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QUESTION – Wodonga V/Line services

Sep 11, 2019 | Parliament

Mr BARTON (Eastern Metropolitan) (12:15): My question is to Minister Pulford representing the Minister for Public Transport. I recently received an email from a retired member of the taxi community who regularly uses the V/Line from Wodonga to Melbourne to attend medical appointments in Melbourne with her seriously ill and disabled husband. She complains that despite years of upgrades and repairs on the line there are still constant delays, regularly cancelled services diverted to buses, grubby toilets, unreliable buffet services and disinterested staff unwilling to provide assistance at stations in Wodonga or at Southern Cross. Many minor things add up to a very poor experience. V/Line reported just 48.3 per cent of trains arriving on time in July this year. This is quite an extreme variation on the 90 per cent target, so I ask the minister: what will be done to fix the very poor V/Line train services to Wodonga?

Ms PULFORD (Western Victoria—Minister for Roads, Minister for Road Safety and the TAC, Minister for Fishing and Boating) (12:16): I thank Mr Barton for his question. I also take the opportunity to wish the member of the taxi community and her husband the very best in managing their health issues, which are adding additional difficulty to what sounds like a very difficult travel experience.

This is, I think, for many people in north-eastern Victoria a matter of great frustration, and our government did have to wait much longer than we would have liked to to finalise the funding arrangements with the federal government for the planned upgrade.

If I could just provide some context, the north-east line is a little different to most of the other regional rail lines in Victoria in that it is not maintained and managed by the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC). The track is not currently maintained to a condition and a standard that enables trains to travel at high speeds on all sections between Albury and Melbourne, as no doubt the people that the member is representing today with his question know very well. We do continue to work closely with the ARTC to support improvements to the track. The Australian government, with the Victorian government, is upgrading the north-east rail corridor; this is a matter that Minister Symes has been very involved in the advocacy for for quite some years. This upgrade will enable more frequent and, importantly, more reliable services for people from this part of regional Victoria. The $235 million north-east line upgrade—

Mr Davis: Funded by the feds.

Ms PULFORD: will improve the condition of the Albury line and enable V/Line trains to run on the line for the first time. This is an important and serious matter but, Mr Davis, seriously, your mates—they close regional rail lines at every opportunity and never provide the upgrades. So if you just give us the courtesy—

Mr Davis: That’s rubbish. The feds have funded 91 per cent of those regional upgrades.

Ms PULFORD: If you could just give us the courtesy of the opportunity to respond to Mr Barton. You know you have got a shameful record on regional rail.

Members interjecting.


Ms PULFORD: You know you do.

But the sections of this track that are under V/Line’s controls, in those sections we are undertaking essential maintenance and renewal, including $9 million of works to replace more than 31 000 sleepers between Seymour and Donnybrook. I think we share the frustration of the communities in the north-east but the work is underway, the partnership with the federal government is underway and we all look forward to some improvement at the earliest opportunity.

Mr BARTON (Eastern Metropolitan) (12:19): Thank you very much for your response, Minister. Just last week this particular traveller experienced two disruptions on consecutive days. The Monday evening train to Albany was delayed, spending an hour in Wangaratta before arriving in Albury after midnight, an hour and a half behind schedule. The following morning, after boarding a train passengers were told to transfer to buses because of track issues. Can the minister detail the cost of these replacement bus services on the Melbourne to Albury line over the last 12 months?

Ms PULFORD (Western Victoria—Minister for Roads, Minister for Road Safety and the TAC, Minister for Fishing and Boating) (12:20): On the specific question about the cost for replacement services, I will take that on notice and seek a detailed response from Minister Horne, but we do understand that there were some significant delays experienced by people on the evening of 2 September which I gather is what you are referring to. I am advised that this was due to a delay in handover after the ARTC completed some signalling and track upgrades near Violet Town between 31 August and 2 September as part of the upgrade that I referred to in my answer to the substantive question. The trains were scheduled to return after 6.00 pm on Monday night. There was a delay to the works being completed and the trains were not able to resume normal operation until close to 9.00 pm, so that was obviously a very late night and very inconvenient for people who were caught up in that. I am also advised that alternative travel options were provided where possible to minimise delay, including coaches and taxis. Food and drinks were provided as well.

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