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Five years ago today: A day on the trains

Five years ago today I posted this video: A Day on the Trains.

The footage for it was gathered over the space of a month or two in the dying days of the Connex Melbourne Empire in late 2009, and it was designed to capture a few scenes I thought might be changing in the coming years.

Obviously some things have changed, others remain the same.

  • Liveries: Connex (Metlink) became Metro (Metlink), and then became Metro/PTV
  • Metcard is gone, replaced by Myki
  • Many of the old CRT screens at stations have been replaced by newer flat screen displays

What else can you spot?

The system has become more busy, with more services on some lines. Punctuality has improved (thanks in part to padded timetables and station skipping), but cancellations haven’t. And transport is just as big an election issue as ever.

PS. I’ve since learnt that the skewing effect of large objects moving rapidly past the camera is called rolling shutter.


The government loves talking about train punctuality. Cancellations? Not so much.

For some reason, while the government have been crowing about train punctuality this week…

…they haven’t been talking much about Service Delivery, aka Cancellations.

I wonder why not?

Oh, could that be because it’s barely changed in 5 years?

Connex/Metro: Service delivery (eg cancellations), last 5 years

There’s certainly been a lot of work on the train network, including more concrete sleepers and track relaying to prevent buckling, better air-conditioning in the Comeng fleet, and additional maintenance capacity.

But cancellations still hit the trains regularly due to other causes — including many this week.

And with more than 50,000 services running every month, even 1% of the timetable not delivered is a lot of cancelled trains, which of course happens most often in peak hours when the system is under stress, generally affecting a disproportionate number of passengers, and causing severe overcrowding.

Overall it’s about the same as it has been for years.

So yes, perhaps it’s not a surprise that they’re not talking about it.

  • I deliberately left off a trend line, because one-off events such as the pre-Black Saturday heatwave skewed the result. If the data for Jan/Feb 2009 is removed, the Service Delivery trend is slightly down, but I don’t think this is a good representation of how things are tracking long-term.
  • Other lowlights for Metro include February 2011 (major storms), and summer 2012-13 when there were a lot of stolen copper wire incidents, culminating in the February 2013 incident involving the bat.
  • The upgrades to deal with heat can’t be over-stated. Lots of track has been re-laid, and air-con faults are now much rarer. I’d expect the resilience of the network in hot weather to be much better than it was pre-2010, though not perfect of course.

The C word still lingers

They haven’t changed the seat design with the hidden word “Connex” in it — it’s not very obvious and probably a hassle to do. But even some of the electronic signs stubbornly revert to the former train operator’s name occasionally. These two were snapped in the last month or two, both on X’Trapolis trains.

Sign says Connex, August 2010

sign says Connex, October 2010

Perhaps deep in the heart of the machine, the words of the company that originally commissioned them is destined never to be totally removed.

Until quite recently, some of the screens at CBD station would display a Connex logo when not displaying any information, and reverting to their “Listen for announcements” state.

Politics and activism transport

Moving forward

Julia Gillard apparently mentioned “Moving forward” some 22 times during her press conference today announcing the election.

“Moving forward.”

It sounds vaguely familiar. Ah yes:

Connex: Moving forward

Well, it worked for them.

Update: Had a text message from an ex-Connex management person saying they are “very proud” their slogan has been recycled!

Also: Renowned author and former Keating speechwriter Don Watson doesn’t like the phrase: People think the only way you can make a political point or persuade people of an argument is to treat them like imbeciles.


The hidden message in the train seats

Many of Melbourne’s train seats look like this:

Train seats

Look closely. Those are not all just random shapes designed to hide the dirt.

Anything look familiar?


Stickers everywhere

Someone’s been busy with stickers.

Siemens train, temp Metro signage

In their contract, Metro had until Monday to rid the train system of any mention of Connex.

The Franchisee will apply stickers to cover all references to Connex, both internally and externally, on all Rolling Stock. These works will be undertaken at the various depots and sidings where the Trains are stabled at night, while the Trains would not otherwise be in use.

In conjunction with the Rolling Stock Debranding, the Franchisee will apply stickers over all references to Connex at all Stations, depots, yards and offices of the Franchisee. The Franchisee will also remove the Connex brand from all light-boxes and existing signage.

Target project completion date: 14 December 2009

— MR3 Train Franchise Agreement, volume 2, pages 294-295

The contract notes it includes 993 train carriages, 10,000 signs at 211 stations, 675 signs at 45 depots and yards, and 60 signs at 6 offices. Pretty big job.

They seem to have come pretty close — the only ones I saw around the place yesterday were some of those big station signs (some of them are probably quite awkward to cover up, particularly when they’d require road closures to get a scissor lift up there to do it), and posters such as timetables (which is odd, because they should be dead easy to do).

Of course, in some spots it looks a little tacky. Particularly amusing was the censoring of posters for Connex for Cancer Day, which raises money for Peter Mac.

[Censored] For Cancer

The stickers on the outside of the trains don’t look too bad for a rush job. Metro logos on the front, and tag cloud-like train line names above the doors.

Over the coming months they’ll properly replace/modify the signs, and put the trains in their new colour scheme. There’s a handful already in the new colours. They’ve got until November 2010 for that, and the whole lot will cost about $25 million — I’m personally not convinced it looks brilliant.

Siemens train, full Metro colours

And what about the Metro name and logo itself?

I like it. It’s a good, strong brand, much moreso than the Connex logo was.

Actually I think it’s better than the Metlink logo, with its round globby @-like thing.

The surveys I did here on my blog in the last couple of days (perhaps skewed by the readership here) showed that about 60% of people correctly identified the Metlink logo, which has been around since 2003. The Metro trains logo got a slightly higher level of recognition at 68%, despite having been around only since September. (Mind you, maybe the rate should have been higher, given the game was given away by the post just below the survey form.)

Metro is a name that is common worldwide and recognisable worldwide, though what we have doesn’t quite live up to the name — we need more frequent train services 7-days-a-week for that… something notable in its absence from the government’s “Creating a metro system” web page.

I’ll be interested to see if they start using the M on its own on signs, as you see with the London Underground roundel, and the new T logo used in Vancouver (potentially confusing I suspect).

And I wonder if businesses that are near stations will start advertising their addresses with a little M logo and the name of the station, as happens in some cities.

Of course, new logos and colour scheme are only superficial. It’s extra service, line extensions, and upgrades to make infrastructure and fleets reliable that will make the real difference.

PS. With a forecast top temperature of 39 degrees today, we may see the first real test of how Metro performs in extreme heat, and perhaps proof that things don’t magically change when you put new logos on everything.


Farewell Connex

Connex took over running the Caulfield and Northern group lines on 18th April 2004, and to mark the occasion they put up a Welcome to Connex banner at Caulfield station. Evidently from day one, things didn’t go entirely to plan.

Welcome to Connex

Over the past five years they’ve seen the strain of record numbers of passenger trips, with little government investment to help manage it, as well as reliability problems including the Siemens brakes crisis of 2007, the summer failures of 2009, and more than one trying day of disruptions from storms, as happened yesterday afternoon.

And so on Sunday night, we bid them farewell, and once the last Connex service (ironically a bus replacement on the Werribee line) has finished, say hello to Metro on Monday morning.

(And on the trams, it’ll be a switch from TransdevTSL to KeolisDownerEDI Rail, but keeping the Yarra Trams name.)

What will be different? Most staff will have new uniforms. Sounds like all the automated announcements will be quickly changed, and Connex logos may disappear under temporary stickers, before being properly replaced over the coming months.

But the timetables will be the same. The trains, stations, track and signals will all be the same, save one train fully decked-out in the new colours. They’ve got some reliability targets, and say they’ll staff some more stations, but other than that there’s not a lot of detail yet.

Over time I guess we’ll see more changes. Metro won’t be able to perform miracles with the fleet and infrastructure, as that’s the government’s responsibility, but there is scope to keep enhancing maintenance practices, disruption and incident handling, cleanliness, customer information, and various other operational stuff.

Hopefully they’re up to the task. Good luck Metro!

PS. The Sheena Easton Connex advert from 2004:

My video of a day on the trains, from the final months of Connex Melbourne’s operation:

Update: Something of a farewell present — Connex is paying compensation to monthly and longer ticketholders for October and November due to late-running.


They can’t perform miracles

Contrary to what some people seem to think, in December when Connex are gone and the new operator starts, miracles will not occur.

Girl to friend on train: “I can’t wait till the Japanese take over Connex. We can then get to Frankston from the city in, like, five minutes in the bullet train. It’ll be totally awesome.”

— Overheard, MX, 19/8/2009

Err, no.

Once MTM (who are from Hong Kong, not Japan) take over, the trains won’t magically be on time. Cancellations will not magically stop, trains won’t be magically less crowded, station staff will not give you a hot chocolate and a five dollar note each morning, and rainbows will not appear in the sky.

Trains at Richmond

The new mob will have the same trains and the same tracks — all the responsibility of the government.

And it’ll be almost all the same staff — though one wit suggested to me that MTM might give everyone new uniforms and simeltaneously shuffle them all around, so those people who board at staffed stations would see “new” people on duty.

So what will change apart from the logos?

It’s a little hard to tell, as the details of the contracts have not yet been released. Over time we should expect some operational changes, depending on how much they decide to influence future timetables, staff training and duties. The EOI documents indicated there’d be some changes to cleaning regimes and other “soft” stuff, as well as (one would hope) some improvements to the way information provided to passengers. (No, it’s not clear yet if the Connex SMS updates, which I and many others find very useful, will continue in their current form. Ditto with Tram Tracker.)

There are rumours that the new name for the trains will involve the word Metro. Given the precedent of trains every 10-ish minutes on the Werribee line, the optimist in me says that when the new contracts and name are announced, they’ll also announce a plan to introduce frequent services of at least every 10 minutes on every line, all day, every day. Like, well, a Metro.

The other coming changes are not down to the operator, but are infrastructure-based, including new and extended lines, and more trains, are all the responsibility of the government. When you tally it up, there are a surprising number of infrastructure changes coming to the rail system. Here’s a map that I’ve mentioned in passing before, which was done for the PTUA:

Update 1:30pm. New contracts signed. Connex to be renamed Metro. Govt press releases: trams / trains

PTUA transport

Connex and Yarra Trams dumped

So, both Connex and TransdevTSL (operating as Yarra Trams) are being shown into the departure lounge, with MTM (MTR) and Keolis to replace them.

I don’t think the former is a surprise, though the latter is.

Some are celebrating. I know this for a fact, as yesterday morning at the station I heard one man say to his wife that he’d be opening a bottle of champagne if Connex got dumped.

Just another crowded train

(Note the newspaper advert!)

But how much will really change? If it’s the same old dodgy infrastructure (tracks that buckle in summer, signalling that fails, trains with unreliable air-conditioning, a lack of tram on-road priority), the new companies will face much the same issues. Just because MTR runs a great system in Hong Kong doesn’t mean they can magically do it here.

And who’s taking responsibility for planning the greater PT network? You know the sort of thing, actually ensuring that buses, trams and trains are timetabled to meet properly at interchange points, rather than the un-coordinated mess we have now? Like the infrastructure, that should be a role that sits with government, not the individual operating companies.

That said, there are things the operators can do to improve things: better cleanliness and maintenance, more staff, better handling of disruptions.

It’ll be interesting to see how they go.

PS. Lunchtime: Audio of Mr Brumby fluffing the announcement, accidentally saying Keolis would run the trains. (MP3, 27 seconds, 218Kb)


Who will it be?

The big announcement may well come in the next few days: who will take over running Melbourne’s trams and trains from November?

Anybody want to put their predictions on the table? Leave a comment! Your choices:

  • Trains: Connex (Veolia, incumbent) or MTM (Hong Kong MTR consortium) or Keolis
  • Trams: Yarra Trams (TransdevTSL, incumbent) or Keolis

(I had a Google survey thing here for a short time, but it was too clunky, sorry.)

I think the thing to bear in mind is that none of it will make much difference unless the government commits to fixing the infrastructure and fleet problems that cause most of the issues. If all we get is another logo, little will really change.

That said, there is scope for the operators to run things better: put on more staff, voluntarily run more frequent services (at least outside peak hours, when trains are available), lobby more strongly for infrastructure improvement, better maintenance and security (eg around fleet depots and stations, where vandalism occurs).