For a state government fighting to win a historic fourth term by campaigning on its transport and infrastructure record, what could be worse than Sydney’s entire rail network grinding to a halt?
Commuters were left stranded across Sydney during Wednesday’s evening peak hours when a communications issue brought trains to a standstill, sandwiching thousands of people on packed platforms and snaking bus lines through the city.
In an eerily similar transport meltdown in the weeks before the 2007 state election, then-Liberal leader Peter Debnam pounced when a train malfunction sent the network into peak-hour chaos.
“I suppose nothing could be more symbolic of the broken-down state government than another peak-hour train breaking down in the middle of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and disrupting tens of thousands of commuters,” Debnam bellowed.
On the campaign trail, Premier Dominic Perrottet has reminded voters daily of the statewide infrastructure backlog the Coalition government inherited in 2011.
In a leaders’ debate only hours before Wednesday’s train chaos, he was wheeling out his pet line warning about the risks of returning to a Labor government.
“When we came to government, we got a $30 billion infrastructure backlog. Which we inherited [from] the Labor Party,” he said.
“It’s the Liberals and Nationals … that’s able to build the roads, the schools, the hospitals and the public transport for the future.”
Trains were running again after about 90 minutes in which staff tried to keep commuters informed about the “rare fault” while handing out bottled water. But a backlog was likely to flow through the network for hours.
Sydney Trains chief executive Matt Longland said the root cause of the digital train radio system failure would be fully investigated.
Labor seized on the commuter chaos, with opposition transport spokeswoman Jo Haylen quick to capitalise on it and paint it as an election issue.
“A key responsibility of state government and the premier is to run a reliable public transport system,” she said.
“The premier needs to answer questions yet again about why passengers are facing chaos on their commute home.”
Headlines screaming of trains at a “standstill” in “meltdown” would send shivers down the spine of any government appealing for a return to office in less than three weeks, especially one claiming to be the only choice that will “keep NSW moving forward”.
But there is some cold comfort for Perrottet. Labor still managed to pull off a win in the 2007 election.
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