Engineering, Passenger Rail, Rail Supply

‘Marred by distrust’: Inquiry orders review into relationship between QR, TMR

The relationship between Queensland Rail and the Department of Transport and Main Roads will be reviewed after an official inquiry alleged distrust and resentment between the sides contributed to errors during the procurement of the state’s new trains.

Queensland will enact a range of reforms to ensure compliance with disability standards is “a fundamental and integral part” of procurement projects as a result of the 160-page final report published this week by the New Generation Rollingstock Train Commission of Inquiry.

Retired judge Michael Forde led the inquiry into how the $4.4 billion, 75-train order was signed off despite the trains not fully complying with disability access legislation.

Forde’s report finds the trains’ manufacturer, Bombardier Transportation, clearly told the state, in its proposal, that the project guidelines could not be met while also complying with disability standards, due to the narrow gauge used in South East Queensland.

“The need for compliance with [disability legislation] was recognised in the performance specifications issued,” the report states, “but it was contradicted and confused by other specifications that meant the design could not satisfy the requirements for technical compliance.

“The decision to request a non-compliant train through the procurement process and to then accept a proposal based on a non-compliant design and enter into a project deed on that basis was, in the Commission’s view, seriously flawed.”

The decision to build the trains in India was not highlighted by Forde’s report as contributing to the non-compliance, despite Queensland Labor’s Opposition in 2017 alleging the Palaszczuk Government had gone to India for “half-price trains,” and that “you get what you pay for”.

Forde’s report instead focuses on the length and complexity of the procurement process itself.

“This procurement took four years longer than it should have,” he told the media on Monday.

“It was the subject of change, not only as to who led the procurement, but also there were changes of government and also changes of the model from a traditional procurement to the public private partnership.”

The State Government has accepted all 24 of the report’s recommendations.

Among them, the commission has recommended “a comprehensive cultural assessment” be undertaken to foster a collaborative working arrangement between Queensland Rail and the Department of Transport and Main Roads – two of the state bodies deemed to have contributed to errors made.

“It was apparent to the Commission from documents reviewed and interviews conducted that the relationship between TMR and QR has been marred by distrust,” the commission’s final report states.

According to the report, the distrust stemmed from the decision in 2012 to remove Queensland Rail as the project lead, and replace it first with Projects Queensland, and then with Transport and Main Roads in 2014.

“The decision to remove QR as the project lead created a degree of resentment and animosity that resulted in a competitive rather than collaborative relationship during the delivery phase of the project.

“In the Commission’s view, the tense and competitive relationship hindered the effective management and resolution of compliance issues.

“An environment where the prevailing consideration is carefully distinguishing responsibilities and defending positions rather than working together to achieve a common goal is not conducive to positive project outcomes or the prompt and effective management of issues.”

Premier ready to move on

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the state would follow through on the report’s recommendations.

“I am pleased the Inquiry has provided a thorough examination of this process and we are getting on with the job of fixing what went wrong,” the premier said.

Transport minister Mark Bailey meanwhile said his department would continue to engage with the disability sector to finalised designs for the $336 million modification program for the NGR trains, being undertaken at Downer’s Maryborough workshops.

“The first train to be upgraded to meet all operational and functional requirements is expected to go back into customer service in 2020,” Bailey said.

“Subsequent trains will be upgraded quickly with up to eight trains undergoing modifications at a time.”

Bombardier welcomes report

Manufacturer Bombardier welcomed the report’s findings.

“Bombardier has always maintained that the NGR trains were built to the specifications agreed with the state,” the company said.

“As the report details … Bombardier worked with the state to highlight the complex nature of the project – specifically the challenges of accommodating access pathways and toilets within the narrow-gauge structure.”

The company said it hoped the inquiry would help Queenslanders understand the complex factors at play during the procurement.

Earlier this year Bombardier Transportation Australia boss Paul Brown told Rail Express: “Despite the noise, the NGRs are delivering – and will continue to deliver – excellent services around the South East Queensland network. They’ve been absolutely fantastic.”