The suburban railway network in Melbourne, Australia, covers 830 kilometres of track. Metro Trains Melbourne (MTM) is the current franchise holder with an agreement lasting eight years from 2009. MTM is a joint venture of the Hong Kong-based MTR Corporation (60%), John Holland Group (20%) and UGL (20%). It operates 150 six-car train sets which together cover more than 30 million kilometres each year.

The 21kilometre long Epping line was opened in 1889 and runs from the city-centre Flinders Street Station north to Epping. At one time the line went all the way to Whittlesea, but due to a lack of demand it was closed from Thomastown in 1959. The 3.5 kilometres to Epping was restored in the 1960s when the line was electrified.

In 2008 a further development plan was announced to increase the capacity of the existing line by doubling 5 kilometres of line and by extending it by 3.5 kilometres back to South Morang. This South Morang Rail Extension Project is being delivered by an alliance between the Victorian Department of Transport, Metro, VicRoads, John Holland and AECOM.

Grand opening

On 28 November, the new Epping Station, which has been relocated a short distance, opened to passengers as the first trains ran on the newly-commissioned dual track section that took in four stations over 5 kilometres.

The achievement followed an extended four-day occupation [no train services, overhead power isolated] and huge team effort as the alliance project team raced to deliver on time.

The senior project manager from MTM said, “despite a Saturday deluge the concerted approach and detailed planning by all involved parties met its target.

“Station staff were able to finalise their set up in the new building during the weekend while their nearby old structure was being demolished to make way for four new six-car set train stabling roads,” said Simon Vaughan.

“Signalling, overhead, track and electrical teams worked tirelessly to put the final touches in place so the test train could run through early on Sunday on the new section of dual track extending 3.5 km to a new terminating station and transport interchange that will open for use by mid-2012,” he said.

“That afternoon we had an intensive run of train drivers getting familiar with the new dual track in the existing corridor, ready for passenger services from early Monday.

“An Australian first was the installation, testing and commissioning of the SMARTLock computer-based interlocking (CBI) system designed specifically as a successor to Solid State Interlocking (SSI) for all signalling applications.”


Relevant stakeholders within Metro were regularly consulted to ensure designs, construction, operation and maintainability considerations were covered, according to Simon.

“The consultation process with MTM not only included the risk assessment process, but there were also workshops during the design phase to define the design strategy. These covered everything from track and signals and access maintenance to power upgrades.

“We ensured Metro had input to coordinating the delivery of the project, with key internal operational readiness and commissioning committees engaged at 12-weeks, five weeks and three weeks prior to this stage’s final commissioning.”

Metro Chief Executive Officer, Andrew Lezala, congratulated all who had contributed to a fantastic result in getting the first customer services out of the new Epping Station as scheduled on Monday.

“This has been a terrific project team effort that also has required close dealings with and support from all operational areas of Metro to achieve this goal,” Andrew said.

Praise from on high

Victoria’s Minister for Public Transport, Terry Mulder, joined the chorus of praise: “It’s great to see the newly-duplicated track and two new stations fully operational and delivered ahead of schedule.

“The newly-duplicated track will provide improvements in on-time reliability and performance for the Epping line. The new stations will provide a significant upgrade in facilities for commuters,” the minister said.

In the coming months the project team will wrap up the AU$400 million project with the commissioning of the new train stabling roads and completion of the new terminating station at South Morang. Once driver training is completed, Metro plans a timetable change to introduce added services on the line to meet the rising demand for public transport in Melbourne’s rapidly-growing north.


South Morang Rail Extension Project

Key Features

  • Doubling of track covering 5 km and four stations
  • 3.5 km extension of new dual track to a new premium terminating station (planned to open April 2012) at South Morang with free all-day parking for 450 cars, drop off area, taxi rank, a bus interchange and bike cages
  • Three new premium station buildings including new relocated Epping Station, new terminating interchange at South Morang, plus a second platform and pedestrian overpass at Thomastown Station
  • Upgraded road/pedestrian level crossings, new road overpass bridges and new rail bridges
  • Signal power equipment upgraded from 240 volt to 1000 volt
  • Signalling system upgraded CBI from SSI to Australian-first SMARTLock
  • Four new stable sidings constructed at the site of the former Epping Station
  • Upgraded maintenance facilities for signallers, maintainers and train drivers
  • Early works commenced March 2010, main construction from October 2010.