Random: Sydney Trains Rail Observations, DTRS Sites, Opal & Other Thoughts

Readers have probably noticed that it’s been awfully quiet as of late. Unfortunately, that quietness coincides with the fact that I’ve been insanely busy with my studies and will be for the foreseeable future. Whenever the time permits, and I’m not feeling too tired, I’ll try to get something out. This last week has been a case of being “paralyzed” by a lot of work and it’s probably just my brain’s way of saying that I need to slow down a little.

That being said, that doesn’t stop the fact that powerbanks are still being tested in the background, and observations are being made. Instead, this post will be mostly focusing on the Sydney Trains DTRS sites, as that’s the main thing I’ve observed over these weeks.

Sydney Trains DTRS

It’s almost a stereotype that old crazy people are the ones that ride the trains for fun. Especially when there are no locomotives, steam engines or heritage cars involved. But instead, to an avid “enthusiast”, it’s actually quite a relaxing opportunity to slow down, and take a look at the city without breaking the bank.

I decided I needed some time out, so I decided to spend a day riding around the suburban Sydney Trains network. It was an interesting ride as it gave me the opportunity to see some developments in the rail network and station facilities, as well as the DTRS deployment. It was also an opportunity to see the landscape as well. If anything, it was relaxing to ride up the Richmond line, as it seemed to have quite a lot of green pastures and golf courses. But it was also a clear sign of the progress of the urban sprawl, with some less successful golf courses and farms being converted into new lots for housing. The green is slowly being replaced by brick and asphalt.

Lets take a look at some of the antennas spotted along the way:

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Wolli Creek Station, Eastern Suburbs Line Platform

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Ingleburn Station – a fairly short pole.

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Campbelltown DTRS site

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Blacktown DTRS site – near Platform 2 Richmond Line – a very tall tower, visible while walking along the overhead footbridge.

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Richmond DTRS site – near station platform, visible behind train

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This site is in-between Stanmore and Newtown (I think) and it doesn’t seem to align with any plans I have. I’m not sure, but it looks to be DTRS by location and type of installation. This is typical of a site under construction, with the workers in fluorescent vests and temporary fencing installed.

On my trip around the rail network, I managed to see numerous other sites. Many of them were seen before, so I didn’t bother to photograph them, but I did see the Quakers Hill site almost finished in construction and a few others I just couldn’t get the phone ready in time to take a shot.

Emergency Evacuation Tunnel Equipment

Traveling the rail network gives you an opportunity to see some of the equipment installed for very specific purposes in very specific locales. In this case, this is from Wolli Creek station on the East Hills line platforms where the rail enters a tunnel. Suspended underneath the platform and on the walls are an emergency trolley, some assembly required, and an evacuation stepladder.

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South-West Rail Link

I also tried to take the opportunity to take a few more photos of the area where the South-West rail link begins, but unfortunately, due to the arrangement of tracks, the photo-taking opportunities are limited. The line itself is comprised of the two tracks which go into an overpass, curve off to the right and go pretty much straight up the hill.

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Other Things Spotted

From the looks of it, Ingleburn is getting another platform.

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Granville station seems to be getting a cabinet installed for some networking and electronics, probably to provide a passenger information display in the bus terminal or to house some surveillance gear.

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Lidcombe has its white edges repainted, in such a way that the white platform edge meets the yellow safety line (making the edge look wider than ever before)!

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Glenfield station has a dedicated evacuation area for people who need assistance, and it’s situated at the end of the platform. I’m not sure how many people would be aware of this, especially in case of emergency, and I wonder whether that means the “emergency” would mean they would be evacuated into the rail corridor?

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There’s been a revamp of the advertising-on-trains trial, with a new type of ad which is more “square” in shape rather than going four panels across the middle. So far, only Tangaras are getting this treatment.

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20141013_135823I came across this very unusual power pole configuration next to Macarthur station – either they didn’t have a pole long enough, or the two were clamped in to “hold up” a broken pole initially. Either way, this is very unusual and kludgey looking.

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Travelling along the rails, I also saw a SPENO rail maintenance vehicle travelling nearby. Don’t worry – the rail is fine – it’s just distortion from the glass.

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I saw one of the new posters which target ill passengers, which is part of their latest campaign to help improve on-time running.

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20141013_122016One surprise I didn’t expect was the large number of older “tin can” trains running in 4-car configuration. Almost exclusively, all the Cumberland line services and half the Macarthur services are running these old “clunkers”. The eagle eyed viewer would see the decal which says “This service is operated by Transport Sydney Trains”. I spotted one where someone subtly exchanged the T and s in “this” which resulted in a very accurate “shiT service is operated by Transport Sydney Trains”. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to take a photo of that one.

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I was also at Sydenham where the perspex “solution” to insulate metal parts from stanchions that carry power was in use. Interestingly, whoever the contractors were that used silicone to assemble it probably didn’t have a good day – notice how the silicone spells “SOB” … yeah … that SOB!

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One strange thing seems to be that YouTube is on the full offensive in terms of advertising, with many ads for their channels turning up on bus shelters and even across a large wall on the entrance to Central station. It seems like an interesting strategy on their behalf.

Opal Problems

I’ve been watching the Opal card readers on buses lately, and on some buses, they’ve been really having trouble. Some readers seem to be outright problematic – maybe it’s the problem of “noisy” or poor power/connections in the automotive environment, which is very harsh on vibration, but several classes of failure seem to exist.

I’ve seen Opal reader units crashed on their “blue” screen (i.e. they’re booting up), whereas others are crashed “Closed” with varying reasons. Some appear to have problems validating the data entered, which may be due to the driver’s console being improperly programmed.

But I’ve been seeing more and more instances where one of the four or so units on the bus is misbehaving, but the others are fine. Watching it closely, it alternates been many different text screens which suggest it’s having some trouble validating the data provided to it. Maybe this is a comms issue, but some passengers are none the wiser and are leaving buses not having successfully tapped off. It seems, despite all the advice to passengers, they’re not paying attention.

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Other Thoughts

  • Facebook have been annoying me to death lately with videos in my newsfeed. It seems that everyone from marketing companies to individuals have realized the potential of autoplay while scrolling the news feed, so now they’re sharing things in video form, even if it’s not a proper video so as to have it play and hopefully “distract” the reader’s eye. Blocking the flash plugin helps, but arrgh! In the meantime, I’m hoping to join Ello, and see how that is, but alas, my time hasn’t come yet.
  • New Nexus 6 phone and Nexus 9 tablets have been announced, along with the Apple “equivalents” on their iPads which are mostly a refresh. Nexus phones have gotten a bit more pricey, but their performance and specs are killer. I really would love to be using one, but alas, it’s still not quite on the right side of the “value” balance for me – I just balk at expensive stuff, so that’s why I can’t have nice things. More problematic is the new Android L in their default security options. Unfortunately, with increased security, rooting will become even more difficult and open-ness is starting to recede. It seems that if a vendor has a properly locked and “vulnerability free” bootloader, that the whole platform can be impervious to tampering! Along with the kerfuffle they made with screwing with the microSD slot permissions under 4.4, this is really not the sort of move I expected Google to make. Community pressure got Google to revert their removal of ext4 support for USB sticks under Chromebooks, so I seriously hope they reconsider.
  • Future Technology Devices International (FTDI), the maker of the very popular serial to USB bridge chips have been in hot water over drivers which reprogram clone vendor chips to exhibit an incorrect USB VID. The fakes are quite different beasts, but they may have unknowingly ended up installed in many devices which end users own. FTDI’s stance is that of “protecting” their investment and their products on the market, but their actions of bricking end user devices really puts innocent users under the bus. This tactic is literally property damage! There are no clear guidelines to how to identify genuine chips, and when integrated with devices, it’s not possible for most end users to do so. Their actions are wrong and they have since pulled the driver, but people should really reconsider their approaches before letting something this stupid out of the bag.
  • Even in the past, they had issues with their drivers reprogramming their own genuine FTDI products and wiping the EEPROM with the necessary VID/PID data, requiring the use of MProg to restore the correct values. This affected the Velleman PCSU1000 (a product I owned). You can imagine my frustration, despite the “quality” drivers FTDI supposedly offer.
  • In the past, I had happened on some very similar looking clone Prolific Technology PL2303 USB serial bridge chips, and the Prolific solution was a frustrating but “clean” one. Some drivers BSOD’d on attachment of fake devices, but later devices issued a “Code 10” device cannot start. No damage done. Reverting to an older “pre-check” driver was possible with the device unharmed.
  • Lets just say, I’ve also used WinChipHead CH34x series converters too which work, but drivers are probably a little less polished. At the end of the day, there are other (non-pin compatible) products (e.g. CP2303) which you can use, so maybe people should just move along and give FTDI what they deserve.
  • Seems Samsung has fixed the issue with 840 Evo SSDs losing read performance of old data, but the upgrade process includes an optimization utility which at a glance is probably rewriting all the old data to solve the issue. Not much information as to the cause, but something to do with voltages seem to imply to me that TLC SSDs might be a bit risky because of the narrow voltage margins in which reads and writes work in. Lucky for me, all my SSDs to date are MLC and none have ever suffered any real issues.
  • Intel seems to be pushing hard to get 14nm out, and while it seems encouraging, yields are still a slight problem. I can’t wait until Broadwell makes the light of day, as it might herald something really interesting when it comes to power vs performance.
  • Microsoft seems to have received a lot of feedback with Windows 10 which includes many changes to unify the control panel. There’s some I don’t really agree with, but I am a little change averse. It seems that they’re making new builds very frequently, and they’re offering some build-cadence option for testers so they can choose to receive new updates more or less frequently.
  • Sydney’s had a pretty extreme rain spell on 13th October and 14th October … what a storm. It rolled in from the west and chased me around as I rode the rail network. Overnight, it turned some train lines into rivers. Here’s a rain radar loop of the two days assembled from my archives of the Bureau of Meterology at www.bom.gov.au.

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Well, it’s a bit of a different posting compared to normal, but it’s probably something which nobody else is covering in depth. So that’s new. Hope you enjoyed it!

About lui_gough

I’m a bit of a nut for electronics, computing, photography, radio, satellite and other technical hobbies. Click for more about me!

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5 Responses to Random: Sydney Trains Rail Observations, DTRS Sites, Opal & Other Thoughts

  1. Tom says:

    I wonder why you are interested in Sydney DTRS. It already took too much your time to “spy” UGL progress . Why not to apply job at UGL in order to get the whole picture easily ?

    • lui_gough says:

      I don’t take much time to “spy” on it. After all, I’m listening to radio, browsing the net on the train ride into uni … I might as well take a peek out the window …

      Besides, I’m a radio enthusiast, and a computing/networking/technology enthusiast – being interested in new, expensive, shiny things is part of the business :). Employment is not an opportunity (that would be classed as “espionage”), especially when I’ve got a full time PhD in flight.

      – Gough

  2. required says:

    It’s not SOB, is S&B, maybe the initials of the assigned maintenance crew.

  3. Richard Genet says:

    What’s DTRS stand for?

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