One of the advantages of rail over road transport is the ride quality.
Well, that’s in theory. If enough care and funding goes in, trains can be extremely smooth. In practice on a rail network like Melbourne’s, with aging infrastructure, it can be a bumpy ride.
Now, I don’t have a major problem with a less than totally smooth ride, particularly around the many junctions on the system. A bit of a lurch to the left as we come out of the Loop and join the main line? I can deal with that.
I’m less keen on huge bumps and jolts on otherwise completely straight sections of track. Sure, one might not expect no lateral movement at all, but surely it can’t be a good thing if the carriages bounce around so much you can hear bits of them banging together.
This video is the Frankston line tracks, inbound, just north of the Yarra River approaching Richmond (adjacent that well-known landmark the railways Cremorne substation). It’s one of the busier sections of the network: most of the week it gets 6 trains per hour, but during morning peak about double that, plus a freight train or two each day.
I’ve probably been a teensy bit OTT in getting so many shots of it, but it’s on my usual commute, and I think it’s getting worse over time.
From the outside, the bounce is noticeable, but to the untrained eye it doesn’t look too bad.
But inside the train it’s a different story. As you can see, in a Siemens train the bump causes the end-of-carriage sections to make a lot of noise. It’s generally less noisy on Comeng trains, particularly near the front of the train, but I’ve found every so often there’ll be the sound of bits of carriage bouncing against each other.
The adjacent tracks don’t seem to have the same problem. Unfortunately it’s in a position where you can’t really get a good look at the tracks as trains go past.
It’s probably not the worst on the network. Here’s an example from a few years ago near Montmorency, filmed by Rod Williams — and apparently fixed after Channel 7 took a look:
There are many locations like this (though not usually as bad) around the network, raising recent concerns about the level of maintenance, though the regulator doesn’t consider there to be a safety problem.
Even assuming it’s safe and nothing’s about to come off the rails, it bumps the passengers around (which can cause standees to wobble and fall if not holding on tight), and in the long term, this type of lurching around can’t be doing the carriages any good at all.
The area of Metro’s maintenance (and other) arrangements is subject to a lot of speculation at the moment. Lots of email screeds full of unsubstantiated claims are flying around (cough: Sunstone), but one thing’s for sure — upkeep of the track and fleet shouldn’t be something to skimp on.
A lot of work has been done in recent years to install concrete sleepers, and generally upgrade the tracks. The question must be: has it been adequate?
On a section where the tracks are straight, on one of the busiest parts of the network, there should be no excuse for the trains bouncing and lurching around like this.
Update 11/8/2015: After months more of bouncing around, it appears the specific section of track I highlighted above (between South Yarra and Richmond) has now been fixed.