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COMMUTERS are being left stranded on train station platforms under a Queensland Rail system that fudges figures about the on-time running performance of its trains.
Trains that are at risk of running late are being ordered to suddenly switch to express services so that QR can protect its punctuality record.
In just one month, 65 train services skipped stops, but are still able to be classified as “on-time”.
The same practice of counting train services that skip stations as being “on-time” was stopped in Sydney in 2013, with the 2017 Strachan Report into QR saying the Sydney system was “believed to provide a more transparent measure of customers’ experience”.
Sydney also does not adjust on-time running figures for “force majeure” incidents, such as delays caused by severe weather, unlike in Queensland.
Documents obtained by The Sunday Mail show the rail network regularly lists its “on-time running” performance as 100 per cent, even when QR orders trains to be switched from all-station to express to make up for lost time.
On September 12, an email sent to QR staff said one of its trains which ran from Cleveland to Bowen Hills had experienced a “rollingstock issue” and caused delays to a later service running between Manly and Shorncliffe.
The Manly to Shorncliffe service ran express past several stations to make up time.
The on-time running performance was then listed as 100 per cent in a company-wide email and on the QR website.
In just one month, 65 train services skipped stops, but are still able to be classified as “on-time”. Picture: Richard WalkerSimilarly, on September 15, a Beenleigh to Ferny Grove train was running four minutes late before it was given the express treatment.
“This service will now operate express from Coopers Plains to Yeerongpilly in order to minimise the impact on other peak services in the inner city,” a staff email said at the time.
The on-time running performance was again listed as 100 per cent.
Individual train services are classified as “on time” by QR if they arrive at the platform within four minutes of their schedule.
QR has repeatedly spruiked its on-time running record, saying it exceeded its target of 95 per cent of trains running on time for three consecutive years to last financial year.
“We should be proud that we have posted our best on-time running 24/7 customer impact results in at least a decade with 96.24 per cent of all services we operate arriving on time,” QR’s annual report boasted last year.
Executive bonuses were tied to meeting on-time running targets in the past, but QR refused to confirm that they still were and a spokeswoman said no performance payments were paid to executives for the 2016/17 financial year.
QR CEO Nick Easy said services were altered in some cases to run express through stations to prevent delays to other services on the network.
But he said skipped stations data was published on the rail body’s website, which shows up to 65 service skipped stops in one month in the past year.
“It is not about meeting on-time running targets, it is about achieving the best possible outcome for our customers and the network overall,” Mr Easy said.
There is no mention of skipped stops in the QR annual report.
The practice of station skipping and suddenly terminating trains to run services on time will be penalised under a crackdown proposed for Melbourne’s Metro Trains.
Several past and current internal sources told The Sunday Mail they were outraged when the practice of skipping stations was adopted about five years ago in Queensland to manipulate the performance results. One former executive described it as “totally dishonest”.
Devil is in the detailIT is 2009 and Queensland Rail has encountered an inconvenient problem with tardiness.
The rail body was staring down the gauntlet of a second fine for failing to run its trains on time.
It had already copped a $6.7 million fine the year before for failing to meet a contractual target dictating that 92.4 per cent of peak-hour services must arrive at the platform within four minutes of the scheduled time on commuters’ rail timetables.
Skip ahead a few years and the problem had – miraculously – disappeared.
QR boasted in its 2012-13 annual report of decade-high punctuality results, with 96.3 per cent of services pulling in at the station on schedule – exceeding its then-target of 94.53 per cent.
It had that year launched a special taskforce to clean up its problems sticking to the timetable.
By 2015-16, QR declared it had hit yet another decade-high, this time with 96.25 per cent of services arriving on time.
The incredible about-turn even scored it an industry gong in 2015.
But documents obtained by The Sunday Mail show the devil is in the detail when it comes to just what constitutes “on-time” in official QR statistics measuring how well its performing.
Commuters waiting on station platforms may be bemused to learn that all-station trains that suddenly zoom by them after being switched to express mid-journey over fears they are beginning to lag behind, are technically classified by the QR bean counters as being “on-time.”
This is despite concerns about the same practice triggering a crackdown interstate.
And while QR is quick to spruik its on-time performance when the going is good, it has previously refused to say whether it was fined for running trains late during the rail fail.
This article first appeared on www.couriermail.com.au
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