DESPITE infrastructure improvements and timetable changes, V/Line's performance over the past 10 years has mostly fallen short of its targets and community expectations, according to an audit report released last week by the Victorian Auditor-General.
The audit assessed whether V/Line regional passenger services are efficient and meet the needs of public transport users, and whether it is adequately prepared to sustain and improve performance in the future.
V/Line operates and maintains a fleet of 372 passenger trains and carriages, and 3,520 kilometres of rail track used by passenger and freight services. More than 1,250 V/Line-branded coach services also operate every week, connecting the rail network with regional communities not serviced by trains.
The audit also examined Public Transport Victoria's (PTV) and the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources' (DEDJTR) roles in overseeing and monitoring V/Line's operational performance and the Department of Treasury and Finance's role in monitoring V/Line's financial performance.
The report states that the most significant impacts on V/Line's performance have been:
- Ongoing financial pressure to deliver cost savings;
- Excessive wheel wear in VLocity trains and the failure of VLocity trains to activate boom gates on time;
- Network limitations;
- An inability to consistently get V/Line trains to arrive at the metropolitan boundary in time to use their scheduled path; and
- Congestion on the shared metropolitan networks.
The Auditor-General also found that V/Line was not prepared for the strong growth in patronage and the resulting increase in service demand following the opening of the Regional Rail Link. "V/Line did not foresee this growth or fully understand the causes of its poor performance because it lacked the necessary capability. It also lacked focus, until recently, on managing its assets," the report said.
In 2015–16, V/Line carried 17.7 million passengers—16.3 million on trains and 1.4 million on coaches—an increase of 88.3 per cent since 2006–07 and well beyond V/Line's expectations. The report attributes the patronage growth to a number of factors, including the implementation of the Regional Fast Rail project in 2006, the completion of the Regional Rail Link in 2015 and population growth in outer Melbourne and regional areas.
"These factors have put pressure on V/Line's services to incorporate features of an urban commuter network alongside its regional transport services. A major challenge for V/Line is to cost-effectively manage the expected growth in patronage while improving performance," the report said.
The report includes a total of 8 recommendations, including for V/Line to:
1. Strengthen its monitoring processes for measuring on-time running of trains and coaches
2. Improve its systems to collect and separately analyse and report operational and financial performance information between service groups—commuter rail, peri-urban, country long-distance, and coach—and businesses, passengers and freight, to better understand performance in separate parts of the business
3. Undertake peer operational and financial performance benchmarking by service group with similar railways in other jurisdictions and devise a long-term plan to improve efficiency
4. Use community service obligations to model and understand how they influence performance
It is recommended that Public Transport Victoria:
5. Improve how it monitors and manages V/Line performance by:
Documenting the basis and methodology of targets and thresholds in the services agreement and State Budget papers
Assessing the adequacy of existing performance measures and standards to achieve improvements in performance
Preparing performance benchmarks for future services agreements that drive improvement and are periodically reviewed and reset where necessary
Periodically auditing V/Line's performance data and related systems
6. Work collaboratively with V/Line to:
More accurately reflect actual performance and passenger experience by measuring and publicly reporting reliability and punctuality against the master timetable
Develop a more effective way to monitor customer experience performance, using lessons from the current services agreements.
It is recommended that the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources:
7. Work collaboratively with Public Transport Victoria and V/Line to:
Better understand the impact of the shared metropolitan and regional network on V/Line's punctuality
Develop evidence-based train-loading standards to determine the level of overcrowding on passenger trains
Develop a more robust indicator of service demand by measuring the average passenger travel distances
8. Review the transport portfolio governance framework with a particular focus on clarifying the roles of key agencies and reporting and information flow.
The report also describes the establishment of Transport for Victoria (TFV), with its explicit focus on planning, as a key development with potential to strengthen governance in the transport portfolio.
More information about the 'V/Line Passenger Services' report is available from the Victorian Auditor-General's Office website at <https://www.audit.vic.gov.au/report/vline-passenger-services>.