Why did we buy lemons? Users demand explanation

Transport users have accused the State Government and private operators Connex and Yarra Trams of “gross mismanagement” over the purchase and disposal of rolling stock, and of “covering up” problems with the new trains and trams, that were common knowledge within the industry for up to four years.

The claims emerge amid revelations of structural problems with the Combino trams and braking system failures in the Siemens trains, which make up around one-third of Melbourne’s train and tram fleet.

“At first we thought this was just another one of the routine failures we’ve become accustomed to, and we users would just suffer for a few days and move on,” said Tony Morton, Secretary of the Public Transport Users Association. “But then we discovered that the city of Basle, which has the same Combino trams, has had to take them all off the tracks and still hasn’t got them back after nine months.”

According to the Railway Gazette, the structural problems with the Combino trams emerged in 2002 and 2003, and were formally acknowledged by Siemens in December 2003. An official recall was announced in early March 2004.

“Our Combino trams were delivered in 2003 and 2004, when the structural problems were already known,” said Dr Morton. “And yet the government and Yarra Trams went ahead and scrapped a heap of older Z class trams after March 2004, despite knowing about the recall that would take the Combinos off the tracks for six months or more.”

“The Transport Minister, his Department and the private operator have some obvious questions to answer. Why is the public only hearing about this problem now, more than two years after the manufacturer told the industry? Why did the government allow the scrapping of our reserve fleet despite knowing a third of our trams would be out of action in the future? And why did we go ahead and take delivery of these trams in the first place when they were known to be duds? Surely these problems should have at least been publicly acknowledged, since it was clearly in the public interest to do so.”

“It’s this kind of gross mismanagement that led us to call for a new Transport Minister in May, when the lacklustre Meeting our Transport Challenges was released,” said Dr Morton. “What we’re going to need after the election, whatever the outcome, is a Minister who can tackle the management problems in our transport system head-on and rectify the failures and cover-ups of the current regime. For the sake of everyone who travels in Melbourne let’s hope we can move forward.”


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