Long Tube ride to Australia for Sydney train king Howard Collins and his Barmy Army

The number of Brits employed on 457 visas ballooned at Sydney Trains after Howard Collins became CEO in 2013. Photo: John Veage The average base salaries of staff employed on 457 visas at NSW’s transport agencies almost topped $187,000 this year. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Controversial American businessman Sol Trujillo flew in his amigos to Telstra.

Now Sydney’s railway chief, Howard Collins, appears to have brought in his Barmy Army.

The number of well-paid British consultants employed on 457 temporary work visas at Sydney Trains ballooned in the wake of Mr Collins taking the reins more than two years ago, details released under freedom-of-information laws to Fairfax Media show. Mr Collins was nicknamed the Tube Man by London’s mayor, Boris Johnson.

They back up a regular observation that the state’s transport bureaucracy is geared towards Britain instead of nations renowned for railways such as Germany, Switzerland and Japan.

Staff employed at Sydney Trains on 457 visas almost doubled to 43 in 2013, from a year earlier at the state railway overlord then known as Railcorp. Paid an average base salary of about $170,000, 32 of them came from Britain, a near trebling of the number in 2012.

The British contingent on Sydney Train’s payroll dwarfed other nationalities on 457s in 2013, including three from both Spain and France, and one each from Germany, Italy, Sweden, Bangladesh and Canada.

A year later, four-fifths of the 35 staff on 457s were British nationals – earning almost $178,000 each. The reported base pay does not include bonuses for hitting targets.

While those on work visas fell to 25 staff earlier this year, the proportion of them from Britain stayed the same. Sydney Trains said the number of staff on 457s had fallen to 17 in the lead up to Christmas.

Rail, Tram and Bus Union NSW branch secretary Alex Claassens said he was concerned about the number of highly paid staff on 457 visas at a time when Sydney Trains was slashing workers.

“We are always being told they need to cut costs but if they are allowed to bring people in on 457 visas that makes a mockery of it all,” he said.

“The people of NSW would rather see more front-line staff … than large numbers of people being employed in managerial and backroom positions.”

Shortly after Mr Howard began as chief executive in 2013, Sydney Trains made four appointments to its senior leadership team, all of whom had extensive experience running train networks in Britain.

They included former Transport for London senior manager Peter Allaway, who became general manager at Sydney Trains in December 2013 before shifting to the position of program director.

Another senior manager at Sydney Trains, Stuart Middleton, had a long career at British Rail.

Transport expert and former ministerial adviser Greg Sutherland said the state’s transport bureaucracy had a long entrenched tendency to seek expert advice from Britain instead of continental Europe.

However, Mr Sutherland said Mr Collins, a 35-year veteran of the London transport system, had been one of the few experts brought out from Britain to have made significant improvements to Sydney’s rail network.

Other transport insiders say one of the key reasons Sydney Trains has relied on British consultants is because of a shortage of experts from Germany, Switzerland and Japan.

The average base salaries of staff across NSW’s transport agencies – including Transport for NSW and the State Transit Authority – almost topped $187,000 this year for those on temporary work visas, the documents show.

A spokesman for Sydney Trains said the proportion of staff on 457 visas was “extremely low” for a workforce of more than 10,200 staff.

“We have brought across some of the experience required to help ensure we continue to deliver value for taxpayers and service improvements for our customers,” he said.

“Like rail operators in the UK, Sydney Trains is going through an unprecedented period of customer growth and organisational change.”

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