Why faulty trains stay on the tracks?

At Sandringham Station, Siemens train smashed into bendigo bank wall

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.

At Pakenham Station, Siemens train derailed

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.

Speed restriction at Windsor Station

“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.

sanding equipment add adhesion between wheels and rails

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

Brake device components

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.

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So much hidden unpredictable of ‘Melbourne’s hidden treasure’-The Bentleigh Club

“A place like the Bentleigh Club, it’s tucked in the middle of nowhere.” said McKinnon Hotel Manager, Stephen Bowring.

The Bentleigh Club

Back in the days: Presidents of the club enjoyed the business' prosperity in the 19th Century

Gone are the glorious days of the Bentleigh Club of the 19th and 20th Century, the entertainment venue now has fallen low to under-utilization and a suffocating debt of $1.8 million and $1.2 million EGM entitlement.

The proposed merger with the Melbourne Football Club that will be voted on 23rd May is, on one hand, a rescue to TBC’s liabilities and, on the other hand, a cheap bargain for the MFC.

The Bentleigh Club could be fallen behind the time and the versatile market of today but remains a well-constructed and worthy piece of asset. The property itself could exceed $3 million, a price the MFC has offered to pay for acquiring TBC.

The club tags itself ‘Melbourne’s hidden treasure’. The underlined meaning of the tag to depressed business is a great disadvantage of its aging crowd and low-profile location. Somewhere in northern Bentleigh, among the residents, at the end of Yawla Street, TBC shows its plain and bare facade.

“The location isn’t ideal as a lot of people don’t know about the venue. Being in an old residential area, there’s actually not that many people do come here”, said the duty manager of TBC, Adam Bekendam.

The club’s poor business performance triggers Melbourne Football Club members to question the intention of the merger proposal. An outraged member of MFC wrote on the Demonland Forum: “It’s a dog and I wouldn’t put 2 cents into it.”

During the one month's closure of bistro, TBC lost a lot of customers, said Manager Bekendam

In the medium term, the club, under either of the management, would have to decide whether relocation is the right solution to get the business out of the economic plight-92% declination of profit in a decade.

In the latest notice for the meeting on 23rd May, the board of committee had just rewritten the last proposal of relocating the venue in July 2012 to ‘in the future 5-10 years’.

Staying in the location would mean a continuous decline of profitability for TBC as assessment of the past performance indicates: “The lack of commercial viability of the location is the greatest barrier The Bentleigh Club faces-this view is supported by CMS.”

under-utilised pool hall stays empty most of the days

once popular wedding/function venue now receives very few enquiries

With the pressure coming along the new poker machine reform in 2012 election year, small local clubs like TBC could be on the verge of survival. Once the ‘mandatory pre-commitment limit’ and the ban of ATMs in venues are implemented in the new reform, small local clubs will face costs of $30,000 per machine and a lot worse.

For a more profitable venue than The Bentleigh Club, McKinnon Hotel expects new gaming policies to bring more turnovers rather than a threat to the business’ revenue.

Stephen Bowring, Assistant Manager of McKinnon Hotel, said by doing the right thing, the venue will be able to increase turnover by 25%. He explains that the big shares held by Tettersall’s and TABCORP will generate more revenue which in turn allows more contribution to community.

Mr Bowring also said the traffic along the pub makes its advertising very effective. “As soon as we put out a banner says ‘free functions’, within that week we would get 10 function enquiries”, said Mr Bowring.

On the contrary, TBC is not confident that its business will survive through the reform.

Duty Manager of TBC, Adam Bekendam, said: “If the mandatory pre-commitment goes ahead, many businesses will have to shut down…The level of turnover will drop dramatically.”

If relocation of TBC’s venue equips the business with the financial viability to survive through the gaming legislation, chances are the business will go ahead with the optimal solution.

However, there are more issues that could restrain such plans.

“It’s more likely to get more business and it’s likely to get a lot more troublesome people. A lot more people who can’t afford to spend money will be gambling in those venues because it’s just close and it’s easy”, said Mr Bekendam.

More than a business decision, the TBC’s relocation plan is also in the interest of the community. A high accessibility of a poker machine venue would in turn increases the rate of problem gambling in the community.

On the other hand, whether the local government, Glen Eira City Council, has the control over gaming venue locations is questionable.

Community Educator, Tracy Collins, from the Gamblers’ Help Southern said local governments don’t really have a lot of power to control where venues go.

‘It’s more powerful if they have the policy in place and structured in a way that’s very robust’, said Ms Collins, ‘It’s very hard for any council to act really quickly on things like this. It’s kind of like being prepared because you don’t know when an application is going to come in.’

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$500,000 Roadwork in Bentleigh Restricts Facility for 4 Months

  Inevitable eyesores, dust, blocked streets, seeking for parking are the condition residents in Seaview Av and Strathmore St have to live with for four months.

Roadwork restricts residents' coming in and going out, parking on Jasper Rd congested

Bentleigh residents stay in Seaview Av and Strathmore street are frustrated with dragging road construction which costs the council approximately $500,000.

Despite the council’s attempt to achieve high standard road and drainage update, many residents are fed up to bear the inconvenience for almost four months already.

Sandra, on Strathmore St, drives her son to school is sometimes blocked out on both ends of the street. The consistent inconvenience had made her frustrated, she said: “It’s got no respect to people that are living here.”

Residents are forced to seek parking elsewhere and alternative routes also have to put up with the ragged construction site.

The large-scaled road work leaves behind eyesores such as stacked grass sod on the footpaths, sand hills, splintered concrete pieces, opened gaps and even big fork lifters on the side of the streets.

Sharon usually enjoyed her stroll in the renowned ‘garden city’ finds her leisure disturbed by the inevitable eyesores.

“It’s dusty, messy, hard to walk, hard to drive, hard to park.” she said.

The project coordinator, Boon Sim said the project is up to the pace and quality is a more pressing issue thaProxy-Connection: keep-alive
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“It’s very hard to fasten the process”, Mr Sim said, “all of or labors are tendered on contract by other companies but they are very good at the job.”

Despite most residents’ desperate calls for progress, a few residents at odds said the council’s effort to improve road and drainage is appreciated.

John Mastrapas has lived on Seaview Av for 5 years. He said the old footpath tiles were slippery and risky for many aged residents there.

Mr Sim, the Coordinator of the project said: “We are implanting a large drain pipe measured 1.5 wide and 3 meters deep. A project like this takes at least 16weeks, and we are almost there actually.”

Mr Sim also explained fixing the two aged streets are at stake since the water channel appeared severely uneven and damaged since the last update 25 years ago.

Many residents still indicated little knowledge about the project though the council claimed acknowledging letters are sent to households.

A female resident from the neighborhood claimed she never received any notification but hoped she could have been informed.

“I hope it will never happen to our street.” she said.

See more of the construction site and hear what the residents have to say.

See more of the interview with Project Coordinator Boon Sim


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