JOHN AUSTEN. Pain before more pain and then no gain in Berejiklian’s growing Sydney transport mess

The NSW Government says there is an ‘amazing’ light at the end of the tunnel with the closure of the Epping-Chatswood line that is part of the Metro project.  The analogy is apt. An approaching light in a railway tunnel heralds big trouble.

 My recent posts dealt with the need for a proper inquiry into Sydney Metro as called for by John Menadue.  The reasons for the growing mess need to be understood. They cannot continue to be hidden with public relations spin.

Last week, Metro joined Sydney light rail and the stadiums rebuild as part of Sydney’s infrastructure mess

The reason for the closure of the 9-year old Epping-Chatswood rail line which serves Sydney’s second largest employment area is to assist the conversion to Metro.  It will be at least 7 months – until after the State election – before the line re-opens.  In the mean-time public transport there will be limited to buses – giving rise to fears of ‘carmageddon’.

Despite the closedown starting at a time of low traffic – school holidays – there have been plenty of grumbles, some triggered by it coinciding with the NRL Grand Final.  Media reports have delays, long queues for buses and problems faced by individuals.  There was a solitary positive comment – one young women said there will be more trains once the line re-opens.

The Government acknowledges the closedown causes difficulties.  However, according to the propaganda it is ‘worth it’ for what the latest publicist – Ms Lee Lin Chin formerly of SBS – considers the ‘grooviest’ project.  The Government assures us there is light at the end of the tunnel, even an ‘amazing light…’.[i]

The situation is indeed amazing – a nasty surprise awaits any person welcoming the prospect of more trains.

It is true more (Metro) trains will be scheduled to run on the re-opened line – at least in peak hours – than previously.  Together they will be able to carry more people than before to Chatswood.

However, many beneficiaries of this will need to change trains at Chatswood – and possibly Epping – for the first time.  And continue doing so for at least several years.

More important bigger problems relate to the Government’s key – but false – claims the relative potential of Metro and Sydney Trains. This is matter of fundamental importance to Sydney, especially Western Sydney.

The capacity of the Epping-Chatswood line as a Metro is less than that if it was to remain a Sydney Trains line.

More Sydney Trains could have run on the line than had been scheduled previously – especially if it were to have a turnback such as needed for Metro.  In such a case Sydney Trains higher seat and passenger capacity per train would more than offset the higher frequency of Metro trains.

A like for like comparison of Metro and Sydney Trains implies the future seating potential of this line – the matter relevant to commuting – would have been 50%-60% higher (than Metro) if it remained with a Sydney Trains system improved by the ‘Paris and London’ automation train control technology promised by the Premier.

Similarly, a like for like comparison implies potential passenger carrying capacity of the line – seating and standing – would have been around 20% higher if it remained with Sydney Trains.

There are even more serious matters.  One is a loss of effective rail capacity throughout Sydney due to removal of the line from Sydney Trains e.g.:

  • Across the harbour and through the CBD fewer Sydney Trains can feed into the higher capacity segment between Chatswood and the CBD;
  • From the north and Central Coast trains once routed via Chatswood will instead pass through Strathfield;
  • From Western Sydney tracks between Strathfield and the CBD will need to be shared with more trains joining from the north.

Another problem is the gravely serious question of whether these and other cuts to Sydney Trains capacity can be mitigated. It is possible that the Metro route in central Sydney will preclude another central route for Sydney Trains.

The Epping-Chatswood closedown is not temporary pain for later gain.  It is needless pain and advised against by experts.

Two ominous footnotes emerged last week.  First, while we were told 20,000 commuters would be displaced from trains, the Minister claimed 10,000 boarded buses on day one.  What happened to the other 10,000?  Did they drive?

Second, the Government is beseeching passengers to change between trains and buses at St Leonards – 3.5km from Chatswood.  The concern is about interchanging chaos at Chatswood.  The threat of chaos will continue for years after the amazing light at the end of the tunnel arrives – because Metro services feature ‘all-out all-change’ there.

If Metro is indicative of what Governments consider ‘worth it’, Australia has a very serious infrastructure problem ahead: grandstanding and misuse of enormous sums of public money on bad projects for (probable) clandestine motivations whose important issues are covered-up. Is the secret agenda the privatisation of Metro?  The failure of ‘independent’ advisers to publish proper reviews aids and abets these serious concerns.

The $8bn or so financial cost of the North West Rail Link (which incorporates the Epping-Chatswood line) is merely a first instalment of a Metro plan costing $66bn or more. There has not been any proper assessment of any part of this – let alone its totality or impact.  It can only be assumed to be a gigantic boondoggle, at best.

The widespread credibility problem with official infrastructure statements and ‘analysis’ is nowhere worse, or more consequential, than for Sydney Metro. A proper public inquiry is needed now.

John Austen is a happily retired former official living in Western Sydney. Details will be at thejadebeagle.com.

 [i] Daily Telegraph, 1 October 2018

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John Austen is a happily retired former senior official of Infrastructure Australia living in Western Sydney. Details are at thejadebeagle.com.

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