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Singapore 2016 ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฌ Toxic Custard newsletter

Singapore here we come

(This post backdated. See all Singapore trip posts on this link)

As I previously mentioned, we were invited to my cousin’s wedding in Singapore, so we decided to go for the week. Why Singapore? A distribution of family between Belgium, Singapore and Australia.

It was very cold when setting out — only about 3 degrees — so I found a combination of clothes that’d keep me warm on the way to the airport but not weigh me down unnecessarily in warmer weather.

I’d packed the night before, and headed out about 8am, onto a train for Southern Cross.

Is it just me, or is there no sensible way to get from the metropolitan platforms at Southern Cross to the Skybus terminal? It pretty much involves leaving the station complex, or negotiating a flight of stairs (not a good idea with wheeled luggage), or following some suspect signage to…somewhere?

Double decker Skybus FTW! Scored the top front seat. Going under the low Dudley Street bridge certainly woke me up.

Tullamarine Freeway

Some heavy traffic inbound on the freeway, but our outbound bus made good time, it was about at the advertised 20 minutes when we arrived.

Some confusion around check-in. When I’d done it online the day before, the Qantas web site didn’t let me choose seats. I couldn’t find any other way to do it, and ended up shelling out $60 for choosing two seats, just so we could sit in a double, and I could have a window seat. But the lady at the airport said this was just a request, not confirmed, and it hadn’t been granted. It shouldn’t be charged to my credit card then, right? Hmm we’ll see.

I think the problem had been that online check-in had been done for one person at a time, not the two of us together, because I didn’t have details of one of the passports handy at the time. The system then decided it was too hard to give us any choice of seats. Watch out for this one the next time you fly.

Through security and any number of duty free shops… Do they do anything with those Departure Cards? Can’t they gather all that information from the data the airline gives them? And what on earth is Essence of Kangaroo?

Melbourne Airport: Essence of Kangaroo?

We found our gate and waited.

That clever Google Now app on my phone was prompting me, telling me the plane was delayed 15 minutes. I don’t know how it worked out I was meant to be catching it (I think it rifles through my Gmail account), but I’ll give it points for smarts. A little later they announced just such a delay.

The flight was pretty good, on-time and tasty food. But the in-seat entertainment system could have been a bit better: the touch screen didn’t quite work when you touched it — this was fine on the way home a week later, so perhaps it was that specific seat.

I’d forgotten to bring my own headphones, and the airline ones aren’t great — they made it impossible to hear dialogue on most of the available videos, and subtitles weren’t available for anything, which must be a pain for the deaf — I wonder if that’s in contravention of the Disability Discrimination Act?

Being daylight, I snapped a few photos during the flight, though I don’t really know where some of them are. I’m guessing these are both are somewhere in Indonesia.

View from plane to Singapore (in Indonesia?)
Bridge on way into Singapore (possibly in Indonesia?)

We landed and passed through immigration easily.

A “Skytrain” rubber-tyred train got us from Terminal 1 to Terminal 3, then we took the lift down to the MRT station. I’d been given a couple of EZ-Link smartcards, and it turned out they had $10 each on them — memo to pay Tony back for these.

Singapore MRT train in peak hour

Train from the airport (with a cross-platform change and quite a bit of elevated rail along the way — lots more about the MRT later). The trip from the airport to City Hall cost us just $1.70 each.

Navigating the streets wasn’t too hard, and we got to the hotel in good time. A slight glitch at check-in; my Mastercard decided not to cooperate. I realised later (when the bank emailed me) that some time ago I’d put a lock on overseas in-person transactions. Whoopsie. Easily fixed once we got the hotel WiFi happening, and thankfully I had another credit card.

The hotel was the Peninsula Excelsior, in the downtown area, and this proved to be excellent. Very central, not too expensive, and room was quite roomy — you know when hotel rooms and their bathroom seem just a little bit too small? No problem here. Very helpful staff. The only criticism I’d have was there was a bit of noise from a neighbouring room on a couple of nights, and from the hallways early in the morning. Like perhaps many hotels, not designed for noise-proofing. But I’d definitely recommend this hotel.

After settling into the room, we explored down North Bridge Road. Despite being well after dark at this point, it was pretty warm. Ramen noodles presented themselves for dinner.

A walk around the area found us at the Memorial for the Civilian Victims of the Japanese Occupation. Silent and empty at night, it was still quite moving. As we’d find at the Museum the next day, the WW2 occupation by Japan has understandably left its mark in Singapore.

Singapore war memorial

Back to the hotel via a 7-11. We bought milk for making tea (the hotel fridge had only UHT), and I tried for the second time to buy a local Singtel tourist SIM. The first had been at the airport; they didn’t have the right ($30) one. At the 7-11, the lady just said she couldn’t sell me one now. Not sure if that meant she was out of stock or something else, but with a queue of people behind me, it didn’t seem like the time to ask.

Hardly urgent; it could wait for tomorrow.

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Consumerism Toxic Custard newsletter transport

Signs blocking bike lanes and footpaths

This is not the first time I’ve spotted something like this: real estate agent signs blocking bike lanes.

I’m not sure why anybody who thought about it for more than a second would think it was a good idea to leave signs there. Cyclists would either be forced out into traffic, or if they didn’t notice the signs, collide with them.

In this case, I decided to move the signs out of the way. They were still quite visible to passing motorists — along with a plethora of other signage nearby.

Granted the bike lane isn’t very wide at this point anyway, but whether the cyclist uses the lane or takes the traffic lane should be up to them.

It’s not the first time something like this has happened. From my observations, this particular location (Neerim Road, Glenhuntly) has been problematic for some weeks.

Real estate agents are also notorious for blocking footpaths. The photo below was snapped just after a lady with a mobility aid struggled to pass this giant flag.

Real estate agent flag across footpath

Some agents have been fined for this.

It’s a similar issue to the illegal parking of vehicles over footpaths. While able-bodied people can walk around, those with prams and mobility aids often can’t. They might be forced onto damp or difficult-to-navigate nature strips, or even out onto the road.

Real estate agents obviously need to promote their properties, and make sure that people can find them. But they need to find a way that doesn’t involve blocking bike lanes and footpaths.

After I approached Hodges last year about the footpath instance pictured above, they said they were looking into ways of preventing that in the future, which is good to know. For instance smaller flags above the footpath users might work well.

So far, Castran Gilbert have been silent, but I hope they’re reviewing their practices.

Update 5pm: They have now responded. It’ll be interesting to see what action they take, and whether the issue continues.

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transport

Fare evasion changes

Public transport fines are changing. Today the Victorian Ombudsman released a damning report into the fare evasion regime; so did the Government Department Of Everything.

And importantly, the Government announced numerous changes including the scrapping of Penalty Fares; better training, equipment and discretion for Authorised Officers; upgrades to Myki to improve online top-up times, and make readers easier to use.

It’ll take effect in January. Some people have asked why so long… I suspect the answer is that when you’re talking about changing equipment and procedures across a large department and hundreds of people, it just takes a while.

Myki billboard advertising, February 2014

Anyway, rather than repeat myself, I’ll just point you to this opinion piece in The Age: Myki changes are good news, but unexplained oddities will remain

TL;DR: It’s a big step forward. Penalty Fares were problematic; getting rid of them makes sense, as does improving AO operations and some (but not all, alas) aspects of the Myki system.

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Toxic Custard newsletter transport

Burke Road level crossing: train punctuality improving, but no visible benefits for trams yet

After about a year of construction, the Burke Road (Gardiner) level crossing was finally removed in January. One of four train/tram crossings (tram squares), it had long caused delays to both, as well as pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles.

I went and had a look a month or two back. The design isn’t outstanding. In particular the train/tram interchange is stuffed — they’ve managed to engineer it so that you have to cross two sets of lights to get between them. You could easily see your tram depart while waiting to cross from the station.

Here you can see the station exit on the left, and the tram stop on the right.
Gardiner station and nearby tram stop, March 2016

This means that for changing between trams and citybound trains, it’s actually worse now than it was before.

This sort of stuff shouldn’t be hard. The Brits, who we often seek to emulate, can manage it. I recall seeing the new “TramLink” light rail system at East Croydon station (circa 1999) in south London — they’d engineered it so the tram stops are right outside the station.

Given the Burke Road tram comes around the corner at Malvern Road, it shouldn’t have been difficult to run the tram along the western side of the road as far as the station, but instead the tram is in the middle of Burke Road — separated from you by the traffic. At the very least the tram stop should be directly adjacent the station so there’s only one road to cross.

Very disappointing, but unfortunately hardly surprising — even outside our biggest stations such as Southern Cross, the trams are multiple lanes of traffic away from the concourse.

Snooping around the station I was also struck by the lack of shade on the outbound platform while I was there. Hopefully in the morning on the citybound platform (when people are more likely to be waiting) it’s a little better.
Gardiner station, March 2016

The adjacent trench for the trains was already tagged.
Train trench near Gardiner station

One bit of good news; when I was there, the platform Passenger Information Displays were the typical suburban two-line LED jobs, but the display on the concourse shows the next two departures in each direction. If they can just get similar information onto the platforms so you know when it’s worth waiting for the next train rather that squeezing onto the one that’s arrived first.
Gardiner station concourse, March 2016

Effects of grade separation

Anyway, to the point of this post: I’m hearing on the grapevine that motor traffic has already increased by 20% (3000 cars per day) since grade separation.

But has it helped the trains and trams? They both used to crawl across there, and trams would get held up whenever trains were approaching.

Taking a look at Track Record punctuality figures, what do we see?

Gardiner: tram 72 and Glen Waverley line punctuality

There’s a slight trend upwards on the trains, at both peak times and across the day. That might reflect the higher speeds they can achieve without the tram square speed limit, which can be as low as 10 kmh.

On the trams, there’s surprisingly little difference.

(I’ve excluded the tram figure for January itself; at 86.7%, almost 10% higher than December, it’s clearly an outlier, probably due to quiet holiday road traffic along the route and altered operations while the crossing work was happening.)

Perhaps the increased traffic, and/or adjustments made to nearby traffic lights, means any gains for the trams haven’t materialised?

There are no doubt some lessons here in terms of better interchange, better on-road priority for trams and buses to weigh against the huge benefits to motorists, and some level of control (such as plenty of responsive pedestrian crossings, especially in busy shopping centres) so that grade separated roads don’t become high speed traffic sewers.

As we know, level crossing removals benefit pedestrians and public transport users, as well as motorists, cyclists and emergency vehicles. But at Burke Road, it appears the benefits for tram users aren’t obvious just yet.

  • Footnote: the graph was done in Google Docs. I’m amazed it can do it at all — quite impressive — but it’s certainly not as customisable as graphs in Excel.
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transport

Station plans: the new Ormond/Mckinnon/Bentleigh

I haven’t seen the detailed station plans for Ormond/Mckinnon/Bentleigh (aka the North-Mckinnon-Centre grade separations) online anywhere, but they are on display at the semi-regular public sessions.

Here’s how they look, with some notes from me.

Any misinterpretations of the plans are my mistake. In all three diagrams, north (to the city) is to the left. Click on any of the diagrams to view them larger.

Ormond

Ormond station plan

Worth noting:

  • This station is a Host (staffed in the AM peak) station, and is designed for future upgrade to Premium status.
  • Entrances on both sides of North Road, accommodated on the southern side by making the Cadby Avenue intersection one way (exit only).
  • Lifts and stairs, but no ramps. With two lifts to each platform, this is probably considered enough to ensure a DDA-accessible entrance/exit is always available, even if one lift is out of service.
  • Hopefully the layout of the main stairs doesn’t encourage people who don’t need it to use the lift.
  • I can’t actually see stairs on the southern side of platform 3, but platform 3 is barely used under normal circumstances anyway.
  • Eastbound bus stops move to right outside the station. Westbound stops stay in the current location.
  • Taxi spots on both sides of the road. Kiss And Ride spots (eg for dropping off/picking up people by car) on the southern side.
  • Pedestrian crossing is slightly east of the station entrance, aligned to the Shared User Path (SUP, aka bike and pedestrian path).
  • Bike cage on the eastern side.
  • Looks like three public toilets, plus a staff toilet.
  • Note the rooms marked “PSO” (Protective Services Officer) and “HOLD” (presumably the holding cell for PSOs to use). All three stations have these, though they are not explicitly marked on the other diagrams.

Mckinnon

Mckinnon Station plan

  • Lifts, stairs and ramps — which are nice and long due to DDA-compliance, which limits the maximum gradients, and requires level rest areas, but a failsafe against lift failure, which has been a problem at other stations such as Laverton and Epping.
  • Retail space included in the building. Wouldn’t surprise me if this is designed so that if necessary it can be converted into future additional station office space.
  • Bike cage on eastern side.
  • Pedestrian crossing outside the station entrance.
  • Not in view here, but the bus stops are in the same place as at present, just east of the station.

Bentleigh

Bentleigh station plan

  • This is the only Premium station of the three.
  • Lifts, stairs and ramps. The lifts are tucked slightly out of the way so hopefully only those who need them will use them.
  • Myki gate line, and it looks like they’ve gone for the sensible design of making the bypass gate right next to the ticket office, so it can be worked from inside, so the gates can be kept closed without the extra cost of dedicated gate staff. This is used at the northern end of Parliament station at present, and is common on some overseas systems.
  • Looks like there are two individual public toilets.
  • Not specifically marked in, but the station building includes PSO facilities, of course.
  • Bike cage in the old location, accessed via Nicholson Street.
  • Both bus stops (for route 703) are just east of the station. The eastbound stop is pretty much in the same location as at present, but I suspect the westbound stop with amalgamate the two existing stops — one just west of the station (converted to Kiss And Ride), and another about 200 metres further east. Both are problematic at present due to the lack of a pedestrian crossing.
  • Apparently at Bentleigh and Mckinnon, the new platforms will be below the water table, so the whole structure will be in a concrete trench, and the platforms will also be solid concrete to keep the whole structure weighed down, so it doesn’t float up!

Here’s what the Myki gate line looks like at Parliament (north end).
Parliament station (north end) Myki gates and bypass gate

For Bentleigh station users, note that from today, access to platform 1 (Citybound) is via Nicholson Street. The station itself closes at the end of next week to be demolished, but the rail line will be open for another three weeks after that before closing on 24th June for the major works period of 37 days.

Mckinnon, the least complex of the three stations, will re-open first (though not in a completed state) on 1st August when the line re-opens. Bentleigh and Ormond will re-open at the end of August. The third track will re-open in September.

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Toxic Custard newsletter transport

Ferries: to work, they need a lot more than a guaranteed comfortable seat

I hate to say I told you so, and I hate even more to see enthusiasm and investment defeated, but it’s looking that way with the Wyndham to Docklands ferry.

After much anticipation from some quarters, it kicked off this week in a blaze of publicity.

Just to recap here’s the deal:

  • The ferry departs Wyndham Harbour at Werribee South, headed for Docklands in the morning, and back in the evening.
  • One morning departure at 6:40am, one evening departure at 5:40pm.
  • The ferry trip is scheduled to take 74 minutes. They’d like to speed this up if possible.
  • The ferry fare during the trial period is $13 one way, or $20 return.

The ferry might be a comfortable ride, with a guaranteed seat, but if you’re going to abandon your car for public transport, it also needs to provide a combination of convenience, speed and affordability.

One departure per day each way, going to Docklands (a fair way from most CBD jobs) is only going to suit so many people — those whose timetables exactly match the ferry times, and are guaranteed never to be running late, or needing to go home early.

They may or may not consider the train to be a competitor, but it’s hard to ignore it. The train is twice as fast (from Werribee to Southern Cross in about 35 minutes; obviously longer if coming from near the ferry terminal), the train fare is about a third the cost of the ferry, and there are departures every 10 minutes in peak, and every 20 minutes most of the rest of the day. 64 departures per weekday.

Even if — as the operators hope — the ferry is sped up by 15 minutes, taking about an hour, for many people it doesn’t resolve the issue of a single fixed departure time, though it might enable a second departure each peak (two hours later).

Circular Quay

Perhaps they’re trying to mimic Sydney’s Manly Fast Ferry — a privately run premium service (costing up to $8.80 each way). But their ferries depart up to every 10 minutes in peak, and critically, Sydney’s geography is such that both the fast ferry (19 minutes) and even the slower government ferries (30 minutes) can easily beat the same trip by car (up to an hour), bus or train at peak times.

Geography is really the key to why Sydney has so many commuter ferry routes, and also to why Melbourne doesn’t. There are few if any Melbourne trips by water that are time-competitive with land modes, AND there are no major ferry terminals immediately adjacent to business districts where large numbers of people actually work. The latter may change eventually with Docklands development, but the time issue is likely to remain.

So how did the Wyndham ferry go in the first week?

On day one they apparently had 57 passengers… though about half of these were said to be officials or staff.

By Wednesday, it was being reported there were only seven passengers on board.

They’re giving it a red hot go, and I wish them luck. In fact from next Monday, there are additional services during off-peak periods, making a total of two round trips per day (including weekends).

Maybe off-peak trips will appeal to tourists. Is there much to see at Wyndham Harbour and the vicinity? Enough to keep people occupied for five hours waiting for the ferry back?

But with still only one trip each peak, it’s hard to see how it’s going to be a success in terms of commuters.

Docklands

Like SuitJet (the premium commuter coach service) which failed last year only a week or two into their trial, they’ve provided comfort at a premium fare, but they’ve ignored affordability, speed, and the basic utility of mainstream public transport.

Melbourne’s trains might often be packed, and sometimes unreliable, but the fares are cheap, they go where a lot of people want to go, and for the most part the timetables give you the flexibility to travel more-or-less when you want.

If public transport can’t offer that, it won’t entice people out of cars.

Update 10/6/2016: Looks like the ferry is in trouble: Free travel on Wyndham Harbour-Docklands ferry on June 10 as Port Phillip Ferries struggle to fill seats

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transport

Ten years since “Meeting Our Transport Challenges”

Ten years ago today, the Bracks Government’s “Meeting Our Transport Challenges” plan was released. MOTC for short.

It wasn’t the first of the 1999-2010 Labor Government’s transport documents, nor would it be the last. It came following a stinging assessment of Melbourne’s public transport a few months earlier by Professor Peter Newman for the Metropolitan Transport Forum, and a sustained push for some kind of government strategy to provide some genuine solutions to car dependence.

The MOTC launch itself was perhaps symptomatic of the plan. The Premier Steve Bracks, Treasurer John Brumby and Minister Peter Batchelor all arrived by train in Frankston for the event — but they had only hopped on two stops before at Seaford. (It was a similar story a year later when the Craigieburn electrification opened.) The rest of their journey was by government car.

But it was the content of the plan that didn’t get people as excited as the government had perhaps hoped.

Following the launch, the PTUA called for Batchelor to resign. OK, I was the one that said the words for the cameras, but like all PTUA views, this was based on an agreed committee position: if by a fair assessment we judged that MOTC failed to provide substantial relief from car dependence, it was to be declared a flop.

Towards the end of the year, Batchelor, who had presided over the conception of the Myki project and the scrapping of trains (only to be bought back later when patronage surged), was replaced by Lynne Kosky in a reshuffle following the 2006 state election. (Only after that did the government start inviting PTUA to events again!)

So what was in the MOTC plan itself? Here I’ve gone through the Actions from the summary section of the document:

DELIVERING FOR THE FUTURE — The MOTC Reserve fund of $5.9 billion over ten years, to ensure transport funding was available into the future. At the time, Batchelor described it a bit like Abbott’s “locked box”. Perhaps this is still down as a line item in some obscure part of the budget, but as far as the public goes, it has disappeared.

CREATING A CROSS-TOWN TRANSPORT NETWORK FOR MELBOURNE — the Smartbus crosstown orbital network. Three of the proposed routes were delivered, now the 901, 902 and 903. The fourth was to have been the 904 (hence the gap in route numbers), but never happened. This would have run from Sandringham via Elsternwick, Punt Road, Clifton Hill, then across to Brunswick, Footscray and Williamstown, amalgamating routes 246, 472 and others, providing frequent inner-city connections to make cross-town trips faster and take pressure off CBD services. See the map here. PTUA and PTNT are still pushing for this route as part of a package of better bus services.

BOOSTING MELBOURNE’S RAIL NETWORK — capacity upgrades on the City Loop, Dandenong, Clifton Hill and Northern Group, and stations at Point Cook, Cardinia Road, and Lynbrook. The stations got done. Various works have occurred on most of the lines mentioned, such as duplication from Clifton Hill to Westgarth, and duplication of the Epping line north of Keon Park, all done as part of the South Morang line extension.

The Dandenong line proposal was a third track — a plan now dumped (and not just because four tracks are better than three) in favour of grade separation, longer trains and better signalling.

But the plan also included relatively minor upgrades which haven’t happened, such as an extra platform at Sandringham. At least the new stations have been built.

IMPROVING METRO TRAIN AND TRAM SERVICES — extra peak and late-night services. They’ve largely happened, at least on the trains — the late (to 1am) Friday and Saturday night trains and trams were implemented pretty quickly. Peak train services have increased on many lines, but there’s been less movement on trams.

This item also flagged better control and comms systems — work that is still underway — and improved traffic priority for trams and buses, which has been… well, subtle or non-existent on much of the network.

New Years Eve trains, approx 1am, 1/1/2006

DELIVERING FIRST CLASS PUBLIC TRANSPORT FOR PROVINCIAL VICTORIA — including upgrading the Mildura line (for freight only) and new trains.

BUILDING BETTER ROAD CONNECTIONS — including numerous highway and arterial road upgrades.

DELIVERING A BETTER LINK BETWEEN THE EAST AND WEST OF MELBOURNE — this included the East-West Link Needs Assessment (eg study), but did not flag actually building it. The fact they wanted a study shows just how keen the road engineers in government must have been, despite the early results from the 2003 Northern Central City Corridor Study only a few years before having shown it was totally pointless, which appears to have prompted the government to cancel the NCCCS study itself to try and prevent it being released.

This item did include Westgate Bridge strengthening and a package of Monash-Westgate improvements, which I’m guessing morphed into the $1 billion+ package of widening works done around 2010… since completely swamped by extra traffic, and now subject to more widening works.

PROMOTING SMARTER, HEALTHIER TRAVEL CHOICES — programs such as TravelSmart, to try and encourage people to think about not just hopping in the car for every trip.

CREATING ACCESSIBLE, CONNECTED COMMUNITIES — a mix of accessibility projects, park and ride (which it turns out was enormously expensive, at something like $15,000 per space), interchange upgrades and “Transit Cities”, which resulted in urban renewal in places like Footscray and Ringwood.

Bourke Street, Melbourne (2005)

BUILDING A SAFER, MORE SECURE NETWORK — the wording is a bit vague as to what this actually means, but it may have been about more CCTV, better comms systems and the like.

Some of the actions were flagged to commence as far off as five years later, when the government had no certainty that they’d still be in power — indeed, they weren’t.

Not getting much attention at the time (I can’t even see it in the Actions list) was something that has made a huge difference to many suburbs: the upgrade of hundreds of bus routes to include Sunday and evening services. Before this, many buses finished by 7pm on weekdays and 1pm on Saturdays (despite typical shopping hours extending to 5pm), with no Sunday services. Nowadays most routes have 7-day services. They may only be hourly on weekends, but it’s better than nothing. They’re never going to get people out of their cars, but for those without cars, it has made a huge difference.

Just two years after MOTC, the plan was superseded by the Victorian Transport Plan in late-2008. By that point, the political climate was changing. Patronage had been booming, resulting in high-profile over-crowding problems and infrastructure failures. The government was finally starting to realise — too late given the lead times involved — that more significant investment was needed.

Labor was voted out in 2010, but came back in 2014, and given the current push on some big projects, seem determined not to make the same mistake twice.

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transport

In-cab signalling and platform doors – two pieces of the puzzle

Last Thursday the state government announced more details around the Metro rail tunnel, and related projects.

High Capacity Signalling

Upgrading existing rail lines to High Capacity Signalling (HCS) has the potential to boost track capacity by up to about 50%, though to reach that, you would need to remove level crossings too.

Originally HCS was to have been trialled on the Sandringham line. The Napthine government proposed putting it straight onto the Dandenong line (without a trial) but on Labor getting back into government in November 2010, the plan reverted to the Sandringham line.

This has now been amended again: they want to trial it between Lalor and South Morang.

In-cab signalling (from a PTV video)
(Artist’s impression of high capacity in-cab signalling, from a PTV video)

As I understand it, the overall HCS project after the trial includes doing the busiest parts of the Sunbury and Cranbourne/Pakenham lines as well — from Watergardens through to Dandenong, allowing 30 trains per hour through the rail tunnel — though from day 1, it’ll be more like 19, increasing over time.

They are aiming at a system whereby conventional and high-capacity (in-cab) signalling can co-exist, enabling V/Line and freight to continue on those lines even if not equipped for in-cab. Equally, for the South Morang pilot period, trains won’t necessarily run all the time using the new signalling.

But why trial it at South Morang? According to the government:

  • The X’trapolis fleet (used almost exclusively on the South Morang line) is better suited to being equipped for it
  • Greater scope to roll it out on the remainder of the Clifton Hill group, with big benefits on the inner portion — more beneficial than the Sandringham line.

My wild additional speculation reading between the lines:

  • Outer end of the line means less impact if it goes wrong
  • Greater scope for patronage/service growth in future, since the South Morang line serves a growth corridor (unlike the Sandringham line)
  • This section got new signalling just a few years ago when the line was duplicated beyond Lalor. Can we hope that the infrastructure is more easily upgradable than that on the Sandringham line?

Platform screen doors

But what really got attention was something probably less important, but more prominent and visible: platform screen doors.

These are common in Asian cities, and in some parts of Europe.

There’s an obvious safety benefit, but they also have significant advantages in reducing dwell times. Passengers know precisely where to queue to quickly board the train after others have disembarked.

Most Melbourne peak hour commuters already know that at busy times, you try and wait alongside the doors, so those alighting can walk straight out, and then you board. But it’s always a bit of a lottery as to where the doors will come to a stop. Platform screen doors and line markings on the platforms could help this, including outside peak times, when the system can still be quite busy.

Boarding a peak hour train at Flinders St

Platform screen doors mean it’s predictable. And the quicker the loading, the more trains can run.

It’s only possible if the trains have consistent door positions — which Melbourne’s current various trains don’t. The way this will be solved is by only running the new High Capacity Metro Trains (HCMTs for short) through the tunnel. The government recently expanded the number to be ordered to provide enough trains for the full Cranbourne/Pakenham to Sunbury service. The other train types will run on other lines… once again, elements of Metro’s “five group railway” come into play.

Pieces of the puzzle

It’s been a mixed bag in recent years, with different rail projects working at cross purposes.

Caroline Springs station in Melbourne’s west has almost been completed, but funding has just come through to duplicate the line, so the station’s going to have to be partly demolished and modified (to an island platform layout) before it’s even opened. A prime example of the poor planning we often see in Victoria. When the station was funded, some of us wondered if the duplicated track should be extended a few hundred metres to meet it…

Sadly, a similar thing happened with Footscray station. The brand new bridge had to be partly rebuilt for Regional Rail Link.

RRL’s new West Footscray station is also to be modified, to get an extra platform. The government claims the station was planned to be futureproofed, though it’s unclear if they knew this specific upgrade was coming.

Who knows how much money is wasted by rebuilding brand new infrastructure.

Thankfully in some areas they seem to be getting a little better organised. This diagram (appendix 3 “Scope of works” from the Melbourne Metro business case) lays out how the tunnel project fits with the various other projects completed, planned and underway — Regional Rail Link, the new HCMT fleet, various track duplication/amplifications. As you’d hope, these all largely fit in with the 2013 PTV rail network development plan. Consistency is good. This is precisely what’s needed for effective future planning.

Melb Metro business case - related projects

Click through to see this larger. Credit to Alistair Taylor at Urban Melbourne for finding this. I’m planning to explore this in more detail later; there’s a lot to digest.

“Throw away the timetable”

The Premier and the Public Transport Minister were throwing around the “throw away the timetable” rhetoric again on Thursday.

It’s good that there continues to be official recognition of the importance of a Turn Up And Go service at the highest levels.

Of course, an all-day ten minute service is possible right now on much of the rail network, without a rail tunnel, and without fancy new signalling. It shouldn’t be about peak hour only — I bet few people use timetables when using trains on the busiest, most frequent lines currently.

Three lines — to Frankston, Dandenong and Ringwood (as well as shorter sections to Clifton Hill and Footscray) already run every ten minutes on weekends (and most of them during the day on weekdays too), and patronage seems to be slowly growing, despite an almost complete lack of promotion.

But what of the rest of the network? Even the service plan post-2031 (as seen in Appendix 3 of the Business Case) has a disappointing 3 trains per hour outside peak times beyond Sunshine, as well as beyond Newport. For many stations that means no extra trains at over today’s off-peak timetable — you’ll still wait 20 minutes for a train. You’ll still want to be checking your timetable for that.

Sure, this is a limitation of trunk lines branching to different destinations (at Newport Sunshine to Sunbury/Melton, and at Newport to Williamstown/Altona Loop/Werribee), but you’d hope they could do better than this.

But the infrastructure will support more frequent timetables. I sense a continuing campaign for more services outside peak.

And these issues aside, after so much lack of investment over decades, it’s encouraging to see a state government taking on some of these big ticket rail projects.

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The perfect, durable, compact umbrella

Melbourne’s rainy season is upon us. It’s been a few years since my blog post about good strong compact umbrellas, so here’s a quick update.

A good umbrella is vital for a dedicated walking/PT person.

The brief: an umbrella that, folded, can fit in my work bag (eg a maximum length of about 35cm) and go anywhere. And — this is the hard bit — as durable as possible. Foldable umbrellas tend not to be made of the strongest material due to compactness, and what I don’t want is it falling apart when caught in the rain.

Broken umbrella (happily, not mine)

Senz

I did buy a Senz Mini. It went well for a while, but then part of it got bent out of shape, and it wouldn’t close properly. It was replaced under warranty. I had also bought Marita a Senz Mini. It lasted a bit longer (out of the warranty period!), but she had some similar problems with it.

Then I lost mine… and bought a newer model, the Senz Mini AO (the acronym standing for Auto Open, not Adults Only). So far, that has been fine. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have upgraded the parts we had issues with.

In fact the Senz AO has subsequently been replaced by the Senz Automatic and the Senz Smart S (a budget version).

As with all the Senz models, the shape of it (with the handle set forward, rather than in the middle) means good coverage, even for a relatively small design.

And when folded, it’s very compact; about 28cm long. It’ll stick out, but can go into a pocket.

Blunt

When M’s Senz was becoming too problematic, I bought her a Blunt XS Metro to replace it.

Feedback from her and others suggests there are pros and cons here; in comparison with the Senz foldable umbrellas the coverage is less, and the folding mechanism isn’t as compact, meaning when not being used it may not fit in some bags.

But the Blunt models do seem to be constructed to a high standard, making them very durable.

There’s also a variant of this one: the Blunt XS Metro + Tile, which has a Tile inside it, a chip designed to prevent it being lost. When activated it can play a tune so you can find it. It can also tell you via the app where you last saw it (I’m guessing this simply tells you where you were when your phone was last in range of it). It might help you find it if lost somewhere static. Not sure it’d help if (like I did) you leave it on a train.

Is there a perfect compact umbrella?

Comparing the Blunt XS Metro (A$89) vs the Senz Automatic (not even sure of the current cost, as they are so hard to find):

  • The Blunt looks like it is tougher (fibreglass ribs vs the Senz’s aluminium and steel).
  • But the Senz is more compact when folded (Senz 28cm vs Blunt 36.5cm, and while the canopy is slightly smaller, the shape and handle position provides better rain protection.

Surfing around the net I did find this: the Gustbuster Metro (A$64) got a good review. This Metafilter thread also has some suggestions.

Has Choice reviewed umbrellas? Judging from their web site and their paper magazine index, apparently not.

Anybody know some other contenders for the perfect, durable, compact umbrella?

Just do us all a favour: don’t bring out the golf umbrellas on busy city streets. They belong on the golf course.

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Barred from Bayswater – that escalated quickly

I’d been reading this article about the proposal to narrow a section of Mountain Highway through Bayswater when the level crossing is removed — from 3 lanes in each direction down to 2.

Bayswater state Liberal MP Heidi Victoria has submitted the petition against the plans to State Parliament and urged the Government to intervene.

“Those of us who live and work in Bayswater know the traffic congestion is already at an all-time high,” Ms Victoria said.

“The community do not want this; local businesses do not want this.”

I don’t know the area well, but given Mountain Highway is 2 lanes east of the nearby intersection, and the removal of the level crossing would cut the major delay factor for cars, and the area just west of the station is a retail precinct, I thought the idea shouldn’t be automatically rejected.

Closer to my neck of the woods, Ormond is 3 lanes each way, and is quite pedestrian hostile. The noise of the traffic is near-constant, and unlike nearby Mckinnon or Bentleigh, it’s very difficult to cross the road to points of interest.

Mountain Highway, Bayswater (Pic: Google Maps)

Looking at the Google StreetView imagery, there are similarities. It’s hard to tell what day of the week and time the pictures were taken, but the businesses all look open, yet there is an absence of shoppers. Many of the street car spots are free, suggesting that local shops don’t do spectacularly well.

Removing a lane, widening the footpaths and reducing the speed limit might improve things, and appear to be ideas supported by the local council.

Judging from the comments in the local paper, the most vocal locals don’t care much for Bayswater other than as a place to drive through as quickly as possible.

But area is marked as a pedestrian priority route under the Smartroads strategy, so it’s understandable where the council and Vicroads are coming from.

So I pondered on it Twitter:

Note that I didn’t say it was a wonderful thing. I just said it shouldn’t automatically be rejected.

A few hours later, this furious response from the MP for Bayswater:

Well, that escalated quickly. Is this really the standard of public discourse that one should expect? I know the limited form of Twitter posts isn’t great for nuance, but that just seems ridiculously over-the-top.

Apparently I’ve been barred from going to Bayswater by the local MP. There goes any chance of getting to know the area better. Is this like the opposite of being presented with the keys to the city?

Happily, other locals are more welcoming.

It’s hard to tell, but I would assume that Ms Victoria (and anybody else getting into a debate about traffic and roads) is aware of the term “traffic sewer” (meaning an environment that encourages lots of traffic to move through at speed, to the detriment of other local activities such as walking, cycling, shopping). It’s definitely not the same as calling a place a sewer.

Assuming she knows that, she appears not to consider that a six lane road through a shopping centre doesn’t actually result in a great urban and retail environment.

My guess is the level crossing can result in long delays and frustration for motorists. Removing it will drastically cut delays, especially long unpredictable ones. Removing the third lane each way (matching the road further east) may still mean overall fewer delays for motorists, while drastically improving conditions for walkers and shoppers. One would hope Vicroads has done modelling on this.

Perhaps for some — a bit like Skyrail — any hint of even considering any evidence has gone out the window, because outright rejection is seen by the Opposition as the best way to make a political point.

I’d hope for a more considered response from the Member for Bayswater, but perhaps I got off lightly.