SRA staff hit but millions for private line
by Marcus Browning An indication of the underlying cause of problems in the NSW rail service is that at a time when State Rail Authority (SRA) staff are working in conditions of understaffing, long shifts and inadequate time off, the Carr Government is considering pouring more money into the private Airport Link Corporation. At the same time, the proposals arising out of the inquiry into the Glenbrook train disaster that call for the SRA to be given "more freedom" to drug test signallers and drivers "at any time", actually take the focus away from the main safety questions of worker fatigue, staffing and morale. The Airport Link Corporation — the company which provides the new private rail service between the city (Central Station) and the domestic and international air terminals at Sydney Airport — is demanding that the Government pay it $15 million in compensation because the $900 million project has failed to reach its target passenger number of 42,000 per day. While the SRA chews over this demand it has promised $700,000 for a campaign to promote the line and intends to provide it with more of the system's state-of-the-art Tangara trains. The SRA has also diverted many of the trains on the East Hills service to go via the airport link stations of Green Square, Mascot, Domestic and International, causing anger among passengers using the service because they are taken on what is actually a time-consuming promotional tour of the private line. The Australian Services Union has condemned the transfer of the Tangaras. "For State Rail to commit Tangaras to that service at the expense of the rest of the rail network is outrageous", said the union. "We should not be subsidising that service which is over-priced and unfeasible." Meanwhile, the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) pointed out that under legislation signallers and drivers are already subjected to random breath tests, although not drug tests. The union says that when looking at safety in the rail industry there needs to be consideration given to fatigue management and the length of shifts worked. Tests have shown that fatigue can have the same effects on a worker as alcohol and drugs. "As a union we've been saying that when considering safety you've got to take a wholistic approach", RTBU NSW Secretary, Nick Lewocki, told The Guardian. "This includes developing proper rostering principles and even looking at the question of morale within the railways, where people, because of the ongoing restructure and the concern about their job security, really don't come to work in a frame of mind that is conducive to them having full concentration." He said looking at safety means taking into consideration a whole series of issues, not a narrow approach focusing on just one area. There are signallers and station staff who regularly work 12-hour shifts Furthermore, even though under the award staff have a rostered day off each fortnight, there are those who work long stretches without proper days off. This includes some effectively working 26 days straight by having the first day of the first fortnight off, and then the last day of the second fortnight. "We say rostering officers should take note of those sorts of issues to ensure that people are given quality rest periods", said Mr Lewocki. "You can have a situation where someone's been working night shift and then they have what's called a `pyjama day off', really a day where they just sleep in and then return to work." He said there had been quite a number of staff shortages prior to the Olympics. "Post-Olympics we've been able to hold on to quite a number of the casual and part-time staff, and they're actually recruiting now from that pool of people which will alleviate that situation. "What we're hoping is that they maintain that; that they don't just do it as a one-off and allow numbers to run down again."