Extending Melbourne suburban train lengths is nothing new

In recent months much has been made of how Melbourne’s new 7 car long ‘High Capacity Metro Trains’ will be the biggest ever to run on the network, with platform extensions required to allow passengers to take full advantage of the extra space. However rolling out longer trains is nothing new to Melbourne – similar work has been done in decades past.

Down South Morang train arrives into Bell station

A story of growth

The story starts with Melbourne’s first railways. A steam engine at the front of each train provided the motive power, with any number of carriages being added behind to cater for the expected patronage. The carriages themselves were a mix of different lengths – the shortest rode on two axles, others on three, while the longest sat upon a pair of three axled bogies.

VPRS 12800/P1, item H 4165

Steam engines were dirty, slow to accelerate, required frequent coal and water topups, and depended on a huge army of staff to keep operational, so the decision was made in the early 20th century to electrify the Melbourne suburban railway system.

VPRS 12800/P4, item RS 1855

Two kinds of electric suburban trains were built to service the newly upgraded system – the newly built ‘Tait’ trains, and the ‘Swing Door’ trains – older steam hauled carriages extended in length and provided with electric motors and driving controls.

Tait sliding door electric train showing headlights (VPRS 12800/P4, item RS 0391)
VPRS 12800/P4, item RS 0391

Both trains were similar in length – ‘Swing Door’ carriages were 17.4 metres (57 ft 1 in), the Tait trains were 18.8 metres (61 ft 8 in) – but could be operated in a wide variety of consists – everything up from single carriage trains, up to six carriage long sets. This was thanks to a new technology called multiple unit operation – where carriages fitted with traction motors were all controlled by a single driving sitting in the lead carriage, via electrical cables running the length of the train.

Electrification of the suburban network allowed more frequent services, which resulted in an explosion in patronage on peak hour services. As a result in 1922-23 the first seven-car suburban train ran on the St Kilda line. With a total train length of ~135 metres, this required platform lengthening, with works completed as far as Sandringham, St Kilda, Frankston, Dandenong, Box Hill, Eltham, Reservoir, and Williamstown to cater for these longer trains. Beyond these boundaries, six-car trains continued to be used.

By the 1940s, seven car trains had became the new standard, with the final few Tait trains being built in this configuration, as were the blue ‘Harris’ trains delivered from 1956

VPRS 12800/P4, item RS/1199

At 19.20 metres (63 feet) long the Harris trains were nothing special, but in February 1963 a 10 car long Harris train ran with passengers to Traralgon and return for the Royal Tour – forming a train 192 metres long.

And off peak decline

The flexibility of the new electric trains also enabled the creation of shorter trains, giving cost savings when patronage was sparse. From 1918 two and four car long Tait and Swing Door trains were trialled for use on off peak services, while still allowing the creation of six car long trains for peak hour.

Another change that resulted in shorter trains was the introduction of single class travel on suburban trains. Since electrification three out of seven carriages per train were allocated to first class passengers – 42% of the train. But the number of first class passengers had been in freefall – from 44.4% in the 1948-49, down to just 28.9% a decade later.

This passenger imbalance resulted in empty first class carriages to be dragged around at off peak times, just so that enough second class seats were available, so in September 1958 the decision was made to abolish first class suburban travel, along with a reduction in train lengths to four cars off peak.

A collapse in off peak patronage during the 1960s led to further cuts to train lengths, with two car long trains introduced in November 1964 after 7pm on weekdays, 1pm on Saturdays, and all day Sunday on the Glen Waverley, St Albans, and Upfield lines. The same changes were made to the Broadmeadows and Sandringham lines in August 1965, and the Epping and Hurstbridge lines in August 1966.

Weston Langford photo

There was also a move to even shorter trains – the creation of the ‘double-ended’ single car Tait carriages. They were introduced to the Camberwell – Alamein Sunday shuttle in March 1968, to the Newport – Altona shuttle in March 1969, and to the Eltham – Hurstbridge shuttle in August 1970.

Weston Langford photo

Peak patronage keeps growing

Despite the off peak slump, commuters from ever distant suburbs continued to catch the train to and from the Melbourne CBD, putting increasing strain on a railway system much the same as 50 years earlier.

Proposals for eight car long suburban trains dated back to 1924, but it took until 1967 for the first such train to be created. Platforms on the Lilydale, Belgrave and Glen Waverley lines were lengthened, to make space for the ~155 metre long trains. Extensions to platforms on the Frankston, Pakenham, Alamein, Upfield, Broadmeadows, St Albans, and Williamtown lines followed in 1968.

And the modern era

Another attempt at addressing increased patronage was the creation of higher capacity carriages. In 1967 a small number of prototype Harris carriages were built – at 75 feet (22.86 m) long, compared to 63 feet (19.20 m) of earlier deliveries.

These longer carriages were deemed a success, with the six car long ‘Hitachi’ trains delivered from 1972 built to the same carriage length.

Weston Langford photo

A final stretch in carriage lengths occurred with the Comeng trains that entered service from 1981 – 24 metres each, resulting in a 144 metre long train.

Weston Langford photo

The Siemens trains delivered from 2002 stuck to this maximum carriage length.

'Nude' Siemens on the Viaduct

As did the X’Trapolis trains delivered the same year.

X'Trapolis 872M stopping at East Richmond

And to the future

Which brings us to the High Capacity Metro Trains currently in development.

Advertised as “almost 160 metres long with seven continuous carriages“, this would result in a carriage length of 22.8 metres – about the same as the Hitachi trains introduced almost 50 years ago.

So what about the platforms? Since at least 2006 the Victorian Rail Industry Operators Group Standards have mandated 160 metre long platforms on the suburban network, with provision for future extensions up to 230 metres, so these new trains present no issues at newly built stations.

But platforms will need to be extended across the network, as The Age detailed in 2017:

Size will matter on Melbourne’s busiest train line with platforms to be extended at 13 stations as part of a $660 million upgrade.

The longer platforms will cater for the new high-capacity metro trains that will first travel on the Cranbourne-Pakenham line. Work will begin to extend the platforms later this year.

The 13 stations to receive extended platforms include South Yarra, Caulfield, Malvern, Oakleigh, Westall, Springvale, Dandenong, Merinda Park, Cranbourne, Hallam, Berwick, Officer and Pakenham.

Five further stations will be rebuilt at Carnegie, Hughesdale, Murrumbeena, Clayton and Noble Park as level crossings are removed.

The new trains would initially run on the Cranbourne-Pakenham line but would travel to Sunbury when the Melbourne Metro project was completed. Similar upgrades will need to be carried out on the Sunbury line to accommodate the new trains.

But even longer trains are in the pipeline – the High Capacity Metro Train is designed for future expansion – up to 10 cars is size, giving a total length of 228 metres.

That’s around double the length of the first suburban electric trains to run in Melbourne 100 years ago.

And the oddball

The one exception to the continual progression in carriage lengths was the ‘4D’ train delivered in 1992.

Weston Langford photo

Built as a prototype train to test the suitability of double deck trains on the Melbourne suburban network, it was made up of four 20 metre long carriages, but could be coupled up to a 3-car long Comeng train.

To summarise

Year Type # carriages Carriage length Total length
1919 Swing Door 6 17.4 m 104.4 m
1919 Tait 6 18.8 m 112.8 m
1922 Tait 7 18.8 m 131.6 m
1956 Harris 7 19.2 m 134.4 m
1956 Harris 8 19.2 m 153.6 m
1972 Hitachi 6 22.8 m 136.8 m
1981 Comeng 6 24.0/23.2 m 142.4 m
1992 4D 4 20.0 m 80 m (1/2 set)
2002 Siemens 6 24/23.7 m 143.4 m
2002 X’Trapolis 6 24.5/22.8 m 143.4 m
Future HCMT 7 22.8 m (?) 160 m (?)
Future HCMT 10 22.8 m (?) 228 m (?)

Further reading

A few months ago I went into detail why ‘make trains longer’ isn’t that simple – go have a read now if you haven’t.


The book “Electric Railways of Victoria: 1919 to 1979” by S. E. Dornan and R. G. Henderson is a treasure trove of information about the electrification and operation of the Melbourne suburban railway system – the only flaw is that it only covers up until the publication date of 1979.

Carriage lengths of the current fleet of trains is from the Metro Trains Melbourne working timetable addenda. Current platform lengths are from the Victorian Rail Industry Operators Group Standards documents. Detail of the new High Capacity Metro Trains is from Tenders Vic.

Travelodge ‘tri-arc’ hotels around the world

Large corporations work hard to present a consistent brand to customers, and one of the ways they do this is with architecture. Back in the 1970s Travelodge did just this, building dozens of identical hotel towers all over the world.

Growing up in the Australian city of Geelong, the Mercure Hotel dominated the skyline. The design was rather unusual – three sided with a flying saucer on top.

Mercure Hotel, Geelong

Built back in the 1970s, it was originally a Travelodge hotel.

Postcard: Geelong Travelodge hotel, circa 1970s

Meanwhile an hour away at Melbourne Airport was another very similar looking hotel – a little taller and a little wider, but still three sided and clad in beige brick.

And guess what – it was also built in the 1970s as a Travelodge hotel.

Now the plot thickens – in the city of Albury on the Victoria/New South Wales border, we find yet another three sided hotel tower – this time identical to that in Geelong.

Yes, you guessed it.

Gough Whitlam opened the original Travelodge in 1971, the year before he became prime minister.

In the inner Sydney suburb of Camperdown is yet another three sided former Travelodge hotel.

Quite nice at the time.

But now down in the dumps:

The building was originally built as a Travelodge and I like the Tri-Arc design. It takes you back to the 70’s and it immediately reminded me structurally of the original Travelodge in Darwin which has been lovingly maintained and modernised. Sadly this is not the case with Rydges. First impressions on entering the lobby were not encouraging. There is nothing “stylish” or “welcoming” about it.

The former Darwin Travelodge is a little taller, but features the same three sided design.

Travelodge’s ‘Tri-Arc’ design

Travelodge called their three sided hotel design the ‘Tri-Arc’. The book ‘Professional Hotel Management’ by J M S Negi describes from of the benefits.

Many advances are taking place in the configuration of hotel buildings. The idea of tri-arc style was introduced by Travelodge International. the main advantages of this type are

  • each room has a view
  • the wedge shape of guest rooms permits each to have an unusually large bath and dressing area
  • the central core, containing elevators, linen rooms, utilities and ice cube machines, facilitates economies in construction and operation

More on the design can be found in this 1970s-era fact sheet on concrete by the Expanded Shale, Clay and Slate Institute

Travelodge “Tri-Arc” design capitalizes on economy and versatility of load-bearing lightweight masonry unit

Still another tradition has been shattered by the “Tri-Arc” design introduced by Travelodge International: whose graceful, contemporary curves and planes dispel any notion that lightweight masonry structures have to adhere to a box-like design.

A new design concept has triggered a major expansion program in the large motor hotel field. Significantly, this new concept provides important cost savings in construction but, equally important, provides a basic design which can be used in almost any kind of site orientation and thus holds design and construction costs to a minimum. Called “Tri-Arc,” the design concept derives its name in part from the floor plan created when three equally placed wings radiate outward from a central core.

It was developed by Travelodge International for building new facilities worldwide, and makes extensive and innovative use of load bearing lightweight concrete masonry walls. Because it lends itself well to fast, economical construction with good insulation, fireproofing and acoustical damping qualities, lightweight block is becoming almost a standard for walls in buildings with repetitive floor plans. The Tri-Arc design, however, represents its first use in a curved configuration, in this case the concave sides of each wing

According to Travelodge chief executive offer Roger Manfred, the Tri-Arc design was selected from among 14 designs which were thoroughly investigated as to “feasibility, cost, adhering to a variety of building codes, adaptability, aesthetic qualities and other vital statistics.” Standardization will permit numerous economies in planning, and yet modifications are relatively simple: by adding or deleting rooms at the end of the wings the overall size of the building can be adjusted to the site without impairing the architectural integrity or symmetry of the structure.

Because of its shape, the Tri-Arc building can be oriented in an infinite number of positions on a site with none of the problems encountered in dealing with rectangular buildings. A typical construction program will see Tri-Arc construction progressing in a “corkscrew” fashion: as pre- cast concrete floor slabs are being positioned on one of the three arcs, masons are completing load bearing walls on a second, while other trades are following the masons and working on the third. In one such application, a story was completed every six working days.

The Houston Travelodge exemplifies the Tri-Arc design and reflects the economy and versatility of load bearing light- weight masonry construction. In all, some 100,000 expanded shale aggregate lightweight masonry units were used in this striking nine-story structure.

Around the world

As you might expect for an American company, there are many examples of former Travelodge Tri-Arc hotels across the USA.

Atlanta, Georgia.

Denver, Colorado.

Houston, Texas.

Mt Laurel, New Jersey.

Salt Lake City, Utah.

Portland, Oregon.

And San Diego, California.

There is also a former Travelodge Tri-Arc hotel at Walt Disney World, of a slightly different design.

Outside the USA, there is a Tri-Arc hotel in Toronto, Canada.

Narita Airport, Japan.

And in Port Moresby, the capital of the Australia’s forgotten neighbour, Papua New Guinea.

Quite a diverse mix of locations!


Albury, NSW, Australia:

Camperdown, Sydney, NSW, Australia:

Geelong, Victoria, Australia:

Melbourne Airport, Victoria, Australia:

Darwin, NT, Australia:

Toronto, Canada:

San Diego, California, USA:

Salt Lake City, Utah, USA:

Houston, Texas:

Portland, Oregon, USA:

Atlanta, Georgia USA:

Denver, Colorado, USA:

Mt Laurel, New Jersey, USA:

Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA:

Narita Airport, Japan:


Remembering ‘Food Plus’ convenience stores

There was once a time in Australia restrictive trading laws saw supermarkets open limited hours, and petrol stations only sold car parts. This changed in the 1970s with the introduction of the first convenience stores, one of which was called ‘Food Plus’.

Each location combined a small petrol station with a miniature supermarket – open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Their architecture was distinctive – a long glass window facing the car park, flanked by brown brick walls, topped by a terracotta tiled mansard roof, and a big ‘Food Plus’ sign above the door.

The store I grew up with was on Roslyn Road, Belmont. It still exists today, but with the petrol bowsers rebranded as ‘United’ and the store as ‘Tobacco Station’.

But other stores no longer exist – this one is on Canning Street, Avondale Heights is now a hand car wash.

While this one on Sun Crescent, Sunshine is now offices.

So what happened to Food Plus? Someone going by jmacca53 on YouTube had this to say:

They started in the late 1970s at a time when convenience stores were a new concept to Australia. Unlike the US, Australian convenience store chains were generally started by major oil companies. Food Plus was no different, being BP’s offering in VIC and NSW. Food Plus began to disappear in the mid to late 1990s with some sites being divested whilst others were rebranded into standard BP outlets.

The original red logo was replaced by a green and yellow version in the early 1990s.

TV commercials

From 1983:


And 1993:

Store locations

Here is an incomplete list of Food Plus locations in Victoria from May 1987.

  • Balwyn Food Plus, 310—314Whitehorse Road, Balwyn
  • Bayswater Food Plus, 684 Mountain Highway, Bayswater
  • Blackburn Food Plus, Canterbury Road & Main Street, Blackburn
  • Box Hill Food Plus, 851 Canterbury Road, Box Hill
  • Brighton Food Plus, 601 Hampton Street,Brighton
  • Food Plus Brunswick, Holmes & Donald Streets, Brunswick
  • Burwood Food Plus, Royton Street & Burwood Highway, Burwood
  • Food Plus Camberwell, 735 Riversdale Road, Camberwell
  • Carlton Food Plus, 445 Nicholson Street,Carlton
  • Caulfield Food Plus, North & Hawthorn Roads, Caulfield
  • Coburg Food Plus, I 125 Sydney Road,Coburg
  • Food Plus Cranbourne, High Street, Cranbourne
  • Doncaster Food Plus, 987 Doncaster Road, Doncaster
  • Elstemwick Food Plus, 543 Glenhuntly Road, Elsternwick
  • Essendon Food Plus, 238Buckley Street, Essendon
  • Food Plus Belmont, cnr. Corio & Roslyn Streets, Geelong
  • Food Plus Manifold Heights, cnr. Shannon Avenue & Manifold Street, Geelong West
  • Heathmont Food Plus, 382 Canterbury Road, Heathmont
  • Kilsyth Food Plus, 470 Mt. Dandenong Road,Kilsyth
  • Malvem Food Plus, 1367 High Street, Malvern
  • Food Plus Melton, Western Highway & Station Road, Melton
  • Mentone Food Plus, 18l Nepean Highway, Mentone
  • Mitcham Food Plus, 240 Mitcham Road, Mitcham
  • Mont Albert Food Plus, 731 Whitehorse Road, Mont Albert
  • Montmorency Food Plus, Rattray Road, Montmorency
  • Moonee Ponds Food Plus, 294 Ascot Vale Road,Moonee Ponds
  • Noble Park Food Plus, 1120-1126 Heatherton Road, Noble Park
  • Preston Food Plus, 502-506 Plenty Road,
  • Northcote Food Plus, 227 St. Georges Road, Northcote
  • Notting Hill Food Plus, Ferntree Gully & Blackburn Roads, Notting Hill
  • Ormond Food Plus, Jasper & North Roads, Ormond
  • Preston Food Plus, 504 Bell Street, Preston East
  • Preston Food Plus, 559 Gilbert Road, Preston West
  • Sunshine Food Plus, Sun Crescent & Watt Street, Sunshine
  • Tally Ho Food Plus, Highbury Road, Tally Ho
  • Templestowe Food Plus, Thompson Marcus Roads, Templestowe
  • Food Plus Thomastown, cnr. High Street & Pleasant Road, Thomastown
  • Watsonia Food Plus, Watsonia Road & Grace Street, Watsonia
  • Williamstown Food Plus, cnr. Ferguson & Lyons Streets, Williamstown

This has been extracted from the 13 May 1987 edition of the Victoria Government Gazette, which listed every location in the state permitted to sell “Male Occlusive Devices” – also known as condoms! The reason for this is a story for another time!

Photos from ten years ago: October 2007

Another instalment in my photos from ten years ago series – this time it is October 2007.

We start at Southern Cross Station.

Please stand clear, the 4:59 [rubbish skip] service is now departing...

VLocity lineup at Southern Cross

When initially completed the concourses at the station were wide open spaces, unadulterated by congestion causing commercial outlets.

A more positive change occurred at Flinders Street Station, where the aging CRT next train displays replaced by easier to read LCD panels.

PIDs at Flinders Street Station

If only the screens were used to their full advantage, with the careful use of colour.

Craigieburn station where the first electric train arrived on Sunday, 30th September 2007.

New and old platforms at Craigieburn

Originally the entire station was to be rebuilt with four platforms with access via a pedestrian underpass, but the scope was cut back – only the platform on the ‘town’ side of the station was rebuilt for suburban services, leaving the gravel surfaced platform 1 untouched. This caused delays for V/Line services to Seymour, Shepparton and Albury, until additional upgrades were completed at the station in 2009.

A decade ago Werribee trains outside of peak hour were half sized – only 3-cars long.

Still trundling along the branch line, a 3-car Alstom Comeng on a down Werribee service approaches Laverton Loop

Geelong trains were also shorter, with 2-car VLocity trains a common sight.

VLocity VL07 Melbourne bound at Galvin

But change was on the way, with a station upgrade about to start at Lara.

N467 on the down passing VL10 on the up at Lara

Original a tiny brick building, with ticket office only open in the morning, and a waiting room smaller than a phone box, in 2007 work on an extension commenced. The current building was then gutted and extended to the south, to create a bigger waiting room and ticket office, a small kiosk, and upgraded toilets, along with verandas all around.

A far more unusual train was the one I caught to Geelong one evening, after the normal route via Spotswood was blocked. We were diverted onto the goods lines beneath Footscray station.

V/Line service approaching the Maribyrnong River bridge

Them west towards Sunshine at 15 km/h.

VLocity speeds past on the passenger lines down below

Only to halt to let a freight train pass, before we headed south towards Newport.

NR93 and AN8 arrive at Tottenham Junction on the up with AB6 at 1858

This move was made possible by the various alternate rail routes that exist across Victoria.

In Geelong I sighted a test installation of Myki equipment onboard a McHarry’s bus.

Myki Bus Driver Console in a McHarrys bus in Geelong

Testing of the system as a whole occurred a few months later:

The first active stage for Myki in Geelong involved a pilot trial of 5 McHarry’s buses over three routes between 30 April and 23 May 2008 and was purely a technical/scenario test involving Kamco, TTA and McHarry’s staff.

Back in Melbourne I also why the Metcard system was being replaced – each machine features a complicated series of belts and chutes for dispensing tickets.

Only the bottom doors open while repairing this MVM2 ticket machine

Metcard machines were eventually removed from Melbourne railway stations from January 2012, the last being removed during the week of 23–27 July.


Here you can find the rest of my ‘photos from ten years ago

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.