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The union that represents Metro train drivers has sought to take the company to the industrial umpire over its continued operation of a single X'Trapolis train – modified so it will not outpace the boom gates at level crossings – on the Frankston line.
The train has run up and down the line twice a day since October but has been re-engineered so it cannot accelerate at unsafe speeds. The X'Trapolis is the newest and fastest train type in Metro's fleet but only some of Melbourne's rail lines are equipped for it. At full acceleration, there is a risk that it could beat the signals that lower boom gates on the Frankston line's 30 level crossings.
One X'Trapolis train was put in service on the Frankston line last year during the state election campaign, as a demonstration of progress in the former Napthine government's bayside rail upgrade.
But the speed restrictions imposed on the train, as well as the deployment of two drivers on each service as a safety measure, led to accusations that its appearance was a politically motivated stunt.
The train driver's seat was damaged on the eve of its maiden run on the Frankston line in what former transport minister Terry Mulder claimed was an act of attempted sabotage.
The train has run without incident since but the dispute flared this week when the Rail, Tram and Bus Union notified its members of its intention to take Metro to the Fair Work Commission to resolve the matter.
"The evasive behaviour of MTM [Metro Trains Melbourne] in not fulfilling their lawful responsibilities under the agreement, which includes 'duty of care' to both employees and the public, is unacceptable," divisional secretary Marc Marotta wrote.
The union is seeking a "permanent fix to the rapid acceleration of the X'Trapolis train", or its removal from service on the Frankston line.
But Metro argues the modified train presents no risk to staff or the public.
"Any claims that running the X'Trapolis train on the Frankston line is unsafe are unfounded," Metro spokeswoman Larisa Tait said.
"Under no circumstances would we operate a train on any line if it posed a safety risk to our customers and staff."
On Monday morning, Metro sought to remove the second driver from the service, arguing a "risk assessment" had established one driver could operate the train without risk.
However, the train driver refused and the service ran with two drivers in the cab.
The union and Metro are set to enter the bargaining period for a new enterprise agreement and face tense negotiations. The pay deal for Metro's 5000 staff expires on June 30 and the union wants an 18 per cent pay rise over three years.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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