Cityrail suffered it’s 12th major disruption since February today, that’s 12 disruptions in roughly 12 weeks. While the current government has performed well in other areas, the reliability of the rail network is by far it’s biggest failure in the transport network.
Many of these disruptions might have been prevented via improved maintenance. In fact, 10 of the 12 disruptions were caused at least in part due to problems with overhead wiring, signal breakdowns, or train breakdowns. Opposition Leader John Robertson has blamed this on the government’s decision to cut the state’s 4,700 rail maintenance staff by 450 positions, announced in Novermber of last year.
Mr Robertson is absolutely right to be concerned about insufficient maintenance, particularly if improved maintenance proves to be an effective way of preventing many of the disruptions on the rail network. But he is wrong to put the blame on the cuts, given that as of 22 April the process was only at the consultation phase and no actual staff cuts have yet occurred.
The government has argued that its changes are a result of consolidating the number of maintenance depots from 130 to 8, and that the cuts are only the elimination of any duplication of services and updating of out-dated work practices, rather than a reduction in capacity. If the poor reliability is due to current maintenance practices, then these changes might provide the improvements that are needed, given the current system has not prevented the numerous disruptions. Or they may not. Only time will tell.
Also of concern is the decision to turn efficiencies into cost savings rather than increased maintenance capacity. If reliability is down because of maintenance, then surely one solutions could be to increase resourcing to maintenance.
Finally, it’s worth remembering that not all disruptions are preventable. When prevention isn’t possible, then all which can be done is to minimise the impact. Further sectorisation would achieve this.
Right now, the lines which use the Eastern Suburbs Line (known as Sector 1), those which use the City Circle (known as Sector 2), and those which cross the Harbour Bridge (known as Sector 3) are mostly segregated from each other, which means a delay or disruption on one does not spill over onto the other. But Sectors 2 and 3 share a portion of track between Granville and Homebush, and so are not entirely separated. This has meant that in 4 of the 12 major disruptions listed above, delays on Sector 3 have spilled over onto Sector 2, or vice versa.
Fixing this would probably require all city bound trains from Parramatta to run express between Granville and Strathfield during peak hour, but would provide tangible improvements to reliability. This could happen as soon as October, when a new timetable that has been written from scratch comes into operation. A draft of this timetable appears to have already been completed, though not yet released or leaked to the public.