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Connex and Yarra Trams have vowed to revitalise Melbourne's public transport by upgrading services and safety during a five-year, $2.3 billion contract with the State Government.
The companies, which have run half of Melbourne's metropolitan train and tram networks respectively for four years, will tomorrow take over lines run by the M>Train and M>Tram businesses, which National Express abandoned in December 2002.
M>Train and M>Tram continued to operate under Government-appointed managers after National Express walked away from its contracts.
Connex Group Australia chairman Bob Annells said his company was committed to combating a serious shortage of drivers and to increasing the number of roving patrols and station staff to improve safety.
"Now the pressure starts," Mr Annells said. "We are taking over a business that has had problems. The moment we put a Connex sign on trains we are taking over, they become our problem.
"The travelling public don't care what the reasons are for train cancellations, nor should they. At the end of the day they demand a high-standard system and unless we deliver it, our reputation will suffer."
Yarra Trams chief executive Hubert Guyot said an improved tram system and better customer service were the key to attracting people to trams.
"We want to revitalise services in Melbourne... and have an impact on Melbourne society," Mr Guyot said.
"We want the commuters to understand this is their sys-tem. We are just here to operate it, maintain it, improve it and hopefully be here for the long term."
Under the new contracts, the Government will provide an extra $1.03 billion to keep Connex and Yarra Trams afloat. Connex will get an average of $345 million a year over five years - a $165 million a year increase. Yarra Trams will get about $112 million a year, a $36 million rise.
'We are just here to operate it, maintain it, improve it and hopefully be here for the long term.'
- HUBERT GUYOT, Yarra Trams chief executive Connex will introduce 100 more front-line staff. The company said that by strategically placing staff on lines and stations where such staff were needed most, 80 per cent of commuters would travel through a staffed station. In addition, two staff would patrol all trains running after 9pm.
The Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) criticised Connex's view that staffing all stations was not a solution.
"What price do you put on people's safety?" asked union state president Marc Marotta. "We'd very much like to see all the platforms manned."
Transport Minister Peter Batchelor said the Government had responded to calls for increased safety, "but we're doing it in a responsible way that won't add such a financial burden of forcing prices up".
Mr Annells said intensive driver training and a controversial new train fleet - which needs modifying because of incompatibility - would be completed over 12 to 18 months.
Yarra Trams has hired 50 more customer service staff and plans to increase frequency of inter-peak services from 12 to 10 minutes. The company and VicRoads will link control centres in a bid to introduce a tram priority system.
Rail, Tram and Bus Union tram division secretary Lou Di Gregorio said that as long as Yarra Trams was committed to improving services, "we would come very close to having one of the best tram systems in the world over the next five years".
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