Sydney Trains has opened a window to compensation for commuters who suffered “significant financial hardship” as a direct result of massive delays across the network.
A train on the north shore line needed mechanical repairs on Friday after an open train hatch was spotted by the driver about 5.30am at Town Hall.
Commuters were left languishing on trains or queuing for buses for hours as officials worked to repair the fault. Some were even told to try walking across the Harbour Bridge instead of waiting.
The flow-on disruptions extended into the evening peak with city workers facing a chaotic train system and gridlocked road network.
Sydney Trains chief executive Howard Collins said the hatch that started the chaos on Friday morning was very close to 1500 volts of direct current power and could have caused days of damage if left unchecked.
“It could have brought all the wiring down in the city … we could have gotten stuck over the Harbour Bridge,” he told reporters.
Sydney Trains said any potential claims for compensation will be assessed on a “case by case basis.”
“Customers who suffered significant financial hardship, such as a missed flight, as a direct result of service delays this morning may be eligible to make a claim for compensation,” a spokeswoman said in a statement on Friday evening.
Mr Collins apologised for the widespread delays but believed his team made the right call in stopping the train.
What caused the hatch to open is being investigated but early signs point to wind or a tree branch hitting the train.
Sydney commuters were on Friday queuing to get onto platforms at the city’s main train stations, as a day of chaos plagued the train network.
Those trying to leave the city during peak hour were stuck on platforms at Central Station, as Sydney’s train network grappled with delays after grinding to a halt in the morning peak.
It comes after commuters were urged to leave work early on Friday.
“Just bear with us, but if you need to travel home tonight – if you’ve got an urgent appointment or you need to see your kids, look at some of the alternatives,” Sydney Trains boss Howard Collins told the ABC on Friday afternoon.
“We’re doing our best, but a big railway like this, with all the interconnections, may take some time.”
Mr Collins said a loose hatch on a train that blocked a line at Town Hall this morning was to blame for the problem.
He said a track circuit failure at Central Station was also causing delays, he said.
Sydney Trains had earlier urged people to delay travel where possible on Friday – and allow plenty of extra time if they could not. Anyone who needed to get to airports, exams or hospital appointments should contract Sydney Trains directly, the operator said.
Mr Collins described the city rail network as “archaic” with 1920s switches “almost Frankenstein in their look”.
He told the Daily Telegraph Friday’s delays, made worse by “archaic” technology, meant engineers had to climb down into tunnels to “pull big switches”.
“We had to send men and women down tunnels, to pull big switches, to open and close them, which takes hours … it is archaic.”
“They (the switches) are from … the 1920s and 1930s, they are isolation switches which were probably put in when we first electrified.
“They are almost Frankenstein in their look, they do a great job, but as far as I’m concerned, the future for us … is a remote isolation switch where … services are disrupted for 15 minutes rather than three hours,” Mr Collins said.
Since May, the $7.3 billion Sydney Metro has seen 30 incidents including train doors malfunctioning and delays caused by urgent mechanical repairs, track work and improperly working fire alarms and lifts.
In the worst of the Friday morning chaos, which started about 5.20am commuters were stranded in underground train carriages for more than an hour. One passenger fell over in an attempt to exit a train and thousands more left to wait on suburban platforms for up to two hours.
Customers travelling to the airport for flights or other locations for exams and urgent medical appointments please get in contact with us so we are able to help you make alternate arrangements. pic.twitter.com/UXEfVKf9ox
— Trains Info (@TrainsInfo) August 23, 2019
The trouble began when a train on the T1 North Shore line was halted at Town Hall station at 5.20am on Friday because of a loose hatch, which came loose near overhead wiring, requiring urgent repairs.
The subsequent delays spread quickly, triggering at least 16 cancellations and long waits for services at stations across Sydney’s rail network.
There were massive disruptions on the T1, T2, T3, T8 and T9 lines after electricity had to be cut for the repair work.
Outraged commuters were sent to wait for replacement buses – in queues that extended for several blocks at many stations, including Wynyard, Newtown and Rhodes.
Trains were also suspended from travelling between the CBD and North Sydney, and many commuters had to walk across the Harbour Bridge.
Uber and taxi services went into overdrive as a last resort for workers desperate to get to their office desks, or to appointments … or home.
” Two hours later was still pretty stranded so I caved in and am currently in a Uber. I’ll finally be home in half an hour after having to deal with this Sydney trains bulls–t for 3+ hours,” one commuter tweeted.
Many referred to themselves as “prisoners”.
— pfh007 (@pfh007) August 22, 2019
“How does one broke down train bring the whole transport to its knees. Thank you for such a wonderful start to our Fridays!” another wrote.
“No trains running over the bridge right now, the announcer at Wynyard suggested we walk over the Harbour Bridge to North Sydney as the buses were too busy,” user Sam McCosh posted.
Another told The Sydney Morning Herald that her train had ground to a halt nine stations out from the CBD.
At North Strathfield Station, a passenger fell while trying to cram aboard a full train.
Sydney Trains said investigations into the root cause of the faulty train were ongoing.
“It appears there was damage to the hatch, which may indicate the train hit an object before arriving at Town Hall station,” a spokesman said.
The operator initially said delays would clear by midday, after repairs were completed by 9am.
However, well into Friday afternoon, passengers still reported being stuck in stationary trains between stations, as delays on some lines ran into hours.
#sydneytrains Just get me out of here! We have been PRISONERS trapped in a train that has not moved for a good 45 minutes somewhere between Town Hall and Wynyard.
— Yoshi Shimada (@yoshinori25) August 23, 2019
Commuter Mick Bock was stuck on a train for nearly an hour before deciding to hop off.
“My trip from Lewisham to Central is usually 15 minutes but after 45 minutes the driver basically told us to get off at Newtown, as the delay was only getting worse,” he told the ABC.
“All the information I had said that the worse was to come.
“My boss is a good guy and is understanding, as this happens all the time.
“But obviously the first half of my day is a write-off and probably means staying back on Friday on my own time.”
— Amelia Gilbert (@ameliagilbert) August 22, 2019
Mr Collins apologised for the inconvenience.
“We’re diverting trains around the City Circle, we are providing trains over the [Harbour] bridge by reversing those trains at Wynyard … but it will be slow. I apologise to everybody who is involved.”