Workers at Sydney Trains fear for the health of commuters, warning that maintenance cutbacks have left the rail network vulnerable to serious disruptions that could see passengers trapped in crowded carriages or on busy platforms, putting them at risk of exposure to COVID-19.
The Electrical Trades Union said workers are concerned that surging passenger numbers — as school students return full time and businesses reopen following an easing of social distancing rules — combined with ongoing cuts to rail maintenance were a recipe for disaster.
“As social distancing restrictions are eased, allowing school students to return and businesses to reopen, the last thing we need is train breakdowns causing large numbers of commuters to be stuck together in confined carriages or on crowded platforms,” ETU secretary Justin Page said.
“Last year, reliability issues resulted in dozens of cases of commuters being trapped in trams, train carriages, or station lifts, but the COVID-19 pandemic means situations like those are no longer just frustrating, they pose a serious threat to the health of passengers.
“Our members at Sydney Trains are extremely concerned that savage cutbacks over the last three years, which have seen the direct workforce cut by approximately 10 per cent a year, have left trains and rail infrastructure much more vulnerable to breakdowns and other disruptions.
“Workers report that network maintenance depots are desperately short of staff, that there have been massive cuts to training of specialist tradespeople, and now even the fleet of maintenance vehicles is being reduced.
“In recent months, the massive drop-off in passenger numbers due to social distancing rules has masked these ongoing issues, but a sudden influx of commuters from tomorrow poses a significant threat to the reliability of the rail network.”
Mr Page said the union was urging the NSW Government to immediately reverse the cuts to maintenance on the rail network, with immediate investment in proactive maintenance and infrastructure upgrades to protect commuters from unplanned delays.
“Protecting the public from COVID-19 means protecting people from being in crowded, confined spaces,” he said.
“Delays on the rail network, especially during peak times, will not only see large numbers of people trapped in confined carriages, they quickly lead to overcrowded platforms where social distancing is impossible.
“Protecting the health of commuters, especially when the NSW Government is directly driving the surge in passenger numbers by reopening schools and easing business restrictions, requires proper investment in maintenance to protect the public against delays and breakdown.
“We can’t afford to see a return to the significant reliability issues that occurred last year, when trains and trams were regularly breaking down, but to prevent that happening the NSW Government needs to urgently reverse the cuts to maintenance that were directly responsible for many of these issues.”