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Everyone loves the corridor

When you get on a tram, do you ever look at the infrastructure required for you to get to your destination?

Rail Infrastructure Manager Tristan Smith with a tram in the background
Rail Infrastructure Manager Tristan Smith

It is perhaps an obvious statement to say that trams need to run on rails, but someone has to build and maintain those rails which have to support the movement of 24 trams weighing approximately 40 tonnes each. There are points along the track that move and allow trams to go in one direction or another. There are signals and level crossings. And without overhead power lines, a tram simply would not be able to move.

From 12.01 am on Sunday 31 January 2021, Torrens Connect took over all Rail Infrastructure Maintenance (RIM) for Adelaide’s tram network, on top of running the service itself.

Tristan Smith is the new Rail Infrastructure Manager for Torrens Connect. His experience started in 2004 with what was then TransAdelaide (now Adelaide Metro), and he has had a broad career in rail signals and overhead traction for power.

“I’ve seen it all, pretty much,” says Tristan as he recounts his journey from being an apprentice electrician to becoming the Electrical Maintenance Manager for the Department for Infrastructure and Transport where he worked on the relocation of the rail operations control centre, the Seaford electrification project, and various other heavy and light rail projects.

Tristan was very happy for the opportunity not only to become Torrens Connect’s Rail Infrastructure Manager, but also to be able to hand-pick his small Rail Infrastructure Maintenance team who cover electrical, signals and track maintenance.

While the Torrens Connect team is ‘new’, the majority of the group have worked together for many years.

“They do a damned good job,” says Tristan with obvious pride and confidence in his team.

The RIM team are now based at the nearby Morphettville bus depot rather than at the Glengowrie depot where space is somewhat limited – but the group still feels part of the ‘tramily’.

Torrens Connect employees a the opening of its new RIM premises.
The opening of the new RIM office

“We don’t feel isolated… We feel like we have our own home now. We can go about our business. We feel like we’ve got the room and the ability to do what we need to do,” says Tristan of the newly refurbished space.

Tristan talks about how different areas of the Glengowrie depot are used predominantly by different groups, such as the Rolling Stock Maintenance Team being based in ‘the barn’.

“Having our own area allows us to concentrate. For us to have our own little home, it means we can just get on with our job and make it happen.”

Inside the refurbished RIM office.
Inside the refurbished RIM office

Rather than just reacting when something goes wrong, the team undertake a busy schedule of planned preventative maintenance in all areas.

Every six weeks, team members walk the entire length of the track (approximately 16 km), checking infrastructure and looking for issues.

At other times, they perform high-level inspections of the overhead wiring, checking “every component, every single nut and bolt” according to Tristan. To some, this might seem over the top or an exaggeration, but Tristan is quite serious: the failure of an unchecked simple component could have devastating results for the network.

The RIM team also clean and test sub-stations, maintain point machines, and attend to faults when they occur.

The group also manage permits to work for others needing access to the tram corridor, which includes both fenced off sections that cannot be accessed by the public (‘closed corridor’), and areas such as in the CBD where cars, pedestrians and others can cross the tracks (‘shared corridor’).

“Closed corridor is quite simple in the fact that if you go within the fence-line, you need a permit to work,” says Tristan.

“There’s a lot of misunderstanding about permit to work within the shared corridor,” he adds. “Most people look at the shared corridor and think, ‘That’s the tramline and if I want to work within a cooee of that, then I need a permit to work’. What a lot of people don’t understand is that on some of the network, in the city for example, our infrastructure is actually on the footpath. The poles that hold the overheads are light poles and other dedicated support structures. So, if you want to work on that footpath, you still need to submit a permit to work.”

Torrens Connect has special agreements in place with organisations such as the Adelaide City Council that have their own infrastructure within the shared corridor.

A network of volunteers also maintains garden beds at six platforms along the corridor.

Torrens Connect urges anyone who might need to work within or near the tram corridor, especially in the shared corridor, to get in touch – sentiments echoed by Tristan: “If unsure, at any time, please reach out and we’d be more than happy to assist.”

“Everyone loves the trams,” says Tristan, “and everyone loves the corridor.”