The roll-out for Queensland’s New Generation Rollingstock (NGR) has once again been questioned by the media, but the State Government remains confident.
According to several reports, a consultant report has claimed that the trains are unlikely to be ready for the Commonwealth Games in April next year.
The report – a whole-of-business-review of Queensland Rail’s operations – was prepared by the German rail operator Deutsche Bahn and issued to the government in July.
According to the report, “140 deficiencies, including door control and brake control,” were identified during interviews with Queensland Rail managerial staff and a review of internal documents.
Moreover, while the government has received 15 out of a total of 75 trains from the Bombardier-led consortium Qtectic – before the government placed a temporary halt on the order in March – the Deutsche Bahn report states that 18 new trains will be required to deal with commuter demand during the Commonwealth Games. The report claims, however, that these are unlikely to be ready “due to the current blockages and high risk of ‘juvenile failures’”.
Among the “blockages” identified include an apparent tension between QR and the Transport Department regarding the NGR program.
“QR considers that they are being pressured to accept the trains whereas in TMR’s view the QR engineers are being overly cautious,” the report states.
“Although QR has engaged its own independent verifier, [we recommend they] consider jointly engaging a verifier acceptable to both Bombardier and QR to assist the parties in resolving the remaining deficiencies.”
Another problem identified in the report, quite apart from supposed design issues with the train fleet, were “silos” in QR’s working culture, “where divisions are primarily focused on the achievement of their own targets.
“This lack of alignment, combined with the failure to share information between divisions, is preventing QR from fully addressing the challenges faced by the organisation.”
Findings like these have led the government to claim that the new report adds little to that learned from the Strachan Inquiry earlier in the year.
“This report tells us what the Strachan Inquiry already has: there are challenges in Queensland Rail and we need to continue taking steps to address them and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” state transport minister Jackie Trad said.
Indeed, one of the problems the Deutsche Bahn report identified was the lack of train drivers plaguing the network, which has the potential, especially under the stress of greater demand, to cause service cancellations during the Games, which would include any NGR trains that might be in operation.
This was an issue highlighted by the earlier Strachan report, and QR has been in the process of training more drivers.
“I’m confident that [new trains] will be on the network by the end of the year. I’m also confident that we will have the staff required. There are currently 85 drivers in training,” Trad said.
The report comes just weeks after the government had asserted that various design and operational issues with the NGR fleet – including in the braking system, air-conditioning, ventilation and driver visibility – had been fixed and that the trains would start operating at the end of 2017.
Yesterday in Parliament, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said that of the 140 deficiencies noted in the Deutsche Bahn report, only 41 remained, and that the government remained confident that the trains would be ready soon.
“We are doing everything we can to make sure that the 41 issues that have been identified on the New Generation Rollingstock are resolved as quickly as possible,” she said.
“We are going to be delivering trains for the Commonwealth Games.”
The eagerly awaited new trains are to be an improvement on the current rolling stock, and will be equipped with better comfort, safety and security features, while providing Wi-Fi access in all six cars.
They will also feature on-board toilets with baby change facilities, which many of the currently-operating trains lack.
12 allocated spaces for people who use mobility aids will be located on the trains in the middle carriages, which will align with the assisted boarding points at most stations on the South East network.
5 of the 15 new trains are reportedly undergoing on-track testing on the South East Queensland rail network.
“On-track testing is the final testing before the trains are accepted and able to safely carry passengers,” Trad was recently quoted as saying by The Gold Coast Bulletin.
“We are confident the first NGR trains will commence on the network by the end of this year and they will be used exclusively on the Gold Coast line until after the Commonwealth Games.”