I read an interesting letter to the editor in a newspaper recently. Interesting to me anyway.
If you are in Melbourne, have you noticed hanging weights near train wire support structures? I certainly have but never thought about them much. I assumed they were for adjusting the tension of train overhead wires and they are. I thought they were permanent, and it seems they are, although they are not meant to be.
Take a look at how tram wires sag on a very hot day. Train wires do the same. The distance between the train wire support structures is wider than what is ideal. As the letter said, in summer, weights were added to tighten up the overhead train wires. In winter they were removed.
This adjusting must have been quite labour intensive as it is not present day practice, resulting in train wires sagging in the heat to point where they are nearly touching the the top of the trains.
I take the letter as gospel cautiously, but it makes sense. Privately run trains systems can't be expected to spend money where it is not to their advantage or clearly of benefit to their operation of trains. On one side of the balancing scales go occasional disruption because of overhead wiring failure and the associated costs to the train company and on the other side of the scales goes labour intensive maintenance. My view is that a private company will make a simple economic judgment about such matters. The company will go with whichever option is cheaper and they have a duty to the company to do so.
But is the private train company really responsible for overhead wires? I don't know. Train tracks are still government owned. Who pays for the maintenance? Such is privatisation. Who knows who is responsible for what?
Fairly or unfairly, the private company will get the blame for almost everything associated with trains. Governments like this and I am quite sure a company bidding to run train systems know this.
We are about to get a new train operator in Melbourne. Travellers were very dissatisfied with the old company. I don't expect the new company will have our messy train system sorted out by christmas and nor do I expect to see them adding or subtracting weights to wires.
As always, we live in interesting times. Let us sit back and watch.