Upside down wheelchairs at Melbourne stations

Melbourne’s trains haven’t always been the most accessible for wheelchair and scooter users, but Metro Trains has made some recent changes – some of which seem a little odd.

Train driver assists a scooter user board the train via the portable ramp

Public Transport Victoria has this to say on their website:

The driver will help you board the train by placing a ramp between the platform and the first door of the front carriage.

Customers who need help boarding trains should wait on the platform near the front of the train.

When you reach your destination station, the driver will use a ramp to help you off the train.

At most stations there is a wheelchair waiting area at the end of the platform for that express purpose.

Wheelchair waiting area and rubber platform gap filling strips at the down end of Mitcham platform 2

In addition, at a number of stations the relevant section of the platform has been raised.

Wheelchair ramp added to the Parliament end of Melbourne Central platform 3

This provides ramp free access to the train.

Ramp free access for wheelchairs at the east end of Flinders Street platform 1

A more recent change is adding directional signage at station entrances, directing wheelchair users to the end of the platform.

Backwards facing directions to the wheelchair waiting area of the platform at Seddon

Unfortunately the people doing the work were given dodgy instruction – the signs face a wheelchair passenger that has fallen onto the tracks!

'No bikes in first carriage door' notice at the end of the platform

Thankfully someone in charge noticed, as more recent additions now face in the correct direction.

'Wheelchairs here / no bikes first carriage door' sign at West Footscray station

Footnote

Note the addition of the ‘no bikes in first carriage door’ signs – it has been a rule for many years, but the only way passengers would know about it was if they went digging on the PTV website:

Bikes can be carried free on metropolitan trains.

You cannot board at the first door of the first carriage, as this is a priority area for mobility impaired passengers.

Make sure you keep passageways and doorways clear and try to avoid busy carriages when travelling with your bike.

How much did the City Loop cost to build?

One might think that finding out how much Melbourne’s City Loop cost to build would be a simple task, but with so much conflicting information out there, it was much harder than I expected. So where did I have to look?

Comeng arriving into Melbourne Central platform 4

I started off at Wikipedia, and they put the final cost as $500 million, citing a Metropolitan Transit Authority publication from 1985.

I then stumbled upon the annual reports of the Melbourne Underground Rail Loop Authority, the government body responsible for planning, financing and constructing the Melbourne underground rail loop. Their 1971-72 annual report had the following to say on the cost:

The engineering consortium of John Connell- Mott, Hay & Anderson, Hatch Associates Inc., and Jacobs Associates was commissioned in August 1971 to prepare a pre-design report for the construction of the Loop.

The Consultants presented their report in February 1972. The report was comprehensive and confirmed the basic concept of a four tunnel, three station system. It also included a conceptual design of the Loop and detailed cost estimates therefore, possible variations of the plan (the cost of which does not materially alter the total cost estimate) and detailed proposals for project management under the Authority’s direction.

The construction cost estimate of the basic plan adopted by the Authority is $117.23 million excluding land acquisition which may be separately financed, signalling and communications (which will largely be Victorian Railways’ matters), and administrative and service costs including consultancy fees and interest on monies borrowed. This estimate is based on prices current in the last quarter of 1971.

As early as 1974 concerns had been raised about the completion date being delayed.

In its initial 1971 planning the Authority scheduled the completion of the Loop for mid-1978 to accord with the expectation indicated by the Minister of Transport when the Authority was formed. That completion date was dependent upon the Authority’s loan allocation in each year being sufficient for its planned works programme. Limitations on the Authority’s loan allocation for 1972/3 and 1973/4 have resulted in the date for completion of the Loop being re-scheduled for the end of 1980 – with provision for the first trains to run through it by December, 1978.

The cost of the project had also started to climb.

Due largely to the increases in price of materials and labour that figure has now increased to $162.78 million based on April 1974 prices.

In each of the years that followed, the estimated cost increased and the opening date was moved further back – by mid 1977 the authority was now aiming for the first train to run in late 1979.

The Authority experienced a year of vigorous progress in all sections of the loop. The program was maintained providing for the opening of the Burnley loop and Museum Station in December 1979 and completion of all works in 1982. The estimated cost of the project rose 9% to $328 million reflecting the overall inflationary trend.

As for the cost increases, these were attributed to an increase in project scope, as the 1977-78 MURLA annual report details:

The revised construction cost estimate of the basic plan adopted by the Authority in 1972 (then estimated as $117.23 million at last quarter 1971 prices) is $252.7 million updated to June, 1978, prices. The revised basic construction cost includes the cost of technical improvements including a high quality track support system to minimise vibrations transmitted through the ground to nearby buildings.

Within the provisions of the Melbourne Underground Rail Loop Act 1970, as amended, various changes have been made progressively to the scope of the project which was adopted in 1972. The cost of these items, together with the cost of land acquisition, signalling and communications and administrative and service costs including consultancy fees, updated to June, 1978, prices, is estimated to be $114.3 million.

Both construction and other costs continued to increase in the following years – with the 1979-80 MURLA annual report pushing back the first train even further.

The loops scheduled to be ready for operation in 1980 concurrently with Museum Station are the Burnley and the Caulfield-Sandringham. The Clifton Hill loop / City Circle and Parliament Station are planned to be available for operation by the end of 1981 and the North Melbourne loop and Flagstaff Station by the end of 1982.

In their 1980-81 annual report the authority celebrated the opening of the first part of the loop, but also pushed out the completion date of the remainder of the project.

The west booking hall of Museum Station is planned to be operational in the second quarter of 1982, followed by the south booking hall of Parliament Station in the third quarter. Flagstaff Station and the north booking hall of Parliament Station are planned to be transferred to VicRail during the first quarter of 1983, and the remaining loop for the lines through North Melbourne is planned to be transferred by mid 1983.

In 1983 the new Transport Act was passed and the Melbourne Underground Rail Loop Authority was merged into the newly created Metropolitan Transit Authority, so the 1981-1982 MURLA annual report was their last – construction cost estimates being as follows:

The revised construction cost estimate of the basic plan for the construction of the Loop adopted by the Authority in 1972 (then estimated as $117.23 million at last quarter 1971 prices) is $287.20 million updated to June, 1982 prices. This estimate and the earlier estimate exclude land acquisition, signalling and communications, and administrative and service costs including consultancy fees.

Within the provisions of the Melbourne Underground Rail Loop Act, as amended, various changes have been made progressively (as previously reported) to the scope of the project which was adopted in 1972. The cost of these changes and the exclusions stated above (but not including the cost of land acquired specifically for redevelopment) is currently estimated a $178.90 million. On this basis the total estimate as updated to June, 1982, prices is $466.10 million.

The previous completion date of mid 1983 came and went, so it was the Metropolitan Transit Authority that took the credit in their 1984-85 annual report for the opening of the final stage of the City Loop – only seven years behind the initial estimates made in 1971!

Highlights this year included the opening in May 1985 of Flagstaff, the final station to be completed in the 18km of rail track in the underground Loop. The $650 million Loop project, one of the largest undertakings in Melbourne’s history,carries more than 600 trains per day.

So in the end I’ve got something resembling an answer – the City Loop cost between $500 and $650 million to build at 1985 prices, the exact figure varying if land acquisition, signalling and communications costs (funded by the Victorian Railways) and administrative and service costs (such as consultancy fees and interest on monies borrowed) are included.

A comparison

Run the construction cost figures through the Reserve Bank’s inflation calculator and the City Loop cost $1.3 to $1.7 billion to build at 2013 prices – about the same as adding a lane to the Monash – CityLink – West Gate Freeway corridor between 2007 and 2010.

However a simple indexation won’t tell us how much it would cost to build the City Loop today – construction expenses have risen much faster than inflation in the past decade, which would put the final dollar figure far higher. Alan Davies delves deeper into the issue in his blog posts “Why is infrastructure so bloody expensive?” and “Why do subways cost so much more here than elsewhere?“.

Tracking the cost increases

I have tabulated the “construction” and “total minus interest” figures from each Melbourne Underground Rail Loop Authority annual report – all figures are in $ millions, and have not been adjusted for inflation.

Year Construction only Total, minus interest
1972 117.23 ?
1974 162.78 ?
1975 192.6 255.6
1976 226 301
1977 244 328
1978 252.7 367
1979 260.7 398.4
1980 273.7 426.82
1981 279.4 446.08
1982 287.2 466.1

Sources

Protective Services Officers – towards a surveillance state?

When the promise was made to post two Protective Services Officers to every railway station in Melbourne, the intent was to make passengers feel safe at night time. So why are PSOs now turning into part of a surveillance state?

 Protective Services Officers search two scruffy looking youths at Hoppers Crossing station

The other week on Reddit a poster had this to say about their run-in with a PSO at their local station:

My finance was leaving Ashburton Railway Station yesterday evening and saw a PSO walking around the parking area’s noting down registration numbers of all of the cars parked there for the day. She was a little off-put by this so approached the officer and asked if she had anything to be concerned about.

The PSO replied that they take down all of the registration numbers and then go inside and run them through their computer. Any car that comes up with suspended registration/license will have a patrol car waiting for them to drive off when they get in their car.

Relying on random internet scuttlebutt is a good way to make yourself look stupid, so I went kept an eye out next time I caught a train after 6 PM.

You’d think Sunshine is a place where Protective Services Officers should be keeping an eye out for delinquents, yet both the station platform and concourse were empty.

No PSOs to be found on the station platform or concourse

But when I looked out over the car park, I saw the two PSOs wandering past the rows of cars, scribbling down something in their notebook.

So that's where the PSOs are - noting down the registration plates in the station carpark

I paid a visit to Footscray station at the tail end of evening peak, and saw the same thing taking place.

PSOs noting down the registration plates of parked cars at a railway station carpark

When then Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu made the promise to introduce Protective Services Officers, he had the following to say:

”We’ll turn stations from places of fear into places of safety,” Mr Baillieu said.

”We want anyone – a young girl, an elderly woman – travelling home on the train at night to do so with confidence and not with fear.”

In reality Baillieu’s promise was targeted at namby-pamby Liberal voters who are afraid of youths and anyone who isn’t white, but it does raise the question – how the hell is hunting down deadbeats with unpaid fines making the rail network safer for passengers?

On a serious note

So far I’ve only spotted PSOs jotting down the details of parked cars at the start of their shifts – possibly it is their first task of the night after clocking on, before heading to the station proper when darkness falls.

Two Protective Services Officers and a Victoria Police officer question a passenger at Footscray station

As for the dragnet being thrown over railway stations, in April 2013 The Age ran a piece on PSOs ‘asking too many questions’ – over the course of a year they took down the names and date of birth of 29,000 people, resulting in the arrest of over 500 people for outstanding warrants.

Two PSOs question a passenger, while a Victoria Police officer supervises

In the end, we are on a slippery slope towards a police state – someone with unpaid fines might be the same kind of person responsible for actual criminal activity, but in order to take them off the streets, is it worth losing our freedom to use the rail network without being needlessly questioned by the authorities?

Footnote

I’ve pushed this post out earlier than planned, after The Age published a piece on the topic on February 17, in which they speak to spokespeople from Victoria Police and Liberty Victoria:

“As part of their daily duties, ​Protectives Services Officers regularly check car parks,” police spokesman Inspector Darren Cooper said.

“PSOs will be checking for stolen vehicles, outstanding warrants, outstanding whereabouts, unlicensed and unregistered drivers,” he said.

“The car park is part of a normal, designated patrol area for PSOs, and by doing these checks, it allows them to further ensure safe travel for those using the public transport system, as well as aiding in Victoria Police’s commitment to road safety.”

Liberty Victoria spokesman George Georgiou said the policy represented a significant overreach of police powers, and was an unnecessary intrusion into the privacy of Melbourne’s commuters.

“Whilst we understand that there is be a need for police to deal with persons avoiding their responsibilities to pay fines, register their cars and the like, we see this move to use PSOs in the manner described in the article as overstepping the legitimate functions of PSOs and unnecessarily encroaching upon the right to privacy and freedom of movement of all Victorian commuters,” he said.

My concerns exactly.

False economies at North Melbourne Station?

Last week I looked at the frequently failing escalators at North Melbourne Station, which raises the question – what is causing them to break down so often?

3VL32 runs through North Melbourne under the new concourse

The main concourse at the city end of North Melbourne station opened to passengers in November 2009, and with it came eight brand new escalators to provide access to the six platforms beneath.

Combined with the existing ramps at the north end of the station, the new concourse provided an additional route for passengers to change platforms, as well as aiding access for the disabled by the provision of lifts to each platform. Two escalators and a lift serve each of platform 1, platform 2/3, platform 4/5 and platform 6, with additional staircases also connecting platforms 1 and 6 to the overhead concourse.

As mentioned in my previous post, I first noticed a defective escalator in October 2012, and since then I’ve seen a broken down escalator at North Melbourne at least 16 times – about once every two months.

Escalator 1A 1B 2 3 4 5 6A 6B
Failures 1 3 0 4 0 2 1 5

I have numbered the escalators 1A to 6B – east to west, based on platform number they serve.

Ever bought an escalator?

As with everything in this world, buying the right tool is important – there is no point spending thousands of dollars on something you will only use a couple of times a year, while it is also a waste of money to buy a cheap one that will break after a few hours of heavy use.

The same applies to escalators, with escalator manufacturer Thyssenkrupp dividing their range into three categories:

Commercial
Commercial applications are typically installed in department stores, shopping malls and office buildings. Commercial escalators are typically designed to move thousands of people and yet look elegant.

Heavy Duty
Heavy traffic applications are typically found in convention centres and stadiums where there is a very high traffic volume. These heavy traffic escalators have increased chain and motor sizing.

Transit
Transit applications are typically railway stations, airports and subway stations where there is a very high traffic volume. These transit escalators have a much larger, heavier truss structure, increased chain and motor sizing, heavier step track construction and a larger, heavier handrail drive system.

As you would expect, the designer of a building has to match the number and grade of escalators to the transportation task expected to be placed upon the completed structure – undersized escalators will break down, while oversized escalators are a needless cost for the client.

Back to North Melbourne

I had a closer look at the escalators at North Melbourne, which lead me to ThyssenKrupp – a major escalator manufacturer. After trawling through their data sheets I pinned them down as a ThyssenKrupp ‘Velino’.

ThyssenKrupp 'Velino' escalators at North Melbourne station

Note that the ‘Velino’ is ThyssenKrupp’s commercial grade escalator – their bottom end model which was never meant to be used in a heavy traffic location such as North Melbourne station, where thousands of commuters walk up and down the escalators each day.

In the end, this suggests that the blame for the failing escalators goes all the way back to the design of the station – the level of passenger traffic was underestimated, leaving to undersized escalators being specified, which survived for the first few years, only to progressively fail as the components wear out prematurely.

Conspiracy theory

With my tinfoil hat on, I have an alternate theory – correctly sized escalators were specified as part of the North Melbourne station redevelopment project but the beancounter objected to the cost, leading to lower-specification escalators being substituted instead.

Bonus footnote

Platforms 2-3 and 4-5 have a curious escalator arrangement, with a ‘normal’ width escalator paired with a ‘narrow’ escalator that only just allows two people to pass each other.

Escalator to platform 2/3 at North Melbourne is still out of service

The reason for this was the narrow platforms – if two normal escalators were installed on the platform, where would not have been enough room for wheelchairs to navigate between the escalators and the platform edge. Platforms 1 and 6 didn’t have have that problem, as their width was much greater.

Dud escalators at North Melbourne Station

You don’t have to look far on Melbourne’s rail network to find failure, but the escalators at North Melbourne station would have to take the cake for their endless outages. So how many times have they broken down?

Now the escalator at North Melbourne station platform 6 has died

I first bothered to take a photo of a failed escalator at North Melbourne station on October 10, 2012 – the defective unit was leading to platform 2/3.

Escalator out of use at North Melbourne station in the leadup to morning peak

November 21, 2012 an escalator to platform 1 broke.

One day on: escalator still broken at North Melbourne

And stayed that way for a day.

Two days on: escalator still broken at North Melbourne

Staff put up an ‘out of order until further notice’ sign, with the escalator still being broken three days after the initial fault.

Escalator 'out of order until further notice' - what a joke

A few weeks later on November 26, 2012 the other escalator to platform 1 broke down.

You just fixed the other escalator at North Melbourne, and now the neighbouring one is broken?

On December 5 the escalator for platform 6 was next to fail.

Now the escalator for platform 6 at North Melbourne is broken

A few months went by without me noticing a failed escalator, when on March 27, 2013 I discovered a hand written sign advising passengers of the fact.

Another day, another failed escalator at North Melbourne station

A few days on, and that escalator to platform 1 was still broken.

A few days on, the escalator at North Melbourne station platform 1 still broken

Two weeks later the escalator was still kaput, when I took this photo on April 10.

Escalator at North Melbourne station platform 1 still broken!

Fast forward to late 2013, and I spotted an out of service escalator to platform 6 on December 23.

Out of service escalator leading from North Melbourne platform 6

January 8, 2014 the same escalator broke yet again.

Escalator to North Melbourne platform 6 broken yet again

Staff wrote out a sign telling passengers to use the staircase or lift to exit the platform.

Notice that the escalator to North Melbourne platform 6 is broken yet again

April 30, 2014 an escalator to platform 2 and 3 died.

Broken down escalator at North Melbourne platform 2 and 3

May 30, 2014 the escalator leading to platform 6 died again, leading some wag to write “Is this a joke” on the sign.

Broken escalator leading to North Melbourne platform 6

Metro Trains must have picked up on the plague of escalator failures, as they printed up some fancy looking posters to take the place of the handwritten signs.

Escalators out of order again at North Melbourne platform 6

But two days later on July 4, that sign was still there.

Escalators still out of order at North Melbourne platform 6

On August 12, 2014 it was the turn of platform 1 to receive the new ‘Escalators out of order’ posters.

Escalator at North Melbourne station platform 1 is dead yet again

Two days later platform 6 snatched it back.

Now the escalator at North Melbourne station platform 6 has died

Platform 2 went belly up on October 28, 2014.

Escalator to platform 2/3 at North Melbourne is still out of service

A day later the fancy ‘out of order’ sign was out, but no mechanics to fix the fault.

Escalator to platform 2/3 at North Melbourne is still out of service

With so many photos of failed escalators I am now starting to run out of witty captions – this was platform 6 on November 11.

Escalators to North Melbourne platform 6 out of order yet again

Platforms 4 and 5 appear to be the least trouble prone – this photo was from December 1, 2014.

Yet another escalator out of service at North Melbourne platforms 4 and 5

In the race to fail, with platform 2 and 3 racking up another win on February 3, 2015.

This time an escalator at North Melbourne platform 2/3 has broken down

At least this time there was technician there to fix it – they needed to pull out the electronics box at the top end.

Technicians having to fix the dodgy escalators at North Melbourne yet again

So which escalator failed the most?

Collating the data found above gives me this table. I have numbered the escalators 1A to 6B – east to west, based on platform number they serve.

Escalator 1A 1B 2 3 4 5 6A 6B
Failures 1 3 0 4 0 2 1 5

Looks like platform 6 is the big dud!

October 2012 to February 2015 is 29 months, and in that time I’ve seen the escalators at North Melbourne break at least 16 times – so that is once every two months. I’ve been working in Melbourne CBD Monday to Friday for that entire time, which suggests that the number of escalators failures could be higher, but probably not by a massive amount.

Finally, of the other railway stations I pass through, neither Southern Cross or the City Loop stations appear to have as escalators that fail as frequently – is there something in the water at North Melbourne?