Train drivers are leaving the New South Wales rail network faster than they can be recruited, new figures show.
There were 141 fewer drivers in 2016-17 than when the Liberal government returned to power in 2011-12, data obtained under freedom of information laws and released by Labor shows.
A total of 494 drivers left the state’s network over those six years, while 353 were recruited.
Only two drivers were recruited in 2015-16, when 74 left.
It comes months after the Sydney Trains network buckled when a new and more intensive timetable added 1500 extra weekly services.
The figures show a rush of drivers were hired in the lead-up to the meltdown.
There were 139 recruited in the seven months to January, when 83 drivers left the network – making a net loss of 85 since 2011.
“The Berejiklian government had to scramble this year to recruit train drivers, leaving it too little too late,” Labor’s shadow transport minister Jodi McKay said in a statement on Tuesday.
“For six solid years the Liberal government has been losing train drivers and failing to act.”
Sydney Trains and NSW TrainLink chief executive Howard Collins said there was a “robust workforce management plan in place to recruit train drivers”.
“Since we began recruiting for the new timetable in July 2016, we have employed 334 trainee drivers, with 85 of them already working on the network. The remainder will graduate progressively in 2018 and 2019 and we will continue to recruit additional drivers.”
Mr Collins said staffing levels tended to fluctuate in line with the organisation’s needs, and remained consistent to operate the timetable.
“There is nothing to indicate that Sydney Trains has difficulty retaining drivers,” he said in a statement.
“Some drivers have chosen to retire, and only a small number have opted to relocate interstate.”
Drivers were widely claiming to have moved interstate for better pay and a lower cost of living as the Rail, Tram and Bus Union threatened to strike for 24 hours over a now resolved pay dispute.
The New Daily revealed in January one-third of qualified train drivers hired by Victoria’s Metro Trains were poached from NSW.
The Melbourne network last year hired 154 drivers, 100 of whom were trainees. The remaining 54 were qualified drivers, 18 of which were from NSW.
It means about 33.3 per cent of qualified drivers were NSW defectors, or 11.6 per cent of all the new hires.
“What everyone forgets is a driver can give two weeks’ notice and they’re gone, but it takes 12 months to train up a driver in NSW,” Transport Minister Andrew Constance told 2GB in January.
Sydney Trains and Transport for NSW handed down a joint review into the January 8 and 9 meltdowns in February.
It found the “tangled” network compounded failures and disruptions, with its multiple branches, crossovers and junctions.
The review also found more train crew should be hired to minimise vulnerability on the network.
Sydney Trains cut about 94 weekly services in March to ease pressure on the network brought by the more intensive timetable rolled out in November. Most of the services cut were from the early morning or late evening.
Monthly performance data shows Sydney Trains achieved 90.6 per cent peak punctuality in January, below its 92 per cent target.
The latest Transport for NSW survey showed satisfaction on the train network was 89 per cent in May last year, up from 79 per cent in November 2012.
The New Daily contacted Mr Constance for comment.
This story has been updated to include a statement from Sydney Trains and TrainLink CEO Howard Collins.