A street so new it isn’t on the map

Despite my love of the Melway, there are some days when I can’t be bothered walking over to my bookshelf full of them and looking up a street, so instead I turned to the “electric street directory” that is Google Maps. However on this occasion, I was searching for a street so new I couldn’t find it on the map.

Zacara Place not found in Google Maps

When looking for a major street like Bourke Street, Google beings up a page featuring a map, photos, and an extract from Wikipedia.

Bourke Street displayed in Google Maps

If you search for a minor street, you don’t get the photos, but you do get a map.

Duke Street displayed in Google Search

But in the case of Zacara Court in Deer Park, the search results were just real estate listings.

Non relevant search results for 'Zacara Place' as well

Until I reached the bottom of the first page, when two links to streetdirectory.com.au appeared.

Relevant search results for Zacara Place in Google

I clicked through, and I was now looking at imagery from the 2010 edition of the Melway, and an empty paddock.

Zacara Place not found in the Melway

But when I zoomed it, I finally found the street I was looking for.

Zacara Place finally found at streetdirectory.com.au

Is mapping really that hard?

The source of truth

I almost forgot about the official Victorian Register of Geographic Names – the VICNAMES database.

Zacara Court on the Victorian Register of Geographic Names

As you might expect for a public road, Zacara Court was easy to find.

Footnote

Thanks to Mike in the comments for picking up my incorrect use of Zacara Place instead of the correct Zacara Court – in both cases a Google Search doesn’t include a direct link to Google Maps.

Non relevant search results for Zacara Place on Google

Thankfully my confusion around the type of street doesn’t change the outcome of this blog post!

Fixing my blog robot

One thing you might not know about this site is that I don’t actually wake up each morning and type up a new blog post – I actually write them ahead of time, and set them up to be published at a future time. Unfortunately this doesn’t always work, such as what happened to me a few weeks ago.

XPT derailed outside Southern Cross - July 11, 2014

I use WordPress to host my various blog sites, and it has a feature called “scheduled posts” – set the time you want the post to go online, and in theory they’ll magically appear in the future, without any manual intervention.

For this magic to happen, WordPress has to regularly check what time it is, check if any posts are due to be published, and if so, publish them – a process that is triggered in two different ways:

  • run the check every time someone visits the site, or
  • run the check based on a cron job (scheduled task)

The first option is unreliable because it delays page load times, and you can’t count on people visiting a low traffic web site, so the second option is what I put in place when setting up my server.

I first encountered troubles with my scheduled posts in early April.

My initial theory was that a recently installed WordPress plugin was to blame, running at the same time as the scheduled post logic and slowing it down.

I removed the plugin, and scheduled posts on this site started to work again – I thought it was all fixed.

However, a few weeks later I discovered that new entries for my Hong Kong blog were missing in action.

I took a look the the config for my cron job, and it seemed to be correct.

*/2 * * * * curl http://example.com/wp-cron.php > /dev/null 2>&1

I hit the URL featured in the command, and it triggered the publication of a new blog post – so everything good on that front!

I then dug a bit deeper, and ran the curl command directly on my server.

user@server:~$ curl http://example.com/wp-cron.php
<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//IETF//DTD HTML 2.0//EN">
<html><head>
<title>301 Moved Permanently</title>
</head><body>
<h1>Moved Permanently</h1>
<p>The document has moved 
<a href="http://www.example.com/wp-cron.php">here</a>.
</p>
<hr>
<address>Apache Server at example.com Port 80</address>
</body></html>

Bingo – I had found my problem!

Turns out I had previous added a non-www to www redirect for the website in question via a new .htaccess rule – and by default curl doesn’t follow HTTP redirects.

The end result was my cron job hitting a URL, finding a redirect but not following it, resulting in the PHP code never being executed, and my future dated blog posts laying in limbo.

my fix was simple – update my cron job to hit the www. version of the URL, and since then, my future dated blog posts have all appeared on the days they were supposed to.

About the lead photo

The train in the lead photo is the Melbourne-Sydney XPT – on 11 July 2014 it derailed near North Melbourne Station due to a brand new but poorly designed turnout.

Lost dog in the middle of the highway

This is the story about the day I took my cat to the vet, and found a lost dog along the way.

The scared little dog I found running around on the road

It was a wet and windy day, and I had the cat locked away in a plastic travel box on the back seat of the car. I was driving down Ballarat Road, and as I approached the intersection with Duke Street in Braybrook, I saw a dog run across the three lanes of in the middle of a 70 km/h zone, narrowly missing traffic, then stop in the middle of the median strip.

Corner of Ballarat Road and Duke Street, Braybrook

I had to slow down to miss the dog, so I pulled over into the empty right hand turn lane. I ummed and arred about stopping to pick him up, when the dog made a break for it across the other three lanes of traffic, and disappeared into the bushes on the other side of the road – a second lucky break for the dog!

Bushes beside Ballarat Road

By this point I figured I might as well get out in the rain and track down the dog, especially since I was already on my way to the vet.

After parking my car on the other side of the road, I saw the dog shivering and wet beneath the bushes, but it was too afraid to come out. I then remembered the bag of cat food in the car, so I grabbed a handful, and eventually I coaxed the little dog into by arms.

I then had the realisation – how am I supposed to drive across town with both a dog and a cat inside my car! Luckily there was a shopping strip nearby, so I headed over and asked if they had any cardboard boxes, which I was able to put the dog into.

It was now time to get back in the car, and the cat in the back didn’t seem to be any the wiser. However for me, the dog wasn’t happy about staying in the box – as I drove down the road, he kept on trying to poke his paws out, followed by his head. I had to pull over the car and try to cram him back in, but my attempts were in vain – i admitted defeat, and let him ride on the front seat.

The scared little dog I found running around on the road

I eventually made it to the vet, and left the car in the car as I carried the dog in my arms into the vet. After a quick checkup the dog was given a clean bill of health, and the vet found a microchip, so the odds of him finding his way home were good.

As for the cat, she just needed a few routine vaccinations, then was on her way back home.

Cat in the box

Follow up

My wife rung up the vet latter that day to see what happened to the dog – turns out the vet couldn’t find the owner via the microchip register, so had to send him off to the Lost Dogs Home at North Melbourne.

On lost pets

Apparently not all vets are allowed to ring the owners of lost animals when their details come up via microchip, thanks to the Domestic Animal Act (1994).

A state law means that vets cannot reunite lost animals with their owners, much to the dismay of pet owners
Estelle Griepink And David Jeans
May 05, 2015

In Yarra Ranges, vets have come under criticism for refusing to scan the microchips of lost animals due to the little-known state law that fines clinics $700 for contacting the owners instead of notifying an animal pound.

Hundreds of people had blasted a vet on Facebook recently for refusing to scan the microchip of a lost pet found in Launching Place.

But posters on the Yarra Valley Noticeboard page were unaware that, under the Domestic Animal Act (1994), only vets with a S84Y agreement with councils were allowed to tell owners they have their pet.

I’ve also discovered that there are FIVE different registries for microchipped animals – too bad if someone looking up your lost dog only checks four of them, and your dog is listed with the registry they missed.

Bendigo Metro and the useless station at Epsom

In recent years Bendigo have been the recipient of many dubious rail upgrades – first was a few million on a new station at Epsom, followed by the promise of Bendigo Metro Rail. So why are these ‘upgrades’ on such shaky ground?

R761 and R707 at Bendigo

The story starts in November 2010, when the Coalition promised to build a new railway station at Epsom if they won the 2010 state election.

Train station for Epsom planned
Lauren Henry
November 11, 2010

The Coalition plan to build a new train station at Epsom, if they are elected at the state election. Coalition spokesman for transport Terry Mulder, in Epsom this morning, said the station would include a 160 metre platform, 100 sealed car parks and 95 train services. Mr Mulder said the Epsom Station would be built by 2013.

Mr Mulder said the Coalition would also employ staff for a renovated Eaglehawk station, and provide more train services and 100 sealed car parks. He said both Epsom and Eaglehawk upgraded facilities would cost $6 million, plus $2 million for more train services and $250,000 for boom gates.

I saw the proposal as an half-witted brain fart trotted out as an election stunt, with no thought given to how the new station would be served with trains, yet alone fit into the existing V/Line rail network.

The problems with Epsom

Epsom is located on the existing V/Line serivce to Echuca, which only receives one train each way Monday-Friday, and two trains on Saturdays and Sundays – a railway station is useless if no trains serve it! A problem then, but surmountable if the existing Bendigo services were extended north by one station to serve Epsom.

However, building a station at Epsom had an extra sting in the tail – the existing station at Eaglehawk, a northern Bendigo suburb on the line towards Swan Hill.

V/Line stations north of Bendigo: Epsom and Eaglehawk

At the time of Epsom station being proposed, Eaglehawk only received a token train service – the twice daily Swan Hill train stopped there on the way through, as well as a handful of Bendigo trains extended one station to the north.

You might naively ask:

Why not alternate existing Bendigo services to terminate at either Eaglehawk or Epsom. Both stations would still get a reasonable service without requiring any extra infrastructure south of Bendigo.

Here is a hypothetical example of a Bendigo resident catching the train to Melbourne:

Bendigo to Epsom is about 7 km by road, as is Bendigo to Eaglehawk and Epsom to Eaglehawk.

Imagine you drove to Eaglehawk station to catch a train into Melbourne for a day out. You have lunch, do some shopping, then decide to come home. Lets check the timetable to see what train we can catch:

Bendigo line V/Line timetable circa 2010

Lets catch the 1515 you say. That goes to Bendigo. OH WAIT! It goes to Epsom, and our car is at Eaglehawk. I’ve got to wait an hour until the 1615.

This leaves us at the crux of the matter – you can’t serve two places with a single train!

Jarrett Walker, transit planning consultant and author of ‘Human Transit’, has this to say about how transit is like a river:

We should suspicious whenever we see a branch drawn as though one line can effortlessly divide into two equal lines. Often, such a branch will be called an extension, a very slightly misleading word because it suggests that an existing, known quantity of service is being extended. In fact, a branch always means one of three things.

Either:

  • points beyond the branching point have less frequent service or
  • one of the branches operates as a shuttle, requiring a connection, or
  • in a few rare cases, the train itself comes apart, with some cars proceeding along one branch and some along the other.

Across Victoria, examples of all three branching strategies can be found:

  • Beyond Ringwood station, services alternate between Lilydale and Belgrave,
  • Off-peak Alamein services operate as a shuttle, connecting to mainline services at Camberwell,
  • Ararat and Maryborough services split at Ballarat, and continue as separate trains.

For anyone who has had to use the above services, you already know they are sub-optimal solutions.

Note that in the latter case, V/Line doesn’t allow passengers to stay on board while trains are joined and split – everyone gets turfed out onto the platform for a couple of minutes, even in the middle of a bitterly cold Ballarat winter!

Making stupid ideas reality

In May 2013 it was announced that Epsom station would go ahead.

Epsom to receive a railway station in 2015
Blair Thomson
May 7, 2013

A new train station will be built and operational at Epsom in two years. The $9-million station was announced in today’s state budget and aims to improve public transport access in North Bendigo. Local rail services will also undergo a shake-up, with Epsom and Eaglehawk to become terminuses for some services.

Construction started in mid-2014:

Epsom station on track
Hannah Knight
June 17, 2014

Public Transport Minister Terry Mulder has turned the first sod on the new Epsom Train Station project.

With the official opening of Epsom station held on October 11, 2014.

Epsom train station officially opens
Hannah Carrodus
October 11, 2014

Minister for Public Transport Terry Mulder said the $7.76 million Epsom and Eaglehawk Rail Improvements were a great example of the wider benefits a station can bring to a regional growth area.

“Tomorrow, we’ll see this is not just a $7.76 million investment in a station; we’ll see this is a $7.76 million investment in the people of Greater Bendigo,” Mr Mulder said.

Liberal candidate for Bendigo East Greg Bickley said that people in the growing Epsom area were looking forward to using the new station when services begin tomorrow.

“Four months ago work started on this project, and now we’re just one day from being able to jump on a train,” Mr Bickley said.

“The community has rallied behind the new station, and I’m sure there will be a few very excited people ready to make the historic 10.10am trip to Bendigo and on to Melbourne tomorrow morning.”

Mr Mulder said that there would be four trains a day stopping at Epsom, with two services heading to Melbourne and two services coming from Melbourne.

Turns out two trains each way per day to Epsom wasn’t enough to entice local residents to get out of their cars.

Empty Epsom has Jacinta Allan seeing red
Adam Holmes
November 4, 2014

Just three weeks after it opened, each of the 100 car parks at Epsom Railway Station were empty halfway through a Monday morning.

Member for Bendigo East Jacinta Allan stood in the middle of the bitumen expanse to highlight a perceived lack of interest in the rail service.

One train leaves Epsom at 8.25am for Bendigo, and another arrives at 5.29pm.

Ms Allan said to have a successful rail service, people needed a reason to make it a regular part of their lives.

“We know that if you provide the service, people will use it from the get-go,” she said.

“We want people to choose to travel by rail. We need to give them that option.

“It’s not a service that people are using because it doesn’t meet their needs.”

I could have told you that before you spent $7.76 million on the station!

Doubling down on stupid

Just to prove that both sides of politics can come up with stupid ideas, in the lead up to the 2014 state election Labor also came up with their own half-baked scheme.

Labor pledges $2m for a Bendigo rail service
Tom Cowie
October 30, 2014

Bendigo could one day have its own local commuter train service if Labor wins the state election. But the state government says the promise is uncosted and won’t deliver any new trains.

Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews has pledged $2 million to set up a Bendigo Metro Rail taskforce, which would advise the government on the feasibility of trains running solely in the goldfields city.

Following their election win the study has commenced, with the Bendigo Metro Rail fact sheet having this to say:

Bendigo Metro Rail aims to deliver a commuter train service for Bendigo, with an increased number of services running from Epsom, Eaglehawk and Kangaroo Flat to Bendigo.

Bendigo Metro Rail aims to reduce local traffic and allow people to commute to work, school, TAFE and university via rail.

Presumably the theory behind Bendigo Metro Rail is that just because the city already has a two railway lines running through it, running more trains along them will magically make people leave their cars at home.

Unfortunately, this neglects one important point: a rail service is useless if both your origin AND destination are both found on it.

Bendigo is a small enough place that you can drive from one end of town to the other in 20 minutes: you’re going to have to be running those trains pretty bloody often in order to provide competitive door-to-door travel times, and if the only way to the station is by driving, the war is already lost.

Further reading

I found this interesting paper, titled Developing business cases for regional rail stations: a Victorian case study.

Architecture in Helsinki advertising trains

Hattip to ‘wxtre’ over on Daniel Bowen’s blog for this catch – Architecture in Helsinki providing the backing track to an advertisement for the new ‘Silver Line’ of the Washington Metro.

The new railway opened on 24 June 2014, while the song itself is ‘Escapee’ from Architecture in Helsinki’s 2011 album ‘Moment Bends‘.


Architecture in Helsinki | Escapee from DIVISION on Vimeo.

Note that in the advertisement the song has been chopped around to suit the commercial – given I know it off by heart, it really messes with my ears to hear it in the wrong order!

Further reading

More about the Silver Line on Wikipedia.