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Ageing train system leads to soaring power costs

Metro is Victoria's second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

Metro is Victoria's second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Photo: Angela Wylie

Victoria's ageing train infrastructure is costing taxpayers millions in unnecessary power usage and stymieing efforts by the train operator to cut its greenhouse emissions.

Metro is the state's second-biggest user of electricity, but its efforts to consume less power are being hampered by Melbourne's antiquated rail infrastructure, including a power-supply system that is more than 90 years old and trains that are close to retirement age.

In its 2012-17 strategic operations plan, obtained by Fairfax Media under freedom-of-information laws, Metro revealed it was the state's second-largest greenhouse gas emitter through electricity use.

It is understood that only aluminium manufacturer Alcoa consumes more electricity.

Metro's five-year plan includes a target to cut power use by 10 per cent for each kilometre of train travel - and ultimately by 20 per cent - to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and save taxpayers' money.

The state pays Metro's electricity bill under the rail operator's franchise agreement with the Transport Department.

''We have set a target of a 10 per cent reduction of traction electricity consumption per unit kilometre operated by 2017,'' the plan states. It aims to achieve this through the use of regenerative braking technology, which uses a train's motor and brakes to put power back into the overhead wiring to be used by other trains.

But little progress has been made in the two years since it put the power-saving proposal to government, with the high cost and practical difficulty of applying the technology to Melbourne's rail system being blamed.

Metro said a computer simulation on the hilly Lilydale line had shown the energy regenerative braking technology would save electricity.

''This showed that once the technology is affordable, a business case can be made so that it's commercially viable,'' spokeswoman Larisa Tait said. ''The technology is in its infancy and is currently very expensive and we are waiting for the cost of the storage units to reduce.''

Additionally, many of the electrical substations that help power the network and which were built in the 1920s when Melbourne's rail lines were first electrified are not equipped to handle regenerated electricity.

The braking technology will also not work with Metro's Comeng trains, which make up more than a third of its fleet but are due to reach the end of their design lives between 2017 and 2024, according to Metro's plan.

Tony Morton, president of the Public Transport Users Association, said Metro's power consumption was less efficient than it should be because Melbourne's rail network still used the same voltage system it began with.

''We still operate a 1920s vintage power-supply system for our trains,'' Dr Morton said.

''Fifteen-hundred volts DC was state of the art when it was first put in, but virtually all of the other 1500-volt DC infrastructure around the world - or certainly in the developed world - has since been upgraded to the contemporary standard.''

The Napthine government has introduced 1078 extra Metro weekly train trips since it came to office, increasing the rail network's power consumption and carbon emissions. However, both Metro and Dr Morton said rail travel remained a far more environmentally friendly option than cars.

''Even with most of our electricity supplied from brown coal and all the inefficiencies we have with a 1500-volt power supply, we still manage to have very low energy consumption per passenger, especially in peak hour, when our trains are fully loaded,'' Dr Morton said.

75 comments

  • Public transport is a vital component for a sustainable future. The govt has a responsibility to us all to create a system that will adapt to the technological and usage needs , especially if we are footing the energy bills. All our services and infrastructure are interconnected and codependant in certain ways so we need a govt that can handle the big picture, not tweak bits of it to look good.

    Commenter
    LJanes
    Date and time
    January 13, 2014, 7:24AM
    • "..spokeswoman Larisa Tait said. ''The technology is in its infancy and is currently very expensive and we are waiting for the cost of the storage units to reduce.''"
      ...
      Really?

      Commercially viable regenerative brake sourced sustainable powering has been available and operational elsewhere in the World since the early 1980s.

      Commenter
      Oz
      Location
      Princes Hill
      Date and time
      January 13, 2014, 8:56AM
    • The state government has no interest in spending a cent more than it absolutely has to on public transport. Sustainability is not a word Mr Napthine understands.

      Commenter
      Logic
      Date and time
      January 13, 2014, 12:35PM
  • Preoccupation with window-dressing.

    As this article eloquently put in the last paragraph "we still manage to have very low energy consumption per passenger, especially in peak hour"

    Commenter
    Alfred
    Location
    Altona
    Date and time
    January 13, 2014, 7:50AM
    • Conservation is bad for the economy because it encourages using less energy.. Spoken like a true LNP supporter.

      Commenter
      v0ter
      Location
      melb
      Date and time
      January 13, 2014, 8:23AM
    • Yes, packed trains that are carrying 2 times the passengers of 25 years ago are amazingly energy efficient, even with groaning, ageing, break down prone 90 year old infrastructure, which all goes to show how far sighted our Victorian and Edwardian predecessors were and how backward, neglectful and pathetic governments of the last fifty years have been and how excessively strong has been the road lobby..

      By the way, do you have shares in the electricity companies?

      Commenter
      Rev Jim Jones
      Date and time
      January 13, 2014, 9:22AM
    • Of course, and the consortium will get a government, tax-payer guarantee against any losses, so that the tunnel financial disasters of Brisbane and Sydney cannot happen here.

      Heads, they win; tales, we - the public - lose.

      Commenter
      Privatise the profits, socialise the losses
      Location
      Remember the Desal !
      Date and time
      January 13, 2014, 9:43AM
    • Rev Jim Jones,

      No, currently I don't have shares in any company whatsoever. Not even the SMSF. Frankly, I don't understand that part of your comment.

      On the other hand, I heartily endorse your approval of the far-sightedness of generations of local politicians who were giants compared to the pygmies of the past 50 years.

      Commenter
      Alfred
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      January 13, 2014, 10:57AM
    • Alfred, it's hard to tell if your comment was sarcastic or not. Current politicians being far sighted? Who?

      Commenter
      Logic
      Date and time
      January 13, 2014, 12:38PM
    • Logic,

      I wrote than prior to 50 years ago, they were giants. Today's lot are pygmies. I hope my meaning is clear.

      Commenter
      Alfred
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      January 13, 2014, 1:41PM

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