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Sydney train strikes: NSW Premier threatens union, promises final day of commuter chaos

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has handed down a fiery ultimatum to the rail union as commuters experience their worst day of travel chaos following a month of delays and disruptions. 

Sydney ground to a halt on Wednesday after 70 per cent of the city’s train fleet did not run because the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) refused to operate foreign-made trains for 24 hours. 

These issues were compounded by bus drivers who walked off the job in a separate strike, which led to a heavy backlog on the roads due to the higher than usual traffic congestion. 

Those who did travel by train were squashed together like sardines after experiencing delays of at least 30 minutes. 

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has handed down a fiery ultimatum to the rail union as commuters experience their worst day of travel chaos following a month of delays and disruptions

A furious Mr Perrottet called the RTBU’s actions ‘disgraceful’ and vowed they would end on Wednesday.

‘What we saw this morning was absolutely disgraceful,’ he said. ‘This ends today; it will not continue. I will not have our city grind to a halt, our people inconvenienced any more by the actions of a union movement that belongs back in the 1970s.’ 

The NSW government and RTBU have been locked in a heated dispute over a new enterprise agreement and the union’s safety concerns with a $2.8bn intercity train fleet. 

The union wants the government to commit to modifying the trains by signing a written deed. 

The government had previously tied these train alterations to a new enterprise agreement being finalised, which created tension between the two parties and drew out negotiations.

Sydney ground to a halt on Wednesday after 70 per cent of the city's train fleet did not run because the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) refused to operate foreign-made trains for 24 hours

Sydney ground to a halt on Wednesday after 70 per cent of the city’s train fleet did not run because the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) refused to operate foreign-made trains for 24 hours

A furious Dominic Perrottet (pictured) called the RTBU's actions 'disgraceful' and vowed they would end on Wednesday

A furious Dominic Perrottet (pictured) called the RTBU’s actions ‘disgraceful’ and vowed they would end on Wednesday

Mr Perrottet said they would hand a final enterprise agreement to the RTBU on Wednesday.

He warned that if the union takes any further action after it is agreed to, he would go to the Fair Work Commission to tear up the existing enterprise agreement and take back their offer to modify the new InterCity fleet. 

‘Today, I have instructed the Transport Minister to finalise all negotiations with the RTBU. That will then go to a vote,’ Mr Perrottet said. 

 ‘If there is any further industrial action until that enterprise agreement has been voted on, we immediately seek to terminate the current agreement and we will remove the new InterCity fleet from that agreement. That starts from today.’

Traffic was backed up 15km to the M7 interchange at Moorebank earlier on Wednesday after a motorbike crash at 7am closed two of the M5’s citybound lanes.

One of the two citybound lanes on the M5 East was also closed down after a van broke down, while a westbound lane on the M5 approaching the Hume Highway was closed due to a crash and vehicle rollover. 

All lanes have reopened, but the incidents created heavy traffic and commuters have been told to allow for extra time. Earlier on Wednesday, an overheight truck got stuck in the Sydney Harbour Tunnel. 

The truck became trapped just before 6am, meaning all southbound lanes were closed as drivers were told to use the Harbour Bridge instead. 

The truck was promptly moved about five minutes later and all southbound lanes have since reopened, but traffic is reportedly still backed up. 

The situation is similar on the state’s rail networks, with Transport NSW warning travellers that they can expect significant disruptions all day with most trains operating on a reduced weekend timetable. 

'Customers can expect a reduced frequency on Wednesday across most of the suburban network, with at least a 30-minute gap between services. We recommend avoiding all non-essential rail travel where possible,' Sydney Trains chief executive Matt Longland said

‘Customers can expect a reduced frequency on Wednesday across most of the suburban network, with at least a 30-minute gap between services. We recommend avoiding all non-essential rail travel where possible,’ Sydney Trains chief executive Matt Longland said

Sydney Trains chief executive Matt Longland told commuters to avoid travelling by train and to work from home if they can. 

‘Customers can expect a reduced frequency on Wednesday across most of the suburban network, with at least a 30-minute gap between services. We recommend avoiding all non-essential rail travel where possible,’ Mr Longland said. 

‘Customers should expect disruption including delays, altered stopping patterns and cancellations, with some of these impacts to be felt from around 9pm on Tuesday as we prepare for the reduced timetable. 

Please plan ahead, check the latest updates, and be respectful of frontline staff during this time.’

‘We continue our intensive bargaining with the RTBU this week to minimise the ongoing impact to our customers.’ 

Buses will replace trains on the T3 Bankstown line between Lidcombe and Bankstown and the T7 Olympic Park line between Lidcombe and Olympic Park.

There will be no train services operating on the T5 Cumberland line.

Commuters will need to change at Granville to complete their journey. 

For Intercity customers, Blue Mountains, Central Coast and Newcastle will operate on a weekend timetable.

South Coast Intercity services will operate hourly between Kiama and Waterfall, while buses will replace trains on the Port Kembla line between Port Kembla and Wollongong NSW TrainLink’s regional booked services or the Hunter and Southern Highlands lines will not be impacted by the action. 

These disruptions are compounded by Sydney bus drivers walking off the job for significant parts of the day. 

The state government had high hopes that it could put a stop to Wednesday's strikes after sending a list of concessions to the RTBU over the weekend

The state government had high hopes that it could put a stop to Wednesday’s strikes after sending a list of concessions to the RTBU over the weekend

More than 1000 region six drivers from the Transport Workers Union (TWU) will stop working from 4am to 7am and 2.30pm to 5.30pm. 

Region six encompasses areas like the city’s inner west, Olympic Park, Leichhardt, Chatswood and Bondi Junction.

TWU NSW Secretary Richard Olsen said Wednesday’s industrial action was unrelated to the RTBU’s and was simply coincidental. 

‘There’s no association with the RTBU in what they do with the trains … we’re private bus company drivers.’ he told 2GB. ‘It happens to coincide with the train strike.’ The TWU is striking over pay and safety concerns. 

The state government had high hopes that it could put a stop to Wednesday’s strikes after sending a list of concessions to the RTBU over the weekend. 

But after a full-day meeting on Monday, the two parties were still unable to come to a resolution. 

RTBU NSW secretary Alex Claassens said the government could have stopped their industrial action if the written deed had been signed.

‘The government has had the opportunity on many occasions to resolve this dispute,’ he said on Tuesday.

‘Instead of agreeing to the deed, we’ve been forced into another round of lengthy talks rather than getting on with the job of getting a signed deed which we can take to members and delegates to consider.

‘As far as the safety issues with the new InterCity fleet … they had it (the deed) on June 30, they had it on Friday. 

After a full-day meeting on Monday, the two parties were still unable to come to a resolution. RTBU NSW secretary Alex Claassens said the government could have stopped their industrial action if the written deed had been signed

After a full-day meeting on Monday, the two parties were still unable to come to a resolution. RTBU NSW secretary Alex Claassens said the government could have stopped their industrial action if the written deed had been signed

All they needed to do was sign that document and we could have been standing here today talking about how tomorrow’s going back to normal. 

‘We have other outstanding issues in the enterprise negotiations like our conditions around cleaning and infrastructure … and then obviously the thing that everybody wants is more money.’ 

He also accused the state government of using inflationary language that has incited death threats to frontline workers.

‘We ask that the ministers involved refrain from using such inflammatory words, especially as work towards a resolution on the new InterCity fleet modifications,’ Mr Claassens said. 

‘By labelling frontline workers as “thugs” and “holding the state to ransom” is just lying. 

‘Regardless of who is at fault for the delays, this type of violence is unacceptable, and the fact that ministers from the NSW government are using this inflammatory language is actively encouraging the dregs of society and it speaks volumes to the quality of this government.’ 

NSW Transport Minister David Elliot called the union’s industrial action a ‘co-ordinated political attack on the government’. 

‘If you needed any evidence at all that this is a co-ordinated political attack on the government, then you just have to look at your front window this morning,’ he told 2GB. 

‘This is a strategic co-ordinated campaign.’ 

Mr Longland said he hoped this would be the end of the union’s industrial action.

 ‘I certainly hope we’re very close to the end,’ he told 2GB on Wednesday. 

‘We’ve been in the room with the union leaders of all of the rail unions Monday, Tuesday and again today, Minister Elliott’s going to join us in the room today. 

‘We hope that we’re getting very close because this really is becoming increasingly frustrating for everyone, for customers, also for our staff.’

Negotiations between the two parties are continuing on Wednesday. 

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