Transport for NSW warned about an outdated system a year ago

Labor Transport spokeswoman Jo Haylen said the Liberal Government was warned a year ago that components in the digital train radio system were already obsolete. “They knew this could endanger the entire train network but not enough has been done because there is no accountability. Passengers are once again paying the price because nobody knows who’s in charge,” she said.


Sydney Trains said it has continuously reviewed systems life cycle management and in 2021 found parts of the digital train radio system would become obsolete over the next five years. “Transport for NSW and Sydney Trains are collaborating on a plan for a major technology upgrade for train radio systems while the current system continues to function reliably,” a spokesman said. “The [digital train radio] System is regularly updated.”

When asked if train drivers would be given handheld radios, Sydney Trains said it was not uncommon for analogue radio to be used as an additional backup.

Transport experts and unions have warned that last week’s meltdown underscores underinvestment in Sydney’s double-decker train network, particularly in track maintenance.

Mathew Hounsell, a researcher at the University of Technology Transport Research Center, said the next government needs to invest in Sydney’s heavy rail network and “not just flashy new subways”. “Keeping the city’s major trains running requires a program of continued capital investment,” he said.


The Electrical Trades Union, whose members include railway workers, said Sydney commuters’ confidence in the reliability of the train network was hanging by a thread due to chronic underinvestment in maintenance.

“This is an absolute letdown. But it is a logical consequence to treat the train network as an irritating line item in a budget paper and not as a critical public benefit,” said union Secretary Allen Hicks. “It’s time to end the cycle of cuts and outsourcing and rebuild Sydney Trains’ in-house capacity.”

However, the rail operator says it carries out a major maintenance program across the rail network each year, citing $800 million in work so far this fiscal year.

The digital train radio system became operational in 2016 after years of delays and was the result of important safety recommendations from an investigation into the 2003 Waterfall train disaster, which killed seven people.

The Rail Tram and Bus Union said train drivers would be given handheld radios as a short-term contingency plan following last week’s system failure. “A system as important as the NSW train network needs to have contingency arrangements in place so that we can get things back up and running quickly if anything goes wrong,” said a union spokesman.

Transport Secretary David Elliott was asked for comment.

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Justin Scacco

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