Melbourne News and events transport

Bathed in blue

Last week’s horrific Eastern Freeway crash, which killed four police officers, shocked all of us – even before we knew about the alleged execrable deeds of the Porsche driver.

In tribute, flags have been flown at half-mast, and around Melbourne, many people placed blue ribbons on their front gates and fences.

Blue ribbon in support of fallen police officers

And a number of city buildings lit up blue to remember the fallen officers.

Of course for this to happen, appropriate lighting equipment needs to be available.

One of the most prominent buildings involved was Flinders Street Station.

In 2018 a new external lighting system was commissioned as part of the $100 million refurbishment of the station, replacing older floodlights.

The lighting system of 1100 lights can illumine the station in any possible colour and will allow for the running of light shows for major events.

Created by Melbourne company APEC Electrical and their supplier Darkon, the lights are connected via 20 kilometres of cabling, allowing the system to operate automatically and by remote control. In a first for an Australian heritage building, each of the 1100 lights is networked through its own internal microprocessor.

Each light has a custom made amber LED that replicates the colour of the original flood lights, while only using a third of the energy of the old system.

Rail Express – New LED system lights up Flinders Street Station

The lighting supplier Darkon also has information about the project on their web site, and they’ve got a demonstration video showing off the capabilities of the lighting system, which includes animated colours as well as static. Clever stuff.

Related to the upgrade of exterior lighting – which is lovely to look at, but doesn’t really directly help passengers – were upgrades to the lighting inside the station, including on the platforms.

This had to take into account the risks of too much light in the wrong places:

A number of luminaires were identified as possible candidates, with each included in a detailed 3D model to help ensure glare, reflectance and shadowing wouldn’t interfere with CCTV equipment or disrupt train driver’s vision of their surroundings, including signalling.

After a brief trial and feedback from a range of stakeholders, the decision was made to roll the Cree CPY Series out across the entire project. In order to maintain Flinders Street Station’s heritage appeal, it was decided a correlated colour temperature (CCT) of 3500K would best suit the project; warm enough to match the station’s architecture, without affecting safety and visibility along the platforms.

Advanced Lighting Technologies – Flinders Street Station

It’s not immediately clear how much money was spent on all this new lighting as part of the broader project. But it seems to have been a worthwhile upgrade, and during a major refurbishment was the right time to do it.

While the external colours of the station don’t make the trains run on time, this capability does help cement the station’s place in our city’s culture.

And it ensures that what is perhaps Melbourne’s most prominent city building can help us celebrate in the good times – or as at present, help mourn the tragic loss of four police officers who were doing their jobs, helping to protect all of us.


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.

Photos from ten years ago Toxic Custard newsletter

Old photos from October 2007

ZOMG, for the first time since I started this series, I forgot to post photos for October 2007 in October.

And nobody noticed.

Not surprising; I suspect I’m the most amused by these.

Here they are.

First, here’s the classic pic of Flinders Street Station. Basically the same nowadays, but covered in scaffolding for the renovation — back then there was also no tram platform stop adjacent on Flinders Street.
Flinders Street Station, October 2007

This view looking across from the northern side of Federation Square. Somewhere in amongst all that traffic is a safety zone tram stop!
Flinders Street Station, October 2007

Me in the City Square. Less grey hair back then, and the Square itself is now rubble, with metro tunnel construction underway.
In the City Square, October 2007

Also in the City Square, late in October the the Christmas Tree being built.
Building the Christmas tree in the City Square, October 2007

A relative rarity: a City Circle tram heading up Swanston Street, for reasons unknown. This spot has been remodeled with tram platform stops since then.
City Circle tram in Swanston Street, October 2007

City Circle tram in Swanston Street, October 2007

Scaffolding collapse in Exhibition Street — someone chose a poor place to park that day. Thankfully, apparently, nobody was injured. (I see I posted it at the time)
Scaffolding collapse, Exhibition Street, October 2007

Swanston Street: a tandem and a Merc. Well, at least one of them is meant to be there.
Swanston Street - tandem and Merc

My home filing system, whereby everything piles up until I can’t stand it anymore, then I sort through it. Not good. Probably prompted by doing my taxes. I’ve done my taxes for 2017… though I am overdue to do some filing.
Daniel's filing system


Flinders St platform 11 would provide much-needed capacity – alas, they’re building a cafe instead

Regular passengers using Flinders Street Station will have noticed that while the platforms are numbered from 1 to 14, there’s no platform 11.

It’s not a Harry Potter scenario with a hidden platform. There used to be a platform 11, the twin of 10, facing the river, and commonly used by St Kilda and Port Melbourne trains until 1987 when they were converted to tram lines. But its track was removed — I assume when the pedestrian subway was extended to the river to meet the pedestrian bridge to Southgate, which opened in 1992.

Platform 10 at Flinders Street

Today, trains to Newport (Werribee and Williamstown and Altona Loop/Laverton, to be precise) depart from platform 10 on weekdays.

Problem with this is that one platform isn’t enough during peak hours, and the trains depart from either 10, 12, 9 or 8, which are mostly quite some distance apart. Passengers tell stories of rushing from one to the other in chaos. If only there were another platform adjacent platform 10…

So could they re-instate 11? It would require some changes to the river-side subway entrance, part of which is where the track would be, but most of the rest of the old track alignment appears to be intact.

Flinders St Station, river entrance

Remains of platform 11 at Flinders Street

But don’t all trains to Newport come through from the east?

Mostly, but not all, at least not during peak hour — a quick skim through the Working Timetable found the the 17:11 and 17:55 Flinders Street to Werribee services both come from Werribee (each followed by a Laverton service a few minutes later from platform 12 or 8/9), and this might increase when Regional Rail Link starts to allow yet more Newport trains. Any trains terminating from the west could easily run into 11 and reverse.

Even so, some trains from the east heading west would be able to run via 13 through to 11, if an effort was made to put Sandringham trains on 12 (which indeed would have more capacity for them if not used by any Newport trains).

Imagine that, Newport train users — all your peak hour trains from adjacent platforms 10 and 11! That would make life a lot easier for peak-hour passengers.

Alas, it seems someone has decided to build a bar or a cafe or something on the site instead.

Coming soon at Flinders Street platform 11

Other missing platforms

Flinders Street used to have platforms 15 and 16, part of the old Princes Bridge station for Clifton Hill trains, now replaced by Federation Square. But of course that didn’t cause a gap in the numbering.

Box Hill has no platform 1. There’s a placeholder that was used during works, then put aside for future use when the station was moved underground in the 1980s.

Any other stations that are missing platforms?

Edit 15/11/2013: Added pic of the river entrance.


Flinders Street redevelopment – why do none of the designs respect the existing building?

Yesterday designs for the redevelopment of Flinders Street Station were released. You can look at them in detail and even vote on them at — though the vote won’t actually determine the design used, only “influence” it.

Having had a look through all of the designs last night, I think my problem with all most of them is that the only heritage features they’ve left intact are the main building (some also leave the platform canopies)… and even the building they’ve completely overwhelmed with new structures.

Flinders Street station design: Zaha Hadid Architecture and BVN Architecture

Flinders Street Station design: Ashton Raggatt McDougall

The criteria includes the question “Does it respect the history of this iconic building?” In my view, they don’t, except from the northern side. The view from the south, and from within the station itself, is obliterated.

It’s like they’ve decided to preserve the facade for the benefit only of passing tourists. The people who actually use the station, us lowly passengers, will get the same kind of lifeless colourless experience that we get currently on the main concourse, but throughout the rest of the station as well, while from the river the old building will be barely visible.

Concourse, Flinders Street Station

I am not convinced that the problems of the current station (particularly the pinch points such as in the subways, and limited accessibility) can’t be solved with a design that better preserves the heritage values of the whole station, not just a small part of it.

And I wonder if the expense and disruption of a full revamp is really justified at present. It’s not like Spencer Street/Southern Cross, where the place was a dump with no architectural merit, and could be legitimately entirely rebuilt into something more impressive and functional (though debate continues on this).

Flinders Street Station - original design

Here’s what I think I’d do with Flinders Street Station:

Finish the original plan: particularly, build the all-over station roof that was originally planned. This would provide a real benefit to passengers in terms of weather coverage, but preserve the overall heritage feel of the station, and keep the main building visible from the river. — Update: People have rightly pointed out that it would be extremely difficult to match the heritage style of the original buildings, though I don’t think it’s completely impossible with some careful planning and design.

Open up the southern end of the Degraves Street subway, providing an additional exit to the river, helping relieve the most congested part of the Elizabeth Street subway (perhaps this exercise could also re-open platform 11, providing more peak capacity for trains to the busy Werribee line — at least when they’re not through-routed from the east).

Elizabeth Street subway, Flinders Street Station

In the long term another north-south crossing through the station is probably needed, but in the short term, one idea worth consideration is to remove the dividing fence in the Elizabeth Street subway, making the entire subway a paid area — at present a third of the space is wasted, and often the Paid area is much more crowded than the non-paid.

If it were all paid area, those passing through could use a Myki to get in and out — the 15 minute “change of mind” rule built into Myki would mean they won’t get charged a fare if not catching a train, and as we know, the vast majority of people in the CBD use public transport to get there, and would have a Myki.

This would also allow them to re-open the western-most steps (or was it a ramp?) from the subway to platform 10, and build extra entrances and extensions to other platforms to allow longer trains. Anybody without a Myki can walk to Swanston or Queen Streets.

Renovate the main concourse into something less colourless. The passenger flows aren’t actually too bad now that most of the stuff in it has been cleared out and the fare gates have been moved around.

Re-align tracks and support structures to enable widening of platforms adjacent to where old centre goods lines have been removed (for instance, platform 5, which is a pressure point for the western suburbs lines).

Comeng trains at the platforms, Flinders Street Station

Completely restore the main building. It could be used for railways/PTV admin, or perhaps they could go with the plan for using it for community groups. (One thing’s for sure: I’m sick of reading moaning articles about the state of the ballroom. It was impressive in its heyday, and by all means fix it up, but is of no consequence whatsoever to passengers wanting a functional station and a reliable train service.)

Likewise, a new plaza or buildings could be constructed on the western side of the station and connect into that side of it — but shouldn’t so grossly overshadow the old building as the proposals do. This is not really a station/public transport issue, it’s a broader picture land-use and planning issue.

Outside the station, obviously the Federation Square tram stop needs expanding, and moving it to the western side of Swanston Street (as in one proposal) would have real benefits.

Making the southern end of Elizabeth Street a pedestrian plaza would improve things too, and might enable a Degraves Street-style entrance (with ramps to make it accessible from that side) straight into the Elizabeth Street subway, so people can bypass the traffic lights.

A pedestrian scramble crossing outside St Paul’s is warranted, as well as re-alignment of Flinders Street (the street) heading west from the station to provide a wider footpath on the northern side, at the expense of a traffic lane on the southern side.

See, plenty of smaller upgrades that are actually affordable in the short term and that would make a big difference to users… without waiting for a hugely expensive redevelopment which might never happen due to lack of funds.

And I tell you what — they’d better not propose renaming the station.


White tracks

Near Flinders Street Station, some tracks have been painted white.

White tracks near Flinders Street station

White tracks near Flinders Street station

Looks odd, doesn’t it. Apparently it’s to reduce heat, and thus reduce the possibility of track buckling and other problems.

Update: See this web page: Solacoat/Coolshield Reducing Temperature of Railway Tracks


Merry Christmas

Flinders Street: Merry Christmas

I don’t care if it’s the same lot of decorations as last year — I like ’em. They look rather good at night.

And you know what? Their location helps cement Flinders Street Station’s cultural importance to our city — perhaps never moreso than now, with public transport patronage increasing, and rail patronage in particular hitting record highs.

We had our family Christmas lunch early — on Saturday — because a bunch of us won’t be in town on Christmas day.

Hope all the readers of my blog have a very Merry Christmas.


Daniel’s theory of paving: The better it looks, the slipperier it is.

I reckon the better a paving surface looks, the slipperier it is, particularly in the wet.

Asphalt: ugly, but grips well, even in the wet.

Tiles (as platforms at Flinders Street station have been converted to, but thankfully not ramps) and blue-stone (increasingly common on CBD streets) look nicer, but are more slippery.

And some types of tactiles (bumps, for the vision-impaired) often aren’t that great in terms of grip either.

Flinders Street station ramp

Agree? Disagree? Is it my shoes?


Flinders Street’s entrance crowding problem

A new Myki-related problem has emerged — during evening peak, crowds heading into Flinders Street Station’s Elizabeth Street entrance back up onto the road. This video shows it (though I’m sure I’ve seen worse crowds on occasions)

It’s not entirely down to Myki — it’s a combination of surging passenger numbers, space limitations at that entrance (due to part of the subway being dedicated to foot traffic to Southbank) and slow responses from Metcard gates to Myki cards.

Apart from getting the switch over to the new faster gates happening, perhaps the answer is to simply widen the footpath at the intersection. Given the number of people and the small amount of westbound traffic (unlike eastbound), it would be justified.

Flinders St

As you can see from this Nearmap pic, Flinders Street is one lane westbound anyway from Swanston Street; it only widens at the intersection itself. East of the intersection, the left lane is used for restricted parking (mostly buses I think) — west of the intersection, one lane is taken by the tram stop. You wouldn’t get a full lane of extra footpath, but you’d certainly gain a bit.

Update: Video from ABC News Breakfast on Tuesday:


The Metro emergency gate that wasn’t

I noted this about a month ago. The idea of an emergency gate in the Elizabeth Street subway at Flinders Street Station seemed like a good one, but it seemed doubtful that the automatic release would include the padlock.

Emergency exit

So I tweeted:

Ok. I have my doubts that this emergency exit *padlock* is automatic, @MetroTrains Care to confirm?

And Metro replied:

@danielbowen thanks for this. We’ve alerted our management at Flinders St.

As one would hope, they take safety very seriously, and it looks like they’ve solved this problem… by removing the sign.

Non-emergency gate

One can only hope that should there be an emergency, a staffer with a key for the padlock can get down there quickly to unlock it.

PS. I’m speaking at the Wheeler Centre tonight, with Paul Mees and Meredith Sussex, on “Transport and Movement”. Details here.