The V/Line VLocity, sometimes called the VLocity 160,[b] is a diesel multiple unit train built by Bombardier Transportation, Dandenong for V/Line, the regional rail operator in Victoria. Continuously in production since 2003, the VLocity is the highest-speed train in the V/Line fleet, with a top speed of 210 km/h (limited to 160 km/h due to infrastructure) and a cruising speed of 160 km/h (99 mph). As of December 2019, 76 3-car sets are in service with 12 more under construction .
Design origins and testing
To honour a commitment made when it was awarded the V/Line franchise, National Express requested tenders in early 2000 for 29 two-carriage diesel multiple units. The order, which coincided with the Regional Fast Rail project then being undertaken by the state government, was awarded to Adtranz's Dandenong factory in mid-November with a value of A$410,000,000. The contract was extended to 38 two-car units and an initial fifteen-year maintenance contract. By the time the first was delivered, the V/Line franchise had reverted to the state government, while Adtranz had been taken over by Bombardier Transportation.
The design was an evolution of the Xplorer/Endeavour railcars. Although Bombardier originally intended to use the same body shell design as the Endeavour, difficulties with the aerodynamic drag characteristics of this shape for the intended 160 km/h (100 mph) operational speed of the VLocity led to a complete redesign of the train body. Ultimately, the VLocity was designed concurrently with the B series being developed for Transperth as an electric multiple unit, resulting in a number of shared design elements.
The original plan was for the 29 sets to be fitted with 2+3 seating, for a total capacity of 173 passengers per two-carriage set. However, in February 2003, that was changed to 144 seats in a 2+2 formation.
In 2003, it was announced that the units would be built in Bombardier's Dandenong factory, with the bogies to be constructed at Bombardier's Derby Litchurch Lane Works in England, and the control system to be supplied by Bombardier's plant in Västerås, Sweden. The first unit was completed in July 2004, and testing began shortly after. The trains were tested at 160 km/h for the first time on 17 September, when Premier Steve Bracks joined a test run along a 30 km (19 mi) route from Warragul to Moe.
Safety improvements were suggested at various stages in the development of the VLocity and, following the Waterfall accident in New South Wales, in which a train derailed when travelling too fast around a curve, and the Cairns Tilt Train derailment in Queensland, which occurred in similar circumstances, the State Government announced in December 2004 that the Train Protection & Warning System (TPWS) would be installed on Regional Fast Rail lines and the VLocity trains. In August 2005, the State Government commissioned an investigation into the fitting of seat belts on the trains, although the concept was considered potentially expensive and technically challenging.
Testing revealed noise levels were too high in the cabin, delaying the introduction of the trains into service while the completed sets were modified.
The VLocity was introduced into service on the Ballarat line on 22 December 2005, with Bracks and Transport Minister Peter Batchelor travelling on the inaugural service from Southern Cross station. An unveiling ceremony was held at Ballarat and the train returned as a regular service. Services on the Geelong and Bendigo lines followed on 3 February 2006 and 24 February 2006 respectively. Services to Traralgon and Seymour were introduced in September 2006. A timetable allowing the VLocity to operate at its 160 km/h (99 mph) design speed was introduced on 3 September, despite allegations by the State Opposition of ongoing issues with the TPWS. In addition, the Ararat and Echuca services are operated by VLocitys. From 2010, one Ballarat line service each day was extended to Maryborough.
On 10 November 2008, seven-carriage-long VLocity trains commenced regular operation on peak-hour Geelong line services. Previously, the longest trains were six carriages.
Additions to the fleet
After the initial order of 38 units, a further two VLocity units were later ordered to bring the total to 40, along with 22 new intermediate trailers to be inserted in the middle of existing VLocity sets. The first 14 were promised during the 2006 State Election, and the order was placed in December the same year. The order for the next eight was announced on 12 October 2007.
In July 2008, the State Government ordered nine new three-car units, and an additional intermediate car to be inserted into an existing two-car unit, with an extra four carriages added in February 2009. The final unit of the order was delivered in September 2011.
With the availability of improved technologies for train control, from mid-2012, sets VL30, VL40 and VL50 were selected by Bombardier as test sets for equipment upgrades, in order to minimise the number of sets containing non-standard systems.
In November 2012, the State Government announced an additional 40 carriages will be delivered between 2014 and 2016. The order comprised seven additional 3-car sets plus 19 intermediate cars to increase the remaining 2-car sets to 3-cars.
In March 2014, the order for 40 carriages was increased to 43. Further orders were placed for 21 carriages In May 2015 and 27 carriages in April 2016. In December 2017, a further nine sets were ordered. Once all have been delivered, the fleet will comprise 88 3-car sets. Of these, sets 76-79 will be of a modified configuration, with a single toilet per three-carriage set instead of two, improvements to CCTV, downrating of the engines to 650 hp each for fuel economy and altered sanding and seating arrangements. Sets from 80-88 will revert back to 2 toilets with modified seating and a different front to accommodate a safer driving cabin. As of 03 May 2020 units 80-84 are undergoing commissioning and not yet entered traffic.
After jockey Michelle Payne won the 2015 Melbourne Cup horse race riding Prince of Penzance, becoming the first female jockey to win the race, set VL09 was named Michelle Payne in honour of her regional Victorian ancestry. The set was the first VLocity to be named and the first V/Line train to be named since the Sprinters in the late 20th century.
Wheel wear restrictions
In January 2016, V/Line removed approximately a quarter of VLocity units from service after identifying unusually high rates of wear to wheel flanges. Compared to a normal rate of 0.7–1.0 millimetre per month (0.028–0.039 in/month), Bombardier's service regime noted a maximum wear rate of 2.6 mm/month (0.10 in/month). Although unusual wear patterns had been observed since December of the previous year across the V/Line fleet, V/Line CEO Theo Taifalos ordered the withdrawal of the most badly affected units for safety reasons.
Meanwhile, on 15 January 2016 a VLocity set failed to activate boom gates at the Progress Street level crossing in Dandenong. This led Metro Trains to ban all sets from operating on suburban lines until the issue had been resolved. The combined restrictions on the VLocity fleet led to the daily cancellation of nearly 70 V/Line services from mid-January.
By the beginning of March, Bombardier had increased its capacity to remachine affected wheels, and track identified as potentially contributing to the wheel wear situation had been reprofiled; as a consequence, VLocity units were gradually returned to service.
In April, a report by the Institute of Railway Technology at Monash University identified tight curves and an inadequate track lubrication on the newly opened Regional Rail Link as the root cause of the increase in wheel wear, and suggested that the relatively stiff suspension of the VLocity was the reason it had been most severely affected.
The New Generation Rollingstock ordered for Queensland Rail from Bombardier will be based on the VLocity design and the A-City Class 4000 EMU used by Adelaide Metro, which was itself based on the VLocity shell.
A 2016 asset management report presented by V/Line noted that the VLocity would be unsuitable for higher passenger loads without a complete body redesign, and acknowledged that the operational performance of the VLocity was hampered by the inferior acceleration of V/Line's locomotive-hauled fleet. The 2016–17 Victorian budget allocated funds for a project to redesign the VLocity for long-haul services, particularly those to Shepparton, Warrnambool and Albury/Wodonga.
By late 2017, design work had begun on modifications to the interior for units VL76-VL79. Many of the changes were required for improved compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act. For the later order of VL80 and above, more significant alterations to the crash protection in the driver's cabin were introduced.
In October 2018, the state government announced that a new interior layout would be introduced on units VL76-VL88 with 14 extra seats per three-carriage set, at the expense of removing a toilet and bike storage rack from each set. Cycling lobby groups criticised the new layout, but the government argued that the sets would be restricted to short-distance routes where the additional capacity would be valuable. The first of the updated type entered service in August 2019.
Introduction to long-distance service
In the lead up to the 2018 Victorian election, opposition leader Matthew Guy announced that his party, if elected to government, would order 16 6-car VLocity variants from Bombardier for dedicated long-distance operation, with catering and first class facilities.
From May 2018, improvements to level crossing infrastructure saw test VLocity runs to Bairnsdale, ahead of an introduction to revenue service on the line later in the year. At the same time, government representatives announced that the long-haul variant of the VLocity would include onboard refreshment facilities and improved seats. A media event was held at Bairnsdale in July of that year, at which it was announced that 2 of 3 daily Bairnsdale trains would be taken over by VLocity sets.
V/Line expects to replace its entire locomotive-hauled fleet with VLocity units by 2022. As part of this process, Bombardier has investigated several concepts for the installation of catering facilities into trains for long-haul services. In May 2018, the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) announced that it had received confirmation that a buffet facility would be included in new intermediate carriages, added to existing sets to form 4-car trains for long-distance services.
There are three car types in the VLocity class: the Driver Motor with Disabled Access cars, numbered 11xx and designated DM(D); the Driver Motor cars, numbered 12xx and designated DM; and the Trailer Motor cars, numbered 13xx and designated TM. It is usual for the set of semi-permanently coupled cars to be described as VLxx where xx is the final two digits of the car designation – for example, the set 1150-1350-1250 would be described as VL50.
Power is provided by a Cummins QSK 19R diesel engine (559 kW (750 hp)) in each car, attached on a separate underframe. The engine powers both axles on one bogie in each car, while the other bogie is unpowered. The engine is supplemented by an 80 kW (110 hp) Cummins auxiliary power unit for lighting and air-conditioning purposes. The VLocity uses a Voith T312 hydraulic transmission system with dynamic braking capabilities.
According to engine manufacturer, Cummins, the VLocitys are the most reliable diesel railcars in the world, as a result of that propulsion system, with a mean distance between failures (MDBF) of 150,000 km (93,000 mi). V/Line reported a MDBF of 157,805 km (98,055 mi) in the 2016–17 financial year.[c]
Among the design innovations in the VLocity units are the integration of the air-conditioning unit into the ceiling superstructure, and a structurally isolated crumple zone in the nose which can be entirely replaced with a new module following a crash.
VLocity units use Scharfenberg couplers, enabling them to operate with other VLocity units.
VLocitys operate on the broad gauge, as with most other V/Line services. The bogies were manufactured by Bombardier's Derby Litchurch Lane Works, and are fully gauge-convertible to standard gauge.
The driver's console for the VLocity is a dashboard mounted slightly below the one-piece front windscreen of the train. There are two seats in the driving cabin; the active driver's seat is positioned slightly to the left of the train's centre, with the second seat slightly behind. The train is controlled by a combined throttle and brake lever, which has six power levels and the ability to vary the brake application. There is also an independent brake lever and a reverser handle in the driver's primary controls.
The seating layout for the VLocity is 2+2, with a mix of club-style seats facing each other, and aircraft-style rows. The seats cannot be rotated to face any particular direction, and seat backs do not recline. Four wheelchair spaces are provided in each set through the provision of tip-up seats. The VLocity offers economy-class seating only, although the seat width is equivalent to first class seating on V/Line locomotive-hauled services. In response to passenger feedback, the seatback angle in the intermediate carriages was made 2.5 degrees more upright than the original carriages. New deliveries from July 2010 onwards (VL42 and above) featured a changed seatback angle and new seat fabrics.
While VLocity carriages have tinted windows, they lack the curtains as provided by older V/Line rolling stock. Passengers may move freely between the two or three semi-permanently coupled vehicles in a set, but not between the sets themselves. Conductors move between coupled sets at station stops.
Tables were installed in one unit (VL28) for evaluation purposes, but were later removed. In three-car VLocity units, 32 seats in the intermediate carriage have fold-down tray tables, much like the first class seats on locomotive-hauled services.
Overhead racks exist for small baggage, while larger baggage is stored in the middle of the unit, with some spaces large enough for surfboards and bicycles. In January 2008, passengers were banned from taking bicycles on VLocity trains during peak hours, despite the designated bike area, with the ban repealed in February 2008.
The original VLocity livery consisted of purple and green facings on a stainless steel car body.
In March 2008, newly built VLocity set VL41 was outshopped with an altered cab livery following recommendations in recent level crossing accident reports to make trains more visible to motorists. Portions of reflective yellow were added to the cabs, along with more reflective silver directly beneath the cab windscreen. All units were retrospectively treated.
In June 2010, newly built set VL42 was released in a new livery of crimson stripe at roof level replacing the purple, and red replacing the green, a red stripe along the car body below the windows, white doors, and yellow front. The set also received high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights which project light for up to 1 kilometre, modified windscreen wipers and cab windows.
In 2014, VL40 had a new Public Transport Victoria livery applied. All sets from VL52 were delivered in this livery.
Reception and impact
As the VLocity seating layout is 2+2, instead of the 2+3 seating provided in other V/Line saloon-type carriages, the VLocity is less suited to crush loads than older rolling stock. A single VLocity car seats around 70 passengers, compared to 89 in the previous generation Sprinter with its narrower 2+3 seats.
The Regional Fast Rail project for which the VLocitys were built was criticised for cost blow-outs during construction. These included the cost of installing extra safety measures deemed necessary for 160 km/h operation, which were added to the project after the Waterfall rail accident in New South Wales.
By 2012, the VLocity trains and attendant decreases in travel time were regarded as major factors in the economic revival of towns along V/Line routes. The combined effect of the trains' comfort, speed and reliability was noted to have enabled the creation of new commuter belt locations outside of Melbourne, and the increases in train frequency which followed the introduction of the VLocity sets was said to have substantially improved the convenience of accessing Melbourne from the Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong regions.
A 2014 report by the federal government's Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development found that the VLocity trains had contributed to the overall success of the Regional Fast Rail project in increasing the accessibility of rail services for regional Victoria. The case study concluded that the improved ride quality of the trains was a significant contributor to improved passenger perceptions of rail services, and that the increased service frequency made possible by the trains was ultimately more beneficial from an operational perspective than any real or perceived time savings.
Accidents and incidents
On 28 April 2006, set VL29 was involved in a collision at a level crossing at Trawalla while travelling from Ararat. It collided with a large triaxle road trailer carrying a 16-tonne block of stone and two heavy press machines. The front of the train withstood the impact with the trailer, but the press machines were thrown loose, striking and penetrating the cab. The incident caused two fatalities. At the time of the impact, three people were in the cab, the driver – who was seriously injured – and two off-duty Pacific National drivers – one of whom was injured, and the other killed. As the train continued through the crossing, the rear trailer swung around and the stone block was thrown off, striking and partially penetrating the side of the leading car 1129, killing the mother of the train driver, who had been travelling as a passenger. Forty others received injuries in the crash. The unit had been in service for seven days before the accident. After the accident, both cars were taken to Newport Workshops for examination. Carriage 1129 suffered the most damage and was written off. Carriage 1229, having received relatively minor damage, was sent to Bombardier, Dandenong for repairs. It was later renumbered 1241 and marshalled together with new cars 1141 and 1341.
On 5 May 2006, VLocity set VL04 travelling on the 09:38 service from Southern Cross to Ararat collided with a car at the protected Rockbank level crossing near Melton. Thirty train passengers and the driver of the car were taken to hospital.
During a passenger service to Bendigo on 26 February 2010, the driver of sets VL6, VL5 and VL17, at the time three two-car sets coupled in that order, was alerted to the smell of smoke in the leading car of VL5. The train stopped at Watergardens, where the driver and a relief driver also on board the train discovered a fire in the park brake system of VL5, which they were able to extinguish quickly. VL6 was decoupled and continued to Bendigo without incident. An investigation found that the park brake had either not been released on departure or had been inadvertently activated by the relief driver, who was travelling in the empty cab of the VL5 lead car.
On 22 August 2014, a Metro Trains Comeng train, which had departed Laverton en route to Flinders Street, stopped after the driver noticed a loud noise and an apparent fault in his train's braking system. VLocity set VL05, which was being transferred from Geelong to Southern Cross without passengers, passed a red automatic signal without adhering to safe procedures for that situation, and the driver was unable to stop before colliding with the stationary Metro train. The driver of the VLocity and 8 passengers on the Metro train sustained minor injuries. An investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau found that the driver of the VLocity, travelling too fast for the situation, was distracted and failed to notice the inadequate rear marker lights of the Metro train.
Technically, a maximum of four VLocity sets may be coupled together for operation as a single consist. Between 2008 and 2016, seven-car VLocity trains operated on the Geelong line, made up of two two-car sets and a three-car set. However, following the conversion of the entire VLocity fleet to three-car sets, all trains have operated as three or six cars. Operation of 9-car trains would be possible only with infrastructure improvements such as platform extension at a number of stations.
The VLocity is authorised to run in revenue service:
- on the North East line from Melbourne to Seymour
- on the Gippsland line from Melbourne to Sale and Bairnsdale
- on the Bendigo line from Melbourne to Bendigo, and then to Eaglehawk on the Yungera line and Echuca on the Echuca line
- on the Warrnambool line from Melbourne to Waurn Ponds
- on the Serviceton line to Ballarat and then to Ararat, and from Ballarat to Maryborough on the Mildura line.
VLocity trains are permitted to run only on lines where all level crossings are protected by boom gates and lights. In 2017 the State Government announced upgrade works to extend VLocity services to Warrnambool, Albury and Bairnsdale, and in 2019 announced upgrades to allow them to run to Shepparton.
A VLocity simulator is used by V/Line for driver training. The simulator replicates the driving cabin of the VLocity and includes forward vision and rear mirror graphics and audio effects. An instructor positioned outside the simulator can control track conditions and replicate some faults with the train itself.
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