Urgent fix blitz to get Sydney's trains back on track

·3-min read
Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS

An urgent maintenance blitz is needed to fix Sydney's growing backlog of failing rail infrastructure as the government works to reverse the trend of late and cancelled trains.

Disruption across Sydney's train network was mostly being caused by a surge in infrastructure-related defects coupled with a growing backlog of compliance checks, the interim review of Sydney Trains released on Monday found.

The record backlog of defects, between 35,000 and 40,000 was concerning, National Transport Commission chair Carolyn Walsh, who heads the review, said.

"We believe that is not going to just bounce back under business-as-usual arrangements," Ms Walsh said on Monday

"We're actually recommending that the backlog of maintenance must be immediately and urgently addressed in order to get the resilience of the network back and to ensure its ongoing safety."

The review into problems across the NSW rail network was announced days after Labor won the March 25 election, after commuters faced 12 months of delays, disruptions and rail unions battling with the coalition government.

March was a particularly bad month for rail reliability when a radio system outage crashed the Sydney network, a live wire landed on a train at Panania trapping 500 people and signal outages caused delays on election day.

All 12 recommendations in the interim report would be supported by the government, Transport Minister Jo Haylen said.

Staff had been instructed to begin work on speeding up checks as soon as possible, she said.

There are 1265 priority one defects that must be checked every seven days and another large number of priority two defects need an inspection every 28 days, in case a breakage occurs.

The city circle and inner west lines have the worst backlog and were suffering the most severe reliability issues.

An "ambient level" of defects was expected across the network at any time but the backlog has blown out to unsustainable levels.

The review also recommended Sydney Trains work more closely with unions to create a process for buying new rail assets, after workers entered a series of disputes with the department over foreign-made equipment.

It also flagged overhauling the Rail Operations Centre within three months, and the Sydney Trains timetable by next year.

The timetable, designed in 2017 to boost passenger numbers on the overcrowded network, has stretched the capacity of staff, leaving services fragile since its introduction.

The report provided a road map to get the state's rail network back on track, Rail, Tram and Bus Union secretary Alex Claassens said.

"The previous Liberal government made a mess of our transport system in the decade it was in power," Mr Claassens said.

"We're glad to see that the new government is keen not to make those same mistakes."

The government had no plan to deal with the issues plaguing Sydney Trains and were instead presiding over consecutive reviews, Deputy Liberal Leader Natalie Ward said on Monday.

"I'd like to understand from this government what they're doing for commuters in NSW," she said.

"They can't blame a six-year-old timetable change for their current problems."

A final report will be handed down in October.