Ride the highline… if you can

The other day I had cause to catch a train from Gardenvale to Balaclava.

It’s interesting to compare these two stations.

They are both elevated over main roads. Both have shopping centres that have built up around them.

Both have connecting street-based public transport.

Gardenvale station opened in 1906 as an additional station on the existing line, and appears to have its original ramps in place. These are narrow and steep, and definitely not DDA-compliant.

Gardenvale station. Definitely not DDA-compliant

Parts of the platform are also quite narrow. Apart from additional Myki readers on the outbound platform, it looks like no major works have been done here for many years, though the building on the citybound side was rebuilt following a fire in 2009.

Gardenvale station. Additional Myki readers added along the platform

Balaclava is three stations north – this station opened in 1859, and like many streets of the streets in the area is named for the Crimean War. It was my nearest station for much of my childhood, and I remember the old ugly pebble-mix building well.

But Balaclava has had major work done on it. Between 2012 and 2014, the entrances and buildings were entirely rebuilt, and parts of the platforms were widened. The station was upgraded to Premium (full-time staffed), filling a gap between full-time staffed stations, and there’s a coffee stand on the citybound side.

The old entrance ramps were replaced by DDA-compliant ramps, and stairs, and there is provision for future lifts.

Balaclava station, recently built DDA-compliant ramps

Cleverly, there are Passenger Information Displays at street level to advise when the next train is expected. (Memo to self: go back with a real camera and get a proper photo.)

Balaclava station entrance

Even better: the tram stop below the station has been upgraded since I was last here, with accessible stops.

Balaclava station

Unfortunately none of the trams on route 3/3a are low-floor, but some on route 16 are, benefiting those with prams, wheelchairs and luggage – as well as cutting stop dwell times. Over time, we can expect more low-floor trams to come into service. The bike lane along the platform is a nice touch too.

Accessible tram stop at Balaclava station

It’s good to see Balaclava get this investment. Apart from Prahran, it’s the line’s busiest station south of South Yarra, so access is important.

Sandringham line stations patronage

Perhaps it’s hardly surprising that the line’s busiest stations are all in the inner section: they have the best connecting services (mostly tram), and serve higher-density (and most likely less car-dependent) neighbourhoods. Note that of the top five, apart from Elsternwick, none have any parking!

So, Balaclava looks good. It’d be great to see similar upgrades at other stations around the network to achieve DDA-compliance, as we move towards a more accessible transport network.

Old photos from Europe 20 years ago

Normally each month I post photos from ten years earlier.

I noticed that it’s twenty years since my 1998 trip to Europe. This was the first trip I blogged in excruciating unnecessary detail – and I’m glad I did, as I’ve been rereading the posts, reliving the trip.

I’ve taken the opportunity to re-scan some of the better photos and update the blog posts, and here they are in a post of their own.

2/9/1998: arriving in London for the first time, I suddenly felt like I was from some hick town. The place was just so busy. This is outside Victoria Station.
London Victoria, 2/9/1998

3/9/1998: Exploring Chichester near my grandparents’ place
Chichester, England, 3/9/1998

4/9/1998: Arundel Castle, which is probably not even in the top ten British castles… but frankly if you’ve never seen a castle before, is damn impressive.
Arundel Castle, England, 4/9/1998

6/9/1998: On a train from my grandparents’ place near Bognor Regis, heading towards London. The photo was taken using a timer and placing the camera on the window ledge opposite. Does that mean it was a selfie, before anybody called them selfies?
On a train from Bognor to London, 6/9/1998

Later the same day, in York.
Bootham Bar, York, 6/9/1998

York. Another selfie. Camera on a bollard.
Exploring York, 6/9/1998

7/9/1998: Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle, 7/9/1998

Edinburgh looking down at the railway station.
View from Edinburgh Castle, 8/9/1998

10/9/1998: Near Plockton, Scotland. Camera on a rock.
Plockton, Scotland, 10/9/1998

Plockton. It’s that kind of town.
Cow walking down the street in Plockton, Scotland, 10/9/1998

Near Plockton. Yes, there is a railway somewhere in there.
Near Plockton, Scotland, 10/9/1998

The view of Plockton from across the water. Pretty scenic!
Plockton, Scotland, 10/9/1998

11/9/1998: Doctor Who was on its long (1989 to 2005) hiatus back then, but so it was very nice to find this Police Box in Earls Court, London.
Police Box at Earls Court, London, 11/9/1998

12/9/1998: The most famous zebra crossing in the world at Abbey Road. Shame I glanced to my left just as my buddy Merlin took the photo… and wouldn’t know until weeks later thanks to it being a film camera.
Abbey Road, 12/9/1998

15/9/1998: We got to Bruges on our trip in 2017, but I’d also made it there with friends back in 1998. From what I saw, it hasn’t changed much!
Bruges, 15/9/1998

16/9/1998: Boarding a high speed train from Brussels to Amsterdam.
Boarding a Thalys train in Brussels, 16/9/1998

18/9/1998: Back in… where is this place again? Once again, the perils of film cameras meant that it would be weeks before noticing that a world famous landmark appeared to be coming out of the top of my head.
Tower Bridge, 18/9/1998

Finally, I’ve posted this before, but here are some video highlights from that trip.

Daniel’s 1998 Europe trip highlights from Daniel Bowen on Vimeo.

If you feel like wasting your time, you can read my twenty year old travel blog here.

Apartments for trainspotters (part 2)

Longtime readers of this blog may recall that back in 2010 an apartment block was being advertised at Caulfield, smack bang between where the Frankston and Dandenong lines diverge.

It was never built. Google Street View shows by 2014 the site was still empty, and the advertising sign was covered in graffiti.

Around 2016 the site was taken over by the Level Crossing Removal Authority for use during the Caulfield To Dandenong “skyrail” project.

But most of the land is now clear again, and in the past month or two, an advertising sign (only visible to passing train passengers) has gone up.

East Apartments, Caulfield - site

It looks to me like part of the land has been used for the skyrail tracks, which were placed slightly to the south of the old ground level tracks, leaving the development site smaller than before.

A sales office is on the site, and their web site is eastapartments.net.au.

East Apartments, Caulfield - artists impression

In nine years, the price seems to have gone up by about $100,000.

This development wouldn’t be the first homes on the site. Street View shows much older houses there in early 2010.

As I said in 2010, hopefully the new buildings’ soundproofing is good.

Thirty years on

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

This is especially so for school reunions. My eldest son is pondering whether to even go to his – the people he wants to stay in touch with, he does via Facebook.

Fair enough.

I however do go to my school reunions. Melbourne High School has an active Old Boys Association which is very well organised for them.

The 30th (gulp) reunion was on Friday night.

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The old school. 30 years on #gulp

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Those of us who got there by 5:30 got to have a tour of the school. Much of it looks about the same, but most (but not all) of the old portable buildings have been replaced. Overall the grand old school building is looking good, though a little shabby in places. There’s never enough funding for as much maintenance as they’d like.

And… gasp… we got to go to the top of the tower. I never got to go up there as a student.

The view was spectacular.

View from the tower at Melbourne High School, looking west across the city

View from the tower at Melbourne High School, looking northeast

View from the tower at Melbourne High School, looking east

The reunion proper was down in the pavilion as usual. Of the 300-odd-strong cohort, about 60 attended, perhaps not too bad after this long.

Some speeches, a flood of memories, some reflection on those who didn’t make it to thirty years, then some raucous singing.

The song “Forty Years On” might have been specifically designed for school reunions, and it’s damn devious of the school to implant it in our brains while when young so we can belt it out in our senior years.

Most valuable was some good chats with old friends who I hadn’t seen in a while.

One bloke I was with at primary school too. We had a strong bond in grade six (what’s that, 36 years ago?), but we lost touch in high school — and having thought about it over the weekend, I think that was my fault.

Melbourne High School at dusk

So it was good to catch up, have some laughs and reminisce over old times.

Great to see them all in person. Better than Facebook and Linked In.

And the view from the tower was better in person, too. Well worth going.

How big events can be a catalyst for better public transport

Despite living in a sports mad city in a sports mad country, I’m not the world’s biggest sports fan.

But as a public transport advocate, I embrace big sporting events, because it’s amazing the things they can help get done in transport.

This is only natural. Such events are often a showcase, particularly in Melbourne, and governments are keen to ensure they can get spectators in and out of the arena/venue as efficiently as possible, and while ensuring that the rest of the city continues to function.

When a hundred thousand people need to converge on a venue, you don’t want to be doing that with private vehicles.

Richmond station, Swan Street entrance, before an MCG game

This isn’t new. Historically, all of Melbourne’s football grounds and racecourses were close to railway stations. (Yes, even Princes Park, and the Brunswick Street oval in Fitzroy. No, not VFL Park.) But I’m thinking of bigger events than just regular football or cricket.

Just as events such as the Olympics leave “legacy” infrastructure, sometimes big events have helped to shake up public transport services.

The Melbourne Formula 1 Grand Prix started in 1996. Someone twigged that the then Sunday timetable of trains every 40 minutes on most lines wasn’t going to cut it, and they instead ran Saturday timetables (every 20 minutes) on GP day. Double the usual train frequency? Unheard of!

Subsequently in July 1999, 20 minutes became the standard Sunday train frequency between 11am and 7pm.

Up in Brisbane, for the 2018 Commonwealth Games they got a tram network extension built in time for the event, with trams running 24/7. The Brisbane Queen Street bus interchange was refurbished. And they ran the Gold Coast rail line 24/7, including 6 or more trains per hour most of the day. Mind you, it was at the expense of some other rail lines.

Speaking of the Commonwealth Games, let me focus on Melbourne 2006.

Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games - public transport summary

Melbourne’s 2006 Commonwealth Games

A raft of temporary public transport upgrades were brought in to help people get to venues, and some of them were subsequently made permanent.

Suburban public transport was included free with all event tickets, which also allowed discounted V/Line travel. PTV has a mechanism for free PT with event tickets as part of their event planning, though it’s not often used outside hosting big international conferences.

Evening trains ran every 20 minutes on all lines (normally 30 minutes) to encourage people to travel after the PM peak — subsequently many lines have been upgraded permanently until about 9:30pm

6-car trains ran from first to last train — at the time, most evening and weekend trains were 3-cars, but 6 is now standard. The new HCMT fleet is being built without intermediate driver cabs, which will allow more passenger space.

The Upfield line ran every 10 minutes as far as Coburg to support events at Royal Park

Trams and trains were extended to 12:30am every nightlater in 2006 as part of MOTC, services were extended permanently to 1am on Friday and Saturday nights, and more recently all night on some trams and all trains, which also fixed issues with Sunday trains starting too late for fun runs.

10 City bus routes ran extended hours, including the services that subsequently got upgraded to the DART Smartbus routes.

51 suburban bus routes extended to around 1am on weeknights to meet trains until the last service, to help relieve suburban station carparks

Skybus ran every 10 minutes at peak times – upgrades since then mean Skybus is now every 10 minutes throughout the day, every day until midnight

Nightrider buses ran every night of the week, not just during weekends.

Note the confusing wording in the official publication shown above — “Normal fares apply for Nightrider services” but also “Nightrider buses do not accept Metcards.” Most people would read “normal fares” as standard tickets, but I think what they meant was that old premium fares applied, though other information clarified that Games tickets included Nightrider travel. Later changes introduced standard Metcard fares for Nightrider, and nowadays, standard Myki fares apply to weekend Night Network services.

Authorities postponed retiring some old Hitachi trains – for pretty much the first time it was recognised that the fleet had to grow. Memorably they ended up buying some back from a collector.

Importantly, there was no car parking at venues, including the MCG. Many would still like to see this happen.

Some upgrades like these can’t easily be made permanent, at least not immediately, because they stretch the assets and staff too much.

But these types temporary changes prove what is possible.

The PTV Annual Report notes more than 1100 special events in 2016-17 — and as in any big city, these are alongside smaller everyday events and activities that don’t make the headlines.

Richmond station, Commonwealth Games 19/3/2006

Getting occasional users on board

Big attractions get occasional users onto public transport, using the system to avoid event traffic snarls and car park hassles, even if those people normally drive everywhere else.

An ABS survey from 2011 showed that 38% of Melburnians had used public transport in the last month — far higher than the typical metropolitan-wide mode share (18% for Journey To Work), indicating a lot of people use it for some trips, but not necessarily their daily commute. Part of that would be attending events.

Occasional use like this means more people become familiar with using the system: how and where their most convenient station is, how to use a Myki card, and indeed more likely to have a Myki card in their wallet — the Herald Sun reported in January that there are 15 million active cards out there. This means one barrier to switching to public transport more often is gone.

How significant this is, I’m not sure, but it’s interesting that the huge upturn in Melbourne’s public transport use last decade occurred pretty much straight after the Commonwealth Games.

Alongside other events such as New Years Eve, it added to the sense that public transport is of huge benefit to mainstream society, and is worth investing in.

Extra event services (when they supplement, rather than disrupt/replace regular services) can help all passengers by cutting waiting times and relieving crowding… though any regular footy goer will tell you that in many cases they need to further improve service frequencies and crowd control.

And in the longer term? While regular commuters may be grumpy at occasionally sharing their crowded train with footy fans, big events can be a catalyst for upgrades, ultimately helping in the quest for a better public transport network for everyone.