Thursday, July 12, 2007

NSW Railcorp "Culture"

News stories today tell us that missing screws and split pins were the cause of the rail disruption on Sydney Harbour Bridge last week. Strong winds had blown off a cover, which hit the overhead power lines, and caused significant delays.

Rail Corp Chief Executive, Vince Graham, yesterday said there was a lack of "maintenance culture''. Unions cried foul, saying this was an attack on workers; Acting Premier John Watkins disagreed.

A maintenance review is to be conducted, and was announced by both Mr Watkins and Mr Graham.

There are bigger issues here, though. Since Nick Greiner instituted micro-economic reform in NSW, and made government "services" run as corporations, economic rationalism has been the driving force of government "services", including during the last 10 years of NSW Labor governments. The concept of economic rationalism has been discussed by Greg Whitwell, and many others. The core concept is that the 'market' will set the prices. But what price a rail service? Any "service"?

A rail service requires coordinated investments in maintenance, infrastructure, employees and timetables. However, under the economic rationalist approach, the railways were broken up into different corporations, each with their own separate budgets; and "empires". The result is that managers seek to protect "their" budgets; and there is lack of coordination towards delivering the service that commuters expect.

I believe that there are problems with management, "work cultures" at all levels, and coordination. Perhaps the divide and conquer approach of separate corporations is not working. We need Premier Morris Iemma to lead the NSW government towards a more adequately funded, more integrated railway system that is focused on delivering service by investing more in maintenance, infrastructure, employees and timetables. More trains, more carriages, better reliability, and more parking facilities at stations will attract people back to public transport.

Economic rationalism for government services, and dare I say, utilities such as water and electricity, is not working. A new plan is needed.