Metro Trains Melbourne and Yarra Trams have terminated their contracts with services provider Transclean.
Transclean has been at the centre of the Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission’s (IBAC) Operation Esperance, which has heard that Transclean boss George Haritos gave cash to V/Line CEO James Pinder and Metro Trains fleet operational manager Peter Bollas in return for favourable treatment.
There has been no allegations of any corrupt behaviour between Transclean and Yarra Trams.
On Friday, November 6, Metro Trains CEO Raymond O’Flaherty said that Transclean would no longer provide cleaning services to the Melbourne rail operator.
“A rigorous tender process is already underway to appoint a long-term cleaning supplier to provide the highest standard of daily cleaning for Metro’s train fleet,” he said.
“We will make further announcements regarding this ongoing tender process at the appropriate time.”
Metro Trains had already suspended and subsequently terminated the employment of Peter Bollas, with an auditor to review procurement and probity processes.
“Metro remains committed to the highest standards of integrity across our organisation.”
Transclean had been providing after-hours depot security services to Yarra Trams since 2017, however the operator will now be looking for a new contractor.
“Yarra Trams is terminating its contract with Transclean for after-hours depot security, and has provided the company 30 days’ notice,” said a Yarra Trams spokesperson.
A routine audit of Transclean found that there was procedure and performance issues with Transclean’s security services for Yarra Trams. These were raised with the company but were not responded to.
A separate company has provided cleaning services to Yarra Trams, including COVID-19 deep cleans.
O’Flaherty said that Metro was ensuring cleaning met community standards.
“I again want to reassure our passengers that we have a range of measures in place to ensure the daily cleaning and sanitisation of our trains meets the standards they expect. These measures include audit teams regularly checking the standard of this work.”
The first days of hearings as part of an inquiry into the handling of Victorian public transport contracts have heard that individuals within rail operators V/Line and MTM failed to uphold ethical best practices when it came to contracts and hiring.
The current inquiry, Operation Esperance, is the second time in three years that V/Line has been the subject of an Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) investigation, with Operation Lansdowne in 2017 investigating the awarding of training contracts by the regional operator.
Operation Lansdowne found evidence of nepotism and improper procurement, and in hearings held since Monday this week, former CEO of V/Line James Pinder was heard offering a job to his friend and Metro Trains Melbourne fleet manager Peter Bollas to manage facility contracts, including all cleaning.
While Bollas did not ultimately take the job, Pinder acknowledged that the conversation he was having with Bollas was duplicitous, considering that V/Line was responding to the findings of Operation Lansdowne at the time.
“I accept now and I accept then it was inappropriate,” said Pinder.
Pinder has been the focus of the inquiry’s first three days, which has alleged that Pinder received a loan of $320,000 from cleaning contractor Transclean managing director George Haritos after awarding a V/Line cleaning contract. The inquiry has also heard that Pinder and Peter Bollas received monthly cash payments from Haritos of $8,000 to $10,000 each.
Pinder has said that the payments were part of a gambling syndicate that involved himself, Haritos and Bollas. Bollas has said that he was never involved in a gambling syndicate with Pinder.
Under questioning from counsel assisting Paul Lawrie, Pinder said that the funds that went through the syndicate were sometimes used by Haritos when Transclean was having cashflow issues and that Pinder couldn’t be sure whether the funds that he received were from Transclean or Haritos personally. The funds were always in round amounts and delivered discretely.
IBAC Commissioner Robert Redlich questioned why there needed to be secrecy around the distribution of funds from the gambling system and why Pinder had written a note to Haritos telling him to provide a false reason for the payment of that money.
Pinder replied, “Rightly or wrongly I was panicked and I thought that the fact that I was in a gambling syndicate with somebody that was a supplier to V/Line whilst not necessarily illegal was inappropriate.”
IBAC also heard that Transclean staff were in life threatening situations. In one incident, a cleaned went underneath a Metro Trains train coupling without appropriate protection when the train’s pantograph was connected to the overhead wiring, creating the risk of electrocution.
The incident occurred while Transclean was attempting to secure the stations cleaning contract with Metro Trains Melbourne. In an intercepted phone conversation between Pinder and Bollas, Bollas is heard discussing ways to underplay the incident as the fault of Transclean.
A Metro Trains spokesperson said that the operator was unable to comment.
“Metro is unable to comment while the hearings are ongoing.”
Upon contacting ARA, the spokesperson told Rail Express, “The rail industry has stringent processes in place to ensure procurement is grounded in principles that support a stronger, socially responsible industry for all of us. While this is a very unusual case, it is important we look to the outcomes of this process and learn from them.”
Metro Trains Melbourne has once again beat performance target records during September.
During the month, 99.4 per cent of scheduled services were delivered, and 97.6 per cent were on time.
A spokesperson for Metro said the operator was continuing to provide services during Melbourne’s lockdown for essential workers.
“The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t changed our commitment to delivering the best service for our passengers. We are always striving to improve our performance and run the safe and efficient services that Melburnians deserve.”
Performance figures were helped by fewer trespassers in September than in previous months and fewer weather-related incidents. Strong winds caused a tree to fall across rail lines on September 2, however, which delayed 81 trains.
Performance figures for Yarra Trams were also above target, with 98.5 per cent of services delivered and 95.7 per cent on time.
During September, renewal project on the tram network included upgrades to Glenferrie and Malvern roads and upgrade works along St Kilda light rail began.
During Melbourne’s second lockdown, beginning in August, night tram services were suspended, however Yarra Trams stated that the operator was working towards the resumption of these services while prioritising passenger and staff safety as restrictions begin to be lifted.
For regional operator V/Line, punctuality in September dipped from a high in August. 96.2 per cent of services were on time while 96.4 were on time in August. Reliability figures improved however, with 96.8 per cent of services delivered in September, compared to 96.6 per cent in August.
These figures were partly impacted by the closure of the Albury-Wodonga line where coaches have replaced trains since July.
Across the short distance network, services on the Seymour Line were the most reliable, while services on the Geelong Line were the most punctual. On the long distance lines, the Bairnsdale Line was the most reliable and the Swan Hill & Echuca line was the most punctual.
Five engineers from refugee and asylum seeker background have begun their Australian professional journey with Metro Trains Melbourne in 2020.
The Engineering Pathways Industry Cadetship or EPIC program provides pathways for qualified engineers from refugee or asylum seeker backgrounds to work in Australia.
Metro Trains in partnership with the Level Crossing Removal Project has placed five cadets this year in major transport infrastructure projects.
Metro’s Executive Director – Projects Peter Gleeson said the EPIC program enables those with overseas qualifications to contribute to Victoria’s Big Build.
“The EPIC program gives people pathways to further their engineering careers – with on-site experience, a recognised qualification, and exposure to some of the biggest transport projects the state has ever seen,” Gleeson said.
“There’s never been a better time to be part of the infrastructure transformation across our city, and with a huge demand for engineering skills, these cadets will only go from strength to strength.”
The EPIC program overcomes a significant barrier for those with engineering qualifications that were achieved overseas. Only those with qualifications from a select number of countries are recognised in Australia, leading to many with engineering qualifications who could contribute to the rail skills pipeline working outside of their field.
In a 2011 report, Perspectives on Migrants, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) found that 65 per cent of all recent migrants had a non-school qualification before arriving in Australia, however only a third of these had their overseas qualification recognised.
One of the cadets, Mayat Mnayrji, has worked on the South-Eastern Program Alliance for stations and VicTrack interface.
“The EPIC program is really fantastic, giving overseas engineers the opportunity to get more work experience and improve themselves, as well studying a very useful course.”
Ilab Qassab, who holds a Bachelor in Electrical Engineering (power and machine) from the University of Mosul, in Iraq, has been based in the Metropolitan Roads Program Alliance, working with the rail team.
“I am very proud to be one of the EPIC program cadets. This program gave us a great opportunity to start our career in Australia and achieve our goals as we came from other countries.”
In addition to an Australian qualification, cadets also gain valuable work experience on major projects. In the ABS report, 64 per cent of recent migrants said that a lack of Australian work experience or references was a barrier to their employment. Ali Firwana, originally from Gaza, Palestine holds a Bachelor of Industrial Engineer and is working as a combined services route site engineer on the Frankston Line.
“Having work experience and industry-focused education is incredibly useful, and I am learning new things on a daily basis with Metro.”
Gleeson said the work of the cadets is invaluable for Victoria’s infrastructure pipeline.
“These five cadets have been doing fantastic work for Metro to help shape the Victorian government’s Big Build, which is transforming our public transport network.”
Metro Trains Melbourne has released a new app to more safely and effectively manage track access.
The Work on Track app enables employees and contractors to determine the safest way to access track across the Metro network on a mobile, tablet, or desktop device.
Based on data collected by Metro trains that is then presented through a web-based map, the app generates the most appropriate track protection option and excludes unsuitable options.
According to Metro CEO Raymond O’Flaherty, the app reduces more inefficient processes.
“The track access process is largely paper-based across the Australian rail industry, so we created a smarter and simpler way to complete the maintenance that our passengers rely on for a reliable journey,” he said.
In developing the app, existing processes were inputted as requirements. Users must follow a workflow to deliver against those requirements.
Asset data is mapped to a GIS base map that includes geographic features. The app takes into account maximum line speed, structures, gradient, and curves in the corridor to determine whether there is adequate line of sight. If the app determines that the site does not meet the line of sight requirements or in more complex areas, users can select lookout-only protection.
With the technology now in use, contractors and Metro staff have been able to reduce the use of lookout only protection, indicating that safer options are being used.
“This shows it is already helping us to manage our safety risks,” said O’Flaherty. “And using the app before our crews arrive onsite allows us to get works started and completed faster while keeping our people, passengers and plant safe.”
Metro Trains Melbourne’s Comeng, Siemens and X’Trapolis fleets have undergone major maintenance to ensure the trains are kept to the highest standard and improve the experience for passengers.
Melbourne trains are being retrofitted with wireless data recorders to monitor key train systems, improve safety and reliability, and maintenance, enabling the trains are available to run on the network more often.
The On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) system will give Metro engineers access to near real time data so they can monitor train performance, identify faults sooner, and maintain trains more efficiently.
Metro has recently installed the state-of-the-art technology on 174 three-carriage X’Trapolis train units.
The OBD project is being completed at the Newport rail workshops and has now moved on to the Siemens fleet.
The system is used to monitor everything including vibration in critical train bogie components, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, as well as passenger body-side doors, traction, auxiliary power supply, and passenger information systems.
This helps Metro diagnose and respond to potential issues sooner, reducing the risk of passengers being delayed by train faults.
Metro’s general manager of rolling stock, Dave Carlton said that Metro was completing a world first with this technology.
“We’re proud to be leading the largest-ever retrofit of remote condition monitoring equipment on an existing train fleet, globally,” he said.
“The data we collect from this technology is being shared across Metro, which benefits our operations, infrastructure and network development teams.”
Technical upgrades have also been carried out on the oldest vehicles in the Metro fleet. 75 per cent of the Comeng fleet, which in total numbers 179 trains are being overhauled, with passenger-facing and engineering improvements.
In 2017, a three-stage, $75 million upgrade project began, funded by the Victorian government.
Metro’s CEO Raymond O’Flaherty said the project will extend the life of the fleet.
“The Comeng fleet has served the people of Melbourne for almost 40 years, they are brilliant trains and they’ve certainly got more life left in them,” he said.
“We have very stringent maintenance programs for all our trains, that’s one of the reasons they are still so reliable. It’s also essential that we utilise all the technical advances that are available, and this life extension program makes sure that our passengers have the best possible experience on board.”
The life extension project has three stages, of which the first two are complete.
Stage one included critical-safety improvements to Comeng train doors – a feature now standard on all Metro trains.
Stage two was focused on the passenger experience, including rearranging and reupholstering seating, installing LED lights, new grab poles and straps, safer gang-way bellows, and new digital signage on the front of trains to give passengers destination information.
Upgrades have also been made to the driver’s instrument panel.
Stage three is the project’s final stage and is now almost complete. It involves upgrades to the passenger information system, with digital displays inside the carriages tracking the train’s journey in real-time.
Victorian Minister for Public Transport Ben Carroll said that upgrades would also increase safety for passengers, with new high definition CCTV cameras been fitted with a wider field of view that can be accessed remotely, which will support Metro and Victoria Police investigations.
“We can access camera footage remotely as soon as issues are reported – helping Metro and Victoria Police respond to incidents as quickly as possible and giving Victorians peace of mind that their journeys are safe.”
There are also improvements to hearing-aid links for people with additional needs and upgraded speakers for clearer on-board announcements.
On the engineering side, the trains’ air brakes are being overhauled, while the electrical relay panel and traction systems are being upgraded to support a safer journey.
For the Siemens fleet, Metro’s middle child, Metro partnered with accessibility group Vision Australia to support new safety upgrades for the Siemens fleet
New bellows were needed between carriages, which has instituted an “outer wall” that fills in the gap between the train and the platform.
By providing an exterior that is flat along the full length of the train, Metro has reduced the risk of falls for vision-impaired passengers who may mistake the gap for a door.
Since an upgrade program commenced in February this year, more than 20 per cent of Siemens trains have been upgraded with the new bellows.
As well as being safer for passengers, the upgrades also provide sound-proofing, making the carriages quieter for a more comfortable journey.
Together with Vision Australia, Metro used a mock-up train carriage to test the design to ensure it provided all the necessary safety features.
The mock-up train is used by Vision Australia to help familiarise vision-impaired passengers and enable them to move confidently around trains, while also teaching guide dogs how to navigate the network.
Carlton said this work was important for the community.
“The work we do to make sure our trains and stations are fully accessible for all our passengers is absolutely essential. Providing a public transport service means making sure that every person can use our network without limitation,” he said.
“These new gangways give us extra confidence that not only are we continuously improving safety, but we are improving the passenger experience. It’s not just about getting to your destination, it’s about getting to your destination as easily and comfortably as possible.”