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Issue #1568      10 October 2012

NSW transport report promises privatisation, transport chaos

Last week the so-called “independent” advisory body Infrastructure NSW, headed by former Liberal Premier Nick Greiner, issued a report on the state’s public transport, particularly in Sydney. It has appalling implications for Sydney’s public transport, by rejecting new improvements to the rail system in favour of major new road works, and recommending tolls for new and upgraded motorways.

The report is highly critical of the North West Rail Link, a proposal to provide transport for the fast-growing north-west Hills district. On cost grounds it also rejects construction of the desperately needed second harbour rail crossing.

However, as transport consultant Dr Garry Glazebrook remarked: “… the [report’s] cost for the next harbour rail crossing has mysteriously doubled to $15 billion, while the cost of the proposed WestConnex motor way has equally mysteriously shrunk to $10 billion”. (Infrastructure NSW has now conceded the cost could rise to $13 billion.)

For trains running between the city and Strathfield or Hornsby the report recommends replacement of the existing “double-deckers” (many of which are virtually brand new) with single-storey metro inner city trains which would run at more frequent intervals, with hundreds of extra passengers squashed in during peak hours.

Dr Glazebrook commented: “Picture the poor commuters from the Central Coast and western Sydney having to get off a train with 900 seats and crowding onto one with 400 seats, with most people standing all the way from Hornsby or Strathfield. Shifting to metros means losing at least 40 percent of seat capacity per hour, even with higher-frequency services.”

The report advocates construction of a new light rail system to run from the city to Moore Park, where the football stadium, cricket grounds and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Studios are situated, but not extending it a few kilometres further to the University of NSW or Prince of Wales Hospital. It rejects the idea of extending the current light rail network between Central and Circular Quay, a blindingly obvious solution to inner city congestion, in favour of a maddeningly inconvenient and vastly more expensive bus tunnel between the Harbour Bridge and Town Hall.

The report’s showpiece is the proposed horseshoe-shaped Connex tollway, which would connect the Parramatta/Strathfield expressway west of the city with the M5 expressway running south of the city and alongside Kingsford-Smith airport. The connection would be made via Parramatta Road between Strathfield and the inner suburb of Camperdown, and a new tunnel between Camperdown and the eastern end of the M5.

Connecting these areas makes sense, especially if it means getting big trucks off the existing roads. However, to achieve this objective, the report recommends excavating Parramatta Road between Strathfield and Camperdown, to provide a sunken but open motorway, with local traffic roads on each side, flanked by landscaping.

Parramatta Road at the moment is only a six-lane highway. The new scheme would require eight traffic lanes and two parking lanes, plus footpaths and extra width for landscaping. Implementation of the scheme would therefore require compulsory acquisition of the properties on one or both sides of the road, and demolition of the adjacent houses, apartments, offices, factories and shops over the entire 9.8 kilometres between Strathfield and Camperdown.

Construction of the tollway through the historic sandstone Battle Bridge at Lewisham would prevent construction of the long-promised inner-city cycleway and light rail line which were intended to run below and above the bridge respectively.

The works would alienate residents on each side of the motorway, and exhaust from the extra traffic would significantly increase atmospheric pollution, which is already very high. That’s an ever-present problem with the report’s myopic emphasis on vehicle traffic.

What drives Infrastructure NSW?

The chief beneficiaries of the Infrastructure NSW report are the motor and oil industries. The report makes no reference to the need to reduce carbon emissions or improve energy efficiency. It’s a bizarre and highly dangerous throw-back to the post-war dumping of highly efficient public transport rail systems, both here and in the US, in favour of public bus networks and private vehicle transport.

In the late ’50s Sydney’s 200 mile tram track network, the biggest in the world, was ripped up and thrown away. Melbourne’s retention of its tram system was much smarter.

The Infrastructure NSW report has been contradicted by recommendations from the state’s Transport Department, prompting the astonishingly arrogant and dismissive sneer from Greiner that “The general focus of the NSW transport bureaucracy over a very long time has been about building staff”.

Implementing the report would necessitate complete realignment of the rail tracks between Redfern and Central, and the total rebuilding of Wynyard and Town Hall stations. Train services would be severely limited for years, and for several months trains would terminate at Redfern and either North Sydney or Chatswood, with passengers having to change to buses to take them into the city. This borders on madness. It’s impossible to imagine buses coping with passenger demand during peak hours.

In a particularly nasty twist, the report recommends the progressive sale of existing public assets, in order to fund construction of new privately-operated infrastructure components. This would include the state’s 58 percent stake in the Snowy Hydro scheme and the “poles and wires” electricity infrastructure.

Implementing these recommendations would result in domination of the state’s public infrastructure by private corporations. Premier Barry O’Farrell has already launched the sale (possibly to overseas interests) of the massive Port Botany and Port Kemba docks, and last week he endorsed the appalling Westconnex motor way.

Under O’Farrell’s current direction tunnels for the proposed north-west rail link could only accommodate metro trains, with passengers forced to change to city trains at Chatswood, thus ensuring that the line will always function as a separate ready-to-be-privatised entity. However, given the Infrastructure NSW recommendations he may decide to dump construction of the new line altogether.

The major recommendations of the Infrastructure NSW report are extremely dangerous for the people of NSW. They promise catastrophic changes to the state’s public transport system, and the progressive takeover of the state’s publicly-owned infrastructure by the private sector. It’s crucial that they be rejected in total.  

Next article – Members urging a no vote at Sensis

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