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30 year old railway computers take a byte out of the past

001Melbourne's train network is still run by a vintage computer system that was rolled out in 1982, two years before Apple released its first Mac.

The system, called Metrol, has been the technological nerve centre for Melbourne's rail network for more than three decades, running custom-made software that is badly outmoded. A series of delays have set back the planned replacement of the train control centre by more than two decades.

From opposition, Terry Mulder called Metrol ''a sad Labor tale of delay and rapidly mounting bills'', but as Minister for Public Transport he has overseen an additional blowout in its completion date of almost two years.

But Metrol's time is almost up. Public Transport Victoria plans to pull its plug by the end of this year.

Its $88 million replacement, called the Train Control and Monitoring System, has been given a trial four times, on quieter Sunday timetables. It has not yet been put through the rigours of a busier weekday timetable.

Metrol directs all Metro and V/Line trains in Melbourne's inner-city rail corridors, controlling many of the network's points and signals. If it were to fail, even briefly, all trains would soon grind to a halt, with potentially dangerous consequences.

A plan to overhaul Metrol was announced in 1999 by the former Labor government, but its 2001 target passed without progress. Two years later, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau partly blamed Metrol for a runaway Broadmeadows-line train crash.

Once operational, the new system will help deliver an increase in timetabled services and dispatch train drivers more efficiently, improving reliability.

But about 45 per cent of the rail network is outside Metrol's range, so all trains cannot be monitored in real time.

Trevor Dobbyn, the president of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union, said it was disappointing Public Transport Victoria had failed to rid Melbourne's rail network of its ''black spots'', despite the project being years behind time.

But a Public Transport Victoria spokeswoman said the issue of black spots was a misnomer, and the network was fully and safely monitored. ''The scope of the Metrol replacement project is to monitor and control the same area of the metropolitan railway as the existing system, with improved interconnectivity with other systems that will help improve … service delivery,'' she said.


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