A lively online forum, hosted by public transport campaigners on June 25, rejected the New South Wales government’s plan to sell off public rail to private consortiums.
The forum “Sydenham to Bankstown: Should it be converted to Metro?” was organised by EcoTransit, with the support of Sydenham to Bankstown Alliance, Save T3 Bankstown Line and Friends of Erskineville.
The government wants to convert railway stations from Sydenham to Bankstown to a corporate-owned Metro line, despite a NSW Legislative Council inquiry recommending it not proceed.
Transport planning expert John Austen said the plan was a “strategic error” which “points to a wider problem of the expansion of the Metro system in Sydney, and maybe to a worrying national trend”.
He made an important distinction between “commuter rail” and metro-style services within an integrated rail system.
“The metro system, as implemented in Paris, is unsuitable for Sydney generally, which is primarily a suburban city,” Austen said. “A metro system is based on short trip, stand up, rail travel, with short distances between stations for inner city journeys. These trips are taken throughout the day, in contrast to commuter trips.”
Austen also pointed to problems of compatibility. “The tunnels for Sydney Metro are too small for the larger, standard Sydney double-decker trains. The smaller Metro tunnels preclude further standard rail infrastructure and would forever constrain any future rail development in the city.
“The government wants to convert branch lines, such as Sydenham to Bankstown, to Metro. This will severely restrict passenger capacity and impact the entire Sydney rail network.”
Roydon Ng, freelance journalist and co-founder of Save T3 Bankstown Line, spoke about “the forgotten commuters”. If the conversion to Metro takes place “up to 19,000 commuters from west of Bankstown will have to interchange to reach the city”. He said this would mean “a huge increase in travel times” for those travelling from Western Sydney to the city centre and it may “include a long walk between platforms at Bankstown”.
Ng said there is strong evidence that property developers had significant involvement in the so-called Locals for South-West Metro lobby group that wanted the Metro plan.
“The Coalition government has been focussed on the interests of property developers in the expansion of the Metro system, and has totally neglected the needs of commuters from west of Bankstown,” he said.
Ecotransit representatives said they strongly favour major investment to expand the existing public heavy rail system, instead of privatised Metro.
Much of the touted benefits of the Metro evaporate on closer analysis. The Sydenham to Bankstown Alliance recently posted an ABC Fact Check video showing claims that the Metro can carry more passengers each hour than double-decker trains were dubious.
Public funds are being wasted on building the Metro, speakers said. They would be better used to improve Western suburbs residents’ access to public transport.
[A video of the forum can now be viewed on EcoTransit’s YouTube channel.]