Passenger Rail, Workforce, Certification & Training

QLD transport minister defends train driver recruitment process

Queensland’s transport minister Mark Bailey has revealed that Queensland Rail (QR) is well behind on its target to employ 200 new train drivers by the middle of 2019.

Responding to Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington’s claim that only five new drivers net had been recruited by QR since its late 2016 debacle – in which a chronic undersupply of train crew culminated in sudden and widespread service cancellations – Bailey said the Coalition had resorted to “relentless negativity” in its “desperate misuse” of old information.

“[S]he is deliberately misrepresenting false information on this matter with limited and old data,” Bailey said.

“Ms Frecklington is using figures that do not include tutor drivers and are nearly six months out of date which the RTI date clearly shows.”

However, in correcting the figure, Bailey revealed that, since October 2016, there has been only a net increase of 36 additional fully qualified drivers on the network.

While 140 new trainee drivers have been recruited – 77 of whom have been trained and are now driving services – a number of drivers have transitioned to other roles within QR, including 16 who have become tutors to trainees (and who still drive at times of peak demand), while further 22 drivers have ceased employment with QR entirely.

The Strachan Inquiry report, which has guided the recruitment efforts of QR since its release in early 2017, recommended that 200 new drivers be qualified and driving on the network by June 2019. With a rate of roughly 6 drivers completing training a month since December 2017, it looks increasingly that this target will not be met.

Bailey defended the steps taken by QR in addressing the issue of understaffing, including accelerating the recruitment process via increasing the capacity of driver and guard training schools and streamlining its training process. These actions have, Bailey said, prevented further net reductions in staff and stabilised QR’s workforce.

“We always said fixing the trains would not happen overnight, but we are now beginning to see our overall train crew supply increase,” Bailey said.

“These numbers will continue to increase steadily in coming months and as we progress our external recruitment campaign which is in its final stages.”

He then pinned the blame for the driver undersupply on the former Coalition government, which cancelled the driver training program and suspended driver recruitment in 2014.

“It’s outrageous that the LNP is still harping on about this when their track record is that not one driver was trained in their last year of government,” he said.

“Under the Palaszczuk government, more drivers will commence training this year alone, than we saw under the entire term of the LNP government.”