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MELBOURNE'S City Loop has ''heavy'' concrete corrosion, water ''leaching all over the place'' and emergency systems that should be improved, inspections by Victoria's independent transport safety watchdog have revealed.
Alan Osborne, the man in charge of safety on Victoria's rail system, has called on the Baillieu government to commit significant funds to fix the problems of the city's underground tunnels.
Mr Osborne, the director of transport safety at Transport Safety Victoria, ordered the inspections after The Age revealed in September that the loop's serious structural problems had been ignored by successive state governments.
Mr Osborne told The Age that there was no immediate risk to passenger safety, but it was important the issues were dealt with to avoid deterioration and possible derailments. ''There's a lot of inspections … but there comes a point where you need to bite the bullet and do some major pieces of work,'' he said.
But Mr Osborne and Transport Minister Terry Mulder agree the loop's narrow emergency walkways - which sit more than a metre below the train door - would be too expensive to raise, as recommended by expert reports obtained by The Age.
But Transport Safety Victoria's inspections found the walkway ''quite narrow and a bit slippery''. Train operator Metro has since committed to repairing the walkway.
The position and width of the walkway means that, in the event of a train fire in the loop, passengers in wheelchairs would have to wait, Mr Osborne concluded. He said inspections by Transport Safety Victoria had confirmed:
■The fasteners holding the rails to the tunnel floor were ''quite heavily corroded'' in some places. The extra water ''leaching all over the place'' and problems with the concrete had created ''a more corrosive environment than was expected''.
■Drawings of the fire-protected areas of underground stations have been lost.
■A number of systems at the underground stations, such as testing of emergency warnings, could be improved.
Under freedom of information laws The Age requested further reports on the state of the loop from its state-owned insurer, the Victorian Managed Insurance Authority. But the authority declined the request, saying the release of information about safety procedures, access points and general emergency responses was a security risk.
Mr Osborne is still looking at a key issue raised by the train drivers in September - that they had little training to deal with emergencies within the loop.
In September, The Age revealed that a series of expert reports on problems in the City Loop and its emergency systems had been ignored by state governments. It was also revealed - and documented in Metro's own operation manuals - that some emergency exits were padlocked from the inside and outside.
Mr Osborne said his inspectors checked two emergency exits in two of the four City Loop tunnels and found they were not padlocked. He did not consider the fan shafts - which Metro lists as access points within the loop - to be possible emergency exits for passengers and said these were padlocked because they were dangerous to passengers.
Mr Osborne said he would like to see a plan put forward for the long-term renewal of the tunnel, which carries more than 150,000 Melburnian commuters each week day. This would include updating the loop's control systems, the ventilation system, improving waterproofing and drainage and replacing the concrete rail sleepers.
This is likely to cost tens of millions of dollars, but some of the work is already afoot. A $2.5 million project is attempting to seal water leaks, 6000 sleepers will be repaired by March 2013, and the Department of Transport is con- ducting further tests on the ventilation system after a CSIRO report found smoke extraction fans were performing to a capacity of only 25 per cent.
Metro spokeswoman Geraldine Mitchell said two independent engineering assessments on the loop had concluded safety standards had been met. ''It is important to note that extensive tests carried out by Metro have not found any serious safety issues.''
The company conducts daily inspections, weekly walk-throughs by a shift gang, monthly bolt inspections and six-monthly rail flaw inspections, Ms Mitchell said.
The department said the structural integrity of the loop remained ''fit for purpose''.
Mr Mulder said he continued to receive advice about the loop issues from the department, but any major works to the emergency walkway were impractical. ''Because of the presence of utilities [tunnel services] and the tunnel's shape, altering the walkways to be elevated would narrow their width and reduce passenger headroom,'' he said.
Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/call-for-funds-to-fix-loops-problems-20111219-1p2kd.html
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