V/Line admits ‘unacceptable service’ amid call for accountability

Picture: MARK JESSER
Picture: MARK JESSER

V/Line management admits it delivered an “unacceptable level of service” after only 76.3 per cent of scheduled trains on the Albury line ran in December.

Chief executive James Pinder said it had been a period of ‘frustrating disruption for passengers’, with only 61.3 per cent of services arriving punctually. 

He said lines managed by Australian Rail Track Corporation and had experienced signal faults, track circuit failures and level-crossing faults. 

Mr Pinder said because of these issues and the ongoing speed restrictions caused by the track’s condition, more than 45 Albury services in December were delayed. 

Between Christmas Day and January 6 alone, 37 trains were cancelled or replaced by buses. The worst month of 2017 was May when only 67.7 per cent of trains ran.

Fifty-year veteran of the train industry David Watson said a decade of “gross mismanagement” and no accountability resulted in the problems along the North-East rail system.

Mr Watson served as director of rail operations, acting chief general manager of the metropolitan transit authority, and manager of country train scheduling and control.

He said if he managed anything “akin to the present fiasco” he would be sacked.

“I’m confident I would have been given a DCM – Don’t Come in Monday,” Mr Watson said. 

“We could have never allowed it to deteriorate to this extent.

“It’s been ongoing for a decade and there doesn’t seem to be anyone willing to stand up.”

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Mr Pinder said V/Line was working with the ARTC on ways to minimise disruptions for passengers in the event of unforeseen faults.

V/Line noted the latest performance results showed 61.3 per cent of Albury line services ran on time in December, with punctuality impacted by a series of infrastructure faults on the Australian Rail Track Corporation network.

“These faults have now been repaired and services are now running as normal,” Mr Pinder said.

“This is obviously an unacceptable level of service for our passengers, and we’re working hard to ensure our train services are prioritised.

“We will continue to work closely with the ARTC to improve the condition of the Albury line and ensure our passengers receive the service they expect and deserve.

“We’ve also brought in some additional specialists as part of our fleet team, who are working closely with our maintenance partners to reduce the number of train faults that are occurring.”

However Mr Watson believes no one is held responsible for any failings. 

“What used to be a cohesive railway is now fragmented to the stage there’s no accountability involved and who is responsible for anything getting done is almost untraceable,” he said. 

“It’s not possible to find out or identify any person or organisation that’s responsible for doing anything.

“Under the present organisation arrangement it’s easy to ship the blame to someone else.”

Mr Watson has written to Victorian Minister for Transport Jacinta Allan saying the issues along the North East V/Line network require direct intervention at the highest level.

“All pretense now must cease,” he said. 

“Nothing is going to improve unless at the highest possible level someone grabs hold and takes charge. 

“At the present time neither V/Line or Australian Rail Track Corporation are being held to account.”

Mr Pinder said detailed planning was under way on the $140 million upgrade and improvement works for the north east, as part of the Regional Rail Revival program.