Sydney North West rail link 'unfit for purpose'

The planned single-deck line would be the start of the privatisation of the city's rail system.

The NSW Coalition government's proposed private North West rail link, from Chatswood to Rouse Hill, will be "unfit for the purpose" it is intended for, according to Gavin Gatenby, co-convener of EcoTransit Sydney.

Instead of being a more efficient mode of mass commuter transport, the planned single-deck line would be an "entry wedge for the privatisation of the city's rail system”.

The central plank on the NSW budget, released on June 17, was a plan to sell-off the state's electricity infrastructure, the "poles and wires", in order to fund large-scale transport projects — principally the $13 billion WestConnex private motorway, and the private North West rail line, intended to be later extended through the Sydney CBD to Bankstown, at an estimated cost of $10 billion.

As the Sydney Morning Herald pointed out on June 30, this means that "at the March 2015 [state] election, NSW voters will be asked, in effect, to vote for one privatisation to pay for another.

"Premier Mike Baird's government wants to sell the state's electricity poles and wires. If it wins support for this privatisation, the government will use part of the funds it raises to accelerate another privatisation, that of a major part of Sydney's rail system.

"This plan means that, in about a decade, the private operator of the north-west rail link would also be running trains on two lines currently run by the state-owned Sydney Trains: the Epping to Chatswood line and the Bankstown line. The north-west rail line and its extension would be the first privately run commuter-heavy rail service in Sydney."

The government has already chosen its preferred private operator, MTR, owned by the company that runs the Hong Kong metro system, and the disastrous private rail system in Melbourne.

If the Melbourne rail fiasco is not warning enough, the planned introduction of single-deck trains on Sydney's North West line would lead to a much worse rail service overall, experts confirm.

As recently retired transport writer and planner Sandy Thomas wrote in the June 12 SMH: "The government's 2012 Long-Term Master Plan has been gutted.

"What hasn't changed are the commitments to privatised single-deck 'metro' train services with little seating, an inevitability since the size of the tunnels for the North West Rail Link was deliberately reduced in 2012, a decision every bit as stupid as the 1855 decision to adopt different rail gauges in different states."

In addition, the plans announced so far indicate that the private rail link would not include stops at key stations in the CBD and surrounding suburbs, such as Redfern. This is a recipe for a disconnected and dysfunctional rail service for Sydney overall.

The negative experience of the private train service between the CBD and Sydney airport, with its exorbitant ticket prices, should turn the community away from supporting any further privatisation of the rail system in NSW.

Undoubtedly, the Baird government's plan for a privatised, single-decker North West rail link — separate from, and incompatible with the rest of the state-owned, double-decker Sydney Trains network — is the thin end of the wedge for a full corporate takeover of the state's train system.

Rail unions and the community need to mobilise and campaign against the Baird government's neoliberal agenda of privatisation and big business profit over human needs.

This campaign should unite in opposition both to the sell off of the electricity assets, and the public transport system, in defence of the community interest over corporate greed.