Public rage grows over NSW rail takeover
Former NSW Liberal Premier Mike Baird said his recent decision to retire was prompted by family matters. Others suggested he wanted to avoid controversy over the rocketing costs of Sydney’s new eastern suburbs light rail service, the questionable financial interests of some coalition politicians and their staff, and their intimate relationship with lobbyists representing the gambling, development and alcohol industries.
But another seething controversy concerns the proposed takeover of sections of Sydney’s heavy rail network for a new privately-operated metro rail system.
The existing network is government-operated, except for the airport stations, which are privately run and shockingly expensive to use. The foreign-built driverless single-decker metro trains were originally planned for use on the new Northwest line, which will run from Rouse Hill about 30 kilometres north-west of the city, connecting with the existing line at Epping about 15 kilometres from the CBD.
The new tunnels can’t accommodate the existing double-decker trains, and provision of new, entirely different trains will impose a totally unnecessary financial burden on taxpayers.
Moreover, the current 20 minute restriction on the time passengers have to stand while travelling will be greatly exceeded on the Northwest line during peak hours, and the majority of passengers will travel standing, whereas most would have been able to get a seat if the line had been designed for double deckers.
Last year the government announced the line would be extended to the city via Chatswood, and called tenders for construction of two new rail tunnels under the harbour.
Despite mounting public concern over high cost and design failings the government pressed ahead, knowing that transport-deprived north-west residents would welcome a rail service – at least before the scheme’s faults became painfully apparent.
But now the government has announced that the existing fully-operational line running southwest from the city about 10 kilometres to Bankstown is also to be shut down and modified to accommodate metro single deckers.
That would involve tremendous disruption to local residents and an enormous, totally unnecessary cost to all NSW citizens. During the six-month conversion period the line would be replaced by a bus service to convey Bankstown line passengers into the CBD.
The government will also convert an existing rail tunnel to take Northwest line trains, but for several months that project will put three existing stations out of action, forcing at least 14,000 people to transfer to buses and then back to trains to reach the city during peak hours.
As the Atlanta Olympic Games proved, attempting to move huge numbers of extra passengers by bus is a recipe for transport chaos, especially in the case of Sydney’s often gridlocked roads.
The Bankstown line conversion would also necessitate the enforced resumption and demolition of at least 150 homes and businesses. Hundreds of Sydney residents have already been forcibly evicted with inadequate compensation during construction of Sydney’s infamous WestConnex tollway.
Dodgy statistics, fake reasoning
The government recently investigated public opinion in a questionnaire regarding the so-called “upgrade” of the Bankstown line to Metro operation. Accompanying text made the highly misleading statement that 200 metro trains could arrive at the city every peak hour, compared with 120 double-decker trains at present.
The critical issue is not how many trains can reach the city per hour but how many passengers, and that depends on the number of trains arriving times the number of passengers per train.
Double-decker trains carry far more passengers than single-deckers, and the number of trains arriving per hour depends on the number of stops and the signalling and track conditions.
The questionnaire assumed that the new metro trains would miss two of the current stops along the Bankstown line and at Town Hall, but that the existing double-decker trains would stop at all three stations, as they do currently.
It also assumed the metro trains would benefit from improvements to the signalling equipment, track and stations, but it made no such assumption for the double-deckers.
Given equivalent operating conditions, double-decker trains could certainly deliver more passengers to the CBD in peak hours than single deckers.
And then there’s the financial cost. Extending the new, mostly underground metro line 65 kilometres from Rouse Hill to Bankstown via the city would bring the cost to a staggering $20 billion.
Last year the government announced that by 2021 work would commence on construction of another metro line, running from Parramatta 20 kilometres eastwards to the city, at an estimated cost of $10 billion. Little information was given about stops, but eventually the new line would almost certainly replace the existing main western line to Parramatta.
The government gained $6 billion from the sale of electricity distributor Ausgrid, but the total estimated eventual cost of the Northwest and Parramatta metro lines is $24 billion.
The government knows that Sydneysiders love their trains, and that ill-intentioned interference with the rail system has in the past contributed to the downfall of transport ministers and even governments.
Accordingly, it adopted a tactic of initially describing the new privately-operated system as a means of supplementing the existing rail network rather than replacing it.
The government refuses to disclose its long term plan. However, the proposal to convert the Bankstown line and construct the new Parramatta line has boosted long-held suspicions that the government wants to ultimately dump Sydney’s entire heavy rail network, in a gargantuan and totally corrupt waste of public money, in order to turn the state’s rail operations over to private hands.
To achieve that objective it’s likely to flog off much of the state’s crucial infrastructure, beginning with Endeavour Energy, the Land and Property Information service, the state forestry business and parts of Sydney Water.
But meanwhile, public anger is rising over the lack of metro seating, closure of the Bankstown line, the lack of stops on the revamped Bankstown line and at Town Hall, the extremely hazardous replacement of train drivers by computers, and the lack of any arguable public benefit for introducing the unbelievably expensive metro system.
It was an entirely appropriate time for Baird to exit, leaving his successor Gladys Berejiklian to face the growing wrath of Sydneysiders and other NSW residents.