A tree grows in the train trench

There has been much consternation across Melbourne as the level crossing removal program has ramped up, with trees being one of the casualties and barren concrete canyons taking their place. But there is hope!

X'Trapolis 62M departs Gardiner station on the down via the new low level tracks

This row of pine trees along the edge of Morton Park, Blackburn was one of the victims – cleared for a rail under road grade separation at Blackburn Road.

Row of pine trees felled along the edge of Morton Park, Blackburn

Meanwhile a few stations along the line at Camberwell, the railway passes beneath Burke Road, a grade separation project completed almost 100 years ago. Fast forward to today, and creepers are starting to reclaim the cutting walls.

Plants grow out of a crack in the retaining wall on the up side of Camberwell station

With a much larger bush taking hold down at ground level.

Plants grow out of a crack in the retaining wall on the up side of Camberwell station

But you don’t need to wait decades for nature to take over – the railway tracks through Mitcham station were only placed below ground in 2014, and this elm tree has already started to poke out of the concrete cutting wall.

Tree growing out of the concrete cutting walls at Mitcham station

So don’t lose hope – as long as Melbourne’s rail network is in the hands of a private operator more concerned with profits than infrastructure maintenance, nature will reclaim even our newest rail infrastructure.

Footnote

The Age has more on the clearing of trees at Blackburn for level crossing works.

​The “scorched-earth” felling of hundreds of trees by Andrews government contractors preparing the way for level crossing removal has left Blackburn residents fuming.

The Belgrave-Lilydale rail line is being lowered beneath Blackburn Road to remove the level crossing near Blackburn railway station.

But as part of the project, at least 220 trees will go, including 23 mature cypress and pine trees on the rail line in Blackburn’s Morton Park.

Airspace development secrecy at Ormond station

I’ve written before about lack of detail made available when planning transport projects in Victoria, but the latest revelation at Ormond station takes the cake – halfway through removing the level crossing, the government has announced plans to build a residential tower up to 13 storeys high above the Frankston railway line. So what the hell is going on?

Work well underway on the new low level track alignment at Gardiner station

Back in May 2014 the story starts, when the then-Liberal government announced a $457 million package of works to remove level crossings at Burke Road in Glen Iris, Blackburn Road in Blackburn and North Road in Ormond. The scope then expanded in early May 2015 when the new Labor government announced they would consider the removal of the Centre Road, Bentleigh and McKinnon Road, McKinnon level crossings, with contracts being signed a week or two later to complete the work.

Initially the information made available was very sparse – diagrams such as this one of Bentleigh station wee all the public had to go on, with local resident and transport blogger Daniel Bowen had to fill in the gaps.

Plan for new Bentleigh station (as at May 2015)

Fast forward to May 2016 when initial construction was well underway, and detail was still sparse – again Daniel Bowen had to visit a public information session to see plans of what was being built.

Ormond station plan

July 2016 saw work kick up a gear, with train services shut down for a month to allow all three stations to be demolished and the new railway cutting to be dug.

North Rd crossing at Ormond station - Herald Sun photo by Chris Eastman
North Rd crossing at Ormond station – Herald Sun photo by Chris Eastman

But there was a new feature at Ormond station that wasn’t in the previous published plans – a extra concrete deck over the tracks. @Xtrackka noticed it a week ago.

But it took until today for the reason for the deck to be made public – the government is planning to build a 13 storey apartment block on the top. Melbourne newspaper The Age published a piece on July 26 detailing the proposal:

Labor flagged in Opposition that it would develop land as part of some level crossing removals to help pay for other transport upgrades, including extra station car parking and yet more level crossing removals.

Ormond marks the first example by the Andrews government of this “value capture” approach.

At up to 13 storeys high, the development would be much taller than any other building in that part of Melbourne, which is low-rise in character.

The building, which the government said would also include ground level shops and restaurants, would have to pass the usual planning hurdles before being approved.

Just south of Ormond, Bentleigh and McKinnon stations are also being rebuilt as their level crossings are removed, and land has also been set aside there for future development.

The government said developments at those two stations would be smaller in scale, in keeping with the village atmosphere.

Luke Donnellan, the acting public transport minister, said the Ormond station site on North Road was well suited to larger-scale residential development, given North Road was a busy six-lane arterial.

“This location is ideally suited to new homes and businesses – in the heart of a vibrant community, directly connected to transport, shops and opportunities,” Mr Donnellan said.

The government estimates the development will create 250 construction jobs and 300 ongoing local jobs at businesses that would occupy the new building.

The government has plans to remove 50 level crossings by 2022, and these three in Ormond, McKinnon and Bentleigh are among the first.

There are also plans to build a new tower at Gardiner station in Glen Iris, where the Burke Road level crossing was recently removed, the government said.

My take – Ormond station is a perfect area for higher density development given the good transport links, and the lack of immediate neighbours to be overshadowed – the issue is they way that the government keeps on suddenly releases these plans to the public, amplifying the opposition from local residents.

The government is supposed to be planning for the future of the city – not organising a bloody surprise party!

Myki machine ‘upgrades’ – PTV sets a low bar

After years of being underwhelmed by myki, exceptions are low whenever Public Transport Victoria announces an ‘upgrade’ to the system – however this one takes the cake.

Myki reader sits beside a myki machine at Deer Park

I recently spotted this notice affixed to a Myki machine at Flinders Street Station, informing passengers that the machine will be unavailable for “a short period of time” while upgrade works are undertaken.

'Upcoming upgrade' notice on a Myki machine

So what were the works? I happened to stumble upon a machine being ‘upgraded’.

'Upgrading' a Myki machine by changing the stickers on the front

Just some poor bloke pulling off the blue stickers on the front.

'Upgrading' a Myki machine by changing the stickers on the front

And after hacking away at the machine with a razor blade for almost an hour, a new set of grey stickers were placed on the front.

Myki machine at Flinders Street Station, with new branding stickers applied to the front

Worth the effort, wasn’t it?

So why the rebrand?

Moves towards a new Myki brand started in October 2013, when Public Transport Victoria trademarked an updated Myki logo, with the logo being soft launched from January 2014.

'Did you know myki cards expire?' advertisement featuring the new Myki branding

On July 5 2016 Public Transport Victoria tweeted about the “fresh new look” for Myki machines.

Gotta look after the things that matter!

As for the actual upgrades

Despite Public Transport Victoria wasting money on new stickers, the past few months have seen actual progress made on real improvements to the system – in January 2016 the rollout of contactless payment at myki machines commenced, followed in June 2016 by a trial of new ‘Quick Top up’ machines across the network.

New Myki QT (Quick top up) device at the Bourke and Spencer Street tram stop

Hopefully this new focus on something other than new stickers continues.

Footnote – caught in the act

@themykiuser on Twitter was in the right place at the right time when they captured this photo – the Myki machines at Hawthorn railway station caught mid rebranding.

Auspicious Timing

A photo posted by The Myki User (@themykiuser) on

Buying an Opal card – why so difficult?

I recently spent a long weekend in Sydney and tried to buy an Opal card – their public transport smartcard – an exercise that was much harder than I expected.

Tangara set T60 arrives into Central in afternoon peak

I arrived by train from Melbourne into Sydney Central station, where I started my hunt to buy an Opal card. On the main concourse is the Transport NSW information office, which was my first port of call.

Transport information office on the Grand Concourse at Sydney Central station

I asked a simple question:

I’d like to buy an Opal card.

And they gave me a ridiculous response.

You have to go down to the newsagency at the end of the concourse and buy one there.

Here I am, standing in the middle of a bloody railway station, and the ticket office can’t even sell me a train ticket?

I made my way down to the newsagency, waited in line behind someone else buying an Opal card, and then purchased my own – the card itself was free, but I had to load travel credit onto it in order for it to be activated for travel.

With that down, I was then ready to head through the ticket gates, and onto my onward train.

Opal card readers now active at railway station ticket barriers

So where can you buy a Opal card?

The Opal website lists the following places to buy an Opal card:

  • online
  • at an Opal retailer (only available for unregistered Adult and Child/Youth Opal cards)
  • at selected Transport Customer Service Centres and Shops
  • at selected Service NSW locations
  • by calling 13 67 25 (13 OPAL)

Note the complete absence of railway station ticket offices from the above list – ‘Transport Customer Service Centres and Shops‘ are the Sydney equivalents of the ‘PTV Hubs’ found in Melbourne.

And what about ticket machines?

Sydney’s Opal card was rolled out in a bizarre way – it was made available for travel on limited services back in December 2012, but it took two more years for the first top up machines to go live – in March 2015.

The first machines only allowed passengers to top up their Opal card using debit or credit cards.

Credit card only Opal card top up machine at the Circular Quay ferry pier

Later machines added the option to top up using cash, as well as the purchase of single trip tickets.

Opal card top up and single trip ticket machine at the Circular Quay ferry pier
Opal card top up and single trip ticket machine at the Circular Quay ferry pier

Compare the above ticket options to Melbourne – where you can buy or top up a Myki card at any railway station, but you don’t have any option to purchase a single trip ticket at all.

Would a tramway bridge at Docklands work?

An ongoing issue with future development at Melbourne’s Fishermans Bend is public transport, and how to link the area to the Melbourne CBD. One of the proposals is a tram bridge over the Yarra River, with an opening span in the middle to allow boats to pass. But how practical would such as structure be?

A proposed bridge for trams over the Yarra. Photo: Port Phillip Council

Port Phillip Council launched their version of the idea back in 2014, with The Age writing at the time:

Designs have emerged of an inner city council’s plan for a new bridge for trams over the Yarra River at Docklands.

The Port Phillip Council design, which would cost around $350 million to build, would include a drawbridge so that boats using a Docklands marina could get in and out.

The tram bridge design has been widely circulated within state and local government circles, and Port Phillip’s detailed plan for it and the Fishermans Bend area has been leaked to Fairfax Media.

An engineering expert said the design would be difficult to build, because of overhead wires and the need for a tram to always be ‘‘earthed’’ for power reasons.

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle isn’t an engineer, but felt that he could still have an opinion on whether the structure could be built.

‘‘That is horrible.’’

‘‘That design is the epitome of ugliness; it desecrates the Yarra and it desecrates Yarra’s Edge,’’ he said of the area of Docklands closest to the West Gate Freeway on the banks of the river.

He said the proposed tram line, which would need to rise up to two or three levels in order to continue over the West Gate Freeway and reach Fishermans Bend, would ‘‘divide a community at Yarra’s Edge’’.

The proposed tram line would also ‘‘ruin the only bit of open space that’s there’’.

“From an engineering point of view, we don’t believe it can be built, he said.

‘‘Creating a tram-way in the air to divide a community like Yarra’s Edge’’ was a terrible idea, he said.

While an actual engineer approached to comment on the proposal was a little more open minded.

Engineering expert Martin Baggott, who formerly worked at engineers GHD specialising in rail design, said the drawbridge proposed as part of the plan was possible but had serious challenges.

‘‘It’s not easy because of the overhead wire. That could be surmountable, but the real problem is the return current,’’ he said.

He said there were very few international examples of drawbridges for trams – he pointed to a drawbridge with a train in Malaysia, while others have raised tram bridges in Europe as examples of comparable designs.

Mr Baggott said such a drawbridge posed ‘‘considerable engineering difficulties. It’s not impossible, but there are some pretty hard parts to it’’.

Mr Baggott said that, if the tram line did need to rise, it would not be a big issue. ‘‘Trams can get over considerable inclines,’’ he said, pointing to a tram overpass that was once on King Street that was relatively steep.

So where else can you find tramways crossing opening bridges?

Some overseas examples

I went digging for overseas examples of trams crossing movable bridges, with the Galata Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey being my first find.

Overhead lines aren’t an issue at all – metal structures either side of the opening span provides a secure location for the overhead wires to be terminated.

Tramway overhead at the double leaf bascule section of the Galata Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey (photo by Roger W Haworth, via Wikimedia Commons)
Photo by Roger W Haworth, via Wikimedia Commons

Trams cross the gap without any trouble, with the pantograph following the solid metal bars either side of the air gap.

Tramway overhead at the double leaf bascule section of the Galata Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey (photo by Roger W Haworth, via Wikimedia Commons)
Photo by Roger W Haworth, via Wikimedia Commons

The Netherlands also have a number of tramways crossing movable bridges – the Kattensloot Bridge in Amsterdam is one, and the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam is another.

Rotterdam's Erasmus Bridge in the open position (photo by Ziko van Dijk, via Wikimedia Commons)
Photo by Ziko van Dijk, via Wikimedia Commons

And not quite a tram, but I found a photo of this rolling lift railway bridge over the Hunte river in Oldenburg, Germany – again, overhead wires are no problem.

Rolling lift railroad bridge over the Hunte river in Oldenburg, Germany (photo by Jacek Rużyczka, via Wikimedia Commons)
Photo by Jacek Rużyczka, via Wikimedia Commons

I’m sure there are plenty more examples of electrified railways and tramways crossing movable bridges to be found across the world.