A powerful new government watchdog has been created to keep Queensland’s trains crewed and running on time, following a damning commission inquiry into rail disruptions in South East Queensland.
The Strachan Commission of Inquiry uncovered a litany of timetable failures and a chronic undersupply of train crews when it investigated service cancellations and late trains on the Citytrain network and particularly on the Redcliffe Peninsula Line, which opened in 2016.
Commissioner Phillip Strachans’s 300-page report, which was published in January 2017 and contained 26 recommendations, found large-scale disruptions across the network. The apotheosis came on October 21, 2016 when 167 services were cancelled, around 12 per cent of scheduled services. This was mainly due to compulsory rest periods for train crew.
The Commission also found a top-heavy bureaucracy, institutional complacency and a reluctance to share bad news.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the new Citytrain Response Unit would ensure Queensland Rail stuck to the ‘sweeping reforms’ contained in the Commission’s report.
“The people of Queensland have been badly let down by Queensland Rail’s inability to maintain an effective timetable, and my government is very sorry and I apologise for that,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
“The problems that led to driver shortages from October 2016 were many years in the making, but my government takes the responsibility, and is firmly resolved to fix them.”
She said the Strachan Inquiry report revealed a culture of “relying on intuition, complacency and being reluctant to share bad news” within Queensland Rail’s Operations team.
“The Citytrain Response Unit will in effect be a watchdog for QR, ensuring it stays on track and on time in delivering these vital reforms,” she said.
“We will also be meeting rail unions to determine what additional measures can be taken to accelerate driver recruitment and training even further.”
This would mean doing external recruitment and allowing drivers to qualify more quickly on a single sector of track.
The Strachan Report went into detail about driver shortages, which it said was first identified by Queensland Rail in 2013. It put the shortage down to an over reliance on overtime; restrictions on external recruitment, a one-year hiatus in driver training from February 2014 and driver training taking an average of 18 months.
The Citytrain Response Unit will be established for an initial period of 12 months and will monitor, audit and report on the implementation of the inquiry’s recommendations and Queensland Rail’s response and recovery plan.
Ms Palaszczuk said “This will include a rigorous assessment of service levels under the current timetable to enable stable, reliable services and sufficient training capacity to facilitate the long-term return to full service levels.”
The recommendations to address these issues include:
- Developing a five-year rolling monthly forecast of crew demand and supply
- Ongoing, not intermittent, recruitment campaigns
- Reviewing the current timetable to ensure stable services can be provided
- Allowing external applicants with no previous experience to apply for jobs as drivers and guards
- Accelerating average crew training from 18 months to 9 and introducing ‘sectorised’ train crew deployment
- Queensland Rail to provide a high-level response plan within 30 days
But Ms Palaszczuk warned there was ‘no quick fix’ because systemic issues needed solving.
“It’s going to take time and it’s going to take major changes to the way Queensland Rail is structured and operates. Our very clear focus and priority is to ensure that rail commuters have reliable, efficient train services.”
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