Mitchell Shire commuters are calling on V/Line to add more carriages to its services on the Seymour line during peak-hour times. Photo: J. Blakley.

By Colin MacGillivray

Regional rail service V/Line has blamed an unusually high number of wildlife strikes for overcrowded peak hour services on the Shepparton line that have annoyed Mitchell Shire commuters in recent weeks.

Mitchell Shire residents have taken to social media to vent their frustration after reporting being crammed onto peak hour services to and from Melbourne that have operated with only two carriages.

Many shared photos of their journey, with commuters left standing in the aisles due to a lack of seats.

With coaches now replacing trains on the Shepparton line until April 1 while upgrade works are carried out, V/Line customers said they feared their commute could become unmanageable.

Devanya O’Dea posted in the Seymour Train-line Action Group, saying her daughter now elected to drive from Kilmore to Melbourne for her university studies.

“The service is so unreliable with cancellations and buses replacing trains, and the connecting buses often do not connect with the trains,” she said.

“This comes at a large cost in both petrol and parking, once again leaving rural students very disadvantaged.

“When she previously caught the train she could rarely get a seat and so could not utilise the time appropriately to study on the train.

“On the times that my son has taken the train to Craigieburn it is often delayed and we have ended up driving to pick him up to ensure he gets home at a reasonable time. All in all, a useless service.”

Another commuter, Samantha McCormack, said the service was better 15 years ago than today.

“Some of the current later services – 7pm onwards – are five carriages with no one on them, yet our peak hour services are now consistently two carriages, nowhere near enough to cater for increased patronage at Wallan and Donnybrook,” she said.

“With the government trying to encourage city workers back to the office and sky-high petrol prices forcing people off the roads, our public transport system is just not good enough and many are opting to continue working from home or driving to [metropolitan] stations.”

A V/Line spokesperson apologised for the inconvenience to the passengers and said an abnormally high number of wildlife strikes had caused havoc for the Sprinter trains on the Shepparton line in recent weeks.

He said V/Line always endeavoured to operate services with a full complement of carriages, but that wildlife strikes often required a train to be taken out of service to undergo a deep clean and necessary repairs.

The spokesperson said future services scheduled to be operated by the affected carriages often needed to run with fewer carriages than normal.

“We thank passengers for their patience while some services ran with fewer carriages than normal earlier in March due to multiple wildlife strikes on the network,” he said.

“Works are currently underway on the Seymour and Shepparton lines to bring new infrastructure into operation, ensure the existing infrastructure remains in good condition and install new equipment to help us continue to deliver reliable services into the future.”

Overcrowding on V/Line trains is becoming an increasing issue, with commuters on the Seymour line regularly not being able to find a seat on peak-hour services. ​

Public Transport Users Association, PTUA, spokesperson Ben Lever said overcrowding on V/Line services was ‘much too common’, especially in areas where V/Line served outer Melbourne suburbs in addition to regional passengers.

The PTUA believes the overcrowding issue is a long-term problem on the Ballarat, Geelong and Seymour lines, and called for V/Line to address it in January, with fears that weekend train services would be affected once cheaper fares are introduced at the end of March.

“It’s also becoming increasingly common for V/Line to run shorter trains than usual, even at off-peak times when there are spare carriages sitting idle,” he said.

“The government’s V/Line fare cut coming at the end of March will likely attract more passengers onto these trains, making them even more jam-packed.

“The government needs to commit to extending the electrified Metro network to serve the growth areas in Melbourne’s north as soon as practical. But in the meantime, V/Line has to make more of an effort to ensure it runs its trains at full capacity.”