A report commissioned by the newly-elected News South Wales (NSW) Labor state government into Sydney Trains has concluded that the network is fragile and there are “a great many deep-seated problems” with the way the commuter network is operating.

The interim report was compiled by National Transport Commission chair, Ms Carolyn Walsh, and a review team. The panel is required to issue a final report, consolidating its findings and recommendations, by October 31.

The report says major backlogs in maintenance resulting from the timetable changes brought in by the former government in 2017 have led to network incidents and ongoing inconvenience to passengers. NSW transport minister, Ms Joy Haylen, says this has resulted in a fragile rail network that does not recover effectively from incidents.

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

The minister says that despite these problems, Sydney Trains has maintained a strong focus on safety and has continued to address safety-critical maintenance issues in a timely manner.

However, an ongoing operational maintenance backlog remains, which the report says poses a serious challenge to restoring a reliable network and may lead to safety issues in the future.

“This is having a significant impact on the operation of our train network and has caused numerous system failures,” Haylen says. “Since the introduction of the 2017 train timetable by former minister [Mr Andrew] 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 has instructed the acting secretary of transport for NSW and the chief executive of Sydney Trains to begin work on implementing all 12 recommendations made by the report immediately.

These include:

  • an expanded passenger-focused team that can respond more flexibly and rapidly to disruption
  • immediately starting work to map out an urgent and large-scale programme 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 state agency Transport for New South Wales (TfNSW) and will be represented on TfNSW executive committees
  • the Sydney Trains 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 recertifications and training for rail safety workers
  • Sydney Trains will get back its ability to directly manage its relationships with its workforce and their representatives
  • there will be comprehensive engagement with the workforce during the procurement, design and construction of new rolling stock, and
  • consideration will be given to moving the inter-city fleet and operations from NSW Trainlink to Sydney Trains.

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

  • plans for upgrading customer communication technology
  • the implementation of multi-modal customer information screens
  • an app for traincrew that will enable them to respond more quickly during disruption, and
  • improved rapid incident response capability that will make it easier to get the right message to the right people at the right time.