Off the rails

Let it be known that I am not a big fan of the Cityrail network in Sydney. The system employs archaic, uncomfortable trains on some lines whilst newer trains run on lines closer to the Sydney CBD, the on time record is well below what patrons want, and in the midst of chaos such as the major delays on the Sydney Harbour Bridge last week it exposes the well known fact that Sydney has an unreliable train infrastructure.

After returning from a long period of holidays, Morris Iemma, the “part time premier” of NSW, has set an ultimatum to his Transport Minister John Watkins, Railcorp chief Vince Graham, and effectively all employees of the rail network – fix it up or else heads will roll.

This is all well and good in theory, but news sources are reporting that the press conference held yesterday was a rather uneasy affair, with Iemma failing to make any sort of mention how things would be achieved. I quote from the story linked to above:

“There will be change. Those that want to change will be around, those who don’t will be left behind,” Mr Iemma said.

“There will be no place in the organisation for those who don’t want to change.”

This is hardly visionary dialogue from a man whose role is to oversee the state of New South Wales and take a hands on approach to fixing the state’s issues. NSW voters will undoubtedly remember the slogan that Iemma adopted in the leadup to March’s State election: “There’s plenty to do, but we’re heading in the right direction”. In the area of public transport infrastructure alone, the Labor government has succeeded in ensuring that an already beleagured rail system has only backslided into more problems, reductions in good customer service (one case in point being a quadriplegic rail passenger stranded on the Harbour Bridge train told by a Cityrail phone operator that he’d have to wait 3 days to be rescued), and embarrassing organisational contradictions. Heading in the right direction? If that direction involved a catastrophic derailment, then yes, they’re living up to their billing.

Add to this the revelation that new trains planned for future Cityrail operation do not have adequate emergency access and egress for disabled patrons and all I see is a continued freefall into organisational oblivion. How does this get fixed? Well, Premier Iemma needs to act and do so with authority and assurance, not only for the people directly involved in the rail industry, but for the taxpayers and rail users who will soon face fare increases to travel on a network that they can’t trust. If it involves privatisation, then let it be so.

But Iemma can’t afford to mince his words, or try and sidestep the issue. His position doesn’t allow him to rely overwhelmingly on political spin to appease the people who re-elected his government (and those, such as myself, who didn’t) – he needs to view the residents of New South Wales as his boss and do whatever needs to be done fairly in order to provide world class infrastructure. If there is going to be change, what will that change entail? How long will Sydney commuters have to put up with the effects of this unrest?

Don’t just talk tough, Morris – follow through.

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