Forgotten lessons from rail replacement buses

During April 2019 buses have been replacing trains on the Pakenham, Cranbourne and Frankston lines between the Melbourne CBD and Caulfield, altering the travel plans of thousands of train passengers each day. The replacement buses haven’t been running smoothly for various reasons – in part due to lessons from the past being forgotten.

Notice at Flagstaff station of rail replacement buses on the Pakenham, Cranbourne and Frankston lines

Minimising the length of the line closures

The longer the section of railway closed, the more buses are needed and the longer the delay to passengers.

Sita operated bus passes the new West Footscray station

In a perfect world trains would terminate on one side of the work site then resume on the other side, but that’s isn’t possible – trains can only turn back where crossovers have been provided between the tracks.

Crossover at the up end of Darling station

But that’s hasn’t been a problem for other projects, such as Regional Rail Link in 2011 – they installed a crossover at the Sunbury end of Albion station.

Life extension EDI Comeng 382M departs Albion on a down Watergardens service

This allowed citybound trains to terminate as close as possible to the work site, removing the need for replacement buses to needlessly parallel the Sunbury line to the next available crossover – St Albans station, 6 kilometres away.

The same strategy was used at Blackburn station in 2006/07 for the removal of the Middleborough Road level crossing at Box Hill, and at Mitcham station in 2009/10 for the removal of the Springvale Road level crossing at Nunawading – allowing buses to shuttle between the shortest possible section of closed railway.

Would the provision of crossovers somewhere between Caulfield and South Yarra speed up the replacement bus journey for this shutdown? I’d call it a “maybe”.

Bus interchanges

You need a lot of buses to carry the passengers carried by a single train, so you need a big bus interchange to handle them all.

Pack of four buses on Farnsworth Avenue bound for Flemington Racecourse

Regional Rail Link built a dedicated bus interchange at Albion for their project, taking over half of the car park.

New bus interchange at Albion, taking over half of the car park. Not temporary at all!

Along with a new access road to prevent conflicting vehicle movements.

New access road to the Albion station car park, the old one is taken over by buses

The other end of the bus shuttle was Flemington Racecourse station, which also received a “temporary” bus interchange.

Provided with plenty of space for arriving buses.

More buses waiting at the Flemington Racecourse interchange

Steps directly to the platform.

Passengers head down to the Flemington Racecourse platform from the bus interchange

A coffee stall.

Coffee stall on the platform at Flemington Racecourse

And a sausage sizzle.

Free sausage sizzle at Flemington Racecourse, funded by Metro and run by the local Rotary club for donations

Could the bus interchanges at the Arts Centre, Federation Square and Caulfield do with some work? Probably not – they’re probably the best for passenger shelter Melbourne has ever seen!

Making the bus to train changeover faster

Station like Albion were never designed for an entire trainload of passengers to exit at once, while another train of passenger try to come the other way.

Ramp between platform and pedestrian subway at Albion station

So the Regional Rail Link project built a temporary footbridge linking the bus interchange to the station platform.

Temporary footbridge at Albion, the bus interchange in the foreground

A much simpler version was used at Blackburn in 2006/07 during the removal of the Middleborough Road level crossing, and again in 2016 during the removal of the Blackburn Road level crossing.

Passengers change from bus to train via the temporary pathway at the down end of Blackburn station

 Baulked tracks at the down end of Blackburn station, with the temporary pedestrian walkway beyond

Could something better be done at Caulfield? Most definitely!

Capacity on connecting trains

When one railway line is taken out passengers will often switch to other lines headed in the same direction, resulting in overcrowding to those services.

In the case of Regional Rail Link this problem was avoided by running trains to Flemington Racecourse, connecting with the replacement buses.

Comeng at Flemington Racecourse, ready to depart for the city

At City Loop stations passengers were directed to these extra trains.

Sydenham line display at Flagstaff station - 'CUSTOMERS please take next train Flem Racecourse Plat 3'

Metro Trains staff member at Flagstaff station, handing out flyers about the upcoming RRL works on the Sunbury line

Despite somewhat confusing messaging on the platforms.

'Flemtn Races' train on the PRIDE display at Flagstaff station

Could anything better be done today? Unfortunately for the east side of Melbourne, probably not.

Dodging traffic with bus lanes

During the current CBD to Caulfield rail shutdown, bus lanes have not been provided, with predictable results.

But things don’t have to be this way – in 2011 Regional Rail Link had the benefit of temporary bus lanes along Ballarat Road between Albion and Flemington Racecourse.

'Temp bus lane starts in 2 weeks' sign eastbound on Ballarat Road at Sunshine

With motorists being warned that rail replacement buses would be taking over the roads.

'Bus replacement service at St Albans Road' - southbound on St Albans Road before Albion station

I wonder how many hours have been wasted thanks to these forgotten lessons from the past?

Why are Melbourne railway footbridges so high?

You might have noticed something about Melbourne’s railway station footbridges – they are bloody high, with long ramps and stairs leading up to them. So why do they need to be so high above the tracks?

EDI Comeng train arrives into Sunshine station on the up

In the beginning

Melbourne’s first trains were short and steam powered, so there bridges didn’t need to be high above the track.

PROV image VPRS 12800/P1, item H 1123

But the introduction of electric trains from 1919 saw a need for increased clearances, to accommodate the overhead wires.

PROV image VPRS 12800/P4, item RS 0391

The 1953 Victorian Railways General Appendix gave the contact wire height as follows:

  • Average height above rail: 16 feet – 16 feet 6 inches (4.48 m – 5.03 m)
  • Minimum height under bridges (suburban area): 14 feet 6 inches (4.42 m)
  • Minimum height under bridges (country area): 15 feet (4.57 m)
  • Minimum height over sidings: 17 feet (5.18 m)
  • Minimum height over level crossings: 18 feet (5.49 m)
  • Maximum height: 19 feet (5.79 m)

Many footbridges already crossed the tracks prior to electrification, such this one in Moonee Ponds – constructed in 1890.

Siemens 774M on a down Craigieburn service, passing under a footbridge south of Moonee Ponds station

Ripponlea station – opened in 1912.

Citybound Comeng train arrives into Ripponlea station

And Footscray station – rebuilt in 1901.

Commuters wait for an up train at Footscray

But these tight clearances remained for projects completed post electrification, such as Hawksburn station – rebuilt in 1914.

X'Trapolis 151M arrives at Hawksburn with an up Frankston service

Camberwell – rebuilt in 1919.

X'Trapolis 36M passes through Camberwell with an up express service

And Middle Footscray – grade separated in 1928.

Passing under the soon to be demolished shop, Alstom Comeng 459M heads for Sydenham

And later years

By the 1970s the clearance between trains and overhead bridges started to grow, with Yarraman station being one example – opened in 1976.

EDI Comeng train arrives into Yarraman station on the up

But it appears that exceptions were still permitted, such as West Footscray – rebuilt in the same year, 1976.

Alstom Comeng arrives into West Footscray on the down

Enter double deck trains

In 1992 Melbourne introduced a trial double deck train – the 4D.

Weston Langford photo

As you might expect, a whole lot of infrastructure changes were required to accommodate a taller train – including the Swanston Street bridge at Flinders Street Station, and numerous overhead bridges along the Belgrave and Lilydale lines. The exception was the City Loop tunnels – designed with double-deck trains in mind, no modifications were necessary.

But still the 4D train was shorter than the double deck trains of Sydney – 4270 mm tall, compared to the 4380 mm tall Sydney Tangara train it was based upon.

It also also interesting to compare the height of the double 4D train, to Melbourne’s single deck train fleet:

WTT Network Configuration-Metro Rolling Stock (L1-CHE-MAN-016)

  • Hitachi: 3759 mm
  • Comeng: 3835 mm
  • Siemens: 4141 mm
  • X’Trapolis: 4214 mm

Turns out bolting air conditioning units to the roof of a train really eats up that vertical clearance!

Comeng, Siemens, Comeng, Siemens, Comeng, Siemens... 8 trains stabled at Melbourne Yard, and all alternating like so!

Current standards

Metro Trains Melbourne standard L1-CHE-STD-011 “Overhead Line Electrification” gives the overhead wire heights as follows:

  • Open route (nominal at support): 5.20 m
  • Open route – slab track (absolute minimum): 4.46 m
  • Open route – ballast & sleepers (absolute minimum): 4.61 m
  • Open route (absolute maximum, excluding lead up to level crossings) 5.85 m
  • Station platforms (nominal)5.20 m
  • Station platforms (minimum): 4.94 m
  • Level crossings (minimum): 5.64 m
  • Level crossings (maximum): 6.10 m
  • Pedestrian crossings (minimum): 5.00 m

Compared with the overhead wiring standards from 1953, only an extra 190 mm clearance is required under bridges – that’s less than one step! So why are such massive bridges being built?

Turns out standard L1-CHE-STD-025 “Transit Space Clearances” has the answer:

Section 9.2 shall apply to any new, or alterations to existing Infrastructure constructed or installed by MTM, or on behalf of MTM or PTV.

The minimum Vertical Clearance shall be 5.75m for new bridges or structures above the track. The Vertical Clearance may be reduced subject to the approval of the Chief Engineer, or delegate, following adequate demonstration of requirements in Appendix A – Reduced Vertical Clearance to Structures Requirements.

This explains the massive footbridges built in the past decades at rebuilt railway stations – such as Watergardens.

Centre island platform at Watergardens station

And Westall.

Siemens arrives into Westall platform 1 with an up service

As well as the depth of rail underpasses such as Nunawading.

Stairs linking the west side of Springvale Road to the platforms at Nunawading station


X'Trapolis train departs Gardiner station beneath Burke Road

And St Albans.

Alstom Comeng arrives into St Albans station on the up

But why are some stations even taller?

If the climb out of the above stations seems bad enough, there are stations such as Sunshine where the ascent is even more formidable.

EDI Comeng train arrives into Sunshine station on the up

Metro Trains standard L1-CHE-STD-025 “Transit Space Clearances” alludes to the reason:

On tracks operated or maintained by Accredited Rail Transport Operators (ARTOs) or Rail Infrastructure Managers (RIMs) other than MTM, consideration shall be given to their minimum vertical clearances, particularly on Double Stacked freight corridors.

A double stacked freight train is far taller than any Melbourne train.

53 foot containers stacked atop 40 foot containers in well wagons

With the only Australian examples running through the ‘outback’ – between Adelaide, Perth, Darwin and Parkes.

Double stacked PN freight heads west out of Adelaide near Bolivar

But the capability to run double stack freight trains in Victoria is on the roadmap for the Australian Rail Track Corporation, operator of the interstate freight network in Victoria.

Tottenham to Albury (T2A) is one of 13 projects that complete Inland Rail. This section of Inland Rail is planned along 305km of existing rail corridor from metropolitan Melbourne to the Victoria-NSW border at Albury-Wodonga. This project will see enhancements of existing structures to provide increased clearances along the rail corridor. The enhancement works are required to accommodate double stack freight trains of 1,800 metres in length to be run on the track.

With their clearance requirements detailed in Section 7 “Clearances” of their Code of Practice:

New Structures on the Defined Interstate Rail Network (DIRN) and the Inland Railway Route

Unless otherwise formally approved by appropriate ARTC Executive General Manager, all new structures over mainlines and passing loops/sidings shall be constructed to give full plate “F” – i.e. this will give 7.1m clearance above rail.

In Melbourne the Defined Interstate Rail Network runs west and north-east from the Port of Melbourne, paralleling the following suburban tracks.

  • Sunbury line, Footcray to Albion
  • Werribee line, Newport to Werribee
  • Craigieburn line, Jacana to Craigieburn

Which explains the massive footbridges found at West Footscray.

Alstom Comeng 492M departs West Footscray on the up


Comeng 327M leads a down Werribee service out of Laverton

And Coolaroo.

Coolaroo - all lit up and waiting to go, but waiting for the June 2010 timetable change

As well as the Sunshine example from earlier.

Footnote – how long are the ramps?

I found this in a report by Opus Consulting regarding development concepts for Donnybrook station:

There is a preference for the provision of a footbridge for access across the tracks for the following reasons:
» The nature of the basalt ground conditions, along with anecdotal information regarding ground water and inundation conditions, suggests the use of a footbridge rather than a subway.
» Construction interfaces with the live train running lines make it more favourable to build a footbridge
» Footbridges are also preferred over subways because they provide a more favourable security environment
» It is expected that a footbridge will be more cost effective to provide

And the kicker:

Clearance requirements over the standard gauge interstate track is 7.1m which dictates:
» 128.8m of ramp length to ground level
» 15.9m of stair length to ground level

Clearance requirements over the broad gauge regional tracks is 5.75m which dictates:
» 97.2m of ramp length to ground level
» 13.2m of stair length to ground level

That 1.35 m of extra vertical clearance really makes a difference to the length of a DDA compliant ramp!

Looking up the long ramp back to the concourse

Location scouting Client Liaison’s “A Foreign Affair”

Back in August 2017 Australian indie pop duo Client Liaison released their 1980s themed video clip for “A Foreign Affair”, featuring Tina Arena and a whole swag of references to defunct airline Ansett Australia. So where did they film the clip?

Scene by scene

The duo arrive into the terminal.

Walk up to the check-in counter.

And present their passports.

Once onboard, they take their seats in business class.

And consult the aircraft safety card, like every conscientious passenger.

Back in the economy class cabin, a young child sleeps.

They take to their air.

Then end back at the terminal.

As a couple are reunited.

So where did they film it?

This one was easy – someone over at the Australian Frequent Flyer forums answered it:

Dec 2, 2017

Was reportedly filmed mostly at AVV.

Including using ex-Qantas VH-EBU which is stored at Avalon and currently painted in Avalon Airport livery.

Avalon Airport management advertises the use of the airport as a filming location:

Avalon Airport offers a range of distinctive locations including:

  • The passenger terminal inside and out
  • The airside run-way (specific locations only)
  • A retired jumbo jet – available for filming inside and out all year round.
  • Australian bush settings including shrubbery, farmland and cattle
  • Large hangars

The aircraft interiors in the clip were filmed onboard Qantas 747-300 VH-EBU “Nalanji Dreaming” – stored beside Avalon Airport’s hangar 6.

Qantas 747-300 VH-EBU "Nalanji Dreaming" stored beside hangar 6

She was put into long term storage at Avalon Airport in 2005 and was used as a parts bin, but has since been repainted.

Much of the interior remains, including the cockpit.

Film Victoria


Film Victoria

Business class cabin.

Film Victoria

And economy class cabin.

Film Victoria

The terminal scenes were filmed at the Jetstar check-in counters.

Jetstar check-in counters at Avalon Airport

But Avalon Airport doesn’t have any jetbridges – which got me stumped.

Thankfully the Film Victoria website had this photo of a circular tunnel.

Film Victoria

But it isn’t a jetbridge – but a hallway.

Film Victoria

Located nowhere near the terminals, but attached to an office building between hangers 1 and 3.

Google Maps satellite imagery

An aerial photo footnote

In the background of the video clip an overhead view of an airport at night is presented.

It was far too busy looking to be Avalon Airport, so I started doing the rounds of world airport via Google Maps to try an find a match.

JFK in New York? No!
Frankfurt, German? No!
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington? Still no.
Boston Logan? Nope!
Chicago O’Hare? No!

Turns out it was Newark Liberty International Airport, in New Jersey.

Google Maps satellite imagery

And what about the safety card?

Midway through a video clip, a closeup of a Ansett Australia branded A320 safety information card appears.

Ansett Australia did operate Airbus A320 jets, but the safety cards looked different.

Flarose Pty Ltd

So where did they get their safety card from – an alternate Ansett design, or was their logo just photoshopped in?

How long does it take to move a bike hoop?

Over the past few years the City of Melbourne has currently installing more bike hoops around the CBD, permitting more cyclists to securely park their bikes. But what happens when one of the hoops is placed in a stupid place?

'OM Vegetarian' advertisement tied to a parked bike on Swanston Street

Back on 29 January 2018 I spotted this example near the corner of William and Bourke Streets – a bike rack running 90 degrees to the road and blocking the footpath.

Bike racks running 90 degrees to the road and blocking the footpath at William and Bourke Street

I tweeted about it the next day, and a week later the City of Melbourne entered the discussion – agreeing that they were stupidly placed.

Presumably cyclists thought the same thing, as the bike hoops were often empty, compared to the hoops across the street.

oBikes chained up to a bike rack at William and Little Bourke Street

Presumably cyclists didn’t want their valuable bike jutting out into the footpath, ready to be smashed into by passing pedestrians.

Bike racks running 90 degrees to the road and blocking the footpath at William and Bourke Street

But some still took the risk.

Bike racks running 90 degrees to the road and blocking the footpath at William and Bourke Street

But eventually the City of Melbourne got around to doing what they promised – a year later in February 2019 the bike hoops had been cut off at footpath level, and two new hoops installed parallel to the kerb.

A year after the City of Melbourne said they would move them, the bike hoops at William and Bourke Street are now parallel to the kerb, instead of blocking the footpath

Leaving clear space for pedestrians.

A year after the City of Melbourne said they would move them, the bike hoops at William and Bourke Street are now parallel to the kerb, instead of blocking the footpath


I guess we should count ourselves lucky that these bike hoops were never noticed by business owners – advertising bikes are even worse.

Turns out congestion at Flagstaff was nothing new

Way back in 2012 I wrote Chronic commuter congestion fills Flagstaff on the ever increasing number of train passengers travelling to the CBD, and the delays caused by them passing through the ticket gates to exit the station.

But it appears that this problem is nothing new, as this August 2002 item from Newsrail is anything to go by.

It reads:

In mid-May four new ticket barriers costing $82,000 were commissioned at Flagstaff station. The new barriers increase the number of controlled exit/entry points at Flagstaff to nine.

M>Train City Loop Customer Service Manager, Mr Rhett Flannigan, indicated that the additional barriers had substantially reduced the length of queues during the peak period. Mr Flannigan said, “In the morning, we have gone from fairly long queues to no more than five to eight customers at any one time”.

Rob O’Regan explains the origins of the extra gates on his “unofficial Metcard chronology” page:

With electrification extended to Sydenham (Watergardens) in January 2002, the St.Albans island platform no longer functioned as a terminal. This meant the electronic barrier gates which had previously controlled all passenger movements for suburban trains were now only half utilized.

These were relocated during May 2002 to Flagstaff, where they complimented the existing bank of barriers to better handle the increasing traffic through the southerly entry/exit point.

As well as listing the other stations that had Metcard ticket gates.

Electronic barriers were ultimately installed at all five city stations as well as Footscray (Centre platform), St Albans, Essendon, Glenferrie, Camberwell, Box Hill, Mitcham (Down platform only), Ringwood, Glen Waverley, South Yarra, Caulfield, Dandenong and Frankston.

But the “nine ticket gates” figure has me confused – as of 2011 Flagstaff station had the following arrangement.

1 wide and 2 standard gates to the north.

The quiet ticket barriers at Flagstaff, during morning peak

And nine gates to the south – split across one wide and six standard to south-west, one wide and one standard to the south-east.

Afternoon peak over at Flagstaff, the Metcard barriers open for the free travel day

So did the 2002 changes shuffle ticket gates between the two entrances, with three more gates added at a later date – or did the 2002 figure exclude the northern entrance?