Commuters on the Ballarat line were left fuming on Wednesday afternoon when a spate of services to and from the city were cancelled due to ‘staff sickness’, leading to packed peak hour carriages.
From 2.30pm onward V/Line cancelled six services due to a lack of staff members, with just one of the journeys being replaced by road coaches.
The remaining commuters were forced to wait for later services or find alternative ways home.
Public Transport Users Association Ballarat convener Ben Lever said while most of the cancelled trains were Melton and Bacchus Marsh services, these had a flow-on effect on busy peak Ballarat trains.
“These staffing issues have been plaguing V/Line for a long time, but they seem to be getting worse and worse,” Mr Lever said.
“It seems that there is such a shortage of qualified staff that V/Line can only cover its staffing requirements when absolutely everything goes right - they're running so close to the edge that even a small number of staff sicknesses can cause mass cancellation of trains.
15:37 Southern Cross - Melton train will not run due to staff sickness. Customers are asked to speak to station staff and board the next available services.— V/Line Ballarat Line (@vline_ballarat) June 6, 2018
“This is frankly not good enough - our trains are an essential service, necessary to keep our economy moving, and V/Line needs to manage its staff well enough that we don't have these kinds of issues.”
Ballarat commuters were not the only V/Line users forced to endure cancelled and delayed trains, with both the Geelong and Seymour lines also experiencing major disruptions due to staff sickness.
Customers on the Bendigo line were also inconvenienced by a series of cancellations.
The state government is currently undertaking a review into staff sickness across the public transport network.
In a statement a V/Line spokesperson said “with the onset of winter, V/Line has recently seen a higher-than-usual number of staff unwell, with a very high number of staff calling in sick today, which has unfortunately lead to a number of service changes and cancellations across the network this afternoon”.
One staff sickness has the potential to cancel as many as three services in a day. While there are more than 70 drivers currently in training, it takes more than a year before they are allowed on the track.
“We are doing everything we can to source coaches to replace cancelled services but customers may also be asked to board the next available scheduled service,” the statement read.
The nightmare day for commuters comes on the back of 18 consecutive months where V/Line has failed to meet its punctuality target for the Ballarat line, including its worst performance on record in March this year.