Illawarra MP demands action over train network ‘debacle’

BUSY: Overcrowding at Town Hall station during peak hour on Tuesday evening. A lack of staff, plus damage to rail infrastructure caused by lightning, led to long queues and overcrowding at major Sydney stations. Picture: Louie Douvis
BUSY: Overcrowding at Town Hall station during peak hour on Tuesday evening. A lack of staff, plus damage to rail infrastructure caused by lightning, led to long queues and overcrowding at major Sydney stations. Picture: Louie Douvis

An Illawarra Labor MP has lashed out at the NSW government’s handling of major train delays across the Sydney network this week, and expressed fears the commuter crush could extend down the line to Wollongong.

A lack of staff, plus damage to rail infrastructure caused by lightning strikes, led to long queues and overcrowding at major Sydney stations including Central, Wynyard and Town Hall on Tuesday.

Commuters were told to delay non-essential travel or take buses to ease pressure on the train network.

No South Coast Line delays were reported on Tuesday evening, but Labor’s Illawarra spokesman Ryan Park said the Sydney chaos was “a debacle” for Illawarra commuters “caught in an absolute crush” on platforms.

“Some of those images are actually frightening. If you’ve got young children, particularly during the holiday period, for the elderly, that is a scary time,” Mr Park said.

On Wednesday, Transport Minister Andrew Constance thanked commuters for their patience, apologised for the “major inconvenience caused” and ordered Sydney Trains to report on how the network can “better recover from major incidents”.

Sydney Trains boss Howard Collins and Transport for NSW secretary Rodd Staples have been asked to report to the minister within a fortnight. 

Mr Park, who is also the Member for Keira, said the report was “not enough”.

“What we need to see is the timetable halted, because clearly that's not working when you’re seeing the catastrophes of the last two days and the dramas that commuters have had to experience,” he said on Wednesday.

“We have a timetable that doesn’t work and we urgently need a plan from the government to deliver more train drivers, and that means an injection of funding, and we need to see that sooner rather than later.”

New train timetables were introduced across the Sydney network in November. 

Mr Park said the Berejiklian government was on the wrong track with its $2.5 billion spend on Sydney stadium rebuilds and called for the money to be redirected towards adequately resourcing the Sydney train network.

On Monday, at least 18 services had to be cancelled due to insufficient numbers of drivers and guards.

Asked if he was concerned the commuter crush could extend down the line to stations as far afield as Wollongong, Mr Park said: “There’s no reason why that can’t occur and that’s the big problem here.”

“When you are so heavily reliant on a network to get so many thousands of people to and from where they need to go everyday, I want to make sure that we’ve got a system that is as robust and as strong as possible,” he said.

“Clearly the last two days show there needs to be big improvements.” 

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