Sign the petition for free replacement bus services here.
Residents in my electorate are furious that the Inner West Light Rail will be shut down for up to a year and half, but it is every New South Wales resident that should be angry. The discovery that all 12 of the light rail tram sets purchased by the Liberal Government from Spanish company CAF are riddled with cracks, speaks volumes about this Government's broken transport procurement policy.
This Liberal Government has spent our public money buying overseas trains that do not fit the tracks, ferries that do not fit under bridges and cannot sail at night, and now light rail vehicles that are falling apart beneath passengers' feet. The legacy of those opposite is privatisation and offshoring.
Their preference is to buy cheap and shift the blame—and now passengers are paying the price. With their light rail service shut down, they are forced onto slower replacement buses for up to a year and a half.
The inner west loves its light rail service. It winds along an old freight line, with 23 stops that connect key centres across the inner west and bring people into the city.
Since the Dulwich Hill extension was opened in 2014 it has become the mode of choice for inner westies who enjoy the scenic route, the relative dependability and accessibility and the direct connection to the city. Bushcare groups care for the precious patches of green along the line and cyclists and walkers are loving the new inner west GreenWay that is rolling out alongside the route.
The line is popular with people who work in the city and also with the thousands of students who use it to get to and from school. Over the years, passengers became increasingly impatient with the crush on the line.
Patronage grew from 3.9 million in 2013‑14 to over 10 million in 2017‑18. Too often the light rail would turn up to stations crammed full, late or cancelled altogether.
Thanks to community pressure, the Government eventually announced that it was looking to buy additional trams to meet the surging demand. However, the community was disappointed to have to wait two years more before the vehicles became available.
Now we learn that right when we thought additional vehicles would be coming on line, residents will instead be forced onto replacement buses jamming their way through narrow, winding streets. The situation beggars belief.
How did we get here? The first segments of the Inner West Light Rail opened in 1997, serviced by seven Variotrams built in Victoria. Under the O'Farrell Government, those trams were slowly replaced by CAF Urbos 3s, all of which were built in Spain. This is the basis for the modern Inner West Light Rail fleet, purchased for a total cost of around $40 million.
The new vehicles for the Inner West Light Rail promised by the Government are also constructed by CAF, as are the vehicles for the new Parramatta Light Rail Stage 1. CAF also built the trams used on the Newcastle Light Rail. Interestingly, the Government opted for a French company when purchasing trams for the CBD and South East Light Rail, meaning we have got trams operating on the Eastern Suburbs light rail that cannot help stranded inner west passengers because the systems are completely incompatible.
Back when the New South Wales Government announced it was purchasing new light rail vehicles for the Inner West Light Rail line, Labor asked the Government why the trams were not being built here. The response stated:
Following a competitive tender process, CAF represented the best value for NSW taxpayers. CAF LVRs are world-class with proven technology.
They must be holding their head in their hands now.
Former Premier Gladys Berejiklian once said, "Australia and New South Wales are not good at building trains, that's why we have to purchase them." However, here we have these overseas-built trams with such major problems that they are now being decommissioned. The cracks are in the wheel wells of every single tram in the fleet. Some of those cracks are wide enough to drop a coin in. We now know that these cracks "appear to have some longevity", raising genuine questions about maintenance and oversight.
This is what happens when you offshore manufacturing and privatise our transport system: corners get cut and passengers lose out.
Passengers who rely on the Inner West Light Rail are now paying the price for the Government's poor transport procurement policies and for its privatisation of transport services. We have got shoddy transport infrastructure made overseas.
Passengers are paying the price and it is not good enough. The least the Government can do is make travel on these slower replacement bus services free.
There is a better way. We know we can build great public transport infrastructure here in New South Wales. We have built trains, trams and buses here before.
We can create jobs and we can build the public transport infrastructure that the public can truly rely on.
Right now the residents of the inner west are devastated that they have lost their service—and it is not good enough.