NINE consortia lodged indicative bids in January for the five rail-based passenger operations being franchised by Victoria’s state government. British bus and rail operators such as Stagecoach, National Express and FirstGroup are well represented, and a shortlist of final bidders was due last month.

Largest of the operators set up as subsidiaries of the Public Transport Corp are Hillside and Bayside Trains, covering Melbourne’s 366 km electrified suburban network. Like V/Line Passenger, these franchises will run for 15 years, with the bidders required to invest in rolling stock and infrastructure. The franchises for Swanston and Yarra Trams are for 7 years, but an issue for these vertically integrated operators is the poor state of the tracks: a report obtained by The Herald speaks of flanges ’riding on concrete’ because the rails are so worn.

Among many problems facing all four urban bidders is the poor performance of the PTC’s MetCard ticketing system, ordered in 1994 but still not fully commissioned. Fare evasion is put at 10% on the trains, and up to 20% on the trams following the removal of conductors last May. And over 200 of the 480 ticket machines were damaged in December when vandals discovered that pouring corrosive liquid into them triggered the release of coins held in silos for giving change.

  • Three bidders for a 15-year concession to run V/Line Freight were asked to review their offers 10 days after final tenders went in on January 25. The Victoria government had decided belatedly that it wanted track upgraded in the Ararat region for reasons described by one bidder as ’political’.