Sydney’s mega rail projects running into ‘high’ safety, financial risks
By Matt O'Sullivan
August 1, 2022 — 5.00am
The NSW government has been warned its flagship metro rail projects in Sydney face scores of high risks ranging from safety threats and further cost blowouts to compromised operations and a failure to meet long-term benefits.
The extensive list of high strategic risks threatening the country’s three biggest public transport projects, which are costing more than $55 billion to build, are detailed in a “sensitive” report by Sydney Metro, the agency charged with overseeing the city’s new automated rail network.
Driverless trains for the yet-to-open City and Southwest Metro rail line are stored near Rouse Hill in Sydney’s north-west.
Driverless trains for the yet-to-open City and Southwest Metro rail line are stored near Rouse Hill in Sydney’s north-west.Credit:Nick Moir
The assessment paints a concerning picture of the dangers posed to the metro rail lines under construction across Sydney, including a$26 billion underground railway from Sydney’s CBD to Parramatta https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/warning-that-sydney-s-biggest-rail-project-risks-costing-27bn-and-opening-late-20210201-p56ye6.html.
The confidential report was completed only months before the government conceded in June that the cost of one of the new lines – the City and Southwest link under Sydney Harbour – had blown out by $6 billion. https://www.smh.com.au/politics/nsw/sydney-s-metro-rail-line-under-harbour-blows-out-by-6b-20220621-p5avem.html It is among a trove of previously secret government documents released to the NSW upper house.
The report by Sydney Metro rates as “high” the risks of a “catastrophic health, safety or security event” during the delivery of the rail projects, and train operations becoming “compromised”.
It lists likely “root causes” for the various scenarios if they do eventuate, as well as existing controls and new measures to reduce the chance of them happening. If a project was hit by a major safety incident, root causes could include factors such as unsafe or incorrect work practices.
The confidential report rates as “very high” the risk of the agency being unable to manage the “increasingly complex” rail projects, warning it could result in delays and cost over-runs.
The risks from supply chain blockages and an overheated construction market are also deemed “very high”, which raises the likelihood of surging costs, delays and contractors becoming insolvent if they continue or worsen.
The danger of the new metro lines failing to deliver their expected long-term benefits of solving the city’s public transport demands, as well as staying within their approved budgets, are also regarded as high.
The strategic risks facing the projects, which include the construction of a metro rail line to the new Western Sydney Airport https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/construction-of-new-sydney-airport-terminal-due-to-start-next-year-20200907-p55t4u.html at Badgerys Creek, underscore the mounting challenges facing the government’s signature transport projects.
The planned opening of a section of the City and Southwest line between Sydenham and Bankstown is already expected to be up to 12 months late. The cost of the largely underground railway which extends onto the Sydney CBD and Chatswood has blown out by $6 billion to $18.5 billion.
The report also warns the risk of Sydney Metro failing to keep an “effective working relationship” with federal, local and state governments is high.
Labor transport spokeswoman Jo Haylen said the government had serious questions to answer about the state of its mega rail projects.
Sydney’s flagship harbour metro rail line billions over budget
NSW budget https://www.smh.com.au/topic/nsw-budget-jdr
Sydney’s metro rail line under harbour blows out by $6b
“After spending billions of taxpayer dollars, the government’s signature public transport projects now face a series of major risks, including failure to deliver expected long-term benefits as well as more delays,” she said. “There’s real risk of this becoming a very expensive missed opportunity and an inferior service.”
The office of Transport Minister David Elliott was approached for comment. However, he was on the last day of an overseas tour with high school students visiting World War II sites.
Sydney Metro said in a statement that “risk reporting” was essential to identify potential issues and their “possible or probable impact”, which allowed risks to be prioritised, mitigated and managed.
“A risk that is classified as ‘high’ or ‘very high’ does not mean it will occur, but it does assist in categorising the impact of the risk if it is not mitigated,” it said.
The agency said the government’s commitment in the June budget of a further $2 billion for the City and Southwest project was part of a strategy to reduce risks outside its control such as supply chain disruption and an over-heated construction market.
“It is no secret that the construction market on the east coast of Australia is the hottest it has ever been,” it said. “Sydney Metro reports monthly to government on progress, risk, and issues across its construction program.”