Rail shutdowns under question

Closures: Be prepared for another weekend of buses replacing trains.

Closures: Be prepared for another weekend of buses replacing trains.

THE T4 Illawarra rail line will be closed again this weekend amid continuing questions about the frequency of the shutdowns.

There will be no trains between Waterfall and Cronulla to Central from 2am Saturday, September 19 and 2am Monday, September 21.

Trains will run to a changed timetable between Central and Bondi Junction.

Buses will replace trains on the closed lines.

Bob Schroeder, a member of public transport lobby group EcoTransit, said there had been more than six weekend closures of the Illawarra line this year.

The group's secretary John Bignucolo wrote to Transport Minister Andrew Constance in July this year, questioning the frequency of closures.

His letter followed a nine-day shutdown of the Sutherland-Cronulla line over the school holidays and a weekend closure of the line from Central to Waterfall.

Mr Constance's subsequent reply failed to satisfy the group, and another letter was fired off, seeking clarification of some points and answers to unanswered questions.

One of the main points raised by the group was why so much maintenance was needed on the Cronulla branch line when the duplication project was completed only five years ago.

Had the work been inadequate?

Mr Constance replied the duplication project, which was undertaken by the previous government, did not include an upgrade of the original track.

He said bi-directional signalling, which would allow trains to operate in either direction on one line if the other track was closed, was installed only near Cronulla station.

The "modest gains" that would be gained by extending it along the entire branch line would be outweighed by the cost, he said.

Mr Constance said it was not always possible to complete works at night or during weekend closures.

"Complex works, such as sleeper replacement, take longer than 48 hours to complete," he said.

Mr Constance also cited worker safety as a reason for track closures.

NOT NECESSARY TO STOP TRAINS

Busier rail systems in other parts of the world were able to schedule maintenance without closing a line for nine days, EcoTransit said in a response to Mr Constance’s letter.

‘‘In fact, there are very few countries that would require even a weekend close down for most of this work,’’ John Bignucolo wrote. ‘‘It would be carried out at night or while trains continued running.

‘‘As the Sutherland-Cronulla line was only duplicated a little over five years ago why would it be necessary to replace sleepers when the line is fully laid with near new concrete sleepers?’’

Mr Bignucolo challenged Mr Constance’s statement that it was necessary to fully close a four-track section of rail line ‘‘to ensure worker safety and the transport of supplies and removal of debris’’. 

There had been many instances of tracks being worked on between Erskineville and Sydenham while trains continue to run on the other two tracks, he said.

Mr Bignucolo rejected the minister’s statement the duplication of the Sutherland-Cronulla line did not include an upgrade of the original track.

‘‘In fact, there was considerable upgrading of the line as both tracks have concrete sleepers, there were several places where track re-alignment took place to accommodate the additional track, and re-ballasting was considerable,’’ he said.

Do you think the frequent track closures are justified? 

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