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The city’s tram fleet is ageing and desperately needs an overhaul, Melbourne’s tram operator has warned the Andrews government, while the push to ramp up services is making it difficult to properly maintain the network’s 500 trams.
A confidential document released to The Age under freedom-of-information laws reveals deep concerns about the company’s capacity to deliver increased tram services without a major injection of new, low-floor trams over the next decade.
Old and new: Two models of trams in Melbourne.CREDIT:CHRIS HOPKINS
The document, titled “MR4 - Franchise Rolling Stock Strategic Plan’, was prepared by Keolis Downer - the company that owns Melbourne’s tram operator, Yarra Trams - as part of its bid for a seven-year contract to run Melbourne’s tram network, estimated to cost $2.7 billion.
It has been withheld by the government since late 2018, but has now been released following a review by the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner, who found it should be made public.
The document, which a government spokeswoman has described as “historical”, reveals that Keolis Downer warned in 2017 of “considerable” risks to safety and service delivery in continuing to operate the network’s older trams.
By the end of Keolis’ current contract with the government in 2024, all rolling stock more than 20 years old would have exceeded their use-by dates. In 2016, 40 per cent of the fleet had already exceeded its design life.
While 100 new E-class trams have been purchased - 30 more than anticipated by Keolis in 2017 - most of Melbourne’s trams are still 40 to 50-years-old, and the bulk are not wheelchair-accessible.
About 60 per cent of Melbourne’s tram fleet was built in the 1970s and ’80s and are not wheelchair-accessible. Nearly 400 of the 510 trams currently in service - about 78 per cent - were built more than 20 years ago.
“The challenges and risks of continuing to operate the older trams of this fleet are considerable,” Keolis warned in 2017.
“These trams were not built to modern standards and cannot meet the more stringent modern performance requirements for safety, reliability, availability, and driver and passenger amenities levels.”
The sharp reduction in fleet size due to the retirement of Z1 and Z2-class trams during 2015-16 put a major strain on tram availability and this would not be sustainable in future years, Keolis said.
“It is predicted that Keolis Downer will only reach the minimum fleet size to run the current timetable by December 2017 ... this minimum number of trams will be insufficient to meet the demands of an expanded MTT [Master Timetable].”
The lack of available trams has made it difficult to keep up with the maintenance task, risking “increasing breakdowns and service disruptions”, the company warned.
“The overall fleet performance due to a lack of investment has started to drop ... the solution is adding to the fleet and reducing the number of trams out of service due to maintenance”.
The government set aside $1.48 billion in last year’s budget for the new ‘Next Generation Trams’, planned to roll out from 2025, which will enable the retirement of older high-floor trams. The tram designs and detail about how and where the trams would be built have not yet been released.
Keolis warned in 2017 of a host of challenges facing the tram network over the next decade, including the risk to network disruptions caused by major public transport projects, industrial relation tensions and an upward trend in passenger falls.
The 89-page document - in which the company’s expected maintenance and operational costs have been redacted - warned the network was already struggling with long turn-around times for collision repairs, poor wash services and an inconsistent rollout of new rolling stock.
An ageing workforce posed major challenges, Keolis warned, with nearly 30 per cent of engineers and officers with specific knowledge about the tram network expected to retire over the next 10 years, the documents show.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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