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MELBOURNE'S train driver shortage, supposedly resolved by the
State Government this year, is still restricting the city's
transport network and threatening to disrupt Commonwealth Games
Documents obtained by the State Opposition under
freedom-of-information laws show the driver shortage that caused
widespread cancellations during 2004 is expected to plague the
system until at least 2008, despite the hiring and training of
dozens of new drivers.
"While driver training is progressing, the number of drivers
currently undertaking training and programmed to complete training
over the next several years will barely keep pace with the
requirements of the system," an internal report reads.
The documents suggest outdated training facilities in Victoria
are hindering efforts, pointing out that NSW and Western Australia
have recently carried out multimillion-dollar upgrades of
simulators used to train new drivers.
Driver shortages arose because of an ageing workforce reaching
retirement and because former operator M>Train stopped
recruiting new drivers for 18 months before withdrawing from the
system in financial disarray in 2003.
The report says the number of drivers being trained is
sufficient to cover normal levels of attrition, but predicts the
attrition rate will be higher than normal in coming years. To try
to arrest the shortage, Connex and the Government have introduced
retention bonuses of $20,000 for drivers who postpone retirement
and have barred suburban drivers transferring to V/Line.
But projections drawn up by the department estimate the network
will have a workforce shortage of about 8 per cent during the
Commonwealth Games in March, leading to fears the Games could be
In order to run a crowded Games timetable, 39 drivers who have
left Connex to drive for V/Line during the past two years will be
seconded back to the suburban operator.
But V/Line has also requested 24 Connex drivers be released to
drive country trains before the Games — a request refused by
the Government. A departmental email says: "(it) is not acceptable
and would place the delivery of the Games metropolitan
timetable/schedule at risk."
One station, Stony Point, will be closed during the Games and
replaced with a bus service to help reduce the number of drivers
The documents also reveal an aborted attempt, initiated by
Transport Minister Peter Batchelor, to hire overseas drivers to
ease the shortage. The idea was abandoned after discussions with
federal immigration officials revealed that train drivers did not
count as skilled migrants under Australian law.
Opposition transport spokesman Terry Mulder said the documents
showed the Government had long known the driver shortage would last
for years and should have hired more drivers to correct it. "Some
drivers have been trained but we now know we needed far more and
the possibility of recruiting overseas drivers is abandoned because
they are scared of the union opposition," he said.
The documents also reveal that when regional fast rail services
begin next year, an extra 32 drivers will be required, placing
further strain on the system.
A spokeswoman for Mr Batchelor, Louise Perry, said the
Government was confident it was bringing enough new drivers into
the system to ensure a trouble-free Games. Since last April, 77 new
drivers have graduated and a further 81 are training.
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