Sydney's light rail was expected to be completed by March 2019 © PA Images
Sydney's light rail was expected to be completed by March 2019 © PA Images

NSW anger as Sydney light rail contractor sues

9 April 2018

The firm hired to build Sydney’s light rail has taken the New South Wales (NSW) government to court, arguing it is owed $1bn.

Spanish building firm Acciona was subcontracted by private-sector consortium ALTRAC, the partnership commissioned by the NSW government to carry out and manage its light rail project.

Acciona’s legal representatives said the state government had not been clear about the number of utility pipes and cables that would need to be moved or the complexity of the work in the lead-up to signing the contracts. 

The firm said it would be seeking action for loss and damage plus interest.

“We have filed a claim in the NSW Supreme Court against Transport for New South Wales regarding Sydney Light Rail, and the matter will be first heard by the Court on Friday 13 April,” said a statement from Acciona’s lawyers.

“Our client maintains it is entitled to interest on the sum of $101m, bringing the total sum sought by our client to $1,206bn,” it said.

However, the NSW government said there was no contract between them and Acciona.

“Transport for NSW has contracted the ALTRAC Light Rail Partnership ... ALTRAC has in turn engaged with Acciona ... any issues should be raised with ALTRAC,” it said.

“The contract between ALTRAC and Acciona spell out how risks of dealing with utilities for the construction of the Light Rail are to be managed.”

Acciona said its workers have proceeded with a “go-slow” on work in response to the dispute, with the project is already running months behind schedule.

A “go-slow” is a form of industrial action, where work or progress is deliberately delayed or slowed down by employees.

Transport minister Andrew Constance said the firm would not be treated differently to any other contractor and NSW was now an “angry customer”.

“We’re not going to be fleeced by anyone, we’re an angry customer at this point in time,” he said.

“They need to get back to work, desist in their go-slow and stop disrupting people and in particular, they’ve got to meet their obligations. We will throw the book at them in terms of this contract – we’re not going to muck around.” 

However, Michael Daley, shadow minister for planning and infrastructure, told a press conference outside parliament that the government had no reason to be upset, as it had not adequately researched Acciona prior to construction. 

“Andrew Constance can get cranky and say he’s an angry customer and he can throw his toy all around the sandpit but he can’t escape this simple fact – that if the government had done its homework, if the government had planned this properly – there would have been no dispute,” he said.

The $1.5bn, 12km light rail system from Circular Quay to Randwick and Kensington first commissioned in 2014 was expected to be completed by March 2019, but has been dogged by delays during construction. 

The government has since provided an extra $500m to cover construction complications and if the building firm’s demands are met, it could increase the total cost to more than $3bn. 

Luke Foley, leader of the opposition, said the dispute was a “catastrophic, shambolic failure of delivery” by the government.

“A contract for $1.5bn is going to come in at £3bn, the project is two years late and the government is about to be mired in the courts, which means untold further delays and misery for small business people along the route,” he said.

“They have to tell the public, they have to tell local residents and local business people what’s being done to resolve this because at the moment, this is disastrous.” 

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