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This morning’s rail meltdown is estimated to have cost Victoria’s economy at least $12 million in lost productivity after the travel plans of 400,000 peak-hour commuters were thrown into chaos.
University of Melbourne finance professor Kevin Davis said the rail disruptions would also cut into the leisure time of many Melburnians this afternoon as they stayed late to make up for time lost during this morning’s frustrating commute.
Passengers were left standing on platforms and stranded on trains for hours after an overhead wire snapped in the Melbourne rail yard, just south of Southern Cross Station, just before 5am, causing a massive power failure.
The Craigeburn, Upfield, Sydenham, Williamstown and Werribee lines were the worst hit, but the power outage had far-reaching effects across the network and affected almost every train in the state.
Transport Minister Martin Pakula said all of Melbourne’s 400,000 train commuters today would be been hit by the outage, while embattled train operator Metro reported delays of more than an hour on 15 of the city’s 16 train lines during peak hour.
Based on those figures, and on the average hourly wage of $30, Professor Davis said the estimated cost to the economy was $12 million.
‘‘The issue there is that probably a lot of people will spend an extra hour travelling and spend the same amount of time in at work,’’ said Professor Davis, who is also research director of the Australian Centre for Financial Studies.
‘‘I think what you will find is a large amount of people will end up working later today to meet their work commitments, so the cost actually falls more on their leisure time than on their employers and of course if it falls in the leisure time, it doesn’t show up in the national accounting figures.’’
The Age received hundreds of emails from workers saying they had been held up far longer than an hour, suggesting the $12 million was a conservative estimate.
The revelation came as Mr Pakula, who drove to work today, apologised to commuters and said he would meet the board of Metro tonight to discuss today’s disruptions.
‘‘It’s obviously been a very disruptive start for commuters both people trying to get to work and students trying to get to school,’’ he said.
‘‘We are very sorry for the inconvenience caused.’’
One of the biggest complaints from commuters was that Metro failed to keep them informed of the situation, while the ‘‘live services update’’ on Metro’s website was at times incorrect.
Some trains also ground to a halt for up to an hour in the City Loop.
At 10am today, Metro’s website was still reporting ‘‘major delays’’ of more than an hour on 15 of the city’s 16 train lines.
All trains began running to scheduled timetables about 12.10pm today, despite three cancellations on the Werribee, Frankston and Craigieburn lines still plaguing the system.
Commuters will not be offered any special compensation for today’s dismal performance, Metro has revealed.
Passengers will have to wait until Metro’s monthly punctuality results are released early next month and, if it fails its overall punctuality benchmark, customers with a monthly, six-monthly or yearly Metcard or myki card can apply for compensation, as is the usual process.
V/Line passengers heading into Melbourne were also hit hard today, with some trains terminating on the outskirts of Melbourne and others crawling into the city.
"There probably won’t be a train in Victoria unaffected this morning. Everything pretty much goes through that section of track,’’ V/Line spokesman Daniel Moloney said.
Public Transport Users Association president Daniel Bowen said today’s disruptions on the the rail network were the equivalent of ‘‘shutting down every city freeway in terms of the number of people affected’’.
‘‘In terms of the scope of the disruption, it’s about as bad as it gets,’’ he said.
‘‘We can’t keep having this sort of disruption. Melbourne relies on having a public transport network that it can depend on and these sorts of major disruptions have to be prevented.’’
As commuters straggled into work late today, Metro chief executive Andrew Lezala repeatedly apologised to them for the inconvenience.
‘‘You’ve had a very bad morning, and we’re very sorry,’’ he said.
He said the power outage was caused by ‘‘fatigue failure’’ in an overhead wire in the Melbourne train yard, just south of Southern Cross Station, at 4.55am. Up to 20 passengers who were on the train at the time had to get off, he said.
"We did our best to communicate the situation to all of our stations, and (ticket inspectors) were deployed to help manage crowds on stations as well,’’ he said.
As the peak-hour crisis mounted this morning, Premier John Brumby defended the train operator, saying Metro had had an ‘‘ordinary’’ start to the year but continued to improve.
‘‘Obviously there has been a major inconvenience to commuters but the system is now back up and running,’’ he told ABC Melbourne.
‘‘In terms of Metro’s performance, they’re obviously here for the long haul. They’re continuing to improve their performance and we look to them to do that.
‘‘They are very good transport operators, I have seen what they do in Hong Kong and they’re here for the long haul and they will continue to improve.
‘‘The improvements are occurring but they’re slow and obviously, there has been an ordinary start, if I can describe it that way, to the first half of the year.’’
Mr Moloney said V/Line services heading towards Melbourne from Gippsland were terminating at Dandenong, where passengers were being urged to join Metro services.
Other services on the Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and Seymour lines were being held up when they reached the city, with trains reduced to a crawl.
Many passengers simply abandoned public transport and drove into the city, clogging the city’s roads.
A VicRoads spokeswoman said traffic on the Monash and Tullamarine freeways was heavier than usual this morning.
"On the Monash delays are starting to build up around EastLink all the way to the city,’’ she said.
"The Tullamarine is a little bit heavier than normal from Bell Street to the Bolte Bridge.’’
Yarra Trams spokesman Colin Tyrus said extra services had been added to route 8, 19 and 59 tram lines to cope with the influx of extra passengers.
‘‘We’re running as many as we can. I think a lot of people have taken to their cars as well, so we are experiencing some delays on the road,’’ Mr Tyrus said.
‘‘Other services are running to schedule, but there may be some delays because of the extra traffic on the roads."
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