LIGHT RAIL will begin in Newcastle with a reduced frequency of as much as 15 minutes between each service because the state government is battling to get trams on the tracks.
Newcastle Transport operator Keolis Downer confirmed on Thursday passenger services would begin Monday week with only three trams operating on the line at once, instead of four.
Five trams have arrived of the six ordered by the government but at least one is understood to have not completed the full testing process and is not ready to be used.
Damages incurred during transit and testing, including a cracked windscreen on one tram and a damaged pantograph on another, have exacerbated problems with the already depleted fleet.
The sixth tram, which Transport for NSW says is not essential to run a seven-and-a-half minute service, is on route via ship from Spain.
The state’s transport agency told the Newcastle Herald on Tuesday that tram would arrive in March, but it did not reveal passenger services would start a tram down.
The reduced intervals are shown in the Newcastle light rail timetable, which was released online on Monday.
The timetable lists the first service for the day, leaving Newcastle Interchange at 5.05am to arrive at the Newcastle Beach stop at 5.17am, and then states services “every 10-15 mins” after that on Monday to Friday.
The 110 bus, a heavy rail replacement which will end after light rail starts, has been running with service intervals of five to 15 minutes.
Former premier Mike Baird promised light rail services would run every seven-and-a-half minutes during an announcement in Newcastle with Transport Minister Andrew Constance in December, 2016.
“A tram every ‘10-15 minutes’ during the peak is not the ‘world-class’ system we were promised by this government,” Newcastle state MP Tim Crakanthorp said.
“The current bus network offers a more frequent service of five to 15 minutes.”
Mr Crakanthorp added: “It beggars belief that when the light rail commences operating on 18 February, 50 per cent of the fleet will not be in service and the government cannot deliver the 7.5 minute frequency it promised.
“It is astonishing that after the government has spent $650M on this project, they still cannot get it right.
“The government is in such a rush to cut the ribbon on this project before the election, they are putting politics before good transport outcomes.”
A Keolis Downer Hunter spokesperson said the 10-minute frequency was as “expected” for the early launch of the line.
“Light rail will launch ahead of schedule with three vehicles on the track and one in reserve, providing an expected 10 minute peak frequency,” they said.
“From day one, light rail services will be faster than existing bus services and within the first few weeks of operation the fifth light rail vehicle will be brought into service, allowing for optimal frequency.”
The light rail timetable shows the first four services on a Saturday morning will be 30 minutes apart, likewise Sunday services after 7pm.
Keolis Downer dismissed suggestions there had been a hold up in ordering replacement parts from Spain, where the Newcastle trams were produced.
“Some minor damage to light rail vehicles was incurred through transit, testing and training but has been repaired and will not impact passenger services,” the spokesperson said.
“Spare parts for Newcastle’s light rail fleet are kept locally, allowing for prompt repairs as necessary.”
Revitalsing Newcastle is holding a community day on Sunday, February 17 to celebrate the launch of the line.
The public will be able to ride the tram for free, before paid passenger journeys begin on the Monday.