Photos from ten years ago: October 2007

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

We start at Southern Cross Station.

Please stand clear, the 4:59 [rubbish skip] service is now departing...

VLocity lineup at Southern Cross

When initially completed the concourses at the station were wide open spaces, unadulterated by congestion causing commercial outlets.

A more positive change occurred at Flinders Street Station, where the aging CRT next train displays replaced by easier to read LCD panels.

PIDs at Flinders Street Station

If only the screens were used to their full advantage, with the careful use of colour.

Craigieburn station where the first electric train arrived on Sunday, 30th September 2007.

New and old platforms at Craigieburn

Originally the entire station was to be rebuilt with four platforms with access via a pedestrian underpass, but the scope was cut back – only the platform on the ‘town’ side of the station was rebuilt for suburban services, leaving the gravel surfaced platform 1 untouched. This caused delays for V/Line services to Seymour, Shepparton and Albury, until additional upgrades were completed at the station in 2009.

A decade ago Werribee trains outside of peak hour were half sized – only 3-cars long.

Still trundling along the branch line, a 3-car Alstom Comeng on a down Werribee service approaches Laverton Loop

Geelong trains were also shorter, with 2-car VLocity trains a common sight.

VLocity VL07 Melbourne bound at Galvin

But change was on the way, with a station upgrade about to start at Lara.

N467 on the down passing VL10 on the up at Lara

Original a tiny brick building, with ticket office only open in the morning, and a waiting room smaller than a phone box, in 2007 work on an extension commenced. The current building was then gutted and extended to the south, to create a bigger waiting room and ticket office, a small kiosk, and upgraded toilets, along with verandas all around.

A far more unusual train was the one I caught to Geelong one evening, after the normal route via Spotswood was blocked. We were diverted onto the goods lines beneath Footscray station.

V/Line service approaching the Maribyrnong River bridge

Them west towards Sunshine at 15 km/h.

VLocity speeds past on the passenger lines down below

Only to halt to let a freight train pass, before we headed south towards Newport.

NR93 and AN8 arrive at Tottenham Junction on the up with AB6 at 1858

This move was made possible by the various alternate rail routes that exist across Victoria.

In Geelong I sighted a test installation of Myki equipment onboard a McHarry’s bus.

Myki Bus Driver Console in a McHarrys bus in Geelong

Testing of the system as a whole occurred a few months later:

The first active stage for Myki in Geelong involved a pilot trial of 5 McHarry’s buses over three routes between 30 April and 23 May 2008 and was purely a technical/scenario test involving Kamco, TTA and McHarry’s staff.

Back in Melbourne I also why the Metcard system was being replaced – each machine features a complicated series of belts and chutes for dispensing tickets.

Only the bottom doors open while repairing this MVM2 ticket machine

Metcard machines were eventually removed from Melbourne railway stations from January 2012, the last being removed during the week of 23–27 July.

Footnote

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

Metro Trains Melbourne, two derailments, and rail lubrication

This is the story of Metro Trains Melbourne, two derailed trains, and the role rail lubrication plays in keeping trains running.

Siemens 824M leads an up Werribee service at Footscray

The story starts on February 6, 2016 when a citybound X’Trapolis train came off the tracks at Rushall station.

From The Age:

The six-carriage city-bound train travelling on the South Morang line was carrying 120 passengers when one of the wheels of a single carriage came off the tracks about 5pm on Saturday evening just 100 metres from Rushall station.

Then only a week later, a second train derailed at the same location.

Metro shut down the line after a track maintenance machine derailed at 11.30pm last night near Rushall station in Fitzroy North. It was the second derailment at that location this week.

The Victorian Office of the Chief Investigator Transport Safety commenced an investigation of the first derailment.

At about 1650 on 6 February 2016, MTM suburban passenger train TD1064 derailed near the Rushall Railway Station in Fitzroy North, Victoria. The leading bogie of the second passenger car derailed resulting in minor damage to the car. One passenger sustained a minor injury.

Just a few days later CEO of Metro Trains Melbourne Andrew Lezala ended up in front of the Standing Committee on Economy & Infrastructure giving evidence at a parliamentary inquiry into the V/Line wheel wear issues.

Front steps of Parliament House, Melbourne

He had this to say on rail lubrication:

The CHAIR — Just a couple of questions in regard to Metro; obviously we have seen significant wheel wear on V/Line trains, and I have certainly heard speculation that there has been greater than expected wheel wear on Metro trains. Is that something that has been evident through the maintenance that Metro have been doing on their trains?

Mr LEZALA — That is a good question, because we have seen — as we saw in London in 2005, in Hong Kong in the early 90s and Singapore more recently — that you can get a cascading effect once you have got that kind of wheel damage and high friction between wheel and rail until you restore your lubrication regime. I would stress that it is very hard to predict what lubrication regime you need when you change a railway. Lots of railways experience similar kinds of problems. So of course our vigilance on our wheels as we share tracks with V/Line on certain corridors was to make sure that our wheels were not wearing at an increased rate. What we did find is we have got some drying of grease around the network, so we stepped up our lubrication regime to try and avoid any cascade, and so far that has kept everything under control.

The CHAIR — So there has not been any significant — —

Mr LEZALA — We have not seen a noticeable increase in wheel wear yet, and we do not expect to, because of the measures we are taking together with V/Line to make sure that the lubrication regime is more than adequate to recover the situation.

The CHAIR — Has there been a small increase in wheel wear?

Mr LEZALA — We saw a small increase on one particular train, but we do not believe that is directly linked.

Mr WEIMAR — I think, Chair, this is also where we do work as a network, so with the experiences that we are having with V/Line we engage very closely with Metro and V/Line to ensure that any lessons or any emerging best practices are translated across the entire network, and I think that is what we see some evidence of here.

Ms TIERNEY — Can I ask when the lubrication program was stepped up?

Mr LEZALA — When you change a railway in any way, you have to try and predict what extra lubrication you will need, you make your best estimate of that and then you monitor how it is going, because you do not want to overlubricate, because then you get wheels spinning and trains sliding through stations, so you have to be very careful. It is an evolutionary process, and the unfortunate thing is once wheels start to get abrasive they quickly damage other parts of the track, so you have to overlubricate. What I would praise my colleagues for in this is reacting extremely quickly to re-establish a lubrication regime that will minimise further damage. The focus is on containing the problem and then restoring service, so that is what we have all done together.

Mr FINN — Was the derailment last week as a result of overlubrication of the tracks, or was it something unrelated?

Mr LEZALA — No, it was not overlubrication. That is under investigation between ourselves and the national regulator, and we expect to have some results of the analysis. The track has been analysed and cleared by ourselves and the regulator for service, so it was not a track issue necessarily. What we are now looking at is the vehicle itself, and particularly the bogie concerned and the suspension system, so we are just analysing that.

But in October 2016 rail lubrication came up again – now being blamed for the the two derailments at Rushall. From The Age:

Metro has admitted in leaked correspondence that maintenance failures on its part caused two derailments on the same bend within five days last summer.

Trains came off the tracks twice on the tightest curve on Melbourne’s rail network, near Rushall station in Fitzroy North, on February 6 and February 10.

First a passenger train and then a track maintenance vehicle came off the rails because the track were not greased sufficiently and the tracks were in poor condition, according to a report by a senior Metro manager, obtained by Fairfax Media.

The report, by Metro manager of safety, environment and risk Matt Sekulitch​, said the cause was “a combination of lack of lubrication and track condition, which created an upwards component of lateral force exceeding downwards force on the wheel”.

Mr Sekulitch wrote on May 18 that after the two derailments, “MTM has initiated a program of work to ensure adequate lubrication across the network for all vehicle types.”

At Rushall, where the trains came off the tracks, “the track geometry for the relevant curve has been reviewed and re-aligned with several faults removed,” he wrote.

Metro spokeswoman Sammie Black said Metro regularly greased its tracks, but stepped up its regime after the derailments near Rushall.

“Lubrication is a permanent regime for the metropolitan railway and we use a combination of fixed greasing pots and manual lubrication across the network,” Ms Black said.

“Since February we have increased the frequency of the manual lubrication of our tracks and adjusted the height of the greasing pots across our network.”

Mr Sekulitch’s leaked email was consistent with a technical report completed in March, and with advice Metro had given to Public Transport Victoria and the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator about the incident, she said.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is still investigating the causes of the derailment of the passenger train on February 6.

Trains roll on metal wheels along metal rails, which is a low friction environment. So how does lubricating the rails make things better, instead of creating a slippery mess?

From the Australian CRC for Rail Innovation:

Train motions through curves can cause major damage to wheels and rail, thereby raising maintenance requirements, causing noise pollution and increasing costs.

Properly and efficiently applied lubricants should lessen squeal on corners and reduce overall rail noise.

They can also reduce wear on track and wheel, particularly on the contact zone on the outside curve, which is the major wear site for track operators.

For decades ‘grease pots’ have been the traditional way of applying lubrication to the rails.

'Grease pot' rail lubricator at the entrance to the City Loop at North Melbourne

Bolted to the rail, each time a wheel passes over the top, a smear of grease is applied to it. But they are a low tech solution – they don’t always put grease where it is needed.

Grease pot in place on the tracks at Caulfield station

With splotches of grease belong left behind by slow moving wheels.

Grease pot in the Apex quarry siding at Kilmore East

And staff need to visit each pot on a regular basis to refill it with grease.


Getty Images ID 90747770

Not exactly a simple job when the grease pot is sitting in the middle of the tracks!

Track staff service a train stop near North Melbourne station

As a result grease posts started to disappear from the Melbourne suburban network.

Soon after, these new mysterious objects started to appear trackside.

Plenty of people began to ask what the hell they were.

On the Belgrave and Lilydale line, what are all those newly grey roundish things about a meter high and wide with a big solar panel on a tall pole?

A product of Lincoln Industrial, these are a high technology replacement for old fashioned grease pots.

A sensor attached to the rails detects the passage of trains.

Sensor that triggers the automatic rail greaser at Sunshine

While applicators attached to the rails dispense the grease.

Grease applicators for both running rails at Sunshine

Both being connected to the control unit and grease reservoir, safely located away from the tracks to allow for easy maintenance.

Lincoln automatic rail lubricator ready to be connected to the suburban tracks at Albion

So far units I’ve seen units installed at North Melbourne, Jolimont, Caulfield and Burnley.

Will they fix the issues that derailed the trains at Rushall? I sure hope so.

Footnote

Exploded diagram of a Lincoln automatic rail lubricator.

V/Line overcomplicate the toilet door

Doors are a simple thing, having existed for hundreds of years. So how did V/Line manage to overcomplicate a door so much, that a three step instruction manual and regular audio announcements were required?

'Ensure your privacy' signage inside the disabled toilet onboard a VLocity train

This is the disabled toilet onboard a VLocity train. Introduced to service back in 2005, each train consists of three carriages. One carriage has a small toilet with a standard door lock, while the third carriage has an electrically operated door to provide easy access for anyone using a mobility aid.

Direct toilet views onboard a VLocity train

Inside the door are three buttons, with a ‘You must push [lock] to lock door’ sticker alongside.

'You must push [lock] to lock door' sign inside a VLocity toilet

Simple?

The complaints begin

With such a complicated system of locking the toilet door, you can expect that many users won’t be able to work it out – and you would be right.

I found this piece from 2006 on a blog titled ‘V/Line Whinger’.

Toilet doors..ahem.
Lets just say if you’re gonna make the toilet door electronic and the person has pressed the “Lock” button, make sure the bloody thing actually locks. (Like with a LOCKING pin).
I was sitting down on the throne the other day and noticed the gap in the door sliding open a couple of cm’s despite the fact I’d pressed the lock button.
I feel sorry for the poor soul sitting with their pants down and it fails completely going around a fast bend, exposing them to the view of the whole carriage.

Followed by this comment from 2008 on the Railpage Australia forums:

Although I have never seen it, I reckon that the disabled toilets on the VLocity’s are an extremely embarrassing moment waiting to happen.
All you need to do is forget to push the “lock” button, someone outside presses the “open” button and “oh sh–“, the whole carriage sees you sitting on the throne.
Has anyone ever seen this happen or had it happen to them.
As an extra precaution, whenever I’m on a VLocity I will always use the other toilet which has a more conventional lock on it.

With another poster weighting in.

I must admit that very experience did happen to me. I was convinced I had pressed the lock button, but (fortunately as I was washing my hands) the door suddenly opened. The person wanting to come in was more embarrassed than I was…

And another.

It basically happens every-time I’m on a VLocity run, I t don’t understand why there is a separate buttons to close and another to lock the door. it’s not a very intuitive system unless your used to it.

V/Line’s initial solution to the problem – asking conductors to make an announcements as part of their opening spiel, telling passengers to press the lock button in addition to the close door button.

Interior of 13xx car inserted into 'original' interior VLocity unit VL07

But a poor design will fight back against any awareness campaign – I found another blog post from 2013 from a passenger who encountered two separate people getting surprised while sitting on a VLocity train toilet.

My own eyes saw a lady enter the toilets and at the time I didn’t know the system of lights on or lights off for occupied. I then saw a young man come along and press the button to open the door to the toilet. To gasps and horror down the whole train that had a full view of the toilet door, it opened where a lady was seen jumping from the toilet and franticly trying to close the door. The young man stood there in shook, before running away.

Then not even 10 minutes later another young woman entered the toilet as I thought “god I hope that wouldn’t happen again”. As I turned away and looked back a young woman with her face in her phone was at the toilet door and pushed the button to open the door again. To everyone’s shock the door opened revealing another lady jumping from the toilet and trying to close the door. The lady on the phone waited outside laughing and then entered the toilet.

By this time I noticed when the light is off the door is locked from the inside not merely just closed. The lady who just entered hadn’t locked the door. Thankfully no one came by again and no one else was embarrassed.

This leads to the question why? Why does the door not automatically lock when closed? Why is there a system that you need to press a second button whilst inside to lock the door. Once inside there is a big sign on the door that reads, please lock the door to avoid embarrassment. This sign obviously is not working.

V-line may I suggest two ways to fix the problem. Place a sign on the outside of the door, so it can be seen before entering, or change the whole system that the door is also locked once closed.

Clearly this is a major problem and I’m sure as it happened in the time frame that I was on the train it has happened many times before.

How many complaint letters have you received so far?

And how about the visually impaired?

The point of the electronic operated lock was to allow mobility impaired passengers to use the onboard toilet without assistance. But what about visually impaired passengers, who are unable to see a blinking light?

Electronic controls for the disabled toilet door onboard a VLocity train

In January 2015 the Latrobe Valley Express took up the cause, after a legally blind Traralgon resident pointed out the flaws in the door locking system.

Flushing out some issues
Jessica Chambers
8 Jan 2015

V/Line has answered calls to upgrade its trains toilets to avoid embarrassing problems for users with a visual impairment.

Legally blind Traralgon resident Phillip Chalker said there was no way of telling when the toilet doors on a V/Line train were locked, leading to users being walked in on.

“They have three buttons with lights on them, but this is not an accessible method because a person who is blind or vision impaired cannot tell if the door is locked or not,” Mr Chalker said.

“To make the toilet doors on V/Line trains more accessible they need to come up with a better solution, such as making the buttons on the toilet doors audible with a sound.”

A V/Line spokesperson said the organisation was aware of these concerns and was about to embark on a trial, which would test an audible locking system on VLocity trains.

“The system will be set up to provide audible information to customers using the toilet, through a speaker in the bathroom cabin,” a spokesperson said.

“Our fleet engineers are currently fine-tuning a prototype and once finalised, we’ll start testing the audible locking system on the network.”

The spokesperson said V/Line would monitor the trial for several months, taking on board customer feedback, before rolling out the system on VLocity units.

“These projects take time to implement, but our accessibility team will continue to keep customers updated on the progress,” the spokesperson said.

V/Line publishes an Accessibility Action Plan, updated every three years, but the 2015-2018 edition of the plan doesn’t mention anything about an audible locking system.

I ended up sending an email to V/Line on the topic, with their reply dated June 2017 stating:

Currently 79% of the VLocity fleet have been fitted with the messaging system. All new VLocity trains being delivered are pre-fitted with this system.

I recently encountered a train fitted with the audible locking system.

On entering the toilet and pushing the ‘door close’ button, the following audio announcement plays:

To ensure your privacy, please lock the toilet door by pushing the key button

It begs two questions – how did such a fundamental accessibility flaw escape unnoticed for over a decade, and will this extra piece of passenger information finally address the usability flaws of an overcomplicated door locking system?

Myki gates and railway station evacuations

The last thing anybody wants when trying to evacuate a building is a set of locked doors – which in the case of railway stations, is usually a set of ticket gates. For this reason an emergency release is usually included as part of the gate array, to ensure a clear exit in times of need.

Slow Myki gates cause a queue to exit Southern Cross at the Bourke Street end

Given all of the ways that myki screwed up, it is good to know that an emergency release switch was included as part of each gate array. Once pushed, all gates revert to the open position.

Myki gates at Southern Cross Station all opened, due to the emergency button being pressed

Outbound Myki readers continue to operate as usual, but inbound readers display a ‘Validation disabled – Emergency’ message on the screen.

'Validation disabled - Emergency' message on a myki reader

However it seems that pushing the button doesn’t tell station staff anything – ticket gates left in ’emergency’ mode are a common sight on the unmanned platforms at Footscray station, with users turning to Twitter to get them reset.

I would assume that pushing the emergency release button would trigger an alert in the station control room, with staff able to remotely reset the gates once verifying it was a nuisance alarm.

A further flaw is the inconsistent location of the unlabelled buttons, so in the case of a real emergency only qualified staff would be able to find and activate them – wasting precious evacuation time.

Emergency release button beside a set of myki gates

What about stupid passengers?

Even with a working emergency release, would it speed up the evacuation of a railway station, or would stupid passengers be the limiting factor?

In February 2017 a bus passenger in Sydney evacuated a burning bus, only to climb back onboard so they could tap off their Opal card.

Would a passenger trying to touch off during an emergency evacuation situation result in a crowd crush occurring behind them? I hope we never find out.

Or stupid management?

While in 2012 Daniel Bowen found an electronically released emergency gate at Flinders Street Station, with a padlock and chain securing it. Their solution once alerted to the issue – remove the emergency exit sign!

Footnote

Back in the Metcard days, fare gates also had emergency release buttons – but with a label on them.

Emergency barrier release button at Footscray station

An outsiders look at the Melbourne rail network

When people travel interstate or overseas, one of the things they love to point out is how the public transport system is much better than the one they use at home – a case of “the grass is always greener”? If so, what would a person who has travelled on rail systems all over the world think of the Melbourne network?

Werribee-bound Siemens train at North Melbourne platform 6

Robert Schwandl is a Austrian railfan and author, who has travelled to dozens of cities around the world while curating his UrbanRail.Net website.

In 2011 he visited Melbourne and wrote about what the saw.

Melbourne appeared to me as a great city from the beginning, and even a week later I think it is quite a good place to live, not only because of its extensive and mostly well-functioning urban rail system.

Poor access to railway stations was one observation.

I was often annoyed by the bad accessibility. Probably thought to create a properly separated paid area, most platforms are enclosed by fences, so one often has to walk a long way to the actual entrance when an opening at the other end of the platform would be easy to make and save passengers a lot of time.

In particular the interaction with the ticketing system.

Therefore I didn’t understand either why they don’t put proper ticket gates, if the access is channelled through a small slot anyway.

And the abundance of level crossings.

At many stations with side platforms, the two platforms are not really connected, but one has to walk to a nearby level crossing to get to the other side.

Level crossing clear, as a stream of pedestrians cross the railway at Yarraville

Manually operated doors were another thing that stood out.

The second-oldest are probably the largest number, those are the refurbished Comeng trains. They are quite pleasant, except for their peculiar door handles. Unlike on the newer trains, which have a normal button to open the doors, these have a knob, and you have to manually slide the doors open, which can be quite hard, especially if you carry things in your hands.

Along with our poor quality trackwork.

When it comes to riding the train, I might prefer the Siemens, which seemed to offer a smoother ride, but this may also be due to the track, as on some sections I even noticed with my own eyes when waiting for a train, that the track is not in the best condition. When standing on a bridge, you can also observe that the cars move a lot from side to side.

Mud hole in the up line at Carnegie

And the poor condition of the Siemens train fleet.

But there was one thing that stroke me most about the Siemens trains: they are extremely dirty inside! The other trains also have some window scratching (made me feel like home in Berlin…), but the Siemens trains have dirty and sometimes even destroyed seats, while on the other two types I did not observe anything like that.

This may have two reasons – the areas where these trains are used (the southern and the western lines) have a different type of passenger (they say the western districts are more problematic), or, the seats call for aggression, because the fabric used, its colour and pattern, is so horrible that one feels the need to destroy it, very weird.

Looking down a Siemens train to a graffiti covered end bulkhead

Confusion with the City Loop stood out.

Inbound trains normally show “Flinders Street” as their destination, sometimes with the add-on “via City Loop”, but I was not always sure whether the train would go around the loop or not

Congestion around Flinders Street.

but between Southern Cross and Flinders Street all trains I have been on crawl, although there are six tracks between these two main stations.

And a lack of information about onboard services once a train arrives.

On other occasions I took a Frankston train at Southern Cross, which was then stopping at Flinders Street for 10 minutes. Also, while the panels in the station showed Frankston, inside the train the destination remains Flinders Street until the train leaves from there, so passengers boarding a train on the loop cannot really check inside the train whether it continues or terminates at Flinders Street. An accoustic announcement following “Now arriving at Flinders Street” like “This train continues to Frankston” would be helpful.

Complexity in service patterns was called out.

It would be interesting to see a map that actually depicts service patterns.

As was the general uselessness of the network map used until a few years ago.

The network map has some flaws, and I would prefer a Sydney-type map with colour-coded lines. While it is difficult to depict the direction the trains take around the loop (this changes at lunchtime for most trains), the area around North Melbourne station is quite misleading. It appears that trains from Upfield continue west to Footscray!

Level crossings get called out yet again.

All in all, riding the Melbourne Metro trains through the inner suburbs, where stations are very closely spaced, reminded me a bit of the London District or Metropolitan Lines, although with modern trains, or even the Green Line on the Stockholm Tunnelbana. But none of these has level crossings, which in Melbourne are a standard feature. These work fairly well, but make the system appear more like a light rail with heavy and long trains.

Metro liveried Comeng at Kensington

Finally, a subjective view of what train looks better.

Visually, I prefer the Alstom train, which like the Comeng has a wider waist, or a belly, whereas the Siemens cars have completely straight sides, a bit boring.

X'Trapolis 955M at Southern Cross platform 10, beside Siemens 815M in the middle road 10A

And to end.

To conclude, an overall very modern system (in fact, much more up-to-date than I expected) which suffers some problems due to the Flinders Street bottleneck and maybe some other infrastructure issues.

Sounds about right to me!

On the subject of comparisons

Australian transport lecture Alexa Delbosc wrote a piece titled Public transport is always greener on the other side at The Conversation:

As a researcher in public transport, I am frustrated by a narrative I see time and again. It comes up in comments in focus groups and pops up at the bottom of news articles. It goes something like this:

I’ve been to London / New York / Tokyo and their public transport system is better / cheaper / more reliable than ours! Why can’t our public transport be that good?

Australia’s public transport systems seem shoddy compared to other countries for a number of reasons. These reasons make me question whether those comparisons are valid.

The first reason this comparison is flawed is because when we’re on holiday, we don’t use public transport the same way we do in our mundane commute back home.

The other reason this comparison is flawed is due to the super-size of Australia’s cities.

While American transit consultant Jarrett Walker wrote about the The Disneyland Theory of Transit:

Political leaders frequently take junkets to other cities, ride those cities’ transit systems as tourists, and then come home proposing to build the same kind of service. But our values as tourists are different from our values as commuters: We enjoy riding the Ferris wheel, but that doesn’t mean we’d enjoy commuting on one.

And more comparisons