A commuter raised concerns with the operator of Melbourne’s suburban rail network about the extent of the gap between trains and the platform at Toorak’s Heyington Station just three months before an 18-year-old man slipped and was killed early last year.
Metro Trains acknowledged in an emailed response that it was concerned about the gaps at some railway platforms, but conceded there were no uniform standards for the distance because of variations in carriages and platform design.
A Metro customer relations manager said in the reply, dated November 2013, that as a consequence the gap between trains and platforms – as well as the step up or down into a train – “varies across the network” and that “a maximum gap and minimum platform height have not been set”.
In the email, the Metro spokesman said the rail operator was working closely with Public Transport Victoria to measure clearance distances at platforms using laser technology, so as to prioritise works to rectify “substandard platforms”.
However, any works would be dependent upon State Government funding.
Figures provided by the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator show that there were 50 “slips, trips or falls” involving the gap between trains and platforms on Melbourne’s rail network in the 12 months to June 2015.
Commuter Gary Dellora, of Hughesdale, had contacted Metro after becoming concerned at the extent of the gap at Heyington, which is on the Glen Waverley line, and which he believed posed a serious hazard to passengers. The station services nearby prestigious schools St Kevin’s College and St Catherine’s.
“You sort of get used to normal gaps, but this one looked outrageous,” Mr Dellora told The Citizen.
Soon after his alert, in February last year, Glen Iris teenager Mitchell Callaghan died after falling between a train and the platform at Heyington while on a night out with friends.
Mr Dellora recalled: “It just gobsmacked me that the very [railway platform] I complained about was the one the tragic incident occurred at.”
Late last year, rubber edging was added along the length of the platform at Heyington and the track realigned after Mitchell’s family and friends petitioned to have the station made safe.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is conducting an investigation into the incident, while in December the 40-year-old train driver from Narre Warren is expected to face a committal hearing on charges of recklessly engaging in conduct that placed people in danger of serious injury and death.
Metro’s emailed response to Mr Dellora reinforces the findings of The Citizen’s investigation into gaps across the network, which revealed that outdated platform designs combined with modernised carriages had left a legacy of dangerous gaps at some older stations. These gaps – the so-called “stepping distance” – are widest at stations located on a curve.
The issue of safety is clouded by an array of groups with a stake in rail regulation and because there appears to be no uniform standard for the gap between platforms and trains.
In the November 2013 email, the Metro official explained that the rail fleet comprised four types of train: the older Comeng and Hitachi models, and the newer X’Trapolis and Siemens trains that are confined to specific lines. The latter two, introduced in 1999, were required to conform to “stringent specifications as defined by the State Government”.
Despite the variation in train-platform gaps, Metro reassured Mr Dellora that “a 300mm step is compliant under DDA [Disability Discrimination Act] requirements”.
However, the former Co-operative Research Centre for Rail Innovation, which was a Federal Government initiative, conducted a technology review in 2012 of the “Platform-Train Interface for Rail Passengers”, citing a standard of 40mm for the horizontal gap and 15mm for the vertical difference as per the Australian Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport (2002).
The report also referred to a 2004 field study by industry consultants Atkins Rail for the “Significant Steps project”, which concluded that an acceptable stepping distance parameter – where the gap width and height were added together – should not exceed 200mm.
It stated specifically that “a stepping distance of 300mm is unacceptable”.
Public Transport Victoria – which oversees the metropolitan train, tram and bus network – says that the design standard for gaps at new and substantially upgraded stations is 100mm for the “horizontal offset” and between minus-50mm and plus-70mm for the vertical gap between the train floor and platform edge. A construction tolerance of plus-or-minus 10mm is permitted, and further tolerance allowed for curved platforms.
A Metro spokeswoman has previously told The Citizen that “the standards which were current as at the time of construction of the platform or at the time of any upgrade of the platform” were the standards that applied to the platform gap.
According to the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator, established by federal and state governments in 2012 to oversee and audit the activities of network operators, the responsibility for ensuring safety of operations – including mitigation of the risk posed by gaps between trains and railway platforms – falls entirely on the operator. However, it would not comment on whether it believed Metro was satisfying its compliance obligations.
Mr Dellora said that he had approached Metro again on learning of Mitchell Callaghan’s death, asking if anything had been done following his warning, but described Metro’s response as disappointing. He accused the operator of “passing the buck” to the State Government.
He added: “A man-trap’s a man-trap … It shouldn’t take someone’s death to address these issues”.
Metro declined to comment on the 2013 email. The office of the Minister for Transport and the PTV did not respond to requests for interviews.