There have been a few news reports lately about the delayed new timetable.The Herald Scum didn’t appear to write a story, perhaps because they had already published Frankston Line Passengers angry at plans for trains to bypass the loop. Fairfax news wrote the headline as Train Delays as Andrews Government Bungles the Biggest Metro Timetable Boost In Years while the ABC provided a more balanced report with New Melbourne Train Timetable scrapped due to lack of consultation. Both missed the bigger story behind the delayed new timetable. This bigger story involves something called the Network Development Plan. (The Plan) The ‘Stage 2’ part of the Plan consisted of a ‘Metro Style System’ for Melbourne’s Trains.
WHAT IS A ‘METRO STYLE SYSTEM’?
This is where things get tricky. Nobody knows what a ‘Metro Style System’ is. Wikipedia’s article on Metro Train Systems pretty much sums up what Melbourne already has (or is at least working towards, with it’s grade separation projects). Public Transport Victoria (PTV) and Metro Trains Melbourne (MTM) had a different idea.
THE 5 RAILWAYS PLAN.
PTV and MTM’s idea of a Metro system is differently defined. PTV and MTM’s plan was to completely separate the network into 5 parts, 5 completely separate businesses that did not connect at all with each other.
THIS ISN’T THE FIRST TIME THAT THEY TRIED THIS.
When the Victorian Suburban Railways were handed over to private companies in 1999, the Suburban Rail Network was split into Hillside and Bayside trains. Train drivers who previously drove trains on the entire network were then limited to half the network. Management and support staff doubled as each position required duplication. This created numerous problems. If a problem occurred on the Hillside, there would be a shortage of train drivers there and a number of Bayside train drivers sitting idle. This sort of situation happened frequently. When National Express folded in 2002 and the Government decided to merge the two networks back together they discovered a number of problems. Train drivers on Hillside were no longer qualified to drive on Bayside and Bayside drivers were no longer qualified to drive on Hillside. This required re-training of an entire workforce on multiple lines. There also came the problem with Rolling Stock. Bayside had bought Siemens Trains as their new standard and Hillside had bought X-Trapolis trains as their new standard. The train drivers were not qualified to operate the new rolling stock of their opposites.
THE MEN BEHIND THE PLAN
WHY WOULD THEY DO THIS?
Their idea was to rip up all the points (Places where trains can move from one line to another) around Flinders Street Station to completely separate the entire network. Less points means less maintenance, which means less staff required and more profits. The removal of the points also means an opportunity for business. With MTM’s formation of a subsidiary company Sunstone came the potential for more profits. The Plan consisted of 500 Million dollars worth of Points removal across the network, with MTM (and Sunstone) perfectly positioned to pick up the contract. Once the network was completely separated it would be only one simple step more to completely sell it off piece by piece. MTM would be perfectly positioned to buy up permanently parts of the Melbourne Suburban Train Network. The Liberal Victorian Government would be then in a position to capitalise with the Federal Government’s “Privatisation of Public Enterprises and Utilities” plan. WIN-WIN-WIN. MTM picks up a train network fully owned by them as well as the contracts to split it and the State Government gets instant cash injections from the sale and the Federal Government. The Age newspaper on 23/07/15 published a story entitled The Six Problems Ruining Melbourne’s Rail Network, with #5 being ‘Complex Rail Junctions’. This was prompted by Metro’s strategically timed release of a 200 page Audit (That magically coincided with the Age Newspapers stories about the delayed timetable). The Newspaper mentions speed limits of 25 km/h and 40km/h cause poor peak performance (and we should mention here that the 25km/h speed limit ONLY applies when a Sandringham Train travels into the City Loop… Something that doesn’t happen on a weekday). The obvious should also be pointed out here: The delays caused by the speed limits are built into the timetable and should cause no measurable effect to the performance of the trains. What should also be mentioned is that Metro themselves have stated that the removal of points would only save 10 seconds travel time between Richmond and Flinders Street Station.
WHY WOULD THIS BE BAD?
It all comes down to one thing: Flexibility. If you remove all the points around Flinders Street Station and Southern Cross Station then the trains will be locked into one path and one path only. In the event of problems (which happen semi-regularly across the Melbourne Railway Network), there would be no flexibility in the system to run trains around the problem. Track Circuit Failures are a regular occurrence. Currently, there is flexibility to allow Frankston Trains to still come into Flinders Street Station via the Pakenham/Cranbourne lines from Caulfield. This causes minor delays to both lines. Removing the points would cause a suspension of services along the entire Frankston Line. Because the Frankston line would be ‘grouped in’ with the Werribee Line, it would also cause a suspension of services there. MTM and PTV want to sacrifice smaller delays spread across other parts of the network for entire line suspensions. For Example: Recently Metro did rail works in and around Malvern Railway station on the Frankston Line. They did these works on a Saturday and Sunday where there would be little disruption to services. Frankston trains ran from Flinders Street Station, onto the Pakenham/Cranbourne lines into Richmond and through to Caulfield (where they then returned to the Frankston Line). Trains slotted in like a zip and there were little delays to passengers. MTM and PTV’s plan would see an entire line suspension between Flinders Street Station and Caulfield Station. Separating the Melbourne Rail Network could also see problems caused by a lack of Rolling Stock. It would be easy to envisage a situation where there are a shortage of Trains on one line and an excess of trains on another line without any way to move them across. One line suffers while another line sits idle. That is MTM, PTV and the Liberal Party’s plan for the Melbourne Rail Network.