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Metro has started splitting Melbourne's railway into five independent networks as a way of curbing chronic delays.
Each network has its own dedicated train fleet and pool of drivers and is modelled on the simpler, more successful Hong Kong railway.
But the plan will not be fully realised unless Metro confronts the Rail, Tram and Bus Union.
The union has condemned the plan, saying it would diminish the responsibilities of hundreds of train drivers.
Limiting the duties of train drivers is at the heart of Metro's plan. All but a few drivers would be restricted to driving on one of the five new railway networks.
It would reduce the level of training required to qualify as a driver and that would pave the way for an influx of lower-paid drivers to operate trains, according to the union.
The union's locomotive division secretary Marc Marotta, slammed the decision, saying it was an act of "deskilling", which would increase the risk of a safety breach on the network.
"We'd object to that because it's creating a lesser-trained person," Mr Marotta said.
"If you diminish the training for particular drivers, when confronted with something different they make mistakes."
As part of the plan, most drivers are being progressively shifted from their traditional base at Flinders Street Station into one of five "mega depots" that are being established in the suburbs.
Eventually, only a small band of drivers will be based at Flinders Street.
Only those drivers will be required to know how to drive on every train line in Melbourne and how to operate all three types of trains in use.
The remaining drivers will only be required to be familiar with "routes on their home rail operating group".
Metro refused to rule out that more drivers would be paid less under the plan.
A spokeswoman said Metro already had a two-tier roster system where drivers were paid according to their expertise.
"There are several classifications where drivers are paid on the basis of their training qualifications [competency levels]," Sammie Black said in a statement.
Classifications range from "trainee", to "level two restricted", "level three" and "fully qualified", Metro said.
It takes 54 weeks to become a level two driver and a further 50 to be fully qualified, meaning a driver can work on all lines and drive Comeng, Siemens and X'Trapolis trains.
Metrohas said the "five railways" system would transform the network from a "traditional suburban service to a more metro style service", in which timetables are simplified, train stopping patterns are made consistent and there is minimal interaction between suburban lines.
Timetables are already being changed, as the network is divided into the five groups.
However, one crucial timetable change, which was planned for this year, has been rejected by the Andrews government because services on three lines would have been cut from the City Loop.
Metro-style railways exist in cities including Hong Kong, Paris and London and have become the standard model for new networks in rapidly developing cities in China, India and the Middle East.
Metro and the rail union are negotiating a new three-year enterprise agreement. The current deal expired last month.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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