Single Point of Failure

Well, yet again this morning, thousands of commuters from the western suburbs of Melbourne and Geelong had their daily travel severely disrupted, after a power failure at Newport station disabled signals and points.

Now, I’m the first to accept that unexpected things happen all the time, and that running an integrated public transport network is undoubtedly difficult, but the regularity of problems at Newport are becoming monotonous.

Whether it be extreme heat, heavy rain, theft of copper, or intervention from wildlife – as is claimed happened this morning – Newport seems to be a regular spot for massive failures that disables large chunks of the network.

Okay, so the problems happen – and despite the inevitable frustration life does go on.

However, many people on the Geelong line in particular gave up completely this morning and went home – how much productivity was lost today?

For many, it would have been the first working day of their year. For others, they would have been starting new jobs today – imagine how they felt and how “good” they looked to their new employers turning up two hours late, as many of us did?

Newport has become a single point of failure. As a key junction on a major line, an outage there is devastating for the on-time running and performance of the entire Melbourne train network, and the regional V/Line network’s South Western line.

Where the problem lies is contingency. There is none. There is a single physical regular point of failure, but elsewhere there are many points of failure – and they have nothing to do with possums electrocuting themselves on power lines.

It’s called communication, being honest in that communication, and being timely in that communication. Lets look at some quotes from the above article.

“The possum electrocuted itself on residential powerlines in Newport at 3.58am, short-circuiting a switch controlling power to Newport railway station as well as 430 homes and businesses in Newport and area, said a spokesman for electricity company Jemena.”

Okay, so this happened at 3:58am. At this point, something should have happened. Someone should have figured out this might cause a problem or two, or several hundred thousand.

Contingency should have started at this point. Someone should be contacting bus companies and putting them on standby. Organising drivers, and getting ready. I heard numerous reports this morning of ample buses being available, but no drivers to drive them.

In the end, after three hours to do something, very few buses turned up to deal with the few thousand people stranded without an alternative to get to work.

This is a failure of process, and should be embarrassing.

Further, a work colleague – (when I eventually arrived) – who travels from Hoppers Crossing on the metropolitan network through Newport at about 6am said there were no delays for her.

Yet this happened at 3:58am? Were trains being sent through despite signal and points failures – (unlikely) – or is “3:58am” a load of cobblers?

This seems to be a failure of honesty. Next quote:

“Passengers travelling from Geelong had been urged to find an alternative to the train to get to work today.”

Nope. Wrong. As I sat on my 7:04 train at North Geelong this morning – (for 89 minutes) – there were any number of announcements about there being “no new information” as to what was going on. There were repeated calls over about 45 minutes that buses would arrive in around “5 to 10 minutes”.

Eventually five arrived – (carrying between 200 and 250 people out of the 600 or so on the train) – but there was no urging to find alternatives to the train. In fact, more often than not, the conductor on this service stated that it was “probably going to be quicker to stay on the train”.

Next quote:

“Mr Kelly, who said the infrastructure failure had affected V/Line’s busiest period of the morning, urged passengers travelling to ring V/Line to check today’s timetable.”

Why? Are you changing the timetable? Umm, no. This is just PR rhetoric to make people think they are “looking out” for the customers. If they were looking out for the customers, they would have started organising buses at 3:58am – (or is that 6am?). Next quote:

“But limited service had resumed by 9.3am, [sic] with trains expected to be running back on schedule by lunchtime.”

With reference to the previous quote, if normal services are running by lunchtime – (not long after a lot of people actually got to Melbourne if they even did at all) – again, why do we need to check today’s timetable? More rhetoric, or just making stuff up on the run to seem on top of things? Next quote:

“V/Line spokesman James Kelly said all services to and from Geelong were cancelled as a result of the power outage.”

Umm, no. They were not cancelled. They just sat at platforms – (noting tweets from other people, there were trains stuck at at least Geelong, North Geelong, Corio, Lara and Little River) – going nowhere, all of which originated after 3:58am, since the first train out of Geelong every weekday morning is at 4:45am.

I received two SMSs at 6:49am – allegedly sent at 5:48am – stating that one peak train was delayed for 30 minutes, and another off-peak train had been replaced by coaches – nothing about there being a massive failure of the network.

That’s just incompetent.

Yes V/Line – things go wrong, and they are unavoidable. What is avoidable is your complete lack of respect and service to your customers when things go wrong. Stop treating us like we are idiots.

So fix it, and while you’re at it, lobby the new government into actually spending some money to fix the problems that seem to plague Newport!

Then we won’t be so pissed off.