Beleaguered Sydney train travellers have learnt a new phrase this month – “cascading anomalies”.
When IT failures triggered an unprecedented collapse in the rail network’s computer systems on 16 August, including those that locate trains on the network, coordinate the rostering systems and provide information to passengers, it created a perfect storm.
The network was crippled, leaving tens of thousands of frustrated passengers stranded.
Despite hollow assurances that this incident would not be repeated, the government agency responsible, Transport for NSW, remains uncertain about the cause. All they seem to know is that there were “anomalies”. And that from 6am they started to cascade.
This is what passes for normal on the Sydney rail network these days.
There was even greater chaos last January. Over two days, thousands of peak hour commuters were left stranded for hours on the platforms of city stations. Sydney Trains bosses blamed the meltdown on everything from the weather to too many drivers calling in sick.
Curiously, they did not blame their much-vaunted new timetable, introduced in November to commuter cynicism and warnings from rail unions that understaffing would make it impossible to operate without unsustainable levels of overtime.
As one weary traveller tweeted, “existing staff shortages + unpopular new timetables + weather = chaos”.
Sydney trains have been severely understaffed for more than a year. Not enough new drivers and train crew have been trained as a cost-cutting measure by the government and management.
Dangerous overcrowding is the daily norm during peak hour at Wynyard and Town Hall stations. Many stations still have no lifts.
There is no cause for optimism about the NSW government’s capacity to solve the state’s transport problems. Its latest train purchase speaks volumes about the anarchic and unplanned nature of capitalism, and about how little concern the system has for working class people, whether rail workers or passengers.
$2.3 billion worth of new trains have been ordered from South Korea. The problem is that they are 20cm too wide to go through the tunnels between Springwood and Lithgow.
The minimum clearance between the carriage and any tunnel walls for NSW trains is currently 20cm – to allow carriages to safely sway and tilt on bends. Transport for NSW has come up with a brilliant solution: relax the current safety standards.
This logic adds life-threatening danger to the list of indignities NSW commuters are expected to put up with while trying to move around without a car.