V/LINE has attributed ‘staff sickness’ to the cancellation of about 20 rail services since the start of the year.
Analysis of information published by V/Line on its Bendigo line Twitter account indicates more than 60 service disruptions due to employees’ ill health since February 2017.
More services have been affected by ‘staff sickness’ in the year to date than in all of 2017.
Passengers were diverted to road coach services in the majority of cases, but have been instructed to board later trains in more than 10 instances.
So far this year, four trains from Epsom to Southern Cross have been terminated at Bendigo due to staff sickness. The most recent was on May 11.
Both the 10.20am Southern Cross to Bendigo train and the 12.30pm Bendigo – Southern Cross service were on Monday replaced by road coaches due to staff sickness.
Eleven trains either haven’t run or have been replaced by road coach services since the start of the month.
A V/Line spokesperson said staff illness accounted for just 0.5 per cent of all Bendigo line services cancellations in the 12 months to March 31 this year.
“V/Line has new drivers in training who will graduate at the end of May and we have more drivers graduating between September and December,” they said.
V/Line delivers 1000 services a month, on average, on the Bendigo line.
More than 80 station staff and conductors are based along the Bendigo corridor, including Echuca, Swan Hill and Mildura.
Thirty-two train drivers work on the Bendigo line, with support from train crew and staff based at Southern Cross Station in Melbourne.
V/Line has published more than 2000 tweets about changes to services on the Bendigo line since December 2016.
More than 300 of the tweets relate to train faults, including a number of delays to services on May 14.
Track faults have accounted for about 190 of those tweets, with the 1.20pm service from Southern Cross to Eaglehawk and the 3.50pm service from Eaglehawk to Southern Cross affected as recently as May 15.
Signal faults were cited in more than 110 tweets, with a fault near Sunbury causing a number of delays on May 16.
V/Line shares tracks with Metro trains on the Sunbury line and delays due to signal faults can affect both regional and suburban trains.
The Bendigo Advertiser understands V/Line and Metro Trains have started to roll out rapid response vehicles across the network to provide a faster response time to signal faults on the metropolitan and regional networks.
Passengers who are delayed by more than 60 minutes in a single journey might be eligible for compensation.
Compensation might also apply for eligible multi-journey myki and paper ticket holders if V/Line does not meet its monthly performance targets.
Costs associated with planned disruptions on regional rail networks are the responsibility of the agency or operator leading the project causing the disruption.
Regular V/Line commuter David Goudge said signal faults were a common cause of delays on services he frequented, though he’d received a few messages about staff sickness affecting trains of late.
He’s been commuting to work from Bendigo via train for almost 10 years.
Sunbury was where he used to alight during the first three years – a route Mr Goudge said used to involve changing trains.
These days, his travels take him to Gisborne.
“I get a lot of things done while sitting on the train,” Mr Goudge said.
He said he also saved about $20 a week by using public transport, as opposed to driving to work.
While he was grateful to have the V/Line service at his disposal, Mr Goudge said the service ‘never used to be as bad’.
The morning service he frequents – the first off-peak service of the day – was ‘a bit slow getting in’ about two to three times a week, in his estimation.
“The evening one has been all over the place,” Mr Goudge said.
He said he aimed to catch the 5.13pm service from Gisborne to Bendigo of an evening.
In the event services were disrupted or delayed, Mr Goudge said he could face long waits to get home or overcrowded carriages.
He was aware of a number of services, of late, that had run with fewer carriages than usual.
Castlemaine resident Scott Dew – also a frequent V/Line traveller – cited changes to carriage capacity on peak-hour trains as one of his greatest concerns.
Four services ran at a reduced capacity of three carriages last week, according to the V/Line Bendigo line Twitter account.
The 16:57 Southern Cross Station - Eaglehawk service was affected from May 14-16, while the Southern Cross Station – Echuca service ran at reduced capacity on May 17.
V/Line attributed the limited carriage numbers to maintenance requirements and train faults.
Monday’s 4.03pm service from Southern Cross to Bendigo, 5.30pm service from Southern Cross to Epsom, and 6.25pm service from Southern Cross - Swan Hill also ran with three carriages apiece ‘due to maintenance requirements’.
A V/Line spokesperson said more trains were being delivered by the Victorian government as patronage continued to increase on the Bendigo line.
“There have been 48 new VLocity carriages since October 2016,” they said.
“This competes the government’s original order of 48 and there are an additional 39 to come on top of this.
“These additional 39 will be rolled out progressively. V/Line closely monitors patronage levels and as the new carriages come off the production line, they are delivered to the V/Line network and used where they are needed most.”
Mr Dew said late arrivals were a regular feature of the services he relied upon to get to and from work in Melbourne.
“We just don’t make it in on time,” he said.
The Bendigo Advertiser reported earlier this year that trains on the Bendigo line had failed to meet V/Line’s ‘on time’ target for almost three years.
Recent figures indicated an improvement in punctuality, from 82.9 per cent in March to 85.4 per cent in April.
But the service was still short of the 92 per cent target set by V/Line.
V/Line considers a service to be ‘on time’ if it is less than six minutes late.
The Bendigo service was reliable 97.5 per cent of the time in April – a fraction down on the 97.9 per cent recorded in the month prior.
Reliability figures represent how often a scheduled service runs, and V/Line expects at least 96 per cent reliability.
The Bendigo line has achieved its train reliability targets for the past three months.
Minister for Public Transport and Member for Bendigo East, Jacinta Allan, said she had instructed PTV and V/Line to review performance across the regional network and present options for improving performance on each corridor, including the Bendigo Line.
"V/Line and PTV are working together to provide a range of short and longer term options for changes that could be made to help improve punctuality and reliability, across all corridors,” she said.