Level crossing screw ups on the Werribee line

In November 2020 the Werribee line was shut down for one week to enable the Level Crossing Removal Authority to work on the removal of the Cherry Street and Werribee Street level crossings in Werribee. However just before the planned reopening date, a “signalling fault” saw the closure extended by one week, and then by a further two weeks, taking the shutdown to a month. So what is the story behind the blowout?

Siemens train awaiting departure time from Werribee platform 2

The project

The Cherry Street level crossing is located at the Melbourne end of Werribee station, and heavily used by suburban trains.

Boom gates closed at Cherry Street

It’s being replaced by a road-over-rail bridge a short distance to the east.

EDI Comeng 316M approaches the Cherry Street level crossing on a down Werribee service

While at the Geelong end is the far quieter Werribee Street crossing – following the diversion of Geelong trains via Regional Rail Link in 2015, only sees a dozen freight trains each day.

XR554 and XR551 lead the up Mildura freight through the Werribee Street level crossing in Werribee

Which is being replaced by three single-track rail-over-road bridges.

Looking down the line from Cherry Street towards the future bridge

Thanks to the alternate route via Tarneit, the pair of broad gauge tracks have been closed to allow the construction of the new bridges, but standard gauge trains on the Melbourne-Adelaide railway have been diverted through the work site via a temporary level crossing.

8163, BL30, 8231, 8134 and BL31 lead 7KG6 up grain through the temporary Werribee Street level crossing in Werribee

The November 2020 shutdown

The initial plan was for a week long shutdown.

Werribee line
Buses replacing trains between Laverton and Werribee

Starts: 8:30pm Sunday 29 November 2020
Ends: Last service Sunday 6 December 2020

Buses replace trains between Laverton and Werribee from 8.30pm Sunday 29 November to last train Sunday 6 December, due to Level Crossing Removal works.

Please allow an additional 45 minutes travel time.

With the scope of the work including:

– 325 metre long viaduct over Werribee Street
– East and West lines between Werribee and Manor Junction restored to service
– points no. 9 will be abolished
– commissioning of new signals
– commissioning of axle counter units for primary train detection

Public messaging as late as December 4 advised trains would still return as planned.

But come December 5, the project hit a rough patch.

Buses will continue to replace trains on the Werribee train line for another week following a signal failure.

The signalling fault impacted the boom gates at the Cherry and Werribee streets level crossing on Friday morning, with no injuries or damage reported.

Level Crossing Removal Project works which have been taking place since Sunday and were scheduled to be completed tomorrow, will now be extended to next Sunday with buses replacing trains between Laverton and Werribee.

Freight trains are able to continue running during this time, and will be guided through the level crossings by traffic management.

The Department of Transport says it is working with the ARTC, Metro Trains Melbourne and the Office for the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) to investigate the cause of the incident and to stop it from happening again.

Public Transport Victoria gave no reason for the extension in their communications, but Metro Trains did – initially blaming works on the “ARTC freight lines” until they changed it to a generic “equipment fault” message.

A few days later, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau advised they were investigating the incident.

The ATSB is investigating a level crossing irregularity involving freight train 3PM7 at Cherry Street, Werribee, Victoria on 4 December 2020.

At approximately 0825, Pacific National freight train 3PM7 was approaching the Cherry Street level crossing when the train crew noticed that the level crossing protection had not operated. The train was travelling at approximately 40 km/h and emergency braking was applied, bringing the 1400m long train to a stop across the level crossing. A number of cars were observed passing through the crossing just prior to the train’s arrival at the crossing. There was no collision or injuries.

And Metro Trains advised staff that the planned signalling changes had been delayed.

The Werribee Street grade separation project works have been deferred and will now apply from 00:05 hours on Monday 14th December 2020.

As late as December 12, the two-week long shutdown was still advertised as ending on the extended date.

Until a further extension was announced by Metro Trains.

The Level Crossing Removal Authority published a media release.

Buses will continue to replace trains on the Werribee line for a further two weeks following a signalling fault that occurred last Friday 4 December in Werribee.

Regular train services are set to now resume Monday 28 December, with buses continuing to replace trains between Laverton and Werribee until last service on Sunday 27 December.

Independent investigators have been working throughout the week to identify the source of the fault. They have advised that further work and testing needs to be carried out to make sure the system is safe.

To allow investigators to access the line, construction work on level crossing removals at Werribee and Cherry streets in Werribee, Old Geelong Road in Hoppers Crossing and Aviation Road in Laverton was stopped following the signal fault.

Werribee line passengers are thanked for their continued patience during this time.

Freight trains are able to continue running during this time and are being guided safely through the level crossings by traffic management.

Public Transport Victoria finally giving a reason for the extension.

Including on their website.

Werribee line
Buses replacing trains between Laverton and Werribee

Updated: 6:10am Saturday 19 December 2020
Ends: Last service Sunday 27 December 2020

Due to an ongoing signalling fault, buses will continue to replace trains on the Werribee line between Laverton and Werribee until last service on Sunday 27 December.

Level Crossing Removal Project works have been taking place since Sunday 29 November and were scheduled for completion on Sunday 6 December.

To ensure a safe return to train services on the Werribee Line, the disruption has been extended and trains will now resume on Monday 28 December.

December 16 saw another government agency get involved – the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator, advising of a systematic safety issue.

ONRSR is issuing a Safety Alert in response to several recent occurrences where level crossings were incorrectly isolated resulting in trains travelling through unprotected level crossings.

Whilst investigations are continuing it is important industry is made aware of emerging safety critical details.

– On 7 December 2020, a freight train travelled through the Torrens Road Level Crossing in Adelaide without any warning equipment activating.
– On 4 December 2020, a freight train travelled through the Cherry Street Level Crossing in Werribee without any warning equipment activating.
– On 8 January 2019 a passenger train travelled through the Thompson Road Level Crossing in North Geelong without any warning equipment activating.

All three incidents involved level crossings with multiple lines with more than one rail infrastructure manager and required partial isolation of the crossing. The level crossings were to be isolated for some lines but were required to remain operational for other lines.

However, the crossings were mistakenly isolated for the operational lines and workers were unaware of the mistake until the passage of trains through the unprotected crossing. This represents a significant risk to rail safety.

But they still aren’t finished!

Metro Trains returned to the Werribee line on the revised date – December 27.

EDI Comeng 309M trailing into Werribee station

With the temporary level crossing at Werribee Street removed for good in January 2021.

But the signalling works were still incomplete.

From 06:00 hours Thursday 24th December 2020, the following interim track and signalling arrangements will come into effect:

• The East and West lines between Werribee and the MTM lease boundary will remained closed to rail traffic. The Absolute Occupation of the East and West lines will remain in force until further notice.
• The East and West lines between Laverton and Werribee will not be available for bi-directional movements. All down trains will be restricted to operate on the East line only, and all up trains will be restricted operate on the West line only.

The result – all rail freight to Geelong and Warrnambool has to be diverted through Tarneit on the Regional Rail Link tracks.

XR552 leads XR554 on an up PN grain train through Tarneit

So when will the tracks at Werribee Street be reopened for broad gauge trains? Given that the ribbon has been cut on the level crossing removal, I’m not holding my breath.

And the butterfly effect

Back in April 2019 a woman was struck and killed by a train at the Grenville Street pedestrian crossing on the Sandringham line at Hampton.

Siemens train arrives into North Brighton station on an up Sandringham service

Public Transport Victoria reacted by closing the unprotected crossing, until local advocacy saw the decision made to upgrade it instead.

The upgraded crossing will include:

– train-activated warning bells and electronic gates to alert people to oncoming trains
– an improved surface
– ground tactiles to help people who are vision impaired

To date we have completed several key tasks. These include:

– design and planning work to ensure crossing operates safely with surrounding infrastructure
– site preparation works
– installing a custom upgraded surface at the
– new fencing on the approach to the crossing
– asphalt and concreting works
– electrical works and installation of lighting and light poles

The final stage of works due to be completed in December 2020, but the signalling issues at Werribee saw the works deferred, and in a surprising move from Public Transport Victoria, they actually explained the reason *behind* the delays.

Signalling and commissioning works that were planned to occur in early December 2020 could not take place as a signalling fault on the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) freight line, took precedence on the network and the planned works at Grenville Street were delayed.

Signalling works must be thoroughly tested and certified by accredited rail safety experts to ensure the reliability of the crossing and community safety.

The accredited rail safety experts, who specialise in signalling are a limited resource and often work across a number of projects.

The earliest availability of the Metro Trains Melbourne signalling and testing team to complete these final works necessary to open the crossing is in February 2021.

Following these works, the crossing will re-open in February 2021.

With the crossing able to be reopened following a night of works.

So why so complicated?

The signalling at Werribee station is a legacy ‘freewired’ relay interlocking commissioned way back in 1973.

Interlockings ensure trains can operate safely.

Within a railway signalling system, the so-called “interlocking” is the logic architecture which ensures that the routing of trains and the signals provided to trains provide safe operation of the rail network. Trains are routed through the infrastructure using points, and are controlled and regulated through the infrastructure using signals. The location of trains is detected using track circuits or axle counters or other devices.

Essentially, the interlocking prevents (i.e. locks) a change to the system configuration unless a number of related parameters have the appropriate settings (for example points detected in the correct place, the absence of trains in certain track sections etc.). In particular, the interlocking has a logic architecture which prevents the controller of the infrastructure from allowing two trains to occupy the same piece of track at the same time and allows the controller to regulate and route trains through the infrastructure.

A total of 39 freewired relay interlocking exist on the Victorian rail network, and they’re a complicated beast – each containing a web of custom wiring.

“Free wired” relay- based systems started to be introduced in the 1950s. In these systems, a logic circuit is specifically designed for a part of the network. This enables the logic circuit to be optimised for its required functionality and removes redundancy. The system operates very quickly and has inherent parallel operation. One problem with free wired interlockings is they are time consuming to design, install and test, as they are tailored to the specific track layouts they are to serve. So-called “geographical” relay based interlockings were developed in the 1960s in order to resolve some of the problems with free wired systems.

So why did a one week change spiral out of control into a month long shutdown – difficulty making changes to a legacy signalling system, procedural lapses leading to an incident at an active level crossing, or something else altogether?

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9 Responses to “Level crossing screw ups on the Werribee line”

  1. Tony Taylor says:

    When lecturing about PLCs I always regale my students with stories about the massive relay panels I worked on that were everywhere in the early 80s. “Back in my day we installed the first programmable system in the Pilbara, blah, blah, blah…” – and I’m not at all boring.

  2. andrew says:

    I would think the incident is unlikely to be due to the complexity of the relay interlocking at Werribee per se.

    The standard gauge was added much later and the Werribee interlocking has no control over it. I would be astonished if the standard gauge train detection logic was anything other than entirely separate from that for broad gauge trains. The usual approach is that when a train is detected on the standard gauge it would simply supply a signal directly to the relay controlling the operation of the relevant level crossing. That’s the simple approach, and hence cheaper and safer.

    The report on the incident in 2019 at Thompsons Rd, North Geelong, can be found
    here https://www.atsb.gov.au/media/5778669/ro-2019-002_final.pdf, and an earlier incident at Kalgoorlie in 2007 at: https://www.atsb.gov.au/media/24308/rair2007002_001.pdf.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Possibly there are two unrelated problems here – the level crossing incident occurring due to the active standard gauge line being incorrectly isolated, while the delays are from interlocking changes for the new signals and removal of the down end crossover.

  3. Andrew says:

    In the section you wrote about the pedestrian crossing fatality, I think it is important to clarify that it was at Grenville Street, Hampton, and not as some might think you made a mistake and it was at Greville Street, Prahran (which I will admit is not just a pedestrian crossing) north of the Prahran Railway Station.

    My reason for making this comment was in part due to the accompanying station image, which at a first glance looked as though it could have been taken at Prahran Railway Station taken looking north to Greville Street, and not clarified by the illegibility of lettering on the destination board of the train coming into view. The image which is not credited is actually of the North Brighton Railway Station looking south towards Bay Street. Ghe destination board on the train most probably says “Flinders Street” because Sandringham trains run direct.

  4. Peter Ritty says:

    When the new Geelong fast service begins , wont it involve using the Metro tracks at Werribee so maybe causing delays as only 3 tracks are built?

    • Marcus Wong says:

      It’s hard to tell – there doesn’t seem to be much public detail as to how many tracks will be added to the Werribee line, and how they’ll connect to the existing ones.

  5. […] Marcus Wong tracked the ensuing chaos – authorities extended the shutdown for a week… and then for another two weeks, eventually finishing after Christmas. So what should have been a one week shutdown ran for four weeks. […]

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