JOHN AUSTEN. Sydney Metro: the $60billion dollar deception

Jul 4, 2018

Here are some starters for the Sydney Metro inquiry.

John Menadue recently called for a judicial inquiry into Sydney Metro rail projects that asked key questions – such as whether there are better options than a break of gauge, small tunnels and a CBD route that may needlessly wreck Sydney transport.

The inquiry is important for Western Sydney

Metro presents problems ,particularly for Western Sydney because it offers fewer seats per line than Sydney Trains.  Commuters – or anybody on a train for more than 20 minutes – would understand why.

The Metro will take over key parts of Sydney Trains like Epping-Chatswood . That will have an adverse impact but hidden from the public until after the coming State election.

Some matters John Menadue mentioned – such as the CBD route – could dwarf even that.  Metro threatens to divide Sydney,  disadvantaging Western Sydney .  However, the public needs reasons that are absolutely clear and rigorously verified.  Unfortunately, it does not have them.

The alternatives

The inquiry should look into ‘alternatives’ arising from the reports cited by John Menadue – an enhanced Sydney Trains system.

This is pivotal. The public case for Metro says it can carry many more people on a single-deck fleet than double-deck Sydney Trains because it can run many, many more trains.  The usual presentation is 40,000 people on 30 Metro trains but only 24,000 people on 20 Sydney Trains.

Every Metro ‘justification’  such as ‘turn up and go’, city shaping, untangling the network etc. hinges on that premise.  Yet the reports point to Sydney Trains potentially running more trains than Metro.

Can the reports/alternatives be believed? 

Six years ago, Infrastructure NSW referred to the ‘enhancements ‘as: ‘using technology that is proven in service overseas’.

The Premier claims the enhancements are  similar to the ‘Paris and London’ technology.  Indeed, the technology is to be installed on Paris’ RER for more trains than Sydney Metro.  But Paris RER, like Sydney Trains, uses double-deckers.  It would seem that the ‘enhancements’ could be applied to the existing Sydney Trains double deckers.

Other issues need investigation

Contrary to then Transport Minister Berejiklian’s claim in 2012, Metro is not part of a new ‘three-tier-railway’ – Sydney already had one with local, express and inter-urban services.  Her ‘plan’ is for at least four separate rail networks.

She  has committed Sydney to Sydney’s first real break of gauge. This will be a disaster for future generations. This is against the flow of history, undermining John Bradfield’s legacy and flouting a specific warning from Sydney’s most respected railwayman, Mr Christie:

‘the last thing we need is a 21st century version of different gauges’., at p.200.

Explanations are needed from advisors

A premier and ministers  aren’t the only ones with some explaining to do.

A crucial 2012 Infrastructure NSW document seems to have cut and pasted ‘information’ from Transport for NSW to support a metro. Its estimates of capacity are nonsense and its conclusions  wrong.

This leads to questions like why did Infrastructure NSW assume ‘proven technology’ could be used for Metro but not Sydney Trains and why was there no

reference  to the expert report commissioned by Transport for NSW in late 2011 which throws doubt on the cited Transport for NSW ‘information’.

Commonwealth advisers also have some explaining to do.

Infrastructure Australia’s  did not investigate all relevant matters, especially options, prior to giving a green light to Metro last year.

There are now even more questions about  the Commonwealth’s role such as:

  • did it consider the (above) expert report, Mr Christie’s warning or the 2014 ABC Fact Check report cited by Mr Menadue?
  • how can it support for what it called a ‘standalone’ system while referring to the Government document which condemned such a scheme?

All departments involved in the Western Sydney Rail Scoping study have plenty of questions to answer too.  Such as:

  • why did they reject the obvious scheme for a vastly more expensive ‘plan’ putting the wrong railway in the wrong place, cut off from the rest of the system?
  • do they really believe single and double-deck trains cannot use the same tracks?
  • why did they recommended the best potential airport line stop 7km short of the airport?

The effect of their advice – intended or not – is to hide some of the possible worst effects of Metro.  Hence all the ‘independent’ advisers should be asked:

  • why aren’t any of the real issues – like tunnel size, proper estimates of capacity, relevant criteria etc. – mentioned in their publications?
  • did they merely transcribe the NSW Government’s story du-jour – forget previous statements, ignore other (expert) reports and top this off with home-grown technical mistakes?


The 19th century break of rail gauge was notoriously Australia’s greatest transport failure.  This led to a Commonwealth Royal Commission in the 1920s – and later inquiries – about how to correct that aberration e.g.

The NSW Government via Metro looks like repeating the colonial travesty of a break of gauge. We are headed for infrastructure shame. This is the price we are likely to pay for a government that wants to break up the system so that part of it can be sold off. It looks like another case of ill considered privatisation.

Further the so called ‘enhancements’, the traffic control system, can be applied to Sydney Trains as much as the Metro . We can get the ‘enhancements’ without Metro.

As John Menadue says, the Sydney rail ‘plans’ need to be subject to a properly constituted inquiry to compel the truth – to investigate who and what is involved in all this.  It would be a considerable understatement to call this a $60billion dollar question.

The call for such an inquiry should be supported by all  and urgently by everyone concerned about Western Sydney.

John Austen was head of economic policy at Infrastructure Australia until 2014.  He is now an often happily-retired Sydney western suburbs dweller.  More details will be forthcoming at his website The Jade Beagle.



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