Ten years since Connex left Melbourne

Remember when Connex ran suburban trains in Melbourne? November 30 marks ten years since they left Melbourne, and Metro Trains Melbourne took over the operation of the suburban rail network.

Two down Siemens and an up EDI Comeng at Footscray, the new footbridge lurks behind

The fall

For years the state government had been underinvesting in rail infrastructure, leading to debacles such as the 2008 Oaks Day failure:

Connex did not have enough staff to respond to a rail meltdown on Oaks Day last year that left tens of thousands of furious racegoers stranded, the state’s rail safety chief has found.

Trains between Flemington and the city failed on the afternoon of November 6 last year, just as 90,000 people were spilling from the racetrack.

Overhead wires melted above one train stopped between North Melbourne and Newmarket. This knocked out power and halted all services in the area.

Hundreds of passengers were left stranded aboard one hot, airless and broken down train. The risked their lives by abandoning the train and walking on train lines to escape.

Tens of thousands more in the CBD had peak-hour trips home thrown into chaos by the fault.

Victoria’s director of public transport safety Alan Osborne has today released his findings into the incident.

He found Connex’s contingency plans for the emergency were “somewhat inadequate”.

However, despite finding Connex did not have sufficient staff to manage the incident, it had complied with all safety procedures, Mr Osborne said.

Experienced rail maintenance staff at the time of meltdown told The Age it had occurred due to long-term neglect of Melbourne’s rail system.

But Mr Osborne did not find this to be the case. Instead, he said that all maintenance procedures had been followed.

However, Mr Osborne noted that the city’s entire rail network was now being checked to make sure identical faults did not occur.

And mass cancellations during the 2009 summer heatwave:

Melbourne’s frazzled train commuters should brace for another nightmare day, after one of the worst in Connex’s history yesterday.

The city’s crumbling rail system failed as tracks buckled and trains broke down amid baking temperatures for the second consecutive day.

And with the mercury already in the mid-30s this morning on the way to an expected top of 43, Connex had already cancelled 34 trains by 8am, following the failure of about 234 services yesterday.

Scores of trains were cancelled due to faulty air-conditioning and other heat-related faults. Passengers on the Hurstbridge and Epping lines faced extra delays after tracks between Jolimont and Flinders Street buckled.

Connex repair teams, armed with hoses, sledgehammers and crowbars, worked for more than an hour to bash the rails back into shape.

Rails on the Glen Waverley line, at Holmesglen, also buckled in the heat.

Clawing back

Connex eventually responded by ramping up maintenance, such as replacing rotting timber railway sleepers with concrete ‘partial replacement sleepers’.

3-car Alstom Comeng departs Newport bound for Werribee, passing new concrete sleepers

Wanting to hang onto the contract to run the train system:

Connex admits it could have done more to cope with Melbourne’s record surge in rail patronage and the resulting passenger frustration, but it wants another chance to run the network for at least the next eight years.

As Connex fights to renew its contract before the Government’s mid-year decision on who will run Melbourne’s rail system, chairman Jonathan Metcalfe conceded that the organisation had made mistakes.

But the biggest problem, he said, was record patronage growth on a network neglected for decades by state governments..

“We’ve had more than our fair share of issues and difficulties,” Mr Metcalfe said. “(But) have we made mistakes? Yes, we have. Of course we could have done more and we should have done more, but the sheer scale of (patronage growth) has been greater than anywhere in Australia or probably anywhere else in the world.”

But lost the contract during the 2009 renewal process.

The decision to oust Connex is likely to be warmly greeted by train passengers who have become increasingly infuriated with late, overcrowded and cancelled services across the network.

May was the fifth month in a row that Melbourne trains did not meet punctuality targets with almost one in 10 failing to arrive at their destination on time.

Connex this year had $11 million wiped from its revenue by the Government after 2.8 per cent of all train services were cancelled in the first months of the year.

Asked if the tender decision was a condemnation of Connex, Mr Brumby said it “wasn’t helpful to look back”, but he admitted Connex’s record showed that in some areas “obviously their performance could have improved”.

Ms Kosky, a regular target of commuter fury, said MTM would deliver improved reliability and fewer cancellations for Melbourne’s train passengers.

The people of Melboune were hopeful that something might change – some wags even put on a ‘Goodbye to Connex’ party.

Handing out flyers for a 'Goodbye to Connex' party outside Flinders Street

Enter Metro Trains Melbourne

November 30 saw the first Metro Trains Melbourne branded train break cover at Newport Workshops.

Mostly white with blue ends and doors

And head for Flinders Street Station.

Waiting around at Flinders Street

Where Premier John Brumby and Transport Minister Lynne Kosky were in attendance, along with Metro Trains Melbourne CEO Andrew Lezala, and members of the press.

The press still gabbling away

But in the end, nothing really changed.

Thirteen months after Labor scrubbed the tarnished Connex brand from Melbourne’s history, Metro’s performance record is even worse. This, despite the newcomer costing Victorians many millions more in its first year than Connex in its last. The Brumby government is no more and ALP state secretary Nick Reece has pointed to disruption in train services before the November poll as a key factor in his party’s demise.

While it is early days for Metro in its eight-year contract, there is a widely held view among rail industry insiders and commentators that the company has hit a wall in Melbourne; that an entrenched inertia and old boys’ network in the state bureaucracy and unions has made reform in Melbourne public transport impossible.

Metro neglected rail infrastructure.

The tracks on Melbourne’s rail network are riddled with serious faults – some left unfixed for years – a leaked internal Metro Trains report shows.

And an email sent by one of the rail operator’s senior staff last month appears to show the company responding to the massive repair backlog by simply deleting reports of faults if they had not yet failed.

But in 2016 was given the exclusive right to negotiate a contract extension, which was awarded in 2017.

And a trainspotting footnote

X’Trapolis train 863M-1632T-864M897M-1649T-898M was the first in the fleet to receive the Metro Trains Melbourne livery.

Further reading

I’ve also got a ‘photos from ten years ago‘ series.

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2 Responses to “Ten years since Connex left Melbourne”

  1. Andrew says:

    In my opinion train operation has improved in the last five years, but that is purely based on anecdotal evidence, not statistics.

    Trains with failed air conditioning is bad, but give a thought to those guys out in the hot sun and heat, “Connex repair teams, armed with hoses, sledgehammers and crowbars, worked for more than an hour to bash the rails back into shape.”

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Reliability is apparently been in decline for the past six years, but not as bad as the 2008 – 2011 depths:

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