Photo essay – V/Line’s VLocity train issues

Since the middle of January 2016 V/Line has been having major issues with their fleet of VLocity trains, resulting in dozens of cancelled services and the crush loading of the trains that are running. Here is a selection of photos from the period.

V/Line's current issues summed up on one photo

First some background – two separate issues have been afflicting V/Line’s fleet of VLocity trains:

The first sign of trouble was the widespread replacement of V/Line services by road coaches, as VLocity trains with worn wheelsets were pulled from service.

Plenty of Waurn Ponds and Traralgon services replaced by road coaches

But things got worse on the evening of January 15, when V/Line blamed “unplanned metro works” for the cancellation of late night Bendigo and Gippsland line services – in reality it was a ban of VLocity trains from the suburban network.

By the morning of January 16 V/Line’s excuse had changed to “service changes in the suburban area”.

At Southern Cross Station passengers for Traralgon and Echuca services were told to catch a suburban train to meet their onward connection.

Traralgon and Echuca trains not running over the metropolitan tracks into Southern Cross - passengers have to catch a suburban train to meet it

That night V/Line lashed together a VLocity train between a pair of diesel locomotives, ready to send them across the suburban network to test the failing level crossing outside Dandenong.

N458 at the other end of a push-pull VLocity transfer at Southern Cross

VLocity trains are fitted with a fully automatic Scharfenberg coupler, but diesel locomotives only have a semi-automatic knuckle coupler, so a special ‘transition coupler’ needs to be fitted to bridge the gap.

Transition coupler connects the VLocity train Scharfenberg coupler to an N class

To allow the tests to take place, Metro Trains obliged by cancelling all late night suburban services between Dandenong and Pakenham.

Once the train arrived at the testing site the diesel locomotives were removed, and the VLocity train made a number of passes over the level crossing.

In the days that followed, more special VLocity transfer trains operated across the suburban network – each movement requiring a diesel locomotive to be attached as a safeguard to activate level crossings along the way.

N454 trails VL15, 3VL36 and N461 on a push-pull VLocity transfer at Southern Cross

By January 18th VLocity trains returned to the Bendigo line – with only two troublesome level crossings on the line at Ginifer and St Albans, safeworking staff were posted at each crossing in order to manually activate the warning devices.

 Safeworking staff manually activating the level crossing at Furlong Road, St Albans for each train

Staff were also posted at the pedestrian crossing to be doubly sure.

Safeworking staff monitor the pedestrian crossing at Ginifer in case a VLocity train fails to activate it

To compensate for the disruptions to services, in V/Line declared free travel on all services from January 23 to 31.

V/Line notice informing passengers of free travel from January 23 to 31

To avoid passengers mistaking touching on their myki cards and getting changed for their journey, station staff printed out their ‘Free travel – no need to touch on’ signs.

Computer printed 'Free travel - no need to touch on' message on a myki reader at Ballarat station

At Southern Cross Station the ticket gates were locked open.

Ticket gates open at Southern Cross due to free travel for V/Line passengers

As were the emergency entrance gates.

Free travel for V/Line passengers so the emergency entrances at Southern Cross have been thrown open

Yet for some reason, there was still a line of passengers at the Southern Cross Station ticket office.

Free travel for V/Line passengers, yet there is still a line at the Southern Cross ticket office

After the first week of free travel and no resolution in sight, it was extended another week until February 7.

Free travel for V/Line passengers notice on the myki readers at Southern Cross

Official ‘no need to touch on or off’ flyers were printed and affixed to myki readers across the network.

Free travel for V/Line passengers notice on the myki readers at Southern Cross

Permanent timetable boards were also printed for Southern Cross Station, listing the scheduled V/Line coach replacements in place Monday through Friday.

Sign at Southern Cross Station listing V/Line bus replacements for Monday-Friday

Despite the coach replacements and free travel, V/Line commuters were still spilling out of overcrowded trains.

Passengers spilling out of the doors of their overcrowded VLocity train

As an interim fix, a 25 km/h speed restriction was applied to the North Melbourne flyover – supposed source of the excessive wheel wear.

25 km/h speed restriction over the North Melbourne flyover

On the weekend of February 13 the flyover was shut down to rail traffic, as the ‘outside’ broad gauge rail through the curves was replaced.

Work to replace the 'outside' broad gauge rail on the North Melbourne flyover curves

In the weeks that followed, trains continued to use the track, but with rail staff manually applying grease to the rail heads.

Rail lubrication crew slowly make their way along the North Melbourne flyover

And the worn wheels beneath VLocity carriages have been replaced with fresh sets.

Fresh bogie and wheelsets beneath VLocity carriage 1142

From March 21 normal rail services started to return – with 43 out of the 64 disrupted services back as trains.

Yet to be completed are fixes for the root cause of each problem: axle counters at level crossings on the Dandenong line to ensure reliable train detection, and an automated rail lubricator on the North Melbourne flyover to reduce wheel wear.

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16 Responses to “Photo essay – V/Line’s VLocity train issues”

  1. Graham Bradshaw says:

    The free travel, rather than compensating, made the crush problem worse as more people decided to go on a train trip, further inconveniencing those who regularly travel.

  2. Beren says:

    So, the wheel wear issue was just on that flyover? How did that happen? Why is the flyover any different then any other piece of track?

    • Julian Calaby says:

      IIRC, this is a combination of several factors:
      1. the flyover has the some of the tightest curves on the network. I believe that wheel wear is proportional to the “tightness” of the curves.
      2. V/Line doesn’t use automatic grease pots before curves for historical reasons. (You can see these all over the metro network: yellow cylinders buried next to the rails near curves.)
      3. almost every V/Line service to the north, south and west went over that flyover.

      Consequently this lead to significant wheel wear as we’ve seen.

      • Marcus Wong says:

        As well as having almost every V/Line serivce using the flyover, the new timetable introduced in June 2015 also increased fleet utilisation, with the new 20 minute service to Geelong and 30 minute service to Bacchus Marsh. More kilometres run = more wheel wear.

  3. Andrew says:

    Those who decide what information is given out on Twitter could be accused of being little more than PR people. While I would not expect them to say, Vline had been banned, they ought not tell blatant lies.

  4. Paul O'Connor says:

    I was just wondering if Vline use track lubricators. If they don’t, this may be the cause of the wheel flange wear problems.

  5. Tim Chmielewski says:

    Maybe make sure there are some more of the old diesel engines since they seem to be able to keep working and not break down? Naaah! That’d be too smart!

  6. mich says:

    I think that this problem of the wheels being worn might have something to do with the extending services to Waurn Ponds.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Waurn Ponds station is only five kilometres down the track from Marshall, so it can’t be a major contributing factor – not to mention that it opened back in 2014.

  7. […] Still on the subject of V/Line, in March 2006 I photographed a pair of VLocity trains crossing over the infamous North Melbourne flyover – cause of the excessive wheel wear issues that afflicted the V/Line fleet in 2016. […]

  8. […] Just a few days later CEO of Metro Trains Melbourne Andrew Lezala ended up in front of the Standing Committee on Economy & Infrastructure giving evidence at a parliamentary inquiry into the V/Line wheel wear issues. […]

  9. […] V/Line’s 2016 VLocity fleet crisis taxis were called up when accessible road coaches were […]

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