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Mass cancellations on Queensland Rail do not appear to be directly linked to staff calling in sick, new figures have revealed.
Train cancellations had previously been blamed on drivers and guards calling in sick.
But figures released in answer to a question on notice show the number of drivers and guards taking sick leave meandering between three and 31 on various days, with no large spike on days when there were cancellations.
On September 30, when 50 trains were cancelled, 23 drivers and 27 guards took sick or family leave.
On October 21, when more than 100 services were cancelled, 16 drivers and 16 guards took sick or family leave.
The figures end on November 21, meaning the massive stuff-up when 235 services were cancelled on Christmas Day were not captured in the data.
However, Transport Minister Stirling Hinchliffe took the unusual step of writing to QR staff last month to reassure them and point out that poor service delivery on Christmas Day was not due to sudden, unexpected absences, but instead a train crew shortage.
As of the end of November, there were 497 drivers and 454 guards working at Queensland Rail.
Mr Hinchliffe said the data showed train driver sick leave was not a significant factor in the cancellation of services in recent months.
"Averaged out across the two-month period, drivers absent from duty on sick leave accounted for 3.56 per cent of the total train driver workforce," he said.
"This correlates with my understanding that poor rostering management practices and an underlying shortage of train crew are the primary causes of Queensland Rail's unacceptable cancellations, not unexpected sick leave."
It comes as train drivers' overtime more than doubled from January 2015 to October 2016.
In January 2015, Queensland Rail drivers worked 8605 overtime hours and 8239 the following month.
But in March, the month after Labor took office, that number jumped to 12,015 and has not dropped below 10,000 since.
In October 2016, there were 18,837 overtime hours worked – during the same month that 100 services were cancelled following the opening of the Redcliffe Peninsula Line, which exposed the operator's driver shortage.
Acting Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington said taxpayers were paying about $600,000 extra a fortnight due to the overtime bill.
"The overtime started escalating as soon as this incompetent Labor government got into power," she said.
Ms Frecklington said "enough was enough" when it came to the blame game.
"It shouldn't be a good news story that Queensland trains run on time," she said.
"Queenslanders don't care about sick leave or rostering, what they want to hear is that their trains are going to turn up."
Mr Hinchliffe said overtime was a standard component of the working week for most drivers at Queensland Rail.
"Although there are regulations in place mandating the maximum hours individual drivers can work to manage fatigue, what's concerning is Queensland Rail's increasing reliable on overtime to keep driver rosters filled on the Citytrain network," Mr Hinchliffe said.
"During October 2016, total overtime increased 20 per cent on the previous month with the opening of the Redcliffe Peninsula Line and the introduction of the October 4 timetable."
Mr Hinchliffe said he had "razor-sharp focus" on the government's five-point plan.
Queensland Rail is still working on a report into the Christmas Day cancellations, after being told to try again when Mr Hinchliffe was handed a two-page report he said did not address issues in enough detail.
This article first appeared on www.smh.com.au
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