A shortage of train crew and the “tangled” Sydney rail network has made it vulnerable to disruptions, a high-level review has found.
Sydney Trains and Transport for NSW on Thursday handed down the joint review into the January 8 and 9 meltdowns.
To minimise the likelihood of a repeat, the report said “it would be prudent to accelerate the recruitment” of more crew.
Some off-peak services will be cut back, but the new and more intensive timetable will otherwise remain – despite making it more difficult to recover from incidents.
Extra reserve crew are needed to cope with disruptions, the report said, and more hires need to be made to “counter the effects of ongoing targeted recruitment campaigns by rail operators in Queensland and in Victoria, where higher rates of pay are offered”.
The “tangled” network also compounded failures and disruptions, with its multiple branches, crossovers and junctions.
“This means that when incidents and delays occur they have the potential and a tendency to cascade across multiple lines,” the report said.
It found progress had been made over the past decade, but said more was required.
The interstate appeal
An ongoing pay dispute almost culminated in a 24-hour strike last month. During negotiations, workers have widely claimed to be looking interstate for better pay and a lower cost of living.
The New Daily last month revealed one-third of qualified drivers hired by Melbourne’s Metro Trains in 2017 were poached from NSW.
At the time, a Queensland government spokesperson said no NSW drivers had been hired in Queensland Rail’s (QR) most recent recruitment drive.
In fact, this is because the recruitment process is still ongoing.
QR has prioritised internal crew in previous recruitment drives, but has this time opened it up to external applicants.
“Anecdotally, we understand there has been significant interest in that process from NSW train drivers, which is understandable given that the starting salary for drivers at QR is close to $20,000 more than at Sydney Trains and NSW Trains,” a Rail Tram and Bus Union spokesperson said.
The pay disparity is similar for train guards, though it’s difficult to make a direct comparison.
After weekend rates and other factors, a guard in NSW is likely to earn $75,000. Comparatively, a QR guard would earn around $92,000.
Earlier this month, a Sydney guard told The New Daily “heaps” of guards had applied to move to QR.
“My guard trainer applied for Brisbane,” the guard said. “He was like, ‘f––k this, I’m going north’.
“Plus, they are single decker trains and a smaller network. But you have to have a car in Brisbane [because] they can send you to any depot.”
The guard said it was worth it to buy a car using the extra pay at QR.
Announcing the QR recruitment campaign last July, then-transport minister Jackie Trad said 200 trainees would be hired for “a surplus of drivers for the future”.
Responses to the report
NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance ordered the review last month amid the chaos.
He committed to implementing all eight recommendations on Thursday.
RTBU NSW secretary Alex Claassens said the report vindicated what the union had been saying all along, “that chronic understaffing and an unsustainable timetable were the key causes of the major rail disruptions”.
Mr Claassens said the timetable relied on excessive overtime and “extraordinary pressure” on crew.
The new timetable was 92.7 per cent punctual during peak services in December.
But the afternoon peak on January 9 was just 25.9 per cent punctual, which the report acknowledged was “highly unsatisfactory and frustrating for commuters”.
Sydney Trains chief executive Howard Collins said the new timetable, which added more than 1500 services, was needed to cope with growing demand.
Opposition Leader Luke Foley said the report confirmed the timetable “is not worth the paper it’s written on”.
“This report is the white flag on their new timetable.”