Adjournment: Warrnambool rail services

My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Public Transport, and the action I seek is for free travel for Warrnambool line passengers until speed restrictions are lifted.

As the minster would be aware, trains on the Warrnambool line have been slowed down as a bandaid solution to safety issues. This is resulting in lengthy delays on every service, but passengers are still being asked to pay the full amount and are being told to allow more time for their journey. It is wrong. Why should passengers have to pay full price for a journey that is going to be delayed by quite an amount of time through no fault of their own? Only 15.4 per cent of the services on the Warrnambool line were on time in December, and I doubt the January figure will be any better when it is finally released.

It is not just the delays causing headaches for passengers. The trains are plagued with other problems like no air conditioning, no lights, and toilets that are either out of order or so dirty people do not want to use them. Sometimes the buffet car is not open. This is a train that is used by people who travel from Melbourne to Mount Gambier. If there is no buffet car, then that is over 6 hours without access to food or drink, with no notice. Yet we are still to pay a premium price for what is fast becoming a second or even third-rate service.

Free travel was offered during the wheel-wear debacle in 2016 where trains were being delayed and cancelled, so a precedent has been set. This is by no means a reflection on the staff at the stations or on the trains; they are all doing their absolute best. They are being hamstrung by a situation out of their control and are the ones who bear the brunt of the passengers’ frustrations.

The minster has sat on her hands during this whole debacle, only wanting to talk about the new service that has been added to the line, which has run late every day since it was introduced in January despite extra travel time being added to the new timetable. It is not what these passengers want to hear, Minister. The passengers who are coming into my office daily, who are emailing me and who are calling to complain about the state of the Warrnambool line service want to know what is being done to fix the problem, when it is going to be fixed and why it is taking so long.

There was one passenger, an international tourist, who was so frustrated she penned a poem about the rail service. It was dropped into my office last week and published in today’s Warrnambool Standard. Passengers want a safe, reliable and comfortable rail service. They do not want bandaid solutions that slow down trains and treat the people of South-West Coast with utter contempt.

Minister’s Response:

the member for South‑West Coast raised the issue of free travel being provided for passengers on the Warrnambool train line as a result of the recent – well, I say as a result of the recent timetable changes, but they are a result of some longstanding issues that the Warrnambool corridor faces. Her request was that free travel be provided. She referenced what she claims is a precedent that was set at the start of 2016 when buses replaced those trains that were taken out of service as a result of an increased wheel‑wear rate problem that was affecting a large part of the network.

There is no precedent for free travel to be provided here because the trains are still running. I acknowledge they are running more slowly than they had been. It should be remembered why they are doing that. They are doing that because of the temporary speed restrictions that have had to be put in place because of the significant safety issues on this line. It is an absolute miracle that the truck driver that was involved in the awful accident and crash with a train at Pirron Yallock last year survived that accident. It was remarkable, and we are deeply grateful that he did. However, it does highlight that there are significant safety issues at level crossings along our regional network, and the Warrnambool line is affected by some of these. V/Line has therefore, quite understandably, taken a safety‑first approach and indeed is working with the national safety regulator in terms of putting in place temporary speed restrictions on this line.

In her contribution the member made all sorts of claims about what the government had and had not been doing. I can make it very clear to the house that I have met on numerous occasions – indeed countless occasions – with the department, V/Line and Public Transport Victoria as we work very hard on looking at what are the short‑term measures that need to be put in place to address these temporary speed restrictions – measures that can be put in place that address safety and lift the temporary speed restrictions – and then of course how we address these issues for the longer term.

These are issues that did not spring up overnight. These are issues that have been in place for a very, very long time in this corridor. Of course under the previous government this was the rail line that ran through the Premier’s electorate and the former public transport minister’s electorate, and they did nothing to address these issues along this corridor. We have to address these issues, as I said, because we do have some significant issues around safety. You can absolutely appreciate that that is the priority that we have to put at the top of the list, but I am not blind to the fact that this is causing some real frustrations for passengers in the corridor. Indeed I was fortunate enough during the summer break to spend some time in the south‑west and to talk to families who were affected by the timetable changes and some of the unreliability that that was causing and the challenges that was causing them, so I am absolutely determined to put in place the shorter term solutions and the longer term infrastructure works that are needed to address these issues.

I should also say we have also recently added an additional service on this line, again something the former government kept promising the communities – their own communities. The former Premier’s own community and the former public transport minister’s own community kept being promised an additional service, but it never happened. Well, we have done that. We put on that extra train service, which started from the end of January this year. Again it is running to a changed timetable as we address these issues that will restore the timetable to improved services. As I said, it is not something that is going to be able to be addressed overnight. We are determined t o work through it and address these issues, and that is exactly what is happening at the moment.

I would hope the member for South‑West Coast can support these initiatives instead of engaging in the politics of this. That forces me to remind the member for South‑West Coast that her government ripped around $120 million out of V/Line, which really saw a deterioration of services under the former government’s watch.