V/Line has struggled to deal with a rapid growth in its patronage over the past decade with a 30 per cent increase in passengers using the North-East Line since 2006-07.
Urban sprawl and an increasing number of commuters travelling from regional centres such as Seymour have put pressure on V/Line to incorporate more features of an urban commuter network.
The extension of the electrified Metro service to Craigieburn helped relieve some pressure on the V/Line network in 2007.
The North-East Line has experienced the second-lowest growth in the entire V/Line network, one place behind the Northern Line (14 per cent) and well below the 88.3 per cent network average.
The Seymour and North-East Line have some of the most complex challenges to face in terms of maintenance in the entire V/Line network.
The service has struggled to cope with an ageing rolling stock fleet that has been in service beyond its 30-year life expectancy.
The classic H-series carriages used on the Seymour line have been in service since 1983 and cost $9.99 per kilometre to service (versus $6.94/km for VLocity carriages).
The report identified a significant and ongoing boost in maintenance funding was required to address high failure rates and the backlog of carriages in need of replacement or refurbishment.
A boost in maintenance funding, as outlined in the 2016-17 state budget, will help address these ongoing issues but a long-term solution is needed.
The Australian Rail Track Corporation is responsible for interstate and freight services on the North-East Line while V/Line operates a long-distance passenger service on the standard gauge track.
V/Line is restricted to which carriages run on the line due to the gauge of the track.
In March 2017 more than a quarter of morning inbound and evening outbound peak services on the Seymour line were at 100 per cent capacity.
More than a quarter of services were 70-79 per cent full while just under half were between 90-99 per cent full.
On average, around a quarter of services filled up beyond 90 per cent capacity on the Seymour line with a small number, around a 12th, filling up to or beyond full capacity.
The figures are unable to account for the number of people left standing on any particular service or for how long.
The VAGO report was especially critical of V/Line’s method of measuring and reporting on punctuality and reliability to passengers, suggesting that the figure was misleading.
By measuring against the timetable communicated to passengers in their journey planner, rather than the master timetable, V/Line’s reported performance did not represent its actual performance, the report said.
VAGO found this method of reporting did not reflect the passenger experience, especially when there were significant changes to a service.
The report said Public Transport Victoria, which is responsible for co-ordinating public transport in Victoria, did not monitor V/Line train connections with regional town bus services.
When trains don’t run on time some passengers may miss connections with other public transport services, such as routes 1-5 within Seymour and from Seymour to Puckapunyal.
VAGO said it was clear in their report that PTV was not aware of the extent of the issue.
Forecasts for 2016-17 predict an increase of about $40million in maintenance costs on the year 2013-14.
The report showed the number of carriages in the V/Line fleet had flat-lined under the previous government due to cost-cutting measures.
The current $1.6billion Regional Rail Revival package is a start, producing 87 new trains and feeding $600million into V/Line’s maintenance and operations budget.
A long-term plan will be required for the V/Line network to advance into the future.