All the TV media, and some other outlets, last night ran stories about the 38 new trains coming (the first at the end of this year), and how they’ll only run on part of the network.
I thought it was a curious angle to take, as it’s not really all that important.
Why it’s so
Back when the suburban rail network was split into two back in 1999, a condition of the two companies’ contracts was to buy new trains. M>Train bought Siemens trains, Connex bought X’Trapolis trains.
When you buy new trains, you have to make sure they run correctly on the network. Make sure the carriages aren’t too wide for the stations (as happened with the Siemens trains), make sure the drivers can see all the signals and platform mirrors properly (significant for the X’Trapolis trains because unlike the other types used in Melbourne, the driver sits in the middle of the cab, not on the left hand side).
Because of this, when the two operations merged back in 2004, they kept the Siemens trains confined to the old M>Train lines — the lines through North Melbourne and South Yarra (known as the Northern and Caufield groups) — and the X’Trapolis trains confined to the old Connex lines — the lines through Burnley and Clifton Hill (cunningly known as the Burnley and Clifton Hill groups).
That’s why you would never see a X’Trapolis train at Caulfield, for instance.
OK, well, almost never. That happened by accident.
When the government finally decided they needed to buy more trains, they wanted to do so quickly, which meant buying a type already running. They knew the Siemens trains had had issues with brakes, so it was no great surprise that they opted for more X’Trapolis trains.
Why it doesn’t matter
The media reports got the implications of all this a bit muddled.
It’s not like the 38 new trains will go onto the Burnley and Clifton Hill lines and no other lines will get extra trains. Some Comeng trains (which can run on any line) will move across onto the other lines, so the whole network benefits.
One media report suggested passengers on the lines that wouldn’t get X’Trapolis trains would be annoyed that they had only old trains to use. I disagree entirely — apart from trainspotters, people don’t care if a train is brand new or 30 years old, as long as it’s safe, comfortable and reliable. (The Age figured that out.)
OK so it does matter a bit
The one thing that is significant is that the Northern and Caulfield groups will end up with a higher proportion of Comeng trains, which as we now know are more vulnerable to air-conditioner failure in the heat, when it goes over 34.5 degrees. This is the real impact of it, and I think only the ABC TV news really spelt it out.
But the government was right to order the trains that could be delivered the quickest. It would have been silly not to do so in the face of such bad overcrowding.
What they have to make sure happens quickly is that the Comeng trains get their air-conditioning upgraded (they’re testing this in coming months) and it may well make sense that in due course they eventually clear the X’Trapolis trains to run right across the network when necessary.
By the way
If you’ve been wondering about all the various upgrades happening around the Melbourne rail network, check this fancy shmanzy interactive map on the PTUA web site.