Big-Random: Public Transport, UNSW Electrical Upgrades & Vending Machines

It’s been ages since I put out one of these random posts filled with random observations. That hasn’t stopped me collecting random observations, although the pace of collection had slowed down as I wasn’t sure if I would ever get around to posting them and are mostly centered around one particular landmark (because that’s where I’ve been going all this time). These posts are not particularly focused, but more a collection of small mental notes which I “offload” to clear my mind.

Transport Upgrades

This is all relatively old news, but I might as well post about it since I’ve got some images to go with it. The first thing to mention – the new Opal-only gates, which I’ve visited and used at Central as of 20th January, and Parramatta 2nd February.


Tnew-gates-2-20160204_120630he new gates are thinner than the old gates, which should mean more gates and better thoroughfare. New attendant stations are provided near the gates too, with a modernized colour screen control system, replacing the old monochrome monitor with wedge magnetic stripe reader.

The new gates claim to be faster, but are only subtly faster. They’re still a little slower than we’d like, sometimes requiring a break-in-step as crossing over the barrier. They also appear to be very plasticky and flimsy.


Sadly, they don’t seem too much more reliable than the old gates – which occasionally have issues. The image at Parramatta shows 1/3rd of their new gates shut.


Platforms have also gotten passenger indicator display software upgrades which harmonize the colour scheme, fonts, etc and provide logos indicating the train lines. I’m not a big fan of the new scheme, even though I think the choice of black-on-white is good for increasing contrast, they’ve gone backwards elsewhere.

For one, especially on the two-screen spit-type displays, the font for the station text is thinner than the (something like Arial Bold) font used before. This makes it a little more difficult to read at a distance. Additionally, many of the other details have now shrunken in size making it more difficult to resolve – for split displays, the station names are even smaller it seems.

But I suppose the biggest niggle I have is that we’ve essentially turned back the clock to the first generation LED displays which can only show the next train and nothing else. Before, these systems showed the following TWO trains, which would probably ease a lot of questions to the staff about “is this the right platform?” Having even more than two trains would probably be of value, especially on platforms which serve multiple lines.

That being said, I suppose we’re in a different era. The resourceful people will have an internet connection and a smartphone and work it out on their own.


Town Hall station is getting a big upgrade, and recently, they had all of their suspension ceilings removed. It was very fascinating to see in the plenum space, where battens for 2x40W T12 “old fashioned” pre-energy saving Sylvania tubes were run parallel with a 20W T12 batten. This set-up was replicated throughout a lot of the concourse area, leading me to believe that the 2x40W might have been the original lighting configuration, with the 20W “added on” later just for plenum lighting purposes possibly. Seeing the tubes in such good condition throughout suggests they haven’t been used much.


The same can’t be said about the platform lighting, where many of the T8’s have been sitting with glowing electrodes 24/7, probably destroying the inductive ballast and wasting a load of energy. I’m surprised an LED retrofit wasn’t the first thing they tackled, but I suppose the logistics of it might have been more difficult than at other above-ground daylit stations.

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Train advertising continue to be relatively popular, with these images taken 26th August 2015 showing the NSW government using this space to advertise their infrastructure upgrade projects including the construction of light rail through George Street and its closure to traffic.

I was skeptical of light rail as it was proposed, and it somehow seems that the government seems to have an obsession with light-medium rail for everything – another link is on the cards, the idea the current heavy-rail Epping to Chatswood rail-link will be converted to light/medium rail to match the north-west rail link just seems absurd to me. But the worst is the removal of buses along Anzac Parade and replacement with light rail.

As UNSW is the largest Sydney Buses customer, and we can pack out peak time quite dramatically resulting in buses running in a conveyor-belt fashion, sharing trams with the high schools, function centres and community along the route is unlikely to see great benefit where the trams cannot meet the current 2-5 minute peak headway of buses, especially when factoring in growth. Regular light rail only has about 50% more capacity than an articulated bus, which we already use. I suppose, to that end, they’ve decided to go for the longest trams available – but I’m still not convinced that the quality of service will be improved. High throughputs are probably only achieved with severe reduction in seating and comfort. Luckily for me, I might not have to endure it when it comes out, as I may not be going to UNSW regularly by then.

newbus_20151216_120523The closure of George Street did have quite drastic effects on the bus network, resulting in a large number of routes being altered and new stops around Central station and Town Hall especially.

To go with this, new signage was introduced, although, compared with the old signs, it seems a little small and vague. I didn’t see the need to have the letter B for bus so prominent, whereas the stand letter, which is the more important information, being much smaller. The Stop Number is quite small – visually impaired are likely to have problems if they want to find the number to text to 0488 TXT BUS.

Just another one of those “stylistic” things – just like replacing most station signs with a T on a lollypop stick, with no station name. After a while, they realized this wasn’t optimal, so they installed non-lighted signs at entrance ramps to the stations – where the previous square lighted CityRail signs with station name on them served just fine.

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At Auburn station, the old rusted steel stanchions (with some historic character, old insulators and all) seem to have been retired around 19th January 2016. I suspect you won’t see many of them around the network anymore.

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The DTRS isn’t quite complete yet either, it seems. I passed by this site on the Bankstown line. On 26th October 2015, it was having a very short mast erected. By my next trip down, on 18th January 2016, it had two yagi antennas installed (barely visible through the overhead wires) rather than panel antennas. This seems to be a very specific site to address specific coverage issues.

borked-opal-reader20160218_090114 afc-statusrep-18feb

Opal readers in buses continue to faulter from time to time. I found a week where I managed to board four buses with the front left driver console’s reader out of action. This particular one was out of action, but instead of just leaving it, the driver decided to be a little creative and use status report prints to cover the reader so that passengers knew it was out of action. It was stuck in a way where it had a black screen but wasn’t obviously displaying an out of order message. The status report is dated 16th February 2016, but this photo was taken 18th February, suggesting that these faults were not immediately corrected.

Envirobank Container Recycling

I mentioned the envirobank scheme not too long ago, lamenting the change made in recent times resulting in the machines issuing expired coupons rendering it a “containers for useless-paper” exchange. Things didn’t immediately change – even down to 16th February, the machine I use most was still issuing offers expiring 31st December 2015.


I suspect the campus food shop revamp may also be a sign of even tougher operating conditions imposed by university management, and thus, it seems that no more discounts are on offer. Instead, we get to trade it for an equally worthless piece of paper – this one is slightly longer too but at least it doesn’t expire. If nobody changes the programming of the machine, then it will keep providing these tickets on attempting to redeem a reward.


It makes me wonder about the sustainability of the whole thing. Looking at the voucher numbers, it seems sequential – from 7th March to 10th March, the voucher number increased by eight counts, implying eight users over three days. The next 6 days from 10th to 17th saw a count increase by 23, around 3.8 users a day despite being installed for years. Will the electricity pay itself back? I suspect the lack of reward is not going to help its unpopularity. So much for “sustainability”.

A Very Honest Vending Machine

honvending1_20160330_153759I suspect most people are familiar with drinks vending machines such as the one pictured to the left. Maybe they’ve even been desperate enough to purchase from them from time to time. This particular machine is one of my favourites – it is situated in a very secluded area, so tap-and-go and card based transactions in general fail woefully as the antenna isn’t able to get signal on a reliable basis.

The coin chute on this unit also has a nice tendency to jam and “eat” people’s coins. Once they’re piled up in the incoming chute, no amount of frantic “coin return” pushing will get any results.

Just the other day, I saw it show this display …


The VFD then cycles, to say something like 2.0C or 4.0C indicating the ice cold status of the product inside, right?


Not today! It’s telling us that (in a brutally honest way) that it’s borked and the drinks are at just above room temperature. Hah. I suppose if you were wondering if the temperature displays are real (as I have, as I’ve never seen anything but 2.0/4.0’s), they sure are!

Fast(er) Food?

People have been very much fearing themselves being replaced by automation, and in the fast-food industry, this may indeed become reality sooner rather than later, removing another one of those “staple” unskilled jobs.

I visited a McDonalds and tried out their automated ordering kiosks several times. On the whole, the experience was positive in the sense that the orders were dictated accurately, and I got my food. On the downside, they do have technical problems.


For one – they do crash – and they seem to be running Windows. Another issue is that I’ve met one with a defective docket printer – how can you tell what order number yours is if the receipt itself is mangled?

But I think the most offensive thing about the machines is their slow speed. Because someone up there has the wise idea that things should look pretty and have fancy animations (which can be disorienting to some), it slows down ordering quite significantly. It’s also down to their idea that the purchasing process is also a marketing event that they do their darned best to shove large images in your face to make you consider upsizing, adding sides, etc during the whole process.

If I’m using one of these machines, I probably know what I want already. If I don’t, well, there’s a wall of monitors with animated menus to tell me what’s available. I don’t have to have it shoved in my face again – but if you insist – why don’t you at least remove the needless animations so that your machines can process twice as many orders in the same time? After all, they don’t make their counter ladies use this stubbornly slow interface.

That being said, if you were to ask me which I’d prefer – I’d have to give my preference to the machine by a slim margin – the machine doesn’t get my order wrong, unlike the cashiers at the counter when they’re in a hurry or lacking in sleep, the machine is never rude, and I can actually check my order for correctness before paying. If I’m really unsure of what I want, at least the machine waits patiently. The machine does break, but it doesn’t break as often.

A New Payphone?

The metal Telstra payphones have served us well for a while, but on 20th August 2015 while walking through Burwood Plaza, I came across this new payphone which was stuck in a loop of some sort. It looks to be possibly running Linux, and is probably designed to be a payphone of the future with IP calling and some basic computing capabilities.


tls_hotspot_payphone-20150829_211758Looking on the side revealed the model – a Pie Hostpot Webphone. Surprisingly, it is Made in Australia.

Maybe next time I walk by, I will spend some time to see what it can do – but I suspect it’s a sign that voice calls from payphones are slowly dwindling. The existing payphones can also do one-way SMS.

IP Camera Installations

There’s been a few IP camera installations around the buildings – interestingly, it looks like for some logistical reason or another, some of them were installed like this:


If you wanted it to be vandal-proof, such an install is probably not a good choice. As the cameras are PoE – unplugging that one plug will take down the camera. The camera itself looks out towards the left, but I walked up a doorway from the right (black sill), so it might be possible to unplug it without anyone even seeing as there is no camera that “covers” this one. I suspect it’s probably a “convenience” thing they installed it this way – as the slab it’s mounted to is concrete, but … maybe they could have conduited it all the way up to the body of the camera?

Fire Evacuation System Upgrades

I had a look at some of the throw-outs from a fire evacuation system upgrade, but as it turned out, the modernization goes further than just the speakers.

old-evac-20151130_150231 led_evac-20150914_152636

They removed many of these old square halogen globe based evacuation lights, with many of them replaced by circular flush-mount profile single LED evacuation lights. The power consumption reduction and long lifetime will make replacement and maintenance a lot easier! About time! Although, seeing the old square lights in a bag, carelessly dumped in a corner of the hallway does feel a little undignified.

PV System Installation

It’s nice to see that on 10th March on the way into uni, a new PV solar system was being put up near the library. These used very large frameless panels for that extra modern look – I wonder how robust these will end up being in the long run. Installation is hard work …


It turns out they installed a very nice set of long rails, but the panels don’t quite go all the way down – only up to where the junction boxes have been installed.

Substation Cabling Upgrade and Removal of PFC System


pf-bank-20151123_142858If you didn’t have any knowledge or interest in power engineering, you probably wouldn’t bat an eye when you were walking down a walkway and you saw this overhead. As it turned out, it caught my eye – it was temporary wiring string out of a substation.

Initially, it was unprotected, and then someone added cut-up conduit as a double insulation where the temporary wiring met the metal-structure of the walkway awning. But what was happening? A big clue came at the skip just up the walk-way near the entrance to my office.


This was a later image – they must have installed a lot of new cable judging by all those empty spools. They also removed a switchgear cabinet – we’ll take a closer look at that in a sec. A few days earlier, they had this laying out too.


It seems that they have likely dismantled and removed a PFC system in this substation, and then decided to install additional cabling to improve capacity. Lets take a look at the parts.

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The cabinet had one side marked incoming supply with a high voltage danger sign. The other side had two doors taken off, all fuses removed, and leads cut.


The nameplate tells us it’s a PFC supplied by Capacitor Technologies and installed by Energy Australia. The switchgear was from Reyrolle Pacific, and the unit was last serviced in 2012. The unit was rated at 1545kVAr at 11kV.


A look at the top bay on one side shows a pair of shielded isolation transformers, which might be used to run the control gear. All the fuses have been removed, but a timer module is still installed. Was this used to switch the bank in and out on a set schedule?


The system was designed in a “mirrored” configuration with the exception of isolation transformer which lies on the other top bay. As a result, we see the same timer module although mounted differently. The earth brass busbar is in this side instead.

pf-bank-20151123_124151 pf-bank-20151123_124156The lower section is mirrored, with the middle part seemingly used for some high voltage (probably HRC) fuses which have all been removed. The lower section is where the PFC capacitors may have been connected to, passing through what appears to be shunts and a contactor unit (?) for protection.


pf_bank-20151105_120945The high voltage capacitor units are all made like a stack of house bricks, with insulated bolt-down terminals on the top.

As the units themselves were all manufactured in 1997, they are practically at the end of life, almost serving 20 years. A decision was probably made somewhere as to whether to replace the unit or not. They may have sided with a decision not to replace the unit, and instead, spend more money to upgrade the distribution infrastructure because the demands of modern computers and electronic equipment may have meant that any “additional” capacity made available by a PFC may not be enough for future needs (e.g. in 20 years).


It was good to see the plate having the words with internal discharge resistors which should mean no unsafe charges (provided the resistors are still good). It’s marked as 12470V / 1 phase, 95kV basic insulation level, 220.4kVAr at 50Hz. This unit was Serial N132400.

Based on these specifications, and the fact that seven capacitors were found disposed, the total reactive power rating is 1542.8kVAr (or 1545 as on the badge if you round up).

It’s good also to know that it contains no PCB, making it safer to dispose of. The scary part? It contains 2.3 gallons (8.7L) of combustible liquid. The manufacture date is March 1997.

I’m surprised the electrical engineering guys didn’t take their students up to tour this as it was getting disposed of – I’ve never seen one in person until I saw it in November 2015.


At long last, another batch of random observations (and random phone-camera photos) have been presented. It’s a lot of time covered by this post, but I didn’t go too far, so I guess it’s not as big as I might have expected. I leave you with this slightly humourous sign in The Galleries Victoria (taken in March) …


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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