Passenger Rail, Legal & Compliance, Operations & Maintenance

Review finds Sydney Trains network unreliable

Sydney Trains review

A review into Sydney Trains has found that the network is neither resilient nor reliable.

The newly-elected New South Wales Government said the interim report by National Transport Commission chair Carolyn Walsh and her review team had revealed “a great many deep-seated problems” with the way Sydney Trains was currently operating.

It said major backlogs in maintenance resulting from the 2017 timetable changes brought in by the former Government had led to network incidents and ongoing inconvenience to passengers.

Transport minister Joy Haylen said this had resulted in a fragile rail network that did not recover effectively from incidents when they occured.

“Unless these issues are addressed, the underlying risks on the network will increase,” she said.

Despite these problems, Sydney Trains has maintained a strong focus on safety and continued to address safety critical maintenance issues in a timely manner.

However, there remained an ongoing operational maintenance backlog presenting a serious challenge to restoring a reliable network.

“This is having a significant impact on the operation of our train network and has caused numerous system failures,” Haylen said.

“Since the introduction of the 2017 train timetable by former Minister Constance, on-time running is at an all-time low and train service cancellation is at an all-time high.

“The data obtained by the review team shows that since the 2017 timetable was introduced, the resilience of the network rapidly deteriorated.

“This schedule was designed to get more trains running more often, but it failed dismally to provide enough access for the critical maintenance work that is constantly needed to ensure the reliability of the network.”

Haylen said that while the neglect of the maintenance backlog had led to the deterioration of the network, work that focusses on safety had been prioritised.

But the report further found that not addressing the maintenance backlog may lead to safety issues in the future.

Haylen has instructed the acting Secretary of Transport for NSW and the chief executive of Sydney Trains to begin work on implementing all of the 12 recommendations from the report immediately.

These include:

  • An expanded passenger focused team that can respond more flexibly and rapidly to disruption
  • Immediately commencing work to map out an urgent and large-scale program of works to tackle the five year backlog of system maintenance, which has caused most of the failures
  • The chief executive of Sydney Trains will report directly to the Secretary of TfNSW and be represented on TfNSW executive committees
  • The chief executive will be directly accountable to the minister on critical issues
  • Responsibility for the Standard Working Timetable will be transferred from TfNSW to Sydney Trains
  • The timetable team will report to the Sydney Trains chief executive to ensure independence and transparency
  • Key executive positions within the Sydney Trains executive will be made permanent to ensure the right people are in place to bring about this network transformation
  • Sydney Trains and TfNSW will undertake an audit of re-certifications and training for rail safety workers
  • Sydney Trains will get back its ability to directly manage its relationships with its own workforce and their representatives
  • There will be comprehensive engagement with the workforce during the procurement, design and construction of new rolling stock
  • Consideration will be given to moving the Intercity fleet and operations from NSW Trainlink to Sydney Trains.

The government will also look at the following options in the short term including:

  • Plans for upgrading customer communication technologies
  • The implementation of multi modal customer information screens
  • A crewing app that will allow faster response times for crew during disruptions and get them where they need to be more quickly
  • Improved rapid incident response capability that will make it easier to get the right message to the right people at the right time

The Walsh review will now turn to delivering longer term solutions for the rail network and for passengers including:

  • How major projects and proposed upgrades consider the ongoing operation of the rail network when they are being designed and built
  • How to best modernise the existing rail network to deliver a world class modern railway into the future
  • Examining how people are trained and how they work together to make the railway work best for passengers
  • Shaping the 2024 timetable review and how to deliver a timetable that strikes the right balance between delivering great passenger service and allowing time to keep it running reliably.

“It’s clear that the ‘black swan’ events of floods, fires, and COVID of the past few years have had an impact on performance and reliability, but as the data shows, that’s not the whole story,” Haylen said.

“Its not in the imagination of the travelling public that the trains have been getting worse. This data proves it.

“The interim recommendations put forward by the review team are the first steps on the path to restoring the resilience and reliability of the NSW railway.”

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