Looking back at Transdev Melbourne’s fleet maintenance crisis

In December 2018 it was announced that Melbourne bus operator Transdev would not have their contract renewed, thanks to years of poor performance since taking over a third of Melbourne’s bus services in 2013.

But it wasn’t just garden variety late running and chronically dirty buses that led to the company being dropped, but something that slipped under the radar of the Melbourne media – a lack of essential maintenance that resulted in so many buses becoming unroadworthy in September 2017 that other operators had to be called up to assist in the running on normal bus services.

Dysons bus 7964AO parked at the Transdev depot in Sunshine

It begins

The rumours of a roadworthy crisis at Transdev started swirling in the world of bus spotters (yes, it’s a thing!) but the first public sign came on 18 September 2017, when buses from Dyson Group started appearing on routes normally operated by Transdev Melbourne.

Dysons bus #707 8027AO on a route 237 service at Southern Cross Station

As did vehicles from Sita Buslines.

Sita bus #67 5477AO on a eastbound route 232 service at Collins and King Street

Confirmation

The first media outlet to pick up the story was the Manningham Leader on September 19 – the area is dependant on buses for public transport, so I guess that’s why they noticed.

More than 30 of Melbourne’s Transdev buses ordered off the road after failing roadworthy checks
Andrew Rogers
Manningham Leader

More than 30 Melbourne buses have been ordered off the streets after being deemed unroadworthy.

Transport Safety Victoria ordered an emergency safety inspection at bus contractor Transdev’s Doncaster and North Fitzroy depots on September 11 and 12 after routine tests by VicRoads found safety breaches with 33 buses.

In a staff bulletin seen by Leader News, Transdev managing director Warwick Horsley told employees the company would now carry out checks on its entire fleet of more than 500 buses.

“We will continue to work closely with TSV to assess the remainder of our fleet for any defects, as well as any issues with our maintenance procedures,” he said.

The company — which operates 30 per cent of Melbourne’s buses — was forced to withdraw 33 buses from service after they were found to have safety defects, but VicRoads has refused to publicly detail the findings.

Shaun Rodenburg, acting director of bus safety at TSV, said: “We are working with Transdev to make sure the immediate safety issues are effectively managed and their safety systems are sufficiently robust to ensure the ongoing safety of their bus services.”

Transport Safety Victoria has confirmed it will follow up with another safety audit once Transdev has fixed the faulty buses and has ordered a more frequent audit regimen to monitor the company’s vehicle maintenance.

Transdev is yet to respond to Leader’s questions relating to the safety defects and how routes and customers will be affected.

It took The Age a day later to pick up the story.

Melbourne’s second biggest bus operator has been ordered to take a dozen of its buses off the road due to serious defects that posed a danger to passengers.

A blitz by safety inspectors on two Transdev bus depots found 33 defective buses, with 12 in such poor condition they were ordered off the road for urgent repairs.

Victoria’s transport safety watchdog, Transport Safety Victoria, said it was the highest number of defective buses it had ever taken off the road in a blitz.

Transport Safety Victoria said it would increase its inspection regime of Transdev’s fleet of buses until it is satisfied the company’s maintenance standards are adequate.

It is currently inspecting about 40 buses a day for potential safety problems.

“We are working with Transdev to make sure the immediate safety issues are effectively managed and their safety systems are sufficiently robust to ensure the ongoing safety of their bus services,” said Shaun Rodenburg, the acting director of bus safety at Transport Safety Victoria.

Defects included engine and transmission faults, fluid and air leaks, loose fitting panels and suspension faults.

The high number of potentially dangerous faults earned a rebuke from Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan.

“This was not acceptable and we’re taking this situation very seriously, as the safety of people travelling on buses is our highest priority,” Ms Allan said.

Public Transport Victoria is reviewing the maintenance failures “so we understand the root cause of this issue and stop it from happening again”, Ms Allan said.

With Transport Safety Victoria issuing a media release on September 22.

In response to safety data analysis, Transport Safety Victoria (TSV) recently engaged with Vic Roads to run a series of safety inspections over two nights on Transdev buses.

As a result of this work:

  • TSV issued 12 Prohibition Notices to Transdev, “grounding” 12 buses which presented a risk to safety;
  • TSV issued one Improvement Notice to Transdev requiring it to assess its fleet for any more buses which may be unsafe and propose a remedial action plan for those buses before they be used to provide passenger services;
  • TSV issued one Improvement Notice to Transdev requiring it to review its Maintenance Management System (MMS) to find how and why it failed and how to ensure the failure cannot recur; and
  • TSV will conduct a targeted safety audit to test the effectiveness of Transdev’s remedial actions once they are complete. A more frequent audit regime will be applied until TSV is satisfied Transdev’s Maintenance Management System (MMS) is operating effectively.

“We are working with Transdev to make sure the immediate safety issues are effectively managed and their safety systems are sufficiently robust to ensure the ongoing safety of their bus services,” said Shaun Rodenburg, Acting Director Bus Safety at TSV.

And Public Transport Victoria adding a curt acknowledgement of the crisis on their website.

Replacement buses operating on some Transdev routes
Added: 22 September 2017

As a result of additional maintenance checks on Transdev buses, a number of their regular buses are currently out of service.

Transdev have made arrangements with other operators for replacement buses to supplement the fleet. These replacement buses may look different as they are branded by a different operator.

Customers will still need a valid myki to travel and should continue to touch on and touch off as normal on replacement buses. If a replacement bus does not have myki equipment, customers will be allowed to travel without touching on or touching off.

Real time information may not be available as some of the replacement buses are equipped with a different tracking system. Real time information on SmartBus displays, our PTV app and Next 5 on our website for these services will then display scheduled departure times.

We are working closely with Transdev to ensure that regularly scheduled services on Transdev routes are maintained and any disruptions are minimised.

The crisis grows

‘Foreign’ buses continued appearing at Transdev depots across Melbourne.

Transdev buses #431 7831AO and #958 8038AO beside Kastoria buses #47 6843AO and #19 1419AO at Transdev's Sunshine depot

As the workshops started to fill up with unroadworthy Transdev buses.

Transdev buses #437 and #365 in the Transdev workshops at Sunshine

By September 26 over a hundred Transdev buses were off the road, as Transport Safety Victoria inspectors made their way to each depot.

Ventura, who lost a number of bus routes to Transdev back in 2013, was one of the operators called up to help.

Ventura bus #1164 2513AO heads north on route 303 at Queen and Collins Street

As well as operators for further afield – like Mitchell Transit from Seymour.

Mitchell Transit bus #9 0709AO heads south on route 220 at Queen and Collins Street

CDC Ballarat.

CDC Ballarat bus #187 9068AO on route 220 at Sunshine station

And McHarry’s from Geelong.

McHarry's bus #12 1512AO on route 220 at Sunshine station

But the replacement buses left a lot to be desired – plenty of older high floor vehicles were called back up into frontline service, like this one from Kastoria Bus Lines.

Kastoria high floor bus #9 BS01ES returns to Sunshine depot

CDC Melbourne.

CDC Melbourne high floor bus #33 4927AO on a route 216 service at Lonsdale and William Street

And this coach from Nuline Charter.

Nuline Charter high floor bus #50 5860AO on route 216 at Sunshine station

By October 6 Transdev managing director Warwick Horsley confirmed that 70 replacement buses were now in service.

But it seems that even the replacement buses couldn’t avoid their death touch, as this broken down bus on hire to Transdev seems to suggest.

Tow truck ready to haul away broken down Broadmeadows Bus Lines bus #47 6843AO from Queen and Collins Street

And back to ‘normal’

By late October the use of replacements buses operating on Transdev routes had petered out, but the quality of the bus fleet still left a lot to be desired.

Grafitti covered back seats.

Up the back of yet another filthy grafitti covered Transdev bus

Broken next stop buttons.

The next stop pushbutton was broken, so Transdev removed it, and taped over the hole

Duct tape holding together the front fairings.

Transdev bus #938 7931AO held together with duct tape

Cracked front bumpers.

Damaged front bumper on Transdev bus #501 4988AO

But it took until August 2018 for Transport Safety Victoria to close out their side of the investigation.

Transdev improving safety systems
2 August 2018

Since the grounding of 12 buses in September 2017, Bus Safety Victoria has been working closely with Transdev to ensure the operator’s safety systems are sufficiently robust to ensure the ongoing safety of its bus services.

A targeted audit program of Transdev began earlier this year, focussing on maintenance requirements and safety culture, and audits will be conducted at all Transdev depots.

To date we are seeing that Transdev has implemented many changes to improve their safety systems and culture.

And it took until December 2018 for the full scale of the roadworthy crisis to be made public.

Transdev pulled nearly 140 buses off the road after they were found to be defective last last year, The Age has confirmed.

I guess it just goes to show how little Melbourne cares about or bus system – if 20% of our tram or train fleet was pulled out of service due to flawed maintenance, it would be front page news.

A Myki related footnote

Public Transport Victoria mentioned myki use on replacement buses in passing.

Customers will still need a valid myki to travel and should continue to touch on and touch off as normal on replacement buses. If a replacement bus does not have myki equipment, customers will be allowed to travel without touching on or touching off.

But something they didn’t mention was that none of the buses with myki readers fitted ever had them switched on – turns out the equipment onboard each bus is only configured with the routes run by a given depot, so buses from other operators were unable to ‘log in’ to the system as a Transdev route, leaving the readers as dead weight.

Photos from ten years ago: December 2008

Another instalment in my photos from ten years ago series – this time it is December 2008, where I spent the month travelling around Victoria on the hunt for trains to photograph.

Roadtrip!

I started my journey in the south-west down at Camperdown, where I caught up with this short train made up of just two empty flat wagons.

Waiting for the cross at Camperdown

The train was on the way back to Melbourne, having been abandoned in Warrnambool after the end of El Zorro’s ill fated attempt at running the Warrnambool freight service.

I then headed east, pausing at the dive that was Westall station. With only two platforms, the only access was via a pedestrian crossing at the down end, and the timber station buildings were missing thanks to an arson attack.

Down end of Westall station, looking up the line past the platforms

Today the station is a grand monolith, completed in 2011 at a cost of $151 million – with a third platform for terminating trains, and an overhead footbridge providing access over the tracks.

I also paused at a red brick traction substation and overhead wires on the main Gippsland line at Bunyip.

Preserved 1950s red brick traction substation and overhead wiring at Bunyip

Constructed in the 1950s as part of the electrification of the main Gippsland railway line, as part of the first main line electrification project in Australia. Electrification was cut back to Warragul in 1987, to Bunyip in 1998, before ceasing entirely beyond Pakenham in 2001.

The wires and substation were removed in 2004, except for the substation and a short section of overhead at Bunyip, which are covered by a heritage listing.

I then headed for the South Gippsland Railway, where heritage trains once operated along the former Leongatha railway.

Getting the staff at Loch

I rode the train to the end of the line at Nyora.

End of the line at Nyora

Then back to the other end at Leongatha.

Sitting in the platform at Leongatha

The railway disbanded in 2016, due to a lack of volunteer labour.

I also headed into the Latrobe Valley on the search for freight trains.

My first find at the Australian Paper mill in Morwell, where containers were being loaded for the trip to the Port of Melbourne.

H4 leading T402 and A78 awaits departure from Maryvale

It still runs today, taking hundreds of trucks off the Monash Freeway each day.

I also headed further east to Bairnsdale, where I found a train being loaded with logs.

The locos run around at Bairnsdale

Then followed it back to Melbourne, where I caught it at Stratford, crossing the timber bridge over the Avon River.

Excavator for work on the Avon River bridge, log flats up top

The train transported cut logs to the Midway woodchip mill at Geelong, where they would be sent to the paper mills of Japan. The native forests of Gippsland are still being logged today, but the train no longer runs – the timber is transported by road instead.

As for the timber bridge over the Avon River, it is still there today, but the state government is funding a $95 million replacement, which will allow the 10 km/h speed limit to be raised.

A ‘powerful’ diversion

While in the Latrobe Valley I also toured Victoria’s aging fleet of brown coal fired power stations.

I started at the PowerWorks visitors centre in Morwell, where a retired coal dredger is preserved.

Dredger 21 outside PowerWorks in Morwell

As well as a narrow gauge electric locomotive once used in the Yallourn open cut mine.

'62 Ton' electric locomotive No. 125 plinthed outside the PowerWorks centre in Morwell

Then I went past Energy Brix briquette plant next door.

Southern side of the Energy Brix briquette plant at Morwell

Which closed in 2014.

Then across to the Hazelwood power station.

Old school power at Hazelwood

Back then the ‘West Field’ expansion of the open cut brown coal mine was underway, with a number of roads being closed to make room for the future hole.

Brodribb Road still closed

But that effort didn’t really pay off – the aging dinosaur of a power station closed in 2017.

Still hanging on is the Yallourn W power station, completed in 1973-1982.

Looking up at the Yallourn Power Station chimneys

And the Loy Yang power station and and open cut mine.

Overview of Loy Yang power station and and open cut mine

In addition to the slightly cleaner gas turbine plant at Jeeralang.

Main entrance to Jeeralang Power Station

And an interesting piece of technology – the Loy Yang Static Inverter Plant, the Victorian end of the Basslink high voltage DC undersea transmission line that connects Tasmania to the national electricity grid.

Loy Yang Static Inverter Plant for the Basslink HVDC transmission line

Headed north

I then headed back on the trail of trains, heading over to Seymour where work had started on the gauge conversion of the railway north to Albury.

Trackwork on the north east line at the down end of Seymour

I also followed a special train operated by the Seymour Railway Heritage Centre to Tocumwal.

Running N460 around the train at Tocumwal for the push pull shuttle

With Santa saving from the rear platform.

Santa waves on arrival into Shepparton

Captured a V/Line train passing the since removed mechanical signals at Kilmore East.

Sprinter 7002 with classmate depart Kilmore East on the down

Passed the crummy facilities that passed for a station at Donnybrook.

Carriage set VSH26 departs Donnybrook

And saw gravel being loaded into a train, ready to be transported by rail to concrete plants across Melbourne, instead of a fleet of trucks.

G524 being loaded at Kilmore East

I then headed west, to photograph a V/Line train at Ballan station.

VLocity VL09 pauses for passengers on a down service at Ballan station

It won’t look like the above very longer – a second platform and overhead footbridge is now under construction.

I also stopped in at Deer Park.

Work on the Deer Park Bypass was underway, making it quicker for people in Melbourne’s west to drive towards the city, as well as for trucks transporting interstate freight.

Work continues on a bridge to carry the Deer Park Bypass over the tracks

But no investment was coming for Deer Park station. Once part of the main route between Melbourne and Adelaide, bidirectional signalling was provided so that faster moving passenger trains could overtake the far heavier and slower freight trains.

Signals and darkened skies at Deer Park

But only a gravel platform was provided for passengers, visited by a V/Line train every two hours, if that.

Gravel covered platform at Deer Park

It took until 2015 for the poor level of service to be fixed, following the completion of Regional Rail Link.

But unfortunately the cost cutting to the project saw the bidirectional signalling removed, resulting in major delays to V/Line services every time a train breaks down in the section.

Two steps forward, another back?

Another place on the fringe of Melbourne’s urban sprawl is Diggers Rest, which back then was only served by V/Line services.

Three car VLocity 3VL41 picks up passengers at Diggers Rest

As was Sunbury, which saw a number of V/Line shortworkings terminate there in order to pump up the frequency to something worth using.

VLocity VL02 left behind on the platform at Sunbury, as the other four cars head for Echuca

The $270 million electrification of the Sunbury line was completed in 2012, seeing suburban trains extended to the town, but but many of the locals weren’t happy – they preferred waiting around on a cold platform then ride a comfortable V/Line train.

And back to Geelong

Finally, we end close to home at Geelong.

I visited the remains of the Fyansford cement works.

Remains of the Fyansford cement works limestone conveyor belt

The silos were still in place.

Silos still in place at the Fyansford cement works

As were the railway sidings once used to despatch the finished product.

Down end of Fyansford Yard looking to the cement works, now getting overgrown

But the cement kilns at the base of the hill were long gone.

Remediating the side of the former Fyansford cement works

Today the silos are still there, but the tracks were removed in 2011, and the rest of the site redeveloped as houses.

I found a VLocity train bound for Marshall station, heading through an unprotected level crossing.

Vlocity passes through an unprotected level crossing of DOOM!

Rather than upgrade the crossing, in 2008 it was closed to vehicle traffic.

At North Shore I captured The Overland westbound for Adelaide.

NR82 westbound at North Shore with a five carriage long consist

The newly refurbished train had entered service in mid-2008 in an attempt to reinvigorate the dying service, but it doesn’t do much good – it was almost cancelled in 2015 following an impasse over funding, with it now set to end in 2018 after SA government declined to extended the arrangement further.

The rollout of ‘Parkiteer’ bike cages at railway stations had started, with South Geelong receiving one.

New 'Parkiteer' bike cage

Platform extension works were also underway.

Placing platform facing for platform extension

In September 2008 then Minister for Public Transport, Lynne Kosky, announced that longer trains would be deployed to the Geelong line, requiring platform extension works.

These trains continued to run until June 2015, when Geelong trains commenced using the new Regional Rail Link tracks and the trains were cut back to just six cars in length.

And finally after years of trying, I was finally in the right place at the right time and captured the daily V/Line overtaking move outside Geelong.

And comes out the other side...

Until 2015 on the Geelong line, two V/Line services would depart Geelong each morning a few minutes apart. The first train would stop all stations, while the second train would run express to Melbourne, overtaking the slower train.

Finding this overtaking point was more art than science – even a 30 second delay to either train could move it a kilometre or so down the line, so all I could do was pick a spot lineside, and hope that I wouldn’t have to come back another day to try again.

Footnote

Here you can find the rest of my ‘photos from ten years ago‘ series.

The trains are dry, but the neighbours aren’t

So you have paid heed to Melbourne’s history of railway flash flooding, and flood proofed your rail under road grade separation. But there is something you can’t fix as easily – flooding out anyone living beside the train trench.

Alstom Comeng arrives into the newly rebuilt low level station at McKinnon on a down Frankston service

Flooding out the sandbelt

In 2016 the level crossings on the Frankston line at North Road, McKinnon Road and Centre Road were removed, with the railway being placed into a trench between each road, with three new stations constructed at Ormond, McKinnon and Bentleigh.

X'Trapolis 183M approaches the newly rebuilt low level station at McKinnon with a down Frankston service

Massive drainage pits were constructed on the uphill side of the rail cutting, to ensure that stormwater would not enter the trench, and stop trains.

Massive drainage pits beside the rail cutting north of McKinnon station

But given enough rain a massive concrete lined cutting across a natural watercourse will turn into a dam – as local residents found out in December 2016 – the first big storm after completion of the level crossing removal project.

LXRA investigates flood of allegations from angry homeowners
Sam Bidey
Moorabbin Glen Eira Leader
January 17, 2017

An investigation is under way to determine whether a new drainage system installed by the Level Crossing Removal Authority caused the severe flooding of dozens of homes.

Residents along Glen Orme Ave, McKinnon, are still out of their houses as the clean-up continues following the December 29 storm.

Irate homeowner Aislinn Martin believes new drainage running through Glen Orme Ave, which was constructed during works to remove the McKinnon level crossing, caused thousands of litres of water to sweep through her house.

The LXRA installed the drainage to protect the rail trench from flooding, but Ms Martin said that just resulted in her street being walloped with a torrential amount of excess water during the storm.

One neighbour, who did not wish to be named, said the flooding occurred because the water was intended to flow into the Elster Creek drain, but, with that already overflowing, it gushed out of the new overflow grates along Glen Orme Ave.

Following the December 29 storm, the LXRA sent letters to residents to advise that all newly installed drainage would be checked and the authority would notify them on the outcome of the investigation.

“We have worked closely with Melbourne Water and council to protect the rail line and ensure our work does not cause any additional flooding,” LXRA project director Adam Maguire said. “We will continue to help clean up with our road sweepers.”

Local member and Liberal MP Georgie Crozier raised the issue in Parliament on 21 March 2017.

My adjournment matter this evening is for the minister responsible for the removal of level crossings, Minister Allan. I have raised on a number of occasions issues in relation to the level crossing removals at North Road in Ormond and McKinnon Road and Centre Road in Bentleigh. This matter relates to the level crossing removal in Ormond and involves the works undertaken for drainage. We have had another weather event today. I believe there are a number of areas in metropolitan Melbourne that have been flooded, and I do hope that there is no ongoing damage from the rains today.

On 29 December significant flooding occurred in Melbourne and across the state from which there was significant damage in the Ormond area and also in the neighbouring area of McKinnon, where significant amounts of water were coming out of the drains that were put in place to cope with the extensive drainage from those level crossing sites.

Nevertheless, my issue concerns, as I said, the North Road area. Many residents have written to me and expressed their concerns about what has actually happened in terms of the pipes and various construction dealing with these drainage issues, with the Level Crossing Removal Authority (LXRA), Melbourne Water and the local council. All of these residents have been told that significant work was done, that everything was okay and that the LXRA had undertaken some investigation and found that the system was operating as it was designed to. However, there are still some concerns held by various residents who have not had many of their queries answered to their satisfaction.

One of the areas of concern relates to all of the piping and the drainage that was laid during the construction phase and what other areas may be affected by this.

The action I am seeking from the minister is that the investigation and the report by the LXRA on these works be made public so that the affected residents can understand fully what consultation with Melbourne Water and the Glen Eira City Council was undertaken and what works actually took place to cater for future flooding, because we will get future rain events which will be greater than the last one. If the minister could provide that to the public, that would be most helpful.

With the Level Crossing Removal Authority publishing their report into the flooding in September 2017.

Throughout 2017 Melbourne Water and the Level Crossing Removal Authority have undertaken a joint review of flooding that occurred as a result of intense rainfall on 29 December 2016 and how the drainage system installed as part of the North McKinnon Centre Level Crossing Removal Project operated during the storm event.

Which found:

The drainage works needed to enable the level crossing removal at Ormond and McKinnon were very complex to design. The passage of the rail corridor through the floodplain and the established character of the area limited drainage design options.

Significant planning and care was taken to ensure the drainage design for the North McKinnon Centre Level Crossing Removal Project did not make flooding worse.

Our review has highlighted that:

• All affected properties are within the envelope of flooding predicted by our modelling both pre and post construction of the drainage.
• As a result of the construction works, many properties will in fact have experienced lower flood levels through the December event than would have been experienced pre-construction. These properties are primarily upstream of the railway works.
• A small number of properties downstream of the railway line were adversely affected as the storm event occurred during construction prior to the works being completed. These property owners have
been contacted directly and are located in Elm Grove and Glen Orme Avenue.

As part of the Project, significant drainage infrastructure was installed and existing assets altered. The drainage infrastructure and alterations have been designed to replicate the pre-existing (prior to project) flood conditions in the area.

The drainage infrastructure and alterations have been designed to replicate the pre-existing (prior to the project) flood conditions in the area. As part of normal flood mitigation activities, Melbourne Water has initiated a project to evaluate localised mitigation opportunities.

Cold comfort for local residents, but a quick glance at the Glen Eira Planning Scheme shows that the entire area is subject to a Special Building Overlay, so flooding is a fact of life for this area.

And over to Blackburn

Blackburn Road in Blackburn is another rail under road grade separation, with the level crossing removed in 2017.

X'Trapolis 105M passes under Blackburn Road, arriving at Blackburn station on the up

The pedestrian subway at Blackburn station used to flood as soon as a single drop of rain fell.

Water draining into the Blackburn station pedestrian subway

So the drainage was upgraded to prevent it, including this massive stormwater detention structure on the south side of Blackburn station.

Stormwater detention structure on the south side of Blackburn station

But it had a flow on effect to residents of South Parade, located south of the station.

Rail drain’s flow-on effect
Blackburn station underpass fixed but houses now flooded

Whitehorse Leader
Paddy Naughtin
December 18, 2017

The State Government’s much vaunted improvements to the notorious Blackburn station underpass failed to handle the latest deluge, leading to flooding of neighbouring properties.

Properties in South Parade flooded on December 7 after the new drainage system at the station reached capacity and overflowed on to the street. The water was too much for the street’s gutters and flowed over into people’s yards.

Susan Rundle said the “horrendous” flooding was the worst she’d seen in a decade. “We measured the water being 70cm deep in our backyard — you can see the line on my husband’s workshop where the water got to,” Ms Rundle said.

“The drainage system was upgraded during the level-crossing removal works to ensure the station underpass didn’t flood, but its seems to have just made things worse for other areas in the neighbourhood.”

State Government spokeswoman Hayley McNaughton said the drainage upgrade had been built to standards.

“As part of works to remove the dangerous and congested level crossing on Blackburn Rd the project also upgraded the drainage to mitigate flooding,” Ms McNaughton said.

Local member and Liberal MP Robert Clark took up the case a few days after the floods.

Residents flooded by bungled rail project
9 December 2017

This was South Parade in Blackburn on Thursday evening, as residents were inundated with overflow from the Blackburn rail project’s new drainage system.

Backyards have been flooded, garages filled with water and driveways washed away, causing thousands of dollars of damage to residents’ homes.

After turning the South Parade shopping strip into a concrete jungle in the name of fixing the drainage, instead the project has turned a quiet residential street into a floodplain.

Raising the issue in Parliament a few days later.

I raise with the Minister for Public Transport the flooding that has occurred in South Parade, Blackburn, as a result of the Blackburn rail project, and I ask the minister to find out exactly what has gone wrong and to have urgent remedial works undertaken so this flooding does not happen again.

Last Thursday evening numerous homes along South Parade were inundated with overflow from the rail project’s new drainage system.

After turning the South Parade shopping strip into a concrete jungle in the name of fixing the drainage, the government’s handling of the rail project has turned a quiet residential street into a flood plain.

Photos taken by residents show water gushing out through the grill around the top of the drainage pit next to the station and strewing gravel and other debris across the road before pouring downhill into residents’ homes.

Last Thursday’s flooding was the third and most damaging of the flood events that have started to occur since the rail project works have been undertaken. Long-term residents say that prior to the rail project works there had been no major flooding in South Parade since a drain was installed in the 1960s.

Then raising it again a year later, following more flash flooding.

South Parade residents flooded again by Labor’s crossing bungle
8 November 2018

This is South Parade, Blackburn, on Tuesday – flooded yet again by water overflowing from the “upgraded” drainage system installed as part of Labor’s bungling of the Blackburn level crossing removal.

The LXRA and the government have known about this problem since similar major flooding almost a year ago, but have done nothing to fix it, leaving residents to suffer every time there’s a heavy downpour.

It’s clear that the flooding is coming straight out of the new drainage system – instead of flooding the station’s pedestrian underpass, as used to happen, it’s now flooding residents’ homes all along South Parade.

This first happened in December last year. I raised it in Parliament, residents raised it with the LXRA, it was front page of the local paper, LXRA and the government promised to look into it and then… nothing. It needs to be fixed.

A check of the SES Flood Guide for Laburnum shows that the entire area was already at risk of flooding, thanks to a creek placed underground when the area was first turned into houses.

But that doesn’t mean much to residents if the flooding is now worse than before the level crossing removal works.

And a Pakenham line footnote

Upgrade works at the Clyde Road level crossing in Berwick also resulted in local businesses being flooded out.

Flooded by the rails
Rowan Forster
Pakenham Gazette
2 November 2018

The Level Crossing Removal Authority has been flooded with complaints from aggrieved business owners in Berwick amid allegations properties are becoming inundated by stormwater due to botched upgrades.

Landlords of Enterprise Avenue have reached boiling point – fearful labourers and construction workers could be rendered jobless if the issue persists.

The Gazette understands the problem arose when the State Government began construction at the Clyde Road crossing more than 12 months ago.

As the railway line has been elevated, water no longer flows into the natural drainage system and instead gushes towards the rear of the Berwick properties.

Despite pressuring bureaucrats for more than a year, Barry Pitcher has not received any answers.

It might sound simple, but keeping things dry isn’t easy!

Comeng trail departs Berwick station with an up Pakenham service

Sending rail under road, minus the swimming pool

Recent years have seen many new rail under road grade separations built across Melbourne, yet they don’t turn into swimming pools every time it rains. You can’t use the rest of the network as a model – flash flooding is a common sight across Melbourne’s poorly maintained rail system – so how do they stay dry?

Flooded subway at Ascot Vale: is it really that hard to maintain drains?

Prevention is better than pumps

The first step is to prevent water from flowing into the trench.

Taking advantage of existing slopes is the easiest way.

Cyclone fences are all that prevents cars from falling into the railway cutting at Gardiner station

Or regrading the surrounding soil to slope away from the cutting.

Box Hill to Ringwood rail trail, looking west from King Street/Oliver Avenue in Blackburn

Adding small kerbs alongside the top of the cutting wall will redirect water.

Box Hill to Ringwood rail trail, looking west from Rooks Road, Mitcham

As will exploiting the massive concrete walls used to stop idiot motorists from crashing down onto the tracks.

Looking north along the bike path from Ginifer station towards St Albans

But that might not be enough – sometimes upgrades to the local drainage system are required.

Long section of kerb drain along Railway Road to the north of Blackburn station

To ensure that stormwater doesn’t overflow the surrounding streets, and breach the trench walls.

Massive drainage pits beside the rail cutting north of McKinnon station

This means that the only water to end up in the trench is the rain that falls upon it.

Time for drains

Drains between the tracks collect any rainwater.

Drainage pit between the tracks at the down end of Blackburn

It then flows downhill to the lowest part of the trench.

Sump pumps at the down end of Ormond station

Where a pump then sends it back out again, via a web of pipe work.

Pipework serving sump pumps for the rebuilt low level station at McKinnon

Under the pump

So how big do the pumps need to be?

The Furlong Road grade separation on the Sunbury line at Ginifer station is a deep hole – the pump station supplied by Aquatec Enviro‎ has some impressive specifications – 3.2 metre outside diameter, 10.74 metres deep, and capable of pumping out 440 litres/second of water.

Constructing a pump station to extract stormwater from the railway cutting at Furlong Road

Main Road at St Albans has a longer approach cutting, so the pump station needs to remove more water – 3.2 metre outside diameter, 9.74 metres deep, and capable of pumping out 490 litres/second of water.

Constructing a pump station to extract stormwater from the railway cutting at St Albans station

While the Blackburn Road grade separation on the Belgrave/Lilydale lines has more complicated requirements.

The long trench on the approach to the station has a pump station for drainage – 2.3 metre outside diameter, 5.78 metres deep, and capable of pumping out 480 litres/second of water.

X'Trapolis 42M trails an up service into the long trench at Blackburn

But thanks to the depth of the cutting, groundwater also needs to be removed from the cutting, requiring a second pump station – 1.0 metre outside diameter and 6.0 metres deep, but only needing to remove 2 litres/second of water.

X'Trapolis 105M passes under Blackburn Road, arriving at Blackburn station on the up

And finally, the infamous ever flooded pedestrian subway – it has a 1.8 metre outside diameter and 3.5 metres deep pump station, capable of removing 50 litres/second of water, hopefully to prevent a repeat of this.

Water draining into the Blackburn station pedestrian subway

And the cost to run them?

Taking the figures for Furlong Road, a 480 litre/second capacity pump lifting water 10.74 metres, assuming 60% pump efficiency, requires a 85 kilowatt motor to drive it.

In reality you might provide two separate pumps taking half the load, which appears to be what happened at the pump stations Aquatec Enviro supplied to the LXRA.


Photo by Aquatec Enviro

The same logic was applied at Ormond station on the Frankston line – multiple 30 kW pumps were installed, backed by a 220 KVA generator to take over if mains power failed.

According to Sustainability Victoria’s “Energy Efficiency – Pumping Systems” best practice guide, a fully loaded 100 kW electric motor, assuring 90% motor efficiency, costs $16 / hour to run or $373 / day to run, if you’re paying 14 cents a kilowatt hour.

So not expensive to run, but still far more costly than the free drainage provided by gravity.

Siemens train passes a cricket game at the Ross Reserve in Noble Park

Drainage standards

Metro Trains Melbourne track drainage standard L1-CHE-STD-030 covers the scope of railway drainage – and what it doesn’t:

2.1 This standard sets out MTM requirements for drainage systems within the rail corridor. It covers the technical requirements for drainage of the track formation, supporting embankments and cuttings.

2.2 This standard does not cover drainage from carparks, buildings, overbridges, footbridges, airspace developments, external developments, access roads, roads outside the rail corridor, council drains or properties adjacent to the rail corridor.

2.3 This standard does not include culvert design or design of other infrastructure used to allow overland flow to cross the rail corridor.

As well as the two types of drainage the railway installs:

Cess drains are surface drains located at the formation level at the side of the tracks. They remove water that has percolated through the ballast and is flowing across the capping layer towards the outside of the formation. Cess drains are primarily intended for protect the formation by keeping it dry.

Catch drains (also known as “top drains”) intercept overland flow or runoff before it reaches the track. Catch drains are generally located on the uphill side of a cutting or catch water flowing down the hill and remove it prior to reaching the cutting.

How much water the drains are expected to handle.

9.2.1 Flood design shall protect all track assets from the 1% AEP flood level (1 in 100 year ARI event) and permit the unrestricted operation of trains by not overtopping the capping layer. The capacity of the drainage system shall take into account the rainfall intensity, the water runoff to be managed and the particulars of the location.

And how big the pump stations need to be.

16.4 The pumped system shall provide storage capacity for a 2 hour, 1% AEP (100 year ARI) event in case of pump system failure. A 2 hour period has been determined as an acceptable response time for maintenance staff to reinstate the operation of the pump system after the high water level warning is triggered by the alarm system.

16.5 The pumped system shall provide sufficient redundancy in the pump and pipe sets that when one unit or inlet/outlet pipe is temporarily offline (e.g. maintenance or fault), all drainage requirements can still be satisfied.

16.6 The pump station shall have a connection for a backup generator and pump in case of power failure. The connection type shall be compatible with equipment used by emergency services and MTM.

While the Level Crossing Removal Authorty’s “Cross Drainage Assessment – Rail Under Road” for the Edithvale Road, Edithvale project details the effect that rail under road grade separations might cause to the surrounding area.

3.2 Design requirements

The following criteria and design objectives have been established as a framework for assessing the level crossing removal. The final design requirements will be further developed a part of the design process.

The works must be designed and constructed:

  1. To prevent the underside of the ballast flooding from a 1 in 100-year Average Recurrence Interval (ARI) event (without freeboard) estimated in accordance with Australian Rainfall and Runoff (AR&R, 2016).
  2. To meet the requirements stated in the Metro Trains Melbourne drainage guidelines (Metro, 2016).
  3. To meet the flooding requirements of the relevant drainage authorities (typically Melbourne Water and the City of Kingston).
  4. In accordance with the requirements of the relevant road authority and the relevant drainage authorities.
  5. Such that the potential for flooding of any other property is not increased by the project (initial focus on the 100-year ARI event and other events may be considered subject to
    further direction).
  6. To limit the impact of the project on major drainage and overland water flows to the satisfaction of the relevant drainage authority(s). This will typically require assessment of changes (afflux) in velocity, depth, erosion, duration of inundation.

As well as the elements that make draining a road under rail grade separation hard – or simple.

A preliminary flood and cross drainage assessment has been undertaken for Edithvale Road, Edithvale level crossing removal.

The purpose of the report is to identify matters relating to cross-drainage that may need to be incorporated into the level crossing removal project design.

The proposed works will not occur within a defined land subject to inundation overlay or special building overlay. Furthermore, available topographical data indicates that the proposed works occur along a local ridge where surface flows will generally discharge away from the rail corridor.

Due to the characteristics of the site, in particular the ridge crest location of the existing rail corridor, it is considered that the project will not have a significant effect on cross flows and consequently flood risk within the surrounding area.

Potential increases in rainfall intensities from climate change and the effect that this may have on the standard of flood protection for the railway, road assets and other properties will be considered for cross-drainage design.

Given that the proposed works will not impede or impact overland flow paths or existing flood areas no further mitigation is required as a result of the project.

As the design progresses, management of the local drainage network and catchments should generally be incorporated into the design and further analysis of major overland flow paths should not be required.

And a City Loop footnote

The City Loop tunnels have a similar problem – how do you prevent water from running down the approach ramps and into the tunnels!

Entry portal to the Northern Loop at North Melbourne

Their solution is simple – a concrete lip at the top of each ramp, preventing groundwater from entering.

Ramp leading into the Caulfield Loop at Richmond

Riding a double decker bus in Melbourne

When I was a little kid going for a ride on a double decker bus was always a fun day out, and I happened to instil the same sense of adventure in my son after showing him book upon book about Hong Kong buses. Buy where can one go for a double deck bus ride in Melbourne?

Looking down on the Melbourne Steel Terminal from the Melbourne Star observation wheel

My first through was City Sightseeing Melbourne – they operate a fleet of open top double deck buses around Melbourne, running a hop-on hop-off service targeted at tourists.

Melbourne City Sightseeing bus 9350AO on Sturt Street in Southbank

But when I checked the ticket prices I got second thoughts – a 24 hour pass for adults is $35, and children aged 4-14 are $15.

What about the SkyBus service to Melbourne Airport?

SkyBus double decker #111 BS02KI southbound on CityLink at Moreland Road

Another expensive adventure – $33 return for adults, but at least kids can come along free on a family ticket.

But the real cheap seats are the route 190 bus that runs between Werribee and Wyndham Vale.

CDC Melbourne double decker bus #131 BS01GV on a route 190 service at Wyndham Vale

It’s just a standard Myki zone 2 fare, but only one of the buses used on the route is a double decker – which makes tracking it down an adventure.

I was lucky enough to find it at Wyndham Vale station at 9am where my son and I rode it to Werribee station, after which it retired to the CDC Melbourne depot at Truganina. Apparently it emerges again in the afternoon to complete a number of school runs, then heads back to the depot again for the night.

Back in 2015 Daniel Bowen wrote more about CDC’s double deck bus.

And some other options

If you a pack of excited kids to entertain, then chartering a double decker bus is always an option.

Dee Decker Tours has a number of double deck buses for charter.

Dee Decker Tours bus BS01BT on a charter at Altona

While Rockleigh Tours has two luxurious double deck coaches for hire.

Rockleigh Tours double deck coach 8774AO departs Sunshine station bound for the city

And Melbourne’s double deck train

Melbourne once had a double deck train – the 4D. Introduced in 1992 as a testbed, after years out of service it was finally scrapped in 2006.

Scrapping the 4D train
Photo by Zed Fitzhume, via Wikimedia Commons