THE Queensland Government last week said it will establish a powerful new Citytrain Response Unit to ensure Queensland Rail follows a program of sweeping reforms recommended by the Strachan Commission of Inquiry.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said State Cabinet had endorsed all 36 recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry into Queensland Rail's train crewing practices, which was instigated in response to a shortage of drivers, timetable problems and service cancellations after the opening of the Redcliffe Peninsula Line in October last year.
"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."
The Inquiry, which was led by Commissioner Phillip Strachan, found a culture of "relying on intuition, complacency and being reluctant to share bad news" within QR's Operations team. It recommends better and shorter lines of communication within Queensland Rail, so that problems can be identified and addressed much more quickly.
"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," the Premier said, adding that the government will also be meeting rail unions to determine what additional measures can be taken to help accelerate driver recruitment and training.
The Inquiry identified a range of factors responsible for the driver shortage, including:
- A QR preference to operate with a 5-10 per cent undersupply of train crews and consequent over-reliance on overtime;
- Restrictions on the external recruitment of crew;
- A 12 month halt of driver training from February 2014; and
- Driver training taking 18 months on average.
The recommendations to address these issues include:
- Developing a five-year rolling monthly forecast of crew demand and supply;
- Moving from intermittent recruitment campaigns to ongoing recruitment;
- Assessing the sustainability of the current 23 January timetable to ensure stable services can be provided;
- Opening driver and guard to external applicants, including those with no previous experience; and
- Implementing 'sectorised' train crew deployment and accelerating average crew training from 18 months to 9.
Ms Palaszczuk said that while the government has acted swiftly to start putting Commissioner Strachan's recommendations into effect, the systemic issues identified as the causes for the widespread cancellations last year mean there is no quick fix that is going to restore full services.
"Our very clear focus and priority is to ensure that rail commuters have reliable, efficient train services. It's going to take time and it's going to take major changes to the way Queensland Rail is structured and operates," the Premier said.
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.
"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," Ms Palaszczuk said.
The Commission had found that neither the board of Queensland Rail, the Chief Executive Officer nor responsible Ministers – the Minister for Transport and the Treasurer – had been appropriately informed of the risk of a train crew shortfall prior to the opening of the Redcliffe Peninsula Line on 4 October, nor of the magnitude and longevity of the issues faced from October 2016.
The Premier said other recommendations were designed to:
- Implement regular reporting on train crew demand, supply and shortfalls initiatives to Queensland Rail's Executive Leadership Team and the responsible Ministers.
- Implement transparent and timely reporting to TransLink and the public regarding operational issues that are affecting, or may affect, service delivery, to enable customers to plan alternative travel arrangements. This information is to be available in real time at stations, online and through call centres.
- Ensure that negotiations with train crew unions focus on best practice rules regarding continuous working time and other crewing practices to alleviate overtime pressure on train crews.
- Work with the train crew unions regarding introducing modern competency-based training arrangements. The new training regime will shorten the average training time for new recruits without compromising safety.
Stirling Hinchliffe, who stepped down as the Minister for Transport following the release of the report, has been replaced by Deputy Premier Jackie Trad, who was formerly Minister for Transport in 2015. Mr Hinchliffe intends to recontest the next election to continue as the Member for Sandgate.
Cabinet has directed Queensland Rail to provide a high-level response plan within 30 days.
More information about the Commission of Inquiry is available at <https://www.strachaninquiry.qld.gov.au/>.