‘Altostrat’ – Google’s fictitious company

Microsoft is well known for their long list of fictional companies – the name of which crop up often in the documentation for their software. However they aren’t the only company to do so – Google has a fake company of their own – ‘Altostrat’.

WHOIS for AltoStrat.com domain via DomainTools

The altostrat.com domain itself was created in November 2007.

A quick Google Search brings up this intranet page for ‘Project Eggplant‘ at Altostrat.

'Project Eggplant' homepage - a Google Sites example site

It also brings up the homepage of ‘Altostrat Pediatrics‘.

Homepage for 'Altostrat Pediatrics' - another Google Sites example site

The Altostrat name makes an appearance in this Google tutorial on ‘Configure Google Apps for Calendar Interop‘.

'Altostrat' mentioned in a Google tutorial on Google Apps

And this tutorial on ‘Publish a private Chrome app‘.

'Altostrat' mentioned in a Google tutorial for building Chrome apps

So where did the name come from?

Getting to the bottom of the mystery

When I filter the Google search results to exclude pages before February 2008, the number of ‘Altostrat’ mentions falls off a cliff.

'Altostrat' is Google Search results page

Why is that date significant? Turns out Google launched their new ‘Google Sites’ product on February 28, 2008.

Google launched Google Sites, basically a relaunch of Jotspot but with many more features. In short, this new software allows teams to share much like you could with Microsoft’s SharePoint.

According to TechCrunch, it took 16 months to relaunch Jotspot as Google Sites, so the registration of the domain in November 2007 fits with the same development timelines.

So my final explanation – Altostrat was an internal name used by the Google Sites team during the redevelopment of their product, and has been reused by others at Google in the years that have followed.

Penny-pinching at Craigieburn station

Since September 2007 suburban electric trains have served the northern Melbourne suburb of Craigieburn, but the infrastructure that allows them to do so is a mere shadow of that originally planned a decade ago.

Alstom Comeng arrives into platform 2 at Craigieburn with a terminating service

The early plans

I found a presentation dated March 2004 on the Craigieburn Rail Project, authored by the Department of Infrastructure. They summarised the works as follows:

As part of the State Government’s “Linking Victoria” policy the Craigieburn Rail Electrification project will:

  • Provide high quality and accessible public transport to the Craigieburn urban growth corridor –anticipated 38% increase in population by 2021
  • Contribute to the Government’s 20/2020 target of increased public transport mode share
  • Improve access and integration between Craigieburn,Roxburgh Park and Broadmeadows activity centres
  • Extend frequent rail services beyond Broadmeadows connecting direct to the City Loop

Roxburgh Park

  • A new station will be provided at Roxburgh Park complete with bus interchange and car parking facilities


  • There will be an extensive remodelling of the existing Craigieburn station to provide three new platforms with Premium Station facilities again including bus interchange facilities and the existing car park will be extended
  • Train stabling will be provided north of Craigieburn station in a new secure facility
  • Available land at Craigieburn to provide for future expansion with ultimate capacity of up to 14 trains-sets and a potential maintenance facility

The plans for a three platform station at Craigieburn caught my eye.

2004 concept for Craigieburn station: north-south cross section

The main station building would still be on the ‘town’ side of the station, like what was eventually built, but access to the platforms would be via a pedestrian underpass.

2004 concept for Craigieburn station: east-west cross section

In addition the third platform would allow suburban trains to terminate clear of the main line, enabling V/Line trains towards Seymour to continue through unimpeded.

Cutting the scope of the project

The extension of suburban trains to Craigieburn was costed at $98 million, but in July 2005 The Age had revealed that the scope of the project had been cut:

Car parking at Roxburgh Park Station has been slashed from 400 spaces to 138. A planned yard at the station has been reduced in capacity from five train sets to two, and cheaper building materials have been used for parts of the roof.

But the biggest cut was at Craigieburn station:

At the Craigieburn station the original plan provided for platforms on either side of the tracks, linked by a pedestrian overpass. But under the revised plan, the eastern platform has been scrapped and instead of an overpass there will be a pedestrian level crossing, forcing passengers arriving from the east to walk across the tracks.

With construction delays being the result:

The project is also behind schedule because of the redesign. Work was to have started last year but is yet to get under way. The 2006 completion date appears unlikely to be met.

Cutting the ribbon

A few years later and with an extra $17 million spent, suburban trains finally rolled into Craigieburn on 30 September 2007.

Premier John Brumby today launched a new era of public transport for people in Melbourne’s outer northern suburbs with the commencement of metropolitan services along a newly electrified line from Broadmeadows to Craigieburn.

Premier John Brumby today launched a new era of public transport for people in Melbourne’s outer northern suburbs with the commencement of metropolitan services along a newly electrified line from Broadmeadows to Craigieburn.

Mr Brumby, also Member for Broadmeadows, said the completion of the Victorian Government’s $115 million Craigieburn rail extension project was an historic day for people in Craigieburn, Roxburgh Park and nearby areas. “This is a great day for people living or working in Craigieburn, Roxburgh Park and surrounding suburbs and delivers on our commitment to provide greater public transport services for people in Melbourne’s outer north,” Mr Brumby said.

The completion of the new Roxburgh Park station and the new line to an upgraded Craigieburn station also paves the way for construction of another new station at Coolaroo which we funded in the 2007/08 State Budget and will complete by 2010.

Ms Kosky said the new Craigieburn line meant Melbourne’s outer north now had an integrated public transport network. “The new services will provide eight services to the city in the morning peak, compared with three V/Line services before,” Ms Kosky said.

Despite the spiel from the government, the facilities initially provided at Craigieburn were spartan – the facilities on platform 1 were left in a decrepit state, with only platform 2 being rebuilt for suburban trains.

New and old platforms at Craigieburn

In addition only a single crossover between tracks was provided – a configuration that only permitted suburban trains to use platform 2. As a result, whenever a Seymour-bound V/Line service passed through Craigieburn, any waiting suburban trains had to be emptied of passengers, and then shunted into the sidings to clear the track.

A year after opening, the extension of suburban trains to Craigieburn was a success:

Acting Public Transport Minister Tim Pallas said the success of the Craigieburn electrification project was already apparent, as local train patronage continued to grow.

“Melbourne’s outer northern suburbs have grown significantly in the past few years. Validations at Craigieburn Station have tripled since the same time last year, with more than 31,000 people boarding at the station in July this year.

The government also found some money to finish the job proposed back in 2004:

Mr Pallas said investment was continuing in this region as construction now begins on the second stage of the Craigieburn train stabling project.

“The electrification to Craigieburn included stabling, or storage to accommodate new train services. The second stage of works will now include stabling to house an extra six trains, track and signal work, and a building for train drivers and maintenance staff,” Mr Pallas said.

The upgrades included the rebuilding and electrification of platform 1, as well as the provision of an extra crossover between the two tracks – changes that allowed V/Line trains bound for Seymour to overtake suburban services.

Sprinter 7016 and classmate arrive into Craigieburn

Unfortunately a fourth crossover at the country end of the station was not added, so V/Line trains from Seymour still get cannot overtake suburban services.

Work also started on a new station at Coolaroo, located midway between Roxburgh Park and Broadmeadows.

New footbridge in place at Coolaroo station

Back at Craigieburn, the stabling yard for suburban trains was enlarged.

Looking down the Craigieburn sidings at the stabled sparks

And an additional track was built to allow simultaneous arrivals and departures into the yard.

Signals governing entry to Craigieburn Yard hiding beneath the Hume Highway bridge

The final icing was the 2010 decision to build a complete train maintenance facility at Craigieburn.

Craigieburn in Melbourne’s north will become home to one of largest and most modern train maintenance facilities in Australia. Public Transport Minister Martin Pakula said the new maintenance facility would include housing for 17 trains, maintenance train roads and a new train wash plant which would use water captured off the buildings roof.

“This facility will be one of the largest in the country; it will have the capacity for 25 trains to be onsite at any one time,” Mr Pakula said.

Works are already well underway at Craigieburn, with construction of the new train wash facility, driver amenities, power sub-station and additional stabling roads all progressing.

Work on the massive shed started soon after.

Maintenance shed at Craigieburn taking shape

Work on the maintenance facility was completed by 2011 – here is a a diagram of the completed yard at Craigieburn.

Looking down on Craigieburn Yard from the north

As for the third platform and footbridge access proposed for Craigieburn back in 2004, we’re still waiting.

Hiding in plain sight at Craigieburn

Craigieburn station has an interesting feature.

Street frontage of Craigieburn station

Head onto platform 2.

Main entry to the platform at Craigieburn station

And you’ll notice a ‘land bridge’ linking the platform with the station concourse.

Land bridge links Craigieburn platform 2 with the station concourse

The bridge crosses land reserved for the future third platform, to be located on the western side of the tracks.

Land bridge links Craigieburn platform 2 with the station concourse

Even the rear edge of the existing platform is ready for the future third track.

Face of future platform 3 at Craigieburn


In the decade since suburban trains started running to Craigieburn, the Victorian Government department responsible for transport has had the following names:

  • Department of Infrastructure
  • Department of Transport
  • Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure
  • Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources

Do you reckon they could cram another title into the next department rebranding?

Melbourne Airport and de-icing in cold weather

Earlier this week the temperature in Victoria plummeted, with a low of -0.6C being recorded at Melbourne Airport on Monday 20 July. The result – aircraft being covered with ice, and major flight delays due to trouble removing it. So what made the ice so hard to move?

Waiting at the gate, Qatar Airways A321-231 rego A7-AIA

Aircraft de-icing is pretty simple – airports located in places much colder than Australia have the process down pat.

Applying de-icing fluid to the wings of our jet

But back in sunny Australia ice and snow isn’t something we encounter in urban areas, so Qantas ran into some trouble getting their planes ready to fly, as this Herald Sun article illustrates:

Perth-bound Qantas passengers were stranded at Melbourne Airport for four hours as the airline struggled to remove ice from its planes after its “de-icing truck” malfunctioned.

The airline said at 7.30am that freezing conditions had caused ice to build up on aircraft wings, delaying nine flights for up to 40 minutes.

An icy low -0.6C was recorded at Melbourne Airport at 6.30am, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

But the apparent temperature — taking into account wind and humidity — dropped to as low as -5.1C at 3.30am.

Qantas said there had been “issues with the de-icing truck”, but would not elaborate on the problem.

Passengers booked on the airline’s 6.30am flight QF774 to Perth told the Herald Sun were stuck in Melbourne until about 11.30am as the airline worked to remove ice from an aircraft.

Melbourne man Jamie Lingham, who flies to WA weekly for work, said he had been told by Qantas that the truck used to remove ice from planes had broken down.

“They said they wouldn’t be able to hose off the ice, because it would just freeze,” he said.

“And the specialist truck used to remove ice is broken as well.”

Mr Lingham said Qantas attendants told him just before 10.30am that extra fuel had been pumped through the aircraft’s wings to try and get rid of the ice build-up. But this had caused the plane to become too heavy.

“Now the aircraft is overweight and they’re asking for 45 volunteers to wait and fly this afternoon or tomorrow,” he said.

I stumbled upon Qantas’ de-icing truck back in 2012, parked beneath terminal 1.

De-icing truck operated by Qantas - it doesn't see much use...

With the lack of ice in Melbourne I can see why it doesn’t see much use, but given how critical a de-icing truck is in bad weather, a little proactive maintenance can’t hurt.


Apparently Qantas acquired their de-icing unit back in 2006:

After many years of winter icing delays and from QF Mel engineering there is finally a de-icing unit in Mel, but only after a six months plus capital expenditure approval process from boffinsville in Syd.

Melbourne Airport has their de-icing policy online – note the concerns about run off into the environment:

Melbourne Airport has an extensive network of storm water drains that discharge directly into the surrounding water catchments of Moonee Ponds Creek, Deep Creek, Arundel Creek and Steele Creek.

Melbourne Airport is empowered to maintain environmental (disposal of waste) standards under the Airports (Environmental Protection) Regulations 1997 and the Environment Protection Act 1970.

Airline carriers / ground handlers will be required to develop an appropriate de-icing procedure that provides for minimal use of glycol-based de-icing products.

The procedures must provide for the protection of the storm water system through bundling, or some other form of containment, as well as a mechanism such as vacuuming to collect the effluent and clean the bay at the completion of the de-icing process.

Airports that ice up on a regular basis avoid this problem by installing special bays to de-ice aircraft and collect any runoff.

Failed port shuttle trains in Melbourne

For residents of the inner west of Melbourne, the endless procession of trucks carrying containers from the Port of Melbourne has been concern for many years. One proposed solution is the operation of port shuttle trains, which could carry containers directly from the wharves to ‘inland ports’ on existing industrial land, where the cargo will then be distributed to factories and warehouses. So why are such services not running today?

Containers flats in the common user sidings at Appleton Dock

Turns out the operation of port shuttle trains has been tried before in Melbourne, and failed. “Shaping Melbourne’s Freight Future“, a discussion paper published by the Department of Transport in April 2010, has more to say on the topic:

The Victorian Port Strategic Study (2000) provided a comprehensive assessment of the land use and infrastructure requirements of the major commercial ports in Victoria.

The Study identified strong container trade growth forecasts for the Port of Melbourne and emphasised the important role to be played by inland intermodal terminals in the future in handling this growth. The Study estimated the mode share of rail in the transfer of port related freight at that time to be approximately 10% and predicted a progressive modal shift to rail.

In relation to the State’s ports and rail systems, it announced an aspirational target that would see the proportion of freight transported to and from ports by rail increase from 10% to 30% by the end of the decade (i.e. 2010).

A number of private sector interests became involved in efforts to develop rail shuttle services to the Port of Melbourne. Some invested considerable time and resources in attempting to establish such services. Despite these efforts, the establishment of viable port shuttle services in Melbourne has not occurred to date and as a result, significant progress against the 30% port rail mode share target has not been possible.

The paper detailed the failed train service that operated between the Port of Melbourne and the CRT container terminal at Altona, to the west of Melbourne.

The only port shuttle trains to have operated for a reasonable length of time in Melbourne ran between 2003 and 2006, between the privately owned CRT terminal in Altona and the Port of Melbourne, a rail journey of about 22 km.

CRT had been attempting to operate port-rail shuttles since 2000 in a way which reflected successful Sydney operations.

In 2004/05, CRT’s Port Shuttle service transported 13,000 TEUs to and from the Port, which would otherwise have been transported using over 4,000 road truck movements via the West Gate Bridge.

However, during this period, import utilisation of the service was only 42 per cent of capacity and export utilisation was 58 per cent, compared with CRT’s goal of 85 percent utilisation. (Inquiry into Managing Transport Congestion, 2005).

The short distance between the Port of Melbourne and Altona was seen as an impediment against the success of the service.

Because the short shuttle trains occupied the same effective path space on the ARTC network as a long interstate freight train, CRT was charged access fees on the same basis as those paid by interstate operators. The Port Shuttle service also faced far higher port handling charges – reportedly up to $72 per forty foot container compared with $3 for containers delivered by road trucks.

The impediments faced by the CRT Port Shuttle service were particularly damaging on the Port-Altona corridor as the road distance on this corridor is far shorter than the rail distance (the standard gauge rail line takes a circuitous route via Newport, Brooklyn and Tottenham). Overall, the Port-Altona route is the shortest of the three main intermodal corridors in Melbourne, and conditions would need to be favourable for it to be viable.

The paper also describes the lack of success establishing a rail service to a similar facility at Somerton, to the north of Melbourne.

Austrack commenced development of the Somerton terminal in 1998, with the terminal itself occupying 21ha within a larger “freight village”.

The Somerton intermodal terminal includes four 750 metre dual gauge rail sidings, connected to the main standard gauge Sydney line and the broad gauge Victorian track to Seymour, Shepparton and Tocumwal. These terminal connections are to and from the north only, showing expectations of interstate rail movements.

While the terminal operation works well as a road-only shuttle terminal, several unsuccessful attempts have been made to initiate port rail shuttles.

Finally, the paper summarised the lessons learnt from the failed port shuttle services.

Despite considerable effort devoted by Government to establishing appropriate policy settings and by the private sector in attempting to operate metropolitan intermodal services in Melbourne, success has not been achieved to date.

Whilst there appears to have been a desire on the part of the private sector to operate port shuttles and on the part of customers to use the service when competitive, a range of factors have militated against the establishment of such services.

These have included:

  • Prevailing access pricing and priorities which favoured large, long-distance interstate trains over port shuttle trains;
  • Lack of certainty in securing train pathways;
  • An inability to defray rail capital and operating costs across a metropolitan-wide port shuttle network, resulting in poor utilisation of available container slots on the trains and
    higher costs than road;
  • Poorer service levels and higher charges for containers handled by rail at the port interface compared with road;
  • Inefficient port interface arrangements due to inadequate rail track infrastructure and
    stevedoring practices; and
  • Road trucks being able to avoid City Link tolls by using local roads

But despite the previous failures, the paper had one positive note regarding future services.

It is notable that the Dandenong corridor, despite being considered by Sd+D (Melbourne Intermodal System Study 2008) to be the most conducive to a viable rail shuttle operation and the existence of some private sector interest, has never been tested.

This has also meant that the prospective strength of the Dandenong corridor has never been leveraged to assist in achieving viability on the apparently weaker Altona and Somerton corridors.

Giving it another go

In the 2014-15 State Budget funding was made available for the establishment of Port-Rail Shuttle services as the ‘Metropolitan Intermodal System’.

Port-Rail Shuttle services (the Metropolitan Intermodal System) will improve the efficiency of containerised freight transport throughout Melbourne by connecting the port to major outer suburban freight hubs by the existing rail network.

The 2014-15 State Budget provided $20 million, along with $38 million from the Commonwealth Government, towards developing the project. It is anticipated that the private sector will also invest in the project.

The project will deliver:

  • intermodal freight terminals located within dedicated freight and logistics precincts in the south west, north and south east
  • a dedicated rail transfer facility for containers at the port dedicated shuttle trains using off-peak rail network capacity
  • business systems necessary to manage information and operations across the network.

The Metropolitan Intermodal System will be operated by the private sector.

Development of an effective Metropolitan Intermodal System will result in efficient freight movements across the city. It is estimated that at least 2,400 trucks a day will be removed from the road network, which is around 10 per cent of all port-based truck movements.

A market engagement process will commence in 2014. Port-Rail Shuttle services are expected to be operational by 2017.

With planned inland ports at Somerton, Lyndhurst and Altona we can only hope that the second attempt at port shuttle trains succeeds, and removes trucks from Melbourne’s increasingly busy roads.

J102 and J103 at Newport return from CRT Altona

Further reading

The full “Shaping Melbourne’s Freight Future” discussion paper can be found here.

How many blog posts do I write in a year?

I’ve just sat down and run the numbers – if I continue at my current blog posting rate, after one year I will have published a total of 142 new entries!

Pile of unopened mX newspapers after the evening peak is over

My current posting schedule is as follows:

As to how I managed to churn out so many blog posts, I don’t actually sit down at the same time every weekend and type out the posts for the next week. Instead, my workflow is as flows:

Step 1:

Add an entry to my ever increasing list of prospective blog post topics. Normally they are just links to newspaper articles, interesting reports in PDF format, or a collection of photos I’m intending to write more about.

Step 2:

Dig through my list of draft entries until I find something that grabs my interest, then start writing and further research.

Step 3:

Hit a roadblock and procrastinate. Writers block, a dead end on the research front, or a lack of photos are common causes.

Step 4 (optional):

Realise I have bitten off more than I can chew for one blog post, and spin off part of it into a future post. A variant of this is when I find other interesting bits and pieces while researching one subject, resulting in a new entry being added to my list of prospective topics.

Step 5:

Decide the post is finished, and put it into my pending articles pile.

Step 6:

Dig through my pending articles pile, and add them to my list of scheduled posts.

Step 7:

You eventually see the article online.


So how long does my workflow take?

My recent ‘Fairness in PTV fare evasion penalties?‘ post started as a draft back in December 2014, and required three separate editing sessions to polish up.

My ‘Where does Geelong’s sewage go?‘ was a much bigger job, being almost two years in the making – I started it way back in August 2013, spent some time on it in December 2014, then polished it off in July 2015.