Another ‘quiet little’ review into Sydney Metro

May 1, 2023
Passengers taking Sydney train in the airport terminal.

Without the open-air scrutiny of a public inquiry into NSW transport, Labor is vulnerable to the misinformation and deceit that infects every part of NSW transport policy.

This is the second part of an article on the setting-up of little, piecemeal reviews of transport matters that surprised the new NSW Government.

The first dealt with the review into Sydney Trains – with its hallmarks of being nobbled. A script written by the bureaucracy for it to look at infrastructure, but not the most significant infrastructure issue: who will own the track once TAHE is abolished? Indications are the public is to be excluded from this review and not see any report.

The powers that be want a band-aid solution but not to tackle the root of Sydney Trains’ problems. That is dangerous. Given the seriousness of the situation, the only way forward is to give the public a truthful answer to the real question: is there an agenda to rub-out Sydney Trains?

Continuing the agenda

Prima facie evidence of that agenda includes Sydney Metro. Origins were the former Labor administration, after a failed attempt to undermine Sydney Trains (predecessor) by splitting asset ownership from maintenance and operation.  The Government was virtually compelled by accidents and fatalities to reverse course.

Parties outside the Transport portfolio then searched for somewhere – anywhere – to put a Metro. Notably places that might thwart the necessary expansion of the network used by Sydney Trains. Seemingly without regard to cost.

Among results: several Premiers publicly made fools of themselves, contributing to Labor’s downfall in 2011.

Shortly after taking office the Coalition Government fell into the thrall of Metro proponents. Who reportedly waged a bureaucratic war against Sydney Trains. Subsequent misinformation boosting Metro – including through ‘school resources’ – would make a tinpot dictator proud.

The propaganda legacy lives on through bizarre beliefs. Such as policy based on: ‘turn up and go’ rail services; reducing network options, fewer seats are better; trains are the same as buses; single and double deck trains can’t run on the same lines; ‘bespoke’ infrastructure; networks get tangled; passengers should change stations not just trains; integration by separation.

The Coalition did the opposite to what the experts said. Announcements were monotonously irrational and dissembling. Vast sums were committed – over $60bn is mooted – for poor results. Capacity is dreadfully misused – half through the ‘global arc’ is allocated to suburban Bankstown! Strange routes and tiny tunnels seem designed to preclude other trains and the possibility of other rail projects – they break gauge, prevent interoperability, and stop expansion.

Some acolytes got so carried away they promised to turn every train line into Metro. If Labor hasn’t swallowed such guff, it certainly hasn’t railed against it, adding some stupidities of its own.

Five years ago, the situation was so bad John Menadue called for a public inquiry. It is far worse now.

Unsurprisingly, in such an environment of stupidity and deceit, not only did the Coalition and bureaucracy start believing their own manure but they were also too ashamed to ask about the bill. Cost blowouts hidden from the public – and at times Government – are a regular feature. The latest – reported at $21.5bn – is said to be the impetus for the new Government ordering a review.

Another little review

The review announced by the Government is far short of what Mr Menadue and I have long called for. It doesn’t deal with the issue – what is being done and why?

Rather it concerns project delivery. Making the Government seem unconcerned about whether Sydney Metro is a disaster – an international laughingstock further cementing geographic inequity. If projects are delivered cheaply.

The review is to be conducted by former Federal Secretary Mr Mrdak AO and Ms Yeates, currently of the Sunshine Coast Council’s town development company. As for the Sydney Trains review, the public is not mentioned – the report will likely be secret. As such, the claim it ‘will be undertaken with a view to determining how to deliver a fully integrated, safe, accessible and reliable public transport system, not just a Sydney Metro’ is contemptible.

It will be looking at two projects.

One is conversion of the Sydenham-Bankstown line – to extend the City Metro. The effect, if not intention, is to reduce the reliability and resilience of the network used by Sydney Trains and freight operators – directly contrary to the idea behind the Sydney Trains review.

A prospective 15-month shutdown of the Sydney Trains etc. line is the least of the problems. The Bankstown line is the worst imaginable option to extend the City Metro – condemned by every expert since first cooked up in 2012. Costs have gone through the roof. Public transport service quality will go through the floor. A review is not needed. The project must be terminated immediately.

The other is the Western Metro, from Parramatta to the CBD. Cost is unclear but probably well over the $25bn mark – with vague reports of a cost overrun of at least $12bn. Tunnelling has started near Parramatta.

Labor seems to think the location of suburban stations is the big issue. It is terribly wrong. Far more important is the likely substandard tunnel dimensions – designed to lock out true high-capacity rail options seen in, say, Paris. Also more important is the stupidity of the route into the CBD – which will add yet another station – the sixth! – within a few blocks of each other, just to eschew the sensible approach of joining the City Metro line. Which would allow much better use of the latter’s capacity than its dedication to Bankstown. Albeit by renouncing the ‘turn up and go’ shibboleth.

A review is needed. Not about delivery but to recast the project. To ensure tunnels are bored to an appropriate – interoperable – size and to get the right route in the CBD. The current project should be scrapped.

The out-in-the-boondocks Western Sydney Airport Metro escaped mention. That supreme stupidity should be cancelled forthwith.

The Government’s limiting the review to ‘delivery’ presages continuation of the Coalition’s ideology in form and content. With the same stupendously idiotic outcome – mock metros and upside-down transport.

The apparent fetish for single deck trains can be flattered far better than by Sydney Metro. Extend the lines used by Sydney Trains and buy some single-deck fleet to run on them – like Sydney Trains predecessors did until the late 1990s.

The real question

There is an obvious tension between the two reviews. Implementation of Sydney Metro, no matter how streamlined and cost-effective, will severely damage the reliability and resilience of Sydney Trains.

Both reviews should say so, bluntly, and publicly.

Since the Government wants a look at Sydney Metro, it is again time to be frank. To paraphrase John Menadue: is it a (now) $70billion dollar deceit?

Unless this question is truthfully – publicly – answered this Government will go down as the catspaw of the Coalition and the interests backing it. Its transport legacy will be even more scorned than last time it was in office.


While Labor may feel like it wants to emulate the last time it was in Government, under Premier Carr, it should reflect on the transport disaster befalling it then – when it listened to silver tongued bureaucrats and glib spivs spouting Coalition ideology. Then it was fragmentation of the railway, now it is Sydney Metro.

Last time in office the situation got so bad, a Coordinator General had to be appointed to save the Olympic Games. Who later, with the Sydney Morning Herald, ran his own review to try to put some sense back into policy – which was becoming infected with Metro mania. While his report is the landmark in Sydney transport, it has been assiduously ignored. Especially its warning about the damage Metro maniacs would inflict on Sydney. The Government must start an inquiry like recommended by Mr Menadue. To which these two little reviews, and other little ones likely following, could usefully contribute.

Without the open-air scrutiny of a public inquiry, Labor is vulnerable to the misinformation and deceit that infects every part of NSW transport policy. They might not have thought that a problem while in Opposition. It is a mighty problem for a Government – no matter how much it thinks it knows.

A public inquiry is inevitable. Labor risks becoming the subject of it.

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