Light rail suspension adds ‘one more challenge’ to Sydney students as images of cracks emerge

Just weeks after returning to the classroom due to COVID-19, several Sydney schools have copped another blow with the decommissioning of the inner-west light rail due to cracking.

Key points:There are 120 schools along the L1 Dulwich Hill light rail corridorThere are concerns students sitting the HSC from Tuesday will be impactedBefore the Delta outbreak, the light rail network had about 2 million trips a month

NSW Transport Minister Rob Stokes announced the fleet would be out of action for up to 18 months, in what he said was a "worst-case scenario."

St Scholastica's College in Glebe is among the 120 schools along the light rail corridor.

Assistant Principal Margaret Taborda said hundreds of their students used the service, which meant about a third of the school's population would be impacted.

"I think parents are going to have go back and rejig that whole idea of how to get to school and back," Ms Taborda said.

a ruler besides cracks
Cracks in the wheel arch were found on all 12 CAF Urbos 3 vehicles.(Supplied: Transport for NSW)

Cracks in the wheel arch were found on all 12 CAF Urbos 3 vehicles during routine maintenance checks last month.

Images released by Transport for NSW show the extent of the damage, which led to buses replacing the Central to Dulwich Hill route on Thursday. 

Ms Taborda said she was concerned that if students flocked to other services, the school would not be able to stagger the number of students on trams as they used to, in line with their COVID-19 safety rules.

The added worry of getting to school for those sitting the HSC from Tuesday was also an issue.

"COVID, now the light rail out of action, it just adds one more challenge," Ms Taborda said.

"I think every time we communicate with our year 12 students and their families it's like 'OK what's the world going to hit us with now'."

a train station
There are concerns for how HSC students sitting exams next week will get to school.(ABC News: Harriet Tatham
)

A NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) spokesperson said students would be responsible for making their own way to the exams.

"When transport delays are predicted, students should find alternative ways of getting to their exam venue," they said.

"In extreme cases, involving severe transport or traffic disruptions affecting a large number of students, the Presiding Officer may delay the start of an exam for a short time, for all students, or only those affected."

A spokesperson for operators Transdev Sydney said they had maintained regular email contact with about 500 stakeholders including schools.

"Targeted emails were issued to schools ahead of the HSC exams on Tuesday, 9 November," they said.

"Transdev will be calling all schools affected on Monday morning to ensure that their communities are aware of outage and the alternate transport options available."

Before the Delta outbreak the light rail network had about 2 million trips a month, according to Opal Card data, and though it dropped to about 350,000 during lockdown, the figure was expected to rise again.

Inner-west light rail out action for monthsa light rail tram

NSW Transport Minister Rob Stokes says all 12 light rail vehicles used on the inner-west service will be out of action following the discovery of cracks last month.

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The suspension of the light rail has put a spotlight on the Urbos 3 vehicle, which operates in several jurisdictions across Australia.

The disruption in the inner-west followed a similar incident in the UK in June, where cracking in the same carriages used in Sydney were discovered on the line between Birmingham and Wolverhampton.

Services in the West Midlands Metro were suspended indefinitely after a crack was discovered on the chassis of one its vehicles and caused 21 trams to be pulled.

Glebe resident Simeon Bartholomew found the light rail easy to manoeuvre with his daughter and a pram.

He also relied on the service to get him to his office job in Sydney's CBD.

cracks on the floor of the light rail carriage
The cracks were found last month during routine maintenance checks.(Supplied: Transport for NSW)

But what was once a 17-minute commute is now taking much longer, prompting Mr Bartholomew to reconsider a return to the office.

"Catching a bus is taking up to 50 minutes sometimes, which is crazy," Mr Bartholomew said.

"It's changed my behaviour or my attitude to actually returning to the office. I really want to go and see my colleagues, but I genuinely don't want to sit in 50 minutes of traffic there and back every day."

The ABC spoke to other commuters who were saddened at the loss of a service that was easy to use and were now worried about the inconvenience. 

On Friday, Transport for NSW's chief operating officer, Howard Collins, flagged the possibility that Newcastle's light rail could also impacted, but a spokesperson for the state body said that was not the case.

"Keolis Downer has inspected the Newcastle light rail vehicles and no cracking issues have been identified," the spokesperson said.

"Further detailed inspections are being carried out in accordance with the manufacturer's advice. This has not affected Newcastle light rail and services are operating as normal."

a woman stepping on a bus
Buses have replaced the light rail on the Central to Dulwich Hill route.(ABC News: Harriet Tatham)

Concerns were also raised about the Urbos 3 in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).

The territory's Shadow Transport Minister Mark Parton said it was only a matter of time before Canberrans faced months without a light rail service.

"Certainly, the NSW Transport Minister Rob Stokes very clearly alluded to it yesterday that this is a design flaw," Mr Parton said.

"To me it appears inevitable that our light rail vehicles will go down the same path, if they haven't already."

An ACT government spokesperson said it was aware of the issues identified by the NSW government and it had not "identified any issues to date".

"It should be noted that Canberra light rail vehicles operate on a different track type to Sydney light rail and are a much younger fleet," the spokesperson said.

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