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Connex Melbourne was a wholly owned subsidiary of French company Veolia Environnement, which had a franchise from the State Government of Victoria to operate all suburban passenger rail services in Melbournemarker, Victoria, Australia. In August 2007, Connex's contract was extended to 30 November 2009. However, Connex lost the bid to renew its contract with Victorian Government on 25 June, 2009. Hong Kong backed and owned MTR Corporation which operates as a locally themed consortium MTM; Metro Trains Melbourne took over the Melbourne train network on 30 November 2009.

The company operated 15 train lines, a fleet of 331 trains, provided over 12,000 weekly services, and carried about 680,000 passengers each weekday. In 2008, over 200 million passenger trips were made.

History

Melbourne Transport Enterprises (now Connex Melbourne) was awarded a franchise to operate the then government owned Hillside Trains rail services in Melbourne's eastern and north-east suburbs in August 1999. The franchise for the southern parts of Melbourne's suburban train network was awarded to National Express Group, under the now-defunct Bayside Trains name (later renamed M>Train).

On 22 December 2002 National Express withdrew from their operations in Victoria and the State Government took control temporarily, Early in 2003, the Government began negotiations with Connex to assume responsibility for all of Melbourne's suburban train network. A new partnership agreement was reached in February 2004 that awarded Connex the exclusive right to operate Melbourne's entire suburban train network from 18 April 2004.

Connex's contract was extended on 21 August 2007 and expired on the 29 November 2009, with the State Government of Victoria having chosen to not exercise its option for an 18-month extension.

Following Veolia's rebranding of its transport operations from Connex to Veolia Transport on all other transport systems worldwide in late 2005 and early 2006, Connex Melbourne was the only Veolia company to retain the Connex name. It was not until May 2008 when Connex Melbourne began to publicly acknowledge their connection with the parent company, using the "Connex: A Veolia Transport Company" phrase in publicity material and using the Veolia Transport and Connex brands together. Branding on staff uniforms, train livery and station signage were not altered.

2009 heatwave issues

During January 2009, Melbourne experienced several days of extreme heat with temperatures in excess of 43°C – the hottest heatwave since records were kept from the mid-1880s – with a maximum temperature reached of in the Melbourne central business districtmarker. Prior to this, the ambient temperature was between . To that end, Connex was unable to guarantee services across the network; this was highly controversial as in previous years, 'heat waves' did not cause train cancellations. The heat-distortion of tracks has been attributed to the lack of expansion joints within newly replaced rail. Figures based on Connex media releases for the same period show the numbers of cancelled services exceeded one third of total services.

On 29 January, over 500 services were cancelled. The following day, services on eight lines were cancelled and the City Loop closed in the afternoon owing to the extreme weather (at the height of the heatwave) and knock-on effects, and the loss of power at the South Morang transmission station. By Connex's own estimates in the Melbourne media, over 750 services were cancelled out of 2400. In response to the loss of services, the Victorian State Government made the 30th a day of free travel on trains, trams and buses.

Contractual details

Responsibilities

Connex was responsible for the operation and maintenance of Melbourne's suburban railway system, including manning stations and fare enforcement. Connex was not responsible for capital works such as expanding the system, but on a number of jobs it has managed the project on behalf of the State Government.

Government subsidy

Connex Melbourne was paid an average of AU$345 million per annum, between 2004-2009 from the State Government of Victoria to operate the suburban train network in Melbourne. At the end of the 2004-2009 franchise agreement Connex was paid well over AU$2 billion by the state government of Victoria. In addition to the base contract payments, other payments from the State Government of Victoria to Connex include farebox, concession top-ups, maintenance, rollingstock adjustments, incentives and capital projects.

Reliability benchmarks

Under the terms of its contract with the State Government, Connex Melbourne was obligated to deliver on time (no more than 59 seconds early, and no more than 4:59 minutes late, formerly 5:59 minutes) performance, system-wide, of no less than 92%. Connex was also obligated to deliver no less than 98% of scheduled train services, and significantly reduce any time spent by passengers waiting due to a delay, over a 1998 benchmark.

Fines for failure to meet service obligations are deducted from contract fees paid by the government to Connex. As of July 2006, the most recent fine imposed on Connex by the government is $5.1 million AUD. Connex has paid almost $70 million in penalty payments for poor performance in the time of the franchise. Connex released performance data on a monthly basis, usually put on view at railway stations. Fines and customer satisfaction levels are detailed in the quarterly 'Track Record' report released by the Department of Transport.

For every month that Connex fails to meet the performance benchmarks, a free daily Metcard was offered to holders of monthly or yearly tickets valid during that month. No compensation was offered to riders using weekly, daily or other tickets.

Operations

A 'Comeng' train operated by Connex
A 'X'Trapolis' train operated by Connex
For details of railway operations, see Railways in Melbourne


Fleet

The Connex Melbourne fleet consisted of:

The majority of rollingstock was owned by the Victorian Government business enterprise VicTrack.

Connex was responsible for maintaining their train fleet. This responsibility was outsourced to two companies, United Melbourne Transport Ltd, a subsidiary of the United Group, maintained the Alstom X'Trapolis and the older Hitachi and Comeng trains; and Siemens maintained the remainder of the Siemens fleet. Innovonics Limited has carried out a contract to re-enable Comeng sets from both sides of the system to run on the entire system again, along with a CCTV upgrade.

Connex was also responsible for the maintenance of the electrified suburban network, which was contracted to Mainco, a subsidiary of the United Group. The Department of Transport (DoT) also has input into infrastructure related issues and major rail projects.

Fare enforcement

Public Transport Authorised Officers (commonly known as Ticket Inspectors or Revenue Protection Officers) were employed to work across Melbourne's public transport network. As well as reporting ticketing and behavioural offences, Authorised Officers were also employed to assist at special events and provide customer information. They were employed by Connex, but exercise a legislative power.

Authorised Officers were accredited by the Victorian Department of Transport to exercise power similar to those of police (included the power of arrest) when aboard vehicles operating under Metlink or when on Department of Transport-owned premises, such as railway stations or train tracks. Officers were required to abide by the State Government-established 'Authorised Officer Code of Conduct' and violations of this code were prosecuted. The Code of Conduct states that an Authorised Ticket Officer use discretion when reporting an alleged offender, and must supply their name and work address when asked.

If an Authorised Officer believes that a passenger has committed an offence (for example, by failing to produce a ticket), they have the right to request their full legal name and address after having explained the nature of the alleged offence. The inspector also has the right to request some proof of the given information, any proof being acceptable as long as it constitutes a "verification" of the information which satisfies the inspector as to the alleged offender's identity. Refusal to identify oneself, or providing a false name to the ticket inspector will ordinarily cause the ticket inspector to contact Victoria Policemarker and detain the passenger until the police arrive.

The Authorised Officer then forwards a report (formally known as a Report of Non Compliance) with these details, as well as the specific nature and circumstances of the violation to the Department of Transport, who then process the report and decide upon any penalties. Any fines levied are payable to the Department, not to Connex. However, once the Department successfully retrieves the fined amount from the violator, Connex receives a small administration fee.

Authorised Officers have come under fire from lobby groups and sections of the community for being overly aggressive in enforcing ticketing requirements. This has been accentuated by several media articles in the mainstream Melbournemarker press of mixed opinions regarding the system or reporting passengers detected travelling without tickets. Specifically, two main charges are frequently heard: Officers have been requiring young school-children to produce Concession I.D. cards, even though the law only requires it for children 17 years of age and under unless the person is travelling on a Student Pass; The second being that Officers have been reporting people for not possessing a ticket, even when there was no opportunity for the person to purchase a ticket is often heard. The Victorian Transport Act of 1983 has a provision which states that travel without a ticket is legal in circumstances where the passenger took all reasonable steps to purchase a ticket immediately before and after their travel, but one was not available for purchase (usually because ticket machines were out of order).

Marketing

Despite the formation of Metlink to deliver coordinated marketing initiatives across the entire Melbourne public transport network, Connex has also undertaken their own marketing campaigns.

In July 2000 an advertising campaign featuring Harry Connick, Jr. publicised the name change from Hillside Trains to Connex. The campaign produced by Melbourne advertising agency Cummins & Partners played on the similar sound of Connex and Connick's name. A Television Commercial aired with Harry explaining; "I heard Hillside Trains was going to change its name and I was honoured to hear they were going to name it after me. Connicks. Well they could have consulted me on the spelling". Billboards on station platforms had Harry stating in a voice bubble; "Welcome to my train company - Connick's. That's OK, they'll fix the spelling..."

TV advertisements featuring Sheena Easton and a trainload of passengers singing her 1980 hit Morning Train screened during April and May 2004.

Its most recent campaigns generally focused on commuter behaviour and etiquette; in mid 2005 Connex launched a print & TV advertising campaign featuring Humpty Dumpty and focusing on safety initiatives, the "Don't Hold Others Back" campaign of 2006 featured imagery of commuters struggling to board a train, while a 'train etiquette' campaign featuring fictitious character Martin Merton PhD, "the worlds #1 expert on train etiquette" offering advice to passengers on such topics as mobile phone use, flatulence and other low level behavioural annoyances of train travel.

Connex SMS service

Connex had a short message service system that allows commuters to receive updates about train delays of more than 15 minutes on their phone for free.

Controversies

On 23 February 2007, a computer hacker broke into the gateway used by the SMS system and sent threatening messages to over 10,000 commuters who had subscribed to the service.

A Connex spokesman admitted that this was a hoax and that the hackers were only able to send the message and could not get access to the customer database.

Melbourne artist Van Thanh Rudd made an artwork attacking Connex's parent company Veolia Environnement's building of a lightrail system linking up Israeli settlements.

on April 29, 2009, The Age released a report outlining complaints against Connex and Yarra Trams ticket inspectors had risen by 60 per cent in 12 months. Officers were accused of excessive force, intimidating and heavy-handed behaviour towards commuters.

References

  1. Swinburne Institute for Social Research: Putting the Public Interest back into Public Transport
  2. http://www.theage.com.au/national/new-train-tram-operators-for-melbourne-20090625-cxgx.html
  3. Connex Melbourne: Fast Facts
  4. The Age: Connex wins extension - 21 August 2007
  5. The Age: Connex asks for second chance on trains - 1 July 2007
  6. PUTTING THE PUBLIC INTEREST BACK INTO PUBLIC TRANSPORT
  7. Herald Sun: 'Tussle to stay on track' - 22 August 2007
  8. Track Record Monthly performance bulletin, accessed 10 July 2006
  9. Department of Transport: Who's who in Victoria's public transport network
  10. Innovonics Concorde project ASX announcement, accessed 10 July 2006]
  11. Updated ALSTOM Comeng sets with Innovonics gear, Railpage Australia (enthusiast site), accessed 10 July 2006
  12. Department of Infrastructure: Authorised Officers
  13. Department of Infrastructure: Code of Conduct for Authorised Officers
  14. Metlink Melbourne: FAQs
  15. TRANSPORT ACT 1983
  16. Connex SMS Updates
  17. Connex_SMS_hacking_under_probe
  18. Rudd's nephew clashes with Connex The Age, March 8, 2009. Accessed May 7, 2009.
  19. Complaints against ticket inspectors soar The Age, April 29, 2009. Accessed May 8, 2009.
  20. Angry commuters hit out at ticket inspectors The Age, May 6, 2009. Accessed May 7, 2009.


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