Friday, November 23, 2007's all folks

Well, this is my last CW blog entry as a commuter. From today I am no longer a Connex customer! Seven years of commuting hell end today.

I can't even begin to estimate how many times I've stood in the platform at Flinders Street dreaming about not being subservient to the whims of Connex and their complete lack of customer service. Despite the improvements in recent times there's still a long long way to go. And thankfully I'm no longer affected by them. So despite the sense of sadness at the end of far and away the best job I ever had (which is the only reason I've put up with Connex for so long) there is at least one silver lining.

While I'm in not really thinking about my next job yet, I am determined that it will be somewhere that I can sensibly drive to. Now I know that's not the best thing for the environment, but I've done my share over the last seven years and my level of commitment to public transport has been way too one-sided. Until I start to see some commitment from our elected representatives, in the shape of serious public transport policy and planning, I'm afraid I'm going back to being part of the problem.

All the best to those who continue to be locked in to an ongoing Connex relationship.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Into the lion's den?

Those who have read my (increasingly sporadic) blog entries over time will probably have noticed a bit of a shift. In ignorance, I started out solely blaming Connex for the appalling state of our rail network, but as I've gained a better understanding the focus shifted more towards our state government, specifically Batchelor and more recently the Cloth-Eared Nuff-Nuff.

Along the way Connex has made improvements to the reliability of the trains, so while they're far from perfect the number of cancellations has reduced since this blog started two and a half years ago. What hasn't improved all that much is the hopeless communication when things do go wrong. SMS alerts are still very unreliable, the old screens have been replaced by new ones but they still display "listen for announcement" all too often. And we still stand on the platform wondering if/when our train will arrive, several minutes after the scheduled departure time, without word from Connex. You can't blame Kosky et al for that!

A couple of years ago I participated in what we laughingly called "discussion" on the Railpage forums. At the time, somebody challenged me to put up or shut up - ie if I thought I could do better why didn't I go work for Connex and see if I could fix things. At the time I was enjoying the challenges of my current position so I politely declined. Two years later that position has changed, and I had the opportunity to go talk to Connex about just such a possibility. So that's what happened yesterday afternoon.

Let's just sum it up by saying that I don't really think Connex is ready for my approach! Much as I would've liked to put my money where my mouth is, I'm afraid it's just not going to happen. It's a pity because I have a lot of confidence that I could've really made a difference, but it's just not meant to be.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Failure to communicate

Enter Flinders Street Station at 17:20, hoping the 17:26 is OK. The flash new screens suggest the next Sandy train is the 16:58... Uh oh!

Indeed the monitor on platform 13 monitor confirms the next train is the 16:58. While platform 12's monitor suggests nothing there until the 17:49.

Meanwhile the new service update page is still not showing any issues on the Sandy line.

Suddenly at 17:25 the screens on both platforms give us the "Listen for Announcement" notice. We try, but it's inaudible, so there's just a sea of confused faces on the platform. Moments later a train pulls into platform 12, with no announcement. Is it ours? The LED display helpfully welcomes us to Connex but stubbornly refuses to tell us whether it's the Sandy train or not. Turns out it is...

Communication guys, that's all we ask!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Meet the managers...

I was possibly going to have a work commitment that would preclude me from attending today's "meet the managers" session. I'd been looking forward to a bit of badinage with Bruce and his team, so was disappointed when I thought I'd miss it. But as I'm sure you've already deduced, I was free after all, so off I went to Melbourne Central.

I had a very long chat to the GM Network Services, Sean, who actually seems to have his finger on the pulse. I'd prepared a reasonable list of questions, but he had answers to most of them. And I mean real, plausible answers. Call me gullible if you like, but after chatting with him for probably 15-20 minutes, I came away with the feeling that there really is a change happening in Connex. Perhaps it's the fear of actually losing the contract, perhaps its an injection of funds from Brumby and co. But all those new screens and stuff are the outwards signs of a thrust towards improving customer information at long last, and Sean appears to be the major driver in this. One interesting piece of info was that the PDP-11s have finally been retired, after more than 30 years' gallant service!

For those who've missed it, there's the new web page at that lets you keep an eye on cancellations as they happen. If you have a mobile or PDA that has a web browser you can check the status of trains on the way to the station - provided staff update it of course!

I also caught up with Sir Topham for a couple of minutes. Again he seems to be sincere about wanting to fix the Sodor customer service issues. It remains to be seen whether they can deliver, but I did walk away from Melbourne Central with a changed perception. I believe these guys really do want to finally address these customer service issues... I guess time will tell if I've been sucked in or not.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

How did I know?!

I never travel without a valid ticket. Never. Just one of those things that I don't do.

Today I inserted my 10 x 2 hour ticket with six empty slots and got the dreaded "re-try" message. Tried it in a second machine, same result. So I've gone over to the customer service guys and they've had look at it, opened the barrier and let me through. I was heading down the stairs and suddenly thought "hang on a minute..."

I've gone back and pointed out to them that I didn't actually have a validated ticket - slight hint of irony there! So they tried it, same result. The woman then scraped it with something, they tried it, and it now worked. One validated ticket.

Unbelievably, we pulled into Ripponlea and there were the ticket inspectors. I don't think I've ever seen them there before, yet by the biggest coincidence I was within a whisker of getting caught for no ticket!

No doubt they would've had no problem accepting my story and letting me off, had I not clicked back at Flinders Street...!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Banished to the back blocks

Here's the problem: while I was out of town a few weeks ago, the Sandy line was permanently banished to platforms 12 and 13. We now have an extra few hundred metres to walk, but that's not the issue.

The problem is that you get to platform 10 and you can see a train way in the distance on 12 or 13. And the question is whether that's the previous train running late, or is it the next train already sitting there?

Knowing how unreliable Connex can be, there's a massive compulsion to get on the train that's there, since there's no confidence that the next one will run. So do you run for it, just in case? Or do you walk normally only to see it pull away, knowing that's the cue for the next one to be cancelled?

How hard would it be to put one more big plasma/LCD screen on platform 10 summarising all platforms, as they have on platform 8? If Connex management actually used their train system, I'm sure they would've already done so!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A message to Bruce Hughes

Bruce, you and your executive team are doing your meet-and-greet fact finding over the coming months, but unfortunately I'll be interstate for your next session. So here's something to chew over in the meantime...

Yesterday evening typified what's wrong when you cancel a train. I needed to get home early to finish off a uni assignment due that day. I couldn't quite get out in time for the Sandy 17:16, so went for the 17:26 instead.

I reached platform 8 at 17:21, but there was a Frankston train sitting there and your fancy new monitor that theoretically tells us what's on each platform was full of "Listen for announcement" messages. No offence Bruce, but you're really not very good at making announcements! Besides, what's the point of all these new monitors if they can't be relied upon to keep your customers informed?

So I went up to the concourse to see if I could find some information - stap me vitals if that's not a bloke wearing a Connex customer service vest! So I politely asked him what he knew about the 17:26 to Sandy. He helpfully pointed me towards platforms 12 and 13, where the monitors were both suggesting we listen for announcements. Given that it was now one minute to departure time and there'd been no announcements, I think we both knew that was not going to help us.

So he led me to the impressive new bank of monitors that replaced the old departure board. And that said the next Sandy train was going from platform 12, but it was the 17:37! I'd had no SMS alert about the 17:26, I'd heard no announcement, and nor had your staff member, it completely vanished without word. Meanwhile the platform 12 monitor was still urging me to listen!

I caught the tram instead... slow but dependable.

Thing is Bruce, we all accept that the Sodor train set can fail from time to time. But when this happens, we really, really, really want you to tell us what's going on. But you never do.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Ask Sir Topham Hatt the tough questions

At last, a chance to ask Sir Topham Hatt exactly what he's doing with our trains, and how he intends to fix them.,21985,22529774-2862,00.html

Apologies for the lack of updates, I had some time off to finally get my broken collarbone fixed up. I was back for a few days and then I've been off for the school holidays. I've missed the whole new timetable fiasco, the problems caused by people being sick, signals failing, doors being held open, people getting backpacks in others' way, farting, sitting with legs akimbo, and all the other things that can impact on the efficient running of our trains.

But I did notice that there's been a big upsurge in SMS alerts from the Connex systems over the last couple of weeks. And they were notable for almost always being issued after the scheduled departure time! So no improvement there then. Let's add it to the list of questions for Sir Topham, shall we?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Oh well...

It looks as if the change at the top has not made any difference to the enthusiasm of the Labor government for pouring our hard-earned into inefficient private enterprise.

And that can only mean more of the same for Melbourne's long-suffering commuters. Luckily it appears that a couple of totalitarian government operators are interested in taking up the challenge. Who knows, if Singapore's SMRT wins the bid over Connex we might be able to convince them to broaden their portfolio - then we'd see some efficiencies around Victoria!

After the failed "Don't hold others back" campaign, I see the latest push from Connex is a broader campaign to educate us to be better commuters. Don't fart, don't spread your legs, don't wear a backpack, don't put on make-up, don't talk on your mobile, don't listen to an iPod etc. Maybe Singapore's SMRT already has control?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Connex no longer apologises

The Connex SMS cancellation alerts used to finish with "Connex apologises for any inconvenience", probably not exactly sincere, but at least there was some recognition of the fact that we, their customers, were impacted by Sir Topham's inability to keep Thomas, Edward, Percy and co running. I noticed the other day that they now say "Connex, Keeping you updated".

So what does that mean, Sir Topham? You've given up any pretence of caring? Or is it that you realise that after years of apologising without actually fixing your train set, people are sick of hearing it?

Interesting that your poor cousin, Melbourne Bus Link doesn't have an SMS alert system. Why is that? Oh, because their buses just run pretty much to the timetable and don't get cancelled!

Saturday, June 30, 2007

If you have nothing good to say...

Everybody's mum must have said this at least once - "If you have nothing good to say about x, don't say anything at all" - I'm sure mine used to say it a lot.

But in the case of the ConnexWhinger blog it's the opposite, I have nothing bad to say so I've been saying nothing! The reason I have been so slack at blogging lately is that there's just not that much happening in my Connex life.

Having more or less recovered from the fall from the pushie a few months ago, I'm getting back into the fairly regular Perth trips. I catch the bus in most mornings now - it's clean, it's very reliable, it's not crowded, and most importantly it's not run by Connex! I sometimes get the bus home and sometimes the train, the bus is pretty reliable but can be slow, the train is pretty unreliable but is quick.

In the few weeks since I last posted, I've probably caught the train a handful of times. Sometimes it's been on time, sometimes on time©®™, and once late in anybody's language, I don't think there have been any cancellations of a train I've been aiming to catch. The trouble is I'm no longer a frequent enough user to judge whether it's any better or any worse than it's always been. I still arrive at the station and if it's a few minutes before departure time and no train is sitting at the platform, I automatically start wondering whether it will arrive on time, or at all. And as we sail past the scheduled departure time with no service announcement, I just stand there along with all the other sheep waiting and wondering where our train is. Just as we've been doing since Connex took over the Sandy line.

So to answer the couple of recent questions about when I'm coming back, it'll be when I have something bad to say about Connex!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

I still hate you Connex!

OK, I know we've all got a bit of focus on the Bracks Government and why they need to sack Connex, but let's not forget they could do a little more without expending too much effort. Like tonight, I'm waiting for the 18:12 and their own clock is already showing 18:13 before they bother to tell us that the train is running late - yeah we kinda figured that mate, the lack of a big silver thing at the platform at 18:12 was a bit of a hint! Thing is, surely they knew where that train was, didn't they? I mean it was in the system somewhere, and somebody in Metrol had some idea where our train was. Why didn't he just tell us?

So eventually the train rolls in and it fills up pretty quickly. My collar bone is still flopping around, since I seem unable to find a surgeon who has a clue how to fix it, and I really don't want to be stuck in the doorway getting shoved. And of course I'm very conscious that standing in the doorway makes trains very late, after all Connex spent millions telling us this. Unfortunately there's nowhere else to stand as the train is full up.

Anyway, on the subject of Connex and their favoured relationship with Bracks and the Nuff-nuff, I've uploaded the very interesting segment from Stateline for those who missed it.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Sack Connex!

Sack Connex was the clear message at last night's public meeting. It is up to us, Melbourne commuters, to convince Steve Bracks to return Melbourne's trains to public hands.

Rob Gell presented first and gave some pretty compelling arguments as to why we should have a decent and reliable public transport system. He came across as a little too rabidly anti-car for my taste, and if he had publicly renounced the use of cars altogether he might've been more convincing. I just couldn't help thinking of Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear challenging various celebrities about their ownership of a Toyota Prius!

What Rob Gell lacked in sincerity was amply made up for by Fiona Taylor from If that is not the most sincere, intelligent and motivational speech I've ever heard, bar none, I don't know what is. Fiona is one of us, an average Melbourne commuter who has simply had enough and is not going to take it any more! I sit here and whinge with the luxury of a train, tram or bus all within a ten minute walk, while those in outer suburbs have literally nothing for large parts of each and every day - if you can't afford a car, that's it, you simply stay at home. Yet this is 2007 and we have had a Labor government for years. is not prepared to let Connex keep its franchise and has a number of ideas on how to tackle this. Head over to their website and give them some support.

Lastly we had Dr Paul Mees. As always, a very clear presentation of what's wrong with our public transport system and how it can be done much, much better. It was along the lines of his article in The Age a day or two ago. Clearly if other government bodies can operate an efficient, integrated, cost-effective public transport system, so can we. As Paul pointed out, their solutions are there to examine and copy, we don't even have to work it out for ourselves.

So what are we going to do about it? It's more than two years since I started blogging. Initially I wanted people to get off their backsides in joining me to tackle the apathy of Connex staff and management. Over time, as is clear from my evolving blogs, my focus has shifted more towards Batchelor and Bracks, followed by Kosky the cloth-eared nuff-nuff. Kosky is obviously just a waste of space, so the answer must lie with Bracks. Just like Howard, Bracks is a pollie who doesn't like too much negative publicity. We need to find ways to keep this issue under his nose leading up to the November decision on whether to renew Connex' contract. Personally I think is the organisation to do that with.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Kosky bereft of ideas?

Seriously, is this the best she can offer? What hope is there for Melbourne's commuters?

We recently had the fanfare when nine services were added across all lines in peak times. As Paul Mees said - "The system now carries 600,000, so adding 7000 extra spaces a day is 1 per cent," he said. "Patronage has gone up 18 per cent. To respond to that massive rise with this is not quite meeting our public transport challenges." Does this cloth-eared nuff-nuff have any understanding at all about our public transport systems? Is she even qualified to be involved at all in the Connex contract renewal decision? I'd suggest not.

Now the latest revelation is this mob was warned nearly a year ago that the system was in crisis, so why weren't our new trains ordered then? Oh, I see, Batchelor was in charge - how convenient for the nuff-nuff. All they had to do was head down to one of the loop stations in peak hour to see what the problem was!

Anyway, on to the CENN's proposal to deal with this issue... change all the schools' start and finish times. Honestly, that's her answer! Don't worry about the huge impact that's going to have for people who have arranged their lives around the current school times. Unbelievable!

Anyway, don't forgot the meeting this Thursday, details below.