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The Spanish contractor building Sydney's light rail line insists it will still complete the troubled project despite its $1.1 billion lawsuit against the state government, and claims the company is on a “go slow”.
In an internal memo to senior managers marked “private and confidential”, the company, Acciona, refutes suggestions it is to blame for delays or a blowout in the cost of the 12-kilometre line from Circular Quay to Randwick and Kensington in the city's south east.
Acciona last week launched legal action against Transport for NSW for “misleading or deceptive conduct” in the lead-up to it signing a contract in 2014 to design and build the line.
It claims the transport agency led it to believe power company Ausgrid had agreed to a plan to deal with utilities under the route of the line when it had not.
In the memo, seen by the Herald, Acciona cites the intersection of George and Bridge streets in the CBD as an example of work it was required to perform on underground utilities taking far longer to complete than was specified in the construction contract.
Under the contract, a “relatively small amount of work” on utilities at the intersection was supposed to have taken about six weekends to complete.
But Acciona says the actual requirements from the utility company, after the contract had been signed, meant it had to undertake a full reconstruction of utilities at the intersection. When completed, this will have taken 57 weekends over two-and-a-half years, the memo says.
Transport Minister Andrew Constance has been scathing of Acciona, and on Friday demanded the contractor stop “their go slow [and] get back to work”.
But Acciona's memo to senior managers says the company is working “diligently on the project” and was committed to completing it. The memo does not reveal when construction will be completed.
While the laying of tracks has been completed in nine of 31 zones, civil construction has yet to be finished in any of the zones along the entire route.
Under the original schedule, all major civil construction, which includes poles and footpaths, was due to be finished this month.
Acciona says in the memo that it has tried over the past two years to “negotiate an outcome relating to the cost and time impacts” from changes to the scope of the light rail project. It also has had to carry out work on underground services that was “in addition to that which we were required to do”.
The company's internal memo says it had been “left with no choice” but to pursue legal action in the NSW Supreme Court because Transport for NSW was unwilling to mediate.
The government has also attacked Acciona for ongoing concerns about the “poor quality” of its work, “numerous site safety incidents”, and an “ever-dwindling numbers of workers”.
But Acciona says in the memo that its workforce on the project has been “relatively constant” at about 260,000 hours over the past six months, which equated to 1400 full-time workers.
And the memo says the project's lost-time injury frequency rate was below one, which compared with an industry average of more than eight.
Neither the government nor Acciona will say when they expect the light rail line to be completed.
Photo: Janie Barrett
A spokesman for Transport for NSW said Acciona and the ALTRAC consortium awarded the overall contract to design, build and operate the light rail line “must perform their respective contractual obligation despite this dispute”.
“Transport for NSW expects that ALTRAC will ensure that its contractors have an adequate number of workers on site to progress the works to meet its contractual obligations,” he said.
The agency has denied Acciona's allegations of misleading or deceptive conduct but declined to comment further while the matter was before the courts.
Businesses along the light rail route have repeatedly raised concerns about construction leading to a plunge in their revenue, forcing some to permanently close their doors and lay off staff.
In Surry Hills, Ouroboros Wholefoods Cafe owner Emanuel Tzirtzilakis said revenue had dropped by two- thirds since construction started in November 2016 outside his business on Devonshire Street.
“It's nerve-racking and it's depressing. I used to have a thriving weekend business and it's gone – it's non-existent,” he said on Monday.
“Businesses are closing by the month around me.”
This article first appeared on www.smh.com.au
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