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Queensland train drivers and guards pocketed more than half a million dollars in overtime each week last financial year, despite patronage plunging during the pandemic.
But Transport Minister Mark Bailey said the multimillion-dollar overtime bill was "normal".
Queensland Rail's overtime bill was expected to be more than $24 million this year.CREDIT:ROBERT SHAKESPEARE
State government data revealed during budget estimates showed $28.3 million was shelled out on overtime pay last financial year.
Mr Bailey said that number was expected to drop to $24.3 million in 2020-21, as the state had invested in training more drivers.
Spread across the state's 887 drivers, guards and trainees, each worker would have taken home an extra $31,905 on average in overtime last year.
That was expected to decrease to $27,395 this financial year.
Queensland Rail has been under pressure to cut down on overtime hours after the opening of the Redcliffe Peninsula Line sparked a crisis in October 2016, which uncovered a shortage of drivers and an unsustainable reliance on overtime.
The resulting crunch led to the sudden cancellation of hundreds of services, including on Christmas Day, before Queensland Rail cut 462 services under a new timetable in an attempt to restore reliability.
An inquiry launched in the wake of the saga made 36 recommendations, 32 of which have been completed.
The state has paid external consultants about $8 million to help implement the recommendations from the Strachan inquiry, a question on notice asked at budget estimates hearing this week showed.
At the height of the rail saga four years ago, overtime hours made up 23.4 per cent of all hours worked by the state's train drivers.
"In 2019-20 that was reduced for drivers to 13.02 per cent," Queensland Rail chief executive Nick Easy said.
Mr Bailey defended the overtime spending, saying it was "a normal part of running a rail system anywhere in the world".
"Think about when train drivers are taking trains out of railyards at four in the morning and bringing them in at night, of course you are going to have overtime as a normal operating cost," he said.
"We have actually seen a reduction in overtime in the last few years in terms of proportionality and what we are achieving is a strong pipeline of drivers."
Mr Bailey said the state government had hired 289 drivers since October 2016.
This article first appeared on www.brisbanetimes.com.au
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