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A SINGLE piece of snapped overhead wire that brought chaos to Melbourne's train system yesterday - delaying more than 400,000 passengers for at least an hour - had been inspected for faults only 35 days earlier.
The 20-year-old wire, which Metro chief Andrew Lezala said had snapped because of ''fatigue failure'', was inspected by engineers on June 22.
The state government has offered free travel on suburban trains on Friday, and a free daily ticket for many V/Line commuters, to compensate for yesterday's delays.
The break occurred between Flinders Street and Southern Cross stations, highlighting the vulnerability of the entire system to glitches in key locations.
As the chaos unfolded, it became clear neither Metro nor the Department of Transport had an effective plan to deal with it. ''In terms of the scope of the disruption, this was about as bad as it gets,'' Public Transport Users Association president Daniel Bowen said.
The opposition blamed Premier John Brumby for under-investment in the rail system over the past 11 years, while the Greens demanded the government sack much of its Transport Department and create a new public transport authority to run the city's trains.
The problem began at 4.55am, when a cable holding up the wire from which trains draw their power snapped, causing the power lines on one set of tracks between Southern Cross and Flinders Street to droop.
To fix the snapped cable, repair crews were forced to shut power on all six rail lines running between the city's two busiest stations, grinding all trains in the CBD to a halt for more than an hour.
This caused a cascading effect across the entire network which delayed all lines for at least one hour, forcing many commuters on to already overcrowded trams and buses.
Many abandoned public transport and drove into the city, badly clogging the city's busy roads. V/Line services from Gippsland terminated at Dandenong, while the Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo lines were reduced to a crawl behind suburban trains.
Many passengers were stranded without any information about when trains would come.
And as commuters endured the worst of the delays, Premier John Brumby went on ABC radio and said the system was ''now back up and running''.
Mr Brumby also said Metro was continuing to improve its performance. ''They are very good transport operators. I have seen what they do in Hong Kong and they are here for the long haul. They will continue to improve,'' he said.
Public Transport Minister Martin Pakula - who yesterday declared he had full confidence in the secretary of his transport department - last night offered passengers free travel on Melbourne's metropolitan train system. Passengers using Metcard should not validate their ticket on Friday, and those using their myki card should not touch on or off when travelling.
Melbourne University finance professor Kevin Davis yesterday estimated the rail meltdown had cost Victoria's economy more than $12 million in lost productivity. It took until just after midday yesterday before Metro recovered its train schedule.
Last night, at a meeting of Metro's board members that had been organised before yesterday's chaos, Mr Pakula was expected to demand Metro lift its performance.
Under its eight-year, $8 billion contract with Metro, the government has boosted dramatically funding for maintenance, giving the operator $365 million over a 19-month period for repairs.
Until yesterday, Metro was close to meeting its on-time performance targets for the first time since taking over from Connex in December. It is likely to face the eighth $1 million fine from the government in a row - although it will hardly make a dent in the $50-60 million it gets paid each month.
Greens MP Greg Barber said the key issue was not spending on infrastructure. ''The root cause of this problem is rail privatisation,'' he said.
''Under the current system we have got a bunch of cardigan-wearing bureaucrats on one side and a bunch of greedy profit-seekers on the other. Responsibility for actually running the trains falls in the gap,'' he said.
Peak-hour traffic was thrown into chaos for the second time after a truck hit power lines and tram lines in Flemington. Traffic and trams were brought to a halt about 6pm as lines were cleared and power turned off.
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