Yesterday afternoon, the chairman of Melbourne’s Connex trains, Bob Annells, announced his company had finally revealed the cause of the braking problems on its Siemens trains: a combination of traction loss and faulty computer systems. Here a Victorian rail industry insider – who wrote extensively on this subject in yesterday’s Crikey – warns that Melbourne’s suburban trains are still not safe:

Did you notice how Annells confirmed most of what I said (“soft stop”) etc etc? This should not distract Melbourne commuters from the fact that Connex hasn’t fixed the problem.

Any of these trains could fail at any time. Nothing has been done to these trains. I repeat: there have been no modifications to the brakes on these trains. They have been returned to service “as is.”

The braking system is not fixed. What has been done is that the rail system is slowed because drivers have been ordered to drive the trains more slowly, and Melbourne’s road traffic is slowed. What Connex and the government have done is to keep the boom barriers down longer, thus adding to traffic congestion.

I don’t want to go into more technicals, but what Annells is talking about is a fundamental design change of these trains. A change that will take years, not months. But it gets the ALP past the next Federal election in vulnerable marginal seats. I’ll caution anybody about alarmist panic, but has Crikey seen Day of the Roses, about the 1977 Granville disaster?

Politics caused that tragedy. Marginal seat politics. That these trains are being returned, unmodified, to carrying passengers presents us with some obvious questions. What has changed, technically, to allow these trains to be used? Nothing. Nothing.

They are still the dangerous machines, they always were. Nothing has been modified on any of these trains to alleviate the problem that Annells admits: the train takes control from the driver. I’m far from a top level rail engineer. But it’s like this: if the cops put a canary on your car because the brakes don’t work properly, you fix the brakes, or leave the car in the driveway.

The Siemens trains have not been fixed. They are untrackworthy. A fundamental design fault remains, and Connex and the government know this. But, I suspect, the ALP wants to push this beyond November. A train that didn’t stop three weeks ago might have passed a set piece test, overseen by a politicised regulator. Doesn’t make it safe.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey