Trains packed to the hilt

The State Government has defended its commitment to V/Line passenger safety, after a compliance report found the Gippsland line experienced 69 breaches of passenger to seat ratios in three months.

The V/Line Rail Load Standards Compliance Report, obtained under Freedom of Information and released by Member for Eastern Victoria Matt Viney, also found the line experienced 23 breaches to load safety limits – the safe level of total passengers.

The local figures come among statistics which showed passengers outnumbered seats on 676 occasions and 146 breaches in safe load limits, across the network statewide, from 1 October to 31 December 2012.

Mr Viney said the breaches put Gippsland passengers at risk of injury “should an incident take place”, and pointed the overcrowding blame squarely at Gippsland-based members of parliament Russell Northe, Gary Blackwood, Tim Bull and Peter Ryan.

“When in Opposition, these Coalition MPs promised they would ‘fix the problems’, yet it took nearly two years for their government to order new trains which are unlikely to be in service before 2015 – four years late,” Mr Viney said.

Feedback to the report, received on The Express’ Facebook page, has shown overcrowding continued to rate highly among Valley commuter frustrations.

“Once the train hits Warragul, Drouin, and god-forbid Pakenham, it can be chaos. Of a night it’s rubbish. Unless you get the 4.59pm from Flinders St, give up. I’ve sat on the floor three times this week already,” commuter Nick Gooden wrote.

“It is a concern, a major concern. We live in Australia not India. Paying decent money every week to catch a service which is either late or overcrowded. In a three week period I caught 18 services 14 were late and nine were overcrowded.”

A V/Line spokesperson said the services on which people were standing during the report period represented two per cent of the 2772 trains ran – most during peak periods where customers were standing only for “short distances”.

“When a train is crowded our conductors alert our train control to arrange for coaches to supplement the train. However, some customers prefer to stand on the train rather than transfer to the coach to complete their journey,” the spokesperson said.

Public Transport Minister Terry Mulder said with sufficient seating capacity 97.7 per cent of the time, it was a ‘good performance”, as V/Line was “by far the busiest country rail operator in Australia”.

“We have a $210 million order for 40 new V/Line Vlocity railcars along with a new train stabling compound to be built at North Geelong,” Mr Mulder said.

Member for South Gippsland Peter Ryan said Mr Viney claims about passenger safety were “sensationalist and highly misleading”.

“There was only a one in 31 chance that passengers would have to stand and that was only for part of the trip, such as from Dandenong to Pakenham or Garfield, because many V/Line passengers join or alight at these stops,” Mr Ryan said.