Saturday, April 03, 2010

No waiting for French Impressionists in Canberra

This afternoon at about 5pm I noticed there were no queues for "Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gough, Gauguin, Cézanne & Beynond; Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay"exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. It is open tonight until 9pm and there is campaign in the sculpture garden. The exhibition finishes on 18 April.

I saw the works in Paris at the Musée d'Orsay so today instead I went to the Easter Steam Spectacular of the Australian Railway Historical Society (ACT Division). At Canberra Station there was Steam Locomotive 1210, Diesel-electric Locomotive 4807 , sleeping and dining cars.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Train Sleep Mode to Reduce Energy Use

Class 380 Desiro Electric TrainThe new Class 380 Desiro Electric Trains for Scotland will have a "sleep mode" to save power. Apparently trains are not simply switched off overnight when not in use. Also the air conditioning system will sense if a carriage is empty, thus saving further energy.

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Monday, January 04, 2010

Newington Armory Heritage Railway

Newington Armory Heritage TrainA hidden gem for railway enthusiasts in Sydney is the Newington Armory Heritage Railway. This is a 610mm, two foot gauge network used to transport munitions around the former Newington Arms Depot. It may be a surprise to learn the New South Wales Government owns this battery electric train with articulated passenger carriages.

Gemco Locomotive BatteriesThe tacks were laid in 1909, with carts originally pushed by hand. Battery powered electric locomotives were introduced in 1940. The GEMCO George Moss and Co locomotive used to pull the tourist train around 7.6 km of track was built in 1963. The tour starts near the former gateway to the complex (which is the ticket office). It travels past what is now the armoury theatre (with the Sydney Olympic Park Lodge YMCA visible up the hill), past what are now artists studios and the Birds Australia Discovery Centre. The train then enters an area restricted to the public, stopping at several points to view the buildings used to store material.

Locomotive couplingArticulated Wagon CouplingOrdnance wagons have been converted into passenger carriages, with seats, roofs and doors. The wagons are unusual in being articulated. Conventional couplings are used to the locomotives, with one at each end in a push-pull arrangement. As the tour guide kept emphasising, this is a real railway, which is required to meet railway safety standards.

Track to munitions buildingThe standard tourist trip lasts one hour and covers the Royal Australian Navy section of the former arms depot. This includes a section off limits to the public. This does not include the section built to US specifications in WW2 by SeaBees for the US Navy (in use until 1946).

Armoury DisplayThe highlight of the tour is when the train travels through the centre of one of the buildings and an array of bombs, shells, torpedoes, guided missiles and military shields are briefly glimpsed. The train the stops allowing the passengers to get out and inspect the display. What is emphasised is that these are not facsimiles, but real weapons made safe by removing the explosives. As well as assorted naval shells are Sea Cat anti-aircraft missiles, Harpoon cruse missiles, air launched and submarine torpedoes and the Australian developed Ikara anti-submarine missile, complete with acoustic homing torpedo.

Concrete stores lighters (barges) were unloaded on the wharf near the present day Armoury Warf Cafe. The armoury was set up in 1897 for the Royal Navy and closed in 1999.

One of the stranger sights on the tour is a party on two wheel Segway battery vehicles. But this fits with the history of the site, which had "Electromobiles" (battery powered vehicles), with petrol powered vehicles banned due to risk of explosions. The usual mode of transport for most staff was by foot or bicycle.

The wetlands next to the armoury are permanently closed to the public due to the presence of unexploded ordnance.

For a more detailed travelogue, see: Travel: Newington Armament Depot, Homebush NSW.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Rail and broadband in place of second Sydney airport

A very high speed train from Sydney, through Canberra, to Melbourne would replace about 75% of flights on one of the worlds busiest air corridors. This is not a new or unexplored idea, from a high speed rail line proposed in 1981, to a "East Coast Very High Speed Train Scoping Study" in 2008. But the mass production of very high speed trains in Asia, combined with advances in broadband and environmental pressures, makes it more feasible.

The Federal and New South Wales Governments are to conduct a joint study of options for additional airport capacity for Sydney. This follows a "National Aviation Policy White Paper" (16 December 2009). It should be noted that the paper is not just talking about an airport and mentions rail transport systems. I suggest that the study should look at a train in place of a second Sydney airport. A very high speed train from Sydney, through Canberra, to Melbourne would replace about 75% of flights on one of the worlds busiest air corridors. Provision of wireless broadband on the train would allow the passengers to do useful work and be entertained. In addition to passengers, a high speed train can also carry high high value freight, such as priority mail, currently sent by air.

Sydney airport already has two underground stations in place and a direct underground line to the Sydney CBD. Work would be needed on the rail corridor out of Sydney, but this is relatively minor, with work already underway for a rail freight corridor.

Very fast trains are now a proven technology, with China and Korea mass producing adaptions of proven European designs.

The cost of the line from Sydney to Melbourne could be covered by the sale of land in new greenfield environmentally efficient towns in inland Australia. These towns would also reduce the growth pressure on Sydney (politically the new towns would be attractive to the current NSW and Federal governments as it would shift the voting trends to the ALP in previously conservative rural electorates). Integration of the National Broadband Network in the new towns would allow rapid provision of services and jobs to the new towns and reduce the cost of infrastructure.

New towns could be built along the VFT route incorporating high environmental and planning standards. Buildings could be designed to use the minimum of water and power, then assembled from mass produced modules. Homes could be designed to accommodate the elderly. Broadband could bring jobs, education and services to the towns quickly. Both government and commercial telecommuting offices could be provided allowing office works to telecommute most days and perhaps have to catch the train only once every few weeks. Each town could have a university campus, as well as a hospital with advanced medical facilities, linked by broadband to specalists.

The pressure on Sydney airport will also be reduced in coming years due to changes in the aircraft used and environmental pressures. The introduction of larger aircraft, specifically the Airbus A380, will reduce the number of international aircraft movements needed. Added to this the Boeing 787 (and Airbus A350) will allow more direct international flights from other Australian airports, reducing the need for Sydney to act as a hub. Added to this, the need for reduction in greenhouse gas emissions will increase pressure on airlines to have aircraft loaded to capacity to increase fuel efficiency. The requirement for passengers to pay the environmental cost of their travel will also dampen demand for flights.
Sydney is Australia’s biggest and busiest city and Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport is Australia’s busiest airport, with over 32 million passengers in 2008–09. To ensure the future aviation needs of Sydney meet the expectations of the community and are fully integrated into long-term growth strategies, the Government, in partnership with the New South Wales Government, will work together to plan for the Sydney region’s future airport infrastructure, including how it links to Sydney’s growth centres and its road and rail transport systems. This is the first time that the two governments are aligning their planning and investment strategies. ...

From: National Aviation Policy White Paper, Department of Infrastructure,Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, 16 December 2009

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Melbourne to Ballarat by Train

Rail map of Central Victoria and Port Phillip BayAs I was going to Ballarat to talk at a Green ICT Conference, I thought I should take a green way to get there. So I took the V/Line train at 4:05pm from Melbourne, Southern Cross. At one hour and fourteen minutes, this is a very practical and comfortable way to travel. Southern Cross is a modern well equipped and dramatic departure point. The express buses from Melbourne airport pull in under the station, making for a convenient interchange without leaving the building.

On the way I made a side trip to swap notes on sustainable IT education with Frank Mentiplay at Box Hill Institute. This is an interesting institution, being a TAFE which offers vocational education at a level far beyond the usual trade certificate. Frank is working on a sustainable ICT education program. It was good to see that this was along the same lines as the course I designed for the ACS and the course for the ANU (COMP7310: Green ICT Strategies).

I was able to get a train from Southern Cross to Box Hill and back. The only complication was that the Box Hill station is located under a shopping centre not shown on the Google map. I expected to step off the train onto a street, but all the streets have been built over by the shopping arcades and it took me some time to find the way out. Once out on the correct side it was not far to the Box Hill campus.

The Melbourne to Ballarat trip is not that scenic. There are railway works and abandoned buildings along the city section. There are some curiosities, such as a giant gold statute of a Chinese Mandarin in the middle of an artificial lake.

Out of the city there are expanses flat featureless fields, until Ballarat. But there is plenty to see at Ballarat, starting with the Ballarat railway station. The new Wendouree station in the west Ballarat is opening shortly and there were upgrades to the line to Melbourne announced in the federal budget this week.

There is an excellent rail map of the route: Melbourne to Swan Hill, Ballarat and Ararat.

ps: Previously I have been Sydney to Melbourne by XPT, Brisbane to Sydney by XPT, as well as other train trips.

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Additional Victorian Wireless Network

The Victorian government has selected Nokia Siemens to build and operate a $150m wireless voice and data network for communications to urban trains. The system will use GSM-R, a variant of the GSM protocol used for old mobile phones in Australia. The GSM-R network will be separate from the mobile phone network, having its own cell towers and handsets.

The new system will not be compatible with the radio systems used by interstate trains in Victoria, nor with those used by other state government services particularly emergency services used for rescue in railway accidents. It appears likely a separate radio system will also be required for Victorian trains outside the Melbourne urban area.

It does not appear that installing a separate radio network just for trains in Melbourne is a good idea. Similar coverage and reliability could be provided by a combination of publicly provided networks, including the 3G phone networks installed by Australian telcos. As well as not needing the installation of any base stations, this would also allow for operation in rural areas, inter-working with other operators and with emergency services.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Turkish undersea railway earthquake warning system

According to International Railway Gazette, the control centre for the new Marmaray rail tunnel linking the European and Asian part of Istanbul will receive earthquake information from the Kandilli Early Warning System. The railway runs under the Bosphorus in a very earthquake prone region. The trains will be automatically stopped by the control centre when an earthquake warning is received. The tunnel is equipped with flexible joints and flood gates to protect against earthquakes. Last year I visited the Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute, at Bogazici University who run the earthquake warning system for Turkey and looked at their warning system and discussed how to use new technology to get emergency information out quickly. The Institute provides a very valuable service.

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Sydney to Canberra Hybrid Fast Train

On 12 February 2009, the UK Government announced that Hitachi trains from the Agility Trains consortium would replace the InterCity 125 trains used between UK cities. This is of relevance to Australia, as the XPT trains used between Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne are derived from the old UK trains. The new Agility Trains may therefore be suitable for use in Australia

Agility Trains will run at 201 km/h and one version will be a hybrid, capable of operating on electricity and diesel. This could be very useful for Australia: the train could run on the electrical supply in Sydney, then change to diesel for the country run to Canberra. While not as fast as Very High Speed trains, such as the TGV (320 km/h) the Angel trains would not require new track or overhead wiring. It should be noted that Queensland's electric tilt train is also partly made by Hitachi.

Very high speed is not needed to make the train trip from Sydney to Canberra by train feasable. At present the rail journey takes more than four hours, at an average speed of about 65 km/h. The new trains could be run from Sydney central station, stopping at Sydney airport and on to Canberra in under three hours. If the trains were equipped with power points beside each seat for laptop computers, as is being done on the refurbished Thalys and WiFi access, as on the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway, it would be attractive to business and private travellers.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sydney to Melbourne by Train

Rail map of Eastern Victoria and Southern New South Wales.
As I was going to Melbourne to talk at a Green ICT Conference, I thought I should take the low carbon approach. So I booked on the Countrylink XPT train, travelling on the daylight service 24 November 2008. At just under twelve hours this is not viable for business travel, but it is a worthwhile holiday trip for those not in a hurry.

The first few hours of the trip are interesting, through the suburbs of Sydney and the countryside. After Goulburn it gets a bit dull, looking like the same countryside is repeated for the next six hours or so. The last couple of hours coming into Melbourne become interesting again. This trip is worth doing once for those who want to see some of Australia.

There is an excellent rail map of the route: Central (Sydney), Strathfield, Campbelltown, Moss Vale, Goulburn, Gunning, Yass Junction, Harden, Cootamundra, Junee, Wagga Wagga, The Rock, Henty, Culcairn, Albury, Wangaratta, Benalla, Southern Cross Station (Melbourne). The route follows the Main South line Sydney to Albury, then the North East line to Southern Cross Station, Melbourne.

The XPT trains have been refurbished and are very clean, tidy and comfortable. The refurbishment doesn't appear to have changed the interior decor and the train has a retro sixties look about it. The train has a muted blue/grey colour scheme which should wear well (but some of the shades of blue used do not seem to match).

The suspension on the XPT is excellent and it appears to float over the bumps in the suburban track. Between the outskirts of Sydney and Goulburn much of the track has had the wooden sleepers replaced with concrete ones and the ride is so smooth as to be surreal, as a result. The train feels as if it could go 50 km/h faster.

The economy class seats on the XPT are of a generous size, but I thought the padding a little hard. The new cloth seat covers do not appear to have been well fitted and there is already some fraying of the material around the edges and this is likely to need to be redone within a couple of years. One of the seat-back trays flipped down and an angle so contents tended to slide into my lap. The reading lights worked and the gold reflective coating on the windows was very good at keeping the harsh sun out.

The toilets are clean and well designed. The new stick on labels are starting to peel and need to be replaced with more robust ones. The labels on the luggage racks also seemed to be wearing off.

The service on the train is good, with clear announcements and helpful staff. Service at the buffet car is good. There was a special with "real" coffee in coffee bags (like tea bags). This was not up to the standard of the filter drip on the French TGV, but acceptable and much better than instant coffee. The staff went to a lot of trouble to have passengers reuse the cardboard trays the food was supplied on. The result was one tray would last a passenger the whole trip instead of one for each meal, saving a lot of cardboard and garbage disposal.

One of the delights of the trip is leaving from the interstate hall of Sydney Central Station. Melbourne Southern Cross also has a dramatic sense of arrival. There are brief stops at well maintained little old stations in between. The train was only about one quarter full at the start, but a surprising number of people got on and off at the intermediate stations. The train provides a useful transport service for rural NSW.

There was track work being carried out all along the route to replace the sleepers. This slowed the train down, but should greatly improve the ride, and perhaps speed up the trip, when finished. In the November issue of Railway Digest, Phillip Laird proposed removing some of the tight curves in the track between Sydney and Goulburn. He claimed this would save 1340 litres of fuel for the average freight train and reduce the trip time by 105 minutes. All of the upgrades would cost $1,827M, would appear to be a good public investment. This would also improve the XPT trip. While the Sydney - Melbourne trip would still be too long for business purposes, this and some minor improvements on the Goulburn - Canberra track would make the Sydney - Canberra trip under three hours and competitive with airlines.

Previously I have been Brisbane to Sydney by XPT, as well as other train trips.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What to see from a Sydney to Melbourne Train Window

Rail map of Eastern Victoria and Southern New South Wales.As I am going to Melbourne to talk at a Green ICT Conference I thought I should take the low carbon approach and booked on the Countrylink XPT train. Any suggestions as to what to see out the window would be welcome. Previously I have been Brisbane to Sydney by XPT, as well as other train trips.

There is an excellent rail map of the route: Central (Sydney), Strathfield, Campbelltown, Moss Vale, Goulburn, Gunning, Yass Junction, Harden, Cootamundra, Junee, Wagga Wagga, The Rock, Henty, Culcairn, Albury, Wangaratta, Benalla, Southern Cross Station (Melbourne). The route follows the Main South line Sydney to Albury, then the North East line to Southern Cross Station, Melbourne.

Sydney to Melbourne direct

Sydney to
Melbourne XPT

Sydney to
Melbourne XPT

(Sydney) dep

Moss Vale
Yass Junction
Wagga Wagga
02:49Connections to
, Griffith
The Rocka14:18a03:11
to Echuca
Southern Cross
(Melbourne) arr


From: Sydney to Melbourne direct Daily, CountryLink, 2008

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Excellent Thessaloniki to Istanbul Train

Perhaps it is a mark of how cheap some of the hotels I stayed in were, but the third most comfortable accommodation in Turkey or Greece on my recent trip was the Thessaloniki to Istanbul sleeper train (Dostluk/Filia Ekspresi). The train is run by Turkish railways (with the national crest etched in each window). It leaves Thessaloniki (Selanik), Greece, about 8pm, taking 12 hours. The route is Thessalonik, Kiklis, Rodopolis, Serres, Drama, Xanthi, Komotini, Alexandroupolis, Pythion, Uzunköprü, Pehlivanköy, Alpullu , Istanbul and is an excellent tourist trip.

The train has air-conditioned one or two person sleeping compartments. There are no sit up compartments and so the only seats are the ones in the sleepers which convert into bunk beds. In theory the train is non-smoking, but a cabin full of smokers was tolerated by the conductor (the compartments have individual air conditioning controls and opening windows and so this was okay).

There is no dining car on the train and the only food and drink was some sandwiches, soft drinks and canned/bottled drinks sold by the conductor (in what seemed to be an unofficial entrepreneurial activity run from a supermarket shopping trolley).

The two person compartments have two very wide comfortable seats, a wash basin (with mirror and power points), cupboard, bar fridge and luggage rack. The conductor brings sheets and pillows as the train is leaving, with the passengers are left to make their own beds. The fold down top bunk is easy to set up and there is a ladder for climbing up.

The carpet of the compartment looked like it was new and the fittings were a little warn but very clean and everything worked. This contrasted with most of the hotels I stayed in in Greece and Turkey, which were dirty, with broken non-working fittings. While small, the compartments are well designed so that everything fits (unlike hotels with poorly laid out fittings). The decision to fit a bar fridge seems an odd one as it dictates the cupboard it is in must be very deep and so takes up about one third the available floor space in the compartment.

There is a toilet at each end of the compartment and, apparently a shower (I didn't try it). The highlight of the train are the large windows (with an opening section at the top for ventilation. The fist few hours of the trip (and last few) and in daylight, providing excellent views of the Greek and Turkish countryside. Even after sunset it was possible to lie in bed and look out at the light of towns and moonlight on the countryside.

The ride is very comfortable and the carriages must have excellent shock absorbers. The last portion of the trip is on the same line used by the old local Istanbul suburban train which rattles and bumps along, in contrast to the express. Apart from the lack of luxury add-ons, the train is as comfortable as the Indian-Pacific. Being able to lock the door, brush your teeth, set the air conditioning and e down looking at the passing lake in the moonlight was blissful.

The quality of the train is let down by the poor customer relations and management. Turkish State Railways (TCDD/DDY) has a difficult to work web site, which is reported to only work with some browsers. The Thessaloniki station has only one ticket window for international bookings and this seems to be open odd hours and unattended much of the time when it is supposedly open. I looked over the attendant's shoulder as they made my booking and they seemed to be using a very user friendly web based interface, which makes me wonder why that is not available to the customers directly.

The train makes two customs/passport stops at about two AM. The frist stop is for Greek customs and is relatively painless. Your passport is collected and taken away. Some time later the official knocks on the door and hands back the passport after looking you up and down.

The catch is that after the train starts and you have started to get back to sleep, the train stops again at Turkish customs. An official again takes your passport. Citizens of some nations, including Australia, are required to purchase a visa, which requires leaving the train and walking across the tracks to the office and lining up. An acquaintance told of how the fell down from the high train step half asleep, injured themselves and received little help. Fortunately I had already obtained a visa on the way into Turkey and so did not need to alight; there was just a visit from the customs officer to look at our bags in the compartment. If planning to travel on the train it would be worth getting your visa in advance.

Perhaps this customs system is needed for non-express trains, where people can get on and off trains at intermediate stations and an hour's hold-up does not add much to the journey. But it does not seem to make a lot of sense to subject the passengers of the premium express train like this. It should be possible to have some of the formalities done at either end of the journey and for the officials of both countries to broad the train and carry out their checks in transit.

Apart from the stops for customs, there were some other stops of 20 minutes or so waiting from stopping trains to clear the track. Along much of the line on the Greek side, there was track work underway to replace the old steel sleepers with concrete ones and with new tunnels. The new track seems to have the curves banked at an angle for high speed trains, to the point where it was noticeable against the horizon (about the same tilt as I experienced in a Swedish X2000 tilt train). It seems likely that the speed of the train will be able to be increased considerably when this track work is finished. However, the quality of the track dropped considerably in Turkey and there were few signs of upgrades there.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Hotel Rex Thessaloníki

The Hotel Rex, Thessaloníki, Greece might be a good place to stay after the current renovations are finished. But as of a week ago it was like staying in a building site. A new lift is being installed, but in the interim you have to walk up four flights of stairs to your room. New soundproof double glazed windows are being installed, but while that is happening you have to step over builders tools, and listen to hammer drills.

Rooms have air conditioning, but I found the filter in mine was blocked with several millimeters of dust and carpet fluff. There seemed to be more pile in the filter than on the grimy unclean carpet on the floor. I would guess the management have decided not to clean the carpets until the building work is finished, even if the cleaner could be made to carry their equipment up the stairs.

The hotel did have some good points: most notably, very helpful staff. It is very close to the railway station (perhaps a bit too close). It had a very good free cyber cafe, apart from the air conditioner set to 29 degrees and the flat batteries in the cordless keyboard and mouse. Who in their right mind installs a cordless keyboard and mouse in a cyber cafe?

The hotel will be even better placed when Thessaloníki finishes the Thessaloníki Metro, running past the door. But that could be decades away.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Thebes Railway Station

Since the place was conquered by Alexander the Great in 335 BC it has been downhill for the Greek city of Thebes (Thiva). Sitting at the railway station waiting for the 4:10pm train from Athens to Thessaloniki, it is about 35 degrees census in the shade. Thankfully the waiting room has a breeze blowing through and the stone walls protect from the infrared radiation from the paving outside.

The surrounding region seems to grow wheat and cotton. There are also small engineering shops apparent. One worrying sign is the number of car sales yards and car advertisements on TV. Given that these intersperse news programs predicting oil at $US200 a barrel, this cannot be good for the way the country's economy is arranged. There have already been strikes by truck drivers and fishermen over oil prices in Europe. The Greek government seems none too stable and a few transport blockades might be enough to bring it down.

The obvious solution is for the government to increase funding for public transport and rail, away from dependence on cars and trucks. But seeing Thebes with its lonely, mostly deserted railway station, it would seem considerable investment would be needed.

In the meanwhile, just about every road in Greece seems to be dug up for improvements. The improved roads receive a pounding from the traffic and then need more work. India is introducing some bus transit lanes in its cities and this might be one solution. However, excluding private cars from roads will not be popular in Greece. The idea that you should be able to drive where you want, even though in practice you usually can't get there because of all the traffic, seems strong.

Having seen the roads of Greece and Turkey, the type of small people movers promoted by Bishop Engineering of Sydney, make a lot more sense. In Sydney, the idea of small van size electric rail cars zipping around seems odd. But in a densely packed city they make sense.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Little Train Tours of Aghios Niollaos Crete

The town of Aghios Niollaos on Crete has excellent "Little Train Tours", to see the sights. Cretan olive processing and Byzantine Church of Panagia Kera. In Australia I frown on these little imitation trains, with a diesel tractor disguised as a steam locomotive, pulling rubber tired trailers full of tourists. But being a tourist, I found it a very enjoyable way to get around.

It is impressive how the train, with three trailers, can wind its way around narrow streets. The train is about as long as an articulated bus, but can negotiate streets a bus could not. The train is limited to 25km/h, but this causes limited disruption in slow narrow streets. Perhaps an articulated bus the size of the train would be a viable form of public transport in crowded inner city streets.

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Saturday, June 07, 2008

Fault in Greek Rail Web Site

An attempt to use the English language version of Greek Railways web site resulted in the error message "There is not enough space on the disk". It worked on the second attempt. The system also has a problem in that the names of the stations are in Greek, even in the English version of the site.

Server Error in '/ose' Application.
Parser Error
Description: An error occurred during the parsing of a resource required to service this request. Please review the following specific parse error details and modify your source file appropriately.

Parser Error Message: There is not enough space on the disk.

Source Error:

Line 1:
Line 2:
Line 3:

Source File: /ose/Dynamic/1,39,-1,-1.aspx Line: 1

Version Information: Microsoft .NET Framework Version:2.0.50727.42; ASP.NET Version:2.0.50727.42

From: Hellenic Railways Organisation, 2008

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Kuala Lumpur 2020

Kuala Lumpur is a rapidly changing city. There is a new draft city plan Kuala Lumpur 2020.


One area in need of planning in KL is transport. There are several transit systems, but these do not connect well and are not large enough for the population.

KL Monorail

There is a KL Monorail, which is larger than the one in Sydney, but still very limited. This has an elevated concrete track which winds its way though the city. The cars are set up for short commuter trips, with limited seating and a lot of standing space. This is a good way for tourists to see some of the city from above the traffic.

There are well designed stations for the monorail with fabric roofs and natural ventilation. However, the large concrete structures supporting the stations intrude on the street-scape. It is unfortunate that something more integrated, or smaller, was not used.

The monorail track is very uneven in places making for a slow and bumpy ride, at odds with the streamlined high tech look of the cars. Also the system is far too small for the city.

Curiously the track ends about 200m from the central railway station. Clearly it was intended to terminate at the station, but the track just stops in mid air, requiring commuters to walk down to street level, across a busy road, down an alley way and then up into the station. What there is in the base of the station is an excellent place to have an inexpensive meal.

The monorail was clearly a mistake in terms of town planning and investment, but one which other cities, such as Sydney have also made.


There is an automated metro, the Kelana Jaya Line (KLJ) , which is underground for part of the route and elevated part way. This uses driverless cars, larger than a London underground unit, but smaller than a standard railway. The system uses a third rail electrical supply to avoid overhead wires, resulting in a less obtrusive overhead system than the monorail.

The metro service is frequent, fast and efficient. It is a little disconcerting to look out the front of the train and realize there is no driver (there is a manual driving station under a panel at each end of the train). The underground stations have doors on the platforms sealing off the tunnel and making them much more comfortable.

There is a smart card system for regular commuters and recycled tickets for single trips. The usual hard-to-work ticket machines. In three attempts to buy multiple tickets, the machines only worked correctly once.

The metro system interchanges with the very efficient express train service to the international airport and to long distance rail at the central station, KL Sentral. There are also some interchange points to the monorail and buses in the city.

While it works well, the metro system is still too small for the needs of the city. It is unfortunate that the city did not invest in a higher capacity rail service in place of the metro and the monorail. The recent Indian cities use of elevated and underground rail show this can be done in a densely packed city, such as Delhi, with its Delhi Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS, Delhi Metro, दिल्ली मेट्रो).

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Wireless solar powered red light cameras for railway level crossings?

Warning lights on the Level Crossing Protection System from GNS Associates Pty LtdA report by the Victorian Government's Chief Investigator, Transport and Marine Safety Investigations, on the "Level crossing collision V/Line Passenger Train 8042 and a truck near Kerang" (5 June 2007), was released 15 February 2008 . The Victorian Minister for Public Transport, Lynne Kosky, announced 22 July 2007 than two red-light cameras would be trailed at level crossings and 200 crossings would have "rumble strips" installed. But by using advanced wireless technology and integrating the cameras into the red lights, it should be possible to get the cost of the far more effective red light cameras down to that of the rumble strips.

The two red light cameras were announced to cost $1.8 million, or $900,000 each, whereas the "rumble strips" were $11.7 million for 200, or about $59,000 each. Rumble strips are simply lumps on the road to give the driver an auditory and physical warning that they are approaching a level crossing. They do not warn of a train approaching and do not report a vehicle which fails to stop. This is far less effective than a set of lights and bells, activated by a grade crossing predictor, which warn of a train or a camera which records a vehicle illegally crossing so a fine can be issued.

The difficulty with warning lights and cameras is the high cost of installation. Power has to be supplied to the crossing for the equipment. Detectors need to be fitted to the track to signal a train approaching and wires run to the signals. Underground cabling has to be used near the road to connect the equipment. Cameras with film have to be regularly checked to have their film changed.

However, the cost of this installation could be lowered by integrating the equipment, making it solar powered and connected by wireless. Solar powered detectors could be placed by the track where required and signal to the crossing of an approaching train. Each signals could be self contained on its own pole, simply planted in the ground. The red light camera and car detectors would similarly be on the same or other poles.

The equipment could be assembled and tested in a factory, so that there would be the minimum of work needed on site. After installation of the poles, the installation staff would simply switch on the equipment. The system could then be tested by the factory technicians via the wireless link. The installation staff would then walk and drive across the crossing while the remote technicians tested operation. In this way installation for simple crossings could be reduced from days, to less than an hour, with just two on site staff.

The wireless system would regularly check that each component was functioning by exchanging test signals. Failure of a component would be signaled to a maintenance depot. Digital photos of vehicles failing to stop at the crossing would be transmitted to the appropriate authority by wireless. Vehicles stopped on the crossing would be signaled to the railway operator, to warn oncoming trains. Similarly any collision at the crossing would be signaled to the emergency services.

To remove the need for wires, short range digital wireless signals would be used for communication between the local components of the system and long range wireless to the train control network. These signals could be encrypted and use other techniques to prevent deliberate or accidental interference. The equipment would be solar powered to eliminate connection cables. To lower the power and maintenance requirements, warning lights would be LEDs.

Wireless Announcer Emergency Warning and Intercommunication alert pole mounted unit from Open AccessTo reduce installation costs, all the equipment would be installed on the poles, with no track side cabinets needed. An example of such a wireless pole mounted safety application is the Sydney CBD's Emergency Warning and Intercommunication System (EWIS), by Sydney based company Open Access.

In addition to detecting vehicle crossings against the lights, the system could also detect pedestrian and livestock crossing. While it would be infeasible to issue automatic fines to pedestrians, the system could issue an additional warning to the pedestrians via a synthetic speech or a recording: "train approaching; get off the track NOW!". They could also be used to assess where further safety measures were needed.

Components of such a system are already offered by various suppliers, such as the ELSIE Level Crossing Protection System (Type ELS-6007) from Victorian based GNS Associates Pty Ltd.

For the simplest level crossings it may be possible to install all the equipment for a warning system on just two poles: one on each side of the crossing. Detectors on each pole would sense oncoming trains, vehicles and pedestrians, signaling as appropriate.

One way to fund the development of such a system would be to discontinue the Victorian Government's Don’t risk it! marketing campaign. Issuing of an educational CD-ROM for schools and public advertising would be ineffective in improving safety at level crossings, even if it contained dramatic footage, such as the train smash video from Top Gear.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Sydney to Canberra by Train

In 2005 I wrote about a trip from Sydney to Canberra on a Swedish X2000 high speed Tilt Train, being tried. While very comfortable, the tilt trains were not that fast, due to the poor track and were not purchased. The regular run from Sydney to Canberra is carried out by Countrylink's XPLORER trains. Having some time on my hands, after a Sydney workshop on energy saving, I thought I would try the service. It happens that in the press today there is a proposal to look again at a high speed Sydney Canberra Melbourne train. New technology and a new government now make this more feasible.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

London to Paris Faster

Tom Worthington at Waterloo InternationalIn 2000 Eurostar gave me a free trip from London to Paris first class, with a quick visit to the UNESCO's Observatory on the Information Society. I posted a report "live" from the train at more than 200 kph using my GSM phone and laptop. Since then I have made a trip from London to Brussels on the same train.

I was reminded of this hearing a Eurostar publicist on the radio in Australia to talk up the opening of St Pancras International station in London. The refurbished St Pancras, opposite the New British Library, replaces Waterloo International as the terminus for the Eurostar high speed train in the UK. Also for the first time this really will be a high speed train in the UK, as the track to the coast has been upgraded, cutting about 20 minutes from the journey as of 14 November. This required track work and upgrading the electric power supply to allow the Eurostar to run faster. Just to keep it in perspective, even the slow UK trains are a lot quicker than Sydney to Brisbane even though the XPT used in NSW is a version of the UK's high speed train (it is slower due to poor Australian track).

The Eurostar plans originally included the trains at high speed beyond London across the UK (called the
Regional Eurostar and Nightstar) but that was never implemented. The rail cars purchased for the UK leg were refurbished and some used in Canada, the UK and France. For the 2012 London Olympics, some of these trains will form the "Olympic Javelin", to shuttle people from St. Pancras to the Olympic site near Stratford International station.

St Pancras was in need of an upgrade. On my visit in 2000 it looked run down, next to the relatively new (but ugly) British Library. Now all we need is somewhere to hire an electric car near the station: electric cars such as the G-Wiz (as the Indian Reva electric car is known in the UK) are not subject to the London congestion tax and have free parking.

ps: If visiting St Pancras, then take time for a walk along the towpath by Regent's Canal from
Thornhill Bridge Community Gardens in Caledonian Road, to the London Canal Museum in New Wharf Road.

Further Information

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Great Railway Journeys of Australia

A display of "Great Railway Journeys of Australia" is at the National Museum of Australia from 20 April until 26 August 2007. This is a modest display of models, posters and memorabilia, put together by the Workshops Rail Museum of Queensland.

There is an online collection of photos, accompanying the exhibition. Including:
As well as the material exhibited and photos, the Workshops Rail Museum have also prepared a 21 page education kit for children (some adult rail enthusiasts may like to try answering questions in the kit without having seen the exhibition). The Museum keen to hear from other institutions who might like to host this exhibition.

Some of the journeys I have been on:
One not mentioned in the exhibition is the brief trial of a tilt train in NSW:
An other train trips.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Hybrid Battery Electric High Speed Train Tested

A British HST (High Speed Train) has been modified with a hybrid fuel saving diesel electric system. A video of the train is available. This is significant for Australia as NSW's XPT trains are based on the HST.

ON MAY 3 Hitachi Europe unveiled 'Hayabusa', which it says is Europe's first battery-assisted diesel-electric power car. The hybrid drive has been installed in a British HST power car to allow realistic trials of the prototype technology, which Hitachi and its development partners Brush Traction, Network Rail and Porterbrook Leasing anticipate could reduce fuel consumption by 20%.

From Railway Gazette International, 4 May 2007

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Victorian Public Transport contactless Smart Card

Miki ticket gate machineThe Victorian state government Transport Ticketing Authority (TTA), is introducing a contactless Smart Card for public transport later in 2007. It will operate on trains, trams and bus in Melbourne city and some transport outside the city. The system is (unfortunately) called "myki". There is a "discovery centre" demonstration set up in the Southern Cross Station where I tried out the cards and readers.

Miki ticket machineTo put credit on the card, the traveler can use a ticket machine in a station. This looks much like other ticket machines, except you wave your card in front of the machine to add the credit, rather than inserting it in a slot. The machine has a large touch sensitive LCD screen for entering payment details. I had difficulty using the machine as the screen has a coating which make it hard to read at an angle (perhaps this is needed for the touch screen or is a privacy measure). The screen is placed at a suitable height for a person in a wheel chair, so I could not read the screen or type comfortably when standing upright. I had to bend over uncomfortably to use it. But then this will not need to be done often for regular commuters.

Miki ticket readerTo check the balance on your card you can use a much smaller pole mounted reader. A similar size unit, with fewer buttons, is used to swipe your card when getting on and off buses and trams, to record the fare. For railway stations the same reader is attached to an automatic gate.

Curiously, while the large ticket machine was placed at wheelchair height, the pole mounted readers were placed very high, or of reach of people in wheelchairs. The gate mounted unit was at a suitable compromise height for both wheelchairs and pedestrians.

While I have not looked at the detail of the project, this system looks far more workable than the problematic Metcard system previously brought in for Melbourne trams. This required a large, complex ticket machine to be installed on the trams. As well as taking up valuable space, these were difficult to operate on a lurching tram.

Smartcard ticketing systems for transport have proved to be difficult ICT projects to implement. It will be interesting to see if the new Melbourne system does better than Sydney's Tcard, or Perth's SmartRider.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Macquarie Bank Sydney Airport Train?

In November I proposed a "Hybrid High Speed Train to Sydney Airport":
... high speed battery-electric/diesel trains could be routed from Canberra to Sydney via the exiting line to Sydney Airport. ...
Perhaps we will see Macquarie Bank investing in a high speed Sydney-Canberra train, similar to the one they run in Sweden. This would be a relatively inexpensive way to free up landing slots at Macquarie's Sydney airport and allow Macquarie's Qantas aircraft to be used for more profitable routes.

Macquarie Bank have made a takeover approach to Qantas Airlines:
"Nov. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Qantas Airways Ltd., Australia's biggest airline, received a takeover approach from Macquarie Bank Ltd. and Texas Pacific Group ... lifted the airline's market value to A$10 billion ($7.7 billion)."
From: "Qantas Approached by Macquarie Bank, Texas Pacific (Update4)", Bloomberg, 21 Nov 2006
Macquarie Bank has already invested in Sydney Airport:
"Sydney Airport - Australia's busiest and most important aviation hub for both passengers and freight - was opened in 1920 and is one of the oldest continuously operating airports in the world. Sydney Airport covers 907 hectares on the shoreline of Botany Bay, eight kilometres south of Sydney's central business district. The airport is a dynamic economic centre, requiring the services of some 500 businesses and organisations to meet the needs of airport users. Sydney Airport is owned under a 50 year lease, which started 1 July 1998, with an additional 49 year zero cost option.
From: "Sydney Airport - Macquarie Airports", Macquarie Bank Limited, 2006
Macquarie Bank's European Infrastructure Fund owns the Arlanda Express high speed train to Stockholm airport. I travelled on this train in 2001.

Replacing Qantas flights from Sydney to Canberra with a train would free up 40 landing and takeoff slots per day for use by more profitable long distance flights. It would also make better use of the underutilized Sydney airport rail line.

The UK High Speed Trains which the Australian XPTs are based on are being refurbished and fitted with new diesel engines. It would be much cheaper for Macquarie/Qantas to buy or refurbish some trains than buy additional aircraft for Qantas.

The term "high speed" would largely be for marketing purposes with a Sydney-Canberra train, as without extensive trackwork the train could not travel at high speed for more than a fraction of the journey. However, the hybrid technology being tested with UK HSTs might provide high torque for more rapid climbing of the NSW highlands, in a variation of the "ballistic travel" used by TGVs. Improvements being made to the line into Sydney to speed freight might also help reduce delays for a Canberra train, making the trip just over three hours and competitive with an airline flight with ground delays of just over two hours.

A parliamentary report noted time savings could be made from reducing delays:
"During 1995, the NSW State Rail Authority trialed a Swedish X2000 tilting train on the Canberra corridor, claiming notable travel time savings. However, most of the savings came from the deletion of normal station stops and special operational arrangements in the Sydney network to avoid conflicts with suburban trains. The X2000 actually achieved standard trip times of three hours and twenty minutes at best. ..."
From: High Speed Trains between Canberra and Sydney, Current Issues Brief 17 1996-97, Matthew James, Denis James, Parliamentary Library
But my trip on the X2000 from Sydney to Canberra was much slower. ;-)

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Hybrid High Speed Train to Sydney Airport?

Hitachi Hybrid Traction System
Back in March I suggested that high speed battery-electric/diesel trains could be routed from Canberra to Sydney via the exiting line to Sydney Airport. This seemed a little far fetched, but in October 2006 Hitachi announced they are modifying a UK High Speed Train (HST) with their diesel electric system developed in Japan. The XPT trains used in NSW are based on the UK HST, so it should be possible to use the Japanese hybrid technology in Australia.

Hitachi Europe Ltd. today announced the launch of technology that will create Europe's first hybrid high speed train. The technology has been proven under test in Japan to cut fuel bills by up to 20% and harmful emissions by up to 50%. The test train includes a new hybrid traction system (consisting of a battery-assisted diesel electric traction drive) which will be installed into an existing High Speed Train (HST), with the equipment fitted into the front Power Car and a modified Trailer Car. The technology has been developed and tested in Japan since 2003 and is currently in production for a Japanese customer.

Hitachi and its partners Porterbrook Leasing, Network Rail and Brush Traction are aiming to commence trial running of the modified train in April 2007 and on completion of testing the modified train will run in service on the New Measurement Train for a period of six months to prove the benefits of the technology.

Alistair Dormer, General Manager Hitachi Rail Group, commented:

"Long term sustainability is a key requirement for future transportation systems and Hitachi is delighted to be playing a part in developing this new hybrid traction system, which will in time demonstrate significant benefits in reducing the environmental impact of train travel and reducing fuel bills". ...

From: Hitachi Announces Launch Of First Energy-saving Hybrid High Speed Train In Europe, Hitatchi Europe Ltd, 12 October 2006

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

eTrain: Canberra Hybrid Fast Train to Sydney Airport 2013

The Canberra Hybrid Fast Train to Sydney Airport would be a renewable energy powered transit system to Canberra. It would start with a minor upgrades to the existing diesel trains to enable them to use the $192M new rail line being built through Sydney.

Companies and researchers in the rail transport industry would be invited to Canberra in 2013 to celebrate the new service and discuss new technologies for this route and for the developing world. Hybrid diesel/battery trains such as Japan Rail East's Kiha E200 using carbon neutral fuels could replace diesel trains. The new hybrid trains would travel via Sydney Airport, allowing domestic and international passengers to travel to and from Canberra using the existing, but under-used line. This would have environmental benefits reducing aircraft pollution and also free up the airport for more international and longer distance interstate flights.

This follows from a public forum in Sydney last Saturday and the invitation from the ACT government to suggest ways to celebrate Canberra's centenary.

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