A report by the Victorian auditor-general has found that V/Line has been falling short of its performance targets and has been unable to manage the increase in commuter demand over the last several years.
In its examination of V/Line’s delivery of transport services, the report concluded that the operator had “not successfully dealt with the challenges it has faced over the past decade”, while between July 2013 and March 2017, performance standards were not met 47 per cent of the time.
According to the report, V/Line lacked adequate preparation for the steep increase in patronage growth of almost 90 per cent in the last ten years, leading to delays, cancellations, and overcrowding.
“V/Line did not foresee this growth or fully understand the causes of its poor performance because it lacked the necessary capability. It also lacked focus, until recently, on managing its assets,” the auditor-general found.
“Consequently, V/Line’s performance over the past 10 years has mostly fallen short of its targets and community expectations, despite infrastructure improvements and timetable changes.”
The report criticised the operator’s choice of the PTV’s journey planner over the master timetable in the measurement and reporting of train punctuality and reliability. This led, it said, to a situation where reported performance “does not represent its actual performance, or necessarily reflect passengers’ experience, especially when there are significant service changes”.
A significant example of this provided by the report are incidents in early 2016 when the replacement of 350 trains with buses (at the cost of $300,00 per day) was required due to wheel wear and boom gate problems. However, according to the auditor-general, “V/Line’s publicly reported performance suggested that little had changed”.
The report noted that while the Regional Rail Link (RRL) project was expected to alleviate punctuality problems across metropolitan and regional networks, “the full benefits of segregating the track were not achieved”, with punctuality on the western corridor worsening due to the wheel wear setbacks and the significant growth in commuter demand.
Furthermore, following the opening of the RRL and new metropolitan stations at Wyndham Vale and Tarneit, approximately a third of V/Line’s busy peak services have consistently exceeded the maximum seat capacity.
The auditor-general also brought attention to V/Line’s management of its rolling stock, indicating that funding for major periodic maintenance has not kept pace with the levels required for a reliable network, particularly in the face of rising patronage.
Moreover, much of the fleet has been in service well beyond the expected service life of 30 years, with high failure rates requiring high levels of funding for maintenance and repairs.
While the report acknowledges that V/Line “has now identified its maintenance backlog and has prioritised investments according to criticality and risk”, it also points to the massive uphill climb required: $534.8 million across the entire V/Line network.
While the auditor-general’s report concluded that V/Line “now has a strong evidence base to support its asset management, and a new management approach to monitoring and dealing with operational and performance issues”, it nonetheless indicated a great deal of work remained to improve efficiency and meet the funding targets necessary for the reliability of its services.
The Andrews government has pinned the blame on the former Coalition government for the problems detailed in the auditor-general’s report, saying funding cuts had “hurt” V/Line’s services, and would have led to the sacking of 100 transport staff if Labor had not intervened with “emergency funding” when elected.
“This report shows V/Line is back on track, after years of cuts and neglect from the former Liberal and National government,” public transport minister Jacinta Allan said.
“We inherited an operator in crisis but our record investment in trains, maintenance and the regional operator has turned that around.”
As evidence, Allan pointed to the addition of almost 600 new train services on regional lines, the purchase of new Vlocity carriages, and the securing of $1.6 billion in federal funding for the Regional Revival Package.
Shadow minister for public transport David Hodgett was quoted in The Age as saying that the report confirmed the Labor government had treated regional Victoria “as second rate compared to Melbourne.
“Under Daniel Andrews, we’re seeing $16 billion being spent on metropolitan Melbourne, while regional Victoria is left out.”