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Issue #1631      March 19, 2014

Privatisation and appalling transport decisions

Proposed changes to Sydney’s public transport will complicate travel arrangements for passengers, and some commuters who travel by train for part of their journey will pay more for doing so.

Corner Booth and Johnston Streets, Annandale, NSW 1955.

This will particularly affect passengers in the eastern suburbs, which lie east of the central business district between Sydney Harbour and Botany Bay. The existing Eastern Suburbs rail line runs eastwards four stations from the city to Bondi Junction. The rest of the eastern suburbs area is currently serviced by buses, which run to the city.

The government decided against extending the rail line through the eastern suburbs, even though that had widespread popular support and would have been far more efficient than relying on trams or buses.

The government intends to reintroduce a light rail tram service, to reduce dependence on buses, which are often caught in traffic jams. However, the trams will only run from the city to Randwick and Kingsford, which lie roughly in the centre of the eastern suburbs.

Neither trains, trams nor buses will carry passengers who travel from the outer eastern suburbs to the city. They will have to catch a bus and transfer to a train on the Bondi Junction line, or else to a tram, in order to reach the city.

Official estimates predict tram overcrowding in peak hours. However, the government is now planning major new residential development to follow construction of the new light rail line, and may override any objections from local governments.

Moreover, under the new Opal ticketing system a single fare will be charged for connecting tram and bus journeys, but those who transfer to the rail line must buy a separate ticket. The Opal tickets will not provide price reductions currently available for yearly or quarterly rail tickets.

Getting the wrong train

The proposed north-west rail line also involves major problems, which have been the subject of repeated warnings to the government from transport staff and consultants.

In order to serve areas which currently only have bus transport, the new line would run northwest from Chatswood, seven stations north of the city on the existing North Shore line.

However, the government has broken a pre-election promise that northwest line passengers could travel from Rouse Hill, the outermost station, all the way to the city in the existing double-deck trains. The government now wants the new line to terminate at Chatswood and to utilise single deck carriages to get there. It argues this would achieve faster passenger discharge times and would require far smaller tunnels, offering cost savings of $500 million.

The discharge time for single deck trains is certainly shorter. Nevertheless, the double-deckers are 25 percent more efficient because they can discharge far more passengers at each stop. The government agency, Transport for NSW, has claimed that single deck trains can carry up to 1,300 passengers and the double-deckers only 1,200, but a double-decker can actually carry up to 1,700 passengers. They also provide more than twice as many seats as the single deckers.

The money saved by drilling smaller tunnels would be offset by the enormous additional expense for providing and maintaining the new single deck carriage engineering system.

Moreover, Chatswood station, which has recently experienced a massive makeover at enormous cost, would have to be reconstructed again to accommodate northwest line passengers transferring to another train to the city.

Privateers thinking small

The government is sticking rigidly to its incredibly bad decisions about Sydney’s public transport, because its primary concern is to back the private sector and privatise as many government services as possible.

It sees public transport as a means to that end, and its intention is for the new eastern suburbs light rail line and the north-west rail line to be privately operated. Sydney Ferries was privatised last year. The existing Rozelle light rail line, soon to be extended, is privately operated.

The government says it will determine fares and timetables on the new lines. However, the privately-operated airport line has demonstrated that the government is quite willing to set private line fares five times higher than for the public lines, to guarantee the profits of the private owners.

The coalition government’s strategy is to privatise components of the existing public transport network wherever possible, and to ensure that new components such as the light rail network and the northwest line remain under private control.

However, public loyalty towards railways is very strong. The O’Farrell government therefore wants new transport facilities to be distinctly different from existing ones, so they’ll be less readily seen as our public assets that have been unjustifiably sold off.

The single deck northwest trains and the termination of the northwest line at Chatswood will assist in that respect. The small tunnels will also prevent double-decker trains being used on the line if some future government wants to incorporate it into the publicly-owned rail network, in order to achieve greater efficiency.

The amalgamation of eastern suburbs bus and tram fares, but not bus and train fares, will encourage commuters to transfer from buses onto the privately-operated trams, rather than the publicly-owned state rail system.

The government’s refusal to disclose the contents of a consultant’s analysis of the north-west line proposal has been criticised by the NSW Information and Privacy Commission. The analysis showed that in peak hours 40 percent of commuters would not be able to get onto the first city-bound train that arrived at Chatswood after they had disembarked from the northwest line train.

The vast new $11.5 billion WestConnex expressway, which will have a massive environmental impact on the older inner city suburbs, has received the Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s enthusiastic support.

In 2009 Abbott declared: “the humblest person is king in his own car”. He referred to “… inefficient, over-manned, union-dominated, government-run train and bus systems”, and argued for a major shift in allocation of funding away from public transport to roads.

He concluded: “… there just aren’t enough people wanting to go from a particular place to a particular destination at a particular time to justify any vehicle larger than a car, and cars need roads”.

And he’s one of the people that are now determining the future shape of public transport in Australia. They will have to go.

Next article – Our changing climate

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