Last week, before lockdown started, I got to look around the Pakenham East train depot, courtesy of Evolution Rail – which is the company introducing the High Capacity Metro Trains onto the rail network.
(My personal view is that HCMT is a terrible name for a train. Some people are calling them Evolution trains, and I’m going with that.)
Evolution is a consortium that includes Plenary, Downer, Chinese rail manufacturer CRRC and others. They have a contract to manage the introduction and maintenance of the trains for 30 years.
The train shells arrive from China and are fitted out at Newport before being sent to the depot (technically the TMF – Train Maintenance Facility), which is a few kilometres past the end of the Pakenham line. You can see it on the Google Maps aerial view – a wedge of land about 2km long which includes a loop test track around the eastern end.
Metro Train services will be extended to closer to the depot, with a new Pakenham East station, which will also serve nearby housing. This will allow them to rebuild Pakenham as an elevated station above the road, without complicated stabling and V/Line passing tracks, to remove the level crossing there.
After signing-in and doing an alcohol test (they’re clearly very serious about security and safety) I got to go into the facility. Full PPE is required in most areas.
There’s extensive stabling for the trains themselves. Only a handful are currently in service, but more are being commissioned all the time, and Evolution says that some delays early on, things are now going smoothly.
On site they have all the facilities for light and heavy maintenance of the trains. This includes tasks such as changing wheel bogies – with little turntables to help move them around. They’ve got storage for an extensive array of spare parts – it’s like looking at someone’s immaculately sorted Lego collection.
They’ve got a wheel lathe on-site, though it may be a little while until it’s needed.
The TMF is set up to handle trains of 6, 7 or 10 cars. Currently the new fleet is 7 cars (Cranbourne/Pakenham line platforms have been extended to cope with this), but they could in future run as 6, which would theoretically mean they could run anywhere on the network (though other upgrades such as power might be required).
The catch is that while a 7 car Evolution train has about as many seats as the 6 car trains in the rest of the Melbourne fleet, a 6 car Evolution train would have fewer, at least in the current configuration.
The metro tunnel is being built to cope with 10 car trains, and at some stage they will extend existing platforms to fit them too, to boost capacity further.
I didn’t get a close look, but in one area they’re also testing Platform Screen Doors, which will be a feature in the new underground stations.
They have simulators to train up Metro drivers on the new fleet – a mix of basic simulators set up in a classroom arrangement, and also a full size mock-up cab.
I was told that until now, the Evolution trains had run in service with two staff in the cab as part of their introduction. From this week, it’s one driver in the cab.
Drivers can call for assistance with possible faults, with diagnostic tools used by the staff at Pakenham East to be able to help resolve problems remotely in many cases.
Overall it’s an impressive operation. They’ve benefited from being able to build the place on a greenfields site – unlike say Newport or Dandenong or Ballarat where facilities up to 150 years old have evolved over time.
I got the impression that after a rocky start (not unusual for new train fleets) things are running very smoothly. And there’s clearly a big focus on train reliability during the 30 year PPP contract.
Feedback on the new trains from drivers seems good, and from the public too – with one notable exception: door operation, which I quizzed them about. There was a known issue with a long delay seen when you hold down the door button as the train comes to a stop – quite confusing for passengers, in part because the Siemens trains also (also used on this line) will open the doors.
The long delay was a software glitch which is now fixed. But as a safety measure (conforming to modern standards), you will need to take your hand off the button – just for a moment – and press it again to make the doors open.
With Melbourne currently in lockdown, most of us aren’t travelling right now, but more Evolution trains will be out on the network in coming months, and will be a welcome sight for those who catch them.
Many thanks to Evolution Rail for the tour.