‘PTV rebranding foils terror attack’

I found the following media release on the Public Transport Victoria website this morning…

Public Transport Victoria rebranding foils terror attack
1 April, 2014

A terror attack on Melbourne rail network has disrupted services across the city but has not caused any major injuries or deaths. It was revealed today that a terrorist group had erected a concrete wall across the tracks at Melbourne Central station. Unsuspecting train drivers would be tricked into driving into the wall by a large photograph of the station pasted onto the face of the wall.

XTrapolis train at Melbourne Central platform 4

It is believed the wall was put into place in the early hours of the morning, after the last train had run. Today’s 5:16am train from Frankston would have been the first crushed against the wall, if it was not for the quick actions of the train driver.

The driver said “I was bringing the train into Melbourne Central station, and noticed that there were none of those ugly Public Transport Victoria signs attached to every friggin’ wall in the station, and thought to myself, it was about bloody time they got rid of ‘em. But then I realised that all of the station signs said ‘Museum’ and I started to get worried. The fact that every passenger on the platform looked like they had stepped out a 1980s movie was the last straw. I slammed on the emergency brake, and pulled up short of this concrete wall by only a few metres. It was a good thing I wasn’t driving a Siemens train today.”

Metro Trains Melbourne spokesperson congratulated the driver, saying “the public will be pleased that such vigilant drivers are in charge of our trains.” He also said that “it was extremely lucky that Metro Trains Melbourne had put its photography ban in the City Loop into action at the time we did. If not, terrorists could have taken a much more recent photograph of the station, and would have tricked even the most alert train driver into running into the wall.”

Transport Minister Terry Mulder said that this terrorist attempt shows that “Napthine Government initiatives such as the renaming of Southern Cross Station back to Spencer Street Station will prevent further similar attacks being carried out at other places around the network.”

It is believed the Napthine Government, in conjunction with counter-terrorism experts and Metro Trains Melbourne, are looking into a scheme where station names will be swapped on a random basis to ensure similar future attacks will fail in the same way. When asked for comment, the transport minister said “we are looking into it at this stage.

Police have released an artists impression of one suspected terrorist:

Wile E. Coyote

Chief Commissioner of the Victoria Police Ken Lay said that this man is armed with such dangerous weapons as rocket powered roller skates, and a jet propelled unicycle. Members of the general public should not approach him, but contact the police immediately. He also said that any concrete companies asked to deliver concrete onto railway tracks should call the National Security Hotline as a matter of urgency.

When the Public Transport Victoria CEO was asked for further comment, he said Meep! Meep! and ran off down the road.

Footnote

I originally published this piece way back in 2006, with only minor changes needed to update it for the current day:

  • Metro Trains Melbourne now runs Melbourne’s trains, not Connex
  • Public Transport Victoria took over coordination of Metlink
  • The Liberals are now in government, not Labor
  • Changing Southern Cross Station back to Spencer Street is on the agenda, not the other way around
  • Ken Lay is now the Chief Commissioner of the Victoria Police

As for public money being wasted on rebranding our public transport network, and faulty brakes on the Siemens trains – those never get old!

A legitimate case of package downsizing

The other day I cracked open a new box of headache tablets and noticed something odd – two empty slots in the foil blister pack inside.

Ten tablets in a package made for 12

It didn’t seem right, so I had a look at the old packet sitting in the bathroom.

Sneakily downsized package for Herron Paracetamol

Sneaky I thought – Herron had dropped the number of tablets per package by four in an attempt to make more money from consumer, while not having to jack up the shelf price.

Called ‘package downsizing’, the practice is very common these days among manufacturers of consumer goods, as they walk a fine line between making money and not pissing off their customers.

In the case of Herron, their downsizing tactic was called out in the November 27, 2013 edition of the “Column 8″ column in the Sydney Morning Herald:

The mysteries of modern packaging … ”I recently bought a packet of 20 Herron paracetamol tablets,” reports Deborah Harris, of Glenbrook. ”But the two strips inside could accommodate 12 pills each, so two spots were empty on each. Why? Why not just put 24 pills in the packet?”

The answer came the next week, and it turns out Herron had a perfectly legitimate reason for their change – new regulations issued in mid-2013 by the Therapeutic Goods Administration:

The maximum paracetamol pack size to be sold in Australian retailers other than in pharmacies is going to change from twenty-five to twenty and will be fully implemented by 1 September 2013.

Paracetamol can cause serious liver damage if taken in high doses.

The decision to decrease the pack size was made after considering the risks of different pack sizes in Australia. It is expected that this decision will result in fewer people requiring medical intervention following a paracetamol overdose.

The pack price is a commercial decision. The TGA has no role in determining pack price.

Their reasoning for the decrease in pack size by just four tablets was safety:

  • Approximately 8000 patients per year are treated in Australia for paracetamol overdose taken as deliberate self-harm, usually without suicidal intent.
  • Self-harm is usually impulsive, and is not the same as deliberate suicidal intent.
  • In Australia, the median dose taken in an overdose is 12 g (one packet), while the mean ingestion was 12.5 g.
  • The pack size seems to be linked to the amount of paracetamol consumed in an overdose.

Who would have thought a simple packet of paracetamol would have lead me on this journey of discovery?

Dodgy doors on Melbourne’s Comeng trains

Last week the doors of Melbourne’s Comeng trains received another mention in the news, when it was revealed that a 17-year-old boy had jumped out of moving train at Watergardens station after forcing the doors open.

Article on Comeng train doors: The Age, March 15, 2014

Some history

Melbourne’s Comeng trains are currently the oldest in the suburban fleet as well as the most numerous. Having entered service between 1981 and 1988, they received their current interior look and feel during a mid-life refurbishment program completed between 2000 and 2003.

On first entering service the Comeng trains were operated by a two-person crew – a driver up front to make the train stop and go, and a guard at the rear to watch the doors and tell the driver when to depart – but the second person was removed during the Kennett-era reforms of the 1990s, when single person operation of suburban trains was introduced.

Since entering service, very little has changed with the Comeng train doors: on arriving at a station they are released by the driver and manually opened by passengers as required, then prior to departure the door close button is pushed, triggering the pneumatic actuators that hold the doors closed, which then illuminates a light once all the doors have been detected as closed.

Melbourne’s newer trains follow the same general process, but with one important difference – once the doors close a locking mechanism holds them shut, with the only way to unlocking being to use the door open button, or to engage the emergency release lever.

By comparison the Comeng train doors have two flaws: they can be forced open by applying as little as 20.5 kilograms of force applied to the handle,[1] and as soon as the train loses power, the doors become unlocked. This causes many problems – at the Craigieburn depot they had to retrofit their brand new train wash so that Comeng train doors don’t get pushed opened by the cleaning brushes, and if your train loses power in the middle of peak hour atop a bridge, there is nothing to stop you falling out.

The start of safety concerns

In October 2009 a fatality occurred at Melbourne Central station, when a passenger forced the doors open and leapt from a departing Comeng train.

The Office of the Chief Investigator investigated the incident, releasing their final report in January 2011. They found the following factors contributed to the incident:

  • The victim forced open a powered door and attempted to alight from the moving train.
  • Due to a faulty component preventing the correct operation of a safety circuit, the train driver was unaware of a door having been forced open.
  • Although the existence of this fault condition on any train would not be evident to any casual observation, the train operator was aware that these trains were susceptible to developing this defect. There was no daily pre-service procedure to check for such a fault condition.

The ‘faulty component’ was incredibly small – a simple electrical connection between the two 3-carriage units of the train had shorted out, resulting in the ‘door closed’ lamp in the cab giving a false indication to the drivers, even though the doors in the rear half of the train had been forced open.

As a result Metro changed their procedures to ensure that the integrity of the door monitoring system is checked every time a new driver takes over a train.

However this was not the end of concerns around Comeng train doors, with Transport Safety Victoria issuing a safety notice to the Department of Transport in September 2011 regarding them:

Regulator concerned about train door safety
22 September 2011

Transport Safety Victoria (TSV) has issued a safety notice to the Department of Transport in relation to its concerns about the safety of passenger doors on Comeng trains.

TSV’s Safety Director, Alan Osborne, says the doors of these trains do not comply with modern passenger train design standards and have been associated with a number of incidents.

“Unlike other Victorian trains, the passenger doors of Comeng trains are able to be forced open,” said Mr Osborne.

“Being able to force the doors open of a moving train, or a train stopped between stations, increases the risk of fatal accidents occurring. Passengers should never do this, but the fact is they can because of the way the Comeng train doors are designed.”

A fatal accident occurred at Melbourne Central station in 2009, when a passenger forced open the doors of a train in motion. The passenger attempted to jump to a platform, but was caught and dragged by the moving train.

Mr Osborne has confirmed that the safety notice has been issued to require the Department of Transport to address the safety issues associated with the Comeng doors.

“There has been extensive consultation with the Department and Metro Trains about this issue and we still do not have any committed plans to address the safety risks,” said Mr Osborne.

“It is time to begin planning to address the risks of being able to force the train doors open, particularly as the Comeng trains could remain in operation for the next decade or two.’

In addition to recommending that the planning process start, the notice is intended to ensure statutory safety obligations are met.

Some of the actions referenced in the notice include removing the external and internal passenger door handles, installing a more sensitive door closing control on the doors, and installing a traction interlock system to prevent trains from departing stations until all doors are confirmed locked.

Mr Osborne has asked that these actions are undertaken at the next major overhaul of the fleet, in order to reduce the disruption to passenger services.

The actions will bring the Comeng trains to a similar standard of other passenger train door design standards currently in place on X’trapolis and Siemens trains, which are used on the metropolitan rail system.

The notice requires the Department of Transport to provide a response to the proposed actions once it has formally considered the issues. Part of this formal consideration requires the Director of Public Transport to consult with the Victorian Treasurer and Premier.

At the time of the notice being issued, Alan Osborne from Transport Safety Victoria said that the rectification works should only cost $10 million, but:

“I’m not getting good noises from the Department of Transport that this is going to be funded in the next major overhaul,” he said.

“I’m not saying there’s a massive risk that has to be dealt with right now, but what I do want to see is some committed plans put in place for the future so that we know that these things are going to get upgraded at the next major overhaul of the Comeng fleet.”

Transport minister Terry Mulder had the following to say:

“It’s a concern. We face that situation and we’re going to deal with it,” he said.

I’ll have further discussions with Metro. As I say, these trains are due for a mid-life overhaul and throughout the course of that, we may well be able to do that work.”

As with anything that politicians can’t cut the ribbon on, the issue of the Comeng train doors stayed on the backburner. Transport Safety Victoria complained again in October 2012, but upped the ante:

Transport Safety Victoria has placed a condition on train operator Metro’s accreditation: repair the doors on 96 Comeng trains from 2017 when the first train reaches the 35-year life expectancy or replace them.

It comes after TSV issued a safety notice to the Transport Department in September last year requiring the doors be fixed as they can be opened while the train is moving.

TSV acting director rail safety Andrew Doery said the regulator wanted a “funded, committed plan” to fix the problem, estimated by Metro to cost $12.9 million. “We’ve seen no program to rectify the doors,” Mr Doery said.

We now arrive at March 2014, three years out from the supposed retirement of the Comeng fleet, when Metro finally decides to pull their finger out and started trialling changes recommended all the way back in September 2011.

Deceptively simple, the modification has only been made to a single Comeng carriage (numbered 1097T) and consists of a new style of door handle, which is presumably harder for scrotes to force open with their foot.

New style of door handle on trial on Comeng carriage 1097T

Unfortunately the new design also makes it harder for people with frail hands to open the doors – instead of pushing at an exposed handle, one now needs to grip the insides of it with one’s fingers.

I can't see how people with frail hands will cope with these trial door handles on the Comeng trains

So why don’t we just retrofit the Comeng trains with power operated doors, identical to the newer trains in the Melbourne suburban fleet?

Adelaide leads the way

Turns out Adelaide had exactly the same problem as Melbourne with their 3000 class diesel railcars. Built in Victoria between 1987 and 1996, these trains used the same body shells and doors as Melbourne’s Comeng trains, just with a diesel engine underneath the floor for propulsion instead of electric motors powered from overhead wires.

Pair of 3000 class head for the city at Marino, passing a few small boats out on the water

In 2009 TransAdelaide commenced a mid-life refurbishment program for their fleet of trains, which include the following features:

  • Emergency call buttons next to doors to allow passengers to speak to the drivers.
  • New passenger information display panels at each end of the railcar and automated audio announcements.
  • Improved hand straps, seat grips and new bike stow areas with attachment rails.
  • A new digital public address system with better audio.

Nothing new there, except for this last item:

  • Push-button automated doors to prevent them being forced open while the train is in motion.

This is what the original doors on Adelaide’s 3000 class trains look like:

Exterior door detail of a non-refurbished 3000/3100 class railcar

And a refurbished train, retrofitted with push-button operated lockable doors.

Exterior door detail of a refurbished 3000/3100 class railcar

It makes you wonder – if Adelaide can do a job properly, why can’t we?

Notes

Rail Safety Investigation Report No 2009/14 has more details of how the Comeng door mechanisms currently work.

Another 15 minutes of fame

It looks like my blog post yesterday about confronting a racist guy on the tram got a bit of attention, with almost 8,000 views of my blog during the day.

Traffic to my blog on March 20, 2014

It also got a run in The AgeYarra Trams investigates alleged racial abuse – which also got a number of views (at least until Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 took over the front page again).

Most read articles on The Age - afternoon of March 20, 2014

Media interest

My first mention in the media was in the Melbourne Express section of The Age at 7:34am. Journalist Angus Holland compiles the section, and he follows me on Twitter, which probably explains the fast response.

By 8am the flood of messages on Twitter started – first contact was another journalist from The Age, followed by Nine News dropping me a line at 9am. Soon after that I got a message from somebody else from Nine News, as well as a third journalist at The Age (turns out story leads at a newspaper get passed around during the course of the day, depending on which journalist is available).

Radio stations got into the act later on: around 11:30am somebody from 3AW wanted to get in touch, with Austereo (home of Fox and Triple M) dropping me a message at noon, and 774 ABC Melbourne a few hours later.

While Channel Nine was the first television station to contact me, it took a bit longer for the other two commercial stations to track me down: 7 News Melbourne didn’t message me until almost 2pm, while Channel 10 took a different tack – they got in touch via a little used email address and contact details tied to my domain name registration.

I wasn’t that keen to take up the radio and television interview requests, so I asked my friends on Facebook for a second opinion. One of them summed it up my concerns far better than I could have ever written:

You will have no control over what the message is, how the message is portrayed, and where it goes from there. The question is; what are you hoping to gain?

In the end, I only had a quick chat with Mex Cooper from The Age, and declined all of the television and radio interview requests.

Reactions

Following people’s reaction around the place, they fell into four groups:

  • Well done, good on you for saying something.
  • Public shaming of racist idiots makes my day.
  • I wouldn’t get involved, who knows what they will do you and anyone else nearby.
  • Defending the guy in question, stating that he is entitled to his opinion and I should but out.

In the case of the latter, there is a difference between whispering something ‘politically incorrect’ to your travel companion, and muttering it in a passive aggressive way to make the people around you feel uncomfortable and threatened.

People are entitled to believe whatever they feel like, but if you’re out in public sometims you just need to hold your tongue.

Further reading

In the mood to wade though pages of comments from Reddit users? Have fun.

Telling a racist where to go

Last night I was headed out of the city on a packed route 57 tram, along with the usual Wednesday night crowd of people headed for the night market held at the Queen Victoria Market. Among them were a number of people chattering away in a foreign language, when a tattoo covered troglodyte said under his breath to his scraggy looking girlfriend:

You’re in Australia: Speak English!

Such a classic line!

Racist guy from the route 57 tram

Our tram had been stopped outside the Queen Victoria Market to drop off passengers, and I was sitting in the seat behind him, so I told him to watch what the hell he was saying. He got up out of his seat to have a go at me, spewing forth the usual bile that racists do when confronted, and asking me if I wanted to talk it outside. I just stayed in my seat, while he had his sleazy lady friend backing him up from their original seat, when some random woman down the other end of the tram told him to shut up and piss off.

Our tram driver, who was a middle aged woman, eventually got onto the PA system and told the guy to either quiet down or get off the tram – he reacted to that by punching the perspex door leading to the driver’s cab, and asking me another time if I wanted to take it outside – again, I didn’t respond!

Eventually the clod realised he had been outgunned, as he and his companion left the tram, before punching the side of the tram near where I was sitting, and then spewing some more racist bile venom to the crowd assembled at the tram stop.

At this point I remembered I had my camera in my bag, and the tram had opening windows, so as the tram departed I videoed his reaction.

He then ran after the tram, faster than he ever had in his life, but couldn’t make it far – giving up in the middle of the Victoria and Elizabeth Street intersection.

Fat racist guy runs out of puff

Afterwards a half dozen passengers came up to me and asked if I was okay, and that I did a good job standing up to the racist boor. As well as that, I was glad to have a random woman call out and provide backup in the heat of the moment – when a big guy is throwing their weight around, understandably most people are afraid for themselves first.

Footnote

Another line the bigot used was:

If I went to Russia then I would speak Russian

For a start, I doubt this guy has ever been to Russia, and if he did, I doubt he and his life partner would have learned Russian – I visited said country back in 2012 and only learnt four Russian words:

  • Да (“da”) – Yes
  • Нет (“nyet”) – No
  • Спасибо (“spa-see-ba”) – Thank-You
  • пиво (“pee-vah”) – Beer

Another footnote

Putting yourself into harms way by telling fat racists where to go probably isn’t the safest thing to do – a safer alternative is to abuse them from an open tram window once they leave the vehicle, because they can’t do anything back to you!

An update

The tram driver also made a police report, which Yarra Trams is following up:

And another update

By lunchtime The Age had put together a piece on the topic – Yarra Trams investigates alleged racial abuse.