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Private operator wins $2b deal to run Adelaide trains

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Adelaide’s metropolitan rail service will be run by a private operator from January, with the State Government paying Keolis Downer $2 billion to run the network for eight years.

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Transport Minister Corey Wingard said this morning that Keolis Downer had come out on top after a “competitive tender process” to operate Adelaide’s passenger train services.

“Keolis Downer will operate Adelaide’s train services for an initial eight-year period under a performance-based $2.14 billion contract focused on delivering significant improvements to the customer experience,” he said.

“As part of the contract, Keolis Downer will implement a new customer experience strategy to enhance customer satisfaction.”

Wingard said it was “important to note the State Government still owns all the rail assets including tracks, trains and stations and will continue to have control of fare price, revenue and standards for service levels”.

Keolis Downer already operates in Adelaide, running SouthLink and Link SA public bus services.

Wingard said the rail contract would “improve services for all passengers, modernise the system and help to increase public transport patronage”, citing more and faster Gawler line services, more than 2200 services a year on the new Flinders line, and improved platform security.

“The Marshall Government was elected to deliver better services and that is why we’re investing in our public transport network – to deliver better and more frequent train services,” Wingard said.

“We’re all about getting people from A to B faster so they can spend more time with their families and doing what they love. Public transport should be a convenience.”

Wingard said Keolis Downer had an “exceptional track record of running successful public transport systems across Australia and around the world”.

In a statement, Keolis Downer said it would deliver “better, faster and more frequent train services, and make public transport the first choice for commuters”, with a strong focus on customer service and “more channels to access real-time information”.

Customer Service staff will receive new tools to better engage with customers, share real-time information, gather feedback and advise passengers of any disruptions and alternative options when needed,” Keolis Downer CEO David Franks said.

But Labor said the move to outsource rail operation would lead to higher fares and poorer services and that the operator had a “poor track record running public transport”.

“In Newcastle in NSW, Keolis took over the bus network in 2018, leading to sharp fall in on-time services – from 95% to 79% according to their own statistics,” it said in a statement.

“In Wales, Keolis Amey were fined £2.3 million for poor performance of its train services.”

The Opposition also questioned the Marshall Governments ties to Keolis Downer.

“The Auditor-General raised concerns about former minister Stephen Knoll travelling to Newcastle to meet with Keolis Downer representatives during the privatisation tender process,” it said.

“Keolis was also caught out giving fabricated quotes to the Marshall Liberal Government to help the government convince the public privatisation was a good idea (the company shared quotes that appeared to have been taken from an online April Fools’ Day prank).

“It is understood that Keolis Downer won the bid because its bid was significantly cheaper than others. It is understood this is because Keolis has promised cost-cutting and outsourcing train maintenance to a third party.”

This is a bad day for Adelaides public transport commuters,” Opposition leader Peter Malinauskas said.

“We know what will happen next privatisation always means cuts, poorer services and higher fares.Under Steven Marshall, Adelaide’s trains will be run for profit, not for people.”

The Rail, Tram and Bus Union also criticised the contract announcement, with state secretary Daren Phillips questioning the probity of the privatisation process.

“There are unresolved questions around the failure to follow probity guidelines and secret million-dollar ‘loser fees’ for the bidders,” he said.

The public also need to know if any extra sweeteners were thrown in to seal the deal with the new operator.”

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