Hundreds of commuters are being left on the platform almost every second day on what may well be Victoria’s least reliable train trip; the 15:37 Southern Cross to Melton.
Between January 30 and June 6 the weekday train has been cancelled on 34 occasions, a staggering 43 per cent of scheduled services. Put in context, V/Line’s stated target is to run 96 per cent of scheduled trains.
Of the cancellations 14 were caused by staff sickness, while maintenance requirements, train faults and training were among some of the excuses offered to commuters.
“It seems that whenever there's any issue that results in a shortage of trains or staff in the afternoon peak, they cancel this train and shuffle its resources to other services,” Public Transport Users Association Ballarat convener Ben Lever said.
Unlike many of its counterparts, the 15:37 service returns back to the CBD empty, making it an attractive option to ditch if the network is under strain.
The train is also followed by the 16:10 Southern Cross service 33 minutes later, which stops at Melton.
The regular cancellations come as V/Line grapples with a spate of staff illnesses which earlier this week caused chaos on services across the state.
On the Ballarat line alone six services were cancelled, forcing hundreds of passengers to cram onto later trains, while commuters on the Bendigo, Geelong and Seymour lines were also forced to endure a shortage of carriages leaving the city.
Unsurprisingly, the 15:37 was among the services axed on Wednesday afternoon.
Speaking on Thursday, Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan said “obviously people get unwell from time to time and that’s understandable but we also need to make sure were continuing to provide the services that passengers expect”.
Ms Allan said she had advised PTV to work with V/Line to come up with ‘strategies’ to better manage the system when staff are absent.
She reiterated V/Line’s Wednesday statement that more than 70 drivers were currently in training, six of whom graduated in May.
“As we're carrying more passengers, we need to recruit more staff and particularly more drivers and that's exactly what V/Line is doing,” Ms Allan said.
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