Night operations months away for problem-plagued Sydney ferries

Sydney’s new River Class ferry fleet won’t be able to operate at night this summer,with the problem-plagued vessels yet to undergo substantial remediation of design faults almost 18 months after they were scheduled to enter service.

The 10 new ferries,which were initially slated to be operating on Sydney Harbour by mid-2020,cannot travel in low light given night-time reflection issuescreated by a problem with the angle of the glass in the wheelhouse.

One of Sydney’s new River Class ferries on Sydney Harbour on Thursday.

One of Sydney’s new River Class ferries on Sydney Harbour on Thursday.Dominic Lorrimer

One of the 10 Indonesian-built ferries entered service earlier this month for daylight runs,with a second likely to follow in coming weeks,but the entire fleet won’t be fully operational for at least another six months.

Private ferry operator Transdev on Wednesday confirmed the fleet would likely enter full service – including in low light – by mid-2022 and also revealed the extent of the remediation work that would need to take place before that can occur.

The remediation includes removing and replacing window pillars from the ferries’ wheelhouse,Transdev Sydney Ferries managing director Loretta Lynch said,with work expected to begin on the first vessel within a month.

While Transdev is yet to sign a contract regarding the repairs,it will be carried out on a prototype vessel first,which will be tested before the rest of the fleet is progressively fixed. The rectified vessels will enter service between early and mid-2022.

Ms Lynch said the COVID-19 pandemic had affected the delivery timeline.

“COVID made everything hard. It complicated what is already a complicated activity,” she said.

“I don’t think we should be expecting a repeat of that outside of COVID in any way.”

Transdev signed a nine-year $1.3 billion contract to operate Sydney’s ferries in 2019.

Asbestos was discovered in the boats when they arrived in NSW last year,before theHeraldrevealed that they would not be able to pass under two bridges on the Parramatta River if commuters were seated on the top deck.

It was also revealed the vesselstalled in emergency braking conditions,though Transdev said the problem had been rectified,along with wiring and electrical issues.

Opposition transport spokeswoman Jo Haylen said the government needed to explain whether the months-long remediation work on the ferries would impact passenger services this summer.

“Instead of taking passengers between the CBD and Parramatta,for the foreseeable future the River Class ferries will be stuck in dry dock having their wheelhouses ripped off and replaced,” she said.

“The public have run out of patience with these defect-ridden vessels. Nine out of 10 have not carried a single passenger.”

Meanwhile,the three Emerald Class ferries set to replace Sydney’s iconic Freshwater ferries servicing Manly will soon begin operating,according to Transdev.

The vessels will have a reinforced hull to be able to withstand swells of up to 4.5 metres,close to double the Emerald Class ferries,which were pulled out of service earlier this week when swell at The Heads neared 2.8 metres.

“Regardless of the vessels’ capability to withstand it,ferry services rarely operate during large swells for customer comfort reasons,” a Transdev spokeswoman said.

But Ms Haylen said the government should retain the four Freshwater class ferries for regular work,rather than scrapping two and keeping a pair for weekends and public holidays.

“The government has effectively swapped our fleet of four iconic Freshwater ferries for a fleet of replacement buses,” she said.

The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories,analysis and insights.Sign uphere.

Tom Rabe is a State Political Reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald.

Most Viewed in National