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The days of getting a seat on a Melbourne train will soon be replaced by the kind of shoulder-to-shoulder commute people experience daily in mega-cities such as Tokyo.
Designs for a planned fleet of 65 new high-capacity trains that will enter service from mid-2019 reveal a radical change is in store for Melbourne train travellers.
The trains will be built to carry between 1200 and 2000 passengers each, depending on their configuration, and they will be designed to maximise standing room, with seats provided for just 30 to 40 per cent of passengers in a fully loaded train.
The bumper loads will be accommodated by enabling "standing passengers to safely travel at a density of up to six passengers per square metre", technical documents seen by Fairfax Media say.
According to studies, this level of crowding is comparable to that experienced in the Tokyo metro.
By way of comparison, the city's current fleet of trains are designed to comfortably fit 900 people and seat about two-thirds of them.
A 2011 study of Australian commuters' tolerance for crowding, by the Co-operative Research Centre for Rail Innovation, found Australian train travellers would easily tolerate a density of up to four people per square metre before a sense of overcrowding kicked in.
According to the technical documents, the high-capacity trains will be built with seating for 40 per cent of passengers but will "enable a future reduction of seating in the range down to 30 per cent of the original gross train capacity".
Every standing passenger would have a grab rail or hanging strap to hold onto.
Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan said that without larger trains and more services, passengers would be left stranded on platforms in peak hour.
Workers at Downer's Newport workshop, where high-capacity trains will be built. Photo: Joe Armao"We're building a 21st-century metro system for Melbourne, where trains run more often and carry more passengers," Ms Allan said.
The trains, which will be built by CRRC Changchun in China and by Downer at the historical Newport rail workshop in Melbourne's west, will also include several high-tech features previously unseen in this city.
These include the ability to operate reliably in temperatures of up to 50 degrees.
Metro's ageing Comeng fleet used to fail when the mercury hit just 36 degrees until its airconditioning was overhauled about five years ago.
The new trains will include passenger Wi-Fi, eight CCTV cameras per carriage (four inside and four outside) and an ability to estimate within 10 per cent how many people are on board and relay this information in real time to central control. They will also be secured against electronic hacking.
But the planned inclusion of a number of "semi-automated" functions has already alarmed the state's Rail, Tram and Bus Union, as has a confidential Metro Trains "industrial relations strategy" for the project.
The trains' semi-automated functions will include the ability to shunt at low speeds, to start up remotely and control train doors.
The union's Locomotive Division secretary, Marc Marotta, said it wanted assurance that the train driver's role would not be downgraded.
"Otherwise we'd be left with the traditional role of frustrating the implementation of these trains until we get this sorted, but we don't want to resort to that," Mr Marotta said.
The union proved its willingness to take strike action and shut down Melbourne's rail system during EBA negotiations in 2015, and Metro is already preparing for the risk of industrial action by its train drivers, two years before the first of the new trains is due to enter service.
Ms Allan sought to douse any notion that train drivers' skills would be downgraded.
"Our highly skilled drivers will play a critical role operating these new, smarter, safer trains – carrying thousands more passengers every day," she said.
Metro notes in its industrial relations strategy, which the union has obtained, that the high-capacity trains project will require changes to established work practices.
"These include restrictive provisions around rostering, route running, training, depots, train preparations, demarcation issues around the performance of work and provision of contract labour," the strategy states.
The strategy document warns that industrial unrest could leave Metro "unable to deliver project to scope and within budget and timeframe".
The 65 trains are to built as part of a $2.3 billion public-private partnership with the Victorian government.
The trains will initially run on the busy Cranbourne-Pakenham corridor and in the City Loop, then through the Metro rail tunnel once it opens in 2026 and on the Sunbury line.
They will be built with seven carriages and could extend to 10 carriages with "gross passenger capacity of at least 1970" people in future years.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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