JOHN AUSTEN. Sydney, metro again: $10billion more to ‘build something later’?

Nov 29, 2016

John Austen suggests that the NSW government’s approach to railways is at least back-to-front and probably misconceived. 

The NSW government has announced another metro, a ‘West metro’ between Parramatta and Sydney’s CBD. The cost is at least $10bn adding to the $20bn being spent on Northwest and City/ southwest metros. [1]

While recognition of the need for more public transport between Parramatta and Sydney is welcome, the announcement also points to deeper problems.

The West metro idea was raised by Christie’s Inquiry in 2010. If Sydney needs any metro, a line to Parramatta is the best candidate, although other public transport options such as higher speed rail, a new commuter line, light rail or bus rapid transit might be better and less costly.

A West metro is unlikely to create the problems of the current metro projects. Indeed it could eventually undo some problems arising from the Northwest metro but this will need to wait until at least a decade from now when the West metro is operating.

This suggests the state government’s approach to railways is at least back to front and probably misconceived. It is likely to constrain the effectiveness and increase the cost of any new Parramatta-Sydney rail line, whether metro or not.

The suggestion is reinforced by the announcement claiming a ‘need’ for a West metro; quite a jump from a need for better public transport. The clarity of need is contradicted by vagueness about critical aspects of any railway; route, stations and cost, and the leisurely timing of the project.

With the government’s metro bias it is no surprise the announcement reiterated overblown rhetoric about metro capacity; supposedly 40,000 people each way per hour. But capacity is determined by what happens at the end of a line, in this case the CBD end.

Another factor is that the relevant capacity measure for commuters is seats. At best theoretical metro capacity might be 11,000 up to 15,000 seats per hour; compared with commuter trains proven capacity of at least 18,000 seats which could be significantly increased.

Associated commentary, such as metro trains travelling at up to 160kmh, is similarly suspect. Up to 30,000 people an hour standing on trains hurtling at that speed?

The Commonwealth and NSW are jointly studying western Sydney rail needs. A report is due in mid-2017. Public comments on a deficient discussion paper were sought by the end of last month. The state government could not have adequately considered comments before it made its West metro announcement- an announcement that pre-empts the study results.

Then there are pro-metro ‘arguments’ in public material. Among the latest: passengers standing on Sydney commuter trains as reason for metro trains with far fewer seats; pictures of metro passengers standing among empty seats. These are plainly insulting to commuters.

The Sydney metros will be largely underground. At present, despite recent publicity and media activities, and Commonwealth Government promises to work with the states to agree urban rail plans many relevant facts are also out of public view. The people of Sydney deserve better.

A Commonwealth Parliamentary inquiry is needed.

John Austen is a former state and Commonwealth transport official, now happily retired in western Sydney.



[1] Sydney Metro – a disaster in store at 

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