Operators terminate contracts with Transclean

Metro Trains Melbourne and Yarra Trams have terminated their contracts with services provider Transclean.

Transclean has been at the centre of the Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission’s (IBAC) Operation Esperance, which has heard that Transclean boss George Haritos gave cash to V/Line CEO James Pinder and Metro Trains fleet operational manager Peter Bollas in return for favourable treatment.

There has been no allegations of any corrupt behaviour between Transclean and Yarra Trams.

On Friday, November 6, Metro Trains CEO Raymond O’Flaherty said that Transclean would no longer provide cleaning services to the Melbourne rail operator.

“A rigorous tender process is already underway to appoint a long-term cleaning supplier to provide the highest standard of daily cleaning for Metro’s train fleet,” he said.

“We will make further announcements regarding this ongoing tender process at the appropriate time.”

Metro Trains had already suspended and subsequently terminated the employment of Peter Bollas, with an auditor to review procurement and probity processes.

“Metro remains committed to the highest standards of integrity across our organisation.”

Transclean had been providing after-hours depot security services to Yarra Trams since 2017, however the operator will now be looking for a new contractor.

“Yarra Trams is terminating its contract with Transclean for after-hours depot security, and has provided the company 30 days’ notice,” said a Yarra Trams spokesperson.

A routine audit of Transclean found that there was procedure and performance issues with Transclean’s security services for Yarra Trams. These were raised with the company but were not responded to.

A separate company has provided cleaning services to Yarra Trams, including COVID-19 deep cleans.

O’Flaherty said that Metro was ensuring cleaning met community standards.

“I again want to reassure our passengers that we have a range of measures in place to ensure the daily cleaning and sanitisation of our trains meets the standards they expect. These measures include audit teams regularly checking the standard of this work.”

Rainbow to Dimboola line sleeper replacement work underway

Work has begun on replacing 39,000 sleepers on the Rainbow to Dimboola line in Victoria’s North West.

V/Line crews with the support of contractors are conducting the works that are funded through the Victorian government’s Building Works program which sets aside $83 million for regional rail maintenance.

Victorian minister for Ports and Freight Melissa Horne said the works would support freight movements and economic growth in the region.

“This investment will help improve our freight network and ensure we are continuing to support farmers and freight operators at a time when they need it the most,” said Horne.

“We’re continuing to maintain and improve the network, taking extra steps to allow projects like this to continue safely and help keep track workers, suppliers and contractors working.”

In addition to sleeper replacement works, ballast will also be renewed and resurfacing will improve the condition of the track. Scheduling has aimed to minimise the impact on freight services using the line.

Member for Western Victoria Jaala Pulford said the works were essential with a large grain harvest expected this year.

“This upgrade will provide easier and more efficient ways for farmers to transport their goods ahead of what is expected to be a bumper grain harvest,” said Pulford.

“The line has already been put to good use since re-opening in April, and this investment will make it even better.”

The 66km line from Rainbow to Dimboola was reopened in April after a $1m investment to replace 5,000 sleepers. So far, 38 freight services have used the re-opened line, carrying 100,000 tonnes of grain and replacing 5,700 truck movements.

Heavy use of the line has led farmers to previously call for further reopening of freight lines servicing grain growers and other primary producers throughout regional Victoria.

V/Line

V/Line, Metro Trains take action following inquiry: reaffirms need for integrity

The V/Line board has taken action to underline the unacceptable nature of the evidence heard at the Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) inquiry this week.

In a statement from the V/Line chair Gabrielle Bell, the regional operator announced it had terminated the employment of former CEO James Pinder, who has been the subject of the first days of the IBAC hearings as part of Operation Esperance.

“Following the public hearings of the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) this week as part of Operation Esperance, the V/Line Board of Directors has terminated the employment of James Pinder from his position as CEO, effective today,” said Bell.

V/line will also no longer work with the cleaning company at the centre of the hearings.

“The V/Line Board has also provided notice of termination of the contract with cleaning supplier Transclean Facilities Pty Ltd. V/Line will work to support the front-line cleaning staff who may be affected by this decision,” said Bell.

Late on Thursday evening, Metro Trains Melbourne CEO Raymond O’Flaherty also issued a statement. O’Flaherty said that Metro would not tolerate behaviour described in the hearings.

“Metro has zero tolerance for any behaviours or actions that compromise our commitment to safety and integrity across our organisation,” said O’Flaherty.

“I take the evidence presented at the IBAC Operation Esperance public hearings very seriously. “

Pinder, along with Metro Trains Melbourne fleet manager Peter Bollas, are alleged to have received cash payments of $8,000 and $10,000 from Transclean managing director George Haritos.

Metro has also terminated Bollas’s employment and O’Flaherty announced that the operator is appointing an independent auditor to review procurement and probity processes. O’Flaherty noted that the operator is already in the tender process for selecting a new cleaning contractor.

Bell reiterated that the alleged behaviour had no place within V/Line.

“The alleged conduct of both Mr Pinder and Transclean is not acceptable to V/Line under any circumstances,” said Bell.

“All V/Line employees and contractors are expected to uphold the highest levels of integrity and the Board of Directors is committed to ensuring this happens at all times.”

Pinder has been replaced since August by acting CEO Gary Liddle. Bell said Liddle would continue until further notice.

“V/Line has fully cooperated with the IBAC investigation and will continue to do so,” said Bell.

Inquiry hears of improper contractor payments and lax safety oversight at V/Line and Metro Trains Melbourne

The first days of hearings as part of an inquiry into the handling of Victorian public transport contracts have heard that individuals within rail operators V/Line and MTM failed to uphold ethical best practices when it came to contracts and hiring.

The current inquiry, Operation Esperance, is the second time in three years that V/Line has been the subject of an Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) investigation, with Operation Lansdowne in 2017 investigating the awarding of training contracts by the regional operator.

Operation Lansdowne found evidence of nepotism and improper procurement, and in hearings held since Monday this week, former CEO of V/Line James Pinder was heard offering a job to his friend and Metro Trains Melbourne fleet manager Peter Bollas to manage facility contracts, including all cleaning.

While Bollas did not ultimately take the job, Pinder acknowledged that the conversation he was having with Bollas was duplicitous, considering that V/Line was responding to the findings of Operation Lansdowne at the time.

“I accept now and I accept then it was inappropriate,” said Pinder.

Pinder has been the focus of the inquiry’s first three days, which has alleged that Pinder received a loan of $320,000 from cleaning contractor Transclean managing director George Haritos after awarding a V/Line cleaning contract. The inquiry has also heard that Pinder and Peter Bollas received monthly cash payments from Haritos of $8,000 to $10,000 each.

Pinder has said that the payments were part of a gambling syndicate that involved himself, Haritos and Bollas. Bollas has said that he was never involved in a gambling syndicate with Pinder.

Under questioning from counsel assisting Paul Lawrie, Pinder said that the funds that went through the syndicate were sometimes used by Haritos when Transclean was having cashflow issues and that Pinder couldn’t be sure whether the funds that he received were from Transclean or Haritos personally. The funds were always in round amounts and delivered discretely.

IBAC Commissioner Robert Redlich questioned why there needed to be secrecy around the distribution of funds from the gambling system and why Pinder had written a note to Haritos telling him to provide a false reason for the payment of that money.

Pinder replied, “Rightly or wrongly I was panicked and I thought that the fact that I was in a gambling syndicate with somebody that was a supplier to V/Line whilst not necessarily illegal was inappropriate.”

IBAC also heard that Transclean staff were in life threatening situations. In one incident, a cleaned went underneath a Metro Trains train coupling without appropriate protection when the train’s pantograph was connected to the overhead wiring, creating the risk of electrocution.

The incident occurred while Transclean was attempting to secure the stations cleaning contract with Metro Trains Melbourne. In an intercepted phone conversation between Pinder and Bollas, Bollas is heard discussing ways to underplay the incident as the fault of Transclean.

A Metro Trains spokesperson said that the operator was unable to comment.

“Metro is unable to comment while the hearings are ongoing.”

Upon contacting ARA, the spokesperson told Rail Express, “The rail industry has stringent processes in place to ensure procurement is grounded in principles that support a stronger, socially responsible industry for all of us. While this is a very unusual case, it is important we look to the outcomes of this process and learn from them.”

Metro Trains improves on performance figures in September

Metro Trains Melbourne has once again beat performance target records during September.

During the month, 99.4 per cent of scheduled services were delivered, and 97.6 per cent were on time.

A spokesperson for Metro said the operator was continuing to provide services during Melbourne’s lockdown for essential workers.

“The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t changed our commitment to delivering the best service for our passengers. We are always striving to improve our performance and run the safe and efficient services that Melburnians deserve.”

Performance figures were helped by fewer trespassers in September than in previous months and fewer weather-related incidents. Strong winds caused a tree to fall across rail lines on September 2, however, which delayed 81 trains.

Performance figures for Yarra Trams were also above target, with 98.5 per cent of services delivered and 95.7 per cent on time.

During September, renewal project on the tram network included upgrades to Glenferrie and Malvern roads and upgrade works along St Kilda light rail began.

During Melbourne’s second lockdown, beginning in August, night tram services were suspended, however Yarra Trams stated that the operator was working towards the resumption of these services while prioritising passenger and staff safety as restrictions begin to be lifted.

For regional operator V/Line, punctuality in September dipped from a high in August. 96.2 per cent of services were on time while 96.4 were on time in August. Reliability figures improved however, with 96.8 per cent of services delivered in September, compared to 96.6 per cent in August.

These figures were partly impacted by the closure of the Albury-Wodonga line where coaches have replaced trains since July.

Across the short distance network, services on the Seymour Line were the most reliable, while services on the Geelong Line were the most punctual. On the long distance lines, the Bairnsdale Line was the most reliable and the Swan Hill & Echuca line was the most punctual.

IBAC announces corruption investigation into V/Line and Metro

Victoria’s Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) has formally announced that it is conducting an investigation into serious corrupt conduct in Victoria’s public transport sector.

The announcement follows months of rumours which have swirled since V/Line CEO James Pinder was stood down by the Victorian Minister for Public Transport Ben Carroll in August.

The investigation will focus on procurement and tendering processes within the Victorian public transport sector, with suggestions that cleaning contracts may be a focus.

IBAC commissioner Robert Redlich said the investigation would cover the management of contracts between V/Line, Metro and suppliers.

“The hearings will examine the effectiveness of controls associated with the proper delivery of essential services in the state’s public transport system during a time of critical importance to the health and wellbeing of Victorians,” said Redlich.

Hearings will begin on Monday, October 26 and be streamed online.

“As part of IBAC’s focus on preventing corruption, the public hearings will also consider whether the current systems and controls are sufficient to protect the integrity of the tendering and procurement process, and examine potential systemic issues, including how organisational culture and practices may have contributed,” said Redlich.

Hearings will look into whether contract tender and procurement processes were swayed by monetary incentives or gifts.

Since being stood down, Pinder has been replaced by Gary Liddle, who had previously steered V/Line through a troubled period in 2016 when safety concerns led to regional services not being able to travel through Melbourne. Nick Foa, head of transport services at the Department of Transport briefly stood in before Liddle was appointed.

Metro Trains rollingstock manager Peter Bollas was also stood down in August due to the same investigation.

Sleeper replacement works on Ararat Line complete

Sleeper replacement works on the Ararat line were completed last week, taking the total number of replaced sleepers on the Victorian regional rail network to 100,000 in 2020.

34,000 sleepers were replaced between Ararat and Wendouree in just over two months, and followed sleeper replacements on the Bendigo and Warrnambool lines.

Victorian Minister for Public Transport Ben Carroll said the works showed the ability for works to continue safely during COVID-19.

“We’ve taken extra steps to allow projects like this to continue safely and help keep track workers, suppliers and contractors working during the coronavirus pandemic,” said Carroll.

“To install 100,000 sleepers on the regional rail network this year is a fantastic effort from crews and shows that we are continuing work on important infrastructure projects during these extraordinary times.”

With the sleeper replacement works complete, Ararat line services can return to normal speeds and the permanent timetable will come into effect from October 22. Trains have been running at slower speeds to allow the newly installed sleepers to bed down.

Old sleepers were replaced with new, long-lifespan concrete sleepers produced at Avalon, near Geelong.

Over 50 people worked during the night in 10-day blocks to ensure that trains could continue running. Works began after the last train each night and finished before the first service each morning.

Every sleeper on the 22-kilometre section between Buangor and Dobie was replaced, and the track beneath the road at the Warrayatkin Road level crossing in Dobie was renewed.

Member for Western Victoria Jaala Pulford said the works would improve the passenger experience on the Ararat line.

“These works are vitally important for the ongoing upkeep of the line, to ensure passengers can continue to have a safe, reliable, and comfortable experience on services to Ararat.”

Works have been carried out by V/Line and followed Health Department guidelines.

Warrnambool Line upgrades

Warrnambool line track and signalling upgrades commence

Signalling and track infrastructure upgrades on the Warrnambool Line have begun.

The jointly funded, state and federal project aims to enable more services to run between Warrnambool and Geelong, said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack.

“It’s pleasing to see this vital project get underway, with signalling upgrades and a crossing loop at Boorcan to play a key part in boosting reliability of the line and allowing more services to be introduced,” McCormack said.

“The addition of the crossing loop will boost the number of services to the line, benefiting a growing number of regional travellers.”

The first works underway involve the installation of underground cabling to enable signalling upgrades along the line.

The construction of a 2.2km passing loop between Boorcan Road and Oswell Road in Boorcan will begin in the coming weeks.

Victorian Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan said the entire program would be finished in late 2021.

“Thanks to these upgrades, passengers on the Warrnambool Line will benefit from a much-needed fifth weekday return service, providing extra travel options for people in Victoria’s South West,” Allan said.

Rail Projects Victoria awarded Downer the contract to carry out the works, in addition to its work on the Geelong line.

Other upgrades along the Warrnambool line have just completed, with the renovation of 12 level crossings now complete. Crossings had new boom gates, bells, lights, and better train detection technology fitted.

Federal Member for Wannon Dan Tehan said the work was completed while minimising the threat of any spread of COVID-19.

“More than 170 workers have been involved in the level crossing upgrades since works began in January, with V/Line crews working around 28,500 hours under modified conditions to reduce the spread of coronavirus.”

Patronage on the line has grown steadily over the past years, with patronage on the adjoining Geelong line growing significantly, by 131.5 per cent from 2014-15 to 2018-19.

State Member for Western Victoria Gayle Tierney said the improvements would benefit the region.

“With work on signalling and the crossing loop now underway residents can soon expect more frequent services and better reliability,” she said.

“This project is also providing jobs for people in the region, which is especially important during the coronavirus pandemic.”