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By Rowan Forster

The proposed November rollout of Pakenham’s first high-capacity train is at risk of being derailed by an industrial spat between the state’s rail union and Downer Group.

Under a proposed EBA to take effect at the Pakenham East maintenance depot, non-qualified drivers would be obligated to shift the carriages from the stabling yard and onto the rail network.

Victoria’s Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) have threatened to take the matter to the Fair Work Commission, potentially disrupting progress at the Oakview Lane facility.

Victorian Secretary Luba Grigorovitch said the company’s attempt to force electricians and tradies to drive trains out of the yard is “disturbing”.

“The RTBU will fight tooth and nail to ensure that no worker is disadvantaged in the maintenance of new trains,” he said.

“Downer EDI’s attempts to divide their workforce and undermine conditions will open the floodgates to poorer standards and ongoing complications.

“This is a deliberate attempt by Downer to undermine Metro’s existing conditions negotiated with the RTBU.”

The union has also raised a series of concerns with Downer’s working conditions, further threatening to disrupt the high-capacity train project.

“Downer have taken an axe to the working standards of rail workers, attacking long-standing safety practices, stripping roster security, leave provisions and slashing penalty rates,” Mr Grigorovitch said.

The group operating the facility, Evolution Rail, is a consortium of Downer and is currently liaising with Metro Trains in an attempt to quell the standoff.

Coinciding with the decision to have unqualified drivers transfer the carriages, it is understood the high-capacity trains will include a number of “semi-automated” features.

These functions, that are currently the exclusive preserve of qualified train drivers, include turnbacks, train preparation and stabling.

Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan is adamant the high-capacity train project will run on schedule, with the first train set to be tested on the Pakenham line in November – right in time for the state election.

The timing also comes as the RTBU prepares for its union elections, taking place in the same timeframe.

The 65 high-capacity trains are being developed as part of a $2.3 billion partnership with the Victorian Government.

It is hoped they will relieve peak-hour overcrowding on Melbourne’s two busiest lines by prioritising standing room over seating space.

They will be built to carry between 1200 and 2000 passengers each, depending on their configuration.

Concerns have been raised about the affect the fleet – 34 which are set to run on the Pakenham corridor – will have on the suburb’s notorious level crossings, as reported by the Gazette last month.

Despite the increase in activity, neither sides of government have committed to remove level crossings at Racecourse Road or McGregor road.

Downer Group has been contacted for comment.

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