance.

This is the story of a Mirror front page and its consequences. I was a D Grade reporter on the Mirror at the time, and played no part in the events I now record.

Charles Stokes, who had a long history on Sydney papers as a Churches correspondent – he was a very up-front Anglican – found this story, and brought it to the editor, the late and unlamented Zell Rabin, who said on the Wednesday, “Give it a beat up!”

Sydney Daily Mirror 12/3/1964We ran it as front page lead on Thursday 12 March 1964 in all editions. The headline was SCHOOL SEX!, the school was named as the J.J.Cahill Memorial High School, Mascot, and we claimed that parents were angry at widespread fornication among the pupils. We stated that already a thirteen year old boy and a fourteen year old girl had been suspended from school: photograph of school and one angry parent, a Mr J.Attard.

The Sun found itself forced to get a few paragraphs together, which they could only do for their final edition (3.30pm for 5pm) so we won the circulation race handily that day. They were accurate. They said only that a parent had read his daughter’s diary, and on this basis, the boy and girl were under temporary suspension, pending investigation, medical examination, etc.

In 1964, fourteen year old girls’ diaries were likely to be vague and imaginative.

All that afternoon, parents were ringing us saying, “What have you done to us? Ours is a good school.” Gerald Stone and I had the two front desks in the newsroom. Three thirteen year old boys appeared, and Stone was deputed to listen to them. When he had sent them off, he murmured to me that it took guts for kids of that age to come into the city, and ride up in Murdoch’s lifts. Later, as I left the building, kids were shouting, “We think your paper stinks!”

That night, the boy hanged himself, and a copy of our front page was found in his pocket.

The next day, Friday, the nits who hope to collect £2 by ringing in a piece of news were ringing all the other papers. Their reaction was a stunned “This might have happened to us.”

On Saturday the nits were ringing us. I was on duty, as was Charles, and the editor came in when he heard the news. Charles was upset for quite some time. He said it was the parents’ fault. They lacked understanding.

Zell went out to beard the bereaved mother. As Charles said, she lacked understanding, having been more concerned for her husband and her’s neighbourhood reputation than for the state of mind of her son. She told Zell that for days young Johnny had been watching the awful violence they have on TV, cowboys, gangsters, etc, then lo and behold, she went and found him hanging from the rotary clothes hoist. Perhaps she and Zell were not looking each other in the eye.

Zell runs a story to that effect in the early editions, before the sports results begin to pour in. No names, no address, and it looks quite a moral little story.

But we also have Sunday papers in other state capitals. At least our Perth paper, the Sunday Times, runs quite a different story that is sent out, by a bungle I should hope. It is also a moral story. It says that a boy in Sydney, aged thirteen, who had been suspended from school for sexual misbehaviour hanged himself as a result. Name and address are supplied.

As it happens, government doctors find the girl was a virgin.

Our crim reporters find it hard to get tips from the police for some time, because they think Zell should be in the dock for manslaughter.

When the inquest comes up, the Sydney Morning Herald pulls itself together, and sends a reporter and photographer. The coroner says, no photos, no reports. Laurie Oakes muttered to me (only a guess) that Murdoch bribed him.

I was telling the story all around town. Geoffrey Lehmann, then a young lawyer, asked me if he could give it to Oz. I said he could give it to whomever he wished, adding sarcastically that Oz editors Richard Neville and Richard Walsh, with their sex-in-the-head obsession with nymphets would fuck it up. Lehmann used to get invites to their exclusive nymphet parties. They did. Eight sentences which their most devoted admirers don’t even remember, and their punchline was – THE GIRL WAS A VIRGIN! Oh big deal fellers!

I handed this story, with the related press clippings to Brian Johns, for the Ethics Committee of the Australian Journalists Association. They took no action. It would be interesting to know if the AJA still had this material. The related Saturday Mirror might be hard to track down, because material is shed as it becomes mainly a sports results paper as the afternoon progresses. (Also check various state editions of Truth, Adelaide News, Sunday Mail?)

I was basically saving up to go to England, where I ended up sitting out the Vietnam War. On my return, I found good-hearted Sydney journalists (say Dick Hall) had forgotten, or pretended to forget the incident. A ready amnesia for an event that caricatured so horribly their occupational rationale?

Charles Stokes also came to London, got on the London Guardian. He was then appointed to a lectureship on journalism at Queensland University, but is now with a NSW Government Dept. (He was picked sight unseen by the then Senior Lecturer-in-Charge, an old Guardian man, but was finally told the University wished he’d go away.)

No one was ever punished for this incident, any more than the London Sun beat-up men are. (Sydney Morning Herald and Age Weekend Magazine 18-3-89 has the story of how Elton John forced Murdoch to pay out £1,000,000.)

When Rabin died in 1967 aged 35, people made an incredible fuss about the Boy Genius of Tabloids – even an obituary in the London Times (not then owned by Murdoch). It was probably written by Murdoch who was then in London, and who as he then was, liked Zell because he’d stand up to him.

News and events

Priority seat: for people who are disabled, pregnant, less able to stand, and The Pope

The new Pope Francis is known for using public transport.

Perhaps out of courtesy to the pontiff it’s time to update the signs?

Priority seat - for people who are disabled, pregnant or less able to stand, and The Pope.

(Sources: pic, font)


How long does it take to top-up cash onto a #Myki card? 1-2 mins? No, about 30 seconds.

One of the reactions to the news of top-ups on buses was that it would slow down buses because top-ups take too long. Some people claimed it can take well over a minute to do a top-up.

I was doubtful about this, so I tried it. I used a note and a couple of coins (as it will be on buses — cash only) and filmed it.

I make that about 30 seconds. Perhaps it would have been quicker if I was more familiar with the location of the note reader!

Of course on a bus, you’ll just hand your cash to the driver. He’ll need to stash it somewhere, and tap into his console how much you’ve put on, before you touch your card to update the balance. (This happens now in regional cities.)

Myki has a number of problems that need fixing, and the overall usability may affect the top-up times for people, but I’m not sure 30 seconds is too bad from the machines. Hopefully on-board buses it’s faster.

For comparison, buying a Metcard with cash from a vending machine also took about 30 seconds.

For more riveting Myki-related videos, check TheMykiUser’s Youtube channel — or if you prefer something a little more glossy and official, MykiMate.


#Myki topups coming soon to buses (but will they avoid the issues of slow transactions and security?)

Leader Newspapers is reporting that Myki topups will be allowed on buses from next month. A maximum of $20 will apply.

Well, that’s about time. This is good news for passengers.

On a bus

Firstly, it means the Myki consoles will be activated, with Metcard equipment removed. The coexistence of the two systems has caused a lot of glitches, particularly crashed readers unable to be easily restarted, and incorrect zone detection.

Secondly, it resolves issues for middle and outer-suburban users with topups. Bus drivers do carry preloaded Myki cards for sale, but with no short-term tickets, and many suburbs having few retail outlets, and online topups being quite slow at times (because transaction has to be loaded onto bus readers for collection with the card), this is an important option for many, particularly those who don’t use trains, and those who don’t want to use Auto Topup (which does avoid these issues).

Possible issues

There are two issues that have been highlighted with topups on buses.

First: that it’ll slow down buses. That one is easy to solve: don’t give change. This will cut the time taken for each transaction, but it’ll also encourage users to load up more than a trip and/or day’s worth of Myki Money in each transaction.

After all, we’re stuck with no single tickets for now — we might as well make the most of it to speed up bus services, which unlike the other modes have suffered greatly in the past from delays caused by on-board sales.

What should be permitted though is to split the topup across multiple cards, so that for instance a family boarding can give the driver a $20 note and have $10 of that loaded onto the parent’s card, and $5 onto each of the two kids’ cards.

Secondly, some bus drivers have grumbled about possible security issues from carrying large amounts of cash.

I would think it wouldn’t be a larger amount of cash than previously under Metcard, but it is likely to be higher denominations — people will topup less often than they bought tickets, but are likely to chuck $20 at a time onto their card.

The security risk is easily solved by using the method that has been used by many North American bus systems for decades: give no change; all cash goes into a locked box which can only be opened at the depot.

So, I think both issues are easily solved — but it’s not yet clear if they have been addressed by PTV for the April rollout.


It’s not clear when trams will have their Metcard equipment removed and headless mode will be fixed… I don’t think I’ve seen a single tram which doesn’t still have a Metcard machine fitted.

When it eventually happens, it won’t mean topups are available, but at least other issues should be resolved.