How can you rescue a disabled suburban train?

Most of the time electric trains are pretty mechanically simple – a pantograph on the roof is used to collect electricity from the overhead wires, which is then used to power the train. But what happens if something goes wrong with the overhead, destroying the pantograph? A few weeks ago Metro Trains Melbourne had this very problem, right at the core of the suburban network.

Maintenance fitters cut off the damaged pantograph from Siemens 749M

The drama begins

The story starts on the morning of Monday 8 January 2024, when a Siemens train departs Flinders Street Station bound for Sandringham, when it encountered a damaged section of overhead near Richmond station, which caused all four pantographs on the train to be damaged.

Siemens 762M on a down Sandringham service at Richmond Junction

Due to the number of nearby tracks and the need the keep trains moving on other lines, the decision was made to keep the defective train there until the last train of the night had departed.

Siemens train 749M-2525T-750M and 772M-2536T-771M stuck at Richmond Junction with all four pantographs damaged

Trains on the Sandringham line being replaced by buses for the day.

Siemens train shut down at Richmond platform 1

Getting to work

That night, Metro Trains could then turn off the overhead power to the adjacent tracks, and send in the overhead crew to inspect the damage wires.

Metro Trains scissor lift hi-rail truck passes the disabled Siemens train

And the damage to the pantographs.

Damaged pantograph atop Siemens 749M

Climbing onto the roof of the train with a ladder.

Maintenance fitters cut off the damaged pantograph from Siemens 749M

Cutting away the broken pantographs with an angle grinder.

Maintenance fitters cut off the damaged pantograph from Siemens 750M

Then throwing them down from the roof.

Maintenance fitters remove the damaged pantograph from Siemens 750M

So they could be stashed away inside the passenger saloon.

Damaged pantograph from Siemens 750M stashed away inside the passenger saloon

A call for help

With the pantographs gone, an electric train isn’t able to move by itself, so Metro Trains called up V/Line to borrow a diesel locomotive, who were able to send a Y class shunter from Southern Cross to help out.

Y156 waiting at Flinders Street platform 10 for the call to collect the disabled Siemens trains at Richmond Junction

But there was one gotcha – suburban electric trains have ‘multifunction’ couplers that combine electrical, air brake and mechanical links between trains.

Dellner coupler at the end of a Siemens train

While diesel locomotives have old fashioned knuckle couplers, which require separate air brake hoses to be connected.

Brake pipes and knuckle coupler of V/Line diesel locomotive Y161

But the incompatible couplings aren’t a dealbreaker – each suburban train carries a ‘transition coupler’ that adapts the ‘multifunction’ coupler to a standard knuckle coupler.

Emergency transition coupler beneath a Siemens train

Recovery time

With the coupling situation sorted.

Siemens train transition coupler sitting on the front step of Y156 so it can be used on the second Siemens set

Y156 slowly closed in on the disabled Siemens train.

Y156 arrives at Richmond Junction to recover the first failed Siemens set


Y156 coupling up to disabled Siemens set 772M-2536T-771M at Richmond Junction

Time to connect up the transition coupler, along with a set of backup chains.

Transition coupler and chains connect Y156 and disabled Siemens set 749M-2525T-750M

The braking system of the Siemens train then needed to switched into a fallback air braking mode.

Open air brake equipment box on leading Siemens carriage 750M to allow the emergency brake application tap to be removed

And an emergency brake application tap connected as a backup for that.

Emergency brake application tap connected to leading Siemens carriage 750M

Y156 could then set off with the disabled electric train.

Y156 coupled up to disabled Siemens set 772M-2536T-771M at Richmond Junction

Towing it through to a spare track at Flinders Street Station.

Y156 on arrival at Flinders Street with disabled Siemens set 749M-2525T-750M

Leaving it there until another suburban train could drag it to the workshops for repair.

Disabled Siemens train 749M-2525T-750M now stabled at Flinders Street track 9A, pending transfer to the workshops for repair

And then Y156 could head back home to Southern Cross.

Y156 shunts out from Flinders Street track 9A, leaving the disabled Siemens train behind

Footnote: turns out it’s happened before

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen a Siemens train need to be rescued by a V/Line diesel – back in 2023 a Powercor 22kV power line fell across the railway line at Laverton, causing a power surge on the 1500V DC traction power supply, bringing down the overhead, and cooking two Siemens trains. The next day V/Line locomotive N456 was out sent to assist, recovering the stranded Siemens trains as individual 3-car sets.

N456 departs Laverton with a disabled Siemens set led by 768M

And I saw a similar move back in 2019 as well a Siemens train encountered damaged overhead wiring outside Laverton, disabling the train. Again, the pantographs had to be cut away, and diesel locomotives from V/Line sent out to drag the suburban train away.

N466 trails the Siemens train recovery move through Altona Junction towards Newport at 5 km/h

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9 Responses to “How can you rescue a disabled suburban train?”

  1. Lachlan Baker says:

    A while back G541 was sent out to rescue a failed Xtrap on the Altona loop, but you probably already knew about that 😛

  2. Jesse says:

    How’d you get from Olympic Park to Flinders St so fast! Or was the Y class just so slow?

  3. indigohex3 says:

    I believe I saw it on a video by Straya Trains on YouTube a couple of months ago, and I strongly recommend you check out the video to see how it was done.

  4. Joseph says:

    My god these Siemens are really out of luck when it comes to over head wire huh.

    • indigohex3 says:

      Not allowed to have a break, are they? And the problems begun with the overshooting of platforms which forced many off the network for a length of time. And as has been mentioned, the overheads as well.

      And has these issues plagued the Xtrapolis trains as well? Or has it just been the Siemens?

  5. Drew says:

    What damaged the wires to begin with?

    • Marcus Wong says:

      In this case I’m not sure – but it’s usually either a wire coming loose or rubbish getting tangled up, which the pantograph then snags, brining down the wires.

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