Photos from ten years ago: October 2008

Another instalment in my photos from ten years ago series – this time it is October 2008.

As usual we start down at Geelong, were I paid a visit to the future Geelong Ring Road interchange at Waurn Ponds.

Waurn Ponds on ramp

Waurn Ponds on ramp

This interchange opened in June 2009 as the terminus of stage 3, with the freeway extended south towards Colac in 2011.

I also headed south-west from Geelong to Warrnambool, on the trail of the final El Zorro operated container serivce.

Under the highway bridge at Weerite

The line from Geelong to Warrnambool is single track, with the only place available for opposing trains to pass being Camperdown.

The freight gets ready to depart Camperdown

Freight trains still run on the line today, but the loop at Warncoort provides another place for trains to pass.

While at Warrnambool I followed the remains of the Port Fairy railway.

Drummond Street LX looking back to Warrnambool

The Port Fairy line closed in 1977, but the section to Dennington remained open until 2002, to permit the delivery of briquettes to the neighbouring Nestle factory.

I also drove west of Geelong, chasing a ballast train at work on the main Melbourne-Adelaide railway.

The ballast gets to leave Wingeel

Another long drive took me north to Wycheproof, where the railway runs down the middle of the main street.

Railfans watch as S301 enters Broadway

Steamrail Victoria had ran a special train up to Wycheproof for the weekend.

Thomas the Tank Engine vs S301

A group of mates came along for the chase.

The chase is back on

And every time we got ahead of the train, we’d pull over to take a photo of it.

The rest of the gunzel gang at Arnold

At North Geelong I was lucky enough to catch track inspection vehicle EM100 head past on another tour of the network.

EM100 heads off the other way towards Ballarat

The aging vehicle is still in service today, but increasingly out of service due to mechanical faults.

Back in 2008 two carriage trains on the Geelong line were a common sight.

VL22 on the up at North Shore

But platform extension works were underway – this is Marshall station.

Platform extension at the down end

And the city end of North Melbourne platform 5 and 6.

Extending platform 5/6 to the south to fit longer V/Line trains on the Geelong line

The work was to allow the operation of 7-car VLocity trains in peak times, which commenced in November 2008 and continued operating until June 2015, when the expansion of 2-car VLocity sets to 3-cars made such an arrangement impossible.

Upgrades to North Melbourne station were also continuing.

New escalators in place

With the escalators between platform and concourse now in place.

Escalators in place on the new concourse

But the concourse made no difference to trains stuck on increasingly congested tracks.

What peak hour congestion at North Melbourne?

It took until 2015 for V/Line trains to be separated from suburban trains at North Melbourne, with the opening of the first stage of Regional Rail Link.

But passengers on the Hurstbridge line were seeing one of their bottlenecks removed.

Under the new Merri Creek bridge from the east

With work on a $52 million project to duplicate 750m of single track between Clifton Hill and Westgarth station underway, featuring a new bridge over the Merri Creek.

Alstom Comeng 569M crosses the Merri Creek bridge

The second track opened in 2009, paving the way for the Heidelberg-Rosanna duplication completed in 2018.

Another bottleneck since removed is the level crossing at Clayton, visible behind this citybound Connex train.

Siemens train departs Clayton on the up, as passengers cross the reopened level crossing

But some things never change – like vandals riding the coupler of trains, tagging the rear windscreen.

Vandals hang onto the rear of a Comeng, tagging the rear windscreen

And the abandoned Webb Dock railway.

Lorimer Street and Hartley Street

Running beneath the West Gate Bridge, it once linked the port to the rest of Victoria.

South towards the West Gate

But now lays idle.

Sign marking possible future use

The last train used the line in 1992, with the city end dismantled in the 1990s to make way for the Melbourne Docklands development. There have been various proposals to reopen the line to transport freight to Webb Dock, reducing the number of trucks on the road, but they have come to nought.

Footnote

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

Adventures of a retired level crossing boom gate

This is the story of the boom gate that once protected the Furlong Road level crossing on the Sunbury line, and the adventures it has had since it was made redundant by grade separation.

Alstom Comeng 669M crosses the soon to be removed Furlong Road level crossing at Ginifer

The boom gate was there to prevent motorists from driving into the level crossing – but motorists still ended up on the tracks, with fatal consequences.

Boom gates at Furlong Road raise as the citybound train clears the level crossing

In April 2014 funding was approved to remove the nearby Main Road crossing in St Albans, with Furlong Road being added to the project in June 2015.

By 2016 work was well underway at Furlong Road, with a deep trench being dug to carry trains railway beneath the road.

EDI Comeng on a down Sunbury service passes grade separation works at Ginifer station

Trains on the Sunbury line were shut down during October 2016 to allow the new tracks to be connected, with the Level Crossing Removal Authority being there to photograph the removal of the now-redundant boom gates.


LXRA photo, October 2016


LXRA photo, October 2016

Local MP Natalie Suleyman also paid a visit to the new Ginifer station on November 2 to pose with the celebrity boom gate.


Photo by Natalie Suleyman MP, 2 November 2016

But the five minutes of fame for the boom gate soon ended – a week later it was sitting forgotten on the concourse at Ginifer station.

Token boom gate from the Furlong Road level crossing stored at the new Ginifer station

You might think the story ended there, but in March 2017 I found the ‘Furlong Road’ boom again – dumped in a locked compound.

'Furlong Road' level crossing boom gate in the compound at Blackburn

Located 30 kilometres away in Blackburn!

Surplus level crossing boom gates in the compound at Blackburn

But even that wasn’t the final chapter – in September 2018 we met again, at the Metro Trains signal depot at Sunshine.

Ceremonial 'Furlong Road' boom gate now a spare part in storage at the Metro Trains signal depot at Sunshine

And there it will presumably remain, the only chance of a second life requiring the destruction of a fellow boom gate at the hands of an oblivious motorist.

So the obvious question – why Blackburn?

“Why did the boom gate end up on the opposite side of Melbourne in Blackburn” I hear you ask.

Subway to access the island platform at Blackburn station

But the answer was a simple one to find – we thank the “Furlong Main Blackburn Heatherdale” level crossing removal project.

Client:
Level Crossing Removal Authority

Alliance Partners:
CPB Contractors, Aurecon, Arcadis, VicRoads, Public Transport Victoria and Metro Trains Melbourne

Cost:
$736 million

Over the next eight years, the Level Crossing Removal Authority will oversee the removal of 50 dangerous and congested level crossings across Melbourne, including level crossings at Furlong Road and Main Road in St Albans, Blackburn Road in Blackburn and Heatherdale Road in Mitcham.

With four geographically dispersed level crossing removals delivered by one project team, presumably once the works at Furlong Road were completed the celebrity boom gate was relocated to their site compound at Blackburn, pending a return to the Metro Trains Melbourne spare parts pool with the completion of the project as a whole.

And a footnote on language

“Boom barrieris the official name for the devices used to indicate to motorists that a level crossing is closed, but for some reason the term “boom gate” has captured the public imagination, despite them having zero resemblance to an actual gate, so I’ve done the same here.

Footy fans, special trains and sore losers

It’s AFL Grand Final week so what better time to take a look at the planning behind the special trains that transport fans to and from games.

Etihad Stadium and Docklands

Throughout the AFL season V/Line runs additional trains between Geelong and Melbourne, transporting Cats fans to Etihad Stadium and the MCG.

Cats fans wait for a delayed train at South Geelong

Geelong made it into both the 2009 AFL Grand Final, so for the occasion V/Line added a special ‘Geelong Cats’ headboard to the front of some trains.

P11 with a special headboard on the up with an 8 car all-refurbished push pull outside Lara

V/Line also timetabled trains direct to Richmond for easy access to the MCG, and the reverse after the game. These operational changes required 20 pages of special instructions for railway staff, detailing the timetable of each of the additional trains, and the rolling stock reallocations required to free up the trains that would be used.

They also included a special instruction tailored to Geelong supporters, known for walking out at three quarter time if their team is losing – trains depart early if the Cats are down.

2009 Grand Final - V/Line's special instructions if Geelong is losing at three-quarter time

Are there any other teams where the supporters beat the traffic by walking out?

A footnote on football crowds

The MCG is served by Richmond and Jolimont stations but crowding is a problem – as Daniel Bowen explains.

Football crowds at Richmond, after all trains towards Flinders Street were stopped due to a trespasser on the tracks

Compare this to Olympic Park in Sydney.

8-car S set stabled in the platform at Olympic Park station

Which has a station specially designed for sporting crowds.

Olympic Park station is located on a single track balloon loop spur line, but features two tracks and four platform faces.

Ordinarily, the centre island platform is used for both boarding and alighting, but this changes when the station is operating in major event mode. In this mode, the centre island platform is used by alighting passengers and the two side platforms are brought into use for boarding passengers.

But the brand new Perth Stadium shows what how it is done.


Diagram by WA Department of Sport and Recreation

With six platform faces across three island platforms, departing passengers are segregated by destination, and two stabling yards are located nearby, allowing up to 23 six-car trains to hit the tracks as soon as patrons start to walk out of the ground.

Footnote

Continuing on the Perth theme, here is the ‘New Perth Stadium’ transport project definition plan.

Photos from ten years ago: September 2008

Another instalment in my photos from ten years ago series – this time it is September 2008.

It seems that every month sees me start in Geelong, where this time around I photographed a boring blue bus at Geelong station.

McHarry's bus #55 rego 1555AO in GTS livery picks up route 45 passengers at Geelong station

The ‘GTS’ stood for Geelong Transit System and was the operating brand for public transport in Geelong between 1983 until 2000, when it was replaced by a mishmash of bus operator branding. Today no sign of it remains, Myki being the ticketing system, and the Public Transport Victoria livery has been applied to buses.

I also took at look at progress on the Geelong Ring Road through the Barrabool Hills.

Wandana Drive looking north

Barrabool Road had been slewed to one side, allowing construction of the bridge over the future freeway to be carried out without interference with traffic.

Barrabool Road looking east

Excavation work on the long cutting towards Waurn Ponds was well underway.

Barrabool Road looking south

As was the massive climb uphill from the Barwon River.

Barrabool Road looking north

Another ongoing theme is the decline of rail freight – I found a rake of redundant superphosphate hopper wagons in storage at North Geelong Yard.

VHFF superphosphate hoppers in storage at North Geelong Yard

As well as a rake of much older cement hoppers.

Old VHCA cement hoppers at North Geelong Yard - transferred from Tottenham this morning, probably to be scrapped

Both were destined for the scrap yard – the superphosphate traffic was completely lost to rail in the early 2000s, but cement traffic was still barley holding on but in smaller volumes, hence the retirement of older wagons.

But there was one new traffic that rail won – the transport of containerised mineral sands from the Iluka Resources processing plant outside Hamilton to the Port of Melbourne for export.

Outside Corio, El Zorro T386 leads the first containerised mineral sands train to Portland

The service was run by small operator El Zorro, with the transport of the mineral sands between mine and processing plant also moving to rail in 2011.

And another success was the transport of Geelong football fans to Melbourne, where they would see the Cats get thrashed by Hawthorn in the 2008 AFL Grand Final.

Geelong cats fans waiting for the footy special at South Geelong

A number of special 8 car trains ran between Geelong and Richmond during the finals seasons, with one of the trains on grand final day wearing a special ‘Geelong Cats’ headboard on the lead locomotive.

P11 with a special headboard on the up with an 8 car all-refurbished push pull outside Lara

Up in Melbourne I took a walk through Flinders Street Station, where Connex had opened a new customer information booth on the main concourse.

New customer information booth at Flinders Street Station

The booth still exists today, just rebranded for Metro Trains Melbourne.

I also photographed the ‘split flap’ Solari boards hidden on the main concourse, which once listed train departures for each line.

Covered over Solari boards on the main concourse at Flinders Street Station

Installed in the 1990s, the screens were decommissioned in 2007 but remained in place for a few years, hidden by advertising.

Over at Southern Cross Station I followed a speedy piece of construction – a new loading ramp at the north end of platform 1.

Work on the motorail dock

Built to enable the provision of motorail services on The Overland between Melbourne and Adelaide, two weeks later it was virtually complete.

Motorail dock completed

The first cars were loaded onto The Overland in February 2009, but today the ramp stands unused – the motorail service was withdrawn in November 2015.

Finally, we end this month with a trip to Ballarat.

In the small township of Millbrook I came across a level crossing on Old Melbourne Road, protected by bells and lights but no boom barriers.

Old Melbourne Road level crossing

VicTrack funded a upgrade of this level crossing during the 2012/13 financial year, but the railway line is due to be closed in a year or two time, made redundant by the Ballarat Line Upgrade.

On the shores of Lake Wendouree is the Ballarat Tramway Museum, where I photographed tram 33 departing the St Aidans Drive terminus.

Tram 33 departs the St Aidans Drive terminus

While a short distance away I paid a visit to the future Wendouree station site.

Track slewed from platform

The railway past the station was still being used by trains to Ararat, so the tracks were slewed away from the platform, allowing construction to be completed without delaying V/Line services.

I also had a look at the Alstom workshops at North Ballarat, where the sidings were full of abandoned trains.

Stored Comeng cars 1109T and 533M at Alstom Ballarat

I found Comeng carriages 1109T and 533M showing plenty of accident damage; as well as classmate 671M stored in a stripped condition, minus windows, doors, cab front and who knows what else.

Comeng 671M stored at Alstom Ballarat

Comeng carriage 671M was eventually made part of a new MFB training facility at Craigieburn in 2014, while 1109T and 533M were scrapped in 2010.

I also found Hitachi carriages 204M and 203M.

Hitachi cars 204M and 203M stored at Alstom Ballarat

Both scrapped in 2010.

But there was also signs of new life – Hitachi carriage 225M was under refurbishment.

Hitachi 225M under refurbishment at Alstom Ballarat

It reentered service soon after, remaining in service until 2014.

Along with a number of Great Southern Rail carriages being upgraded for use on the Indian Pacific and The Ghan services.

Indian Pacific carriages under overhaul at Alstom Ballarat

They also saw use on the ultra expensive Southern Spirit service that operated between 2010 and 2012.

But we end some something I just stumbled upon – the abandoned Joe White Maltings factory at Wendouree.

Overview of the silos from the north-west side

The factory itself had already been demolished, with the silos meeting the same fate in 2010. Houses now occupy the site.

Footnote

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

Melbourne Airport rail and the diversification of SkyBus

If you want to see how likely it is that Melbourne Airport will see a rail link built, just take a look at the recent business decisions made by SkyBus – the operator of the only public transport link between it and the Melbourne CBD.

SkyBus double decker #106 BS01WY outside Melbourne Airport Terminal 4

The history of Melbourne’s SkyBus

SkyBus commenced operations in 1978, running a shuttle service between Tullamarine Airport and Franklin Street on the northern edge of the Melbourne CBD. In 1982 it took over the airport bus services run by the now-defunct airlines Ansett and TAA, with the service taking the current form in 2000 when the city terminus was moved to Spencer Street Station, with services operating express to the airport. 2002 then saw the state government contributing $3 million in funding to upgrade the service in place of the construction of an airport rail link.

SkyBus articulated bus 7487AO picking up passengers at Southern Cross

Articulated buses were introduced to the service in 2002.

SkyBus articulated bus 0237AO outside the Virgin Australia terminal at Melbourne Airport

With the first Bustech “CDi” double deck buses entering service in 2015.

SkyBus double decker #102 BS01LT at Southern Cross Station

Travel times were once advertised as 20 minutes from airport to the city, but increasing congestion saw the claim gain a “times may vary due to traffic conditions” disclaimer, then dropped altogether in 2016.

The monopoly nature of the SkyBus service saw private equity firms take in interest in the company, with two foreign firms taking a majority stake in the company in 2014, in a deal valuing SkyBus’s parent company at $50 million to $100 million.

And diversification

It appears that the new management realised that their gravy train of monopoly profits on the Melbourne Airport – City route wouldn’t last forever, as they soon started acquiring other airport bus operators across Melbourne, Australia, and even New Zealand.

October 2015

SkyBus purchased the Airbus Express service in Auckland, New Zealand.

January 2016

SkyBus purchased the Frankston and Peninsula Airport Shuttle (FAPAS) business, rebranding it as SkyBus (sidenote: who the hell thought that FAPAS was a good name to call their business?)

SkyBus coach BS00AU with trailer at St Kilda

August 2016

SkyBus launched a new direct bus service from Melbourne Airport to St Kilda, speeding up the journey for longer distance travellers from Frankston. (announced in April 2016)

SkyBus billboard following their takeover of the Frankston & Peninsula Airport Shuttle (FAPAS) service

February 2017

SkyBus took over operation of the Avalon Airport – Southern Cross Station route from Sita Group. (announced in December 2016)

July 2017

SkyBus took over operation of the Avalon Airport – Geelong route from Murrell Group.

Avalon Airport Shuttle minivan #B1 ZDI887 and SkyBus coach #53 BS01JF at Avalon Airport

November 2017

Skybus launched a new direct airport express for Southbank and Docklands.

December 2017

SkyBus purchased the Gold Coast Tourist Shuttle (GCTS) service in Queensland, rebranding it as SkyBus.

July 2018

Skybus launched two new airport bus services: Melbourne Airport to Tarneit and Werribee; and Melbourne Airport to the Mornington Peninsula via Rosebud, Mordialloc and Mentone.

July 2018

SkyBus purchased the Hobart Airporter service in Tasmania, rebranding it as SkyBus.

Seeing the writing on the wall

In 2016 SkyBus director, Michael Sewards, gave a hopefully response to airport rail proposals:

The reality is, just because you build an airport rail, it doesn’t mean people want to use it.

Yes, let’s plan for the next 15 or 30 years, but let’s also be somewhat sensible in this conversation by recognising we’ve had a service for over 38 years, which over 50 million passengers have used. We think we can co-exist with rail and provide a very competitive offering.

If we ever have an airport rail, it has to deliver all those value points for customer experience. Melbourne Airport warrants and deserves many modes supplying the highest level of customer experience, and we think SkyBus will be one of those.

But by 2018 they were more worried, questioning the government for choosing to subsidise a competing rail link.

“SkyBus welcomes any compelling mass transit rail option that can compete with our services, but surely there are important questions about at what cost the Victorian taxpayer will be asked to contribute both the build of this and the ongoing operations, let alone the fare price a $10-15 billion investment requires for a return to its investors,” added Mr Sewards.

But experience at overseas airports shows that SkyBus will survive – many passengers will still choose an airport bus over an airport train, with one example being Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong experience

Hong Kong Airport is served by an airport rail link that overseas visitors love to rave about.

Airport Express arrival platform for Terminal 2

But it is the network of direct bus services that have captured the market.

In general, public transport modes dominate HKIA ground access market. Franchised buses have a large proportion (47 percent) with the Airport Express rail line (AEL) having 23 percent. The primary reason attracting air passengers to use the franchised buses is the lower travel cost. ‘Shortest time required’ is the main reason for those who used AEL.

Research there showed that directness of service was the reason for mode choice:

In order to understand the motivation for mode choice – and to explore the attribute of directness of service — MTR managers undertook some market research. Of those riders on the direct bus routes, an expected 55 percent said that the lower fare was a reason for choosing the bus; importantly, 51 percent stated that directness of service (i.e., no need to transfer) was a reason for their choice of mode. Directness of service was considered a factor by only 18 percent of rail riders, presumably those with destinations convenient to the terminals.

And that even throwing money at a gold plated rail service will do little to attract additional passengers.

It is apparent that even with a good design and well-integrated railway service, the Airport Express does not have inherent advantages over more direct single mode bus travel. In other words, the speed advantage of rail versus single mode road competitors when travelling over distances of only up to 34 km [21 mi] do not result in significant enough time savings to compensate for the necessary transfer.

Which also provides lessons for the State Government on how to deliver a Melbourne Airport rail link.

So what will Melbourne Airport rail do to SkyBus?

2018 saw the the signing of a new 10 year contract between SkyBus and the State Government, so it doesn’t look like SkyBus is intending to go anywhere.

I suspect that the Hong Kong experience will also play out in Melbourne – patronage on SkyBus’ primary Melbourne Airport to CBD route will plummet, with passengers switching to rail based on cost if it is a extension of existing suburban services, or quality if it is built as an express airport link.

As for the other SkyBus routes recently launched to other parts of Melbourne, patronage will stay much the same, with the one seat journey being preferred over a change trains in the city. However the real competition will be driving directly from home to the airport, over a freeway network that the State Government continues to expand.

Six lanes northbound from Flemington Road

Footnote

There is more than one way to get to Melbourne Airport, as Daniel Bowen describes in his post The cheap way to Melbourne Airport.

There are also a other privately operated bus services that run from Melbourne Airport towards Dandenong and Ringwood, as well further afield to Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Gippsland and Shepparton.

More photos

Until the early-2000s SkyBus used full sized coaches for the trip out to the airport – ‘The Tulla Flyer’ has posted a selection of photos from this period on the Australian Transport Discussion Board.

Photos of the former SkyBus terminal at Spencer Street Station can be found at the ‘Showbus Australia’ website.