May 21, 2013 - 11:17AM
Adam Carey, Clay Lucas
Railway signalling engineers say commuters could face more peak-hour disruptions if Metro succeeds in its push to introduce new around-the-clock working arrangements for some of its staff.
Melbourne's metropolitan rail operator wants more of its signalling engineers to perform maintenance work in the early morning when no trains are running, rather than be on standby during peak hours in case there is a fault.
But Metro's signalling staff and their unions are fighting the proposed changes. They say they are being pushed into working unfriendly hours that will cut Metro's overtime wages bill but do nothing to improve the reliability of Melbourne's trains. The proposed cut in the number of signalling staff at the start of both peaks will increase the risk of delays, they claim.
"We believe that Metro are putting public safety and train running at risk at peak times by reducing the number of reactive signalling people," said Electrical Trades Union organiser Gerry Glover.
Mr Glover said Melbourne's trains only stopped running for about two hours each night and engineers accustomed to working day shifts could not be expected to perform to the best of their capabilities at those times.
"They're expecting signal people to go out in the middle of the night, in poor lighting and perform miracles in maintenance. All I can see out of that is that there is probably going to be mistakes made," he said.
Metro denied the proposed changes would make peak-hour services less reliable.
"We need to safeguard the railway on a 24-hour basis to meet the needs of our customers," Metro spokesman Daniel Hoare said.
Metro relies on many of its signalling engineers to perform volunteer overtime to complete early morning maintenance, a situation it says it can no longer sustain.
"This railway has changed significantly in recent years and our work practices need to change as well," Mr Hoare said.
"The proposed roster changes do not in any way heighten the risk for disruptions during the morning or evening peaks. On the contrary, they give us the chance to access the railway when there are no trains on it, meaning we can carry out critical upgrade work to reduce the chances of disruptions at any time of day."
The dispute will be resolved through arbitration at the Fair Work Commission.
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It's good to see action being proposed in acknowledgement that relatively minor issues are ballooning into major disruptions.
Many jobs such as police, doctors, nurses, truck drivers, train drivers etc work at odd hours of the day and I don't see maintenance workers as having to be immune from that. It really should be forming "part of the job" and if you don't like that then work for another company or something.
This would be based on however, Metro needing to work out a roster which can be flexible to give these workers rotating shifts if they prefer and alternating weekends. You can't just say to a worker whose worked 9-5 to all of a sudden work 5 days a week or more midnight to 8am (well you probably could, but it would be rather harsh). I guess I'm just saying, many other careers expect their workers to work odd hours and maintenance is usually at the forefront of this.
Regarding safety, I would almost be certain flood lights would be used where needed. It's not in the interest of Metro, the government or the workers to be skimping on safety. I think that's just an exaggerated claim by the union to say it would affect safety. It's all in the detail I suppose! Until we see that, it would become clearer.
Having said that though, I initially can't see how signal faults and track faults can be detected before they happen, surely if it was that easy we would already have cut the frequency of these by half...
The underlying problem in the rail network is largely due to the entire infrastructure needing replacing, just look at the signalling cables along side tracks which are exposed to the weather, that is when they're not in rusty protective metal cases.