Metro Trains Melbourne, two derailments, and rail lubrication

This is the story of Metro Trains Melbourne, two derailed trains, and the role rail lubrication plays in keeping trains running.

Siemens 824M leads an up Werribee service at Footscray

The story starts on February 6, 2016 when a citybound X’Trapolis train came off the tracks at Rushall station.

From The Age:

The six-carriage city-bound train travelling on the South Morang line was carrying 120 passengers when one of the wheels of a single carriage came off the tracks about 5pm on Saturday evening just 100 metres from Rushall station.

Then only a week later, a second train derailed at the same location.

Metro shut down the line after a track maintenance machine derailed at 11.30pm last night near Rushall station in Fitzroy North. It was the second derailment at that location this week.

The Victorian Office of the Chief Investigator Transport Safety commenced an investigation of the first derailment.

At about 1650 on 6 February 2016, MTM suburban passenger train TD1064 derailed near the Rushall Railway Station in Fitzroy North, Victoria. The leading bogie of the second passenger car derailed resulting in minor damage to the car. One passenger sustained a minor injury.

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.

Front steps of Parliament House, Melbourne

He had this to say on rail lubrication:

The CHAIR — Just a couple of questions in regard to Metro; obviously we have seen significant wheel wear on V/Line trains, and I have certainly heard speculation that there has been greater than expected wheel wear on Metro trains. Is that something that has been evident through the maintenance that Metro have been doing on their trains?

Mr LEZALA — That is a good question, because we have seen — as we saw in London in 2005, in Hong Kong in the early 90s and Singapore more recently — that you can get a cascading effect once you have got that kind of wheel damage and high friction between wheel and rail until you restore your lubrication regime. I would stress that it is very hard to predict what lubrication regime you need when you change a railway. Lots of railways experience similar kinds of problems. So of course our vigilance on our wheels as we share tracks with V/Line on certain corridors was to make sure that our wheels were not wearing at an increased rate. What we did find is we have got some drying of grease around the network, so we stepped up our lubrication regime to try and avoid any cascade, and so far that has kept everything under control.

The CHAIR — So there has not been any significant — —

Mr LEZALA — We have not seen a noticeable increase in wheel wear yet, and we do not expect to, because of the measures we are taking together with V/Line to make sure that the lubrication regime is more than adequate to recover the situation.

The CHAIR — Has there been a small increase in wheel wear?

Mr LEZALA — We saw a small increase on one particular train, but we do not believe that is directly linked.

Mr WEIMAR — I think, Chair, this is also where we do work as a network, so with the experiences that we are having with V/Line we engage very closely with Metro and V/Line to ensure that any lessons or any emerging best practices are translated across the entire network, and I think that is what we see some evidence of here.

Ms TIERNEY — Can I ask when the lubrication program was stepped up?

Mr LEZALA — When you change a railway in any way, you have to try and predict what extra lubrication you will need, you make your best estimate of that and then you monitor how it is going, because you do not want to overlubricate, because then you get wheels spinning and trains sliding through stations, so you have to be very careful. It is an evolutionary process, and the unfortunate thing is once wheels start to get abrasive they quickly damage other parts of the track, so you have to overlubricate. What I would praise my colleagues for in this is reacting extremely quickly to re-establish a lubrication regime that will minimise further damage. The focus is on containing the problem and then restoring service, so that is what we have all done together.

Mr FINN — Was the derailment last week as a result of overlubrication of the tracks, or was it something unrelated?

Mr LEZALA — No, it was not overlubrication. That is under investigation between ourselves and the national regulator, and we expect to have some results of the analysis. The track has been analysed and cleared by ourselves and the regulator for service, so it was not a track issue necessarily. What we are now looking at is the vehicle itself, and particularly the bogie concerned and the suspension system, so we are just analysing that.

But in October 2016 rail lubrication came up again – now being blamed for the the two derailments at Rushall. From The Age:

Metro has admitted in leaked correspondence that maintenance failures on its part caused two derailments on the same bend within five days last summer.

Trains came off the tracks twice on the tightest curve on Melbourne’s rail network, near Rushall station in Fitzroy North, on February 6 and February 10.

First a passenger train and then a track maintenance vehicle came off the rails because the track were not greased sufficiently and the tracks were in poor condition, according to a report by a senior Metro manager, obtained by Fairfax Media.

The report, by Metro manager of safety, environment and risk Matt Sekulitch​, said the cause was “a combination of lack of lubrication and track condition, which created an upwards component of lateral force exceeding downwards force on the wheel”.

Mr Sekulitch wrote on May 18 that after the two derailments, “MTM has initiated a program of work to ensure adequate lubrication across the network for all vehicle types.”

At Rushall, where the trains came off the tracks, “the track geometry for the relevant curve has been reviewed and re-aligned with several faults removed,” he wrote.

Metro spokeswoman Sammie Black said Metro regularly greased its tracks, but stepped up its regime after the derailments near Rushall.

“Lubrication is a permanent regime for the metropolitan railway and we use a combination of fixed greasing pots and manual lubrication across the network,” Ms Black said.

“Since February we have increased the frequency of the manual lubrication of our tracks and adjusted the height of the greasing pots across our network.”

Mr Sekulitch’s leaked email was consistent with a technical report completed in March, and with advice Metro had given to Public Transport Victoria and the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator about the incident, she said.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is still investigating the causes of the derailment of the passenger train on February 6.

Trains roll on metal wheels along metal rails, which is a low friction environment. So how does lubricating the rails make things better, instead of creating a slippery mess?

From the Australian CRC for Rail Innovation:

Train motions through curves can cause major damage to wheels and rail, thereby raising maintenance requirements, causing noise pollution and increasing costs.

Properly and efficiently applied lubricants should lessen squeal on corners and reduce overall rail noise.

They can also reduce wear on track and wheel, particularly on the contact zone on the outside curve, which is the major wear site for track operators.

For decades ‘grease pots’ have been the traditional way of applying lubrication to the rails.

'Grease pot' rail lubricator at the entrance to the City Loop at North Melbourne

Bolted to the rail, each time a wheel passes over the top, a smear of grease is applied to it. But they are a low tech solution – they don’t always put grease where it is needed.

Grease pot in place on the tracks at Caulfield station

With splotches of grease belong left behind by slow moving wheels.

Grease pot in the Apex quarry siding at Kilmore East

And staff need to visit each pot on a regular basis to refill it with grease.

Getty Images ID 90747770

Not exactly a simple job when the grease pot is sitting in the middle of the tracks!

Track staff service a train stop near North Melbourne station

As a result grease posts started to disappear from the Melbourne suburban network.

Soon after, these new mysterious objects started to appear trackside.

Plenty of people began to ask what the hell they were.

On the Belgrave and Lilydale line, what are all those newly grey roundish things about a meter high and wide with a big solar panel on a tall pole?

A product of Lincoln Industrial, these are a high technology replacement for old fashioned grease pots.

A sensor attached to the rails detects the passage of trains.

Sensor that triggers the automatic rail greaser at Sunshine

While applicators attached to the rails dispense the grease.

Grease applicators for both running rails at Sunshine

Both being connected to the control unit and grease reservoir, safely located away from the tracks to allow for easy maintenance.

Lincoln automatic rail lubricator ready to be connected to the suburban tracks at Albion

So far units I’ve seen units installed at North Melbourne, Jolimont, Caulfield and Burnley.

Will they fix the issues that derailed the trains at Rushall? I sure hope so.


Exploded diagram of a Lincoln automatic rail lubricator.

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6 Responses to “Metro Trains Melbourne, two derailments, and rail lubrication”

  1. Kevin says:

    Photos of a “solar-powered compost bin” (Lincoln automatic rail lubricator) along the Upfield Line at Coburg North (Ararat Ave, near Shorts Rd), taken late September.

  2. Tom the first and best says:

    They have also been installed near Camberwell and between Glenferrie and Hawthorn. These are likely to need moving in the event of quadruplication Camberwell-Burnley.

  3. Rod says:

    Ah ha! There’s one on the entry to the bend between Newport station and the yards, and one where the Altona loop splits off the main line. Solar powered compost bins! I wondered what they were – always see the old grease pots but hadn’t seen the new lubricating mechanisms on the tracks. I’ll be looking out for them tomorrow!

    I had no idea what they were for. Obviously a solar powered something-or-other but not doing a lot of work due to the small size of the solar panel. Still, it must be doing a fair amount of work as it has to push lubricant along a decent length of narrow looking tubing. They must use a lighter lubricant?

    • Marcus Wong says:

      There would have to be a battery in there as well so the system works at nigh, so the solar panel would needs to keep it charged, even on cloudy Melbourne days.

      The old fashioned grease pots look like they spread a pretty thick lubricant over the tracks – necessary so it didn’t spill? If so, the new ones avoid that issue altogether, and could use something much lighter.

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