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.”

Industry welcomes Sydney Metro funding

The new Sydney Metro line to Western Sydney airport will lead to long term benefits for the rail industry and the wider economy said Caroline Wilkie, CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA).

“It will not only create jobs to support our post COVID-19 recovery, but will also generate new opportunities for business and industry in years to come.”

The injection of an extra $3.5 billion from the state and federal government to get the project underway in 2020 was announced on Monday, June 1.

“This is exactly the kind of jobs creating infrastructure investment the country needs right now and we are pleased to see this important project getting underway this year,” said Wilkie.

Western Sydney Airport Chair Paul O’Sullivan said that the new rail line will be essential to ensuring the airport’s economic impact.

“Sydney Metro – Western Sydney Airport will not only ensure that the Airport is connected to the city’s rail network, it will complement the Airport’s ability to create economic growth and opportunities for the region, creating jobs for the people of Western Sydney and providing new ways for people to get around.”

When making the announcement on June 1, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said that the line will be opened at the same time as the airport, in 2026, a goal that Wilkie welcomed.

“A direct rail connection from day one only strengthens the case for the airport precinct as the region seeks to attract more businesses to western Sydney as part of the development,” Wilkie said.

“This gives the region the best chance of making the most of the opportunities the airport precinct presents.”

NSW Labor has supported the project, however noted that local content must be prioritised.

“NSW businesses must be given priority in supplying construction materials and services to build this important rail link,” said NSW Labor deputy leader Yasmin Catley.

Wilkie said that the investment now would pay dividends for years to come.

“Investment in rail projects like this one provides much more than just a short-term boost as part of our recovery,” she said.

“This is a great example of state and federal governments working together to make sure economic stimulus measures deliver tangible and lasting benefits to our communities.”