In May 2012, Gladys Berejiklian announced ‘Fixing the Trains’ a one off transport revolution to fix the growing problems within RailCorp and the running of the rail network in general. Two years have passed and Fixing the Trains seems to have concluded and now be replaced with a Customers First initiative shown on all new media releases from this year. So after two years of organizational and a business culture change, was it all really worth it at the end and did Fixing the Trains really fix the trains. We take a look back at all the changes from May 2012 to the end of 2013.
We begin in Feb 2012 where at the time RailCorp required $3.7 billion a year to survive and faced rising organisational costs. That’s a lot compared to other rail organisations around the world that run more larger and dense networks for much less the cost. At the time, unless there was major reform the system would collapse with you and me forking the bill. David Callahan, the former CEO of Sydney Ferries was to lead the reform.
In May 2012, Gladys Berejiklian announced at Central Station ‘Fixing the Trains’ which involved three major changes to the existing running of the rail network. Firstly, splitting RailCorp’s running of the rail network into two organisations, Sydney Trains and NSW Trains (operating as NSW Trainlink) and leave RailCorp in charge of rail fleet and asset management bit like VicTrack. A few internal changes were also announced including a Customer Service Division and other functions of RailCorp moving to Transport for NSW. Also, a new division – Transport Cleaning Services was created to manage the cleaning of rail fleet. The announcement was also highlighting numerous problems with RailCorp itself including “Red Tape holds up Cleaning Pole” and the past problems of implementing a new uniform at CityRail in 2008. The other major change was within RailCorp itself. RailCorp was sent to the shearers with every top and middle management job under review. As well, RailCorp existing transit officers were also scrapped in favour of a small Police Transport Command force and Transport Officers. By the end, the cost was 750 voluntary redundancies with the correct number uncertain.
In June 2012, the NSW Government released “Sydney’s Rail Future’, a new transport plan for the rail network calling for major changes since the previous transport plan released by Kristina Keneally in 2010. The big change was the reintroduction of rapid transit starting with the North West Rail Link, a future second harbour crossing and extension to Cabramatta via Bankstown and Hurstville. Despite being the first rail-centric plan for Sydney since 1995, the plan drew criticism based on the force interchange at Chatswood, capacity constraints, single deck trains and tunnel changes. Sandy Thomas, a member of the Sydney Morning Herald’s 2009–10 Independent Public Inquiry into a Long Term Public Transport Plan for Sydney recommended in “1855 Revisited” for Gladys Berejiklian to “veto the lunatic attempt by her bureaucrats to quietly create a multiple “loading gauge” rail network in Sydney through the specification of unnecessarily small and steep tunnels on the North West Rail Link.”.
Other initiatives were introduced till the end of 2012 as part of the Fixing the Trains program. In August 2012, all rail staff on the Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra Line were sent to radio school to learn “best way to deliver clear, consistent and accurate announcements to customers. “ and the trial of Quiet Carriages on some Intercity services was made a permanent feature on all lines.
Blue Mountains services were extended to Bathurst and additional services on some lines were added to the October 2012 timetable and platform marshalling otherwise known today as a Fast Track Platform was announced starting at Town Hall. In November 2012, RailCorp’s existing maintenance services in Bathurst, Strathfield and Taree were accessed for private sector management and the Taree Beradze business was shut due to low demand for timber sleepers resulting in 5 redundancies. As well, more details of the Fixing the Trains initiatives were announced for Sydney Trains and NSW Trains including accessing the performance of assisting customers, consolidation of small maintenance depots into larger “centres of excellence” and better WHS practises.
However one big announcement that came at the end of August was the worldwide search for the new CEO of Sydney Trains and NSW Trains. You beg to ask, who in their right mind would take on the massive job of fixing and outdated and struggling rail network in NSW? In May 2013, Howard Collins who has worked for the London Underground for 35 years and was the current CEO who received an Order of the British Empire for his running of the network during the 2012 London Olympics became Mr Fix-it and took on the position as Sydney Trains CEO. Howard Collins said: “There was a time when everyone spoke negatively about the Tube, until customers started to experience real change. Reliable services, safe and clean trains and stations, good real time information, and visible and proactive staff who are empowered to fix problems they encounter there and then – that’s how we turned around perceptions in the UK. Those are the areas we’ll be focusing on at Sydney Trains.” The current head of RailCorp, Rob Mason became the CEO of NSW Trains.
Fixing the Trains was carried on into the new year. In February 2013, real time data was to became available for the first time with three apps (now six) commissioned to use the data and Real time data was launched in April on most lines with the rest of the network to follow in the coming weeks In April 2013, the $790 million Kingsgrove to Revesby Quadruplication was opened which began under the former government but with a budget blowout and not opening at its projected finish date. Also, mobile coverage was available for the first time at underground platforms within the City Circle with the ESR soon to follow (in 2014).
In April 2013, Gladys Berejiklian announced at Central Station with some fanfare the introduction of a new uniform for Sydney Trains and NSW Trains staff as well as the announcement of ‘The Hop’ transport branding. Seen as a visual to era in a new changing culture in the railways, the uniforms caused criticism by some staff and the unions with the absence of shorts and at one time mandatory skirts. The new logo also got criticised for its cost and its remembrance to a sports organisation. Clinton Duncan of the branding blog Brand New said “Perhaps when a designer or agency is faced with the prospect of seeing their work on signage, vehicle livery, and a myriad of other places, every day, they go that extra mile to make sure it’s something they can be proud of. Or at the very least ensure it doesn’t suck.”
In April 2013, Gladys Berejiklian announced $60 million into eight new maintenance centres of excellence and four satellite sites to replace 130 disjointed maintenance depots to reduce maintenance costs and follow a successful initiative previously done by Metro Trains Melbourne. A number of additional initiatives were also announced before the launch of Sydney and NSW Trains including the roll-out of the Waratah trains, a $3.5 million cleaning blitz on carriages and trains, increased presence of the Police Transport Command to stop graffiti and seating configuration trials on some Tanagra carriages.
July 2013 arrives and CityRail and CountryLink are no more. The L7 logo is retired after more than 40 years and two new rail operators start operating since the last major rail organisational change in 2004. As Gladys Berejiklian puts it “Sydney Trains is not RailCorp in disguise”. Other major changes since the introduction of Sydney Trains and NSW Trainlink included the re-introduction of bins, a First Impressions Count initiative, New electronic departure screens and other smaller changes.
Like 2012, Other initiatives were introduced till the end of 2013 as part of the Fixing the Trains program. The largest one being the 2013 Timetable to restore cuts made from 2005 and commission completed projects as part of the Rail Clearways program. As much as timetable introduced extra services and a new T numbering system, the timetable still attracted criticism on the Inner West cuts and changing stopping patterns. The removal of timetable posters at stations also received criticism.
Other changes included changes to XPT maintenance, expansion of the Fast Track platform, new track maintenance machines and new advertising contracts.. By the end of 2013, the rail network was able to cope with the International Fleet Review and by 2014, Sydney Trains experienced strong performance  since the change in July. Fast forward to today and ‘Fixing the Trains’ is gone, now replaced with ‘Customers First’, a new program to “deliver benefits to customers”.
So after two years of change, did Fixing the Trains really do anything? The answer is mixed depending on how you look at it. On one side, yes Fixing the Trains did something that no government has ever embarked in NSW for the past 30 years and that was end the mismanagement and problems within the rail network and make the organisation run more like as successful business to provide a service/utility to the public. It also changed the business culture and made staff feel more proud of where they worked, it was a sign of a new start, remove past failures and start a new page.
On the other hand, a majority (mainly commuters) saw Fixing the Trains as a mere political slogan rather than actual reform. Not all initiatives were forthcoming with many hammered down with criticism from unions, the opposition, transport advocate groups and commuters themselves with many coming to a conclusion of ‘no hope’ for the rail network. Two major changes, the North West Rail Link and the 2013 Timetable still attract major criticism today with some wanting to roll back the changes. As well, a majority of commuters still see the current problems that affect the rail network before the changes; late and crowded trains, dirty carriages and lack of information.
Whatever may you see it, it’s nothing going to be fixed tomorrow and both sides of the argument agree on that phase entirely. So long as there is an increase in funding and its going where it’s needed most, we will get to see a much better rail network in Sydney that for the first time can act like the first choice of travel rather than the last choice. Till then, it was something.