V/Line is the public transport division responsible for Victoria's regional train services, which are train lines between Melbourne and smaller Victorian cities and towns. In January this year, 22 of V/Line's carriages were withdrawn from their fleet for repairs. As these are the only wheelchair accessible carriages on some lines, it prevents regional and rural wheelchair users from travelling by train.
Problems with Z carriages
The carriages in question are called Z carriages. V/Line said the fleet of Z carriages being reduced to allow inspections and repairs. In total, 22 of the older Z carriages were withdrawn from service. The Z carriages are around 50 years old. This action was taken by V/Line after a safety audit found fatigue cracks in some critical areas of undercarriages.
V/Line says that because of the withdrawn carriages some trains will be shorter and there will be limited accessibility for mobility-impaired customers on some lines. However, it means that for would-be passengers using wheelchairs, there is no accessibility whatsoever to trains on some lines.
There are 38 services per day affected, but more importantly this includes all services for lines connecting Warrnambool, Shepparton, Swan Hill and Gippsland to Melbourne. In this way it is a significant issue for wheelchair users dependent on train services in these areas. Wheelchair users commonly use these services to attend recreational activities and business and medical appointments in Melbourne. It is a bit of a bummer living in one of the affected cities, as I do in Warrnambool.
What V/Line is doing
As part of Victoria's public transport system, V/Line is required to operate within the Disability Discrimination Act. On 5 June, well down its website, V/Line gets to the crux of the matter for wheelchair users.
The removal of these carriages has made these trains inaccessible to customers in wheelchairs, so V/Line is providing alternative transport in the form of accessible taxis.
It also states that
Customers with special needs are asked to phone V/Line 24 hours in advance on 1800 800 007 to avoid delays in arranging alternative accessible transport.
In my experience, having travelled to and from Melbourne four times since March, multipurpose taxis have been arranged for the trip. V/Line prefers to do this on the day of travel. This arrangement has worked so far, but in small places such as Warrnambool it can be difficult for local taxi companies to allocate an appropriate vehicle. While people may think taxis are better than the train, it certainly is not the preference of wheelchair users. The trip is less smooth and peaceful than in a train.
Return to normal?
In January, V/Line expected that the examination of carriages and repairs required would take some months. When V/Line posted the update on its website on 5 June, it stated that only 7 of the 22 carriages are expected to be returned by January 2014. The entire 22 carriages may not return for two years, with the most heavily patronised lines being given priority.
Further updates on progress should be provided at vline.com.au .