COMMUTERS can expect chaos on Sydney’s trains this Thursday with 1300 trains set to be cut and a Saturday timetable put in place.
Talks over a planned rail strike on Monday — the first this century — are in deadlock, so the NSW government has had to make arrangements regardless of today’s outcome.
Sydney and NSW Trains management has come to the table with an offer the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) NSW will put to its members.
The 24-hour strike on Monday will only go ahead if RTBU members reject the proposal union bosses are putting to them.
Considering how much chaos just 70 drivers calling in sick caused a few weeks back, the Thursday cuts alone could have a serious effect, and a full-on strike could bring Sydney to a standstill.
Already, companies have been drawing up contingency plans. Some are letting staff work from home or paying for cabs. Others have suggested workers take a day of annual leave if they really can’t get in.
The crux of the issue is pay. The RTBU wants staff to have a six per cent pay increase every year for four years — Sydney Trains has offered half that.
The NSW Government has even threatened to take legal action to force staff to work.
So, what’s going to happen on Thursday?
Quite simply, the normal weekday timetable is unsustainable without overtime. An “indefinite overtime ban” is scheduled to begin on Thursday, with a Saturday timetable in operation and 1300 trains cut.
That means some stations that enjoy trains every few minutes during the peak may only see a train every 15 minutes. Other stations will have even wider gaps between trains.
Given the rail network’s controversial new timetable is dependent on drivers going over and above their regular hours, this is bad news for commuters.
Expect delays and cancellations.
Sydney Trains chief executive Howard Collins urged passengers to check travel times in advance. “My advice to customers is to try and avoid those rush hour times. We will get you to your destination, it may just mean changing your plans,” he said on Tuesday.
But more services may still be added if union members agree to the deal overnight.
What about after that?
Transport Minister Andrew Constance has announced that from Thursday to Sunday, “Trains will run to a significantly reduced timetable”.
We don’t yet know whether the strikes will go ahead on Monday. It depends what the RTBU membership thinks of the pay offer, and it is expected to give its view by lunchtime tomorrow.
If the stoppage does go ahead, that’s when the most pain will be felt. Particularly as many people will be returning from their long summer breaks so bringing the network up to full capacity.
Will just trains within Sydney be affected?
While all the focus has been on Sydney, the RTBU has confirmed to news.com.au that union members working for NSW Train Link are also affected.
NSW Train Link is the regional train operator and provides services to Newcastle, Wollongong, the Central Coast and Blue Mountains. They also serve destinations further afield including Canberra, Dubbo and the North Coast and send interstate XPT trains to Melbourne and Brisbane.
In other words, if you get a train anywhere in NSW, you’ll be affected.
If the strike does happen, will all trains stop?
We’re still waiting for Transport for NSW, the Government body that coordinates rail services, to confirm this.
Not all staff are union members so may choose not to take action. But given how unionised the railways are, and the vital role staff play in ensuring safety, you can pretty much expect the network to grind to a halt.
As RTBU NSW Secretary Alex Claassens has said: “The trains will go to bed on Sunday night and they won’t come out on Monday morning.”
What about other public transport options?
Staff working on NSW’s buses, trams and ferries are not affected by industrial action so you can expect them to head to work as usual.
If you have a bus or tram you can use instead, this will be running on Monday.
However, with as many people in Sydney using the trains as buses, that’s an awful lot of people trying to crowd on to already full buses on Monday.
For journeys of over 20km, some 16 per cent of people ride the train. That’s a significant number to squeeze on another transport mode.
Will there be an increase in light rail or bus services to compensate?
Perhaps — we’re trying to get some clarity on this. But, it’s highly unlikely a replacement vehicle could be found to cover every train.
As Transport Minister Andrew Constance said last week, there simply aren’t enough spare buses and coaches in NSW to replace the trains.
Will I get compensation for the delays?
Sorry. Not happening. Both the Transport Minister and Premier have ruled out refunds.