‘All change’ with the V/Line nanny state

Over the years I’ve noticed that V/Line manages to screw up in ways that no other rail operator in the world can, and the other month at Geelong I encountered yet another blunder from them – an entire trainload of passengers being forced to abandon their train at Geelong station, just so that an extra carriage could be added to it.

VLocity VL14 and classmate about to depart Geelong on the down

I boarded a citybound train at South Geelong station, then settled in for the trip back to Melbourne.

VLocity 3VL33 arrives into South Geelong on an up service

A few minutes later on arrival at Geelong station the conductor made an announcement over the PA system – ‘all change’ because another carriage needed to be added to the train.

Our trainload of passengers gathered our bags, and traipsed off the train.

Trainload of passengers booted off an up service at Geelong, so that a second VLocity unit can be attached

And stood around on the platform for something to happen.

Trainload of passengers booted off an up service at Geelong, so that a second VLocity unit can be attached

A few minutes later, a second VLocity train arrived into the platform.

VLocity 3VL22 arrives into the platform at Geelong station, to couple onto classmate 3VL33

It came to a halt just short of our train, and then the two were coupled together, with barely a whisper.

VLocity 3VL22 about to couple onto classmate 3VL33 at Geelong station

We left the train at 21:03, and it took until 21:07 for the second carriage to be attached, and a minute or two later until we were allowed to reboard the train.

With everyone back on the train, the conductor informed us via the PA that we had to leave the train because of the possibility of a jolt or other shock while the train were coupled. However, at the same time as the PA announcement was being made, our train passed over a section of rough track between Geelong and North Geelong station, which jolted the train without any warning, with a greater impact than the coupling of a train!

Bit of a joke, isn’t it?

Taking the idiocy up to eleven

If you think being booted off your train so an extra carriage can be attached is stupid, you are right – yet Ararat and Maryborough passengers used to be subjected to it every time they passed through Ballarat station, until then-Minister for Public Transport Terry Mulder intervened in 2011.

Ararat and Maryborough passengers may now stay on board trains at Ballarat
Thursday, 18 August 2011

Minister for Public Transport Terry Mulder said today that he had resolved a longstanding annoyance for rail passengers using Ararat and Maryborough line trains with V/Line now agreeing to allow travellers to remain on board at Ballarat while train sets were coupled together or divided.

Mr Mulder said that previously, long distance train passengers arriving at Ballarat were routinely asked to leave the comfort of an airconditioned or heated VLocity railcar and stand on what could be either a freezing cold or baking hot platform while trains from Ararat and Maryborough were amalgamated or those in the other direction divided at Ballarat.

“Some passengers did not want to leave the train to visit the Ballarat railway station’s refreshment rooms. Leaving their seat for up to 15 minutes was a major inconvenience for some Senior Citizens and others with limited mobility, mothers with prams and passengers with heavy backpacks.”

Mr Mulder said that he was pleased that commonsense had finally prevailed.

“It is normal practice for rail systems around the world to allow passengers to remain on board while carriages are attached or detached. If this was not the case, pyjama-clad passengers on many European overnight sleeper trains would be woken in the middle of the night at junction stations. V/Line has now conformed to this sensible, safe railway practice employed overseas.”

So why the hell did V/Line have to boot off passengers at Geelong station so an extra carriage could be attached, when passengers at Ballarat are allowed to stay on board? I ended up dropping V/Line a query via their website.

V/Line’s response

A few days later, I received their reply from a V/Line customer relations officer:

I am sorry for the inconvenience and frustration caused when customers were required to exit the train at Geelong while another carriage was coupled to the service. Our standard procedure for carriage coupling is that customers exit the train. The policy for Maryborough and Ararat services is different because it is a regular planned occurrence for carriages to be coupled. These are the only services excepted across our network.

So why is V/Line so risk adverse about the coupling of trains?

After the boarding call passengers surge at the doors

The story I’ve heard says the rule dates all the way back to the 1990s, following an incident at Spencer Street Station. Passengers had boarded a train as they always did, when the locomotive was roughly attached to the carriages, resulting in an injured passenger.

As a result, V/Line decided to ban passengers from being onboard trains while carriages were added or removed, and in the years since nobody has been game to rescind the rule, despite V/Line being the only rail operator in the world to follow it.

What about Bendigo?

Remember a few months ago when I wrote about the the useless station at Epsom, outside Bendigo? The proposed Bendigo Metro network would use Bendigo station as the junction point for trains bound for Eaglehawk or Epsom, which makes me wonder how high V/Line’s brain would explode if they were forced to attach and divide trains there on the basis of a ‘metro’ level of service!

Some overseas examples

A few years ago I spent a month traveling around Europe by train in the middle of winter and never had to leave my cozy sleeping compartment – no matter what the rail operator was doing to the rest of the train.

On my 45 hour long train ride across Russia I was woken one night by my train coming to a halt at a dead end station. I put on my jacket and shoes then headed to the rear of the train, where I found that a new locomotive had been attached, ready to haul the train back out the way we came.

Russian Railways class ЧС7 electric locomotive ЧС7 141 awaiting departure time from Тула (Tula)

But my 27 hour long journey from Bucharest to Kiev really took the cake. The train was a multinational mix of carriages from different operators – “Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Devlet Demiryolları” from Turkey, “Căile Ferate Române” from Romania, “Укрзалізниця” from Ukraine, and “Российские железные дороги” from Russia.

North through the Romanian countryside we travelled, until we reached the break-of-gauge at the Romania-Ukraine border. Instead of changing trains, each carriage was lifted up in turn by jacks, allowing the 1,435 mm standard gauge wheelsets used in Europe to be replaced with those of 1,520 mm gauge used in the former USSR, while passengers slept soundly in their beds.

Spare wheelsets beside the bogie exchange facility at Vadul Siret

The next morning our train rolled safely into Kiev, and along the way my carriage had gone from last in the consist, to first. V/Line eat your heart out!

Update: October 2019

Nothing has changed on the V/Line front – here’s another example from the Geelong line.

Two 3-car Melbourne-bound trains were coupled together into a six car train at Little River.

Which required the passengers of both to be kicked off the train.

Two trains worth of passengers kicked off their trains at Little River so the trains can be coupled together

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11 Responses to “‘All change’ with the V/Line nanny state”

  1. andrew says:

    Of course, in the good old days VR changed the locomotives on the Southern Aurora and Spirit at Albury, and the Overland at Serviceton, twice every day. They certainly didn’t boot the passengers out of the Aurora at midnight on a cold Albury night.

    And before the Overland was the Overland, they used to take the dining car off the train at Ballarat or Ararat and put it back on the train the next morning. This was in the middle of the train and they used to shunt a bit of the train – complete with any passengers that weren’t patronising the refresh – into No 2 Rd and back again.

  2. Train Split says:

    A similar system is used in Germany.

    The train to Hamburg Airport advises that Airport passengers should board in the first three carriages. At a junction station the last three carriages are decoupled and sent to the suburbs, while the first three continue to Hamburg airport.


  3. Tom the first and best says:

    All they need to do is to warn passengers that there is about to be a coupling and provide the opportunity for them to get off, possibly with a limitation of liability warning for those who stay on. Happy passengers, happy safety officials.

  4. Andrew says:

    We were completely unaware when our Tohoku Shinkansen separated and joined at Morioka and the process took minimal time. Interesting about changing the wheel sets in Europe.

  5. Matthew says:

    I’m afraid this the Australian Nanny-Statism at work. Every one’s is so afraid of being sued. And our compensation system is so broken, the cases against the railway would almost certainly rule against them.

    Although this overbearing Health & Safety was exported from the UK, I note their railways drew the line at booting every one off the train while they join or divide, possibly because the managers who tried to enforce such a rule would get lynched.

  6. XAM2175 says:

    Even elsewhere in Australia sets are routinely coupled and uncoupled while carrying passengers – CountryLink do it two times a day at Werris Creek where the Armidale and Moree sections (both Xplorers) divide on the down and join on the up.

    And of course in Europe it is indeed totally unremarkable – only a few months ago I took a EuroCity service from Zurich to Innsbruck and absolutely nothing at all was mentioned about the five-minute stop at Buchs being for the purpose of replacing the (Swiss) SBB locomotives with (Austrian) OBB ones.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Thanks for those examples – I’d completely forgotten about the CountryLink trains that divide/join enroute.

      Another interesting one would be what happened on interstate passenger trains before the 1980s – when locomotives were changed at the state border. I can’t imagine passengers on the Southern Aurora or The Overland being turfed out in the middle of the night at Albury or Serviceton!

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