In an example of the lack of foresight typical of the former Minister for Transport, Peter Batchelor, The Age has revealed that the State Government has been forced to hire back the non air-conditioned Hitachi trains due to a shortage of rollingstock. The rollingstock shortage has been further compounded due to the withdrawal of 31 Siemens trains which were withdrawn from service after experiencing braking failure.
THE Victorian Government has been forced to lease six old Hitachi train carriages from a volunteer rail group and buy three from a private seller to cope with the city’s chronic train shortage.
In 2003, the Department of Infrastructure’s (DOI) Train Plan warned of an impending train shortage due to rising patronage and the need to improve service levels. Unfortunately the State Government, under the reins of former Minister for Transport, Peter Batchelor, chose to ignore this advice despite similar concerns being shared by groups such as the Public Transport Users Association (PTUA).
Alex Makin, vice-president of the Public Transport Users Association, said the Government made a “serious error” by scrapping most of its Hitachi trains when it began introducing newer models.
Mr Makin said the PTUA had lobbied the Government to “augment” the Hitachis with the new trains, not replace them.
“This demonstrates that the Victorian Government has realised far too late that it scrapped the Hitachi fleet prematurely,” Mr Makin said. “As a result, rail passengers are suffering. The State Government is ultimately responsible, but they’re quite happy to let (rail operator) Connex wear the blame.”
This lack of foresight has the caused the State Government into an embarrassing and financially irresponsible backflip where it must now purchase the Hitachi trains for considerable higher sums than they were sold.
The department is expected to pay private seller John Horne about $60,000 for three more carriages.
A source told The Sunday Age Mr Horne bought the carriages a few years ago for $2600 each. “It’s certainly a good deal for (Mr Horne), put it that way,” the source said.
Connex has once again been ordered to defend the inactions of the State Government by refusing to acknowledge its mistakes. As revealed by the poor state of rail maintenance and the endless myriad of excuses, Connex simply losing its grip in handling Melbourne’s rail network.
But Connex spokesman Andrew Cassidy said any suggestion that the Hitachi fleet should have been retained was “ludicrous”.
“The Hitachi trains were at the end of their working life,” Mr Cassidy said. “Many were 30 years old. This would have made it prohibitively expensive to continue to maintain them in a safe operating condition.
The comments by Connex demonstrate the failure of the company to have any concern over the needs of Melbourne’s rail network. The Hitachi trains are mechanically very reliable and were expected to have a life expectancy similar to the Tait trains, which were in service for well over 50 years.
“We would have been forced to invest more and more to keep them running, which would have tied up resources that could not be used to improve services. In the end, customers would have made a loss, not a gain.”
In fact it is ‘ludicrous’ of Connex to claim that resources would have prevented Connex from maintaining the Hitachi fleet. Both the State Government and Connex knew since 2003 that there was a shortage of rollingstock and the endless excuses Connex uses to fudge its ongoing poor performance demonstrates that both the State Government and Connex have failed to adequately maintain its fleet to a high level of service.