Melbourne set to grind to a halt

Make no mistake: our public transport system is in crisis, and if safety concerns force the removal of the remaining Siemens trains from the network, the city is in danger of grinding to a halt. But it is the height of negligence for the Bracks Government to try and wash its hands of the matter and pass the buck to the private operator.

Handing the rail franchise to Connex in 2003 did not absolve the Government of its duty to serve the public interest. The brake problems first surfaced in 2004, so we have had more than two years to plan a response. It seems our current governance arrangements have been a barrier to any appropriate action being taken.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on our Combino trams, which are subject to a recall by the manufacturer and could be off the tracks for up to a year. If the people of Melbourne are to be without a third of their trams for an extended period, this will not be just Yarra Trams’ problem.

It’s increasingly clear that the public interest is not being served by our British-style public transport privatisation, just as it hasn’t been in Britain (where Connex was stripped of one of its rail franchises a few years ago).

After this debacle it would be strange indeed if Minister Kosky just renews the franchise contracts next year. She would do well to start planning the alternative now.

Tony Morton, secretary, Public Transport Users Association

Published in The Age, 1/2/2007