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One day, 16 railway lines, 209 stations, 17 schoolchildren.
Is it possible to visit every railway station in Melbourne in a day, and make a detour to Stony Point for an added degree of difficulty?
It's a maths problem likely to defeat all but the most numerically gifted of trainspotters, but high school teacher Andrew Lorimer-Derham and his class of VCE students from Alexander Secondary School believe they have the answer, and they're putting it to the test today.
The group caught the first train from Pakenham at 4.14am and, if all goes to plan, will alight from the train to Lilydale station at 12.14am tomorrow, exactly 20 hours after setting off.
The mission is both a VCE maths assignment for the students from central Victoria and a charity fundraiser.
The group hopes to secure as many donations as they can from fellow passengers, to be given to Hope for Nepal, an American charity organisation that buys kitchens for Nepalese schools so the children get a daily lunch.
Mr Lorimer-Derham and his students are trying a number of tricks to attract donations, including a "red carpet service" for people getting off the train and hip-hop busking.
As for the maths component of the mission, Mr Lorimer-Derham says his students have spent hours working out how to get to every station on every line on Metro's network — even including a detour along the Stony Point line.
"We're hitting Stony Point as well, even though it's technically not metro," Mr Lorimer-Derham says. "That makes it a lot tougher but it would be almost too easy otherwise."
Their precise schedule also includes two runs from one station to another to avoid doubling up. They made a one-kilometre dash this morning from Richmond station to Jolimont so they could bypass the city loop (a ploy the group could have learned from Metro, which sometimes does the same thing to keep to its schedule).
There will also be a two-kilometre run this afternoon from Coolaroo station on the Craigieburn line to Upfield station. The route 532 bus runs between Craigieburn and Upfield, but, in a failure of multi-modal timetabling, it is scheduled to leave one minute before the train arrives.
"We'll save 40 minutes, because we won't have to back-track to North Melbourne," Mr Lorimer-Derham says.
It is not the first time the teacher has attempted to complete this mission with a group of his students. Two years ago, the attempt fell just three stations short, an experience Mr Lorimer-Derham describes as "shattering".
"On the very first train at 4.23am we thought nothing could possibly go wrong, but we hit a stick overhanging the wires and it delayed it five minutes; we had a two-minute turnaround to get the next one and we ended up missing that," he says.
This time the group has to travel further, because the Epping line runs to South Morang. But timetable changes have actually made the task easier.
"South Morang does add a little bit to the mission but it's offset by the fact that some lines run every 10 minutes," Mr Lorimer-Derham says.
So far, things are going very smoothly, with no cancellations or major delays. The only hitch has been a stern admonishment from a train driver, who told them to stop getting off at every station to take photos.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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