Cityrail #cityfail? Training citizen journalism

By Pascal Grosvenor
February 20, 2013

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cityrail indicator board 13 feb

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redfern train station 13 feb

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central platform 18-19  13 feb

I know a thing or two about catching trains.

I’ve been a Sydney train commuter for 18 years. In that time I’ve completed two university degrees and had several different jobs. From 1995 to 1998 I trained to Macquarie University via Epping station, and since then I’ve trained to and from City Circle train stations.

Cityrail and its customers had a terrible time last week. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that a slipped fan belt caused rail chaos on Wednesday evening. Then a train broke down at St Leonards on Thursday evening, aka Valentine’s Day, causing a second night of major delays. These two incidents affected me and the 300,000 other Sydneysiders catching trains at evening peak times. One Tweet in particular really stuck with me.

A few other tweets among the many in the #cityrail or #cityfail hash tags:

I was stuck on a train near Lidcombe that didn’t move for half an hour on Wednesday evening. On Thursday I waited at Central Station for 25 minutes for a train going down the Penrith line. When it arrived its airconditioning was barely working, so I had a crowded, hot and unpleasant ride home. (Just two weeks ago a train became entangled in overhead wires on Sydney’s North shore causing long delays and overcrowding for northern line commuters) Anyway, last week ignited something in me. Enough was enough – I needed to make my voice heard and agitate for positive change. So I tweeted, filled out two online complaint forms and emailed s my State MP, the Minister for Transport and the Premier. I also looked for MSM coverage in the SMH, ABC news online, and the Daily Telegraph and found nothing except the single SMH article. There does not appear to be any statements from Cityrail, the Minister for Transport or the Premier. So, no reports of the train breakdown on Thursday, or the fact that it impacted many peoples’ plans for loved ones on Valentine’s Day.

So I called Margo, and she suggested I do the reporting job myself.

A friend on Facebook mentioned a website called railpage where train enthusiasts and cityrail staff chat . I found this:

Black1050 Chief Train Controller Location: Sectors, 3, 1 & 2

Blackadder wrote:

Can confirm it was a S set having issues (129 Run), eventually got the the train to St Leonards where pax de-trained, then empty to Chatswood turn back sidings. Information I have is not 1, not 2 but 3 motors lost power… Yep, it sure was. Saw it two way between Wollstonecraft and St Leonards at about 16:55, and again about 2 and bit hours later when it finally arrived at HMC… Sounds like it was a very unwell train… Multiple electrical issues, with multiple things not working ‘as advertised’…

That crew certainly earned their pay today…

Posted: Feb 15, 2013 2:20 am Highrise Chief Train Controller

Having spoke to the driver of the run after the event, the train pulled the power twice, Lit the thing up like a Christmas tree and lost Brake pipe pressure all in a single moment. As for what it was and having not asked, it wasn’t an A set. Dare I say it’ll be sitting in the back of Hornsby sheds feeling sorry for itself. One has to wonder, what did they do to the overhead down there during the last shutdown?

Posted: Feb 15, 2013 11:33 pm

To me, this seems indicative of major maintenance issues with the trains and/ or overhead wiring….

My opinion thus far is that Cityrail needs fixing but politicians are not doing enough and Cityrail top management is too timid. I feel the State Government should re-assess the level of funding for rail.

I also feel that Cityrail is not doing a good job of keeping commuters informed what’s happening. The service interruptions page on cityrail’s website only shows service interruptions in the last four hours. I suspect that if they showed the history of the last month or last year it would look pretty bad. Twitter comes in handy, because people tweet about service interruptions and by scrolling back you can piece together a sad history of service interruptions. (check out @cityrailupdates or @angrycityrail to name just two)

I could find no statement or apology from Cityrail regarding the events of last Wednesday and Thursday. And the MSM seems to be understaffed or not uninterested .

Anyway, this is my first go at being a citizen journalist, and I want to keep digging. Please correct me if I’ve made factual errors. I welcome discussion and debate via comments, email or tweets, and I’d appreciate information because I will write more articles on this topic. At the moment I tend to agree with Brendan:

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  1. CityRail will never be fixed so long as NSW’s economy is kept afloat by car-related taxes (tolls, rego, fuel excise, etc). Cars make money, trains, buses, ferries cost money.

    Labor couldn’t change it and Liberals won’t.

    Part of the reason I’m planning a move to Melbourne (or London, depending).

  2. When the Labor Government was in power the media put every single transport problem on the front page and constantly lashed the government. Barrio vowed to fix it. Now O’Farrel is in charge and the media have, obviously, vowed to keep problems quiet.

    • yes, this is an interesting question … whether the mainstream media are reporting transport issues differently in respect to the O’Farrell govt then how they reported when Labor was in power ?

      there’s a sort of related question of whether there’s been so many staff cutbacks in media outlets – there’s no longer many journalists just focusing on transport -> hence less coverage of train delays, cityrail problems, etc

  3. There was an apology announced on Thursday Morning from 7am – 9am every 10 mins broadcasted to all stations apologizing for the delays that occurred on Friday.

    • while it’s good that there were station announcements it seems like a limited sort of apology or acknowledgment to my thinking.
      why no press releases or statements on the cityrail website ?
      why no admission of the impact on commuters ? especially the impact on people’s plans for Valentine’s day
      the fact cityrail does not have a record of service interruptions or delays on their website seems to suggest to me they’re trying to avoid accountability / hide evidence of bad performance …

  4. @brendanlasker’s right except for one thing: most third world cities now rely on effiicent public transport to move masses of people around. They do it much better than cityrail. Comparisons with thbird world cities are losing their appeal; it is only western cities, and especially Australian ones, that suffer like that.

  5. Nice work Pascal, Keep fighting the fight brother!

    The NSW Government need to lift their game so more people can rely on its public transport services. This will then reduce the traffic on the M4 in the morning and afternoon for me and other commuters.
    Solving one problem will result in the decrease of other transport issues.

  6. So, what do you do when the MSM won’t support the citizens?
    Mmmmm – frustrating as hell isn’t it. What tune is the piper playing?

    • what do you do when the MSM won’t support the citizens?

      my suggested answer – forget about the MSM and report on the issues ourselves. tweet about cityrail, post about it on facebook, or here on Australians for Honest Politics.

      start a letter writing campaign or an online petition. contact your local state member or even your federal member and ask what they’re doing. do they think this is a problem ?

  7. Hi everyone, thank you for taking the time to comment.

    I want to incorporate reader comments and feedback into any future articles I write.

    Margo Kingston is a great example of this approach – with her webdiary at the Sydney Morning Herald some years back. And now here at AFHP. I’m a big fan of her approach –> I intend to utilise it too.


  8. I agree wholeheartedly with this opinion :

    Andrew Bata shares his experience as the chief for strategic improvements and best practices at MTA New York City Transit and sees the adoption of a social media strategy as a necessity:
    “For public transportation agencies as much as any other organization, using new media to communicate is no longer a side project. Agencies that have been moving trains and buses for more than a century cannot view their customers’ expectations as a distraction: smartphones and Facebook are woven deeply into our customers’ lives, and thus need to be woven deeply into our operations.”

    from the Social Media in Transport article –