Sydney trains: wrecked by neglect

An unhelpful message on the North West Metro line.

A minor mechanical fault on a train at Town Hall station caused an entire day of delays across Sydney’s rail network on August 23. Rather than being an exception, the incident was just the latest chaos to hit Sydney commuters.

Similar network-wide incidents occurred last year in January, August and on New Year’s Eve. The excuses then included lightning strikes, a child’s balloon, large crowds and archaic technology.

Meanwhile, several public works projects aimed at easing congestion on Sydney suburban lines, some of which date back to 2004, remain unfinished.

A Transport NSW and Sydney trains February 2018 review noted Sydney’s rail system is a “tangled network” plagued by understaffing. The Rail, Tram and Bus Union has been campaigning for more staff for years.

What is the root cause of these failures? A look at some recent transport fails reveals a pattern.

North West Metro

Since opening three months ago, a serious incident has been reported on the driverless North West Metro rail line every two-and-a-half-days on average.

They include: doors failing to open, forcing passengers to backtrack to get to where they are going; complaints of trains departing before interchanging trains have arrived on the other side of the platform; a mother being separated from her child as train doors closed too quickly, with no guard around to help; and information displays with false, contradictory or confusing information.

Rail and infrastructure experts Sandy Thomas and John Austen have derided the Metro as unfit for purpose and based on false assertions.

No wonder residents in Sydney’s north-west are fuming.

The $7 billion Metro was funded by proceeds from the privatisation of the state’s electricity network. The plan is to spend a further $30 billion on extending the system to the west and south-west of the city.

Former NSW rail industry co-ordinator general Ron Christie co-authored a report that concluded if the government had spent funds on “upgrading the existing double-deck system by improving signalling and providing track amplification at critical pinch points, it would have got a better overall result”.

Privatised buses

At a recent public forum in Cherrybrook, hundreds of people expressed their anger at the cancellation of numerous bus services in the north-west. Many see this as a means to force people onto the Metro, even though it takes longer and they now have to drive to the station.

Two different online petitions demanding the return of all bus services have reached a combined total of 13,000 signatures.

While the north-west is having its buses axed, huge largesse is being expended in state transport minister Andrew Constance’s regional seat of Bega. An “on demand” bus service trial over nine months serviced a grand total of 282 passengers for a cost of $1080 a trip.

In Sydney’s inner west, however, a year after inner west buses were privatised there has been no improvement in on-time performance when compared to State Transit-run services.

Private transport company Transit Systems has also failed to meet performance targets every single month, despite the dangerous incentive of awarding $5000 prize money for the drivers who arrive on time the most.

Poor on-time performance was cited as a reason for the privatisation. The real problem is roads are clogged with too many cars.

WestConnex

No analysis of the present failures of the NSW transport system is complete without considering the huge waste of money on the WestConnex tollway.

Announced in 2012 at a cost of $10 billion, the plans have metastasised in multiple directions north and south, with costs blowing out to an estimated $45 billion.

Transport analyst Dr Chris Standen has described WestConnex as “the biggest misuse of public funds for corporate gain in Australia’s history”.

A recent Infrastructure Australia audit suggested that, despite the huge spend on road and rail projects, Sydney will become even more paralysed with congestion.

Induced demand and 50 years of experience of urban motorways around the world show that WestConnex will fail to achieve its ill-defined goals.

Since the opening of the first stages, congestion has worsened as drivers try to avoid tolls by rat-running or dangerously reversing out of the tunnel entrances.

Community opposition has been vociferous, but the state government has refused to listen.

Neoliberal agenda

The common thread for these projects is that their goal is corporate profits not social benefit.

Constance made the state government’s privatisation goal clear in 2017 when he said to a group of business leaders: “I have a very clear view ... that, into the future, government will no longer be providing services when it comes to transport — there’s no need.

“We know that the private sector can deliver transport very effectively.”

This goal was also made clear with the passage of the Transport Administration Amendment (Sydney Metro) Bill 2018 that will enable current and future Sydney Metro lines to be sold off.

Then-Greens MLC Dr Mehreen Faruqi said in the Legislative Council debate at the time: “It seems the Sydney Metro will be less of a transport service provider and more of a property developer that also happens to run trains.”

Fortunately, the community is waking up to this madness.

Thanks to pressure from groups such as Ecotransit, Sydenham to Bankstown Alliance and savet3.org, a parliamentary inquiry will be held to investigate the Sydenham to Bankstown line conversion to Metro.

[Submissions to the inquiry close on October 4. Local campaigner Roydon Ng needs help to fund Freedom of Information requests to scrutinise the government’s shut down of the Bankstown line. You can donate here.]

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