Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Melbourne's train meltdown

Melbourne suffered a extreme outage today.  Nearly every train line was affected when a train's pentagraph (the bit that connects to the overhead wires) got snagged and brought down the line, causing a power outage that basically shut down Southern Cross station, then the entire rail network.

Dozens of trains were cancelled on all lines for over 2 hours.  Over 400,000 commuters were delayed on their way to work and across the rail network.  The cost to the economy has been estimated at $12 million dollars.

Martin Pakula, the state transport minister, apologised to the public, as did Metro, the new private operator of the system.

The root cause appears to be a chronic lack of investment in basic maintenance, including:

  • many old trains
  • wooden sleepers still abound, many of which are decades old
  • signals and associated cable conduits
  • the power wire system
There is obviously also no redundancy in the power system - what we saw today was a single point of failure.

The funding allocated to maintenance of Melbourne's rail system is a tiny proportion of that allocated to roads, yet every day in Melbourne the rail system moves more people to and from the CBD.  

As I have mentioned previously, no new suburban train line has been built in Melbourne since the Glen Waverley line in 1930.  Since that time Melbourne's population has increased from 1 million to over 4 million.

The privatised system is clearly a failure.  The government blames the operator (Metro) for "delivering poor service" and Metro (and previously Connex) blames the government for not investing enough in upgrading rail infrastructure.  Nobody is actually accountable any more, which is just not good enough.

As compensation, the Metro operators and the State Goverment will let people travel for free on Friday and share the $1m loss of revenue.

Here is what we need to do:
  • Allocate $2b per annum to upgrade existing rail infrastructure
  • Build new rail lines to suburbs that have no rail, including the Rowville and Doncaster lines.
  • Plan a metro circle system for inner Melbourne that connects Parkville, Brunswick, Fitzroy, Richmond, South Yarra, South Melbourne and North Melbourne.
  • Return the system to public management with clear accountability for service delivery.
  • Spend no more money on the Myki card - and ditch it doesn't work.  The system really only benefits private operators - for whom it has been designed to provide revenue.  It is too complicated and the stupid "touch off" requirement impedes users greatly.
  • Stop building ridiculous "roads to nowhere" projects such as Westlink and the Frankston Bypass
The total cost of $15m would have been much better spent on prevention and proper maintenance.

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