NSW rail union continues its campaign for safe trains

July 6, 2022
The rail union is concerned about passengers' safety. Photo: Government News

The New South Wales Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) is continuing its industrial campaign to pressure the NSW Coalition government to agree to install safety measures on the New InterCity Fleet (NIF) between Sydney, Newcastle, Lithgow and Wollongong.

The union wants the government to agree to a binding, written guarantee that the government will modify the South Korean-built NIF trains, which it says are unsafe for rail workers and commuters.

The union warned the government about the problems in February 2020. But Transport for NSW has denied that there’s a problem with traction interlocking on doors, saying it is a “design safety feature”. The RTBU said an independent report in 2020 found the proposed operating model, which relies on CCTV, is “not as safe as current practices and does not address good practice in the industry for intercity operations”.

It was discovered in 2019 that the potentially deadly design flaw was that train guards were not able to adequately monitor passengers embarking and disembarking. The trains, which cost $2.43 million, rely almost entirely on CCTV, with no audio to monitor passengers’ movements.  A guard does not have to remain inside the current intercity fleet to check on safety.

The new design also prevents the driver opening their door during the critical 15 seconds before the train departs. This means that they would not be able to find out quickly if a passenger had become caught, or was being dragged.

The independent safety report into the NIF in November 2020 found that there “will be an unacceptable risk to the travelling public if the NSW Trains proposed operating model is implemented”, particularly for “the most vulnerable of the travelling public, children and movement impaired passengers”.

The new design also allows the train to be, hypothetically, operated by a single driver with no guards — another of the RTBU’s concerns.

As part of their industrial action, the RTBU is refusing to drive either overseas built or privatised trains. This meant that 70% of Sydney’s network was out of service on July 1. Industrial action on July 6 meant Sydney Trains ran at around 60% of capacity and more action is planned for July 8.

The RTBU took action on July 6 after the government failed to get the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to order the union back to work. RTBU state secretary Alex Claassens welcomed the FWC decision, describing it as “significant”.

“The Fair Work Commission has today sided with the Rail, Tram and Bus Union and agreed it should continue the protected industrial action planned for the coming days.” However, it said the dispute was not over yet and that “we are going to fight it with everything we have”, the RTBU said.

An RTBU message to members on July 5, before the FWC hearing, reported the union had been unable to reach a resolution during conciliation. It said the employers had “once again back flipped” by demanding the union vote for an inadequate enterprise agreement before it signed off on the NIF safety modifications.

The union has been campaigning for a new EA since the middle of last year. It wants a fair pay rise and an end to the government’s plans to privatise the rail network, as well as safety issues on the NIF taken seriously.

Transport minister David Elliott had offered some concessions on June 29, including spending $264 million on additional safety measures, but Claassens said he must put the promise in writing, as he has reneged on offers before. “This isn’t the first time the NSW government has promised it will fix the safety issues. Rail workers and commuters have been burnt too many times.”

Elliott has also offered $3000 bonuses to rail workers, described by the RTBU as “bribes”, to return to work. It has been rejected by the union.

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