Transit Officers working for City Rail check for fare evaders on the inner west line.21 July 2011Photograph: Jon Reid

Night patrol … but not all the time. Photo: Jon Reid

RAILCORP has stopped employing overnight security officers for much of the week, in a development criticised for compromising safety on Sydney’s train system.

Sydney’s train operator told its security division this month it would only roster staff later than midnight on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

The new rosters, which mean there will be no RailCorp transit officers employed at stations or on trains past midnight from Sunday to Wednesday, were criticised by unions and the state opposition yesterday for weakening security coverage.

”It is a concern, because previously there’s been transit officers 24/7,” said an officer for the Rail, Tram and Bus Union, Helen Bellette. ”That’s been for the protection of customers but also for staff, particularly cleaning staff and especially in regional areas.”

The O’Farrell government is getting rid of transit officers and replacing them with a dedicated transport command under the control of the NSW Police Force.

That command has been established with 300 officers from the existing commuter crime police unit but it will not be at its full strength of 610 officers until 2014. In the meantime, RailCorp’s transit officer division is shrinking as employees accept voluntary redundancy packages or offers to retrain.

Ms Bellette said the redundancies so far – about 40 had been accepted, and 100 officers had applied – left RailCorp unable to maintain a 24-hour roster.

”I think it is more of an issue in the regional areas and around Central,” Ms Bellette, a former transit officer, said of the lack of coverage. ”In regional areas it is an issue because of a lack of police resources.”

CityRail offers only minimal midweek train services past midnight, but transit officers had previously been scheduled to work overnight from depots at Parramatta and Central.

Labor’s transport spokeswoman, Penny Sharpe, said: ”Trains and buses left without transit officers at this stage of the new rollout, I believe, is a problem.

”Reforms only work if the full complement is there, and commuters will be less likely to want to travel when they realise there are security-free trains.”

According to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics, commuters are at most risk of victimisation between 2am and 6am at weekends. However, commuters are at least risk after 2am on weekdays, the bureau’s most recent report says.

The new rosters were confirmed by RailCorp, which said they had been created to facilitate the transition to security operations being taken over by police.

”To enable the transition, the increased presence of NSW Police will allow RailCorp to shift its focus and the deployment of transit officers to the times and locations they are needed most,” a RailCorp spokeswoman said.

A spokesman for the police said the force was in the process of recruiting managers and staff to run the new police transport command.

”The build-up of the remainder of command’s operational resources is due to commence late this year,” he said.