Sydney’s rail network is deteriorating due to the rising maintenance backlog

According to the preliminary findings of a review, the performance of Sydney’s troubled rail network will deteriorate without any maintenance action being taken to address the growing backlog of defects.

The preliminary review of repeated failures across Sydney’s rail network blames a major rail timetable change and industrial action last year that delayed repairs.

Sydney's major train stations were swamped with commuters in March when the system's digital radios went out.

Sydney’s major train stations were swamped with commuters in March when the system’s digital radios went out.Credit: Brook Mitchell, Sam Mooy, Wolter Peeters

The report found that the reliability and resilience of the Sydney Trains network had been “fragile” since the launch of the new rail timetable in 2017, causing significant disruption to traffic in the months following its launch.

“[The new timetable] was far too narrow to effectively maintain services, ensure post-incident resilience and allow adequate access for rail infrastructure maintenance,” the report said.

The independent review warns that the performance of Sydney Trains’ rail infrastructure is “likely to deteriorate” due to projected maintenance work and that major action is urgently needed to address the growing backlog of deficiencies.

“The focus has been on addressing safety-critical and safety-related maintenance deficiencies, but current projections … will take a long time to recover from the entire maintenance backlog,” it said.

Figures show that the backlog of infrastructure-related defects has risen to about 37,000 this year, up from about 23,000 five years ago. There are currently 1265 critical defects in the rail network.

While much of the blame is pinned on the rail timetable, the report said there was a “sudden and significant increase” in the backlog of infrastructure inspections from mid-2021 to mid-2022 due to the ongoing labor dispute between the former government and rail unions .

Justin Scaccy

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