Private train operator Connex is under fire after tests revealed its fleet of new Siemens trains were unable to brake if soapy water was on the tracks.
Since late 2006, there have been dozens of reports of brake failures and trains not stopping at stations. Previously Connex claimed that the brake failures were caused by a software error. However, it has now been revealed that all the new trains fail the soapy water test. In an attempt to minimise the brake failures, Connex has cancelled almost 40 services and reduced the number of carriages on others. This is on top of a monthly average of 87 cancellations per day.
Despite reintroducing older Hitachi trains, delays and cancellations have continued leaving tens of thousands of passengers stranded or packed into extremely overcrowded trains.
To add insult to injury, in the midst of this transport chaos there are reports that train fares are about to be increased. This is despite Connex receiving massive state government subsidies. A report released last year by four leading transport experts claims that by 2010 the privatised public transport system will have cost taxpayers an extra $2.1 billion more than if it had remained state owned.
The situation is reminiscent of the one that caused Connex to lose its contracts in England after years of increasing delays, cancellations, reduced services, neglect of infrastructure and commuter and worker safety problems.
Pressure on Connex continues to mount with a recent online poll by the Age showing 85% of readers want the state government to "dump Connex".
Connex's bad service and safety record was a major issue in last year's state elections. Even the Liberal Party promised to make public transport free for students, and there was bipartisan support for reducing fares to outer suburbia and country Victoria. The Greens called for an extension of services and campaigned for lower fares. Socialist Alliance called for free public transport for all, and called on the state government to cancel its contracts with Connex.
Ben Courtice from the alliance explained to Green Left Weekly: "We wanted to highlight Connex's shoddy record, including in England." Courtice said that SA was continuing its campaign for free public transport, an important part of limiting the devastation being caused by spiralling greenhouse gas emissions.
Increasing reports of violence against passengers prompted Socialist Alliance activists to set up a blog to report and monitor violence by inspectors. Courtice encouraged people to use the blog "PtinspectorWatch" at
The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) also condemned the cancellations and called for more frequent services.
A spokesperson for the PTUA said that, "While it is only a Daily ticket — more of a token than genuine compensation — and it does not apply to shorter term ticket holders who have also put up with poor train services this month, the PTUA encourages all eligible customers to send in a claim form. It helps send the message that Connex and the government need to work harder to fix the current problems."