JOHN AUSTEN – A public Inquiry into Sydney Metro is essential (Part 2)

Sep 28, 2018

Only a public inquiry can cut through the nonsense surrounding Sydney Metro and advise on what to do.

 This is the second article following-up John Menadue’s call for a proper inquiry into Sydney Metro. The first showed Metro is inferior to Sydney Trains and disastrous for Western Sydney – compelling reasons to revisit the Metro ‘plan’. (See Part 1)

Only an open public inquiry can assure us  that advice and decisions – costing up to $66bn and forever changing Sydney – are not tainted by arrogance or vested interests.  Other approaches are unsatisfactory because-

  • Government statements are untrustworthy;
  • Cloistered discussions have failed.

Further reasons for such an inquiry include:

  • evidence pointing to a cover-up;
  • the technical nature of issues.

Government information is untrustworthy

The first article gave examples of false information from Metro’s proponent – the NSW Government – e.g. on rail capacity.

Metro was initiated by the Premier when Transport Minister.  Instead of reconsidering matters when circumstances fundamentally changed– e.g. NSW reversed its opposition to a second Sydney airport – her Government ignored concerns and ‘doubled-down’ with more Metro projects.

The Commonwealth meekly accepted the State government’s stories.  Officials agreed to preposterous propositions such as single and double-deck trains can’t use the same tracks.

The public can no longer trust advice or decisions on Sydney rail from these sources.

Cloistered discussions

Among the reasons for Metro’s tall tales are the  decisions made behind closed doors.  Serious challenges from experts are ignored in preference to groupthink.  There are parallels with recent revelations about Ms Berejiklian’s Government and light rail

The (few) ‘reviews’ also suffer from groupthink.  Infrastructure NSW, after making helpful suggestions in 2012, has since merely followed the Government’s line.  Infrastructure Australia’s ‘green light’ in 2017 was disgraceful and warrants investigation.

Both organisations apparently relied entirely on NSW for information . There was no independent appraisal and public sources and indeed warnings were ignored.

Neither even mentioned the review led by Mr Christie in 2010 – conducted in public and still considered authoritative – which refuted much of what is now passed off as ‘fact’.

A cover-up?

There is plenty of circumstantial evidence pointing to a cover-up of a catastrophic mistake made by the Premier when Transport Minister – making the North West Rail Link a Metro instead of part of the existing system.  Evidence includes:

  1. Propaganda
  2. Disgraceful ‘reviews’
  3. Doubling-down.

Metro propaganda is relentless.  There are offers to teach schoolchildren about its benefits.  Previews show many empty seats on its trains – the opposite of the likely reality.  News bulletins carry ‘exclusive’ reports about inconsequential matters like tunnelling etc. which breathlessly focus on politicians in helmets/safety glasses rather than anything of substance.

As Mr Menadue argued, official statements are ‘reinterpreted’ to fit later actions e.g. the pretence that Sydney’s Rail Future recommended a stand-alone Metro.

Efforts to control information include long battles against Freedom of Information applications and advice from a legal firm on how to reduce ‘leaks’ e.g. by restricting the use of printing machines. [i]  Other examples include avoiding reference to expert reports commissioned by government agencies and ignoring – not giving oxygen to – serious comments made in the public domain.

The matter of disgraceful reviews is touched on above.  Agencies seem at pains to avoid any question about Metro.

Options other than Metro have not been raised, let alone assessed, with perverse results such as in Western Sydney.  In the Western Sydney rail study officials ‘recommended’ a Metro based plan – which few believe because of its absurdly high cost – and ignored the potential for a far more efficient and practical bus rapid transit system.

Governments and the community are effectively presented with ‘Metro or nothing’ – there is anger in Western Sydney where many (correctly) believe this means ‘nothing’.

Advice is based on biased criteria e.g. exclusion of seating as a matter of customer interest.

Some matters are probably fabricated to distract from unpalatable facts e.g. the proposal for isolated Metros 55km from the city distracts from a central question raised by Mr Christie in 2010: does Metro’s CBD route cripple Sydney Trains, and if so is this necessary?  This pivotal issue has not even been acknowledged.

The propaganda, disgraceful reviews and ‘doubling-down’ are consistent with a view Metro is ‘too important – in political terms – to question’.   Only an independent inquiry can deal with this type of pressure.

Technical questions

Many believe there should be more trains and less cars.  Few appreciate the technicalities . Rail matters need expert analysis.  Rail policy is a field open to misinformation from advocates of the latest fad.

Sydney Metro, not being a proper rapid transit system, is arguably an example of such a fad.  It has been portrayed as a ‘victory’ by one of the competing railway camps – celebrated by a new fiefdom to be kept separate from the rest of public transport, and not to be challenged.  The question of whether and where the Metro ‘technological solution’ – of single over double-deck trains, unmanned over manned trains and relatively few seats – is right can only be properly resolved in an open inquiry.

What an inquiry should cover

An inquiry needs to cover:

  • The current situation;
  • What to do from now.

An inquiry must focus on the impacts of Metro on travel opportunities.  This entails:

  • Metro’s impact on other transport, including future expansion of those systems;
  • Consideration of Metropolitan Sydney, adjacent areas e.g. the Central Coast, and the potential for freight and high-speed rail.

An inquiry would explore reasons for decisions.  It is likely to reveal the public has not been told the reasons for at least some decisions, and why they have not been told.

A question will be whether decisions should be changed.  Some matters appear to be locked in concrete – for example small tunnels on the North-West rail link.  Others such as the planned extension to Bankstown, and the route/characteristics of a ‘West Metro’ appear more fluid.  It will be important to ascertain exactly where the ‘plan’ is up to.

The inquiry should consider:

  • Transport ‘needs’ and the priority in which/how they might be addressed;
  • Options for alternatives to/modification of Metro projects;
  • Costs, especially budgetary and ‘development rights’.

There are additional benefits of such an inquiry.  It would provide advice politicians  that can trust – rather than a second guess of their presumed wishes.  It would restrain vote bidding wars – fought with billions of your money. Finally, it offers an opportunity to jettison lunatic ideas such as infected the Western Sydney City deal.

John Austen is a happily retired former official living in Western Sydney. Details are at

[i] Daily Telegraph, 21 August 2018

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