Engineering, Passenger Rail

NSW Government warned of ‘unrealistic expectations’ in 2016 Light Rail report

Sydney CBD light rail. Artists Impression: Transport for NSW

The NSW Coalition Government promoted the Sydney CBD & South East Light Rail project before properly understanding the technical difficulties involved, according to a leaked internal report from February 2016.

The leaked Transport for NSW document, released by Labor over the weekend, says the Government risked inflating expectations while promoting the $2.1 billion CBD and South East Light Rail line, as the “real constraints” of the project – the utilities and drainage works under where the route was to be constructed – had not yet been fully understood.

“Visions were promoted before understanding the real constraints of the project – the underground utilities and drainage,” the report states. “The project is then blamed or delayed when it cannot deliver unrealistic expectations.”

Further, the document reveals that changes in the project’s design caused delays and heavy additional costs due to “onerous” contract arrangements.

While the Government had made promises to consult with stakeholders, according to the document, no time was actually set aside due to a design process “severely limited” by contracts and a “punitive modifications system”.

The report, from February 2016, was created by TfNSW’s urban domain reference group, which counts NSW’s chief architect and the light’s rail principal engineer and project director among its members.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian, noting that she had not yet read the leaked report, said that the Government’s sights were set getting the project finished a year early – in 2019.

“The end date we have is March 2020 I want to see that come forward to next year,” the premier said. “I’m confident the project will be done and dusted by next year.”

The Labor Opposition said the Government would be unable to deliver this promise, with leader Luke Foley telling reporters that there was “no end in sight” for the small businesses affected by the protracted construction along major Sydney streets.

“This is the most poorly delivered infrastructure project in the history of NSW,” Foley said.

The Government remains caught in a legal stoush with Acciona, the Spanish sub-contractor building the project, which claims that TfNSW had not detailed the full extent of the underground utilities under the route. Acciona is demanding payment of an extra $1.2 billion.

Another suit comes from sub-contractor VAC Group, which is conducting trenching work for the project. It is seeking at least $4 million, plus damages, alleging that TfNSW “has engaged in conduct which is misleading and/or deceptive, or likely to mislead or deceive”.

And the headaches for the State Government don’t end in the court room, with a report released on Friday detailing a number of issues surrounding the electrocution of a 15-year-old girl alongside a Light Rail construction site in June.

A TfNSW spokesman told The Sydney Morning Herald that ALTRAC – the consortium building the project – had advised that major civil construction is to be substantially complete by the end of 2018.

“Further, the document discusses that design elements of light rail projects are fundamentally different to heavy rail due to their capacity to enhance and transform precincts with pedestrian boulevards, shared access and improved integration into metropolitan areas,” he was quoted as saying.