V/Line has consistently failed to meet targets over the last 10 years, a Victorian Auditor-General report says.
The report, released last week, stated V/Line was not able to deal with challenges it faced as it was “not prepared for the strong growth in patronage and the resulting increase in service demand”.
V/Line “did not foresee this growth or fully understand the causes of its poor performance”, the report found.
The report stated that between 2006-07 and 2015-16 V/Line patronage in the eastern corridor, that is services to Traralgon and Bairnsdale, grew by 68 per cent.
In addition, the maximum seat capacity on peak services between July 2016 and March 2017 was at or exceeding 100 per cent almost 25 per cent of the time.
However, it was not all bad news as the report found the rail operator had begun to “turn this situation around” as it is “now better informed about the risks and challenges facing its operations”.
V/Line chief executive James Pinder was quick to highlight recent improvements to services, saying reliability on Bairnsdale and Gippsland lines had exceeded the 96 per cent target each month for the past year.
“On-time performance improved across the network compared with June but performance for the Traralgon and Bairnsdale lines went down, so that is something we need to take a closer look at,” he said.
Punctuality for the Gippsland line was 78.8 per cent last month and 65.2 per cent of Bairnsdale services arrived at their destination on time.
Mr Pinder said the main reason for delays on the Gippsland line last month was due to services being held up in the shared section of track between Pakenham and Flinders Street Station.
Gippsland V/Line Users Group spokesperson and regular commuter Natalie Thorne said the Auditor General’s report was “pretty damning but quite accurate” and that the rail operator had lacked understanding of what the problems actually were and how to measure them.
“A thing to work on is understanding the impact of sharing the metro corridors,” Ms Thorne said.
“We really welcome that and I think they’ll see that it will become a significant problem earlier than other reports have indicated in the past.”
Despite the “damning” report, Ms Thorne said it sounded as if V/Line was beginning to get the foundations of the organisation in order and hoped it would lead to better services for users.
Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria Melina Bath said poor performance during peak times was an issue that needed to be highlighted.
“Gippsland rail users share a rail corridor that is expanding into the expanding city of Casey,” Ms Bath said.
“The train starts at Traralgon and Bairnsdale and is repeatedly missing slots when you get to the metro boundary. If they are slowed when they get to Pakenham, they are further slowed when they get into the city.”
She said while additional services where coming at the end of the month, the services were not at peak times when they were needed.
“During peak times, 25 per cent of the time seats are at full capacity and people are standing up all the way into town,” she said.
“This is unacceptable considering the elderly and mothers with children use this system.”
State Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan said the state government had “inherited an operator in crisis” but had “turned that around” with investment and maintenance.
“This report shows V/Line is back on track, after years of cuts and neglect from the former Liberal and National Government,” Ms Allan said.
The full report can be accessed online at www.parliament.vic.gov.au