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QUEENSLAND Rail was warned by its lawyers that its troubled $4.4 billion NGR train fleet could expose taxpayers to massive legal claims of discrimination if they were used before serious problems were fixed.
The legal advice, viewed by The Courier-Mail, was issued in September and warned the Palaszczuk Government faced a court challenge that could block the new trains from entering service.
Problems include aisles and on-board toilets that are inaccessible to disabled passengers.
In the letter, QR is advised to seek an urgent exemption from disability access laws to guard against any discrimination action.
It says a decision on whether to grant the New Generation Rollingstock trains provisional acceptance was “critical” as it was from this point that legal action could be taken and would also put its indemnity with the company behind the project at risk under its contract.
“The principal risk of non-compliance for Queensland Rail and the State is the risk of claims, particularly injunctive proceedings, brought by affected individuals or representative interest groups,” the letter states.
“This risk will crystallise if non-compliant (trains) are operated in passenger service.
“There is also an earlier risk of injunctive action to the extent a court accepts QR or the State intends to operate non-compliant (trains) in passenger service (ie even if has not already done so).”
The Government in September gave the trains provisional acceptance and applied to the Australian Human Rights Commission for an exemption from the disability access laws.
It argued that the trains could not be ready in time for the 2018 Commonwealth Games without the exemption.
However, it is still awaiting a decision, with members of the disability sector vowing to challenge the exemption request at the Commission.
Disability advocate Geoff Trappett said he first warned Transport Minister Jackie Trad in 2015 that the trains were non-compliant, but the problems were not addressed until late this year.
Ms Trad yesterday responded to questions about the legal advice by pointing blame at the previous LNP administration for ordering trains that did not comply with disability standards.
“This Government has been fixing Tim Nicholls’ mess and we will be modifying the NGR trains in Maryborough so that they comply with our disability standards,” she said.
This article first appeared on www.couriermail.com.au
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