Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Journey on a train

I came across a site today that showed me the different trains that V Line, our country train service, use. I've never been on a Velocity train. It is about fourteen years since I have been on a country train and the last time I was very impressed, although I did have to complete the journey by road coach as passenger trains no longer run to Kyabram.

I had the afternoon free and some newspaper reading to catch up on so I though I would take a short country train trip. I considered just past Werribee, but it is such boringly flat countryside. After consulting timetables, I decided to go to Melton and back, which also turned out to be boringly flat.

I thought I would catch the 1.17 West Coburg tram at Domain Road to William Street, walk to Southern Cross Station and catch the 2.07 Ballarat train to Melton. I would have a fifteen minute wait at Melton and then catch the 2.52 at Melton back to Southern Cross.

The best laid plans............

I missed the 1.17 tram but no big deal. I caught the 1.29 and I was there in plenty of time. I checked at the V Line counter that I could use my Myki card for the trip and the answer was yes. I boarded the train on platform 6A at 1.55. At about 2.00 a fight started in the next carriage along. I could only see one woman who was the loudest and she was using the worst swear words you can imagine. She just went on and on. She and her male friend appeared to be going to leave the train, but then they would go back. One passenger in my carriage left and headed back to another carriage. Another passenger left the train to alert staff. Train staff were soon on the scene and then private guards turned up and removed two couples from the train, separated them and starting taking their details.While this was happening, I had to decide whether to continue or not. If the train left quite late, I would miss the train to come back. We left only three minutes late. While the fight was a problem, it was handled efficiently and the train conductor came through and apologised for leaving late and the disturbance and said she would come and chat to us about the incident  after Sunshine. Very impressive.

As I said, the last train I caught was fourteen years ago and I expected a very pleasant trip on this modern train, I guess best described as a rail car rather than a conventional train with an engine pulling carriages.  No, not as nice as my last trip. The train's diesel powered generator(s) were quite noisy and the air con also somewhat noisy. I recall the conventional train years ago was whisper quiet with only a slight occasional rattle from a light fitting. In summary, rail cars, if that is what Velocity trains are, are not as good as a conventional train but probably a cheaper option for our government.

V Line, in case you didn't know, was privatised and then unprivatised when the company bolted as their books became redder and redder.

It was a pleasant enough trip and once out of the suburbs, the train certainly hiked along at well over 100km/h. It arrived at Melton on time.

I crossed over to the opposite platform to catch the next train back, due in fifteen minutes. Given the facilities on the other platform, this side was very modest with only a couple of shelters and no information. If you are familiar with Melton Station, can you predict what is going to happen?

I can see the train coming, dead on time. My plan has worked perfectly. Ah, why is the train on the wrong track? There is a cross over for the train. It will cross tracks. I was on Platform 2 and the train pulled into Platform 1 where I had alighted. That explains why so many people were on Platform 1 waiting for what I thought was the next train to Ballarat and not due for quite some time. It was pointless running back under the subway as the train would have long departed by the time I got there.

I checked on my phone. It was 2.54 and the next train back to So Cross Station was 4.08. I was a bit so cross. Why didn't I check? Well, so far as I know, trains come in on one side and in the other direction, come in on the other side, unless something special is happening or there are centre platforms.

Should I go and investigate South Melton? Nothing I could see looked appealing. From the station kiosk I bought coffee and a lamington. I ordered a long black and the woman then checked if I wanted normal, skinny or soi milk. I replied normal, before I caught myself and repeated black, no milk. She was quite incredulous that someone could drink black coffee without sugar. She double checked a few times, as I repeated, black, no sugar. I felt like a freak. As I expected, the coffee was barely drinkable. After a few sips of the boiling hot coffee, I tipped it out.

I certainly caught up on my newspaper reading. People came and went, as they do at railway stations. I kept a watchful eye on them all, especially the brown people. Are they exhibiting signs of being bad people? They are teens and a very dark brown. They must be up to no good. Of course they were. One bounced a basketball for at least three minutes, which annoyed me intensely. Damn these brown people and their criminality. I examined the train timetables. What? The city bound train and the Ballarat train are due at the same time, 4.08. If that is the case, they can't both use the same platform. Maybe this time the city bound train will use Platform 2. I asked the ticket person. He told me all city bound trains use platform 1.

I went onto the platform to check the electronic display, but it had failed and was just blank. Perhaps if it was working when I alighted from the train, I would have noticed that the city bound train used the same platform onto which I alighted.

It was nearly time for the train to arrive and I was on the platform when the ex city train arrived. It used Platform 2 and it was a proper train. Seems the trains were doing French, that is on the wrong sides of the road. A minute later my train arrived a couple of minutes early and it waited until departure time. It paused for five minutes or so before pulling into Sunshine Station and slowed to a crawl between North Melbourne and So Cross. I assumed we would be arriving late and here I am puzzled and welcome an explanation. The train was due in at 4.49. I checked the time on my phone as I left the train and it was 4.40. In spite of the delays, we arrived nine minutes early? Deduct the five minute wait at Sunshine and maybe two minutes for a slow arrival at So Cross, and that would have made it 4.33. I am really missing something here.

I just missed a Collins Street tram and at 4.44 I checked my phone for the next William Street tram to home. Four minutes. I walked briskly and caught it.

Here came another problem. The tram stopped in Park Street as there was a tram at the terminus around the corner. Normally I would get off the tram and just walk home in less than ten minutes. But I decided to wait, in spite of most people leaving the tram. A couple of cycles of the traffic lights and the tram left the terminus and we swung around the corner from Park Street. I would nearly be home by now if I walked. If there was ever a passenger unfriendly tram interchange, Domain Road must be it. I weaved between trams to catch a St Kilda Road tram and almost made it. Three minutes to the next tram, a significant gap in trams in the peak. Two stops along where I alight, all that did not go right for the afternoon trip landed on one chap standing in the doorway of the tram blocking my exit.

In review, I didn't think much of Velocity rail cars. Melton Station cannot be used instinctively and a pity its electronic signage wasn't working and there were no announcements. Domain tram interchange is absurd. Public transport staff? Excellent, especially the conductor on the Monday 2.07 to Ballarat.

This is not the train I caught, but mine looked like this one.

I had forgotten about the government transport minister Robin Cooper, but he opened the renovated station in the nineties. It is modern and comfortable inside.

You would not believe the number of cars parked both sides of the railway station. So many people drive to the station and I guess catch a train to the city.

The old and no doubt no longer used signal controls. I have not seen an integrated to the station control box before.

You pay $50 refundable for the right to park your bike in this cage. It seems to privately operated. There were a couple of hundred cars parked at the station but only five bikes.

Looking back toward the city. There are five different bus stops and buses came and went. There was very minimal loading on the buses, mostly just one person, if anyone at all. The buses serve nearby local areas.

Here comes my train. It is going to cross over to the other track and pick me up at the platform I am standing on, isn't it? Apparently not.

Just before the next train I could catch pulled in, a proper Ballarat train arrived, with an engine hauling carriages.The carriages were attached after what I suppose are freight cars.


  1. Anonymous11:13 am

    Were you wearing an anorak? ;)
    I used to really like the big V/Line trains (in your last pic). I'd go up to Albury every other weekend and it was very comfortable and smooth and yes, quiet.

    Poor signage always bothers me, I often wonder how tourists do in similar predicaments. Even our street signs are relatively small and hard to see when you're driving. Unless you have great vision it can be difficult.


  2. On the subject of "a proper Ballarat train arrived, with an engine hauling carriages.The carriages were attached after what I suppose are freight cars" - the non-passenger carriage contains a diesel powered generator that supplies electricity for the air conditioning and seating.

  3. No Fen, I was not and I did not even have note paper and a pen to jot down train numbers. Relatively, I was a tourist there, certainly a stranger. Signage should always be tested by those who don't know already.

    Thanks Marcus. I think there were two of those behind the engine. I guess air con would draw too much power to just run from batteries. So the engine just does its propelling work and the power car? looks after the carriages.

  4. According to my maths, which can be extremely faulty the scheduled time for the train to Melton was 30 minutes and the scheduled time for the return trip was 41 minutes. That's quite a differential.

    Reading your post I gather that Melton is a rural location outside of Melbourne. Interesting. In Sydney any train journey of 41 minutes or less to or from Sydney's Central Station I believe would be entirely within Sydney's metropolitan area. OK, maybe an interstate express would be near Sydney's extremities in that period but that's about it, I would think.

  5. You are correct Victor and there was only one stop inbound, as opposed to two outbound. Mysterious.

    Melton is I suppose what is known as as a satellite suburb. There is a lot of vacant land between the end of the suburbs and Melton. Effectively the suburbs end in that direction after about twenty minutes in the train, but the ever expanding suburbs are creeping along.

  6. A bit more. It doesn't seem to take long to leave Sydney subs on the M4?

  7. Andrew, a heartfelt thank you for giving me a reason to travel safely at home via computer.
    And you laugh because I won't travel on a tram.

  8. I don't laugh Jah Teh, but when you were younger and worked in town, weren't you on and off trams often?

  9. Ah - the old integrated to the station signal box design - if memory serves Euroa has such a set up [of course it could be somewhere else I saw it a thousand times].

    Electric signs are controlled by people specially hired for their low levels of literacy/initiative.
    If unintelligible voice announcements seem unhelpful for most, let us consider the plight of our deaf friends when the sign says LISTEN FOR ANNOUNCEMENTS.

    New Frankston timetables dated 22 April [part of a network wide image upgrade] still give incorrect platform details for Sthn Cross.

    As for ferals on trains - do they still have two classes of ticket? First class [years ago] was the only way to avoid total yobbos. I wish they had a yobbo class fare and a conductor or 12 on the Frankston line.

  10. So you DID manage to read the paper?? That's quite an epic train tale Andrew, thank goodness you weren't on a train in India, things could have been so much worse haha!

  11. Chris Lawson2:25 am

    You'll probably find the extra minutes are down to 'recovery time' that theoretically allows a train to arrive on time at its destination even if it has been delayed en route. It's ten years ago now so I might have some figures wrong but when I used to travel between Glasgow and York the schedule from Glasgow to Motherwell, the first stop, was fifteen minutes but going the other was was 25 minutes. This is common practice on most railways although here in the Netherlands they seem to apply recovery time between all major stops, resulting in very long waits if there are no problems and the train has been moving at design (or line) speed.

  12. Andrew, the city 'exit' of the M4, and all the other 'Ms' is well outside Sydney's CBD. I have to allow about 45 minutes just to get to the M4 from my home in the east and then it is a drive of another hour or so on the motorway, depending on traffic, to reach the western edge of Sydney's suburbs.

  13. FC, there were so many dates where times will change when I looked at the electric timetable. This coming weekend will see some new stations open. Only one class on that train, I believe, but yes, worth paying the extra to go first. Though when I was a kid, I only travelled second and there was never a problem.

    I did Grace. Knocked two off. I was only out of home for three or so hours. India, definitely first class there.

    Chris, it doesn't seem to happen in Japan and I don't see why it is necessary. There shouldn't normally be delays and putting fat time into schedules is admitting defeat. They have done that with suburban trains here. They take longer to make their trips than fifty years ago.

    Clearly my memory from a few years ago is defective Victor. We had a hire car and from the Cross took the tunnel under the city, and across the Anzac Bridge and it seemed to be so quick.

  14. Andrew - traffic has worsened considerably in recent years.

    This morning it took me thirty minutes just to reach the Anzac Bridge via the Cross City Tunnel. Admittedly traffic was difficult today with the current big wet spell.

  15. Sounds like both our cities are in trouble with traffic congestion and inadequate public transport.

  16. went from Gold Coast to Brisbane. A nice ride.

  17. Ann, I've not done any but there are some quite good train trips in Queensland.