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Queensland Rail has cut a key target to hire extra drivers to ensure trains turn up on time because it costs too much money.
The Strachan Inquiry, launched after hundreds of cancellations marred the network in 2016, recommended Queensland Rail maintain a “structural surplus” of train crew to avoid a systemic reliance on overtime.
Queensland Rail has changed its targets for maintaining a structural surplus of staff to ensure timetable reliability.CREDIT:ALAMY
The inquiry found the over-reliance on overtime and a shortage of train drivers contributed to rolling cancellations that followed the opening of the Redcliffe Peninsula Line.
However, the final report of the Citytrain Response Unit, which has now been disbanded, reveals targets for a staff surplus have since been reviewed.
“The initial (structural surplus) target set in the Strachan Inquiry, to deliver the timetable without the systemic reliance on overtime, would significantly increase train crew cost through increases in unproductive shifts for train crew,” the report reads.
“The target set by Queensland Rail is consistent with other jurisdictions and maintains the reliability of the service, thus meeting the intent of the recommendation.
“This approach minimises the overall train crew cost.”
On Wednesday, Transport Minister Mark Bailey confirmed the network had hired the number of new train drivers and guards recommended in the report – more than 200 net each – and said that had reduced the overtime bill “considerably”.
“We’ll continue to do that because with Cross River Rail opening in 2025, we’ll need the train drivers and guards to operate the system,” he said.
“Recruitment has been very strong, and we’ve seen the overtime [bill] come down over the last couple of years as we’ve had more drivers into the system.”
Queensland Rail chief executive Nick Easy said certain levels of overtime were a normal part of standard working patterns, which allowed flexibility to meet demand changes, such as for special events.
“For Queensland Rail to reduce its overtime expenditure to zero, we would need to recruit substantially more train crew, which would lead to significant impacts to both costs and productivity,” he said.
Mr Easy said in gross terms, 408 new drivers and 641 guards had started work on the network.
When taking into account natural attrition, such as retirements and promotions, this represents a net increase of 218 drivers and 245 guards from October 2016 to May 23 this year.
Queensland Rail did not answer a question asking how much money would be saved by changing the staff surplus target.
In 2019, it was revealed the overtime bill for train drivers and guards would blow out to $28 million, an increase of almost 9 per cent.
The budgeted overtime was attributed to the recruitment of extra staff, a 3 per cent wage increase as a result of the latest enterprise bargaining agreement, and an extra 430 weekly services.
However, Mr Easy said average hours of overtime worked by Citytrain drivers was down 23.4 per cent in 2019-20 compared with 2016-17 when the Redcliffe Peninsula line opened.
The Citytrain report states 35 of the 36 recommendations from the Strachan Inquiry have been completed.
Recommendation 36a-c remains open after the Citytrain Response Unit recommended a review of how greater integration across public transport agencies could be achieved.
“Further work is required to ensure Queensland’s public transport arrangements are suitable for supporting the successful delivery and operation of forthcoming network changes, including Cross River Rail, the European Train Control System, the Brisbane Metro and a possible Olympic bid,” the report states.
This article first appeared on www.brisbanetimes.com.au
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