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V/Line engineers have warned they fear rail bridges built as part of the Andrews government’s level crossing removals program do not their follow safety standards and are at risk of collapsing if their heavier trains derail.
A series of bombshell internal documents outline major concerns by the regional rail operator’s staff that the Level Crossing Removal Authority (LXRA) is building bridges that do not meet their guidelines for an event certain models come off the tracks.
But the LXRA insists the structures are safe.
At the centre of the internal war between the two are “U-trough” railway bridges, which the engineers claim have not yet passed safety modelling for carrying heavy V/line and goods trains, with key tests yet to be performed.
The bridges have already been installed on Frankston, Mernda, Pakenham and Werribee lines and are used by Metro services.
This design was originally created to operate with light metropolitan railway systems and
V/Line staff have repeatedly warned they were not planned with the intention of carrying their heavier freight and locomotives
“The U-trough hasn’t been specifically designed for other applications and is being repurposed,” one document reads.
“It is acknowledged by the project that it cannot withstand any likely derailment loads from freight trains at nominal track class speeds.
Two L-beams are pushed together to make the U-trough shape.
In one document, engineers warn that children’s playgrounds are slated to be built under freight corridors where the U-trough designs are used.
The explosive exchanges have been leaked over concerns about what a final agreement on the bridges would mean for the network, with neither side coming to an agreement after months of disputes.
Metro has signed off on the U-Troughs, which meet guidelines for their trains, for the tracks they manage but V/Line has refused to budge and none are currently on the regional network.
Engineers have said that the bridges can only be approved for heavier V/Line trains by moving away from some design standards that were introduced in Australia after the Granville railway disaster in 1977, in which 83 people were killed.
These rules lay out the need for multiple engineering and safety modelling methods to be used and the leaked documents show that V/Line staff believe these are incomplete.
The documents also show the LXRA has sought to downplay claims by citing figures that say derailments are unlikely, but these have also been rebuffed by V/Line staff, who say they do not tell a complete story.
“The argument on the likelihood of derailments being rare has permeated through projects since the inception of the LXRA,” one report reads.
“LXRA have used this argument a number of times to justify designs which would have a greater consequence in a derailment than other reasonable designs.”
“This principle was applied to the Caulfield to Dandenong grade separations when it was pointed out by V/line that the designs would not retain a derailed train on the structure (a requirement of the Australian Standard), which was especially critical as the area beneath was designated for public use, such as playgrounds.”
“We have defined standards for positions of relative safety.
“Are we saying we don’t believe our standards for positives of relative safety are appropriate?”
In other documents, the authority is accused of wording reports in a way that could steer or mislead those who read them.
V/Line is pushing back against the U-troughs being used for any part of the network and, if successful, their feud could have major implications for the Andrews government’s signature level crossing program.
During the 2014 campaign, Premier Daniel Andrews commitment to remove 50 level crossings was viewed as a turning point in his election win and he has since pledged to remove another 35.
V/Line is pushing back against the U-troughs being used for any part of the rail network.
The feud over U-troughs could have major implications for the Andrews government’s signature level crossing program.
There are 14km of railway with U-troughs installed across the program and if the LXRA is forced to accept V/Line’s arguments, many of these would need altered operating conditions or speed restrictions.
Heavy freight trains currently run along sections of the Werribee line with U-troughs in place while the bridges have also been built along the Frankston line, which carries steel from Tyabb.
But timetabled V/Line passenger services do not use the bridges where possible, with the operator only running empty sprinter trains between the city and Frankston.
“We know that U-Trough infrastructure is safely used on the Victorian rail network, including some locations where V/Line rolling stock operates,” a V/Line spokesman said.
“We work closely with LXRP which includes working closely to ensure safety is the highest priority – and we’ll continue to work with them.”
Level Crossing Removal Program chief executive Kevin Devlin said: “Every section of track on our network, including where we remove level crossings, is built to meet the safety standard for the trains that use it. This includes freight, regional and metropolitan services.
“All rail bridges – U-Trough or otherwise – have been meticulously designed and tested to meet both Victorian and national safety standards for passenger and freight trains.”
In another leaked document, an engineer also warns that it took months to secure even a small safety improvement that did not meet standards.
“It’s regrettable that the project has done all it can to overstate any costs, avoid any alternatives and to avoid improving the U-troughs to near compliance design,” he said.
This article first appeared on www.heraldsun.com.au
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