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Sydney commuters will be riding the full fleet of inner west trams within months under a pledge from Spanish company CAF to restore its trams to the network while it disputes claims that it bears all the blame for cracks in the carriages and a huge disruption to passengers.
The maker of the 12 original trams on the inner west light rail is confident of repairing the damage after it sent welders from its Spanish factories to join contractors in Sydney on the work.
Iñaki Mendizabal, CAF international division area director, in Zaragoza.Credit:Staff photographer
CAF international division area director Iñaki Mendizabal said the company was conducting its own investigation in addition to two official investigations and believed it was too soon to make claims about the cause of the faults.
“We hope that very, very soon the trams will return to service,” he said of the repair work in Sydney.
Asked when that would be, he said: “a couple of months maximum”.
The CAF executive also said the Sydney problems would not deter the company from seeking more deals in Australia while it bids for a big train contract in Queensland to add to its supply of light rail fleets to Parramatta, Newcastle and Canberra.
Sydney’s Inner West Light Rail line is closed for repair work.Credit:Steven Siewert
Thousands of passengers have been forced to switch to buses on the route from Dulwich Hill to the city after Transport for NSW identified the cracks last year and took the fleet off the network in November, while sending officials to Birmingham in the United Kingdom to examine cracks in the same model.
Transport Minister Rob Stokes told state parliament last November that he expected taxpayers would “not pay one cent toward the costs of rectification” because the responsibility lay with the manufacturer.
Mendizabal said that was “absolutely” unfair because the investigations were still under way.
“It was a statement based on nothing – no facts, no events, no knowing exactly what was happening,” he said in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald.
“That statement was very, very disappointing for CAF and we were surprised. And, when I talked to senior transport representatives, they were surprised as well.”
Interviewed at the plant in Zaragoza where CAF is making another four trams to deliver to Sydney next year, Mendizabal said the cracks had not been found in every carriage and not in the same locations in each damaged carriage.
“Some cars have no cracks. That’s why the issue is complicated and requires a thorough investigation,” he said.
“There have been some cracks found in other cities as well but the root causes are different.
“Each case, each route is different. The track, the environment is different, as well as how they are operated and maintained. So that’s why it is critical that you assess and analyse the root causes so you know the solution you need to apply.”
The company investigation is being done by its own staff as well as consultants hired in Sydney and is “very close” to being finished, he said.
The legal responsibility is yet to be determined and the company is yet to decide what should be done about the cost of the problem. CAF has covered the cost of repairing the defects without accepting liability.
“Who is liable is yet to be decided,” said Mendizabal.
“This case is quite a complex matter and we are convinced that this is the sum of different factors, but it still hasn’t been decided.
“So we’ll discuss that at a later stage. We’ll focus right now on fixing the defects. So CAF has been spending money on fixing the defects without acknowledging any liability while the investigations are ongoing.”
CAF has annual sales of about €3 billion ($4.5 billion) with Australia making up 6 per cent of its sales. It has orders worth €9.6 billion and is building trams for Oslo, Jerusalem, Anvers and Stockholm as well as the four additional trams for Sydney.
The company makes trams and trains in Zaragoza and Beasain, the manager of the Zaragoza plant, Asier Unzueta Blanco, said his facility would make 75 trams this year.
CAF has also supplied the tram fleet for Canberra as well as Newcastle and Parramatta and is part of the Momentum consortium that is designing and building NSW regional trains to be maintained in Dubbo. It was named in May to the Queensland government shortlist for a $7.1 billion project for 65 new six-car passenger trains near Maryborough, with the winning bidder to be decided at the end of the year.
Mendizabal said Transport for NSW had been a “demanding” customer like all customers were, but was not difficult.
“It’s a customer that is direct, likes to talk issues through and is a straight shooter and always demanding that we honour the contract.
“We are committed to Australia in the medium and long term. Since we entered the market in 2012 we’ve been bidding for projects. We’ve been successful in some of them, we’ve lost others, but our appetite hasn’t diminished in Australia.”
In a fundamental decision that is being reconsidered, the NSW government chose trams from CAF on the inner west line and picked the Citadis model from French company Alstom for the eastern suburbs line from Circular Quay to Kingsford. Some of the Citadis trams have been put on the inner west line as an interim solution.
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