Flinders Street Station goes Technicolour

(I’m hoping to blog about the Myki Mobile trial in the next few days, so hold those thoughts)

Some time in the last few days, a subtle addition appeared on the platform screens at Flinders Street Station: a countdown to departure. This has been on other displays around the network for decades, but some clever maths was needed to get this working here, as suburban services originate here.

So to provide an accurate time for an outbound service, they have to know whether the inbound service that forms it is on time.

Then on Tuesday night, a far more obvious makeover: colour!

On the concourse and in the connecting subways, the sequence of the lines is now more logical – by group rather than platform – with the colours from the network map used to help find your line.

New concourse displays at Flinders Street Station, January 2019

The sequencing is by group, then by departure time. I do wonder if this may cause issues when some infrequent lines may not display because the allotted space is all taken by more frequent services. Also note Alamein is missing below – the general advice outside peak hours is to take Belgrave/Lilydale to Camberwell and change there. (This is not very clear on the network map – it’s in a footnote only.)

New subway displays at Flinders Street Station, January 2019

At the escalators from the concourse to the platforms, these screens show the next departure on each platform

New displays at Flinders Street Station, January 2019

On the platforms they have the landscape version. Note the inconsistency in how skipped stations are shown. That seems odd.

New platform displays at Flinders Street Station, January 2019

One thorny issue: if all Sunbury/Watergardens skip South Kensington, then is South Kensington really even on that line? And should those trains be summarised as a Limited Express? (Some trains on the line are actual expresses, skipping stations between Sunshine and Footscray, so this is important to passengers.)

New platform displays at Flinders Street Station, January 2019

Also on the platforms are displays showing which platform to use for the next train to the other inner-city stations. This includes an animation of the City Loop, whose operations regularly confuse just about everyone.

New platform displays at Flinders Street Station, January 2019

Curiously this screen declared the next arrival (presumably V/Line) was 102 minutes away… despite a V/Line train already being present.

New platform displays at Flinders Street Station, January 2019

You might expect some teething issues. There have been some reports that the new software doesn’t cope well with cancelled services.

But overall these changes seem like a big improvement, and no doubt they’ll keep tweaking the design and fixing issues.

I should note that my photos from the small camera I had with me at the time may not do the new colours justice; go see them for yourself before judging the readability. Apparently they did do quite a bit of usability testing beforehand.

Hopefully we’ll see more of this – in particular more use of the line colours – and indeed more screens – spread across the network from here.

What will also help legibility around the train network is more consistent stopping patterns and Loop operation, in line with the train network map.


Armadale bad boys

In the past year or two, the Cranbourne/Pakenham rail line has seen numerous upgrades to prepare for the High Capacity Metro Trains to start this year.

Some of the upgrades are to power systems.

I’m not normally one to write blog posts about new items of infrastructure, but have you seen these bad boys installed near Armadale station?

Overhead wire near Armadale station

Not your average overhead wire stanchions.

There are two of them. It appears they’ve been used because there’s a lack of space on the north side of the rail lines just east of Kooyong Road.

EDIT: I’m told there’s a third near Chapel Street in South Yarra.

Overhead wire near Armadale station

Apparently the distinctive spiral design is to keep the structure stable in the wind.

Overhead wire near Armadale station

They’re quite impressive. Keep a lookout if you’re going past.

And expect to see similar power upgrades on the Sunbury line in the coming years to prepare for trains to be through-routed from Cranbourne/Pakenham via the metro tunnel out to Sunbury.

Photos from ten years ago

Old photos from January 2009

Social media has been swept with the #10YearChallenge – people posting photos from ten years ago. I’ve been doing this for a while now, though this tends to be of spots around Melbourne, rather than personal photos.

I suspect the challenge for some is even finding the photos.

Anyway, here’s January 2009…

Flinders Street Station tower, snapped from across the road at Victoria University, which was the venue for Lego Brickvention that year.

Tower of Flinders Street Station, January 2009

Back then, Brickvention was not the huge massive crowded event it is these days. (More pics and video)

Lego city at Brickvention 2009

View of Melbourne from the deck of the replica Enterprize sailing ship, from a short sail we did from Williamstown.

Melbourne from a sailing ship

On the way home from the Enterprize, at Newport station. Even back then it was busy on a Sunday afternoon.

Train at Newport, January 2009

Remember when there were milk crate men everywhere? This is near South Kensington. My little camera couldn’t handle the speed of a photo from a moving train.

Milk crate man, near South Kensington, January 2009

Chess in Swanston Street.

Chess in Swanston Street, January 2009

Trams (and not much else) in Docklands.

Trams in Docklands, January 2009

Remember the Hitachi trains? Here’s one arriving at Richmond.

Hitachi train at Richmond, January 2009

…and inside. I assume it was a warm day, as all the windows are open. This only did so much, of course… on a very hot day, hot air blowing through the carriage helped a bit, but wasn’t actually all that pleasant. These days the entire train fleet is air-conditioned, but the tram fleet isn’t there yet.

Hitachi train, January 2009

At Southbank, looking southwest at the Sandridge rail bridge. I can’t see the sculptures, but presumably they are there in the background, as apparently they have been present since 2006.

Sandridge Bridge looking towards Southbank, January 2009

A Connex-liveried Siemens train arrives at Malvern

Connex Siemens train approaches Malvern station, January 2009

One of the benefits of public transport is you can use the time to play with your phone. Back in 2009, the phone companies seemed to think this involved – wait for it – making telephone calls.

Advertising for Telstra, Malvern station, January 2009

How long is a railway station platform?

Last Monday’s meltdown soured the return of trains after upgrades on the Dandenong and Frankston lines – which included works for the Metro tunnel, and also power upgrades and extensions to some platforms.

So, how long is a railway station platform?

Generally, as long as the trains that serve it, plus a bit for spare.

There are exceptions, especially in regional areas of some countries, though this is rare in Victoria.

In Melbourne, suburban trains are currently standardised to 6 cars*:

  • Comeng 6 x 24 metres = 144 metres
  • Siemens 4 x 24.1 metres + 2 x 23.8 metres = 144 metres
  • X’Trapolis 4 x 24.46 metres + 2 x 22.76 metres = 143.36 metres

What about older trains?

Tait train (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

As early as 1908, and probably taking into account existing platform lengths, planning work for electrification determined that trains would be up to 6 carriages x 17.4 metres — the Tait (red) trains were built to this about length too.

Some then-existing shorter swing-door carriages were extended to that length, with trains being steam-hauled until each line was electrified. Information I’ve found is a little vague, but I believe with buffers/couplings the total carriage length was 18.81 metres, making a 6-car (electric) train 112.86 metres long.

Prior to that, trains had been various lengths, and the standardisation of lengths led to some lines getting more powerful steam locos, to cope with the additional weight, particularly on the hillier lines such as Ringwood and Hurstbridge.

In the 1920s, after electrification was completed, crowding resulted in extra carriages being added, making 7-car trains = 131.67 metres, requiring some platform extensions.

In the 1950s, Harris (blue trains) were introduced as 7-cars, with carriage lengths varying from 19.2 to 22.86 metres each. (Some of these still exist as V/Line’s aging “H” sets)

From 1967, some of the busiest lines ran as 8-cars during peak, to relieve crowding. I’m unclear of the precise carriages used in 8-car formations, but it would have meant trains at least around 154 metres long. This necessitated some platform extensions.

Platform measurements, Glenhuntly

From the 1970s, Hitachi trains were introduced, with longer carriages 23.41 metres long, of up to 6 cars = 140.46 metres, just slightly shorter than the current fleet.

The 1980s saw the 4D (double-deck) train trial. This was 4 x 20.32 metres = 81.28 metres, but if they’d ever got expanded to 8 cars, that would have been 162.56 metres. But in actual fact only 4 cars were ever built, and in peak they were connected to a 3-car Comeng set = 153.28 metres. It was decided they were unsuitable for Melbourne, and the cars were scrapped.

Still, the City Loop had been built to cater for a possible future roll-out of double-deck trains – both tunnel sizes, and platform lengths of about 160 metres. It wouldn’t surprise me if this was based on the standard Sydney double-deck train lengths of the 1960s, when the Loop was being designed.

Platform lengths grew with the train lengths, and at some stations it’s not hard to see how they’ve been extended over the years.

Today, new platforms are built as 160 metres, with the older existing platforms measuring around 150-160 metres, while most current trains are about 144 metres long.

In some spots, you can see where they’ve been measuring platforms to verify the length.

Glemhuntly platform 3 - measurements

The future?

And what about the future “High Capacity Metro Trains” (known as HCMTs for short – I think perhaps they need a snappier name)? These are expected in service in 2019.

In their initial 7-car formation, these will be about 160 metres long.

With that length, they will just fit into the City Loop platforms, possibly with the rear cab out in the tunnel.

Part of the upgrade works underway to accommodate the new trains is improved power supply, facilitating not just the longer trains, but also more of them, with good reliability and enough juice that they can accelerate quickly. It was part of this that failed so spectacularly last Monday afternoon.

Extensions to some platforms have been needed.

  • South Yarra platform 6 and Caulfield platform 4 occurred last year.
  • During the early January works, South Yarra 5 and Caulfield 3 were also extended, though these don’t appear to be complete yet – at Caulfield there are still poles and signals in the way.
  • I haven’t gone looking recently, but presumably extensions are also underway at other older stations that need them between Caulfield and Cranbourne/Pakenham.
Caulfield platform 4 extension

10-car trains

In the future, the plan is to later go to 10-car HCMTs – about 230m long – on the Cranbourne/Pakenham to Sunbury line, via the new metro tunnel post-2025. Because underground platforms are very difficult to alter later, the tunnel stations are being designed with this in mind.

The newest skyrail stations have been built to 160m, but the LXRA tells me they have provision for 230m later, with straight sections beyond the current platforms, signal placements chosen carefully, and piers and foundations built so the new sections of platform can be slotted in with minimal disruption.

Older stations will no doubt be a lot trickier.

Hughesdale station looking east from the skyrail platform
Hughesdale station looking outbound

7-cars with the existing fleet?

I saw an idea proposed on Twitter: could they re-marshall the existing Comeng, X’Trapolis or Siemens fleet into 7-car trains?

It’s an interesting idea. But even assuming they’d have enough power (6-car Comeng trains for instance have four motor cars), they’d be at least 168 metres – too long for the City Loop platforms, which would be near-impossible to extend.

It would also cause problems in stabling yards, which would need re-design or alteration to cope with longer trains. This is why the HCMTs are getting a new maintenance and stabling facility near Pakenham.

What about other lines?

Lots of lines have crowding, and it appears all new station construction (such as the Mernda extension and other level crossing projects) has sensibly planned for 160 metres. So perhaps we can expect 7-car HCMTs eventually across the network. But it involves some big changes, so don’t hold your breath.

And longer trains aren’t the only answer. More trains is the other obvious solution to crowding, which includes:

  • more separation of lines to maximise track capacity and reduce flow-on effects of delays
  • smarter timetabling (consistent stopping patterns)
  • level crossing removals (to cut the impact on the road network as train services increase)
  • better signalling (such as in-cab high capacity signalling)
  • higher frequencies in shoulder-peak and off-peak, to help spread travel demand

Melbourne’s got busier, and is continuing to grow. We need all of this. Bring it on.

*Note that lengths for some models of train have varied, and the information I’ve found can be a little unclear as to whether measurements are rounded, and whether they include buffers/couplings and so on which would contribute to the total length of a train. So treat the above figures as a rough guide. Any corrections? Please let me know!


On the buses

I’ve been on a break at home, having a rest and trying to get stuff done around the house.

Alas, this is now at an end, and while I guess I’ve had a rest, I certainly haven’t got all the stuff I planned done. And people telling me “nobody ever does” isn’t helping.

My break was timed to miss most of the big south-east rail shutdown.

  • Moorabbin (Frankston line) and Westall (Dandenong line) to the City have been replaced by buses between 2nd and 13th of January.
  • The Sandringham line was also bustituted between Elsternwick and the City between 2nd and 5th of January.

This is all due to works for the metro tunnel near South Yarra station, in preparation for building the tunnel portal there. There are also works preparing the Dandenong line for the High Capacity Metro Trains.

Here are a few snaps of the view around South Yarra station, comparing October with last week. (Sorry they don’t all match up exactly; I wasn’t that organised.)

October, looking southwest:

South Yarra - Metro tunnel works October 2018, looking SW

…and a similar-ish view a few days ago:

South Yarra - Metro tunnel works January 2019, looking SW

More striking is this: October looking southeast:

South Yarra - Metro tunnel works January 2019, looking SE

…and a few days ago – the hill and all the trees are gone!

South Yarra - Metro tunnel works October 2018, looking SE

And here’s a view from a few days ago from near Chapel Street, looking northwest:

South Yarra - Metro tunnel works October 2018, looking NW from near Chapel Street

At Caulfield there also seemed to be a fair bit going on:

Caulfield station: works January 2019

Also observed: at South Yarra the extensions to platforms 5 and 6 are nearing completion.

Upgrades and new infrastructure are important, and if you’re going to close rail lines, early January is the time to do it.

The question is: how good is the information provided to people, and how smooth are the replacement buses?

I would say: not too bad. Buses always struggle replacing trains, but I think they’re getting better at this.

Some observations about the bus replacements

Here, if you feel so inclined, is a brain-dump of observations:

The earlier they can advise people, the more likely some affected passengers can avoid it, such as booking leave. I was lucky enough to be able to do this. The more notice the better. (In this case, details were published on 11th December, about 3 weeks out. I think they can do better.)

Some people will always miss the notices, and just rock up to the station. So prominent signage on approach and at station entrances is helpful.

Some of the notices need review. I have my doubts about the detailed bus timetables posted at stations – their usefulness and their scope for incorrect interpretation.

The signage pointing the way to the temporary stops seems pretty good. Big and bold.

Signs at replacement bus stops could improve. They generally don’t have any detail, such as bus stopping patterns, or days of operation. There were sightings of people waiting at the stops a day early – the signage was up, but the trains were still running.

Likewise, last year some of the signage came down a few hours early, leading to confusion on the final night.

Location of the stops seems okay – from what I’ve seen, it’s consistent with past occupations, mostly along main roads to ensure a relatively quick ride.

An exception is citybound at McKinnon, where they can’t make up their mind if it’s outside the pub again (where staff tend to be located, and there’s a temporary shelter), or 50 metres up the road (where the bus stop sign has been installed).

Supply and despatch of buses seems to have mostly been good, though there have been some long queues in the City in PM peak.

Less confusion around Myki touch-on (the buses are free). But there seems to be no consistency around whether all-door boarding is used or not.

Information needs to be consistent. Signage tends to say “to City”, which is very clear. But many announcements I’ve heard at stops have said “to Flinders”. This is less clear. On one bus I was on, when it was announced that “this bus is express to Flinders”, 80% of the passengers got off the bus, then most of them got back on. I think “City” would be better.

Also: “to Flinders“? I know that’s how some refer to it, and I know I’m being a pedant, but it’s really “Flinders Street”. Flinders is a completely different place.

The replacement bus routes have split different passenger groups to different services, and seem to have worked well. Lighter than usual traffic at this time of year certainly helps.

Rail replacement bus, Frankston line, AM peak, January 2019

Travel time from my limited samples: Bentleigh to City (Arts Centre) is around 40-46 minutes, depending on time of day. Routes varied – some buses take Dandenong Road/St Kilda Road, others take Burke Road and Citylink. I haven’t sampled other routes – how’s it been?

They still haven’t fixed the Patterson bus zone, which remains 7am-7pm Monday to Saturday, despite rail buses running until around 1am (and all night on weekends), and even regular buses serving the stop every day until around 10pm. Should I just go park my car there every Sunday until they fix it?

The rail shut down has meant there has been extra pressure on nearby routes: trams and buses that run towards the City or connect with other rail lines that are still running. Little or no effort seems to have been put into additional services – apart from the Sandringham line, which is part of the Frankston replacement route for some passengers this week.

Sandringham line at Flinders Street during Frankston/Dandenong line shutdown, PM peak, January 2019

Only some of the replacement bus routes are in the PTV database, typically the all stations services, so planning a trip may result in travel times that are longer than reality. This may be related to the terrible timetable display web pages, but a resolution really ought to be found. (The Beta PTV web site shows promise.)

There have been some BIG issues with the PTV timetable data recently. South Gippsland coach routes still have non-existent (during works) Metro train connections from Dandenong to the City, which gives incorrect results in the Journey Planner for some trips. And lots of other data is showing up with errors, such as Peninsula bus route 788 missing most of its trips.

What else have people (who have perhaps been commuting more than I have!) seen during the shutdown?


The new Frankston station

The other day I went and took a look around the new Frankston station, upgraded last year by the Level Crossing Removal Authority alongside the nearby Skye Road level crossing removal, and in parallel with Vicroads upgrades to Young Street.

In a similar manner to Southern Cross, there’s been an extensive renovation and replacement of all the buildings, though it does not appear to have changed the basic platform/track layout.

Frankston originally opened in 1882. As you approach (by train) it appears the only structure left is the old signal box, dating back from 1922, the year that electric trains arrived. Apparently this is one of the last lever frame signal boxes on the network.

Frankston signal box

Frankston station has two main platforms, with arriving trains from Melbourne alternating between them. As it’s a terminus station, this allows some recovery time before they head back towards the City.

Frankston station, looking north along the platform

New landscaping, seats and shelters were part of the upgrade, along with water taps – good idea!

Frankston station, looking south along the platform

The new main station building is impressive, with one of those high roofs that unfortunately provides very little shelter along the platform when it’s raining. It’s also got a waiting room and toilets accessible from the platform.

You could argue that the station has two and a half platforms. Platform 3 is at the southern end of platform 2, with the Stony Point diesel sprinter trains terminating next to the Frankston line electric trains from Melbourne.

Trains to Melbourne and Stony Point waiting at Frankston

Large new LCD screens have been installed along the platforms. These seem quite readable, even in bright sunlight.

Passenger Information Display on the platform at Frankston

As you exit the station, you’ll see a big screen showing bus departure times – three screens worth (a lot of buses connect here), though it doesn’t tell you which bus leaves from which bay – it would be handy to see this added, though I suspect it may not be in the current data feeds.

Bus departures board, Frankston station exit

The flip side of that sign shows train departures as you enter. There are eight fare gates, and it was good to see that on a quiet New Years Day afternoon, these were closed and staffed – not much point in having them otherwise.

Fare gates at Frankston

In the station foyer is also a kiosk, booking office, two Myki vending machines, a Myki quick top-up machine and network status board.

Once again, the high roof is impressive, but I wonder how much shelter it provides when raining. (On the platform there is an enclosed waiting room, though for most passengers, heading towards Melbourne, it’s likely the train will be waiting for them when they arrive at the station.)

The main entrance too is visually impressive. I have no problem with this at all – the station should be a local community landmark. As long as it’s functional!

Main entrance to Frankston station

The pedestrian crossing adjacent to the station exit gives access across Young Street. Silly me, I didn’t look to see if there was a list of bus routes and which bays they use, given the screen inside the station doesn’t show them.

Just to the south there’s some creative wayfinding to help people find their way towards the beach, via Wells Street.

To The Beach - wayfinding in Frankston

Unlike the new skyrail stations on the Dandenong line, no indications they’re going to put up an Instagram-worthy sign with the official three letter station code… not surprising given it’s “FKN”, though I’d bet it’d be popular as a photo opportunity!

Either side of the station entrance/pedestrian crossing (but mostly to the north) are numerous bus bays. There were claims during the upgrade works that the design wasn’t actually sufficient for buses.

Young Street bus terminus, Frankston station

Each bus bay has printed timetables as well as screens.

Bus departure information display at Young Street bus terminus, Frankston station

The bus shelters have been criticised for their lack of capacity – they look like the standard design, and there’s one per bay. One could argue this is not sufficient shelter at peak times. There certainly seems to be plenty of space to install some more or larger shelters if they’re needed.

Young Street bus terminus, Frankston station

I also wonder how they’ve prioritised which buses are where. In the photo above, that’s the 788 in the distance – the main route to the Mornington Peninsula, and one of the busier bus routes. It’s a long way from the station entrance, and you won’t want to miss it, with a wait of 40 to 70 minutes between services.

Quibbles with bus bays and shelter aside, overall I think the upgrade looks good. It’s a more pleasant environment, and hopefully more efficient at moving people through and around the station.

And hopefully there’s plenty of capacity in the bus interchange to allow a big increase in bus frequencies, to better connect the surrounding suburbs to their new improved railway station.