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THOUSANDS of seats will be removed from Melbourne's existing trains over the next two years by new operator Metro to squeeze in more passengers.
And the trouble-plagued air-conditioning units on the city's 92 Comeng trains - which failed dramatically in last summer's heat - will not need to be completely overhauled for another six years.
Contracts worth about $9 billion signed in August by the Government with Metro and Yarra Trams' new operator Keolis were posted on the Department of Transport's website yesterday.
Financial details are deleted, but the details of key projects were included.
They show that the number of much-loved W-class trams will be reduced to just 38 (about 50 were supposed to run under the old contracts).
Among train projects detailed is a plan to remove about 12 seats per carriage from the city's 29 six-carriage Alstom trains, bought in 2002. Seats will also be removed from 13 of the older Comeng trains.
Connex tested removing 12 seats per carriage on a trial train earlier this year and reported positive feedback. A spokeswoman for Metro confirmed the plan last night.
Public Transport Users Association president Daniel Bowen backed the move, saying it made sense to change the layout of the trains ''to more efficiently distribute people''.
The contract signed with the Government specifies the target completion date for the seat removal project as June 2011.
Almost 1200 air-conditioning units on the Comeng trains could also be replaced, although this is dependent on a trial overhaul being carried out now and to be assessed by February.
Metro Trains chief executive Andrew Lezala, who was at the control centre at 3.01am yesterday to take the reins from Connex, said the operator was ''getting immediate work on the air-conditioning''. They would be upgraded so all units on the Comeng trains ran in heat of up to 45 degrees, he said.
The contracts show the Government does not require the upgrade of air-conditioning to be complete until 2015.
Metro Trains has also flown in 20 key staff from the its main shareholder, Hong Kong's metro operator MTR, to help devise a radical new timetable for Melbourne. The contracts show that Metro must provide the Government with a ''two-tier'' timetable, which would ultimately enable far more services to run within the city's overcrowded inner core - without reducing services in the outer suburbs.
If this ''two-tier system is not economically or operationally feasible'', the contracts say, a new timetable will be developed within 18 months.
The Age has been told Metro's senior management believes the company will be able to fit far more services on to Melbourne's network, something Connex argued was difficult.
On its first day operating the city's trains, Metro had some difficulties, including a disabled train on the Pakenham line.
The first rebranded Metro train was hit by rock throwers, who smashed a window as it passed through Watsonia station. By last night, 20 trains had been cancelled.
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