‘Will get worse’: Grim prediction for trains

The Transport Minister has admitted NSW’s train network is neither “reliable nor resilient” with a report warning more issues will occur if changes aren’t made. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Damian Shaw

An interim report into NSW’s beleaguered train network has found delays, cancellations, maintenance issues and major cancellations will only get worse if the system continues to run as is.

Defects across the network increased to about 37,000 in April 2023 from 23,000 in December 2018, with the most issues reported on the T1 line, which services stations in Sydney‘s western and north shore suburbs.

Transport Minister Jo Haylen described the current system as “neither reliable nor resilient” and said the issues could be traced to major maintenance backlogs linked to a timetable change in 2017.

At the time, the changes were needed to keep up to date with the “significant growth” in passenger numbers, however, maintenance delays were further exacerbated by “black swan” events like the pandemic, flooding, bushfires and industrial action.

The Transport Minister has admitted NSW’s train networks are neither “reliable nor resilient” due to a backlog of maintenance projects. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Damian Shaw

On Monday, Ms Haylen announced a major 12-month “maintenance blitz” will take place on the state’s 100-year-old train network.

“The 2017 timetable didn’t allow for enough time to maintain our network and when the pandemic hit, our network was already stretched thin,” said Ms Haylen.

“If we don’t address the underlying issues on our network, things will get worse.

“I do want to make very clear to passengers though – Sydney trains has remained vigilant and focused on safety – safety critical maintenance has been delivered in a timely manner.”

Despite the planned blitz, the government has promised no services will be cancelled and that the existing timetable will remain as is.

Sydney Trains chief executive Matthew Longland said the updates will happen during periods when the network is inactive. Projects will also be prioritised in terms of their impact on performance.

“It’s about making better use of the time we have available to access the network,” he said.

“This is about getting more staff on each of those trackwork weekends, making sure we’re planning in a way that brings all the teams together.”

NSW Transport Minister Jo Haylen said delays, cancellations and stoppages would only increase if the maintenance backlog wasn’t addressed. Picture: NewsWire / Monique Harmer

A major review into the state’s heavy rail network was issued just days after Labor won government in March. At the time, three major issues had bought parts of the network to a standstill that month alone, leaving passengers stranded at stations.

However, Ms Haylen said the rail overhaul would be managed through “existing budget measures” and flagged that no extra funding or labour would be dedicated to addressing maintenance delays.

“We want to make sure we’re best using our assets and that includes maintaining them effectively and efficiently as well,” she said.

National Transport Commission chair Carolyn Walsh, who is overseeing the review, said the delays must be “immediately” addressed to return “resilience” to the network. However, she said there were no backlogs related to safety critical inspections or defects.

The interim report released 12 recommendations, which will all be adopted by the government, including re-directing reporting lines between Sydney Trains and Transport NSW, and an audit of training and recertification of rail safety workers. Ms Walsh said there may also be scope to bringing the management of the inner-city fleet into the management of Sydney Trains, instead of NSW Trainlink, however this would be done with “careful consideration”.

The final report will be handed down in October.