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Train travel in regional Victoria is in such a mess the government made it free

Photo: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

V/Line, Victoria’s government-owned regional network is a disaster zone, with the CEO, Theo Taifalos, resigning overnight amid growing concerns about the safety of the trains and the network, forcing the government to make travel free.

The Metro network banned regional trains on a number of lines earlier this month over a problem with the boom gates at level crossings failing to close properly, which dates back to 2011.

The boom gates had failed to close at a Dandenong crossing a fortnight ago as a VLocity train approached, provoking the suburban ban. Metro had written to V/Line in May last year warning that there were still problems with detecting the trains at crossings.

Now $23 million is being spent on safety improvements at around 20 crossings. Buses have replaced around 70 trains as a result of the Metro ban, which mainly affects services from the Gippsland region.

Last week Victorian public transport minister Jacinta Allan was forced to return from holidays to address the growing crisis. She described the situation as “an unacceptable and avoidable situation” that was frustrating to both passengers and her.

Allan made regional rail travel free until the end of January, but the problems are likely to take at least six more weeks to resolve, despite initial pledges that things would improve this week. Today the minister extended free travel to February 7.

The issue reached crisis level three weeks ago after the Herald Sun revealed authorities had known about the problem for several years, but failed to act, despite warnings that a catastrophic accident could occur. Some of the crossing failures date back to 2011.

The government has also instigated an independent operational review into V/Line over other concerns, including poor maintenance.

The minister said one of the problems was that V/Line had failed to adequately prepare for increased regional services, including a failure to plan for additional track-greasing which resulted in escalated wear rates on VLocity carriage wheels.

Timetable changes due to start this weekend have also been postponed.

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