NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance has apologised to Sydney’s rail users, admitting the train network is a ‘mess’ after the third successive day of cancellations and delays blamed on sick drivers and storm damage, but is refusing to refund passengers for their tickets.
Fronting the press for the first time since widespread delays and cancellations caused crowds so big police had to be called in, Mr Constance apologised to commuters but said he would not be issuing refunds to passengers affected arguing “every dollar” needed to be put towards the system.
Mr Constance blamed the delays on staffing issues and lightning, defending the new timetable he put in place six weeks ago.
He said they working to fix the solution but “couldn’t pull trains and drivers out of thin air”.
“Today I’ve asked Sydney Trains Chief Executive Howard Collins and Transport Secretary Rodd Staples to report to me within a fortnight on how the network can better recover from major incidents with cumulative impacts like we’ve seen over the last few days,” Mr Constance said.
Opposition Leader Luke Foley demanded the government immediately suspend the new timetable and refund customers who had been impacted by the delays. He said commuters who had been forced to take Ubers and taxis because of the chaos should also be refunded.
“The Liberals have failed to adequately resource the train system,” he said.
Thousands were left stranded as the rail system was plunged into chaos, with the situation becoming so dire that Sydney Trains ironically started telling commuters to try to avoid travelling with them altogether.
Transport NSW experienced more problems today with line cancellations and delays this morning due to staff availability issues.
The North Shore Line was the worst affected, with five services cancelled outright by 8:30am as well as extensive delays to other trains.
The Western Line, Airport/South Line and Inner West lines all had one service cancellation while the Leppington line had two as well as other delays while the Cumberland line is experiencing delays only.
Mr Foley was himself caught up in the train chaos at Town Hall station on Tuesday night, saying the situation was “shambolic”.
“Frankly it was a danger to public safety,” he told Network Seven on Wednesday.
Mr Foley says the Berejiklian government needs to fix the transport chaos before spending $2.5 billion of taxpayer’s money on rebuilding two stadiums.
Thousands of furious commuters were left stranded at Sydney’s Central Station in sweltering temperatures last night with eight of the network’s 10 train lines no longer running to a timetable and no expected departure times available.
Crowds became so large that passengers were turned away at some platforms, station stairways at Wynyard were at one stage completely locked off and police were called in to supervise increasingly tense travellers.
While Transport for NSW has blamed the delays and cancellations on lightning strikes and drivers chucking sickies, the train workers’ union labelled the transport crisis a “cover-up” for failures in the new Sydney timetable introduced in November.
Horror commute stories included reports that journeys from Ashfield to Central which usually take just 15 minutes were taking two hours and passengers were thousands of dollars out of pocket after missing flights as a result of the chaos.
Opposition Leader Luke Foley blasted the delays and cancellations as “shambolic”, slamming Transport Minister Andrew Constance for cancelling services on a week in which most Sydneysiders were returning to work from their Christmas holidays.
“Frankly the new timetable isn’t worth the paper it’s written on,” he said.
“Our public transport is shambolic … the Government needs to get back to delivering the key services people rely on.”
However, Mr Constance last night would not confirm whether the State Government would launch a review into the debacle.
“The Minister has been regularly updated throughout the day and is returning to Sydney tonight for further briefings,” a spokeswoman for the minister said.
Rail, Tram and Bus Union secretary Alex Claassens said commuters were being forced to deal with transport chaos “on a daily basis” as a result of the “terribly put together timetable”.
“Management is scrambling to come up with daily excuses for the mess, but the reality is it’s all to do with a poorly put together timetable.
“Rail workers are concerned that the NSW Government’s new train timetable is putting the safety of commuters at serious risk.
“The pressure the new timetable is putting on the system has the potential to impact on other areas of the transport network such as cleaning, fleet maintenance, training and facilities.”
At Central Station last night commuters were crammed in like sardines on the platform, waiting for up to an hour for trains to arrive already packed full of people.
Announcements blamed the delays on “operational issues”.
Nerina Shroff From Hornsby said she had never seen scenes like those at Central Station.
“Usually I would have been home after 45 (minutes) but I am still stuck in the city,” she said.
“I have never seen anything like this. They shouldn’t have scheduled track work this week.”
Jess Floyd left work two hours early to catch a flight to Melbourne but grew increasingly tense as she struggled to get on a train.
“I’m starting to panic,” she said.
“I left work two hours early and I’m still here — just trying to get to the airport it shouldn’t be that hard.”
Sydney Trains and NSW TrainLink last night tweeted recommending commuters “use local bus routes whenever possible” and delay non-essential travel.
Sydney Trains chief executive Howard Collins said the cancellations were due to a driver shortage with between 65 and 75 drivers calling in sick.
He said they were working on recruiting more drivers.
“This is genuine sickness,” Mr Collins said. “People have worked very hard over the Christmas period.”