Why are Melbourne’s trains covered with graffiti?

If you are a regular user of Melbourne’s rail network, you might have noticed that the number of graffiti murals covering in-service trains has exploded over the past few years. So why has the vandalism become so visible, compared to the ‘old days’?

Kinda odd - massive mural on the side, but no 'P with arrow' on the cab

The problem itself isn’t new: here is an article on the issue from The Age a decade ago:

The continuing war against graffiti on trains

April 23 2003
By Jamie Berry

The charging of six people from NSW following a spate of graffiti attacks on Melbourne trains over the Easter weekend has pleased train companies, which admit they are fighting a constant battle with aerosol sprayers.

M>Train said 11 carriages had been hit in an “out-of-the-ordinary attack” in North Melbourne and Werribee.

Police said a large number of trains parked at railway stations including Eltham, Hurstbridge, Camberwell, Epping and Williamstown were also damaged.

Connex said yesterday that vandalism was one of the largest causes of train service disruption and delay. Cleaning up vandalism has cost the company more than $13 million since August 1999. “We’ve had a lot of graffiti on certain trains last week, which obviously causes delays and headaches to us because we have to take them out of service to clean them,”Connex spokesman Arthur Bruce said.

Back then, vandals would hit trains parked in sidings, sneaking their way past security patrols to do their work.

Siemens train in service, running around with three graffiti murals on the side

But today the vandals are getting more brazen, as made public in this early 2013 piece from the Herald Sun:

Graffiti gangs stop trains full of commuters to spray carriages

March 8, 2013
By Amelia Harris

Brazen graffiti gangs are holding up commuters by forcing trains to stop so they can get their spray-can kicks.

The alarming trend – dubbed “in runnings”, as the incidents occur when the trains are in service – involves vandals tripping signals to trigger red lights, bringing trains to a halt and giving them an opportunity to spray-paint.

Metro statistics seen by the Herald Sun – after six weeks of trying to obtain them – reveal there were 518 “in runnings” last year and 531 in 2011 – up from 347 in 2010.

Almost 100 have been recorded so far this year, an indication that the trend is growing.

Police sources said it was only a matter of time before someone would be killed. “This graffiti isn’t about art. It is about causing maximum damage and inconvenience to as many people as possible,” a source said.

Sometimes drivers discover the sabotaged signals, the murals, or even catch vandals in the act, while investigating their hold-up.

Vandals also target known locations where trains stop for signals, and isolated end-of-line platforms. Police sources said “in runnings” gave vandals the added kick of seeing their murals and tags travelling around the network until the train was cleaned – and a chance to photograph them and post the images online.

They said the trend emerged after Metro staff and police increased CCTVs and patrols at sidings, forcing vandals to look for new alternatives.

The issue of vandals hitting in-service trains was brought up again by The Age a few weeks ago:

Train vandals create havoc for Metro

December 3, 2013
By Adam Carey

Graffiti vandals are causing mayhem on Melbourne’s rail network by tampering with signals and train braking systems, breaking into driver’s cabs and tagging windscreens while riding on the backs of trains.

The trail of destruction has been revealed by a small posse of tech-savvy trainspotters, who hack into Metro’s internal radio network to expose raw and sometimes startling details about the daily disruptions to the rail network.

Last week the group revealed a flurry of troubling incidents on one evening, including graffiti vandals breaking into the rear driver’s cab on a Frankston train; drivers being warned to go slow because youths were putting debris on the tracks near Elsternwick; a family’s near-miss with a train after dashing across a pedestrian crossing at Edithvale; a smashed train window; and vandals’ attempts to kick in the door of a rear cab at Balaclava. All of this was reported in just over an hour between 7.50pm and 9pm on November 27.

Metro staff have also provided information to the group, including a recent internal alert that revealed vandals were using guerilla tactics to disable trains so they could graffiti them.

Titled “Recent spike in vandalism”, the alert said: “Graffiti vandalism is occurring to trains when they are stationary at red signals mid section. Vandals are known to tamper with signals to cause them to remain at stop, often by placing objects under the train stop arm.”

Metro confirmed that graffiti vandalism had risen this year. Figures it provided to Fairfax Media show graffiti attacks peaked in September, when 59 trains were vandalised, well above the monthly average for the past two years of 35 attacks.

So why are vandals becoming more brazen? One possible reason is the long period of time between graffiti murals appearing, and when they get cleaned off.

920M with an incomplete mural on the side

The following is from the ‘Invitation to Tender’ document issued in October 2008 as part of the lead up to Metro Trains Melbourne taking control of the train network – note the section I have bolded:

8.10 Infrastructure and Rolling Stock Upkeep

Infrastructure and rolling stock standards focus on the presentation and amenity of the public transport network.

8.10.1 Franchise Agreement Standards

The standards required by the Franchise Agreement vary, with infrastructure and assets which are publicly accessible having higher upkeep standards than areas which are not publicly accessible.

The tables below summarise the standards by asset class:

Rolling Stock

Graffiti Offensive graffiti to be removed by the end of the first peak period after occurrence.
Excessive graffiti to be removed within 48 hours of occurrence.
Other graffiti to be removed within 72 hours of occurrence.
Damage /Vandalism Excessive levels of scratching or etching on glass to be rectified by the earlier of 14 days from occurrence or the next workshop exam.
Excessive damage to seat covers to be rectified prior to the first peak period of the next weekday.
Vandalism that creates a hazard or offensive image to be repaired prior to the first peak period of the next weekday.


Graffiti All graffiti on publicly accessible areas to be removed within 24 hours of occurrence.
Offensive graffiti on non-publicly accessible areas to be removed within 7 days of occurrence.
Within the first two years of the Franchise, all graffiti on non-publicly accessible areas to be removed. From then, all fresh graffiti on non-publicly accessible areas to be removed on a monthly basis.
Damage /Vandalism Rectified as soon as reasonably practicable after occurrence, having regard to the nature and extent of the vandalism.

With a 48 hour window between vandalism being identified then removed, the end result is more graffitied trains on the tracks – as of the beginning of 2012 I’ve stumbled upon ‘muralled’ trains in service roughly every second month.

The other mural on the Xtrapolis

So what is the best solution to the problem? Spokesman for then-Melbourne rail operator M>Train Andrew Cassidy hit the nail on the head a decade ago:

The aim of the vandals is to get their mural and tag out there in circulation (and) obviously we would like to deny them that.

We’re doing our best to combat vandalism and one way to combat graffiti vandalism is to deny the individuals the profile.

More proof the Metro Trains Melbourne is just about the money?

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10 Responses to “Why are Melbourne’s trains covered with graffiti?”

  1. Julian Calaby says:

    (Terminology: “buffing” is what the graffiti artists call painting over their work.)

    If it’s about “fame” for the people applying the graffiti to the trains, why not deny them that? – instead of catching them in the act, try to make their act pointless.

    The simplest solution could be to “buff” the trains at the end of each line: just have two guys walk down each side of the train with white spray paint and paint over every mural / tag. It _should_ reduce the amount of time the murals are visible.

    Of course it would be properly dealt with when the train is stabled for the evening / weekend / whenever.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      I’ve had a similar thoughts before – there are surely ‘temporary’ paints out there that dry quickly, yet can be quickly removed. The only issue would be the cost to purchase it, and employ people to apply it.

  2. Andrew S says:

    Growing up in the 1980’s I remember the problem far worse then than now (before stabling yards were properly secured) but have noticed the odd mural on in service trains of late. It has probably been a part response to the partial removal of graffiti along the rail corridors on a very ad-hoc basis (e.g. past Richmond to Burnley and Hawksburn stations), although Melbourne is very slack compared to interstate on this from my travels.

    Off topic a little I have noticed VicRoads graffiti removal team appears to have been de-funded of late with sections of Eastern, Monash and West Gate Freeways becoming an absolute disgrace of late (tollway Eastlink is maintaining prompt removal). It seems they too have forgotten the lessons M>Train learnt a decade ago!

  3. Joe says:

    Metro dont need more security they just need to invest in better and more cleaners. the trains get painted anyway, guards do nothing but stand and watch and call 000. so more and better cleaning system is needed. the train mught run once with paint on it but gets cleaned eventually. save money metro no guards more cleaners.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Agreed that the security guards are useless – that’s what happens when you outsource it to some private company, who then pay international students minimum wage to sit around in a car all night. It’s no wonder that dedicated vandals still get in and trash the joint!

  4. Mike says:

    The legal system virtually encourages and endorses Melbourne graffiti through lack of substantial penalties. Does Singapore have graffiti? We all know why they don’t. The police do an excellent job in catching vandals but are let down time and time again through a pathetic judiciary and an apathetic public.

  5. luke says:

    All it will take is for metro to spend some money installing one padlock under the train, than they wont be able to disable the train in mid section. A very simple fix to the problem.

  6. Sein one says:

    Lol i love how everyone trys to explain graffiti. I did graffiti for a number of years i knew some of the most famous writers in Melbourne. I did graffiti because i loved it. I loved fucking up government property including trains, i loved people looking at my name, i loved pissing people off. Its like a drug its addictive. You realize the government takes your money to line politicians pockets. Stop acting like you know the culture.

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