Photos from ten years ago: April 2007

Another instalment in my photos from ten years ago series – this time it is April 2007.

Plenty of trains again this month – starting with a 8-car long V/Line special departing Geelong, loaded with cats fans headed for the MCG.

P14 leads an 8-car long push-pull football special at North Geelong

There were also a number of special tour trains running. I captured Steamrail Victoria running a diesel-hauled school holiday special train from Melbourne to Geelong.

T356 arriving into Geelong

The Seymour Railway Heritage Centre also visited town, with a train south to Warrnambool.

T357 - T320 at North Geelong on SRHC's 'Warrnambool Blue' tour

And even a train operated by the New South Wales Rail Transport Museum, who took their ‘Southern Auroa’ consist from NSW through to the western Victoria city of Ararat.

A bit further down the line, 4201 and 4520 approach the former station at Moorabool

I also captured some more everyday workings, like this Warrnambool bound V/Line service in the southern Geelong suburb of Grovedale.

N456 on a down Warrnambool, at Grovedale

Along with a Waurn Ponds cement train.

X31 at Grovedale, returning from Waurn Ponds with loaded cement wagons

And this Genesee & Wyoming Australia operated grain train.

CLP17-CLF5-CLP14 on a Melbourne bound grain at Corio

Something unexpected was this power failure at Geelong station, which shut down V/Line rail services.

Geelong station in the dark after a power failure

Trains could still keep keep on running, thanks to the redundant power supplies that feed the railway signals, but the lack of station lighting was considered a safety hazard for passengers.

Geelong station in the dark after a power failure

Finally I paid a visit to the tin shed at Avalon that passes for an airport. The air traffic control is located opposite the terminal.

Air traffic control tower on the hill to the south

With passengers using portable stairs to access the aircraft.

Front and rear stairs in place

Footnote

Here you can find the rest of my ‘photos from ten years ago‘ series.

Myki and penny pinching bus passengers

A few weeks ago I asked the question – How far is Myki making you walk? Turns out many think that selling a tickets onboard public transport is a needless luxury, and that forcing users onto direct debits or online purchasing is a perfectly acceptable replacement. That might work for some, but public transport is supposed to be for everyone.

High floor Moonee Valley Coaches bus, with Myki readers

Over on Reddit, somebody got it.

Back when I was a poor uni student, well before Myki came into play, I used to scrape together coins for public transport. I didn’t often have a lot of money in my bank account, so an auto-top up may not have worked when every cent counted.

So how does find passengers who have to scape their money together for a bus fare?

Transdev bus #8613 rego 7976AO on a Mordialloc-bound route 903 service on Hampshire Road, Sunshine

Route 903 is a good start – it does four hour long circuit of Melbourne, from Altona in the west to Mordialloc in the south, passing a real mix of suburbs: Sunshine, Essendon, Coburg, Preston, Heidelburg, Doncaster, Box Hill, Burwood, Oakleigh and Mentone.

Onboard I found a long reel of unwanted Myki receipts.

My findings:

  • Passenger 1: Northland. Added $3.50, new balance of $2.29
  • Passenger 2: Northland. Added $10.00, new balance $10.46
  • Passenger 3: Avondale Heights. Added $4.00, new balance $4.88
  • Passenger 4: Sunshine North. Added $3.00, new balance of $2.43
  • Passenger 5: Sunshine. Added $6.00, new balance of $10.92
  • Passenger 6: Sunshine. Added $5.00, new balance of $1.54

To summarise:

  • Three passengers had a negative balance before they were forced to topup,
  • Two more passengers had a balance of less than a dollar before they topped up,
  • And only one passenger maintained a ‘healthy balance’ of more than $10.

Also note that only one passenger added enough money to their card to meet the $10 minimum online topup, the rest scraping their pockets for coins; and that none of the passengers maintained a balance substantially higher than $10, the bottom end trigger for auto-topup.

'You'll never wait in line with Myki auto top up' advertisement, sitting atop a CVM

Six passengers on one bus route isn’t a conclusive answer to how people use public transport, but it does point to one fact – there are people out there who don’t have the funds to spare for direct debits and bulk online purchases.

Footnote

When developing software or websites, one of most hard-earned lessons is you are not the user. From usability expert Jakob Nielsen:

This is why it’s a disaster to guess at the users’ needs. Since designers are so different from the majority of the target audience, it’s not just irrelevant what you like or what you think is easy to use — it’s often misleading to rely on such personal preferences.

The solution for technology nerds – user research and testing. The same lessons apply to those in charge of public transport.

A trip back to 1976 – ‘What the Hamer Government is doing for Public Transport’

Among many people (specially railfans!) the Liberal Party is seen as an anti-rail boogeyman, doing everything they can to slash and burn public transport and replacing them with roads. But the reality is a lot more subtle, as this 1976 election advertisement from the incumbent Liberal government led by Rupert Hamer shows.

1976 Liberal Party advertisement - 'What the Hamer Government is doing for Public Transport'
From The Age, Thursday March 18, 1976

Some background

The Liberal government led by Premier Henry Bolte took over from Labor in 1955, starting a long period of conservative rule over the state of Victoria. Following the resignation of Bolte in 1972, Rupert Hamer succeeded him as Liberal leader and Premier, despite opposition from the conservative wing of the party.

From a transport perspective, the 1970s was a period of great change: investment in the Melbourne train and tram networks had stalled for a decade, as the 1969 Melbourne Transportation Plan proposed the massive freeway grid covering the city. New car-based shopping centres and factories were opening away from existign transport infrastructure, leading to a hollowing out of the inner city, and massive growth of new housing developments on the outskirts of Melbourne.

Premier Hamer then went on to win the 1973, 1976 and 1979 state elections, marketing himself as a reformist leader, despite the fact the Liberal Party had been in power for almost two decades. Hamer remained premier until succeeded by Lindsay Thompson as party leader in 1981, who then lost the 1982 state election to the Labor Party led by John Cain.

So what about the public transport achievements listed in the 1976 election advertisement?

New trains

Back in the 1970s the Melbourne rail network was still reliant on the last of the timber bodied ‘red ratlers’ trains – some of which dated to 1887. The 50 new ‘silver’ stainless steel trains were intended to replace the last of these. These days known as the ‘Hitachi’ trains, eventually 118 3-car sets were delivered: nine more trains than advertised in 1976.


PROV image VPRS 12800/P1, item H 4250

Lacking air conditioning, the first of the Hitachi trains were scrapped from 2002, the last was finally retired in 2014. As for the ‘new trains to a new design’ – these were the air conditioned ‘Comeng’ trains, delivered from 1981 and still in service today.

New buses

New buses are a lot less sexy than trains and trams. The 30 new look orange buses were Leyland National buses imported from the UK, with the 100 additional buses being 100 Volvo B59 buses imported from Sweden. The Leyland buses bit the dust in the early-1990s, but some Volvo B59s lived on until the early 2000s under National Bus.

New trams

For decades the rickety old W class tram were the mainstay of the Melbourne tram network – hundreds of them were built between 1923 and 1956, despite the archaic looking design by the end of their long production run. A long lull in tram construction followed, thanks to the future of the tram network being up in the air. This finally changed with the development of the Z class tram – a modern steel bodied vehicle based on the latest tramway technology from Europe.

Z1.43 stored in 'The Met' livery outside East Block at Newport

The first of the 100 locally built Z1 class trams entered service in 1975, followed through the 1970s by the upgraded Z2 and Z3 classes, and in the 1980s by the A and B class trams. The first Z1 class trams were retired from 2001 to make room for new low floor trams, with the last being finally withdrawn in 2016.

New and reconstructed stations

Despite the areas of Melbourne passed by railway lines not having grown for decades, construction of new stations to serve new suburbs has been an ongoing activity – Kananook and Yarraman were opened in 1975 and 1976 respectively to cater for new suburban growth.

In addition, replacement of life expired timber station buildings was an ongoing task over the years. I don’t have a complete list of the 30 stations listed in the 1976 advertisement, but stations rebuilt during this period include Hampton, Macaulay, Glenbervie, West Footscray, Glenroy, Gardiner, Rosanna, Dandenong and Mount Waverley – all received brown brick buildings that look much like public toilet blocks. Many of these stations still there today, just covered with dozens more coats of paint.

Station building at Mount Waverley platform 2

Underground

Work on the City Loop started in 1971, with the first trains running in 1981, with the final stage of the project completed in 1985.

MURLA plaque marking the commencing of construction at Museum Station, April 5 1973

More express running

The automated signalling system referred to is the Metrol signal control centre. The history is a saga in itself – it moved physical home in late-1990s, then moved again into an emulated computer system in the mid-2000s, until finally replaced in 2015.

Free car parking

With the growth in car ownership through the 1970s and the decline in rail freight to suburban stations, surplus railway land next door to stations became available for the construction of commuter car parking. Construction of these car parks continues today, but due to a lack of suitable land, multi-storey car parks at $44,000 per space are now the future.

Multi-storey car park at Syndal station full on a weekday

Electric train extensions

Extensions to electric train services are a big ticket item that politicians love to cut the ribbon on. Here the Hamer Government was on shakier ground: extensions west from Sunshine to Melton and south-west from Frankston to Langwarrin never happened, both projects still sitting on the to-do list. As for the other promises: suburban trains were not extended west to Werribee until 1983; Craigieburn wasn’t reached until 2007; and Sunbury took until 2012. Also interesting to note is the omission of the Cranbourne line – suburban trains reached there in 1995.

More tracks

Building more tracks in order to operate more train services – some real research was required to answer this one. South Kensington – Footscray is an easy one: the section was quadruplicated in the 1970s to separate trains towards Sunshine and Newport. Duplication of the single track Sunshine to Deer Park West line was an early win, though mainly to serve interstate freight traffic between Melbourne and Adelaide.

Signals and darkened skies at Deer Park

Other projects took much longer to complete: Macleod to Greensborough (1979), Ringwood to Bayswater (1982) and Ringwood to Croydon (1984). Caulfield to Mordialloc was a much more drawn out process: completed in fits and starts due to a lack of funding, the project was cut back a third track as far as Moorabbin, which eventually opened in 1986.

Triplication from Box Hill to Ringwood never happened, neither did duplication of Greensborough to Eltham or any track amplification along the Glen Waverley line. Duplication of single track sections of the rail network remains a pressing concern today, due to the restrictions they place on train operations.

New pedestrian crossing at the down end of Lalor station, new track waiting to be tied in

New transport interchanges

Both transport interchange promises fell in a heap – Box Hill station cropped up again in 1983 and was completed in 1985, while Frankston keeps on coming up.

Looking over from Box Hill platform 2 towards the trackless platform 1

Geelong line duplication

Upgrades to the Geelong line look like just a promise – it took until 1981 for the section from Little River to Corio to be duplicated. As for new trains, in 1977 new air conditioned carriages were ordered for the Geelong line, but they didn’t enter service until 1981 as part of the ‘New Deal for Country Passengers‘, which arrested the decline of failing country rail services in Victoria.

Today the Geelong line is still just double track, but with a dedicated route through the suburban area thanks to the Regional Rail Link project completed in 2015, and the locomotive hauled carriages are still in service today, but supplemented by VLocity train sets introduced from 2005.

One ticket transit

Early versions of multi-modal tickets for public transport in Melbourne were launched in 1976 and 1980, but it took until 1981 for a zone based system to be rolled out across Melbourne. The same basic concept is used today, but implemented with a electronic smartcard, and not paper tickets.

Scorecard

12 boxes of public transport promises:

  • Seven projects already underway,
  • Half marks for delivering ‘more tracks’,
  • Swing and a miss for the Geelong line and ‘one ticket’ – they eventually got done,
  • And no ball for transport interchanges and electric train extensions.

Compare that to public transport campaigns from the modern era that focus on projects decades way from being started.

Further reading

V/Line trains and door faults

A few weeks ago Melbourne newspaper The Age ran a piece titled “‘Distressed’ V/Line passengers open train doors after becoming trapped in Ballarat-line train” – so what is the story here?

Confused passengers try to board an overcrowded V/Line service at Sunshine in evening peak

The story starts:

Passengers on the 7.48am city-bound service from Melton were forced to break emergency locks on the train’s doors at Deer Park to get air during the incident on Wednesday morning.

One passenger said the train stopped short of the station when the air conditioning went out.

“Once we arrived at the platform people were waiting to get off the train,” she said.

“People were standing at the door inside. The doors wouldn’t open. People became distressed very quickly. People were very upset…. I became distressed very quickly.”

Two men on the carriage broke the emergency door lock after 10 minutes of trying.

V/Line staff eventually opened all the emergency doors, but the backlog of people arriving at the station created chaos.

A V/Line spokeswoman said the problem at Deer Park began at Bacchus Marsh on the 7.39am train to Southern Cross.

She said it took about half an hour to move the train after the fault occurred.

The train in question was operated by a ‘H’ type carriage set.

Y129 shunt a H set from Southern Cross platform 2 to the carriage wash

These carriages entered V/Line service back in the mid-1980s, having been converted from retired ‘Harris’ suburban trains.


VPRS 12800/P4, item RS/1199

As originally converted these carriages were fitted with air operated power doors, remotely closed by the conductor on departure, then remotely released on arrival at stations, allowing them to be manually opened by passengers.

An important distinction here is the power operated doors, and not power locking doors. In normal service, both systems act exactly the same, but in the case of a power failure, only power locking doors stay closed – power operated doors are free to be manually opened.

As the H set carriages aged, the reliability of these door mechanisms began to decline, with door failures becoming increasingly common.

Looking out the open door outside North Melbourne station

Both Doors sticking open following station stops.

Investigation after train departs Warragul with doors open
6 July 2013

V/Line is investigating after an on-peak rail service departed Warragul Station with many of its platform-facing doors still open on Wednesday night.

Doors not closing on the Traralgon-bound service, which departs Warragul Station at 7.30pm weekdays, is nothing new – passengers have reported single doors not closing or opening on the service and other services using the same type of carriages for years.

It is however less common for more than one door to remain open on departure.

It is unknown when the doors of the six-carriage service closed on Wednesday, but some remained open as carriages passed the end of the station.

The Warragul Citizen contacted V/Line on Thursday for information on the incident and is awaiting a detailed response.

A spokesperson said the regional rail operator is investigating and will supply more information to TWC when it becomes available.

As well as doors coming open while the train was in motion.

Doors swing open on train travelling at 100km/h
August 6, 2014

The doors of a packed Geelong-bound train swung open while travelling more than 100km/h today.

The doors on the 3.59pm express service worked their way open, leaving passengers in one carriage with nothing between them and the ground.

Train operator V/Line has said the train would have been travelling at speeds of up to 110km/h.

This happened on one of the older H-class carriages, a refurbished version of a train from the 1970s.

Due to the age of the train, it lacked modern passenger intercoms. V/Line only found out about this when a passenger tweeted about it.

Network control then alerted the conductor who attempted to close the door, although passengers say she was unsuccessful.

Passengers said the train left for another station with the doors still open.

V/Line said the train has now been taken out of service while it investigates the cause of this fault, and said it is taking the issue “very seriously”.

As an interim fix, V/Line changed their rules to require conductors to manually check that every door is closed before leaving the platform.

V/Line conductor flicks the switch to close the doors of a H set

Some conductors apologies to passengers for the late running caused.

“I would like to apologise for the late running of this train, it is due to a new company policy. We are running behind schedule and will continue to fall behind due to the new policy that requires us to check that every door on the train is shut before we can exit the station. Unfortunately the only way to do this is to walk along the platform.”

In October 2014 V/Line confirmed the issues to The Age.

V/Line has ordered staff to check carriage doors are secure before departing platforms, amid reports of doors opening while trains are travelling at high speeds.

The regional rail operator confirmed the directive was given to conductors in August following safety concerns after doors opened on three moving trains recently.

Problems with the doors have all affected H-set trains, of which there are nine in V/Line’s fleet that typically run limited services to and from Geelong, Seymour, Kyneton and Bacchus Marsh each day.

V/Line said the door problems were believed to be caused by customers’ “heavy handling” or “forcing”, causing the door to become disengaged from the drive mechanism and stuck in an open position.

But a passenger who commutes from Geelong to Melbourne every day and has seen train doors automatically open in transit three times in the past two months said he believed the problem was related to an electrical fault.

“I’ve seen it happen at high speeds, where the power shuts off and the doors just come open, usually open by about three to six inches,” he said. “There is clearly a failure of power to the entire carriage because the air conditioning and the lights lose power.”

The passenger, who asked not to be named, said on two occasions the train was stopped, but the third train was kept running and passengers advised to stay away from the open door after staff said the problem could not be fixed.

V/Line says there is no correlation between problems with the doors and electrical issues.

But did mention a fix was in progress.

V/Line said it was working on a new modification for the H-set trains aimed at strengthening the door drive mechanism and a function alerting the driver if it was open.

By December 2015 the upgraded door mechanism had been retrofitted to entire H-set fleet, the main spotting feature being a new emergency door release valve beneath each carriage.

New emergency door release valve on the underframe of a BTH carriage

But the main change was inside the train – the conductor can now see from inside the train that all doors have been successfully locked, and if the power supply to the train does drop out, the doors stay locked.

Which leaves us back at the at Deer Park station: the passengers were stuck onboard a failed train behind locked doors, thanks to a system installed after doors on an identical train didn’t stay closed when they were supposed to!

On open doors

Ever through that the ‘good old days’ before locked doors were safer? You’d be wrong.

Sure, there’s nostalgia. But the reality is there were accidents, people were injured or killed, and the quest for better safety is a worthy one.

In 2005 a passenger fell out of the open doors of a V/Line train bound for Warrnambool.

And in 2011 a five-year-old boy fell from an open door onboard the Sunlander train in Queensland.

And leaving broken down trains

Think that just because your train has stopped, you’re safe to open the door and walk down an adjacent track?

The floor of a train is about a metre above the rails, with no ladder to use.

Evacuating passengers from the rear half of the train via the intermediate cab doors

Ballast is a pain in the ankles to walk along.

AN7 pattern concrete sleepers at Mont Albert

And you’re assuming that trains on other tracks have stopped – something you cannot assume even in the suburban area. On some corridors separate tracks are managed by separate rail operators, a contributing factor to the derailment of a V/Line train in 2003.

How far is Myki making you walk?

If you want to catch a tram in Melbourne then you need a Myki, despite the fact you can’t buy one or top it up onboard the tram. In 2017 The Age highlighted the difficulty this can pose for intending tram passengers, in an article on myki “dead zones” – tram stops where the nearest place to top up your myki is at least a kilometre away. Coincidently I started work on an almost identical project years ago but never finished it, so what better time to polish it off?

Some background

An integral part of the original Myki system was ticket machines onboard trams – they would have allowed passengers to top up their myki, or to purchase a ‘Short Term Ticket’ if they didn’t hold a myki.

A single ticket machine was installed onboard a Melbourne tram in early 2009 as part of the myki field trial program, with it remaining in place but not in use until at least November 2011.

Myki ticket machine in B2.2012, with the screens all covered up

Short Term Tickets were a cardboard smartcard which entitled the holder to 2 hour of travel, for a cost slightly more than the normal fare charged to standard myki users.

Sales of these tickets commenced in 2009 when Myki went live in Geelong, and they continue to be sold onboard buses in Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Seymour and the Latrobe Valley until 2013.

Short term cardboard myki ticket from a Geelong bus

In Melbourne the sale of Short Term Tickets was never enabled, with the option to do so being disabled for all myki machines located in the city.

Blurb on a Myki machine about the since-cancelled short term tickets

The rollout of short term fares and myki machines onboard trams was cancelled by the Baillieu Government in June 2011, acting on advice contained in a secret report by consulting firm Deloitte.

One reason given for the reason for the withdrawal of Short Term Ticket was due to the cards costing $0.40 cents each to manufacture – making up almost half of the $0.90 charged for a concession bus fare in Geelong!

In 2011 Yarra Trams said that the change would reduce the tram company’s costs, boost space for passengers and reduce fare evasion issues by eliminating a key reason given for not buying a ticket.

Everyone else says the cancellation of Short Term Tickets and onboard top ups make it much more difficult for passengers who only use trams to pay their fare.

Enter the Public Transport Victoria API

Back in March 2014 Public Transport Victoria finally opened up the application program interface (API) which powers their mobile apps, so I decided to have a play around with it.

With the mobile landscape already littered with hundreds of different trip planning apps, I decided to build something slightly different – something to point out how the lack of ticket purchase options onboard trams was wasting the time of the intending passengers.

The API allows programmers to access all kinds of data – tram routes and Myki retailers being two of them, so I built an app that caters for two use cases:

  • you’re at home, work, or a friend’s house – and you’ve discovered that you don’t have a Myki on hand. Where is the nearest place to buy a new one, and how far will this detour take compared to purchasing a ticket onboard the tram?
  • you’ve just stepped onto a tram and discovered that you don’t have any credit left on your Myki. How far will you have to walk to top up, and then where can you get back on your way?

The end result is ‘walki‘ – a small app that works on any device with a web browser.

The logic in the app is as follows:

  1. Show the user their current location,
  2. Calculate distance to nearest tram stop,
  3. Calculate distance to nearest Myki retailer,
  4. Calculate distance from Myki retailer back to nearest tram stop,
  5. Plot the walking routes on a map,
  6. Compare the distances for each,
  7. And finally, show the user much further they have to walk thanks to the lack of ticket sales onboard trams.

Simple?

You can see it for yourself at https://wongm.com/walki/, or using these examples.

Technology

The app itself isn’t anything revolutionary from a technology standpoint.

In the backend I’m using boring old PHP to gather tram stop and myki retailer locations through calls to the PTV API, with the resulting data being mashed around in Javascript until they are drawn out on a pretty map.

The frontend code is static HTML files with a smattering of jQuery Mobile (‘state of the art’ for 2014? :-P) over the top, with the maps being drawn using the Google Maps JavaScript API v3.

The files are all hosted on my vanilla Apache web server, and you can find the source code on GitHub.

Footnote

Here is the original article from The Age – Melbourne’s myki retailers: Where is the nearest place to top up my myki?, by Craig Butt and Andy Ball.

They are the myki dead zones – the tram stops where the nearest place to top up your myki is at least a kilometre away.

If you do not have any credit on your myki you are expected to take reasonable steps to top up, but from these locations you rack up at least 1200 paces to get to the nearest store or machine.

Using the interactive below, you can detect myki dead zones on your tram line and find out where the nearest myki retailer is, in case you ever find yourself short on credit.

One consideration I completely forgot about was the opening hours of Myki retailers:

But keep in mind the opening times of the retailer. When we trekked 1.5 kilometres through Melbourne’s biggest myki desert on a scorching 31 degree day to top up at Bundoora Post Office, we were fortunate enough to get there half an hour before closing time.

But we would have been out of luck after 5pm that afternoon, after midday on Saturday, or when it is closed all day on Sunday.

About 95 per cent of the state’s 800-plus myki retail outlets are open on Saturday, 75 per cent on Sunday and 32.5 per cent are open all hours.

But one thing we did agree on is the lack of Myki retailers along route 86.

And if you live near Plenty Road in Bundoora and rely on the route 86 tram, you’re in the worst spot in Melbourne.

The stop at the corner of Plenty Road and Greenwood Drive is the worst myki dead zone in Victoria for trams. If you forget your card or are out of credit, it’s a 1.5 kilometre walk to the nearest post office to top up.

I included a few examples in my app, one from Reservoir resulting in an extra 1.86 kilometre (23 minute) long walk!