Earlier in March, 2 derailment incidents at Pakenham and Sandringham station brought the brakes problem of Siemens trains on the table once again. At the more serious accident at Sandringham station, the train crashed into the Bendigo bank.
Unfortunately, the two incidents were both deemed insignificant by the Public Transport Victoria for investigations and both were concluded to be caused by speeding, over double the limit.
In fact, for the record, none of the platform overshoot incidents in Melbourne was reported on equipment fault. In the most problematic period from November 2006 to Feb 2007, over 20 overshoots were reported. (Records after then had not been available for the public) There’s a high tendency that the mishaps are blamed on the drivers’ misconduct. In the incident on 1st Feb 2007, passengers on Frankston line witnessed the train passing Seaford platform by 100 meters and backed to the station. This case, again, was claimed to be caused by ‘the driver’s misjudgment’. http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/train-overshoot-drivers-fault-connex/2007/02/01/1169919438994.html
Blaming on the drivers seems to have formed the conventional solution to all rail accidents. It seems the brake issues can remain a buried mystery that way as long as all the parties keep passing the buck, despite the palpable evidence of safety concerns of Siemens trains.
“You see the signs there? (Siemens ahead 30) To me it says there’s a problem in these trains”, train driver Andy motioned to the signs on the rails at Windsor Station. It is also for signs like this, the whole rail network is slowed down. They spread across 61 locations in Melbourne.
“We have to reduce speed earlier than we normally do”, driver David said. A simple action like this means a delay of up to three minutes before they even start the service.
To the kind of suspicion of faulty brake systems, MTM has its own argument. Brad Voss, MTM spokesman defends: “The speed limit signs are there because we are inexperienced with Siemens trains.” He continues: “They are the cause for delays of many Siemens trains therefore we introduce sanders so we can remove the speed limit.”
The Siemens fleet was brought into the network in 2000, still in Jeff Kennet’s era. Yet, ten years of experience with Siemens trains is still too short. Finally, after more than four years of delay, since a test in Feb 2007, which led to 31 of 72 Siemens trains being impounded, the rail operator MTM decided to solve slippery brakes with a traditional method, install sanders onto the wheels. That test ran fleets on tracks with soap water discovered the 31 Siemens trains failed to respond to emergency brake order. http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/brakes-fail-soapy-water-test/2007/01/29/1169919275235.html
Somehow, even a solid test result like this can not rebut the ever-consistent defense of Siemens. Siemens spokeswoman, Belinda White, once again, declared firmly: “There’s no evidence to prove brake failures of Siemens trains across the board.”
Perhaps the business transfer in 2009 fits as a perfect opportunity to tuck away the old time brake failure ‘rumor’. When the old infamous Connex left, it didn’t retain any documents of the equipment test to the new operator, Metro, leaving a big loophole in the aftermaths of those 31 impounded Siemens trains.
The shortage of documentation leaves the question of whether the issues from the past are effectively addressed by the $13 m sanding installation, or whether they are addressed at all. The project that will be finish at the end of this month applied sanding equipment to all Siemens trains. http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/more-news/metro-trains-back-up-to-speed/story-fn7x8me2-1226064482090
Metro Train Melbourne explained: “Sanding equipment is a system designed specifically for this train by a German company called Knorr-Bremse Group. We now have 50 of our 72 three-car sets installed with sanders.”
On the contrary, Ms White, from Siemens, denied that Siemens trains are the only fleets required to install sanding equipment. “Sanding solutions is very common in Europe. It’s applied to all the trains here not just Siemens”, she said.
Things may get even more confusing when MTM shows that it’s clueless of what the fundamental reasoning for the project is. When asked whether the sanding equipment is introduced to address previous brake failures revealed from the test in 2007, the company has given a response that means nothing but a disappointment to the commuters. MTM spokesman, Mr Voss, said the company is aware of the problems but they are all history. “We don’t keep something from so long ago”, said him. Yet, it all makes sense in MTM’s media strategy because all the mishaps on rails are always deemed the drivers’ faults. So why would it even need to explain anything about the brakes failure?
Towards the end of Connex’s period, it was criticized for incompetence and poor management. So the Metro Company from Hong Kong stepped up with great confidence based on their glorious record of success in Hong Kong rail system However, 2 years down the track Metro failed to deliver the punctuality it promised. Cancelations and delays are still as prevailing as ever. Commuters generally believe the new network does not stand for anything different from the previous one. Clearly, sending a few more people in florescent jacket at the stations to ‘assist’ commuters did not work out for MTM.
Why is Melbourne bound to have shabby trains system, even when it has the experience of an internationally successful operator?
Among most of the buried history of Melbourne’s rail system, something unraveled to explain. In the submission to legislative council in Oct 2009 by Siemens Ltd Pty revealed the undesirable mistakes made on the fleet.
In 2008, under the request from Connex, Siemens implemented a new brake system, Brake Concept 5.1. According to this document, (CAN 088116974, P8), in the new brake system, pneumatic brakes (also called air brakes) stay permanently activated on all cars. Prior to the implementation, the pneumatic brakes are only applied to replace electric brake system in special circumstances like wheel slid or emergency commands. Most importantly, it is, essentially, maintenance free. http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/images/stories/documents/council/Select_Committees/Trains/Transcripts/Siemens_Submission.pdf
So this implementation is not recommended by Siemens engineers. The reason is that the new brake system, Brake Concept 5.1, demands much more often replacement on brake device components. For the brake pads, replacement is required every 6-8 weeks compared to the original 10 years. Similarly, the profiling of discs is now required every 14 months compared to the original 20 years.
In addition, according to an explanation on the ‘Railway Technical Web Pages’, ‘Even the most modern purely air brake system rely on the transmission of an air signal along the brake pipe… There will always be a time lapse between the reaction of the leading vehicle and the reaction of the one at rear.’
Drivers watching the operation of the rail system over the years indicated deep concerns to the public’s safety.
David has worked on Melbourne rails for 5 years. He said he and his colleagues are not content with the way Connex and Metro handled the information. “They seem very secretive about it”, said David.
Siemens is contracted for maintenance of their own fleet for 15 years. Each time the mechanics walk away after the train services, they never announce any feedback. Instead, their cold responses to drivers showed ignorance and disrespect.
“We’d go ask them ‘what’s wrong with the trains’, they’d say ‘there’s nothing wrong with the trains’, and they’d say to us ‘just mind your own business’”, said David.
David added: “Siemens trains have developed more problems over the years. They seem to accumulate more. They stop for no reason. That happens quite often.” Many of David’s colleagues experienced overshoots.
It is palpable that the brakes issues had not gone away after the implementation of Brake Concept 5.1. Instead, like the report suggests, if the operator cuts short with components, the brakes are very likely to be ineffective. There’s no guarantee that the current operator MTM which inherited mistaken brake system now ensures the costly components are replaced accordingly.
It’s no doubt the replacement of little components would still cost fair a bit of MTM’s fortune in the long run. But it is nothing compared to the budget on rail maintenance plus the sanding installation. In fact the company shows the endeavor to spend to every dollar they can to spin things around. Mr Voss, from MTM, said that his company is committed to spend $2 millions a day on rail building and maintenance for over 18 months from earlier this year. It will be a milestone for Melbourne rail system if the plan is fulfilled. At least in Siemens’ list of overshoot causes, ‘poor track conditions’ can be reasonably removed.
While cost does not seem to be the impediment for improving the safety status of the rail system, chances are, MTM management is not in the know at all about the whole brake system alteration in 2008. Mr Voss confirmed this speculation.
Since Metro had taken over the rail system in 2009 it had not conducted investigations of any form on the fleet inherited from Connex. Hence the term ‘Brake Concept 5.1’ is never mentioned again. Not even the engineer experts in the field in Australia have much awareness of the effects of this brake system. Rolling Stock engineer, Richard Dwight from University of Wollongong, was contacted but could not give any explanation of the ‘Brake Concept 5.1’ brake system. On the other hand, Dr Dwight indicated that there are 2 or 3 senior rail engineers in a company and the decisions would be made among the scarce few staff.
Today the scarce few engineers decided to fix the brake problems externally, by adding sand between wheels and rails. MTM and Siemens both deliberately eliminate the possibilities of internal device faults in Siemens’ fleet. The strategy will have to work at the end of the day. The public can not afford more experiments. Neither can the two big players, MTM and Siemens. They are already caught ‘playing Russian roulette’ with the public’s safety, as the Rail Unionist, Marc Marotta puts it.
In the near future, the network will face another question of which fleets will be selected to contain the growing population in Melbourne. Although given the allegations on equipment faults in Siemens trains, Siemens is still confident it will win the next commissioning. “I don’t see the reason why not. We have a huge share in locomotive and mining industry and etc”, said Ms White, Siemens.
“No one wants to driver these trains… I reckon just one more accident like that (the Sandringham crash on 11th March), the fellows will jack up”, said train driver Andy, hoping the voice of them working class will be heard.
The power for rail acquisition decision is in the hand of Victorian government.