New Intercity Fleet reach Lithgow after Blue Mountains Line upgrades

Testing of the New Intercity Fleet has seen the electric trains reach Lithgow, the first new electric train to do so since the final V-Set was introduced.

Until recently, newer regional electric trains such as the Oscar train sets and the Tangara fleet have not been able to travel past Springwood due to limitations on the line.

Tight bends and narrow tunnels mean that only Narrow Electric standard rollingstock have been able to travel west of Springwood, meaning V-Sets were the only regional trains to take passengers further.

Engineering works to widen the line and extend platforms mean that the new trains are now able to run to Lithgow, said Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole.

“This is such an exciting development for the thousands of customers who travel between the city and these areas, particularly for Lithgow customers because it has only been made possible due to upgrades on the Blue Mountains Line,” he said.

Running the trains to Lithgow is part of the testing of the New Intercity Fleet before they enter passenger service later this year. The trains will first travel on the Central Coast and Newcastle lines, before the Blue Mountains and South Coast lines.

“Over the next few months we’ll see more of these trains tested on the Blue Mountains Line, mostly at night and on weekends,” said Toole.

Minister for Transport Andrew Constance said the new trains had a number of upgraded features.

“Customers on the New Intercity Fleet will enjoy more spacious two-by-two seating, mobile device charging ports, modern heating and air conditioning, and dedicated spaces for luggage, prams and bicycles,” Constance said.

“Automatic Selective Door Operation, obstruction detection and traction interlocking are just some of the safety features on these new trains.”

Unions have expressed concerns about the operation of doors on the trains, with guards unable to open their doors before the rest of the train doors.

Berejiklian criticised for NSW train manufacturing comments

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has been criticised for comments that local manufacturers of rollingstock are not up to scratch.

On Wednesday, August 26, Berejiklian said at a media conference, “Australia and New South Wales are not good at building trains, that’s why we have to purchase them.”

The comments drew immediate push back from the NSW Labor party, with deputy leader Yasmin Catley saying that NSW should be investing more in locally manufactured public transport vehicles.

“Instead of running down our local industries at press conferences, Gladys Berejiklian should be giving them the opportunity to build our new ferries and trains,” Catley said.

Minister for Transport Andrew Constance backed his leader’s comments, reportedly estimating the cost difference at 25 per cent more for locally manufactured trains, due to higher energy, labour, and raw material costs.

“I think most people know the car industry, the train industry, in terms of manufacturing here in Australia; we don’t have it, and there’s a reason for it,” said Constance.

Following these remarks, the NSW Labor leader, Jodi McKay announced that Labor would introduce a NSW Jobs First Bill, which would require tenderers on government contracts to support NSW jobs and industries.

The dispute has come as NSW puts the first of its second order of Chinese-manufactured Waratah Series 2 trains into service. The Korean-made New Intercity Fleet, which are replacing the Western Sydney-made V-Set and allowing the Newcastle-made H-Set to enter suburban service, are also in the early testing stage.

CEO of the Australasian Railway Association Caroline Wilkie said a national procurement process would enable locally-built trains to become more competitive with their overseas counterparts.

“The NSW Government’s procurement choices have eroded the manufacturing sector and make it harder for local operators to compete,” said Wilkie.

“Better coordination with their counterparts in other states and territories would see more trains manufactured locally and improve efficiencies and cost profiles across the life of the asset.”

Wilkie noted that only looking at the upfront cost of purchasing rollingstock ignored the cost of lifecycle support, and a whole of life cost approach should be taken.

In 2019, the Western Australia government signed an agreement with Alstom to manufacture 246 railcars in Bellevue, in eastern Perth. The contract will see at least 50 per cent of the railcars built locally and 30 years of maintenance. Announced in December 2019, the contract was $347 million under the $1.6 billion budget.

Wilkie said that with overseas trade and travel limited due to COVID-19, the value of local manufacturing was greater than ever.

“A nationally consistent procurement process would benefit both state government purchasers and the rail manufacturing industry itself,” she said.

“The NSW government says it is open to working with other state governments and industry to strengthen and standardise procurement processes – it’s now time for them to act.”