The jobs of scores of train guards on NSW’s intercity rail fleet are under threat from the purchase of new trains from South Korea that can be operated solely by drivers.
The proposal to shed guards highlights an increasing automation of the state’s train network, a trend that will intensify when the first driverless metro trains begin running between Sydney’s north-west and Chatswood in 2019.
That same year, the first of more than 500 double-deck train carriages from Korea for the intercity fleet will begin to replace the decades-old V-set trains that run from Sydney’s Central Station to the Blue Mountains, Newcastle, and the Illawarra.
Tender documents for the new fleet for NSW TrainsLink show one of the requirements for each train is that it “must support driver-only operation”. Drivers will be “responsible for monitoring the train-platform interface using the CCTV system, responding to passenger intercoms, passenger information and passenger assistance”.
The first of the new trains for the state’s intercity fleet are due to arrive in 2019.
The first of the new trains for the state’s intercity fleet are due to arrive in 2019. Photo: Supplied
The Rail, Tram and Bus Union fears the jobs of up to 300 of the 380 guards employed on NSW’s intercity network are at risk from the proposal.
The union’s state secretary, Alex Claassens, said the removal of guards would raise serious concerns because they performed a multitude of safety roles, especially on curved platforms at stations where drivers could not see the full length of trains.
The intercity trains will have two-by-two seating on the upper and lower decks.
The intercity trains will have two-by-two seating on the upper and lower decks. Photo: Supplied
“There is no doubt [the government] want it – the minister has made his position quite clear. But there is no way they can operate that [new] train safely in the current network configuration they have today [without guards],” he said.
Mr Claassens said it was possible for driverless trains to operate safely on the new metro line under construction in Sydney because barriers such as screens on platforms would prevent the public from gaining access to the railway line.
However, he said billions of dollars would need to be spent to bring the existing railway network up to a standard that allowed trains to operate safely without guards.
“Every day there is an emergency on the network, whether there is flooding … or a fatality. I have been working on the railway since 1977, I am a qualified driver, and I can’t see how you can do this safely, unless you spend lots and lots of money,” he said.
“It is just dinky toy stuff.”
TrainsLink said a driver-only option for the new trains would be introduced only “where it is safe and appropriate to do so”.
“Under a driver-only proposal, guards would have continued employment until the new intercity fleet is progressively introduced from 2019. Even then we would still need guards on our current diesel fleet,” it said.
The government-run operator said it had been meeting staff representatives “well in advance of 2019 so all options can be explored”. Retraining and redeployment within the state’s train network would be available to guards, and TrainsLink would work with them to “better understand their individual career intentions”.
TrainsLink said a driver-only operation would not be unique to NSW as it had been in place for many years in Melbourne and Perth, as well as on railways overseas.
However, Blue Mountains Labor MP Trish Doyle described the proposal as appalling because train guards performed key safety roles at platforms, between stations and in emergencies.
“There are significant and systematic problems with anti-social behaviour, passenger safety and comfort on our trains right now that will be made worse with the abolition of train guards,” she said.
The proposal to reduce train guards is also likely to emerge as a key point of contention in labour negotiations next year when enterprise agreements covering thousands of staff across Sydney Trains and TrainsLink expire.
When the government awarded the contract for the new intercity trains last month, TrainsLink chief executive Rob Mason emphasised that they would have automatic door settings to ensure passengers could not exit carriages when they were not alongside platforms.
The 512 new carriages will be delivered over three years from 2019.