Angry residents 'Rail Against Rail Cuts'

Issue 
Jim Donovan, Lee Rhiannon and Matthew Hounsell at the meeting. Photo: Andrew Chuter

A public meeting of about 100 people in Erskineville Town Hall on July 14 voted unanimously to oppose planned cuts to Sydney rail services and the proposal for a privatised train line as an extension of the Sydney Metro Northwest rail link to the city's north-western suburbs.

The meeting, organised by the Friends of Erskineville residents' group, was called to protest plans by the NSW Coalition government to cut Bankstown Line train services that stop at Erskineville and the growing problem of dangerous overcrowding on the trains.

Jim Donovan, from Fix NSW Transport, gave a summary of the history of public transport in Sydney. "Recent projects have caused chaos and resulted in fewer seats on Sydney trains," he said.

Matt Hounsell, from Ecotransit, said: "NSW Transport Department plans for relatively cheap, simple improvements to the urban rail system have been cancelled in favour of the privatised Sydney Metro system.

"The Metro developers want a single-deck, driverless, privatised system to eventually replace the fully staffed, double-decker Sydney Trains network."

Donovan and Hounsell explained that a single deck metro system operating with limited seating over a very long distance with long distances between stations is simply inappropriate. The Metro will also be incompatible with the existing dual deck trains, which will reduce flexibility and require the loss of existing dual deck lines.

They said the Metro developers have made exaggerated claims and inappropriate comparisons of capacities about single deck and dual deck trains. There are also safety concerns if there is an emergency requiring evacuation with completely crewless trains.

They fear the Metro will be used to justify huge increases in private residential development and the loss of public housing, and the fully privatised nature of the Metro will have flow-on negative effects to rail employees’ wages, conditions and union representation.

They concluded that the Metro represents high cost for limited benefits when compared with improvements to the existing system as originally envisioned by Sydney Harbour Bridge engineer John Bradfield. These include improved timetables, improved signalling to increase train frequencies and the addition of extra lines along existing rail easements.

NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon told the meeting: "The Greens stand for a publicly owned, publicly controlled transport system.

"These cuts and transport changes will mean that Erskineville and other suburban residents will lose out.

"The [Mike] Baird government's real agenda is: First, to divert attention from the WestConnex road tollway disaster. We call for WestConnex to be cancelled and the money to be put into genuine public transport.

"In addition, current government plans call for the sale of public housing stock in Redfern/Waterloo, and private apartment development around the extension of a private train line in its place.

"This whole project involves breaking up the public transport system, and introducing a fully-privatised network in its place.

"The result would include a huge weakening of union strength, with consequent loss of jobs, pay and conditions.

"This fight can be won," she added. "We need a strong community campaign to defend public transport right now."

A motion was carried unanimously to "condemn the Sydney Metro proposal, particularly the exclusion of Erskineville and St Peters stations from the Bankstown line and affirm that we will also join with other groups in opposing the overall project".

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