Gee…long time no blog

It is a truth infrequently (and reluctantly) acknowledged that my obsession with posting events in sequence is the reason that my blog is out of date.  But it is now about five months late so something had to be done.  Five months is the gestation period for a goat.  So in the time that a nanny goat has created a new life from scratch, I’ve completed this blog.  But given that this is the year of the goat, perhaps it is meant to be…  Enjoy anyway!

On Thursday 19 March, my colleagues and I headed down to Geelong to attend the IRSE Australasia AGM and Technical Meeting.
Our flight was a little turbulent and we experienced the classic Victorian weather spectrum from storm to sunshine on the car drive from Melbourne to Geelong.

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We stayed at the Mercure, which was situated opposite some beautiful tenement houses.

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The dark, windowless corridors were a little bit “The Shining”, but the view from my room was unexpectedly beautiful, with historic buildings leading up to the seaside.

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I had three additional reasons to attend this meeting, other than the usual ongoing quest for CPD – my colleague, Paul, had nominated me for a position on the National Committee, the IRSE Australasia Younger Members’ Society was having its official launch as part of the AGM, and I was attending the National Committee strategy meeting on Thursday night as Paul’s proxy.

After a quick personal needs break, we walked towards the esplanade in the early evening (which seemed even earlier due to that quaint southern notion of daylight savings).  My colleague, Ken, was obliging enough to let me delay our journey for some snaps of historic buildings.

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Dinner was lovely, as it usually is at IRSE events (if there’s two things the IRSE do well it’s railway signalling and meal serving sizes), and I emerged from the strategy meeting with a full belly and an inspired mind.

As I settled in for the night at the Mercure, I noticed how similar the view was to the one at my usual abode and was lulled to sleep by the sense of familiar peacefulness.

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On Friday morning, I was inspired by an uncharacteristic intrinsic motivational force to leave the hotel early for a walk along the esplanade to photograph the wooden post scupltures (could this be the magic of daylight savings… no actually, its the wrong way round).

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After a brisk walk through the crisp breeze in the shadows of the CBD, I made it to the esplanade.

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There are more than a hundred painted bollards along the waterfront painted by Geelong artist, Jan Mitchell, depicting characters and historical personalities relevant to the area.  The bollards were recycled from the Yarra Street Pier, which burnt down in the 80s.  DSC_0062 DSC_0057 DSC_0055 DSC_0053 DSC_0052 DSC_0046 DSC_0045 DSC_0044

There were also other less famous sculptures (read: less googleable), signs and birds to photograph.

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Cassandra and I had intended to meet at the Pier (a different one to the one that burnt down) for breakfast but just as I was hurrying up the pier, 40 immaculately-dressed women entered the restaurant ahead of me for a private booking so, while Cassandra was forced to beg for something to eat at the pier so that she could be close to the conference for the set up, I returned to land and picked a cosy little place called the Point.  Very soon and somewhat by chance, I was joined by Andrew, Lloyd and Nick, and very soon after that we made our way to the AGM location.

The Pier is a beautiful building, apparently a buffet restaurant in a former life, with full height glass windows and a vaulted ceiling.  In order to keep us on track, they lowered the blinds so we weren’t distracted by the spectacular ocean view.

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The keynote address was delivered by Corey Hannett, the Coordinator-General of the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources.  Then, V/Line’s David Ramsdale took us through Regional Rail Link, which has provided dedicated regional tracks from West Werribee Junction to Deer Park.  The project delivered two new stations, upgraded two stations and constructed 13 road/rail grade separations.  This infrastructure will be used by 43 of the new, kitchly-named V/Locity rollingstock units.  RRL was toted as a success in terms of providing infrastrucure for enhanced reliability and performance and bringing employment to the area.

If you want to know more, there’s lots of info here: http://www.regionalraillink.vic.gov.au/about/overview

Next, arguably the highlight of the day (in my humble opinion) was the Younger Members’ Society launch.

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These are some of the things Cassandra, our chair, said, before introducing me:

Hello, I’m Cassandra Gash and I am the chairperson of the IRSE Australasian Younger Members Society.

I am really excited to stand here before you today, alongside the other younger member leaders, to announce that Australasia now has a new foucs for younger members of the Institution. 

The committee was formed early this year and has the blessing & full support of the national committee for us to carry out our mission to provide more services and support to the younger contingent of the section.

We have immediate issues to tackle, such as how do we increase younger member attendance at local and national meetings and ensure that the content being delivered meets the needs of younger members.    Looking at the registration list last night, I estimated 30% of attendees are classified as young, so I am pleased and encouraged that the organisations at this event see the value in providing a professional development and networking opportunity, that this event provides, not just to the senior members but also to the younger ones.

We have a couple of young engineers that will be presenting today and we will continue to encourage younger members to participate in other national events so that there is a healthy competition for YM awards such as Byles & Calcutt.

And finally, our long term vision is to increase awareness of railway system engineering as an exciting and fulfilling profession at high schools and universities so that the industry has a sustainable and youthful future.

Now like to introduce Yvette Griggs, who is the Chief of Communications.

My speech wasn’t nearly as exciting.  I just invited everyone to like our social media and made a lot of weird faces, it seems.

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And, Lloyd, our secretary, invited younger members to our event at the International Convention.

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The offical part of the day, the actual AGM was just after morning team and mingling.  My colleague, Paul Huth, had nominated me for a national committee position and I was accepted into the committee, uncontested.  Not as satisfying as taking down another opposing candidate in a lenghtly campaign, but much less bother.

We listened to details of the 2.2kV power system used on Regional Rail Link and then heard an interesting paper on RAMS.  A particular example was used to illustrate MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure) and how this statistic doesn’t always give the outcomes you expect.  So, according to the bureau of statistics there are 5.4 deaths per 1000 people each year, which means the MTBF for a person is actually 185 years…  Not what we were expecting!

Both the scenery and company at lunchtime was lovely, so we took some photos to commemorate both.

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In our afternoon presentations, we were given the basics of Victorian signalling and CBTC.  I am a stranger to Victorian signalling and find the whole concept of something over something quite foreign.  However, Robert Baird was able to set me straight with his thoughtful inclusion of relevant information without being too basic.  (In fact, I based my own presentation for the International Convention on Robert’s tailoring the subject matter to a learned audience who are just unfamilar with the particular subject matter.  This does seem obvious, but it’s often a thin line to tread getting the balance right.)

I attended my very first committee meeting in the afternoon and was really excited to receive some action items even as the new kid!  We now realised that there were one, two, three signalling ladies now on the committee.  Les thought this was a worthy enough occasion for a photo.

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In the evening, we attended the Gala Dinner in the same beautiful location as during the day.

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Dinner was amazing (sorry that I always focus on the food, but I love food at least as much or possibly even more so that I love signalling).  And I’m not the only one; the sticky date pudding was a highly sort after commodity!

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It was a long day for me, as they often are when with the signalling crew, so we went back to the hotel at a reasonable time.  In an interesting turn of events, the “established” members continued to tear up the dancefloor while the younger members had a quiet port in the hotel lobby.  But that’s what we’re all about; upsetting stereotypes and challenging the norm!

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It was a somewhat early morning on Saturday, made to feel even earlier by the daylight savings.  I had a breakfast with my boss in our hotel and we walked down to the water’s edge to catch the bus to site, stopping on the way to take a photo of Andrew with his apparent homeland (Andrew’s last name is Lamb).

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First stop of the day was a power equipment room that was part of Regional Rail Link.  It housed some lovely new equipment and also appeared to have the largest concentration of flies south of the tropics.  I forced Nilushi to pose for photos against her will.  In hindsight, these photos appear even more staged, given that Nilushi actually worked on this project and wouldn’t be so intrigued by the drawings on the wall unless she’d been asleep for the last year or so.  But never let the truth get in the way of a good promo shot!

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Then, we had the chance to get up close and personal with some signals and a TPWS unit.  Again, I had the opportunity to take some great photos of members enjoying their field trip.

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I posted this last photo to our Instagram/Facebook and it resulted in our very first instance of trolling.  Ahhh, what a milestone!

We had a brief stop at Wyndam Vale station, with its nine metre deep cutting and great station artwork.

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I had always thought that my first racecourse experience in Victoria would be somewhat more glamorous – Derby Day at Flemington perhaps – but it was actually lunch at the Geelong Racecourse wearing oranges and boots.  But, it was a very nice lunch nonetheless.

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In the afternoon, we visited the training centre and an SER.  I absolutely loved the electric height adjustable desks at the controllers’ stations!  I asked my boss if I could have one for Christmas…

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Nilushi and I tried everything out just to get the full experience.  I also took some artistic shots of the interlocking and power equipment.

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In order to get back to Geelong, given that we’d ended up in Melbourne, we actually got to ride on a V/Locity all the way back home!  During our commute, we took the opportunity to formulate the YMS strategy for social media and world domination.

Dinner was at Peppers Torquay.  We all had the ingrained misconception that it would be at the beach, but it turned out to be a golf course.  This was reasonably irrelevant because it still gave the opportunity for photos of the committee as the sun set.

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The food was filling, the port plentiful and the fashions fabulous!  (See “Aunty” Anne wearing her new scarf, a gift in appreciation of her organisation of the partners’ programme.)

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Usually, domestic technical meetings are only two days long.  But when you attend the AGM AND Technical Meeting, you get a bonus day of hanging out doing train geek stuff. And due to the pricing structure, it actually only cost $10 more to attend the Sunday social program than registering separately for just the Friday and Saturday.  Bargain!

The historic Fort Queenscliff was our first destination.

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I was already quite excited and then became even more so upon discovering that their battalion’s mascot was an owl!

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The tour of the fort was actually quite thought provoking from an engineering lessons learnt point of view.  We saw a lighthouse perched safety on dry land which was built to a Scottish design where the door is a few feet higher than the bottom due to rocks and/or the ocean so the door required an entry ladder.

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We were also shown a signal tower which had to have extra floors added part way through its existence due to having its view built in by adjacent barracks.  For the uninitiated, its really quite important (read vital) for a signaller to see the matching signal tower.

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Then, we looked at a retracting cannon which had been restored for the centenary of the fort.  Unfortunately, the land barrier that had historically shielded the surrounds from the canon had not been restored and firing the canon at the centenary celebrations results in suburbs worth of shattered glass.

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There were also lots of other gorgeous heritage buildings and a stunning ocean view.

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After taking some photos in the underground museum,

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we returned to the bus for our steam train ride on the Bellarine Railway.  It was the first time I’d ever been on a working steam train so I was very excited.

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It was also even more exciting to realise that this train and station featured in an episode of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries!

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As we boarded, Cassandra very graciously let me have the window seat so that I could take photos of the wildlife.

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The ride was beautiful to start with and then it became a bit hot and smokey.  But I endured it because I’m sure it was an accurate historical experience.

We watched the locomotive shunt over the top of an ill-fated bunny upon arrival at our destination and then headed to lunch at the somewhat coincidentally named Jackrabbit Estate winery.

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The view, wine and lunch were wonderful.

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Even Ken’s softdrink looked much more fancy that your usual fare.  DSC_0491

Cassandra ate her sixth plate of salmon for the trip and we got to meet Glenn’s mother.

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Then we had a little wander around the grounds for photographic opportunities.

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Lunch signified the end of the weekend and we returned to the airport by bus.  I don’t even remember the flight home which just indicates what a full on weekend it was.

There are two things that you can always count on for an IRSE event: a packed schedule and a full belly, and both induce a very well-earned sleep upon returning to your own bed, to dream of railway signalling.

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