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ALL Victorians will have access to free V/Line travel for a full week following disastrous train services after a boom gate failed to close properly when a VLocity train approached a level crossing.
And an urgent $23 million safety upgrade to level crossings will be made after revelations in the Herald Sun that advice had been ignored for several years.
New axle counters will be fitted to tracks near about 20 boom gates to ensure they open and close when VLocity trains pass.
The counters will sense when trains are on the tracks, which has been an issue for VLocity since 2011.
Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan returned from leave today to address the crisis, and reveal she had approved the funding of axle counter installations to boost safety.
Ms Allan also revealed there would be a sweeping operational review of V/Line in the wake of a separate issue about wheel wearing, which is believed to have been caused by increased use of VLocity trains and poor maintenance.
“I am advised that this program to install axle counters will take between three to six months,” she said.
“That will be a process completed well and truly before the end of the year.”
The Herald Sun revealed today that authorities failed to act on boom gate safety recommendations for two and a half years, despite being warned of the risk of a catastrophic accident.
Victoria’s rail network was plunged into chaos this week after Metro banned V/Line’s VLocity carriages from suburban tracks because a boom gate failed to close properly when a VLocity train approached a Dandenong level crossing last week.
This prompted a series of crisis meetings with the State Government.
Confidential internal documents show rail operators knew of the potential for a major accident, following level crossing failures in 2011 and 2012.
And last May, a letter from Metro deputy chief executive Michael Houghton to V/Line chief executive Theo Taifalos revealed boom gates still had difficulty “detecting trains … on level crossing approaches”.
Ms Allan said it was not good enough, and that she had not been briefed by Metro about its request for new safety measures in May last year.
She said the first she heard about the issue was last week and it was disappointing for passengers.
“It is incredibly frustrating,” she said.
Ms Allan said the previous Coalition Government should have acted on the issue, however.
“We recognise that regional passengers have been affected. There will be free travel on all V/Line services starting from this coming Saturday, through to Sunday 31st of January,” she said.
Ms Allan said from Saturday, services should resume as normal on the Seymour line, and the Gippsland line should have restrictions removed next week.
Passengers can simply get on V/Line services from Saturday until January 31 and not pay, and there are no restrictions on travel.
Ms Allan said it could be an opportunity for people to get out and see parts of regional Victoria.
The cost of the free travel is unclear at this stage.
Opposition spokesman David Hodgett said he was aware of one previous issue with boom gates but would not be drawn on whether warnings had been passed on to the previous coalition Government in 2013.
“Boom gates failing to close at level crossings is a major safety concern,’’ he said.
“I am aware of an incident in 2014 on the Stony Creek line. That was fixed with minimal disruption. Release all the reports from across the years this is too important and it is about public safety.’’
Mr Hodgett said the previous Government had funded track maintenance but said the current Government had known about warnings in 2015 and done nothing.
He called for all reports, including historical documents from under the last Government, on the boomgate issue to be released to uncover what had gone wrong.
He has not spoken to former public transport minister Terry Mulder regarding the issue.
This article first appeared on www.heraldsun.com.au
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