Tramspotting: B1 and B2 #gunzel

I think it was Lonely Planet that had an entry about transport in Melbourne that bemoaned the fact they are no longer the traditional wooden trams of olde but instead “pneumatic monsters”. They might have been talking about tram numbers 2001 and 2002. They are B-class trams, but with a difference.

Tram 2002

These two were the prototypes, sometimes known (Bananas-in-Pyjamas-like) as B1 class. The other 130 are B2 class.

The two B1s have venetian blinds — which seems positively civilised. Unlike the B2s they have LED destination lights (upgraded, as far as I recall, from flap versions). They were originally built with poles, not pantographs (no regular Melbourne tram still has a pole; they’ve all been replaced by pantographs, which don’t come off the wires so easily, and don’t need changing over at the end of the line).

And unlike the others they make noticeable curious pneumatic noises as they come to a stop.

Steamrail open day

I haven’t been to one of Steamrail’s open days before, but went along with my sister, her kids, and some friends.

I was most amused to find my nephew Leo happily shouting out engine numbers as they steamed past. I might have to get him an anorak and clipboard for his next birthday.

On a turntable, a few Steamrail volunteers were showing how to turn an engine by hand. Unlike in innumerable Thomas The Tank Engine stories, the turntable didn’t spin out of control making the engine moan with dizziness.
Train on turntable

Nearby were lined up a brand new shiny X’Trapolis train (not yet with Metro sticker on the front) and an older one marked “in testing”.
X'trapolis trains

Oh, hello Darling! A swing-door train, built in the 19th century, converted to electric power in the 1920s, and still running in service into the 1970s, now restored.
Swing-door train

One of those old cords that would apparently bring the train to a halt.
No smoking / Cord to stop the train

This Back To The Future Delorean was also on display… the same one seen recently at my friend Andrew’s 40th birthday party, and still very impressive. Apparently they earlier had set it up to recreate a scene from the 3rd movie.

A Hitachi carriage that appears to be being used for filming at present — presumably used for its interior.
Hitachi train used for filming

And of course there were various steam trains chuffing about the place.

Lots of fun. Recommended. (I hear they may not hold the same open days next year, but the next might be in 2014, due to a shortage of volunteers.)

Gunzel heaven: Parallel run

If there’s anything that gunzels get excited about, it’s a parallel run — two trains running in parallel.

It must take an enormous amount of work to organise such a thing: running two heritage trains on two tracks in the same direction (only possible in specific locations), and having them overtake each other repeatedly so that everyone in each train gets a good look at every part of the other.

Of course, it happens regularly with, say, conventional suburban trains, such as this stretch between Caulfield and Moorabbin on the Frankston line.

This section has three tracks. The third track was built in the mid-1980s, and allows peak-hour express trains to overtake stopping trains.

But until quite recently, this had been woefully underused. Inspection of the 2008 timetable shows only 2 express trains overtook stoppers in the morning, and 5 in the afternoon.

The June 2010 timetables finally changed that, with current schedules showing 7 trains overtake in the morning peak, and 13 in the afternoon, thanks to more consistent (mostly) stopping patterns and express trains scheduled well into the evening shoulder-peak period.

But triplicating rail lines is now out of fashion. Because there’s very little stabling in the central city, morning trains need to be shifted back out to the suburbs after the peak, and in the afternoon trains need to be brought back in, resulting in fairly even traffic — so two tracks in one direction and only one in the other doesn’t really work.

Back in 2006 the proposal was to triplicate the Dandenong line. But following a great deal of debate and consideration, now it’s all about making better use of the existing two tracks, by standardising stopping patterns, evening out frequencies and spreading peak loads onto different trains.

And future track expansion is likely to be another pair of tracks, for instance the “Melbourne Metro” tunnel. No doubt when eventually they look at expansion further out, it will also involve an extra two tracks, not just one.


Now, if a Siemens overtaking a Comeng is a bit routine for you, and you want to see an utterly epic triple parallel run, check this video from the 1988 Aus Steam event near Melbourne, featuring Australian steam engines together with the visiting Flying Scotsman.

(By the way, any of you budding Wikipedia editors care to clean up the Aus Steam article? The grammar is terrible.)

A steam train passes

This afternoon I heard steam train whistles, and after some digging, discovered it was R-class R707 headed down to Frankston, and that it would be coming back a little later.

Happy to take a break from the sorting out of paperwork that I’d been doing, I took a punt at the time it would pass back through Bentleigh, and headed down to find a vantage point, settling on a spot near Patterson station.

The train seemed to be coasting through here; it’s probably downhill from the Patterson Road bridge to the Brewer Road underpass.

You’ll note the people on the bridge; they were some of the (other?) trainspotters in attendance nearby.

Steam trains regularly run around Melbourne and Victoria, generally organised by Steamrail and 707 Operations.