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Track conditions causing carriages to bump together like this can’t be good

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.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

13 replies on “Track conditions causing carriages to bump together like this can’t be good”

I’ve seen commuters eat a bowl of cereal on the train in the morning. I’m glad they weren’t travelling over those sections of track or their breakfast would end up in their lap.

I know that section of the track well, as I can tell where I am when I’m reading without looking up. Some trains seem to almost “bottom out” when going through, while others, you barely notice the section.

I, too, am familiar with that “bump”, and I agree that it seems to have got worse over time. Some drivers seem to ease off a bit as they approach it, others don’t. Like you, I wonder why something hasn’t been done about such an obvious issue.

There’s a really bad section immediately down (East) of Burnley, very pronounced in morning peak hour from Ringwood. This one jerks violently left and right. Admittedly it is a junction, but we can do better: the junctions on the Gold Coast line when the single track turns into a passing loop (at each station) are so smooth, even at speed, you wouldn’t even know there was a passing loop until you looked out the window at the other platform face.

This was in 1996. Most of the single-track (with loops at every station) has since been replaced between Coomera and Robina (leaving the section between Beenleigh and Coomera as single, with a loop at Ormeau), and presumably extending the double track to Varsity Lakes.

So what are they doing up there which we’re not doing here?

Lucky Xtrapolis trains aren’t running full time through that section of track, it would make for some serious passenger discomfort

There’s also a terrible section between Bayswatee and Boronia on the Belgrave line. The carriages bounce so much you often fly up off your seat if you’re not careful. I’m always worried it’s gonna derail or something

That blog Marcus linked to was from 2007. After all the trackwork, the trains run much more smoothly now. Depending on how the organise the routes, some of the weekend trackwork replacement buses are quicker than the trains are. Melbourne seems very backward now in comparison.

Coming into Camberwell from Auburn on the centre track can be bad at times too with the xtrapolis swaying violently. The comeng sets tend to far better.
It can be bad at times when on an Richmond to Box Hill or Surrey Hills express service.

The tram tracks on Victoria Parade, East Melbourne are also quite bad. The tram wobbles from side to side in sections.

East and west of Camberwell station on the non express lines. I swear I’m missing core strength that the regular commuters must have just to be able to stay put in their seats.

I miss Germany, Japan and London.

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