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November 26, 2016, 06:58:43 AM by #Metro in Infrastructure

How Can We Can Make Queensland Rail Great Again?
Metro. Rail Back on Track Forum contributor.

(This post available for republication under CC BY-ND 4.0)

IF THERE is one thing Queenslanders hate, its privatisation. Just the thought of a private company - somewhere - profiting is enough to turn most Queenslanders off.

Despite recent problems with train cancellations and driver shortages at Queensland Rail, RAIL Back on Track members (70%) oppose the idea of another train operator running trains on South East Queensland’s rail network.

But is this opposition really justified?

Private companies already deliver much of South East Queensland’s public transport. Brisbane’s CityCat (TransDev), Moreton Bay Islands Ferry (Sealink), almost all non-Brisbane TransLink bus services, and the Gold Coast Light Rail (Keolis Downer) are run by private companies. Essential air transport services to regional and rural Queensland towns are privately operated and competitively contracted for. Who died?

TransLink, a public agency, sets the fares, collects all revenue, and determines standards. Operators are paid for the services they provide to TransLink. They are not allowed to collect and keep the revenue for themselves from the passengers they carry.  It is a sound model that has worked for well over a decade.

Outside Queensland, private companies also deliver rail services in Auckland (NZ), Wellington (NZ), Stockholm (Sweden), and Melbourne (Victoria).

Back to the problems at Queensland Rail. What happened?

After former Premier Anna Bligh privatised Queensland Rail’s freight business, Queensland Rail was a government-owned corporation (GOC). The incoming Newman government decided to convert Queensland Rail into a statutory authority.  Workers at Queensland Rail became public servants.

But as a statutory authority, Queensland Rail now had to participate in the Newman government’s programme of public service cuts. The Herald Sun newspaper reported that around 500 people were made redundant from Queensland Rail. Some of these cuts fell within Queensland Rail’s driver training programme. As such, the course was set for a catastrophic staff shortage upon the opening of the Moreton Bay Rail line.

An interesting question to ask is why Queensland Rail was able to detect and act on problems with the Moreton Bay Rail line’s signalling systems but was unable to act similarly when it discovered problems with its staffing. After all, the timetabling company GIRO had apparently already told Queensland Rail earlier in the year that it would be short staffed. As a result, the opportunity to further delay the opening of the Moreton Bay rail line until sufficient staff were available was missed.

The Queensland Rail saga has highlighted how a so-called ‘independent’ GOC is not truly ‘independent’. GOCs remain liable to be converted into government agencies and then subjected to the whims of the government of the day. This lack of genuine independence has been further highlighted by the Palaszczuk government’s decision to dump $4.1 billion of State Government debt into so-called ‘independent’ State power corporations - Powerlink, Energex, Ergon Energy as well as generators CS Energy and Stanwell as part of a broader policy to reduce State debt.

It also highlights the inability to apply credible penalties, such as fines, against government operators such as Queensland Rail for non-performance or poor performance. Doing so is simply an internal transfer of funds from one part of the government to another part of the government. The transfer of State Government debt into ‘independent’ State power corporations also serves to illustrate this point. Sure, the CEO or directors on the board may resign or be made redundant, but the organisation on the whole and its management culture are likely to remain largely intact.

A truly ‘independent’ operator is a non-government operator. A private company.

It may be difficult for the proponents of a government-owned Queensland Rail to accept that had Queensland Rail been a genuinely independent private company, its contract would have furnished immunity against the Newman Government’s public sector cuts or its conversion into a statutory authority. A government would also have to honour its promise of funding levels to a private company, because if it didn’t the private company would have the power to sue the Queensland Government for contractual breaches in court.

What should perhaps happen next is controversial, and will no doubt be discussed at length.

Converting Queensland Rail back to a GOC would not protect it from the possibility that a future government could convert it back to a government agency and subject it to the same programme of staff cuts. At the same time people remain wary of letting an “outside” operator come in and run South East Queensland’s trains. Genuine and valid concerns exist around whether a profit-oriented operator would skimp on maintenance, whether the operator would suddenly leave, and whether Queensland Rail could be reformed.

How is it possible to tie together this panoply of seemingly conflicting goals and fears?

One thing is clear: the agency that brings together and contracts various public and private transport operators needs to have its regulatory powers beefed up. Like Western Australia’s Public Transport Authority, TransLink needs to be taken out of the Department of Transport and Main Roads and established as its own stand-alone agency. It needs to be given ownership of transport infrastructure such as bus depots, busways and South East Queensland’s railways. It also needs to be given teeth - the power to penalise poorly performing operators and the power to reject the bid application or renewal of an operator that has performed poorly or is not the most competitive. As the classic ‘John West’ canned fish slogan reminds us “It's the fish that John West rejects that makes John West, the best.”

Infrastructure maintenance could be secured through regular independent external benchmarking and audit and by providing a separate maintenance only budget solely to be spent on nothing else but maintenance. This means that a company would find itself unable to profit (i.e. pay dividends from) monies saved from skimping on maintenance. Operators would be paid for the services they provide, and not patronage carried, under the current successful and proven TransLink model. They would not be allowed to retain fare revenue for themselves. This stable revenue means that operators would have an incentive to stay for the long term.

If an operator poorly performs, it should be negotiated with. If it does not improve, it should be penalised. If it still cannot perform it should be shown the door. That’s how we can make Queensland's public transport the best - by giving TransLink the power to not accept anything but the best.

Queensland Rail can be reformed. Queensland Rail’s strength - ignoring recent events - is that it does have Australia’s best on time running against the strictest definition of “on time”. In independent surveys it performs well in customer service, and it is well placed to operate a complex mixed network that involves freight. It also has a good record of infrastructure and track maintenance.

Provided that it is built up over the next few years by an active government programme to make it internationally competitive against other train operators, there is little reason why it could not itself win contracts against established private train operators such as Melbourne's Metro or New Zealand’s TransDev. Of course, before looking to win business in places outside of Queensland such as Melbourne, Auckland, Stockholm, or Wellington, the problems at home need to be sorted first.

Once that is done, the Minister for Transport and Treasurer could transfer their shareholdings in Queensland Rail to the Queensland Government owned Queensland Investment Corporation (QIC). As QIC is government-owned, and Queensland Rail is not an income generating asset, this act is technically not a privatisation.

There is a precedent for an organisation like QIC to be operating a public transport service - Melbourne’s Yarra Trams are operated by Keolis Downer. Keolis is owned by The Government of France through its railway company SNCF (French National Railways Corporation) and Québec’s Government-owned pension plan fund. If French and Canadian Governments can do it, why can’t Queensland too?

Once this scheme is in place and the new Queensland Rail is reformed and established, TransLink can be given the green light to introduce competitive contracting. The shareholdings kept by QIC could be retained, or sold.

That is how can we make Queensland Rail great again.


Queensland Rail to become statutory authority and become more passenger focused

Urgent meeting called for Queensland Rail board following cuts to 100 services in Brisbane

The full list of Queensland public service redundancies

Queensland Rail driver shortages: more reports handed to minister

“Advice from public transport software and optimisation company GIRO provided to Queensland Rail in March 2016 warns: "QR's current driver and guard resource levels are not sufficient."


John West Fish advertisement
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"Keolis is the largest private sector French transport group. It runs passenger railways, tramways, bus networks, funiculars, trolley buses, and airport services. Based in Paris, Keolis is owned by the SNCF (French National Railways Corporation) at 70% and the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec which is translated as Quebec Deposit & Investment Fund (public pension plans in the province of Quebec) at 30%.
In 2013, Keolis turned over €5.1 billion.[2] As at December 2013, Keolis employed 54,600 people in France, Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, Germany, India, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. It is the largest provider of public-transportation services in France."

SNCF - Wikipedia

"SNCF (Société nationale des chemins de fer français; "National society of French railways" or "French National Railway Company") is France's national state-owned railway company and manages the rail traffic in France and the Principality of Monaco. SNCF operates the country's national rail services, including the TGV, France's high-speed rail network. Its functions include operation of railway services for passengers and freight, and maintenance and signalling of rail infrastructure.

SNCF employs more than 180,000 people in 120 countries around the globe. The railway network consists of about 32,000 km (20,000 mi) of route, of which 1,800 km (1,100 mi) are high-speed lines and 14,500 km (9,000 mi) electrified. About 14,000 trains are operated daily. The company has its headquarters in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, in the Rue du Commandant Mouchotte."

Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec

"Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) (lit. Quebec Deposit and Investment Fund, also referred to in English-language media as the Caisse) is an institutional investorthat manages several public and parapublic pension plans and insurance programs in Quebec. It was founded in 1965 by an act of the National Assembly under the government of Jean Lesage. It is the second largest pension fund in Canada, after the Canada Pension Plan(CPP).[1] As of June 30, 2016, CDPQ managed net assets of $254.9 billion CAD invested in Canada and elsewhere.

CDPQ is headquartered in Quebec City in the Price building and has its main business office in Montreal at Édifice Jacques-Parizeau."

MTR Stockholm

"Stockholm Metro is operated by MTR Tunnelbanan AB, a 100% owned subsidiary of MTR Nordic AB, which is wholly owned by MTR Corporation.

The Stockholm metro system is owned by the Stockholm County Council through Storstockholms Lokaltrafik (Stockholm Public Transport). On 2 November 2009, MTR Tunnelbanan AB took over the operation of Stockholm Metro under an 8-year operation and maintenance concession. On 8 September 2015, Stockholm County Council extended the concession for a further six years, covering the period from 2017 to 2023. The system comprises of 3 lines with a total length of 110km and has 100 stations, of which 47 are underground.

The maintenance of the rolling stock is taken up by MTR Tech AB, a 100% owned subsidiary of MTR Nordic AB."

TransDev Auckland

"Transdev Auckland, formerly Veolia Transport Auckland, Ltd., and before that Connex Auckland, Ltd., is a Transdev Australasia company. It runs Auckland's urban passenger trains under contract from Auckland Transport on infrastructure owned and managed by KiwiRail. Auckland Transport receives funding to subsidise these services from the New Zealand Transport Agency.."

0 people liked this topic

SteelPan - December 24, 2016, 01:59:06 PM
To be blunt, the days of having a "state rail operator" are largely gone.

SE Qld needs
1) a dedicated Metro transit operator
2) The state can retain and operate long-distance rail services.



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