A severe safety breach in which a V/Line train left Southern Cross Station and travelled 800 metres down the wrong track towards an oncoming passenger train was the fault of Melbourne's badly outmoded train radio systems, an investigation has found.
Staff at Metro's train control centre could not contact the driver to tell him he had passed a stop signal because Metro and V/Line do not share a radio channel. He finally came to a stop just 240 metres from a stationary city-bound V/Line train, and was oblivious to the terrible error until a train supervisor chased him down on foot.
The incident occurred on a Metro-controlled track between Southern Cross and North Melbourne stations that is shared by Metro and V/Line trains. A report into the December 2011 incident was released last week by the Office of the Chief Investigator for Transport Safety.
The report found that while the breach was caused by driver error, the risk of a train-on-train collision was made much worse by Metro's inability to communicate directly with V/Line drivers. It recommended the two rail operators develop shared radio communications, a project now under way but not due to be completed for four more years.
''The seamless integration of communication between V/Line trains and Metrol [Metro's train control centre] is not scheduled to be completed until 2017, leaving the system with identified vulnerabilities in the interim,'' the report noted.
The driver, who was taking the otherwise empty train into a maintenance yard, was removed from driving duties but kept on as a V/Line employee.
It was the second safety breach in less than a month in which a V/Line train passed through a stop signal and travelled along the wrong track but could not be readily contacted on radio.
The previous incident happened in November 2011, when a driver at Flinders Street Station drove a Traralgon-bound train 380 metres down the wrong track before realising his mistake and applying the emergency brakes.
The project to modernise V/Line's train radios is being overseen by Public Transport Victoria. A PTV spokeswoman said that when completed in 2017 it would allow Metro and V/Line trains to communicate with each other right across the network.
''This project requires the installation of devices during maintenance and major overhauls of vehicles,'' she said.