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(AUS) City Loop safety fears

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From The Age:

City Loop safety fears


Melissa Fyfe and Clay Lucas

September 22, 2011


SERIOUS structural problems in Melbourne's City Loop - including cracking tunnel walls, concrete corrosion and poor emergency systems - have been ignored by successive state governments and train operators despite repeated warnings.


An investigation by The Age into the rail tunnel system has revealed that emergency exits are padlocked, with keys held only by station managers, not train drivers.


The tunnels are also inadequately equipped for the disabled in the event of a train fire, with emergency walkways too narrow and 1.5 metres below the carriage doors.


A damning 2007 assessment of the loop's emergency infrastructure, obtained by The Age, recommended major upgrades, including elevating the walkways, because evacuation would be ''very restricted''. Most of the recommendations have gone unheeded.


A 2001 report, also obtained by The Age, revealed the loop was suffering from long-term structural corrosion caused by possible contamination of the original concrete mix.


Damage to concrete plinths was leading to ''heavy corrosion'' of steel reinforcements, potentially undermining the tracks. At worst, a derailment ''must be considered possible'', said the report, commissioned by infrastructure contractor Thiess Infraco.


Transport Safety Victoria has also expressed concern about the 30-year-old loop, after receiving a letter of complaint from the train drivers' union. The letter, addressed to Metro and copied to the Coroner, said drivers had ''grave concerns'' about the operator's failure to address evacuation procedures.


The drivers say they are not trained for emergencies in the loop. Their occupational health and safety representatives yesterday issued Metro with a formal warning that will trigger a WorkSafe investigation.


The Age investigation into City Loop safety has revealed:


■Drawings of fire-protected areas of underground stations have been lost.


■A recent CSIRO study of the smoke extraction fans found some were performing to a capacity of only 25 per cent.


■Train drivers have noticed record levels of water seeping through the walls, along the tracks and on the emergency walkways. Metro says, however, that the water is not a safety risk.


■Train drivers have been asking Metro for six months for an after-hours train to inspect the tunnels. Metro has refused.


■If a driver is incapacitated, there is no means of directing passengers to evacuate during an in-tunnel emergency. The 2007 report described this as ''a major shortcoming''.


■The 2007 report - commissioned by Mainco, the infrastructure contractor to former rail network operator Connex - said sprinklers at Parliament station had not been tested for 24 years, hydrant systems had not been tested for five years and extinguishers were in locked cupboards at stations.


Metro, which took over the rail system from Connex in 2009, could not confirm yesterday whether these problems had been tackled.


But it said structural problems with the concrete would be addressed in a rehabilitation program starting next April.


Metro spokeswoman Geraldine Mitchell said 6125 sleepers would also be replaced by November as part of general maintenance.


She said two independent reports - one commissioned by government and one by Metro - had concluded that safety standards had been met.


''The tunnel has been in safe operation for more than 30 years and, unlike many other underground railways, Melbourne is fortunate to have a walkway throughout the entire length of the City Loop. Once a decision is


made to evacuate passengers from a train, the emergency plan is implemented and can be carried out very quickly,'' Ms Mitchell said.


Metro did not answer questions about how long it would take to evacuate passengers in the event of a tunnel fire or terrorist incident. It also did not answer questions about how disabled passengers could be evacuated safely during a tunnel incident.


In a statement to The Age, the Department of Transport said the loop was performing ''optimally'' and ''a range of maintenance, repair and mitigation'' measures had been conducted since the 2001 report.


The loop had been tested - including state-of-the-art smoke testing - and emergency exercises completed. ''The department believes the potential for a train derailment in the rail loop is extremely low,'' it said.


''The emergency walkways located in the loop are subject to ongoing maintenance and repair.'' Representatives from the government's insurance authority had recently inspected the walkways and found them in an ''adequate condition''.


Transport Minister Terry Mulder did not answer when asked by The Age whether he knew about the reports. But he said he expected the department and Metro to hold safety as paramount. ''As minister, my priority is for the safety and security of passengers,'' he said.





Drivers have to radio Metrol for instructions to evacuate trains. I know it is a decision that isn't taken lightly.

If there was anything seriously wrong trains won't run through it.

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