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The state's top transport officials were warned to delay the recent timetable changes for Sydney's stretched rail network until early this year after independent experts found “simply too many underlying issues which have not been fixed”, a high-level report reveals.
The “sensitive” report, obtained by the Herald using freedom of information laws, also details tensions and resentment between transport agencies, and an unwillingness to relay information to mid-level managers for fear of “politically-difficult leaks”.
Despite the warnings, the new timetable was introduced on November 26, and later partly blamed for widespread delays and cancellations on Sydney's rail network in December and January. Sydney Trains has since cut some train services to make the timetable more reliable.
The UK consultants who wrote the report were commissioned by Transport for NSW to assess plans to introduce the new timetable as early as October last year and rate its chance of success.
Following their investigation, they urged senior officials to delay it by several months until early this year due to a “substantial risk of failing to deliver the level of performance which the public will expect”.
Their report warned there was “little room” for rail systems or obsolete equipment, such as signalling, to fail before the “service might disintegrate substantially”, especially during the afternoon peak. This is, in effect, what occurred.
The final report by London's Railway Consultancy was handed to Transport for NSW in March last year. As well as citing concerns about the practical difficulties of the timetable, the report reveals divides and communication gaps within and between transport agencies.
The report reveals 'resentment and unhappiness” at Sydney Trains towards the lead agency, Transport for NSW.
Photo: Ryan StuartOne was an unwillingness by Sydney Trains' senior management to pass on “sufficient detail” to middle managers.
“One of the reasons for this is political concern about bad publicity which might emanate from the identification of ′losers’ (passenger journeys likely to get worse),” the report says.
“However, the confidentiality imperative (to avoid politically-difficult leaks) has unfortunately led to insufficient consultation during the process, and the ability of other rail staff to contribute to, or challenge, the timetable development.”
The report also raised concerns that “political worries about particular groups of passengers being disadvantaged” limited the amount of information shared between the lead agency, Transport for NSW, and Sydney Trains.
A second concern was the relationship between Transport for NSW and Sydney Trains. Much of the detailed planning for the new timetable occurred within Transport for NSW's rail service delivery office, which employs more than 100 people, rather than Sydney Trains. This led to tensions between planners at the two agencies.
The confidentiality imperative (to avoid politically-difficult leaks) has unfortunately led to insufficient consultation.
The report by London's Railway Consultancy for Transport for NSW
There was “certainly some resentment and unhappiness” at Sydney Trains, the report said. This could have been due to poaching of staff by Transport for NSW, as well as people who were previously at a higher level “now seemingly on the receiving end of instructions”.
But Sydney Trains executive director Tony Eid said the report was outdated and written about an early draft of the timetable, which went through nine further drafts before final implementation.
“While we didn’t agree with everything the report said, it helped us identify a number of actions that were closed out before the timetable was implemented,” he said in a statement.
Mr Eid said the timetable was pushed back by six weeks from last October, and both Sydney Trains and Transport for NSW agreed a start date in November was the best option.
“There were no issues that stopped Transport for NSW and Sydney Trains working together effectively,” he said. “Any suggestion otherwise is simply wrong.”
In relation to the timetable, the report's authors found that “there clearly are concerns about the probability of its success”, cautioning that “matters can turn nasty very quickly in the political environment and may be irrecoverable for many years”.
“Unsuccessful timetables are remembered, and this one cannot afford to fail,” they wrote.
“We believe there to be a wide range of operating consequences which will be barely satisfactory, leaving [Sydney Trains and Transport for NSW] at the mercy of equipment failures, random incidents, adverse passenger comment and political interference.”
Leaked documents have previously revealed that Sydney Trains warned before the timetable was introduced that delays were likely to be “cumulative and irrecoverable” during peak periods following incidents.
Sydney Trains' key indicator of success is the percentage of trains arriving within five minutes of scheduled times. That emphasis on punctuality, the British experts said, could lead to “services being planned and operated without due consideration of a rail service which passengers are known to find important” such as journey times.
They recommended senior managers improve the “KPI system so that railway management address a wider range of outcomes rather than just ‘% on time’”.
The timetable will undergo further changes ahead of the closure of the Epping-to-Chatswood line on September 30 for seven months, when it will be converted to carry single-deck metro trains as part of a $20 billion-plus project. Next year, temporary closures of the Bankstown line will also begin to allow for construction of a metro line from Sydenham to Bankstown.
In their report, the British consultants did warn that a “more complex stopping pattern” at stations under the new timetable for trains on the Bankstown line, “before then migrating to a higher frequency/slower metro-type service, is rather illogical”. They said local and political opposition to “metroising” the Bankstown line could turn into disapproval of the new timetable, and “needs to be ‘headed off’ by communications in the very near future”.
This article first appeared on www.smh.com.au
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