Fears of overcrowding at train stations due to a shutdown of the Opal system have been realised, with one of the first known instances of a glitch affecting commuters during peak hour in the Sydney CBD.
On Wednesday, Fairfax Media reported that Sydney Trains staff were being told to close down ticket gates for about four minutes when Opal card readers malfunctioned, which prompted alarm among some staff in internal emails about overcrowding in peak periods.
On Thursday, a commuter who witnessed a reboot of barrier gates just before 9am at Town Hall station said the procedure resulted in a five-minute delay in getting out and chaos among passengers, who couldn't move.
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Although the glitch only affected the Opal readers, it also meant paper ticket users couldn't use the faulty barriers.
Photographs of the incident supplied to Fairfax show commuters standing shoulder-to-shoulder and unable to move.
"Everyone had poured off the trains and come up the stairs and the gates had been closed," said a commuter, who gave his name as David.
"The staff at the station yelled out that the Opal readers weren't working and that they needed to reboot them. It wasn't all of them - but two of the Opal readers weren't working, which meant they had to restart about half of them.
"It was completely packed. There was just a sea of people and no room whatsoever to move. We were all packed in there like sardines. Only a few people were getting out."
Transport for NSW apologised for the incident, saying problems had started about 8am and had affected four Opal readers.
"Sydney Trains apologises to customers who were held up – on a train network as large as ours, technical issues happen from time to time," a spokesman said.
He said another "fault" unrelated to the Opal system also affected several gates at 6.30am.
We were all packed in there like sardines.Commuter David
"A technician fixed the problem and in the meantime customers were able to go through open gates or move to working gates to tap off," the spokesman said.
On Thursday afternoon, Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian said Opal card issues hadn't yet struck during peak hour.
"The good news is, we've not yet had to shut down the system in peak hour during the day which is quite ... without gloating, there isn't a system of this expansiveness anywhere around the world that's been rolled out to date without a major glitch," Ms Berejiklian told ABC radio.
Prompted to respond to the fact a problem would eventually strike during peak, she said: "Well, I hope not. But what I'm saying is there are little system things we're dealing with every day because we're going ... from a system that is very outdated and clumsy to, I believe, a world-best system and we're learning from what other cities and states have done around the world."
She conceded there had been "some very small glitches" in the early stage of the rollout.
"But we're managing them all and they're mostly fixed within a very short period of time," Ms Berejiklian said.
Asked on Friday to comment on Thursday morning's incident, Ms Berejiklian said it wasn't a "major" peak hour issue.
"We’re still progressing the roll-out of Opal and we have always said there may be some minor glitches along the way - thankfully at this stage we have not had any major peak hour problems with Opal."
NSW is not alone in having to deal with failures of a smartcard system during its rollout.
When Melbourne's myki became the only way of catching public transport there, staff were forced to open the gates at some stations when large crowds were waiting to "touch-off" their smartcards at popular stations.