Passenger Rail, Workforce, Certification & Training

Collins acknowledges flaws, won’t change timetable

Rail boss Howard Collins has acknowledged Sydney Trains’ new timetable contributed to significant delays on January 8 and 9, but says with more and more passengers using the railway every year, the timetable is here to stay.

Collins and Transport for NSW secretary Rodd Staples on Thursday delivered a report into the significant outages last month, which spurred on an enterprise agreement debate between the operator and workers over pay, conditions, and the capacity of the network to handle the new timetable, which was introduced late last year.

The report recognises a need to make the timetable more flexible, to help make up for lost time when there is an incident.

But none of the eight recommendations include the reduction, or reconstruction of the timetable itself.

“For several weeks, including last December, the timetable delivered 92.7% peak punctuality – similar to the old timetable in December the year before – this is despite delivering 8% more services,” Collins said.

“While the timetable has proven it meets reliability targets during normal operation and routine incidents, when we have significant incidents our resources become stretched too quickly.

“With unprecedented growth in train patronage meaning we need to carry more and more people every year, this is the timetable that Sydney needs.”

Staples said the report’s eight recommendations would improve network resilience.

“We apologise to customers, who showed extreme patience for two consecutive days last month as they were tested by disruptions to a level rarely seen,” Staples said.

“While network incidents and triple lightning strikes were the catalysts for the disruptions, the network was vulnerable because of two underlying issues.

“Our rail network is complex and tangled, which means when things go wrong, flow on effects can be crippling. There were also underlying crew availability problems, caused by a number of factors, which meant we weren’t able to recover quickly by getting enough drivers where we needed them.

“The report recommends priority actions to ensure when multiple disruptions happen, we are able to get the trains moving again sooner for our customers.”

The actions highlighted by the report to help the network recover from multiple, simultaneous incidents more quickly include:

  • Reviewing strategies for dealing with high impact network events in a complex, tangled network;
  • Providing extra capacity for incident recovery by using post implementation reviews of the timetable to look for opportunities to adjust any non-peak services that are used by an extremely low number of customers;
  • Accelerating recruitment of new drivers;
  • Working with unions to help simplify changeovers for crew;
  • Bringing in an independent rail expert to find ways to improve the systems and tools to put the right number of crew where we need them; and,
  • Updating support and IT systems to ensure better communication and crowd management.


Union ‘vindicated’

Rail, Tram and Bus Union NSW secretary Alex Claassens said the report vindicated the union’s position, that the new timetable made the network vulnerable to the type of major disruptions seen on January 8 and 9.

“As confirmed by today’s report, the operation of the new timetable depends on our train crew undertaking an unsustainable amount of overtime,” Claassens said.

“After months of extraordinary pressure, the train crew have told us they’ve had enough. Excessive overtime and overwork has been a key area of conflict during this recent industrial dispute.”

Claassens called on state transport minister Andrew Constance to act on the report.

“Writing a report which describes the problems and suggests solutions is one thing,” he said.

“Actually implementing those recommendations is another.

“This cannot be a matter of ‘we’ve produced a shiny report, the job is done.’ Rail workers, as do commuters want to see action off the back of today’s report. Let’s get on with taking onboard those recommendations, taking action and fixing this rail network.”