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Adelaide rail privatisation plan rolls on

Local

Three consortia shortlisted to bid for the Marshall Government’s privatisation of Adelaide’s rail services have been invited to tender, including a group that was last year accused of trying to help Transport Minister Stephan Knoll “spin” the sale.

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The sell-off plan remains on track, with an Invitation to Supply issued to three consortia – Adelaide Next, a consortium between Deutsche Bahn and John Holland with Bombardier as a sub-contractor; Keolis Downer, a consortium between Keolis and Downer EDI; and TrainCo, a consortium between Transdev and CAF.

The winning bidder will operate metro rail services on the government network across the Belair, Gawler, Outer Harbor and Seaford lines with spur lines on Grange and Tonsley.

In a statement today, the Government said it was “committed to working collaboratively with employees who will be impacted by the change in delivery model” with “employees and employee associations [to] be consulted in relation to proposed changes which will impact on employees as the project progresses”.

“We are leaving no stone unturned with our reforms to deliver better and more customer focussed bus, train and tram services,” Knoll said in the statement.

He said public transport patronage declined in Labor’s last decade in office, and “we are modernising our public transport network and bringing trains and tram in line with the same model that our buses have operated under for the last 20 years”.

“Since we’ve been rolling out our reforms, we’ve seen some green shoots with public transport patronage increasing by over one million trips last financial year compared to the previous year,” he said.

“We will be capitalising on the vast private sector experience to help deliver better train and tram services while maintaining control of the assets, fares and service frequency.”

He said the companies associated with the shortlisted proponents “have experience delivering better services in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, as well as in Europe”.

One of them, Newcastle-based Keolis Downer, caused controversy last year when the Labor Opposition exposed an email sent from Downer Group executive general manager Sasha Grebe – a former staffer to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and former Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey – highlighting quotes attributed to former Labor Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis, Premier Jay Weatherill and Transport Minister Stephen Mullighan stating the Labor Government was open to privatising the state’s rail fleet.

“These might be helpful,” Grebe wrote in the email.

However, the quotes were revealed to be fake, taken from a satirical news article entitled “Adelaide looks towards privatisation” originally published by online forum Wheels of Steel in 2014.

It was also revealed last year that Knoll met with Keolis Downer after the tender process had opened, with his agency boss Tony Braxton-Smith telling parliament he had urged the minister to travel to Newcastle to meet with the company, which runs the Yarra Trams operation in Melbourne and the Southlink and Link SA bus networks in Adelaide.

He said the meeting lasted for about two and a half hours and included a site inspection of the Newcastle tram network, which was “at my urging of the Minister”.

“The principle purpose of actually going there was to examine the urban uplift and the transformation to the urban environment that’s happened in Newcastle by virtue of the construction of new light rail,” Braxton-Smith said at the time.

“If you look at light rail in Newcastle it has stimulated a tremendous building boom and this Government has been prevailed upon to think about light rail and it is making commitments to furthering light rail in the CBD.”

He conceded “the (tender) process was underway when the Minister and I went to Newcastle” but “there was no probity officer at the meeting [because] there was nothing discussed”.

“I think it is patently obvious that no conversation could take place in relation to any matter to do with procurement processes either planned or prospective or on foot,” he said.

“I think we need to conduct ourselves with due caution during any of those conversations, but again, I would highlight, the purpose of the trip was for a different matter.”

Under the proposed sell-off, the State Government will retain ownership of rail assets, including trains, trams, tracks and stations, entering into “a performance-based franchise contract that keeps the operator focussed firmly on the efficiency and quality of service delivery to customers”.

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