$4bn ‘bungle’: Massive new train fail
JUST a week after it was discovered that NSW's $2 billion new train fleet will be too wide for the tunnels, the Queensland Government is facing the possibility of having to pull $4bn worth of new trains off the tracks because they are so badly designed, they're basically illegal.
When they were ordered, the then Government crowed about the "New Generation Rollingstock" (NGR) trains being half the price of similar designs.
But the cheap price has brought with it multiple problems including failing air conditioning, issues with the braking and, most damningly, a botched procurement process that saw the Government settle on a design that doesn't meet minimum legal standards, according to The Courier Mail.
The bodge job is so dodge, the trains sport disabled accessible toilets that wheelchairs can't properly fit into.
The Indian-built fleet of 75 trains from Canadian manufacturing giant Bombardier, of which nine have been delivered, could be banned from working on the network.
Queensland Rail (QR) is desperate to avoid that outcome because the trains are due to ferry hundreds of thousands of people to next month's Commonwealth Games.
"It really is a crisis. A massive bungle due to procrastination, obfuscation and gross incompetence," a public transport advocate has told news.com.au. "All hell could break loose."
On Monday, a Brisbane commuter who uses a wheelchair confirmed she was seeking legal advice that could halt the new $4.4bn trains in their tracks.
'A LOT HAS GONE WRONG'
Architect Wendy Lovelace told Fairfax Media she was looking for the Federal Court to slap an injunction on QR to prevent them from operating the train because they failed to meet legal regulations for disabled access.
Incredibly, these standards have been in place since 2002, more than a decade before the trains were even ordered.
Her case has been bolstered by a decision by the Australian Human Rights Commission last week which denied the fleet a temporary exemption from disability discrimination laws.
"The NGR rolling stock has a long and sad history", Robert Dow of public transport users group Rail Back on Track told news.com.au.
"There's a lot going wrong with this project and it's incredible to think the state could order a train that's not compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) when trains have had to be compliant since 2002."
The Government says they have a plan to fix the trains, but disability advocates say that plan can't be trusted.
DISABLED LOO NOT DISABLED ACCESSIBLE
While the trains have been ostensibly built to be disabled accessible, in practice, in key areas they're just not.
The gangways between the fully-accessible seating area and the supposedly disability compliant toilets are too narrow.
Geoff Trappett, a Director at disability policy organisation Inclusion Moves, told news.com.au that even if a passenger with a mobility impairment managed to battle their way to the loo, it's also too small to meet legal requirements.
"The bathroom fails to meet the legislated width from the toilet to the side wall meaning a person with a disability might be unable to transfer from a wheelchair on to the seat.
"They were a discriminatory train when they were built and they still are now."
Mr Trappett said the essence of anti-discrimination law was that someone with a disability should have to go to no more effort than someone able bodied to access a service, a yardstick Queensland's new trains clearly failed.
PARTIES PASS THE BUCK
The opposition LNP are on the State Government's back to fix the problem. But the Palaszczuk Government has pointed out the fleet was ordered under the Newman LNP Government and they have merely inherited the botched trains.
Mr Trappett said both parties were at fault and while the LNP signed the contract for the trains the current Labor administration has had plenty of time to deal with it - and had failed to do so.
Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey told news.com.au the Human Rights Commission's decision was not final until 16 March.
"The Government will review the details of the preliminary decision and make a submission accordingly," he said. "We are getting on with the job of rectifying the NGR, and working with the disability sector.
"There is no question that the design signed off under the former LNP Government is completely unacceptable and it is a very complex engineering and commercial undertaking to make changes to their half-baked $4.4 billion contract."
On the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads (DTMR's) website, it states that "some compliance issues have been identified" with the trains. The Department said it would take 18 to 24 months to fix the trains which will involve removing toilets from some trains, adding extra loos to others, and rearranging the seats.
Mr Trappett, himself a former a Paralympian, said that plan was too vague and it gave him no satisfaction that the trains might be sidelined for the Commonwealth Games.
"There's no clear rectification plan for how these trains will be fixed. If there was to be a plan set in stone then the disability sector may have gone, sure, the Commonwealth Games is big international event, we're happy to come to the party," he said.
"But at the moment, it's a case of the Government saying the disability sector needs to trust us."
COMM GAMES THREAT
He said he was worried giving trains that failed to meet regulations an open ended get out-of-station free card might encourage others to sidestep their legal requirements and beg forgiveness later.
"The issue of these trains being non compliant is a human right issue and that takes precedence over sport in my books," Mr Trappett said.
Mr Dow said if the Government didn't find a solution it could strand passengers heading to the games.
"We're very concerned all hell is going to break loose. It's really a crisis and extremely serious situation badly mismanaged by a number of governments and associated bureaucracies," he said.
"It's a massive bungle and there's been a lot of procrastination, obfuscation and gross incompetence. It's just terrible for us."
Last week, the NSW Government revealed its $2bn new regional train fleet, being built in South Korea, was 20cm wider than the current carriages.
That small difference could have a big impact. It means the new trains could collide with the tunnel walls on their way up to the world famous Blue Mountains.
The Government has proposed simply relaxing current safety standards to allow the trains to run. In addition, 10 tunnels built in the 1900s will be partially modified to allow the new trains to run through unimpeded, a process that could take two years to complete.
Last week, NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley said: "It takes a special type of incompetence to buy trains that don't fit through the tunnels."