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WORK on a Federal Government rail project will shut down in Sydney this week, and hundreds of workers will be laid off, because of a potential cost blow-out allegedly caused by poor planning.
The Australian Rail Track Corporation has confirmed that the $309 million Southern Sydney Freight Line will be ''re-evaluated with a view to determine the most cost-effective way forward''.
The Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese, said in February the project, to take freight trains off the Sydney passenger rail network, would create 1500 jobs and be completed by early 2010.
But contractors have now been told to tidy up worksites on the rail corridor, remove trip hazards, put up safety fencing, and go home indefinitely.
Mark Childs, 40, has been told by a project contractor, Reed Constructions, that he and another 100 staff will be laid off from a Cabramatta worksite this week. ''I was originally told the project would go for 11 months. Now I have nothing. It's right on Christmas and no one will pick us up,'' he said.
A letter from the corporation to the companies affected shows construction and earthworks will be suspended for at least five months in order to remove services such as telephone, gas and electricity cables along the proposed route, or to redesign key sections.
One company owner said this work was usually done before earthworks started, but the corporation had scheduled both for the same time. ''It is an unusual stuff-up,'' said another contractor.
The CFMEU assistant state secretary, Brian Parker, said up to 800 jobs were at risk because of bureaucratic incompetence by the corporation and NSW's RailCorp.
An ARTC spokesman said the delay was because changes to the RailCorp signalling system could not be made until 2011, the route needed to be redesigned to minimise impact on the Glenfield rubbish tip, and it had discovered ''more extensive service relocation'' was needed.
Sydney Morning Herald
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