Queensland’s troubled new-generation trains were flawed “from day one”, but the then-state government signed off on them because middle management kept problems under wraps.
Inquiry head Michael Forde has released the findings of his inquiry into the $4.4 billion NGR trains, which breached laws relating to disability requirements.
The trains had walkways that were too narrow for wheelchairs, and some carriages had no disabled access to toilets.
Mr Forde said the fiasco could have been avoided by consulting the disability sector. But because it wasn’t done, the designs were flawed “from day one”.
The report said appropriate consultation “would certainly have been more cost effective than rectification”.
Mr Forde said people in Queensland Rail and the Transport Department knew of the problems before the contracts were signed in 2013, but didn’t tell decision-makers.
“There would have been people at middle-to-lower management who didn’t escalate problems and, perhaps, were afraid of giving bad news,” he said.
“There seemed to be an attitude that ‘we’d fix it later on’ as an appendage rather than an important part of the process.”
Labor and the Liberal National Party have been passing the blame, with the project’s procurement and delivery phases spanning three governments.
The procurement process began under Anna Bligh’s Labor government, when current Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was transport minister.
It was signed off by Campbell Newman’s LNP government in 2013.
The first trains were delivered after Labor returned to power in 2015.
Mr Forde said the procurement had been “characterised by a lack of rigour, continual slippages and missed milestones”. His report made 24 recommendations, all of which have been accepted by Ms Palaszczuk.
The cost to rectify all 75 trains will be $335.7 million, more than double what was initially expected.
The “enhanced” rectification works will include a second toilet on all the NGR trains and increasing the size of the toilet module by 10 per cent.
The work will also double the number of priority seats from 24 to 48 on every six-car train.
Local engineering company Downer will do the work in the south-east Queensland town of Maryborough from next year. It will be finished by 2024.
Downer has been given a $10 million state government grant to build a special facility to carry out the work, which is additional to the project’s $335.7 million price tag.
MS Queensland said it welcomed the rectification work, calling it “a step in the right direction”. But acting chief executive Libby Marshall said 44 per cent of Queensland railway stations remained inaccessible to disabled people.
“We still have a long way to go to ensure all Queenslanders can access our public transport network,” she said.
“We will continue to work with the government alongside other disability advocates … to ensure that our public transport system does not discriminate against people living with a disability.”
The Labor government tabled the report and its response on Monday, saying the procurement of non-compliant trains was “clearly unacceptable”.
“This situation falls short of the government’s aim to provide an accessible public transport network for all members of our community,” it said.
The government said it was particularly important to investigate “whether the views and needs of the disability sector were properly considered” as part of the four-month inquiry, which started in August.
Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington blamed Ms Palaszczuk as being “complicit from day one of the NGR fiasco”.
“Disappointingly, the inquiry hasn’t examined the continual delays of this project under Labor or whether taxpayers will get value for money through the rectification works,” she said.
“With the ongoing rail fail with no end in sight, Labor simply can’t be trusted to fix the trains.”