DECEMBER 23 2016 – 4:05PM
Former transport minister Jackie Trad was warned of a looming driver shortage 12 months before a staffing crunch caused hundreds of cancellations following the opening of the Redcliffe Peninsula Line.
But Ms Trad has hit back, claiming Queensland Rail never advised that train crew availability was a risk to the opening of the new rail line.
An anonymous QR whistleblower contacted the Department of Transport and Main Roads in October 2015, then under Ms Trad’s portfolio, warning of train cancellations as a result of a lack of drivers.
He told the department about a “disastrous situation” due to a large number of new services being rolled out without the necessary drivers because the training section had been disbanded, there was a blowout in driver training times, a lack of staff to train new drivers and a bulk retirement of experienced staff.
The revelations were detailed in correspondence discovered through a Seven News Right to Information request.
The call taker forwarded her notes to two senior advisers who worked for Ms Trad, but the response was “no further information was required”, Seven News reported.
More than 100 services were cancelled on October 21, following the opening of the Redcliffe Peninsula Line to passengers on October 4, despite a driver shortage.
A spokeswoman for Ms Trad said: “at no stage did Queensland Rail provide any advice to the Deputy Premier that train crew availability was a risk to the opening of the new Moreton Bay Rail Link”.
“Subsequent to this anonymous phone call, Queensland Rail briefed both the Deputy Premier and the Treasurer that they were recruiting 100 new drivers and 100 new guards to meet the requirements of projects like Moreton Bay Rail Link,” the spokeswoman said.
Transport Minister Stirling Hinchliffe said Ms Trad sought advice from QR and was advised the train driver recruitment process had started.
“So the advice that she got in response to those issues being raised was, we are recruiting drivers, recruiting guards and reassurance that there would be no issues in relation to train crew in the lead-up to the opening of the new line,” Mr Hinchliffe said.
“That was the same advice that I got when issues were raised with me.”
When asked if that meant there was a long-running issue of information not being communicated from QR to the transport minister’s office, Mr Hinchliffe said he was being reassured cancellations in October were a short-term issue.
“So advice was coming, obviously, to me during the whole time, during my time as minister, that… this wasn’t an issue, and that advice was coming from the operator, Queensland Rail,” he said.
“And clearly the same advice was made to the previous minister.”
When asked if he was satisfied he was receiving all the information he needed from Queensland Rail now, Mr Hinchliffe said he was “extensively examining and cross examining every bit of information and advice that I get from Queensland Rail”.
“Wherever there’s been issues and concerns about double-checking things, I’ve been doing that, my focus has been on the operations as we’re going forward.”
A Queensland Rail spokeswoman said it was co-operating fully with Philip Strachan’s investigation into the circumstances leading up to and associated with the disruptions on the network.
“While the inquiry is under way, we remain focused on implementing the government’s five-point plan to boost train crew numbers and restore services for the travelling public,” she said.
The spokeswoman said in December 2015, Ms Trad approved the recruitment of 100 extra drivers and 100 guards.
“We are working quickly to finalise this recruitment program and we are also fast-tracking the recruitment of an additional 100 drivers and 100 guards announced in October 2016,” she said.
“On-time running has been at an average of 94 per cent since the November 7 timetable was introduced.”
Opposition Transport spokesman Andrew Powell claimed Ms Trad, also the Deputy Premier, could have prevented the timetable debacle but “chose to do nothing”.
“First it was ‘I know nothing’ Stirling Hinchliffe, now we learn Jackie Trad knew about the looming train driver shortage a full year before the fact but put it in the too-hard basket,” Mr Powell said.
“Ms Trad was warned in no uncertain terms that a lack of drivers would lead to disastrous consequences but clearly it wasn’t high on her priority list.
“South-east Queensland commuters have experienced nothing but chaos on the rail network for months.”
The timetable meltdown led to the resignation of Queensland Rail chief executive officer Helen Gluer and chairman Michael Klug.
Source : The Brisbane Times