V/Line trains forced out of service by mysterious wheel fault

Regional rail operator V/Line has been forced to pull many of its newest trains out of service because of a sudden and mysterious spate of wheel faults it fears could cause a train to derail.

The problem is confined to the operator's VLocity carriages, the newest in the fleet, which continue to roll out of the Bombardier factory in Dandenong at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.

V/Line services have been hit by a spate of wheel faults.
V/Line services have been hit by a spate of wheel faults. Photo: Patrick Scala

About a quarter of the VLocity fleet is off the rails for repair, forcing V/Line to scramble to patch together a viable passenger service as it cancels scores of trains across the state and puts people on replacement buses.

The Geelong line, easily V/Line's busiest, has been hardest hit by the cancellations, although the shortage of carriages is bad enough to have affected most lines. On Thursday, all but one of V/Line's five major lines were disrupted.

An inner part of the wheel has worn away at an unusually rapid rate on some carriages.
An inner part of the wheel has worn away at an unusually rapid rate on some carriages. 

The heavy wear and tear on train wheels was first identified in December but V/Line does not yet understand why it is happening, nor how long it will take to fix the problem.

It cannot yet rule out the possibility that the damage is being done on the $3.65 billion Regional Rail Link between Southern Cross Station and Geelong, which opened in June.


Experts from Monash University have been recruited to help identify the source of the costly damage to carriages, some of which have been in service only for months.

An inner part of the wheel called the flange is wearing away at an unusually rapid rate, thinning out the wheel profile and creating the risk that a train could slip off the tracks if left unrepaired. Images of metal filings on V/Line tracks seen by The Age illustrate how quickly the wheel is wearing away.

The wheels were manufactured by Newcastle company Comsteel​.

V/Line chief executive Theo Taifalos said he had made the call to put the VLocity trains out of service, in the full knowledge this would disrupt many passengers.

"I won't let safety be compromised, so I made the decision to pull the carriages out of service," Mr Taifalos said.

"For customers, they will need to keep up to date with our announcements because there will be some disruptions, regrettably."

The wear and tear is also evident on V/Line's older diesel carriages, but is not so stark that trains must be removed from service.

Mr Taifalos said the problem had emerged only in the past 30 days.

He said there was no prospect of pulling the entire VLocity fleet out of service.

Paul Westcott, regional spokesman for the Public Transport Users Association, said passengers would be frustrated but had to take it on good faith that V/Line had made the correct call. He said it was fortunate the problem emerged during mid-summer when many people were away.

"This is very concerning and obviously extremely disruptive for passengers to have such a huge proportion of the fleet out of action and for an unknown duration," Mr Westcott said.

"Let's hope the solution is relatively simple, because if it's a complex problem, this is going to drag on for weeks and months."