South Morang Railway Line

Wednesday, September 20, 2017 - 12:15pm
Speaker:
Samantha Dunn

Ms DUNN (Eastern Metropolitan) — I rise to speak on the motion put to the house by Ms Patten today in relation to the South Morang train line. The motion correctly states that there are no express services on the South Morang train line during the morning and afternoon peak travel periods in the direction of peak travel. It also correctly states that all peakdirection services that run express between Clifton Hill and Jolimont stations or vice versa are Hurstbridge line services. It then claims that South Morang line passengers are disadvantaged as compared to Hurstbridge line passengers in relation to travel time and overcrowding.


The claim is not wholly correct. While the schedule for South Morang services that stop at each station between Clifton Hill and Jolimont indicates that they lose 2 to 3 minutes as compared to the express Hurstbridge services, this is not always borne out in practice. The Hurstbridge line has poor reliability. Like much of the metropolitan network, including the South Morang line, it has a major maintenance deficit. However, it is particularly hamstrung because it is single track for much of its length.


I welcome the investment by the government to duplicate the track between Heidelberg and Rosanna on the Hurstbridge line. This duplication project needs to go further and address the single track from Greensborough out to at least Eltham and possibly even to Diamond Creek. The express services on the Hurstbridge line therefore play an important role in allowing this line to catch up in case of a cascaded delay further up the line.


The motion is correct in that South Morang services are overcrowded. The motion is also correct in that we can expect overcrowding to get worse on the South Morang line once the Mernda extension is complete. I note, however, that the current situation in which trains are so overcrowded by the time they arrive at Merri and Rushall stations that further passengers cannot board will not be fixed by running services express from Clifton Hill to Jolimont. The services may run 2 to 3 minutes faster, but they will be just as overcrowded.


I also note that running South Morang line trains express from Clifton Hill to Jolimont will disadvantage passengers boarding at the Victoria Park, North Richmond and West Richmond train stations. At present passengers boarding at these stations have 17 services during the 2hour morning peak. To maintain this service frequency with South Morang trains running express it will require Hurstbridge trains to stop at these stations. This is just pushing the inconvenience from one set of passengers to another.


Furthermore, for the reasons outlined above, the Hurstbridge line is less reliable, and so delays up the line would concertina down to those innercity stations, meaning their actual level of service would deteriorate even if their scheduled level of service remained what it is now.


There is only one thing that will fix overcrowding on the South Morang Line, and that is to increase the capacity of the lines by running highfrequency train services. There are, however, three major obstacles to this. Firstly, there is the large number of level crossings on the South Morang line. There are 10 level crossings between Merri station and Preston station. Aside from being dangerous, level crossings reduce the reliability of the line by increasing the risk of delays due to interactions between vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and trains. The only way to have highfrequency train services is to remove level crossings.


The Andrews Labor government made announcements last year that it would remove the High Street and Bell Street level crossings. However, because this government tends to ignore the northern suburbs because they are considered safe Labor seats, these level crossings have been pushed to the end of the list in terms of priority. The residents of the north will be lucky to see an announcement of a solution to these level crossings before the 2018 state election.


The Victorian Greens think that safety and train service reliability should be the highest priorities when it comes to level crossing removals and should not be subservient to political expediency. If such apolitical criteria were applied, level crossings on the South Morang line would be further up the priority list than at present.


The second obstacle to running more trains is the decrepit state of the track between Merri and Clifton Hill stations. This section of rail is in such poor condition that services have to slow to jogging speed to navigate the curves. This section of track is so bad that an X'trapolis train, the most modern train set in the fleet, derailed on the line on 6 February 2016. Witnesses to the derailment said they heard a loud bang before the train jumped off the tracks, which would have been very disconcerting for the passengers. More than 100 passengers were on board and had to wait for emergency services crews to arrive with stepladders to allow egress from the carriages. The unsafe situation must be addressed immediately with maintenance and upgrades of this section of track, including realignment of the track if required. Unfortunately there has been no action on this front by the government.


The third limitation to running more trains on the South Morang line is the ancient analog signalling systems on the Melbourne metropolitan rail network. All of the stations between Jolimont and Regent stations had their signalling systems installed in 1920, and there has not been an improvement in functionality since. To run more frequent train services we need highcapacity digital signalling. Such signalling technology connects sensors along the track with incab signalling so drivers know at all times how fast they can accelerate and decelerate and their maximum permissible speed. This technology has been rolled out across Europe and Asia. There is no reason why we cannot start investing in it here. Highcapacity digital signalling could allow up to 35 services per hour on a single line. At present the South Morang line only gets 14 services over the 2hour morning peak from 7.30 a.m. to 9.30 a.m. The South Morang line could more than double the number of services to 30 over that 2hour peak and still meld successfully with the Hurstbridge line at Clifton Hill if highcapacity digital signalling were rolled out.


The history of highcapacity digital signalling in this state is a curious one. In the 2015 state budget it was announced that it would be piloted on the Sandringham line. In May 2016, under questioning at the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee by my colleague Ms Pennicuik, the Minister for Public Transport admitted that the Sandringham pilot had been scrapped and instead the technology would be installed on the stretch between Lalor and South Morang stations. But that too was scrapped. Residents of the northern suburbs would be confused to hear that the Mernda extension, at a cost of $600 million, will get the same old conventional analog fixedblock signalling technology that was first devised in the golden age of steam locomotion.


In July this year the Andrews government decided that the Melbourne metropolitan train network will have to do without digital highcapacity signalling for another decade because it has decided to limit the rollout to the new Melbourne Metro rail tunnel. There is no technical reason why highcapacity digital signalling cannot be piloted and progressively rolled out across the metropolitan rail network now. It was in the Public Transport Victoria (PTV) development plan of 2012. That is a plan developed by engineers for engineers with a mind for what is technically feasible.


The 2012 PTV development plan stated that it was possible to roll out highcapacity signalling on the Clifton Hill trunk, the Sandringham line and the Sunshine to Dandenong corridor by 2022 at the latest. It also said that by 2027 it could be rolled out on the Upfield, Craigieburn, Williamstown and Werribee lines and on the South Yarra trunk. What will we get by 2027 under this government? We will only get oneeighth of that technically feasible rollout. If the Andrews government had stuck to the PTV development plan, we would already have highcapacity digital signalling on the Clifton Hill trunk, such that both South Morang and Hurstbridge line services would already be more reliable.


It is right to raise the issues that are plaguing the South Morang line. Sadly they are issues that are familiar to passengers across the metropolitan rail network; however, the approach is wrong for solving the problem. Shuffling around timetables will not fix the woes of passengers on the South Morang line. What is needed is a major investment in passenger rail, something the Victorian Greens have been calling for in this place for more than a decade now. This investment needs to comprise highcapacity digital signalling, fix the maintenance deficit that is crippling our rail network, provide more trainsets and further invest in level crossing removals.