Metro Trains Melbourne and a roll of duct tape

Everywhere you look on Melbourne’s rail network it feels like things are falling apart, and North Melbourne station isn’t any different – I spotted this duct tape wrapped glass balustrade back on January 7.

Cracked glass balustrade at North Melbourne station

Skip forward two months to March 29 and nothing much has changed.

Glass balustrade at North Melbourne station is still broken, a few months after I first photographed it

Actually I should give them some credit – a few pieces of duct tape have disappeared in that time.

April 2016 update

In between taking my March photo and publishing this blog post – surprise! I passed through North Melbourne station on April 8, and the balustrade is finally fixed.

Glass balustrade finally repaired at North Melbourne station

Departure side platforms and St Albans station

Recently in the new the idea of ‘departure side platforms’ was floated as a way to reduce traffic congestion at railway station level crossings. So what are they, and where have they been used in Melbourne before?

Arriving into the down platform at Seacliff: the up platform is on the 'other' departure side of the level

The concept

The RMIT website has more on the concept:

Level-headed approach to reducing train crossing congestion
22 Jan 2016

An RMIT researcher has devised a way to slash traffic congestion at railway station level crossings that is 160 times cheaper than digging a multi-million dollar underground tunnel.

At $1 million per crossing, the new approach called Departure Side Platforms (DSP) would cost just a fraction of the budget needed for a full-blown $160 million grade separation.

Dr William Guzman used traffic simulation software to prove that re-positioning the city-bound platform on the opposite side of a level crossing would reduce the time the intersection was closed by more than half.

Guzman’s theory involves situating the arrival (city-bound) and departure platforms diagonally opposite each other on either side of the crossing rather than facing each other on the same side.

His modelling suggests this would cut the average time the level crossing was closed to traffic from one minute and 41 seconds to just 46 seconds, as the city-bound train would have already crossed over to collect and disembark passengers, bringing it into line with trains running in the opposite direction.

Guzman said his research had revealed congestion was not caused by the actual closing of a level crossing to traffic, but the arrival of trains at the platform, forcing the intersection to remain closed for longer than necessary.

In recent years the departure side platform layout has been used when building new platform tram stops across Melbourne, and the concept is also common on the Adelaide rail network – the lead image on this post is approaching Seacliff station on the Seaford line.

However if we go back further in time, we find another Melbourne example.

St Albans station

St Albans station opened as an intermediate station on the railway to Bendigo way back in 1887, but the pair of platforms was located on the Sunbury side of the Main Road level crossing.

St Albans station - 1945 and now
St Albans 1945 and today, via 1945.melbourne

Suburban electric trains were extended to the station in 1921, but thanks to cars being few and far between, traffic congestion at the level crossing was not yet a problem.

Tait sliding door electric train showing headlights (VPRS 12800/P4, item RS 0391)
VPRS 12800/P4, item RS 0391

But with car ownership taking off after World War II, forcing each and every suburban train to travel twice across Main Road was delaying motorists, so the decision was made to build a new station on the city side of the level crossing. The 1959-60 Victorian Railway annual report has the full details:

Work was commenced on relocating St. Albans station on the south side of the Main Road level crossing. When this is completed, interference to road traffic will be greatly reduced as all suburban electric trains to St. Albans will be terminated short of the crossing and the number of trains passing over it will be only 22 per day compared with 124 at present.

The new station opened in 1959 and added two new platforms on the south side of the level crossing – giving a total of three:

  • one dead end platform for the use of terminating suburban trains,
  • a new through platform for country trains bound for destinations further north,
  • and the existing existing citybound platform on the north side of the level crossing, now solely used by country trains.

Both ‘through’ platforms were located on the approach side of the level crossing, but with only a handful of trains to Bendigo each day, removing the more frequent suburban trains was still an improvement for motorists.

St Albans station, May 1969 (VPRS 12800/P1, item H 3392)
St Albans station in May 1969 (VPRS 12800/P1, item H 3392)

This split platform layout remained in place until 2001, when suburban electric services were extended to Sydenham and a new departure side platform was built for citybound trains, leaving all three St Albans platforms on the south side of the level crossing.

Alstom Comeng arrives into St Albans with an up service

And all this will change again in 2016, when the new two platform St Albans station will open at the bottom of a concrete trench, part of the grade separation of the Main Road level crossing.

Footnote

For a few weeks in early 2016 St Albans station held the distinction of having more disused platform than active ones – only platform 1 was open to passengers, with platform 2 and 3 closed pending grade separation works, and the original platform 1 still lurking on the north side of the level crossing.

Alstom Comeng 586M departs St Albans with a down Watergardens service

Further reading

Tesla vs Qantas at Avalon Airport

This week a video of a Tesla car racing a Qantas 737 jet did the rounds, with Avalon Airport being the setting. But how did they manage to pull off such a stunt?

Qantas 737 VH-XZI takes on a Tesla Model S electric car at Avalon. (Qantas)
Qantas 737 VH-XZI takes on a Tesla Model S electric car at Avalon. (Qantas)

Avalon Airport is a simple airport where the terminal is just a tin shed.

Departures terminal at Avalon Airport, airside with the You Yangs behind

Which is used by only a handful of flights a day.

Lining up in the bay

As of 2016 those flights being:

But Avalon has one important feature – a 10000 foot (3048 metre) long runway, and a parallel taxiway.

Avalon / YMAV aerodrome chart - uncontrolled version not for navigation, dated 2013
Avalon / YMAV aerodrome chart, dated 2013

The airport was opened in 1953 to cater for the production of military jet aircraft, such as the English Electric Canberra bomber and the Dassault Mirage IIIO fighter. Aircraft manufacturing stopped in the 1980s, but Avalon has still been busy with pilot training and aircraft maintenance.

Taking off over the Avalon Airport passenger terminal and car park

So back to the race – the filming run was made on April 2, 2016 with Qantas B737-800 VH-XZI as the star taking off to the north on runway 36, while the Tesla car sped along the parallel taxiway ‘A’ – which provided a safe distance between the two.

Footnote

The full video can be found on YouTube.

And Qantas has posted a behind the scenes video on Twitter.

Here is a set of aviation charts for Avalon Airport (YMAV), while Wikipedia has more on the interesting history of the airport.

Photo essay – V/Line’s VLocity train issues

Since the middle of January 2016 V/Line has been having major issues with their fleet of VLocity trains, resulting in dozens of cancelled services and the crush loading of the trains that are running. Here is a selection of photos from the period.

V/Line's current issues summed up on one photo

First some background – two separate issues have been afflicting V/Line’s fleet of VLocity trains:

The first sign of trouble was the widespread replacement of V/Line services by road coaches, as VLocity trains with worn wheelsets were pulled from service.

Plenty of Waurn Ponds and Traralgon services replaced by road coaches

But things got worse on the evening of January 15, when V/Line blamed “unplanned metro works” for the cancellation of late night Bendigo and Gippsland line services – in reality it was a ban of VLocity trains from the suburban network.

By the morning of January 16 V/Line’s excuse had changed to “service changes in the suburban area”.

At Southern Cross Station passengers for Traralgon and Echuca services were told to catch a suburban train to meet their onward connection.

Traralgon and Echuca trains not running over the metropolitan tracks into Southern Cross - passengers have to catch a suburban train to meet it

That night V/Line lashed together a VLocity train between a pair of diesel locomotives, ready to send them across the suburban network to test the failing level crossing outside Dandenong.

N458 at the other end of a push-pull VLocity transfer at Southern Cross

VLocity trains are fitted with a fully automatic Scharfenberg coupler, but diesel locomotives only have a semi-automatic knuckle coupler, so a special ‘transition coupler’ needs to be fitted to bridge the gap.

Transition coupler connects the VLocity train Scharfenberg coupler to an N class

To allow the tests to take place, Metro Trains obliged by cancelling all late night suburban services between Dandenong and Pakenham.

Once the train arrived at the testing site the diesel locomotives were removed, and the VLocity train made a number of passes over the level crossing.

In the days that followed, more special VLocity transfer trains operated across the suburban network – each movement requiring a diesel locomotive to be attached as a safeguard to activate level crossings along the way.

N454 trails VL15, 3VL36 and N461 on a push-pull VLocity transfer at Southern Cross

By January 18th VLocity trains returned to the Bendigo line – with only two troublesome level crossings on the line at Ginifer and St Albans, safeworking staff were posted at each crossing in order to manually activate the warning devices.

 Safeworking staff manually activating the level crossing at Furlong Road, St Albans for each train

Staff were also posted at the pedestrian crossing to be doubly sure.

Safeworking staff monitor the pedestrian crossing at Ginifer in case a VLocity train fails to activate it

To compensate for the disruptions to services, in V/Line declared free travel on all services from January 23 to 31.

V/Line notice informing passengers of free travel from January 23 to 31

To avoid passengers mistaking touching on their myki cards and getting changed for their journey, station staff printed out their ‘Free travel – no need to touch on’ signs.

Computer printed 'Free travel - no need to touch on' message on a myki reader at Ballarat station

At Southern Cross Station the ticket gates were locked open.

Ticket gates open at Southern Cross due to free travel for V/Line passengers

As were the emergency entrance gates.

Free travel for V/Line passengers so the emergency entrances at Southern Cross have been thrown open

Yet for some reason, there was still a line of passengers at the Southern Cross Station ticket office.

Free travel for V/Line passengers, yet there is still a line at the Southern Cross ticket office

After the first week of free travel and no resolution in sight, it was extended another week until February 7.

Free travel for V/Line passengers notice on the myki readers at Southern Cross

Official ‘no need to touch on or off’ flyers were printed and affixed to myki readers across the network.

Free travel for V/Line passengers notice on the myki readers at Southern Cross

Permanent timetable boards were also printed for Southern Cross Station, listing the scheduled V/Line coach replacements in place Monday through Friday.

Sign at Southern Cross Station listing V/Line bus replacements for Monday-Friday

Despite the coach replacements and free travel, V/Line commuters were still spilling out of overcrowded trains.

Passengers spilling out of the doors of their overcrowded VLocity train

As an interim fix, a 25 km/h speed restriction was applied to the North Melbourne flyover – supposed source of the excessive wheel wear.

25 km/h speed restriction over the North Melbourne flyover

On the weekend of February 13 the flyover was shut down to rail traffic, as the ‘outside’ broad gauge rail through the curves was replaced.

Work to replace the 'outside' broad gauge rail on the North Melbourne flyover curves

In the weeks that followed, trains continued to use the track, but with rail staff manually applying grease to the rail heads.

Rail lubrication crew slowly make their way along the North Melbourne flyover

And the worn wheels beneath VLocity carriages have been replaced with fresh sets.

Fresh bogie and wheelsets beneath VLocity carriage 1142

From March 21 normal rail services started to return – with 43 out of the 64 disrupted services back as trains.

Yet to be completed are fixes for the root cause of each problem: axle counters at level crossings on the Dandenong line to ensure reliable train detection, and an automated rail lubricator on the North Melbourne flyover to reduce wheel wear.

Skyrail – now you can bet on it!

With Melbourne’s rail network covered in gambling advertising, should we really be surprised that the Level Crossing Removal Authority (LXRA) now has an official betting partner?

'Bell Street Level Crossing Removal Project' poster at Bell Street, Preston

Here is their media release, published this morning.

Level Crossing Removal Authority announces official betting partner
April 1, 2016

As work has ramped up across Melbourne on the removal of 50 dangerous and congested level crossings across the city, today the Level Crossing Removal Authority is pleased to announce that launch of our official betting partner – Sportsbet.com.au.

As well as giving the general public a voice through the LXRA community feedback and consultation program, this new partnership will give all Melbournians a chance to profit from their opinions by betting on the outcome of level crossing removal projects.

Sportsbet.com.au has been been chosen as our partner due to their innovative approach to betting, a perfect match to the innovative “Skyrail” approach to removing level crossings as adopted by the LXRA. Sport is part of Melbourne, as is gambling, and the LXRA expects that this new partnership will extend this connection.

About

The LXRA is an administrative office of the Victorian Government responsible for overseeing the delivery of the Level Crossing Removal Project.

Sportsbet.com.au is Australia’s biggest corporate bookmaker, established in 1993 and based in the Northern Territory.

Current odds can be found on the Sportsbet website, including:

  • Elderly driver manages to drive into train trench: even money
  • Train trench still graffiti free a month after opening: 10 to 1
  • 1 in 100 year storm doesn’t flood train trench: 20 to 1
  • Extra entrances and exits added to your local station: 50 to 1
  • Homeless camp moves in beneath under Skyrail bridge: 1000 to 1
  • Community consultation results in a change from ‘rail over’ to ‘rail under’: 2000 to 1
  • Paedophile watches swimming children from a passing train: 1,000,000 to 1
  • Freight train falls off Skyrail into backyard: 2,000,000 to 1

It’s quite a world we live in, isn’t it?

Footnote

Back in June 12, 2012 Sportsbet opened a market on whether Metro Trains will run on time during June. The response was predictable negative – here is an article from Crikey as well as a second one from ABC Radio.