NSW ministers at odds over $2.8 billion shut down train fleet

Tudehope’s position put him at odds with Transport Secretary David Elliott, who was also caught off guard by Tudehope’s announcement after six weeks of negotiations with the Rail, Tram and Bus Union.

Elliott reiterated Friday that he intended to take the union’s call for changes to the train fleet to Cabinet, and confirmed that he had requested an audit of the costs.

“I was always open to improvements in the field of safety. If the union could argue that there is a cost-benefit ratio for improvements, I’d certainly be happy to,” Elliott said.

Transportation and Veterans Secretary David Elliott, Treasurer and Energy Secretary Matt Kean, Treasury and Employee Relations Secretary Damien Tudehope view the new intercity fleet at the Kangy Angy Maintenance Center on Friday.Credit:Tom Rabe

“I have said in good faith with the union, ‘I cannot guarantee that ERC will agree to all of your requests, all of your log of claims, but I have promised them in good faith that I will pursue their claims.”

Tudehope estimated the cost of the modifications to allow guards to open the train doors to be about $1 billion, although senior government sources have indicated the cost could be significantly lower.

The dispute between the government and railway unions over the intercity fleet has been going on for three years, and the trains are expected to start operating at the end of 2019.

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While senior members of the state government are reluctant to make changes to the train fleet deemed safe by the Office of Transport Safety, a prolonged standoff with unions will also be costly.

Less than half of the 600 carriages have arrived in NSW, with the state transportation agency already scrambling to find land to hold the idle fleet.

TrainLink NSW chief executive Dale Merrick confirmed that one of the options available to the state was to request the Korean manufacturer to suspend production.

A senior government source also said the ongoing union action had an impact on the construction of the City and Southwest Metro, which has already blown up by the billions.

Tudehope insisted that the train fleet was of high quality and met national and international standards.

The latest breakdown in the negotiations comes after the entire rail network was shut down on February 21, leading to days of transport chaos for commuters.

Although RTBU secretary Alex Claassens said his union would not be urged to make quick strikes, he did not rule out further union action.

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