‘Crammed in like sardines’:Strike causes big delays on Sydney public transport

Sydney’s commuters faced major public transport headaches on Tuesday with three-quarters of the state’s train network out of service due to strike action,while hundreds of bus drivers walked off the job in the city’s south-west.

Rail,Tram and Bus Union members are refusing to man “foreign-made” trains on Tuesday,which the union anticipated would affect 75 per cent of trains.

Commuters wait for the train at Central station as strike action causes significant delays across the network.

Commuters wait for the train at Central station as strike action causes significant delays across the network.Nick Moir

On Tuesday morning,passengers took to social media to say they were “crammed in like sardines” and trains were “more packed than ever”.

“Are we still social distancing?” one commuter wondered.

Transport for NSW said trains ran to a reduced frequency on the Sydney Trains and NSW TrainLink network,with “significant delays” and some cancellations expected.

A spokesman said 150,000 train trips were taken on Tuesday morning,down one third from the same day last week.

He said before the COVID-19 pandemic,500,000 trips would be made between 6am and 10am on an ordinary weekday.

Early morning commuters wait for their trains at Town Hall station.

Early morning commuters wait for their trains at Town Hall station.Nick Moir

Buses replaced trains between Lidcombe and Bankstown on the T3 Bankstown line,and between Lidcombe and Olympic Park on the T7 Olympic Park line.

Intercity services ran to a weekend timetable,including on the Blue Mountains,Central Coast and Newcastle lines,while buses replaced trains between Wollongong and Kiama,and Port Kembla and Thirroul.

All 12 of the foreign-built trams servicing the inner west light rail line remain out of service after cracks were discovered earlier this year.

The RTBU is calling for a 3.5 per cent pay increase,while the government is offering 0.3 per cent in the first year of the new deal,and 2.5 per cent thereafter.

Union secretary Alex Claassens said there were “safety concerns” with overseas built trains and privatisation of transport services remained a “sticking point” in negotiations.

“The government needs to put a hold on all overseas manufacturing contracts,” he said.

“It’s time the NSW government implemented a quota on Australian built infrastructure and started putting commuter and worker safety first.”

Delays and cancellations impact travellers at Town Hall station on Tuesday morning.

Delays and cancellations impact travellers at Town Hall station on Tuesday morning.Nick Moir

NSW TrainLink chief executive Dale Merrick downplayed the cramped conditions on the trains while urging customers to avoid busy trains.

“There were a couple of examples where congestion was an issue,they were dealt with pretty quickly,” he said.

“COVID principles apply today as they have previously.

“Rather than jump on a congested train,I suggest[customers] wait for the next one.”

Mr Merrick defended the use of overseas manufactured trains,saying some foreign made fleets were among the most modern and reliable in the state.

Mr Merrick said the organisation had been notified union members would repeat the industrial action on December 14.

In Sydney’s south-west,about 300 bus drivers at the Smithfield and West Hoxton depots went on a 24-hour strike on Tuesdayafter similar action in the inner west.

The following bus routes between Parramatta,Liverpool and Bonnyrigg could be impacted on Tuesday:800,801,802,803,804,805,806,807,808,809,812,813,814,815,816,817,818,819,820,821,822,823,824,827,835,810X,811X,S10 and T80.

Drivers are seeking equal pay and conditions in their negotiations with operator Transit Systems,asking that those “doing the same job should get the same pay” after privatisation of Sydney’s buses created a two-tier workforce,the Transport Workers Union says.

Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey said transport workers had put their health on the line throughout the pandemic.

“The demand for a better deal is real and tangible and frustration is seriously pent-up,” he said.

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Sarah McPhee is a breaking news reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald.

Daniella White is a reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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