The Five Group Railway – good or bad for passengers?

The “five group railway” is something that’s been on the cards for a while. The Age highlights it today in this article: Metro plan to split Melbourne rail network into five lines hangs on union fight

It has its origins last decade — the 2008 Victorian Transport Plan talked about “creating a Metro system”, in the context of strong patronage growth and the evolution of Melbourne’s commuter railway into one that can cope with far more passengers than it can currently handle, reflecting Melbourne’s growth, and in particular the CBD and inner-city.

Melbourne’s railway system was designed as an old style commuter railway, carrying people to and from the city with branches, junctions and single track lines to maximise reach. The City Loop was a major boost to the rail system at the time but the four tunnels have to cope with trains from 10 separate inbound lines

The operation of this sort of railway is complex, the capacity of lines is not maximised and reliability of the service overall falls. One delayed train can affect the whole system.

Melbourne will soon be at the point where we cannot run more train services on key lines. Metro rail systems are designed to run higher capacity trains from end to end of lines using dedicated tracks – the trains can run at higher frequency without interfering with other routes. The focus is on simple timetables, frequent services and consistent stopping patterns.

Metro systems like those in London and New York have key interchange stations to allow people to change trains easily or switch to trams and buses to get to where they want to go.

PTV’s plans for this have also developed over the years. It’s reflected in the 2013 Network Development Plan — this map shows the rail network as it is now (apart from delayed Southland station), with the opening of Regional Rail Link. As you can see: five groups. (Yes, they left Stony Point off the map… I assume because it doesn’t go into the City.)

PTV rail Network Development Plan - stage 1

Metro (to be precise, the current operator, Metro Trains Melbourne, MTM for short) has gone in hard supporting the idea, and bit by bit, is splitting the network into the five groups. The first four are named after the four Loop tunnels, though not all trains would use the Loop:

Northern — the Sunbury, Craigieburn and Upfield lines, all using the Northern Loop.

Clifton Hill — the Hurstbridge and South Morang lines, all using the Clifton Hill Loop.

Burnley — the Belgrave and Lilydale lines, using the Burnley Loop, and also the Glen Waverley and Alamein lines, running direct to Flinders Street.

Dandenong — the Pakenham and Cranbourne (eg Dandenong) lines, using the Caulfield Loop.

…and the fifth…

Cross-city — the Frankston line running direct to Flinders Street then out to the Werribee and Williamstown lines. And also the Sandringham line, direct to Flinders Street and likely to be fairly independent. (In practice some Craigieburn trains share the Cross-City tracks into Flinders Street.)

Independence is the key. At present trains and drivers move from line to line across the day, meaning a delay on one line can quickly flow to another. In fact MTM claim in peak the reduction in interdependencies could mean a punctuality improvement of up to 10%.

From that point of view, separation makes sense for passengers.

Taking it further

Behind the scenes, PTV and MTM seem to be moving towards partial segregation of the train fleet. The High Capacity Metro Trains project will see Dandenong line get its own dedicated fleet of trains, with a maintenance centre at Pakenham, though the same model of train is likely to roll out to other lines later on. More on this in a minute.

But MTM want to take it further, and this is where it starts to get controversial.

Complete operational independence of the groups, including separate stabling and maintenance facilities

Removal of some points that provide connections between groups of lines, which Metro says will speed up services (though in some cases only by ten seconds or so), and reduce track faults
This could help, but of course it comes at the expense of flexibility, such as being able to route trains around obstructions, and limiting the places trains can be terminated during disruptions — leading to longer-than-otherwise sections of line replaced by buses. They wouldn’t want to go too far.

Fleets dedicated to specific groups: in 2013 the plan was for Cross-City to be Siemens, Comeng for Dandenong and Northern, X’trapolis for Burnley and Clifton Hill. Since then the plan has changed to get X’trapolis trains onto the Cross-City lines as part of the Bayside Rail project, which means more Siemens will presumably move onto the Dandenong and/or Northern lines until the new fleet arrives
Provided they don’t actually take steps to make parts of the fleet incompatible with some lines, or with each other. Over time, trains will need to be cascaded through the system as new ones come into service, this makes some sense, as it means more consistent performance (eg acceleration) on each line, and should simplify maintenance.

Restriction of most drivers to specific groups… including not training them to drive on the other groups (thus cutting training costs and time). Drivers don’t like this, though it’s not unusual on networks overseas. MTM would keep a central pool of drivers qualified for all routes for disruptions and other operations.
While getting drivers trained would be quicker, perhaps meaning they can ramp up additional services more quickly, for passengers this could be a problem if the central pool of fully-qualified drivers isn’t sufficient, leading to worsened delays during disruptions. Perhaps the answer is to simply not swap drivers between groups on a particular day? Not sure.

Driver de-centralisation, where most drivers start duty at outer termini rather than changing over at Flinders Street, including complete segregation of staff within line groups.
Again, controversial with drivers, but it’s not hard to see the benefits of cutting delays at Flinders Street, though theoretically it should be possible to swap drivers there pretty quickly. It largely happens today on the Clifton Hill group.

Some claim that MTM wants to run each group as a separate company — in fact Labor claimed that the original 2014 Dandenong line upgrade proposal was basically geared to be a PPP whereby MTM gained control of the line long after their contract for the rest of the network might have ended.
This of course makes no sense to passengers — we’ve seen the problems before of separate companies running separate lines, leading to competition between operators, fleets made incompatible with some lines, and unnecessarily inflexible operations.

Belgrave train arriving Southern Cross


Many drivers are campaigning against some of these changes, as seen on the MTM Memes blog, for instance this post: Bungled timetable or saving us from Liberal deceit? — I don’t necessarily agree with everything in it, but it raises some interesting points.

I suspect there’s a balance to be found here. Day to day operation, including high frequencies, predictable patterns and reducing the cascade effect of delays across lines would absolutely benefit from operational separation.

Less useful to passengers might be the kind of organisational separation that MTM seems to be pushing for.

It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out.

PS. Thursday morning: This blog post a couple of years ago talked about limiting drivers to specific lines. Note the extensive comments from a train driver. Also worth noting, there are currently limitations on how many times a driver can drive a train on the same section of track each day, for safety. But two things make me question the safety reasoning: firstly it doesn’t apply to shuttle runs, and secondly I’ve been told this was only introduced in the 1980s, with the opening of the City Loop. It’s not some long-held standard. It’s not hard to see how it restricts operations, and to me it would make sense for it to be reviewed.

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.

28 replies on “The Five Group Railway – good or bad for passengers?”

What I’ve wondered is, you know how they wanted to have Frankston line continue onto western suburbs, and vice versa with the other lines. If the Werribee line got suspended this would cascade the effects across two lines instead of just one. Whereas at the moment because each line is generally separate (a Frankston train often reaches the city then goes back to Frankston) that sole line gets affected with a few knock on delays elsewhere but not as much as if a Franksotn train was to become a Werribee.

So I’m curious how they envisage it to work so as to be “better” than it is now. I get how it will be better because it can take an existing train i.e. Frankston further onto a new line (Werribee) instead of terminating at Flinders or going back to Frankston, but what about when troubles occur?

Physically separate rail systems run by different companies? Not a problem, in fact we already have that separation in the form of Metro Trains and Yarra Trams. The key to making it work is an effective multimodal ticketing system, and a strong service coordinator. That’s PTVs job, and it seems like they just need to pick up some of MTM’s entrepreneurial vision and make it real for us.

Good analysis at always Daniel.

I suspect whilst this has been in the works for sometime, a hybrid version will probably eventuate, where by lines may operate more independently of each other as they do today, but union intransigence will prevent complete driver, fleet and operational segregation. There is also the case of funding, which is seemingly always overlooked. The fact remains, the Victorian State Government simply does not have the financial capacity to provide the sort of ‘game changing’ improvements needed for this complete separation to occur. You only have to look at the Metro Rail Project which really only has about a third of the cost currently penciled in (… only another $6 or $7 billion to be found).

I’ve travelled on many ‘metro’ systems before in Singapore and London, and while Melbourne probably requires a rail revolution to ever achieve the sorts of efficiencies and capabilities as these cities currently have, the Melbourne Metro Rail Project and new higher capacity trains go some way towards the makings of a rail network befitting a city of nearly 5 or 6 million inhabitants.

I am fifty fifty.

You could almost split the Burnley group into two also. With Glenwavelry and Alamein trains all operating direct.

On the matter of driver training, that may be an advantage. Perhaps, in a drivers first few years, have him/her trained for only one group. But I would argue that, a driver should get to learn at least one group in the longer term.

Having dedicated rosters for trains and drivers to one specific group is a great idea at reducing delays.

But, having dedicated fleets, that has the problem of, shortage of trains on one group while you have surplus on another?

This problem could come about due to;
++ A shortage of spare parts for one fleet type
++ A safety problem with say the brakes like we had with the Siemens fleet.
++ Or a mass of crime on one part, of vandals or other.

As Daniel would know, I do not agree with this simple way of having totally isolated groups without some services crossing into other groups. While you make the map easier to read for some, the majority must suffer the need to change trains more often, which can be more confusing for those who need to change, and there is the mobility issues with some people too.

There is no need for us to go the Squareville extent, but I do feel all lines should have at least some services that go into the city loop. Delays to trains can be minimised by having somewhere that a train can become clear of trains behind it while it waits for clearance on the line it is joining.

In any case, I feel that the current network is at capacity. There is no way of getting out of a whole brand new network of something. Either have a near copy of the current Metro network built, or perhaps those Monorail proposals could work.

Does anyone know which sets of points are to be removed?

Would it really do anything to slow down services on the straight route through a set of points?

Perhaps at some locations the points can have the turning track replaced with a higher speed version?

Would it help if the direct services on the Craigiburn line became through working with to day Dandenong, or merged with the Glen Waverly line trains?

Going by what I read on the rail forums uk, the London Underground seems to be going the other way. The recent delivery of S7 stock trains, replacing 5 different trains on three groups of lines, there have now been sightings of the same S7 train doing a Circle line, then going over to a District line service and so on, all in the same day. Changing groups at the terminus which was never possible before due to the different fleet types.

And on the Eastern side of those lines, Hammersmith line trains always stopped halfway along the District line route out east. But now, some of the Hammersmith line trains are going all the way to where the District line trains go to.

Clearly a union busting and money saving exercise. While individual lines is desirable, removing flexibility from the system is not. Melbourne experimented with separating lines in the 90s privatisation, and that did not work well. Regardless of private companies and unions, this plan will not be good for passengers and surely that is what it is all about. Melbourne’s trains need to be whole system. Boil it back to the simplicity of what passengers want, a non remarkable fast train trip to where they want to go. There is nothing in this proposal that will improve that in the area of greater benefit.

One thing’s for certain: if they separate the lines into groups, in a few years another operator (or government) will combine them again.

I don’t know why they can’t run the Frankston & Werribee line similar to the Western & North Shore lines in Sydney. It would be a very similar distance. There, they use the same timetable and there’s no pauses at either of the city stations to change drivers (I’m not sure where they do this), but from a passenger’s perspective it runs as one line. It would provide customer’s with the option of cross town trips, ie from Footscray to South Yarra.
At present, you never really know if the train you’re on will go on past Flinders Street and can’t plan accordingly. They could also change the train and station destination signs to actually say they’re going to Werribee/Frankston (ie I board a train in Frankston and all destination signs say Werribee as the destination, not Flinders Street).

@Train Guy, this already happens. Frankston trains get through-routed to Werribee/Williamstown on weekdays except for some during peak hours. As long as points to turn trains around exist at some strategic locations, line suspensions shouldn’t impact multiple lines. For instance a disruption between Moorabbin and Mordialloc should still allow trains to run between Frankston and Mordialloc, and Moorabbin and Werribee/Williamstown.

@Michael Bell, the problem comes when the five individual companies lose efficiencies through not having effective access to the assets they need. For instance, Melbourne only has one or two wheel lathes (I think it was one for years, they may have recently got a second) to help maintain the trains… what happens if the companies that manage them get into squabbles with the other companies, and prioritise their fleet over others’?

@TranzitJim, no you wouldn’t want to split Burnley, because all the trains share lines and thus resources. Alamein trains share tracks to Camberwell for instance. Your point about fleets is good – separation is fine day-to-day as long as flexibility is possible. (Witness how they do it on the tram network.)

The points that have been highlighted are around Richmond junction (eg just west of the station). It’s unclear what others Metro plans to remove.

@Andrew, yes of course Metro is in it for the money. But some of the changes bring clear benefits to passengers. A driver arriving late from Hurstbridge delaying a Belgrave train is a ridiculous situation for us to have.

@Phillip, yes, as I understand it, tram drivers are currently restricted to particular routes and tram types. Importantly, they can transfer between depots to gain experience.

@Shaun, that’s ultmately what they’re aiming for, as well as the Dandenong to Sunbury line once the rail tunnel is built.

A driver arriving late from Hurstbridge to delay a belgrave 95% of the time does not happen. If a driver is late for a run because theyve been delayed for whatever reason, a standby driver is utilized or runs are swapped around by the people overseeing the drivers daily duties. The delays dont happen from drivers not being there most of the time. In essence the way i see it, if they split the system again and it fails like last time or dont split it, it wont change the delays caused as we have them now. the only difference will be the operating staff will be rostered differently. the public wont see any magical changes that they think metro are offering with this scheme. Oh and with your notes on the wheel lathes, well in addition to splitting the system each group is going to require dedicated maintenance facilities, wash plants, and wheel lathes to be built. Pakenham east is the next mega depot that is supposed to be built with all this, cragieburn has it all, the other 3 groups dont but they will eventually if this goes ahead. the cost to the public is in the billions, estimated costs for ripping out 100+ sets of points and modifying signalling between north melbourne and richmond is above $500 million alone, so once its gone were not getting it back. Devil is in the detail which im sure much of which is being withheld.

Not that it’s really a system to envy, but Sydney Trains run like this. 3 separate sectors of the network, and on weekdays the crews stay on their own sector.

I don’t think they have restrictions on how many runs they can do in a day – a driver on Sector 1 (Eastern Suburbs/Illawarra) which is basically just one line with two branches at the southern end (bit like say Lilydale & Belgrave) would have to end up at Bondi Junction 3 times a day or so.

But on weekends they do mixed runs, much the same as Melbourne does, in order to keep crews qualified on different lines. They seem to manage alright considering with the weekends there are issues with the majority of crews from Sector 1 not having ever been trained on the new Waratah trains that make up 40% of the fleet.

Hi and thanks for the analysis and commentary!
I see that there is a real risk that drivers will have their potential to reach higher accreditation & pay & conditions lowered (excepting the pool of central ‘all lines’ drivers)…
But is there an upside that the current system cannot support more concurrent trains without change (like those proposed) SO there can be limited growth in driver numbers in a business-as-usual situation?
Would the proposed changes effectively trade off newly constrained career scope for a greater number of driver jobs…?

A few points.

Firstly, the system was split in the 90s and it was a disaster from which we are still feeling the impact. For example, the legacy of trains not being able to run everywhere if needed.

A split sounds okay in the news paper without actually thinking about it, but the moment something goes wrong, which is more common than any of us want, it falls to pieces. Let’s say the Dandenong line falls down, and you have the Dandenong qualified drivers all stuck on the line somewhere, and an unattended train on the platform at Flinders Street. Instead of now being able to take any driver (either a standby driver, or taking one off their next run) and use him/her to run a train out to Dandenong, they won’t have anyone who could do it as nobody would be qualified anymore. This would further exacerbate the disruption and lengthen its recovery.

Changing over at Flinders Street is already done in 1 minute on the Clifton Hill and Northern lines. Passenger dwell times are typically 1 minute at this station, often longer, due to how busy it is. There’s no reason a change over can’t be achieved in this time frame. It is not the change overs that slow trains, eat up capacity, etc, but poor scheduling. There are many instances of trains being scheduled to sit on platforms at FSS up to 10 minutes in peak hour unnecessarily. During the evening, trains to/from Glen Waverley sit at Flinders Street for almost 30 minutes! And this is all as per the timetable!!

As a driver, I have driven many trains via some very unusual tracks and platforms during disruptions, but the train still runs, and runs as close to time. It is better to have everything delayed a few minutes while trains take different routes, than suspend everything due to being unable to get around a problem.

Basically, this mob hates redundancy, which is absurd as a railway the size of ours, and as unreliable as ours, maintenance wise, needs all the redundancy and flexibility it can get.

Metro already run the network in 5 groups, and have done for years. You don’t need to remove trackage and de-skill drivers to achieve that.

–Re junction rationalisation–
It’s worth noting that quite a few bits of trackwork have been booked out for months under the Signalling Strategy/Junction Rationalisation Project – these include Platform 8S to the Clifton Hill viaduct at Southern Cross, and the parcels area at Flinders Street and the line of pointwork connecting the Burnley and Clifton Hill viaducts; this last one means Burnley/CHL trains are now limited to platforms 1-4 at Flinders Street. The Northern Viaduct can still access platforms 1-9 and 12, and the Caulfield Viaduct can access platforms 4-9 and 12.
A similar strategy was used in the early stages of RRL – a six-month trial was instituted at South Kensington, severing the link between the Sunshine and Newport lines at the city end; nobody complained or even noticed, so the points were removed as part of the official works, and now it’s impossible to run a Newport train into North Melbourne platforms 1 and 2 (not that it’s a loss).
To Jim’s comment – typically speaking, a 65 km/h turnout is twice the length of a 40 km/h turnout, and 80km/h is twice that length. So junctions designed for higher speeds need to be stretched out. We don’t have any functioning examples of swing-nose pointwork in Victoria, and there is no way to design a broad gauge, fixed-nose double-slip for speeds higher than 40 km/h because of the angles that the rails intersect.

–Re running the network under separate companies–
The concept wasn’t bad even in the days of hillside/bayside. The incompatible rollingstock was mainly a result of the contracts not being adhered to, same as the Siemens fleet being too fat to fit on our network so all the southside platforms had to be shaved back. Besides that, per above the fleet isn’t really compatible with all lines even today – Siemens are allowed to run to Sandringham, but they’re not suited to a Metro-style service so they’ll cause havoc if the high capacity signalling trial is used to its full potential.

I suspect one of the main reasons some drivers aren’t a fan of segregation is that it means it’s easier to replace them, so union actions won’t be nearly as powerful as they are today. But if we’re going to end up with driverless trains in the medium/long term anyway, it’s a moot point.

Michael Bell is exactly right in that it’s PTV’s job to coordinate schedules and ticketing. And I’d argue, they should also be in charge of track maintenance, schedules and probably the signalling/control jobs as well, with operators like MTM hiring or providing their own rollingstock and drivers, then buying paths to run a timetable.

Trainz, I gather Newport is intended to manage the Cross-City group, and Coldstream or similar for the Burnley Group. That leaves Epping for the Clifton Hill group, Craigieburn for the Northern and Pakenham East for the Dandenong.
A Driver – rerouting trains during disruptions works with fairly low frequencies, but when all lines are running at Metro-style frequencies (say 90sec headways) it isn’t really practical, so it makes more sense to suspend the problem line and leave the rest to operate per normal. You’re absolutely right that driver isolation could lead to operational problems, but that mostly depends on how many shared-pool and standby drivers are available. Besides, in your Dandenong example, the company could ask the inbound driver to take that train back out to say Westall for a changeover via taxi.

–Re Metro the company vs Metro the type of service–
Melbourne’s system wasn’t really designed as a commuter railway. Rather, it worked quite well as an approximation of a Metro, up to the mid 50’s when population growth meant longer travel times, so Tait trailer 201BT and the Harris sets were designed to what we now call the commuter style – halfway between Metro and Intercity, with the flaws of both.
For example, in the 1939 timetable the vast majority of electric trains were less than 40 minutes end-to-end, with a handful of expresses typically working around the peaks. I’ve summaried the AM-peak from the era, and I found 26 electric trains arriving at Flinders Street before 0900hrs, which had runtimes more than 40 minutes – about 14%. And of those 26, 13 were express trains (plus one that only skipped Jolimont).

Running high-capacity Metro type rollingstock to Pakenham is a terrible idea, because Dandneong isn’t yet big enough to support that level of employment so people will wind up standing for over an hour of their 90+min trip, door-to-door. Ideally the trip would be less than an hour (by moving employment closer to homes), but we can’t do that overnight. It would make more sense to allocate the high-capacity trains to say Sandringham, Upfield, Williamstown, Westona and the shorter runs to say Westall/Dandenong and Moorabbin/Cheltenham/Mordialloc; then improve the seating in the Siemens fleet (upgrade to something resembling the VLocities) and run them on the longer lines, as express trains.

Of course, that makes writing the timetables more difficult, and requires retention of the pointwork and driver knowledge at least in the short-medium term.

The government needs to be careful that it is not simply funding Metro to reduce the cost of maintenance (or to improve reliability). These costs are the responsibility of Metro, not the government. And so it should be the responsibility of Metro to fund their elimination, not the government.

Take points, for example. Complicated things with moving components that are battered by every passing train. Maintenance, of course, costs money, which comes directly out of Metro’s bottom line. Maintenance can be reduced, but this affects the reliability – which is another cost to Metro given the contract structure. Removal of the points eliminates both costs.

The government also needs to take care that Metro doesn’t eliminate long term useful capacity in it’s drive to reduce it’s short term costs. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t useful simplifications.

The junctions near Richmond are an interesting example of assets that add cost without significant adding much benefit. The layout of the junctions dates back over a century, with fiddling around the edges in the eighties with the construction of the Underground Loop. The usage of tracks has changed a lot in that time. It’s not clear, for example, why it is necessary for there to be connections between the Burnley and Caulfield groups. It’s not necessary for redundancy as there are two pairs of track in each group. And I’d bet the connections are rarely, if ever used. It’s also not clear why it is necessary for there to be eight tracks in the Caulfield group between Flinders Street and Richmond, when there are only six beyond Richmond. It’s also likely that if you look at the connections between the tracks in each group at the east end of Flinders St and near Richmond that some of those are not necessary.

While I would prefer to have dedicated runs for trains and drivers and have those runs fixed to a group, and where possible on the same line all the time, I would prefer to see a greater rotation of trains of a like type than what happens on the tram network.

One way to do this would be, One dedicated run during off peak times, where delays would not impact so greatly, you would have a driver run a train into a depot on the other side, do a swap of the train and back to his home depot.

Another way is to have shared depots, shared across more than one group such as at North Melbourne. Either as they lay during off peak, or overnight, siding #1 would be for the arrival of a train from the Caulfield group, while it will be the dispatch for a Burnely group service. Meanwhile siding #2 right next to it, would be the same but in reverse.

That way you reduce delays somewhat by having all the operational features isolated so you will not impact other areas of the system, at the same time you still have the same rotation of all items of rolling stock within the same fleet. That helps to streamline and standardise the maintenance across the same fleet such as all Xtraps, or across all Comeng and etc. You even out the wear on features such as flanges, side doors, and perhaps paint fade too.

Removal of “some” points? As you say, they wouldn’t want to take this too far. Perhaps there are some rarely used points around, but if the “Five Group” proposal was taken to the extreme, it would mean the removal of those points west of Richmond that MTM apparently think are so pesky but which happen to allow Frankston trains access to and from the loop, as well as those (at that location and at Caulfield) that enable Dandenong trains (including Vline trains) to use the Frankston lines between Richmond and Caulfield (and, I assume, vice versa). Seems to me that a lot depends on just how far this proposal is taken.

I can’t imagine MTM deleting the Frankston–>Loop points, given that the medium term PTV plan is to return Frankston to the Loop after Dandenong is diverted into the Eddingtunnel.

First of two comments/questions

Surely we don’t need to actually remove the points?
I would think that they should be smoothed out and optimised for “straight-through” operation, and they would never be switched in normal operation, but can be switched to get around an obstruction during a disaster. The proposal to actually remove the points sounds like either misguided, or a lazy copout.
I know of points that can take trains at 115km/h (one hundred and fifteen) when in the straight-through position, and I think an ounce of will-power to smooth out the points for straight-through operation is all that’s needed. It doesn’t really matter how slow the points are in the Not Normal position.

I’ve worked in (landline) telecommunications planning (Telecom New Zealand), and I understand the need for “disaster containment”. A particularly bold example was a fully-provided route between two large local exchanges – one in Wellington and one in Christchurch (“fully-provided” = no overflow to the toll trunks or via the Wellington & Christchurch tandem exchanges). Bear in mind that the fully-provided path has redundancy. So I understand Metro are trying to copy this sort of thing, but there are some important differences:
1. In a telephone network disaster, programming can be quickly changed to switch overflow back on (or similar). In the train network with removed points, one cannot put them back in fast enough.
2. Apart from “Dig Before You Dial”, Telecom has full control of the assets. On a train network, you have trespassers, vandals, power problems, lightning, etc, and all the usual internal factors (poorly maintained trains).
3. In a telephone network, it’s cheap and easy to have path redundancy (ie spare path not used for any traffic). It’s mostly infeasible on a train network. Of course, Optus famously lost both paths between the Gold Coast and Sydney in July 2008, but such events are rare.

I think, that if a problem is encountered in a fully loaded peak network, it is probably best to suspend the track section with the problem, but in off-peak, other lines will be only partly utilised, so therefore the points should be used (eg between Caulfield/Burnley/North Melbourne/Newport to divert trains around the problem. And of course in the case of planned trackwork, these things can be practised.

Second of two comments/questions.

How similar is this to Sydney’s Rail Clearways Program?

Looking at its Wikipedia page suggests that it also involves separation of shared assets – but in that case, they were planning to lay extra tracks (which I don’t think this 5-ways program does). Does anyone know whether they went ahead with switch-point removal?

@Kiwi Nick,
Keeping the points means interlocking/etc needs to be maintained; it also means there’s a small gap in the railhead (since we’re not smart enough to use swingnose points, apparently), and protecting pointwork means signal spacing might not be ideal.

Our trackwork is typically linespeed on the straight, 40 km/h on the diverge, with some places using 65 km/h or 80 km/h with different designs.

I’d guess that MTM are hoping to remove all the redundancies and only have the minimum required, because when everything falls apart the Government takes the blame more than they do.

@David, to put it bluntly, it’s not too late to learn how to install/use swingnose points. Or a variation called Springwing Nose could be used.
For those not up with the play, both of these versions close the “gap” at the frog (intersecting rail) to reduce noise/bump/wear. A normal swingnose uses a (separate) motor to move the nose, but a Springwing is spring-loaded and uses the train wheel on the diverging rail to deflect the nose to the diverging position. My impression of the advantages are that there’s one less motor to deal with, enables very high linespeed on the straight, and is good for situations where diverging movements are infrequent.

As for signal spacing, I don’t think it really matters if the points have to be protected by a large section or the union of two sections (meaning that two or three tracks have to be signalled STOP over twice the normal section distance to allow a diverging movement, at worst case), because diverging movements are infrequent. One should optimise for straight-through operation.

If we’re not careful about the removal of points, we will wind up needing a crane when it comes time to move rolling stock from one line to another (eg when a new fleet arrives). How ridiculous.

As for shifting blame to the Government when things fall apart – what we need is Government With Balls (new acronym #GWB).

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