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13/07/2004

Batchelor on notice: fix the trains

When Transport Minister Peter Batchelor signed new contracts with private operators Connex and Yarra Trams earlier this year, he told Victorians that the financial stability of the public transport system was now assured, and that the focus would now be on improving services.

However, the recent poor performance of the train system in particular is giving passengers the impression that the system is falling apart. And patronage appears to be going backwards, for the first time in years.

In recent months, train travellers in Melbourne have been suffering from delays and cancellations on an unprecedented scale. As many as 83 train services have been cancelled on a single day and a report obtained by the opposition stated that almost 700 trains had been cancelled in a three month period: an average of nearly 8 trains each day. While Frankston passengers have suffered the most, passengers throughout Melbourne have had to contend with overcrowding caused by train cancellations and also the appearance of 3-car trains instead of 6-car trains in peak hour.

While some have blamed driver shortages, the most common reason given in the report was faulty trains. In April, a single night's downpour caused 18 services to be cancelled due to leaky windscreens.

Performance figures from the government's budget papers confirm the extent of the problem: more trains are running late, the percentage of cancelled trains has increased, and customer satisfaction has declined over the last 12 months.

Even more worrying is that yearly train patronage is expected to decline in absolute numbers, for the first time in many years. The train system is expected to carry 133.4 million passengers in the 2003-04 financial year, which is down by 400,000 on 2002-03.

While the trend is still for public transport use to decline as a share of all travel, in recent years we have at least seen the absolute numbers increase. But now, it seems that former train travellers are actually being turned away from the system.

Last Modified: 13 July 2004