Things my son noticed on public transport

My son isn’t yet three years old, but the amount of things that he notices when we are out and about is amazing – but a recent trip to St Kilda really blew me away.

We started out at Southern Cross Station, where “that escalator is broken!” was his first observation.

Failed escalator at the Collins Street end of Southern Cross Station

Perhaps he’s ready to join the family business of tracking how many times they’ve broken down?

We then climbed onboard a route 96 tram, where he pointed out “The tram is on a railway line. And it’s in the country!” as we left Clarendon Street behind and sped along the light rail line.

Approaching a northbound E class tram on route 96 at Middle Park

Nothing sneaks past him – the route 96 tram to St Kilda was once a railway line, being converted to a light rail line in 1987.

Headed back through the city down Bourke Street, as we passed the courtyard of the RACV Club, he called out “there’s a clock“.

Marshalite rotary traffic signal on display outside the RACV head office at 501 Bourke St, Melbourne

It was actually a Marshalite traffic signal dating back to the 1940s, but I’ll pay that one – the average Melbournian wouldn’t have guessed it either.

And finally, at the corner of Bourke and Swanston Street my little guy pointed out “those traffic lights are weird“.

B2.2091 heads west on route 96 at Bourke and Swanston Street

“How are they weird” I asked. His response – “they have white edges around them“.

Nothing slips past this little guy – this set of Swarco ‘ALUSTAR’ traffic lights is the only example found in Victoria, which I also noticed back when they were installed in 2014.

Like father, like son?

And a footnote on buses

Over on Lonsdale Street one of the handful of articulated buses operated by Transdev Melbourne was passing by, so I pointed it out to him.

Transdev articulated bus #118 BS00TB westbound on route 907 at Lonsdale and William Street

His description: “The bus has a carriage behind, and is joined on like a tram!

Nailed it!

Google Image Search applying OCR to indexed images

While doing some online research research I found evidence of some new functionality in Google Image Search – when crawling the web, Google is applying OCR (Optical Character Recognition) to the images that it finds, and uses this data in their search index.

I was writing a post about the use of antimacassars onboard V/Line trains, so started researching the Australian supplier of the seat headrest covers.

BTN263 looking to the east end

My search term in Google was ‘merino headrex’, which only brought one relevant search result: a copyright application for the ‘Headrex’ name by Encore Tissue (Aust) Pty Ltd, owner of the ‘Merino’ brand.

Bing Search also delivered similar results for the same search query.

But when I flicked over to Google Image Search, something new appeared.

A photo of mine, that was what let me to search for ‘merino headrex’ in the first place.

But the spooky part – I had never put the words ‘merino’ or ‘headrex’ anywhere on my website.

So the most likely explanation – Google is applying OCR to the images that it finds, then adds the data to their search index.

More on Google and OCR

Over the years a number of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) blogs have speculated around Google’s search indexing capabilities.

From TechCrunch in January 2008:

A patent application lodged by Google in July 2007 but recently made public seeks to patent a method where by robots (computers) can read and understand text in images and video.

The extension of the application would be that images and video indexed by Google would be searchable by the text located within the image or video itself, a big step forward in indexing that has not previously been available.

Information Week suggests that privacy issues raised by Google Maps Street View will get more complicated as eventually YouTube videos will be indexable via the text that appears within them.

‘SEO by the Sea’ in November 2015.

I had some hope over the years that Google might get better at indexing text that appeared within links, watching some things like the following happen:

(1) Google acquired Facial and object recognition company Nevenvision in 2006, and a few other companies that can recognize images.

(2) In 2007, Google was granted a patent that used OCR (Optical Character Recognition) to check upon the postal addresses on business listings, to verify those businesses in Google Maps.

(3) Google was granted a similar patent in 2012 that read signs in buildings in Street Views images.

(4) In 2011, Google published a patent application that used a range of recognition features (object, facial, barcodes, landmarks, text, products, named entities) focusing upon searching for and understanding visual queries, which looks like it may have turned into the application for Google Goggles, which came out in September of 2010 – the visual queries patent was filed by Google in August, 2010, the nearness in time with the filing of the patent and the introduction of Google Goggles reinforces the idea that they are related.

But, Googlebot still doesn’t seem to be able to read text in images for purposes of indexing addresses, or to read images of text used in navigation. I added the text “Google Test” to the following image, and then ran it through a reverse image search at Google. The images returned were similar looking, but none of them had anything to do with the text I added to the image.

And ‘Search Engine Roundtable’ in March 2016:

A question was posed to Google’s Gary Illye’s on Twitter if Google’s crawler and indexer understands the text embedded in an image, maybe through OCR or other techniques. I am surprised to hear Gary say no.

A year is a long time on the internet.

Footnote on Google Image Search for obscure topics

Take a look at the other results from Google Image Search, and spot the odd one out.

My photo of the seat covers, and the Merino sheep make sense. But these three photos…

Railway tracks on a wharf.

Lead from Melbourne Yard arrives at wharves 1-4

People in hi-vis vests standing around a pile of wood.

Pile of wooden packing pieces used to get the derailed 8114 back onto the rails

And a train covered in a tarpaulin.

Sprinter 7012 still covered with a tarpaulin at the Dudley Street sidings

They have nothing at all to do with a merino sheep, but they do have one thing in common – they are hosted on the same domain as my ‘merino headrex’ image.

Thanks to lack of any other relevant results, Google’s algorithms decided that proximity to a relevant image is enough of a ranking signal to push it up the search result pages.

I’ve confused Google’s algorithms in this way before, with my Hong Kong themed blog at

I think I've misled Google?

I searched Google for “Sheung Shui slaughterhouse” but was given my own photo of an Australian diesel locomotive!

Photos from ten years ago: July 2008

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

At North Melbourne station work was continuing on the new concourse, with a massive steel and timber crash deck at the city end of the platforms allowing construction to continue while trains continued running below.

Work on the station at North Melbourne

While in the rail yards next door I found a since-retired Hitachi train shunting into the sidings.

Hitachi at Melbourne Yard

In both views note how much sparser the CBD and Docklands skylines are – the current explosion of apartment developments had yet to take off.

Down in Geelong the first two stages of the Geelong Ring Road looked ready to drive on.

Midland Highway onramp Melbourne bound

With only the white lines remaining to be painted.

Almost ready to go

I mentioned crate men recently – and July 2008 saw a plague of them across Melbourne’s west.

Jumping a fence at Newport.

Milkcrate man at Newport

Atop the WC Thomas & Sons flour mill.

Crate man up the flour mill at Newport

Riding a crane in Spotswood.

Milkcrate man riding VR crane 31 at Spotswood

And having a smoko atop a South Kensington roof.

Another milk crate man at South Kensington

I also spent a morning at Newport photographing a procession of citybound trains.

First was a V/Line train hauled by diesel locomotive A62.

A62 with carset FSH25 on the up at Newport

This unit has been stored since 2013, and probably won’t run again.

I also saw A85 with the Waurn Ponds – Lyndhurst cement train.

A85 on the up at Newport with the Waurn Ponds - Lyndhurst cement train

The last cement train ran to Lyndhurst on the Cranbourne line in 2009, with the traffic moving completely to road in 2015.

And finally the train I was waiting for – The Ghan liveried locomotives NR74 and AN3 on a freight train ex-Adelaide.

Finally - Ghan liveried pair NR74 and AN3 on the up at Newport

Given The Ghan runs between Adelaide and Darwin, what were these two engines doing in Victoria? The answer is simple – they were due for scheduled maintenance at the workshops in Melbourne, and the easiest way to get them there was to pull a freight train headed this way.

At Southern Cross Station massive advertising banners are nothing new, but back in 2008 a company called Intralot was.

V/Line's on time performance seems to be a lottery too

July 1 saw the company start operations in Victoria, selling ‘scratchie’ lottery tickets in competition with incumbent operator Tattersall’s, after winning 10-year licence from the state government. By 2010 their Victorian operations were bleeding money, leading the company to sell out to Tattersall’s in 2014, restoring the previous monopoly status.

And I end this month with a train trip north from Seymour, to the Murray River town of Tocumwal.

Normally only traversed by freight trains, I was travelling on collection of museum pieces restored by the Seymour Railway Heritage Centre.

T320 on the front of the consist at Seymour

Our train had a V/Line locomotive up front to assist.

N468 at Tocumwal

And what looked to be the entire town of Tocumwal coming out to greet us.

Locals wave farewell at Tocumwal

On the way we passed the station building at Murchison East.

Boarded up timber station building at Murchison East

Destroyed by fire in 2014.

And Mooroopna.

Timber station building at Mooroopna

Destroyed by fire in 2018.

North of Shepparton we passed oil terminals that were once served by rail.

Shell oil terminal to the north of Shepparton

As well as a fertiliser depot, the rail siding covered with rust.

Incitec Pivot fertiliser depot siding at Congupna

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom for rail freight – the container terminal at Mooroopna was still being used to load freight trains.

20 foot containers stored at the Mooroopna freight terminal

And the railway line itself wasn’t being neglected.

Track machines stabled in the siding at Wunghnu

With track crews hard at work.

Replacing timber sleepers over a small bridge north of Shepparton

Replacing timber sleepers.

Replacing timber sleepers over a small bridge north of Shepparton

Allowing the thrice weekly freight train to Tocumwal to keep running.


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

Planning upgrades to the Cranbourne line – or lack thereof

At this moment the Cranbourne railway line is a bustling place, with construction underway on two grade separation projects, a short section of track duplication, and construction of a road bridge soon to start. But who is coordinating all of these works? The answer – nobody.

Work kicks off

In November 2015 the Andrews Labor Government kicked off the upgrades, announcing the grade separation of two level crossings on the Cranbourne line.

The Andrews Labor Government has marked its first year in office by announcing that it will fast-track the removal of four more dangerous and congested level crossings.

Premier Daniel Andrews today joined Minister for Public Transport, Jacinta Allan, to announce that the level crossings at Melton Highway in Sydenham, Abbotts Road in Dandenong South, Thompsons Road in Lyndhurst, and Kororoit Creek in Williamstown North will be removed.

The removal of the level crossings announced today will reduce congestion, improve safety and create local jobs.

In 2012, Abbotts Road level crossing was the site of a horrific collision that derailed a train and resulted in one tragic death. The Labor Government will get rid of this congested death-trap once and for all.

Removing the Thompsons Road level crossing will eliminate a major congestion hot spot on this critical transport corridor in Melbourne’s growing south east. It will be delivered as part of the duplication of Thompsons Road, another key election commitment that will reduce congestion even further.

Thompsons Road is a simple project VicRoads has done many times before as part of other road duplication projects – build one half of the bridge beside the level crossing, move motorists onto it once it is complete, then close the road to build the second half.

Cars stop for a train at the Thompsons Road level crossing

The wheels start to fall off

But the plans for Abbots Road were far more contentious. Five options were considered – some normally seen.

• Option 1
– lower the rail under road

• Option 2
– build a road bridge over the rail line

• Option 3
– build a rail bridge over the road

• Option 4
– lower the road under the rail line

And a wildcard – create a new connection between Pound Road West / Remington Drive on an already reserved alignment, and close Abbotts Road.

Moving the railway wasn’t easy:

• High water table adds to the complexity of construction
• Impacts National and State protected flora
• Would require an extended closure of Cranbourne Rail Line during construction
• Impacts on the proposed rail connection to the Lyndhurst Intermodal Terminal

While moving the road would cause a different set of problems.

• Likely to require some land acquisition to maintain access to adjacent properties
• Impacts the operation of Abbotts Road during construction

Which led to option 5 being the preferred option.


• Remington Drive / Pound Road West connected
• Allows for track duplication and future freight tracks
• Minimal operational impacts to Cranbourne Rail Line during construction
• Consistent with the development of the future road network

• Abbotts Road closed at level crossing
• Access for properties at and around Abbotts Road rail crossing may become more difficult
• Increased traffic on Remington Drive / Pound Road West, makes existing access to properties more difficult
• Additional road and intersection works to cater for re-directed traffic

But local businesses weren’t happy with this plan, so in May 2016 it was dumped.

A busy industrial road in Melbourne’s manufacturing heartland that was to be permanently shut so the Andrews government could remove a level crossing will remain open after authorities bowed to public anger at the plan.

Business owners in Dandenong South were shocked to be told in February that the Level Crossing Removal Authority intended to turn Abbotts Road into a dead-end street at the Cranbourne rail line, and thereby tick off the crossing as one of the first of 50 it plans to get rid of.

The LXRA said in February that it would build a new road overpass across the Cranbourne line north of Abbotts Road, between Remington Drive and Pound Road, which would provide a more direct link to the freeway.

That overpass will no longer be built as part of the level crossing removal project.

With a rail over road bridge being built at Abbotts Road instead.

Installing 'U' trough sections at the down end

But what about track duplication?

The Cranbourne line is still just single track – trains are only able to cross paths at Lynbrook station, which results in cascading delays and restricts the number of services able to operate on the line.

Alstom Comeng 364M arrives into Lynbrook station with a down Cranbourne service

The new bridge at Thompsons Road has provision for a second track to pass underneath.

Bridge spans in place for the eastbound carriageway

But over at Abbotts Road nothing of the sort is happening – the Level Crossing Removal Authority has stuck to their “number of level crossings removed is the only measure of success” philosophy, and building a single track bridge.

LXRA artists impression

The only redeeming act on their part is that a second bridge can be built on the alignment currently occupied by the ground level track.

Is future proofing overkill?

One could argue that building infrastructure for a non-existent second track is wasteful, but way back in 1995 when Merinda Park station was opened, the design of the station was future proofed.

Single platform at Merinda Park

A two sided platform was built.

Siemens train pauses at Merinda Park on an up Cranbourne service

With a fence running along the unused side.

Provision for a second platform face at Merinda Park station

Just waiting for a second track to be laid.

Provision for a second platform face at Merinda Park station

It’s been waiting there for over two decades – the question is how many more years it will lay idle.

Meanwhile on another rail project

Meanwhile work is underway on the “Cranbourne Pakenham Line Upgrade” project, which will permit the new fleet of High Capacity Metro Trains to run.

Work has begun to prepare the Cranbourne-Pakenham line for the 65 new High-Capacity Metro Trains (HCMTs) being built in Victoria by the Andrews Labor Government.

Minister for Public Transport Jacinta Allan today outlined $660 million worth of upgrades that will be carried out along the entire length of Melbourne’s busiest train line and the entry to the Metro Tunnel.

Over the coming years, power and signalling will be upgraded between the City Loop, Pakenham and Cranbourne.

More than 70 kilometres of overhead power lines will be rebuilt, 20 substations will be built or upgraded, and a section of track in Dandenong South will be duplicated to boost reliability and support more services.

Did you see the last bit – track duplication

The duplicated track is already in place, and diverges from the Pakenham line at Dandenong.

Duplicated track on the Cranbourne line awaiting commissioning at Dandenong

Passes under the Dandenong Bypass.

Track duplication along the Cranbourne line at the Dandenong Bypass

And then comes to an end just north of Greens Road.

Down end of the Cranbourne line track duplication at Greens Road

However a disused freight siding continues south, over the Greens Road level crossing.

Looking down the Cranbourne line from Greens Road, Dandenong South

Petering out into the long grass.

Looking down the Cranbourne line from Greens Road, Dandenong South

And bushes.

Trees growing on the goods siding at Dandenong South

And who is responsible for delivering these works? Yes – the Level Crossing Removal Authority!

Does one hand of the Level Crossing Removal Authority know what the other half of their authority is doing?

And roads win again

With a rail over road bridge under construction at Abbotts Road, you might have expected that the road bridge at Remington Drive was off the table. You’d be wrong.

Building A Better Pound Road West
April 2018

Drivers in the growing south east will get a faster, less congested commute with major upgrades to Pound Road West in Dandenong South.

A two-kilometre section of Pound Road West and Remington Drive will be duplicated from two to four lanes between Abbotts Road and South Gippsland Highway, including a new bridge over the Cranbourne rail line.

New traffic lights will be installed at Remington Drive and Hydrive Close and safety upgrades will be installed at the Pound Road and South Gippsland Highway intersection, and the Abbotts Road and Remington Drive intersection.

The upgrade will reduce congestion, slash travel times and improve safety for more than 40,000 vehicles that rely on Pound Road West and Remington Drive each day.

Yes – the road works considered “too expensive’ for the Level Crossing Removal Authority to complete back in 2015 are now possible, thanks to the $4 billion ‘Suburban Roads Upgrade’ package.

You can’t make this stuff up!

And a footnote on rail freight

Remember how the rail over road work at Abbotts Road would impact on the proposed rail connection to the Lyndhurst Intermodal Terminal? Turns out this is no longer a problem – in May 2018 the private backer of the project pulled out because they’re sick of government inaction.

Salta Properties shocks industry by withdrawing from port rail shuttle
May 13, 2018

A major transport plan for the Andrews Government is in danger of falling apart after a key player pulled out.

After 13 years’ advocating for rail connections to the Port of Melbourne, Salta Properties will no longer apply for funding from the Port Rail Shuttle Project.

The $58 million program is looking to fund a series of rail lines to connect the Port of Melbourne to freight hubs and take thousands of trucks off Melbourne’s heaving roads.

Salta’s decision has surprised many close to the process because the commercial developer has spent years ­preparing two sites for rail shuttles and has been an outspoken advocate for inland ports connected by rail.

Stakeholders now fear the long-awaited rail hubs in Melbourne’s west and southeast may never go ahead.

Sources claim Salta could not work with the government’s plans.

Container Transport Alliance Australia director Neil Chambers said the news had thrown the future of the state government’s plans into question. “There’s only a limited number of organisations who can be a bidder for this,” he said. “It is concerning with an organisation like that pulling out — where does it leave the process?”

Sources associated with the project told the Herald Sun that Salta might have had no choice but to pull out because it could not work with the government’s plans.

Opposition spokesman David Hodgett said it was a blow for Victoria.

“Thousands of jobs and business rely on us getting this project right,” he said.

Good thing the Monash Freeway is getting widened to 5 lanes each way – they’re going to need them for all the extra trucks using it.

V/Line trains and antimacassars

The word for today is ‘antimacassar‘ – a piece of cloth placed on the back of a chair to protect the seat fabric from dirt. A decade ago they were a common sight onboard V/Line trains.

BTN263 looking to the east end

They were fitted to the seats onboard the Sprinter trains.

Sprinter train interior, November 2007 (photo by Jb17kx, via Wikimedia Commons)
Photo by Jb17kx, via Wikimedia Commons

As well as the newest VLocity trains.

Sprinter train interior, April 2006 (photo by Mcbridematt, via Wikimedia Commons)
Photo by Mcbridematt, via Wikimedia Commons

As you might expect, antimacassars on a V/Line train would get dirty quite quickly, as well as being a target for vandalism.

Good thing they came in boxes of 2000!

2000 count of new headrest covers

But by 2008 they disappeared from VLocity trains used on commuter services.

New style interior onboard VL00: yellow poles and the same fabric as all of the other refurbished V/Line trains

And by April 2009 they had started to disappear from the locomotive hauled carriages used on long distance services.

No more antimacassars, economy section of a N car

The word at the time was that the manufacturer went bust, and V/Line couldn’t find a new supplier.

In the years since nothing has changed – V/Line seats are still bare, the layers of head grease increasing day by day.


V/Line antimacassar supplier was Merino Pty Ltd in Queensland, which entered administration in 2007.

February 25, 2008

A failed punt on recycled paper and a million-dollar-plus water compliance bill helped quicken the collapse of Australia’s oldest tissue manufacturer.

More than 100 staff at Logan City-based Merino were made redundant earlier this month as the bulk of the business and its assets were sold to a Victorian rival for $29.4 million.

Merino, whose brands include SAFE, Bouquets and Earthwise toilet paper, had lost more than $21 million since 2005 before entering voluntary administration last December.

The ‘Headrex’ trademark was lodged back in 1973 under class 24 “covers of all kinds including antimacassar, formed of non-woven fabric or other material”, and last updated in 2008 by Encore Tissue Pty Ltd.