NSW Transport Minister Rob Stokes says he doesn’t want taxpayers to pay “a cent” to fix the cracked trams that forced the shutdown of part of Sydney’s light rail network.
The inner west light rail, which runs from Dulwich Hill to Central Station, will be closed for up to 18 months after cracks were discovered in all 12 trams that run on it.
The same Spanish company that built the inner west trams is making a fleet of vehicles for the $2.4b Parramatta line, but Mr Stokes said the new trams were an “upgraded version” that wouldn’t be plagued by the same issues.
“The design issues that we’ve identified in relation to the inner west light rail are not an issue with these new vehicles,” he told 2GB on Tuesday.
“Certainly the issue of that thickness of metal and the way in which it was fabricated is not a feature of the new tram.”
Mr Stokes said he wasn’t “seeking to recriminate” anyone over the faulty trams and that the issues would be “worked through” with the contractor and the manufacturer.
He wouldn’t “get into he said she said” over who was to blame, but said the fleet would be fixed as soon as possible.
“It’s my intention that taxpayers don’t pay a red cent. The contracts that we signed were for the provision of trams that were fit for purpose and would run without interruption,” Mr Stokes said.
The discovery of the cracks in the light rail fleet has intensified scrutiny of the NSW government’s decision to purchase transport infrastructure manufactured overseas, following separate problems with Indonesian-built ferries and trains imported from South Korea.
Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Stokes announced passengers forced to take replacement buses because of the inner west shutdown would only have to pay half the fare.
The backflip came after public outrage over an earlier decision to charge the full fare.
“I understand regular passengers on the inner west light rail are really frustrated by this situation. That’s why we’re applying a 50 per cent discount to the fare price for the replacement bus services we have operating,” Mr Stokes said.
“It will take some time to get the system up and running, but we expect it to be operating within a fortnight.”
The inner west light rail service will be at a standstill for up to 18 months as officials deal with a defect that caused cracks to appear in the trams.
Opposition transport spokeswoman Jo Haylen said the offer of paying half the fare wasn’t good enough.
“The passengers of the inner west and of Sydney shouldn’t have to pay for this government’s mistakes,” she told reporters.
“I will continue to campaign to make sure that these slower replacement buses are provided free of charge.”
The inner west service cannot be replaced with trams from another light rail system in the city’s east because the vehicles are of a different size.
Instead, engineers will have to fix the problem before services can resume.
Mr Stokes said the discounted fare would mean a bus trip from the end station of Dulwich Hill to Central would cost $1.90 instead of the light rail price of $3.79.
He also said other alternatives were being considered, such as reinstating a ferry service at Blackwattle Bay.
“We are looking at every option we have available to ease the trouble this is causing for those passengers,” Mr Stokes said.
“I want to thank the people of the inner west for their patience and my promise to them is to resolve this issue as quickly as we possibly can.”