How ‘archaic’ technology threw SYDNEY RAIL into meltdown

WHY is this happening … is Sydney Trains’ chief executive, Howard Collins limited in what he can say?

Are those servants elected to manage NSW in our interests in fact …

acting more like Corporate Raiders of the bickie tin of NSW Public Assets?

-are they deliberately running our publicly owned infrastructure down?  Cough … cough …

By cutting maintenance money … so so severely that the mechanical switches to isolate power date back to the 1920s …

-forcing maintenance staff to clamour through tunnels to flick switches

-instead of remotely from an operations centre like they do on London’s underground network

ALL that is needed is:

-a remote isolation switch from the rail operation centre with a disruption of a mere 15 minutes

BUT the liberal nsw grubmnt is funnelling Tens of Billions into new privatised Metro lines rather than maintain the existing publicly owned railway

DID you vote for this? To gift Hong Kong Consortium MTR even more development opportunities en route? Is the plan to replace the whole rail network? Cough … cough …

How ‘archaic’ technology threw Sydney rail into meltdown

Matt O'Sullivan
By Matt O’Sullivan

August 23, 2019

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It was 5.22am when the driver of a train carrying hundreds of people through the heart of Sydney saw a roof hatch on its front carriage sitting perilously close to the 1500-volt overhead power line.

At about 8.45am on Friday, the northbound train finally rolled away from a platform at Town Hall station, after the fibre-glass hatch was safely removed.

In the intervening three hours, the stoppage of one train had thrown Sydney’s rail network into chaos.

The incident at Town Hall caused major delays for hours across the rail network.
The incident at Town Hall caused major delays for hours across the rail network.CREDIT:PETER RAE

Trains carrying up to 250,000 commuters across the city were seriously delayed or re-routed during the morning peak, and roads gridlocked as people sought other ways to get around. At Wynyard station, commuters were advised to walk across the Harbour Bridge, so severe were the delays.

The incident on Friday morning has again highlighted the vulnerability of Sydney’s aged rail network – and the length of time it takes for it to recover from delays.

More than 12 hours after the train was halted, commuters were still experiencing delays to services across multiple lines during the evening peak.

After the operator stopped the train at Town Hall due to the safety risks posed if it continued, engineers were forced to scramble through tunnels to turn off “Frankenstein”-like switches so that they could cut power to the overhead line and remove the hatch, which was millimetres from the overhead wires.

*Sydney Trains’ apologetic chief executive, Howard Collins, said the mechanical switches to isolate power dated to the 1920s, and were likely put in when the rail network was first electrified.

A loose hatch on a Sydney train led to hours of delays across the network.
A loose hatch on a Sydney train led to hours of delays across the network. CREDIT:SYDNEY TRAINS

“They are almost Frankenstein in their look,” he said on Friday.

*And while they “do a great job”, Mr Collins conceded that it was an “archaic” situation to be in when staff had to clamour through tunnels to flick switches instead of being able to do so remotely from an operations centre like they do on London’s underground network.

*“We are looking forward to getting further investment to get us up to the 20th century,” he said.

*”As far as I’m concerned, the future for us … is a remote isolation [switch] all done from the [rail operation centre and] … services are disrupted for 15 minutes rather than three hours.”

The rail operator blamed the loose hatch on the Tangara passenger train on an “external factor”, possibly a tree branch. “There are definite scratch and scour marks on the top of this fibre glass lid, so something has hit it at the front of the train,” Mr Collins said.

Commuters at Wynyard station were advised to walk across the Harbour Bridge.
Commuters at Wynyard station were advised to walk across the Harbour Bridge.CREDIT:AAP

The hatches are secured by a large clip and a safety device.

Mr Collins said it was the right decision to halt the train at Town Hall because overhead wires on the North Shore line across the Harbour Bridge to North Sydney could have been torn down if it had continued.

“It could have meant days of damage … [and] the hatch could have come off and hit someone,” he said.

The incident shows the extent to which central Sydney is the “the squeeze point” on the rail network, and the ripple effect across multiple lines caused by a failure on it.

[The network] is historically very connected, and when one bit falls down, after a while the others slow down and stop as well,” Mr Collins said.

The government is spending billions on upgrades to signalling systems on part of the network, as well as on new Waratah trains less susceptible to failure.

But the tens of billions it is funnelling into new metro rail lines has left it open to criticism that more should have been diverted to the existing railway, which will continue to carry the bulk of commuters for years to come.

Asked whether the government should have spent more on Sydney Trains, Mr Collins said “we need both” and the second stage of the city’s new metro line from Chatswood to the central city and beyond would provide an alternative during major incidents.

“There is no doubt that, if you spend on one and not the other, we still fail. With this incident, metro would have been able to take the haul all the way from North Sydney to Central and there would have been a realistic and reasonable alternative,” he said.

Matt O’Sullivan

Matt O’Sullivan is the Transport Reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.