How many train drivers does it take to drive a train across Australia?

Australia is a big country, with a transcontinental rail journey taking days – far long than an human can possibly stay awake. So how do these train keep running?

8173 and 8160 on a grain train chase down Siemens 734M on a down Sydenham service at West Footscray

Asking why

I went down this rabbit hole after Philip Mallis asked on Twitter why The Overland stopped at Dimboola for a crew changeover, partway through the 10 hour journey from Melbourne to Adelaide.

10 hours without any rest breaks would be pretty full on, so how does it work?

But first: maximum shift lengths

The “Rail Safety National Law” spells out the maximum length shift that a train driver is required to work, but like everything railway related in Australia, each state does things slightly differently – so here is the NSW version:

Working hours for rail safety workers driving freight trains

The following work scheduling practices and procedures apply to a rail safety worker who drives a freight train–

(a) in the case of a 2 person operation where the second driver is a qualified train driver (including a qualified train driver who is learning a route or undergoing an assessment)–the maximum shift length to be worked is 12 hours;
(b) in the case of any other 2 person operation–the maximum shift length to be worked is 11 hours;
(c) in the case of a 1 person operation–

(i) the maximum shift length to be worked is 9 hours; and
(ii) a minimum break of not less than 30 minutes must be scheduled and taken some time between the third and fifth hour of each shift;

Working hours for rail safety worker driving passenger train–single person operation

The following work scheduling practices and procedures apply to a rail safety worker who drives a passenger train in a single person operation–

(a) in the case of an interurban or a long distance train–the maximum shift length to be worked is 10 hours;
(b) in the case of a suburban train–the maximum shift length to be worked is 9 hours;

Working hours for rail safety worker driving passenger train–2 person operation

The following work scheduling practices and procedures apply to a rail safety worker who drives a passenger train in a 2 person operation–

(a) in the case of a 2 person operation where the second driver is a qualified train driver (including a qualified train driver who is learning a route or undergoing an assessment)–the maximum shift length to be worked is 12 hours;
(b) in the case of any other 2 person operation–the maximum shift length to be worked is 11 hours;

So a maximum shift length of 12 hours when two qualified drivers are sharing the job, reducing to 9 hours for suburban passenger trains operated by a single driver.

So back to the crew changes

In the case of The Overland, Journey Beyond Rail contracts freight operator Pacific National to supply locomotives and train drivers.

NR60 leads the Melbourne bound Overland outside Werribee

Pacific National has a crew depot is at Dimboola, with Melbourne-based crews taking westbound trains to what is approximately the halfway point between Melbourne and Adelaide, swapping over with a fresh crew, take their meal break at the station, then meet the inbound crew of the next eastbound service, which they take back to Melbourne, where they finish their shift.

However customer service staff on The Overland have no such luxury – with only two trains each way per week, they need to work a whole day eastbound from Adelaide, stay overnight in Melbourne, then work all day back to Adelaide westbound.

The NSW TrainLink XPT service between Melbourne and Sydney operates on similar principles: train crew come from Junee, while the customer service staff are based out of Albury and work an “out and back” shift through Victoria.

Northbound XPT passes the grasslands of Sunshine

Pacific National freight trains do something similar on the busy Melbourne-Sydney freight corridor.

Indian Pacific liveried NR28 with AN6 and Ghan liveried NR75 on BM4 pass Tottenham Yard on the up

Melbourne-based crews work their trains as far north as Junee in New South Wales then work another train back south.

Looking down the line past the platforms at Junee

Crew changes for other services can be little ad-hoc: in the case of the Great Southern train that travelled down the east coast of Australia, it pulled up at Brooklyn in Melbourne’s west at midnight to swap over train crew.

Crew change for NR30 and NR31 on the northbound run at Brooklyn

And on this Melbourne to Deniliquin freight train, the crew changed over at Echuca.

Crew change at Echuca station

And when trains are delayed, crew who are approaching their maximum shift time sometimes just have to put their train away at a crossing loop, and await a relief crew to arrive by road.

Crew change for G513, S311 and BRM002 at McIntyre Loop on a southbound grain

Another way of splitting shifts for freight services on quieter routes is the “rest job” – where train crew take a train out of the city to the country. They stable the train at the freight terminal for loading, then head off to a local motel to sleep, then return later that day to take the train back to the city.

Reach stacker unloads containers from the train

And the tough transcontinental jobs

As for trains running between Adelaide, Perth and Darwin – better strap yourself in – you’re living onboard the train for the next week!

GWA001 leads FQ03 and VL353 on a northbound Darwin service out of Adelaide at Bolivar

Customer service staff on The Ghan and Indian Pacific work a week on / week off FIFO-style roster out of Adelaide.

Almost home: NR75 leads the Adelaide-bound Ghan through Two Well

Living onboard the train as it takes them all the way to Perth, Darwin or Sydney – and back.

Working one week on, one week off, commencing your week on either Sunday or Tuesday, you’ll be engaged part-time. The days can be long but will feel like they’re going fast. The job is physical but dynamic.

Train drivers on these routes also live onboard their train for days at a time, sleeping and eating meals in a self-contained carriage coupled up behind the locomotives.

SCT015 and SCT006 leads a crew car and online refuelling tanker on the SBR/SCT ore train

The practice is known as relay working, and dates back to the early days of the Central Australia Railway and North Australia Railway systems.

As they made their way to the north of Australia.

Relay vans were used on all narrow gauge trains operating on the CAR and NAR systems thus allowing for four engine crew and two guards to work between Stirling North and Alice Springs, Darwin to Larrimah and Frances Creek in relay without the need for rest houses being constructed.

However recent research has shown relay working isn’t conductive to quality sleep.

Relay working operations typically require two crews of train drivers to work a rotating 8-h schedule for two or more days. While one crew is driving, the other has the opportunity to sleep onboard the train.

The current study investigated the impact of relay work on drivers sleep quantity and quality. Fourteen drivers wore wrist activity monitors and completed sleep/wake diaries for 3 d prior to and during short (<48 h) relay trips.

Drivers obtained an average of 7.8 h sleep per night while at home, and an average of 4 h sleep per opportunity during the relay trip.

Sleep obtained in the relay van was associated with longer sleep onset latencies, lower efficiency and poorer subjective quality than sleep at home. During the relay trip, drivers obtained significantly more sleep during opportunities that occurred in the evening, than those that occurred early morning or during the day.

These findings suggest that while drivers are able to obtain sleep during short relay operations, it is of poorer quality than sleep obtained at home.

Further, the timing of the sleep opportunities during the relay trip impacts on the quantity and quality of sleep obtained.

But research shows that the poor sleep was still “good enough”.

Overall, drivers reported that they felt more alert following each sleep period.

Drivers were able to sustain attention during the 10-min vigilance tasks administered before and after each shift.

These findings suggest that the amount of sleep obtained in crew vans during short relay operations is sufficient to maintain alertness during the trip.

As you might guess, the push towards relay working came from train operators, not staff.

Relay operations are normally undertaken in remote and isolated areas, and generally involve trips that are greater than 30 h in duration.

In many Australian states, relay working has been introduced to facilitate the delivery of goods around-the-clock and year-round.

While relay operations are often considered cost-effective and practical, there is widespread concern that relay work has a detrimental impact on the drivers sleep and performance.

One rail operator justifying the practice to their employees in their enterprise agreement.

The following characteristics are used as a basis for but not the limit of any decisions to introduce relay working:
13.1.1 The remoteness of the operation; and
13.1.2 The distances travelled. Relay working is best suited to long distance trips; and
13.1.3 The viability of establishing crewing depots at appropriate locations and being able to staff those depots.

Relay working is not designed to eliminate existing depots or to force the relocation of existing employees.

With the reason for train drivers to adopt the practice – extra pay.

During a relay operation time spent working will be paid at the employee’s rate for the day inclusive of weekend work payment if applicable.

During the relay operation time spent resting or sleeping in the crew van will be paid 100% payment whilst resting.

Enough compensation from being away from family and friends for weeks – that’s your own choice to make.

Footnote: Metro Trains Melbourne

Metro Trains Melbourne does things a little differently – their rosters are grouped into day and afternoon shifts, with each one having a different start and finish time. The most visible shift changes are at Flinders Street Station, where trains sit in the platform for a few minutes.

Looking across 10 empty platforms at Flinders Street Station

But drivers also take over trains at stabling yards, when based at crew depots called “outstations”.

Comeng trains stabled in the yard at Calder Park

And despite a kerfuffle back in 2012 over the decentralisation of driver depots, changeovers also happen outbound at North Melbourne station.

Driver changeovers for Northern Group trains now occurs at North Melbourne station on the down

And at Clifton Hill.

X'Trapolis 1M arrives into Clifton Hill on a down Mernda service

Train drivers at Metro Trains also work shorter shifts than train drivers interstate, only 8 hours 29 minutes long, due to Victorian regulations that pre-dated the Rail Safety National Law.

Australia’s train radio “break of gauge”

It’s pretty common knowledge that Australia’s rail network is a mess of different rail gauges, preventing freight and passengers from travelling across Australia without changing trains. But did you know that’s not the only incompatibility holding back rail in Australia – there is also a mess of different train radio systems.

'Radio Equipped' sticker on DRC 43

How we got there

The story starts the same was as Australia’s rail gauge muddle, where each colony started building railways based on their own standards, never thinking the systems would meet to form a national network.

Static 'Common Rail Transfer' at the north end of dual gauge Southern Cross platform 2

But despite early trials on the Commonwealth Railways during the 1950s, the rollout of two-way radio systems was resisted by many Australian rail operators. Franklin Hussey, Crew Operations Manager for the National Rail Corporation, had this to say to the 2001 Special Commission of Inquiry Into the Glenbrook Rail Accident.

The introduction of train radio systems combined with track circuiting has been slow to develop in Australia, contrary to what occurred in the United States of America after World War II.

In Australia they were not contemplated until an incident in Victoria at Barnawartha in the 1982 when a freight train collided with the rear of the Southern Aurora.

He stated that New South Wales was the least developed of all the States until the development of the Metronet and Countrynet systems the mid-1990s.

So one might think the lessons of the past on rail gauge would lead to standardisation – but it didn’t.

Communications facilities and current call types have evolved due to the different safeworking practices of the rail authorities and their investment strategies. Each system has evolved to best meet the requirements of their operation and necessarily are influenced by the equipment capabilities which in turn depend on the level of investment. The differences between systems is a major inhibition to flexible locomotive operation on the interstate corridors.

And so each state-based rail operator adopted their own standards for radio communications.

And the mess

By the 2000s there were 20 different radio systems in use across Australia – most states using different radio systems for their suburban and country rail networks.

Australasian Railway Association diagram

To make matters worse, there was no single radio capable of supporting all 20 systems.

Whilst most areas are shown as requiring UHF radio, it should be noted that no single UHF radio can do the job.

The UHF radio used in the Perth Greater Metropolitan area is a trunked radio with narrow band operation. In general, radio transceivers that can provide the trunked radio operation cannot also provide the wide band conventional operation required for the rest of the country.

A standard, off-the-shelf conventional mobile radio can be used for the remainder of the UHF train control areas outside NSW. But in Victoria this radio is useless unless connected to a Motorola ASW or MDC600 unit.

In NSW, a special duplex radio is required for Metronet and Countrynet. There is only one source of duplex radio to our knowledge, although one can contrive a full duplex radio from two simplex radios.

Access to the Metronet system is limited to a particular brand and model of mobile radio. Although it is technically possible to implement the Metronet radio functions with other radio transceivers, the necessary information and approvals are not available.

Similarly, RIC is at present the only source of Countrynet equipment.

So a train travelling from Brisbane to Perth via Melbourne required six different radio receivers in the cab.

Rod Williams photo

Changing radio channels along the way.

NR55 and AN2 on the up at Gheringhap Loop

Yet unable to talk to the driver of a steam train up ahead.

The freight continues the chase

The driver of the suburban train running on the track alongside.

8173 and 8160 on a grain train chase down Siemens 734M on a down Sydenham service at West Footscray

Or the driver of a parallel V/Line train.

SCT liveried G512 leads CFCLA liveried G515 on MA2, overtaking N462 on a down Geelong service at Lara

In search of solutions

The formation of the National Rail Corporation in 1992 to take over the operation of interstate freight services on the railways of Australia provided an impetus to dealing with the mess of incompatible radio systems.

Weston Langford photo

They wrote in 1998.

Radio frequencies change frequently across the national track network, requiring complex radio equipment, and constant attention from drivers to ensure correct radio channels are selected for each task and area. The very large number of frequencies in use also places large demands on rail operators and track owners for provision of radio equipment and on controllers for attention to detail in its use.

So they patched over the problem with a system called AWARE – “Australia Wide Augmented Radio Environment“.

ATSB photo

It presented a single radio screen to the train driver, and managed a cabinet full of radio equipment, switching between them based on which systems were used at the current location.

ATSB diagram

But radios are still a problem

The inability for train crew from different operators to talk to each other in an emergency was a contributing factor to a number of rail crashes between trains during the 1990s and 2000s.

ATSB photo

At Glenbrook in NSW.

At 2 December 1999 a State Rail Authority interurban train collided with the rear of the Indian Pacific tourist train. The accident occurred because of a fault in an area of automatic signalling. As the signalling system was not functioning normally, control of train movements through the area was therefore managed by the signaller and drivers.

There is no single integrated system which enables communications between the various trains, signallers and controllers involved in operations on the rail network. In the case of this particular accident there were five different communications systems which were involved, namely, three different two-way radio systems (known respectively as Metronet, Countrynet and WB), dedicated line telephones at the bases of signals, called signal telephones, and mobile telephones operating on either the GSM terrestrial based network or by satellite.

Corio in Victoria.

On 1 October 1999 a freight train came to a stand at Corio station after an emergency brake application on the train. On investigation it was found that the train had separated, the rear portion of the train had six wagons derailed. The damaged wagons were fouling the Broad Gauge Line and the standard gauge line with severe track damage to both.

The report recommended that all locomotive drivers and train controllers to be instructed that immediately a train comes to a stand on a running line, the driver must inform the train controller who, in turn, must inform the train controller in charge of any parallel lines, so that all trains on the parallel lines can be warned.

Hexham in NSW.

On 12 July 2002 an empty coal train derailed at Hexham, fouling two out of the three adjacent railway lines. A short time later a passenger train collided with the fouling wreckage. The line that the passenger train was travelling on was track circuited but the track remained unbroken, preventing the automatic signals returning to stop. The crew from the coal train tried to contact the local signal box with no success.

And Chiltern in Victoria.

On Sunday 16 March 2003 a Pacific National freight train derailed south of Chiltern railway station on the standard gauge railway line. At about 1512 a V/Line locomotive hauled passenger train travelling from Albury to Melbourne on the broad gauge railway line, collided with wreckage from the derailed freight train. The collision derailed the locomotive and two carriages of train 8318

There was an about two minute window from the time train 1SP2N came to a stand, up to the time the driver of train 8318 applied the emergency brake, to try and stop train 8318 before the derailed train. In that time the drivers from train 1SP2N had repeatedly tried to warn train 8318, but were unsuccessful. The drivers also followed procedure by notifying ARTC train control but the message was delayed by four minutes before being relayed to the broad gauge train control (Centrol), not in time to prevent the collision.

And a solution

In 2007 the Australian Rail Track Corporation, announced that they would be developing a single National Train Communications System to be used on the interstate rail network.

Seventy-seven new Next G™ regional base stations will be built as part of an $85 million communications deal signed today between the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) and Telstra.

The agreement will see Telstra’s leading Next G™ network used to replace nine separate communications systems across 10,000km of rail tracks.

Replacing a series of old technologies, such as two-way radios and CDMA devices, the new network will provide telecommunications coverage for the interstate rail network – from Brisbane to Perth (via Melbourne and Broken Hill) and in the Hunter Valley. The agreement improves coverage in tunnels and across the Nullarbor Plain, introduces new communications equipment for more than 700 locomotives, and is backed up with Satellite if necessary.

Chief Executive Officer of ARTC, Mr David Marchant, said once completed all trains and train controllers would be able to use the one system to communicate with each other across the entire national rail network from Brisbane to Perth, as well as the Hunter Valley Coal Network, eliminating the inefficient nine different communications systems for train operators.

“ARTC is breaking new ground in Australian rail communications,” Mr Marchant said. “A single national communication system will greatly improve operational efficiency and reduce costs associated with managing multiple platforms.

General Manager Strategy Development and Chief Information Officer for ARTC, Mr Leon Welsby, said the new communications network will provide train controllers with real time GPS location of all trains, wherever they are between Brisbane and Perth.

Australian government funding under the Auslink National Transport Plan has been made available to provide this common communications system for the national rail network.

The new system supported four different data connections.

  • Satellite
  • GSM-R
  • UHF (analog, digital)
  • 3G (UTMS, HSDPA)

All controlled by a single ICE (In-Cab Communications Equipment) unit developed by base2 communications.

ICE radio terminal in the cab of TL152

The rollout

One the new system had been proven in trials, it was time to roll out a new radio to every single train that operated over the ARTC network.

ICE radio console in the cab of T413

An ICE unit in every cab.

ICE radio equipment onboard A66

And new radio antennas on every roof.

ICE radio antennas atop G532

V/Line’s fleet of VLocity trains didn’t miss out.

ICE radio console inside a VLocity train cab

Gaining an array of new antennas.

 ICE radio equipment on the roof of VLocity VL36

Melbourne’s restored ‘Tait’ set also received an ICE radio.

ICE radio console in the cab of Tait 317M

And even steam locomotives didn’t miss out!

ICE radio equipment in the cab of steam locomotive K190

Gaining radio antennas on the cab roof.

ICE radio antennas on the cab roof of steam locomotive K190

Positioning of the ICE unit presented difficulties for some steam locomotives.

Modern ICE radio system inside the cab of steam locomotive 3642

The radio equipment box on A2 986 ended up beside the coal bunker!

ICE radio equipment box on the tenter of A2 986

But in the end it was done – and the last of the legacy radio systems switched off in December 2014.

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) officially switched off the last two of seven out-dated regional radio systems previously used on its network today, completing a seven year project.

“The ‘switch off’ of the old radio systems in NSW and Victoria means freight trains operating on ARTC’s national freight rail network now use a single, safer, digital radio system,” ARTC CEO John Fullerton said.

While the physical network including mobile communications towers and satellites has been in place since June 2010, the retrofitting and testing of ICE (In-cab Communications Equipment) units across the national locomotive fleet and multiple operators has now been completed.

Currently 900 trains with ICE units operate across the country, 704 units were supplied by ARTC as part of the NTCS project.

Around 1024 Telstra Mobile sites form part of the communications network along ARTC’s rail network. Telstra provided an additional 81 radio sites along the rail corridor comprising 70 macro base stations and 11 radio fitted tunnels.

The Next G system is for non electrified NSW, the Victorian tracks controlled by ARTC, SA, NT and WA tracks, excluding the PTA system.

Finally putting an end to a mess created during the 1980s.

Footnote: Victorian train radio systems

The original 1980s analogue radio systems in Victoria used Motorola Micor base stations and Motorola Syntrex radios, with the Motorola MDC-600 data system.

Suburban trains used the ‘Urban Train Radio System’ until it was replaced by the GSM-R based ‘Digital Train Radio System’ (DTRS) using Nokia-Siemens Networks equipment in August 2014.

Country trains used the ‘Non-Urban Train Radio System’ with which was finally replaced by the NTCS-based Regional Rail Communications Network (RRCN) from 2017.

Further reading

Melbourne’s mysterious ‘City Circle’ train

The other week fellow transport Philip Mallis raised an interesting question – would the average Melbournian know what a ‘City Circle’ train is, if they were told to catch one?

Passenger information displays at Elizabeth Street entrance to Melbourne Central Station
Philip Mallis photo

The back story

The City Loop encircles the Melbourne CBD, with trains services from different lines taking different routes around it at different times of day, before finally arriving at Flinders Street.

Redesigned 'Trains from Flinders Street to' screen on the platform at Flinders Street

And because the loop consists of four independent tunnels, train services can continue running on one line while another one is closed.

Rerailing work in the Northern Loop between Parliament and Melbourne Central stations

But what about passengers on the line which isn’t running through the City Loop?

Answer – they catch a “Train Replacement Train”.

Confusion abounds

These “train replacement trains” start at Flinders Street, then visit Southern Cross, Flagstaff, Melbourne Central and Parliament, before arriving back at Flinders Street.

Screens on the concourse at City Loop stations call this replacement service the “City Circle”.

Passenger information displays at Elizabeth Street entrance to Melbourne Central Station
Philip Mallis photo

But the screens at platform level call them a ‘Flinders Street’ train.

'Flinders Street' train on the PIDS at Parliament station platform 1

And the trains running these services just show ‘Special’ on the front.

X'Trapolis 78M arrives into Parliament station platform 1 with a 'City Circle' service to Flinders Street

While back at Flinders Street Station, it’s called a ‘City Loop’ train.

'City Loop' train on the PIDS at Flinders Street Station platform 3


Enter the ‘City Circle’

With four independent tunnels in the City Loop looping around the CBD, each one needed a name.

MURLA diagram, undated

Based on which train lines they are connected to.

  • Northern Loop – serving the lines through North Melbourne,
  • Burnley Loop – serving the lines headed towards Burnley,
  • Caulfield Loop – serving the lines headed towards Caulfield, and finally
  • Clifton Hill Loop / City Circle – serving the lines towards Clifton Hill, along with a branch back to Flinders Street.

The Clifton Hill / City Circle name can be seen on tunnel walls.

Clifton Hill Loop / City Circle tunnel at Parliament station

And on emergency exit signage.

Glow in the dark 'Clifton Hill / City Circle Loop' signage at the Southern Cross portal

The most interesting feature of the Clifton Hill / City Circle tunnel is an underground junction, located just south of Parliament station – a popular spot for urban explorers before security was upgraded.

Trespassing in the City Loop, circa 2004
To avoid any unwanted attention I’m not going to link back to the original photographer

The other end of the tunnel is located beneath the Exhibition Street bridge.

City Circle Loop portal at Flinders Street

My only photo of the junction was taken hanging out of the open window of a Hitachi train, packing a high powered flashgun.

Junction of the City Circle and Clifton Hill tunnels in the underground loop

But I recently made a special expedition to the portal to capture it in use.

Headlights shining out of the City Circle Loop portal beneath the Exhibition Street bridge

And after a loud TOOT an X’Trapolis train emerged from underground.

X'Trapolis train emerges from the City Circle Loop portal beneath the Exhibition Street bridge

Headed up the ramp bound for Flinders Street Station.

X'Trapolis train emerges from the City Circle Loop portal bound for Flinders Street

Footnote: some photos from the past

Until August 1993 the ‘City Circle’ service operated full time to provide cross-CBD travel, until it was replaced by the newly-introduced free City Circle Tram service at ground level.

All three modes of public transport in Melbourne - train, tram and bus

But City Circle trains still ran as required for operational reasons – I stumbled upon one at Flinders Street platform 1 back in 2005, advertised as a ‘City Circle’ service on the old CRT next train display system.

PIDS at Flinders Street Station displaying a City Circle train, headed anticlockwise around the City Loop

And took one for a ride in 2012, with the displays onboard the train calling it a ‘City Circle train’.

'City Circle train' on the internal PIDS of a Comeng train

So that’s great progress in the past decade – going from consistent ‘City Circle’ messaging towards passengers, to a mix of ‘City Circle, ‘Flinders Street’, and ‘Special’.

Photos from ten years ago: July 2012

Another instalment in my photos from ten years ago series – this time it is July 2012.

Looking down the Yarra River from the Cremorne Railway Bridge

Off to Sydney

We start this month at Melbourne Airport, where the terminal was in disarray on July 18. But staff shortages weren’t to blame this time – but a power outage.

Channel 10 news crew film the empty departure board in the international terminal

Leaving the split-flap display board in the international terminal stuck mid-message on ‘Ouckau8hko Jcahao’.

Next flight to 'Ouckau8hko Jcahao'?

Out airside Virgin Australia was midway through it’s rebranding from Virgin Blue.

Trio of Virgin Australia 737s - VH-VUX, VH-YVA and VH-VUC

And Tiger Airways was still flying.

Tiger Airways A320 VH-VND parked at the 'gate'

An hour later, my flight was on the final approach to Sydney Airport.

Looking down Sydney's runway 07/25

Down on the tarmac, I snapped a since-retired Qantas 747-400ER taking off.

Qantas 747-400ER VH-OEJ takes off from runway 34L

Then made my way to the airport station to catch a train.

Set S79 arrives into Domestic station with a down service

I did the cliche stuff like checking out the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Cliche shot of the Sydney Harbour Bridge

As well as checking out stuff like the decommissioned toll gates.

Closed toll booths at the southern end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Headed to the top of the Sydney Tower to photograph the trains down below.

Tangara crosses the Woolloomooloo viaduct

Down to the tangle of tracks that are the Flying Junctions outside Central.

S92  climbs the Flying Junctions bound for Central

I stumbled upon the “Pre Production Trial Vehicle” for Sydney’s new fleet of Waratah trains.

Four-car Waratah PPTV (Pre Production Trial Vehicle) stabled at the Auburn Maintenance Facility

And stared in wonder at the realtime train data provided to platform staff at Central Station.

Multiple sources of information for platform staff at Central Station

Riding the Sydney Monorail

The real reason for my trip was to ride the Sydney Monorail before it’s upcoming closure.

Set 5 at Darling Harbour, with the Sydney skyline as a backdrop

I went past all of the hackspots.

Set 5 crosses the Pyrmont Bridge, advertising IGA supermarkets

Wandering around Darling Harbour.

Monorail departs Darling Park station, with Darling Harbour below

Down to the monorail depot hidden away in the back blocks.

Looking south over the Monorail depot, with the Light Rail depot below

Along the way I found forgotten signage from the TNT Harbourlink era.

Signage from the TNT Harbourlink era at Darling Park station

And a complicated looking joint in the monorail beam across Pyrmont Bridge.

Complicated looking joint in the monorail beam across Pyrmont Bridge

Used to allow the monorail beam to pivot out of the way of tall ships.

Pivot point for the monorail beam in the middle of the Pyrmont Bridge

Ding ding

In 2012 the Sydney Light Rail was still using the fleet of 1990s Variotrams.

Variotram 2102 still in the original 'Sydney Light Rail' livery

But I also made my way out to the Sydney Tramway Museum to ride their museum fleet.

R1 2001 at the Railway Square tram shelter

And I found a Melbourne W class sitting in their display shed.

W2 249 stabled in the display shed

And back to Melbourne

My welcome back to Melbourne – going for a cruise down the Yarra River towards the West Gate Bridge.

West Gate Bridge spans the Yarra River

And back up under the Bolte Bridge.

Looking back to the Bolte Bridge and the Melbourne CBD

Far less entertaining was getting kicked off my train home thanks to a door fault.

Siemens train stopped at Newmarket, the passengers turfed off due to a faulty offside door on 794M

The entire train load of passengers turfed off at Newmarket station.

 Packed platform at Newmarket, after the previous train had to dump an entire peak load due to a faulty door

Left hoping that we’d be able to catch the next train to come along.

Packed platform at Newmarket, after the previous train had to dump an entire peak load due to a faulty door

The rollout of Myki was still crawling along, with new ticket gates installed at the south end of Parliament station.

Installing real Myki barriers at the south end of Parliament station

But at least the new Swanston Street platform stops were finally finished!

New Swanston Street platform stop at Bourke Street

Leading to the closure of the tram stop at Swanston and Lonsdale Streets.

Closed tram stop at Swanston and Lonsdale Streets

Some passengers oblivious to the ‘tram stop closed’ signs.

Passenger at Lonsdale Street oblivious to the 'tram stop closed' sign

Some things that have changed

Before Regional Rail Link opened in 2015 V/Line and Metro trains shared the tracks through Footscray.

VLocity 3VL35 arrives into Footscray station, with the goods lines down below

It seems hard to believe today, but until 2016 Flagstaff station was closed all day Saturday, Sunday and Public Holidays.

Flagstaff Gardens entrance to Flagstaff Station

And until 2015 free copies of the mX newspaper were being handed out to evening commuters.

Handing out copies of mX to evening commuters

And some that are odd

On a visit to the Port of Melbourne, I found six X’Trapolis carriages sitting on the wharf, fresh off the boat at Appleton Dock.

Another six X'Trapolis body shells wharfside, fresh off the boat at Appleton Dock

We also had the strange situation of a ‘Sydenham’ train line that terminated at Watergardens station – a designation that ended following the extension of electric train to Sunbury.

Siemens arrives into North Melbourne with a Sydenham service

Box Hill is an odd station – still using ancient CRT screens for the next train displays.

Old style non flat screen CRT displays at Box Hill station

A McDonald’s counter facing into the paid area of the station.

McDonald's service counter facing into the paid area of the concourse at Box Hill Station

And a complete trackless platform – unused since the 1980s.

Looking over to the ramp that provides access to Box Hill's trackless platform 1

I also found a trackless platform at Southern Cross – completed as part of the Regional Rail Link project, but yet to have track installed.

VLocity 3VL50 on arrival at Southern Cross platform 14 with an up Traralgon service

But the most harebrained thing I found was some antennas fitted to a Comeng train.

Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC) antennas fitted to Comeng 602M and 641M

The antennas were part of a $5.5 million three-year project, testing whether wireless communication between trains and road vehicles would reduce the number of level crossing collisions.

Looking back, spending millions to install radio transmitters on each and every train, along with dedicated receivers in each and every road vehicle, just to give idiot motorists another warning to ignore, sounds like a stupid idea – especially since we’ve physically removed 65+ conflict points between road and rail in the past 10 years.

And a NBN footnote

I also ended up at the NBN Co. Discovery Centre in Melbourne.

Comms racks at the NBN Co. 'National Test Facility' in Melbourne

Showing off fibre in pits.

Mockup of a NBN FTTP underground pit at the NBN Co. Discovery Centre in Melbourne

Curbside fibre distribution hubs.

NBN fibre distribution hub at the NBN Co. Discovery Centre in Melbourne

And junction boxes for multiple unit dwellings (MDUs).

Mockup of the NBN multiple unit dwelling (MDU) equipment at the NBN Co. Discovery Centre in Melbourne

All were part of the Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) network that was planned to cover Australia, but later abandoned for the half-baked “Multi Technology Mix” of Fibre to the Node (FTTN), Fibre to the Curb (FTTC) and legacy Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC) networks.


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

V/Line versus Metro at Southern Cross platform 8

You might assume that a railway station platform is just a place for passengers to board a train, and the type of train doesn’t matter. But at Southern Cross Station platform 8 this is not the case – there is a convoluted process applied every time that usual use V/Line hands it over to Metro Trains Melbourne.

X'Trapolis 19M on a down Mernda service passes VLocity VL46 at Southern Cross

Hello, Southern Cross platform 8

Platform 8 is usually used by V/Line, and the last of the dead end platforms at Southern Cross before the electrified “through” platforms 9 to 14 used by Metro Trains Melbourne.

Refurbished VLocity VL37 arrives at Southern Cross platform 8

But platform 8 has a trick up it’s sleeve – overhead wiring for the use of electric trains.

Life extension EDI Comeng 472M arrives into Southern Cross platform 8 with an Oktoberfest special from the Showgrounds

The overhead wiring dates back to the 1920s, when the entire Spencer Street Station complex was electrified for the use of the new fangled electric trains, including the country platforms.

Weston Langford photo

It remained in place until the 1960s renovation of the station which saw the bulk of it removed, except for platform 8 – spared thanks to the L class electric locomotives used to haul country trains to Gippsland.

Weston Langford photo

But following their retirement in 1987, there was little need for the overhead wires at platform 8 and they fell into disuse – until they were rebuilt as part of the Southern Cross Station project. New overhead wires were installed in 2006, and then – nothing.

Rebuilding work on platform 7/8, works trains in attendance

Metro Trains on platform 8

November 2014 saw the first electric train use Southern Cross platform 8 – a Comeng train minus passengers, sent there to test that it was compatible with the infrastructure.

A new ‘Metro Trains stop here’ sign had been installed at the south end of the platform 8, along with a fixed trainstop to automatically apply the emergency brakes if an electric train passed the mark.

'Metro Trains stop here' sign at the south end of Southern Cross platform 8

So why the change of heart? Metro Trains wanted to run special trains to Flemington Racecourse and Melbourne Showgrounds as shuttles from Southern Cross platform 8, avoiding the need to continue over the viaduct to Flinders Street Station and take up a platform there.

The test was successful, with the first revenue usage being race specials to Flemington Racecourse on 13 December 2014.

In the years since, X’Trapolis trains headed for the Showgrounds have also used platform 8.

X'Trapolis train waiting at Southern Cross platform 8 with a 'Showgrounds' service

As have Siemens trains.

Siemens 743M arrives into Southern Cross platform 8 with an up Flemington Racecourse special

And the complicated bit

No, Metro Trains can’t just send an electric train into Southern Cross platform 8 any time they feel like it – there is a special operating procedure that must be followed each time the platform is handed over from V/Line to Metro.

Spencer Street – Routing Restriction Suburban Electric Trains
No. 8, No. 8A & No. 8 South Tracks

Commencing Monday 8th December 2014, suburban electric passenger trains are permitted to be routed into No. 8 track at Spencer Street via No. 8 North or No.8A tracks from Signal Post No. 520 only.

Suburban electric trains (passenger or empty) are not permitted to be routed into No. 8 South track (from either direction) or towards No. 8 or 8a tracks from Signal No.123 (City Circle Viaduct), Signal No.303 (Burnley Viaduct) or Signal No.567 (Northern Viaduct).

The routing of suburban electric passenger trains towards No. 8 track from Signal No. 520 will only occur when advertised by special circular with the following prerequisites in place;

– Points No. 435 & 448 must be secured in the normal position by lockable point clip.
– The special platform coping infill must be fixed in place.

The Signaller Metrol, Northern Panel must record in the signal control panel log book the details regarding the installation or removal of the point securing devices (points 435 & 448) and the platform coping infill.

The installation or removal of the platform coping infill and the application / removal of point securing devices will be undertaken under cover of an Absolute Occupation.

The “special infill panel” is attached to the edge of the platform.

Platform gap temporarily filled at the south end of Southern Cross platform 8

You need to look very closely to see that is there.

Platform gap temporarily filled at the south end of Southern Cross platform 8

But it fills a missing chunk of platform edge.

N460 runs around a carriage set at Southern Cross platform 8

So why not fill the gap permanently? Trains diverging through a crossover sway outwards at the end of each carriage, putting them closer to the platform edge.

Comeng train heads through the crossover at Southern Cross platform 8

So when the necessary platform gap is filled, trains cannot be allowed to use the crossover.

VLocity VL46 departs Southern Cross platform 8 south

Which explains the “lockable point clip” part of the procedure – it prevents the crossover from being changed to direct trains towards the filled in platform gap.

Crossover between No. 8 road and 8A road clipped while suburban trains use Southern Cross platform 8


And that’s not all

Metro Trains marks the end of the line with a red buffer light.

Friction buffer at the end of Flinders Street platform 13

While V/Line does not.

No buffer lights fitted at the end of Southern Cross Station platforms 1 through 7

So what to do with Southern Cross platform 8, where both operators run trains?

Install a buffer light to meet the standards of Metro Trains.

Buffer light in use at the end of Southern Cross platform 8

But cover it up when the platform is handed back to V/Line.

Buffer light fitted at the end of Southern Cross Station platform 8

Using a sliding metal cover.

Covered up buffer light at the end of platform 8

Why can’t they both just get along!

A technical footnote

I’ve been informed that Southern Cross Station platform 8 is actually part of the Metro Trains Melbourne infrastructure lease – the track and signalling is maintained by them, despite V/Line trains using the platform the majority of the time.