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Two men will face court after a railway signal box was vandalised on Wednesday night, causing tens of thousands of Matildas fans to be delayed for hours while trying to get home from Australia’s semi-final loss to England.
Sydney Trains informed travellers there was a “slight glitch” relating to a power supply issue affecting equipment at Ashfield just after 10pm, which meant immediate delays.
About an hour later, Sydney Trains said the delays were caused by vandalism and NSW Police were called to Brown Street in Ashfield after reports of malicious damage about 11pm.
Police say cables in a railway signal box had been cut and equipment damaged. Transport for NSW said specialist Sydney Trains engineers were deployed immediately and it took about 90 minutes to restore the issue.
About 1am, Damian Zac Stewart, 47, was arrested nearby on Brown Street. A short time later, Anthony Joel Pike, 33, was also arrested. Both were taken to Burwood police station where they were questioned.
Pike was charged with aggravated breaking and entering to commit a serious indictable offence, endangering the safety of a person on railway, destroying or damaging property, and entering enclosed land not prescribed premises without a lawful excuse.
The signal box at Ashfield that was vandalised on Wednesday night.Credit: Dean Sewell
Stewart was charged with aggravated breaking and entering to commit a serious indictable offence, endangering the safety of a person on railway, destroying or damaging property, possessing housebreaking implements, possessing prohibited drug, entering enclosed land not prescribed premises without a lawful excuse, and breach of bail.
Police will allege both Stewart and Pike broke into a restricted transport facility and damaged critical signalling infrastructure at the site. Both men were refused bail to appear at Burwood Local Court on Thursday.
Secretary for Transport Josh Murray told Ben Fordham on 2GB he would be looking to do more to prevent vandalism happening again.
“The system was broken into … it’s one of the things that we absolutely have to do is build more resilience so that these things don’t happen,” he said.
“The server racks have got a stack of modems in them and power supplies; they sit within this small room and they were dismantled.”
Murray described the railway signal box as a room that was a brick, single storey dwelling about the size of a garage that someone gained access to on Wednesday night.
“[It would be] like working from home and someone up the road from your house starts dismantling the NBN box at the end of your street,” Murray said.
Premier Chris Minns has apologised “to everyone who was a commuter, a football fan or concert goer last night”.Credit: Oscar Colman
NSW Transport Minister Jo Haylen said she had instructed the Transport for NSW secretary to conduct an urgent review into the security of critical rail infrastructure and to prioritise any upgrades.
“Last night the system was not broken, it was broken into and destroyed in a deliberate act,” she said.
“I want to make it very clear that this was not some minor act of vandalism, this act significantly damaged critical rail infrastructure.”
NSW Premier Chris Minns apologised to commuters on Thursday morning, but said operators did everything they could.
Transport chaos at Sydney Olympic Park rail station after the Women’s World Cup semi-final.Credit: Sophia Phan
“I think communication became better as the night wore on, but that’s primarily because more information was made available to transport officials on the ground and they were able to communicate that to waiting passengers,” he said.
“I know that that was the case because when I was able to get on scene at about 11.45, there was clear communication … I’m not suggesting that was the case from the very beginning of the incident, but that’s probably as a result of a lack of information.”
Carolyn Bell, aged in her 50s, spent 90 minutes waiting on the train platform at Olympic Park.
When she spoke to the Herald at 12.30am, she was still trying to get home to Mosman via Wynyard, where she’d parked her car.
“To have this happen at the end of it puts a bit of a sour taste in your mouth,” Bell said.
“The updates were really, really poor. Then they said to get on a train and go to Lidcombe, they just wanted to get people out of Olympic Park.
Lidcombe railway station after the semi-final. Credit: Sophia Phan
“So everybody had to go to Lidcombe and then change to catch whatever train was available and that’s the one that’s going via Bankstown to city circle.
“There are a lot of young kids and international people here and workers who need to go to work tomorrow, it’s just embarrassing.”
She said politicians should focus less on promising public holidays and do their jobs. “They want to give us a day off but they can’t even get their trains working,” she said.
“Focus on getting your infrastructure right because it impacts so many people … Now what’s going to happen is that a lot of people won’t go to work tomorrow, which means a lot of lost productivity.”
Maree, who did not want to give her last name, said there should have been buses provided as replacements.
“This was the second time that trains have had a signal failure following a Matildas game at the stadium [this World Cup],” she said.
“I thought that the trains were woefully underprepared – no talk about buses or any other way for 70,000 people to get home … Dreadful.”
Anne Buckley, 75, from Lewisham went to watch the game with her “soccer-crazy friend”.
“It was an absolute nightmare getting home,” she said after arriving home about 1am.
“I left the game 10 minutes early so I could hopefully beat the rush to get home and that was great, I got the train and we sat, and sat, and sat, and sat and sat and sat and sat and sat and sat.”
She said the train that should have gone to Strathfield was diverted to Lidcombe and then to Central.
Buckley’s journey normally lasts 30 to 40 minutes, but she walked through her front door at 12.30am, having first boarded the train at 10.07pm.
“Sydney Trains isn’t it? No investment and it’s a very important football game and a concert at Qudos [Bank] Arena, so lots and lots of people and a perfect storm from Sydney Trains not to work, which it didn’t.
“It’s a crappy way to end a good game but hey I’m home and I’m in one piece, so let’s be grateful for small mercies.”
Asked if she would have attended the game in hindsight, Buckley said: “Probably not, no.”
“I don’t think they meant to make it difficult, it’s just one of those things, things happen – shit happens as they say,” she said, but expressed hope that post-match transport would be better at the World Cup Final.
All trains to the city were diverted via the Bankstown Line – which travels west and loops back around to the city, instead of going straight to Strathfield and then Redfern – adding about 20 to 30 minutes to each trip.
Ride-share operators were alerted in a bid to help deal with the crowds, but it took until midnight to clear the Olympic Park precinct.
Transport for NSW said trains were running regularly on Thursday morning and an investigation is under way.
“Despite the delay, crowds cleared from the Sydney Olympic Park precinct by about midnight,” it said.
“Sydney Trains reported the incident to NSW Police and an investigation is currently under way … The Sydney Trains Security Team will also conduct a thorough investigation.”
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