VICTORIA state Premier Steve Bracks announced on February 19 that the government had signed five-year ’partnership agreements’ with Yarra Trams and Connex for the operation of tram and suburban train services in Melbourne, which he believed would deliver ’stability and improved services to customers’.

The deal is intended to resolve a crisis which came to a head at the end of 2002, when National Express handed back its M>Tram and M>Train concessions (RG 2.03 p61). Bracks said the other operators were also in ’serious financial difficulties’ because of ’unsustainable contracts signed by the previous Liberal government, which abdicated responsibility for public transport and set unrealistic forecasts for patronage growth.’

Under the new contracts, which come into effect in mid-April, the government will take back responsibility for long-term planning of the transport network and ticketing system. This leaves the operators to run the services, sell tickets and maintain the infrastructure and rolling stock. Yarra Trams will get A$112m per year to run the whole tram network, and Connex A$345m per year to operate the suburban trains. Over five years this will add A$1bn to the A$1·3bn subsidy provided in the previous contracts.

Both operators will deploy extra customer service staff, and continue the introduction of new rolling stock, with 46 trains and 25 trams to enter service by 2005. In addition, Connex will order an extra five 6-car EMUs to cater for increased demand, and Yarra Trams will extend the Docklands Drive route to serve New Quay and Waterfront City. n