IN 2012, Victoria’s suburban rail operator Metro asked the state government to boot V/Line from the Pakenham line.
Unlike the recent system-wide V/Line ban, the request had nothing to do with safety. Metro wanted more control and the power to operate that branch of the state’s rail network how it wanted. The plan Metro presented to Public Transport Victoria would have seen the Gippsland line reduced to a shuttle between Pakenham, Traralgon and Bairnsdale. Passengers travelling to Melbourne (that is, most of the people catching the train) would have to jump on a Metro-run service at Pakenham, adding time and crowding to an already slow and sardined service.
Thankfully, the state government said no. Maybe because it was already in talks with Metro to hand it the entire regional network. According to The Age, the Baillieu Liberal government offered the private operator control of V/Line earlier in the year. The plan apparently fell through, but it is worth remembering V/Line and what was then The Met were given to private operators by the Kennett Liberal government in the 1990s – privatisation was in the party’s blood and the precedent had already been set. V/Line’s brief time under private control ended in 2002 when British company National Express gave up running the network.
Last week, V/Line commuters were hit with the news the entire VLocity fast train fleet was under review for premature wheel wear. A big chunk of the fleet was taken out of service in the first stage of investigations and renewal, meaning shortened services and bus replacements on the busy regional lines. What resulted saw Metro kick V/Line while it was down – here is an explanation from Public Transport Users Association president Tony Morton, as published by Fairfax:
“Insiders have long been aware that some ageing track circuits in the suburban network, meant to trigger level crossings when trains pass over them, cannot reliably detect shorter trains. If all trains are long enough – it was convenient that three-car operation had already ceased on many suburban lines – the problem could be ignored. Yet a side effect of the VLocity wheel wear issue is that V/Line was forced to run shorter trains, which now can’t be trusted on the suburban network.”
Morton’s overview of how the network came to its current state of degradation is very interesting and can be read in full here. I am a member of several rail watching groups and it is clear boom gate triggers are not the only part of the network falling apart – Metro does not like to pay for rail maintenance when the money could be given to its board instead.
What is most astounding is the boom gate problem has been known for over two years, and Metro very publicly, and falsely, blamed V/Line for it last week. Metro’s own trains are restricted to 15 km/h on the same crossings V/Line trains fail to trigger, but when you run the network for your own gain, you call the shots.
Rail Tram and Bus Union secretary Luba Grigorovitch called Metro out for this on the ever-painful 3AW Breakfast show. The key quotes from the Grigorovitch interview are below so you do not have to suffer through Ross Stevenson and John Burns’ painful blokes routine:
“V/Line pay $20 million per year to use the Metro track, and in return they’re supposed to have it maintained. This obviously hasn’t happened, and it’s an absolute disgrace.
“You’ve got Metro taking access money off V/Line, and they have the gall to safely escort their own trains across the crossings at 15 km/h, but they’re banning the VLocities from the same section of track.
“They are unfairly and unnecessarily putting pain on regional commuters.”
Grigorovitch added V/Line was not given the option to simply slow its trains at the crossings – Metro just said no. (See, this is why we have unions.)
So why has this happened? Why is Metro so keen to point fingers at V/Line? There is a strong possibility Metro wants to finally take over the entire Victorian network. It already makes big profits from taxpayers by running Melbourne’s services into the ground – even more could come from being paid to screw up everything. V/Line is also finally starting to take control of its own dedicated lines, making the service even more lucrative for a private operator.
The words of Noam Chomsky, one of the greatest philosophers and social commentators the modern world has ever seen, are worth remembering here: “there is a standard technique of privatisation, namely defund what you want to privatise. Like when Thatcher wanted to defund the railroads, first thing to do is defund them, then they don’t work and people get angry and they want a change. You say okay, privatise them and then they get worse.” There is no denying the entire rail network is underfunded.
Metro takes every opportunity to short change Victorians, be it not maintaining tracks, skipping stations, or dumping passengers in the middle of nowhere, far from home, to meet performance targets. The company’s contract comes up for renewal next year; why Victorians should continue to pay a private operator to profit from their rail assets is lost on me.Want more? Stay updated on Twitter and Facebook: