The first of South East Queensland’s new passenger trains will enter service next week, subject to a temporary exemption for certain non-compliances which will be addressed in the long-term, Queensland Rail has said.
QR announced on Wednesday the first of the New Generation Rollingstock (NGR) fleet would enter service on the Gold Coast Line on Monday, December 11.
Initially ordered by the Newman Government in 2014, the NGR’s delivery was halted in March this year by the Palaszczuk Government, in the midst of an ongoing management debacle at QR which included the dismissal of several high-ranking employees, as well as former transport minister Stirling Hinchliffe, who handed the portfolio back to Jackie Trad.
Trad and Palaszczuk at the time blamed operational and design issues — in the braking system, air-conditioning, ventilation and driver visibility — which had been apparent since on-track testing began last year, for the delay.
Train manufacturer Bombardier, blamed by Queensland’s mainstream media, has maintained that the trains are of the highest calibre, and issues found in testing were not abnormal for a project of this scale.
Nonetheless the manufacturer vowed to work with QR and its other partners to work out the kinks in the rollout process, and get the NGR trains on track as soon as safely possible.
Bombardier managing director Andrew Dudgeon this week welcomed the news the first of the trains would be allowed to enter service.
“Today is a very special day for the people of South East Queensland, and all involved in the delivery of this vital rail project,” Dudgeon said.
“These trains are state-of-the-art. Built for Queensland’s commuters, the NGR fleet was locally designed and engineered, and will be maintained by a dedicated team of industry professionals over the next 30 years.”
Bombardier Transportation delivered the trains as part of the Qtectic consortium, which also includes John Laing, ITOCHU and Aberdeen Standard Investments.
QR boss Nick Easy, who is newly-appointed after QR’s Government-driven overhaul at the start of the year, said the NGR trains were essential to meeting demand during the 2018 Commonwealth Games, which will take place on the Gold Coast.
“More trains will be rolled out on the Gold Coast to Airport line over the coming months, including some services to Doomben and Northgate, and will eventually operate across the entire South East Queensland passenger rail network,” Easy said.
“As the NGR fleet commences passenger services for the first time, each train’s performance will be closely monitored.”
Disability access on the new trains is still an issue.
QR and the Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) have made a joint application to the Australian Human Rights Commission, to grant a temporary exemption to the Disability Discrimination Act and Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport.
The temporary exemption will allow non-compliant trains to operate while work to redesign and rectify other NGR trains continues.
“As the rectified NGR trains are expected to progressively roll-out onto the South East Queensland rail network in 2019, NGR trains in their existing design will be utilised for passenger service in the interim,” Easy said.
The decision to greenlight the train rollout has come under fire from some disability advocates, with Geoff Trappett from Inclusion Moves telling The Brisbane Times that many in the disability sector were “appalled” at Queensland Rail’s “arrogance” in putting non-compliant trains on tracks, and that, in response, he and others in the sector would be pursuing “whatever legal avenues” at their disposal.
While acknowledging the work that remained to be done on the fleet, Easy nonetheless praised the joint efforts of TMR, Queensland Rail and Qtectic in ironing-out design-issues and carrying out tests to ensure the trains were ready and safe for service.
“I’d like to thank the teams from TMR, Qtectic, and Queensland Rail who have worked extremely hard behind the scenes to get to this milestone,” he said.
Qtectic Chair Bill Haughey drew attention to the close collaborative work was required to bring the project to this point.
“We are excited to present the new fleet to the people of Queensland. Our consortium would like to thank the Queensland state government, TMR, and QR for their continued support and close collaboration. These new trains will provide passengers with a safe, more comfortable, and digitally-enabled environment,” Haughey said.
Bombardier said there are currently 175 employees at the Wulkuraka Maintenance Facility, with a plan to ramp up to over 200 employees once maintenance activities commence.
With additional reporting from Oliver Probert.