Blue Mountains MP Trish Doyle attacks decision to build new train fleet overseas

Member for Blue Mountains, Trish Doyle, has described the Baird Government’s decision to build the new Intercity fleet overseas as a “slap in the face” to Australian manufacturing workers.

Ms Doyle said she also feared the new trains for the Blue Mountains line are “off-the-shelf” models that aren’t designed with local conditions and passenger expectations in mind.

The government has awarded a $2.3 billion contract to an overseas consortium that will build the new trains in South Korea.

Local companies with Australian manufacturing plants tendered for the contract to build the 512 train carriages, but were overlooked by NSW transport minister, Andrew Constance. 

“The Liberal Government know the price of everything and the value of nothing. We have local designers, local manufacturing workers, with decades of knowledge and expertise who are ready to build high quality, modern trains,” Ms Doyle said.

Opposition leader Luke Foley laid the blame at the feet of the Premier, Mike Baird.

“Up to 1200 jobs that should have been created in NSW will never eventuate thanks to Mr Baird,” Mr Foley said.

“It’s disgraceful that a contract of this size did not mandate local materials and local skills.”

The Andrews Labor Government in Victoria has a specific policy which mandates at least 50 per cent local content in all rolling stock orders.

The new trains will replace the ageing V-Set trains, and ply routes between Central, the Blue Mountains, the Illawarra and the Hunter regions. One tenderer, Swiss train builder Stadler, had proposed a new manufacturing plant in Wollongong that would build and maintain the new trains, creating 600 new Australian jobs.

“The fact that our V-Set carriages are around 40 years old and still running hundreds of services every day shows that Australian workers can design and build great trains, fit for local conditions. They have had a bit of a bad reputation in recent years because the Liberal Government sacked the maintenance workers, but generally speaking, the V-Sets have served us well,” Ms Doyle said.

“I am concerned that the new trains are “off-the-shelf” models that aren’t designed with our local conditions and passenger expectations in mind.

“I’ve asked questions on notice in Parliament about the new trains with specific queries about size, length, compatibility with the Blue Mountains platforms and tunnels, but the minister has dismissed these questions with wishy-washy answers that show he either doesn’t know, or doesn’t care to find out what the answers are.”

The first of the 512 double-deck train carriages to be rolled off the assembly line in South Korea are expected to begin services in 2019.

The new trains will feature two-by-two seating on upper and lower decks, cup holders and tray tables and charging stations for mobile phones. They will also include toilets accessible for the disabled, and dedicated storage space.

In response to questions from the Gazette, a spokesman for Transport for NSW confirmed the trains won’t have Wi-Fi initially, or reversible seating.

“We’ve consulted with passengers to find out what they wanted and incorporated a lot of this feedback, including two by two seating to provide extra room, tray tables and charging stations for mobile devices into the early designs,” said the spokesman.

“Reversible seating could only have been accommodated by significantly compromising on comfort and seating amenities. Customer feedback indicated that comfort was a key priority.”

The spokesman said the trains will be Wi-Fi enabled “so that we’re in a position to make this feature operational should that decision be taken in the future”.

Defending the decision for the carriages to be built in South Korea, Transport Minister Andrew Constance said more than 200 jobs would be created to maintain the trains.

"This is the best outcome for taxpayers," he said. "Very pleasingly there is an Australian partner delivering Australian jobs as part of this consortium.

"In this case the procurement stacks up – it's a 25 per cent saving by going with this consortium. I will hold them to account as they work through the procurement."

UGL's consortium partners, South Korea's Hyundai Rotem will design, manufacture, test and commission the carriages.

Transport authorities in the US state of Pennsylvania were recently forced to temporarily remove from service a third of 360 carriages Hyundai Rotem was responsible for designing and building.

However, NSW TrainLink chief executive Rob Mason said he was "very confident" Hyundai and the other consortium member, Mitsubishi Electric, "will deliver us a very, very safe, reliable and comfortable train".

"Commissioning will be done here in Australia," he said. "We won't be allowing the train onto the system until it is safe and reliable."

He also emphasised the consortium had successfully delivered more than 4000 train carriages to New York railway operators.

Mr Mason said the trains would have automatic door settings to ensure people could not exit the carriages when they were not beside a station platform.

- with Matt O’Sullivan, smh.com.au