SMH Metro plan threatens to derail city

Metro plan threatens to derail city


Linton Besser Transport Reporter
January 21, 2009

THE chief executive of RailCorp, Rob Mason, has issued a thinly veiled warning to the NSW Government that it risks permanently crippling CityRail if it uses the route proposed for the $4.8 billion CBD metro.

In a letter sent last week to Sam Haddad, the director-general of the Department of Planning, Mr Mason said the corridor earmarked for a subway, running past Town Hall, Martin Place and Wynyard, must be protected for a CityRail network expansion.

The Herald has been told the letter urged the Government to preserve the corridor for a double-decker extension from Redfern to St Leonards until such time as that line is built, or until the Government grants a contract for the construction of anything else.

The letter reflects concerns by most senior bureaucrats at RailCorp that if the CBD corridor is taken up by a metro, it will condemn the CityRail network to decades of unreliable services.

The letter was prompted by a review of legislation that gives RailCorp the power to protect future rail corridors under the city centre. "The corridor protection in this policy is to be reviewed by the Minister for Planning and the letter to Mr Haddad has been drafted to assist in this review," a RailCorp spokesman, Paul Rea, said.

A secret 191-page Transport Ministry report into the future needs of the rail network warned six years ago that the second CityRail line through the CBD was mandatory.

"Planning for this [cross-city rail link] project is regarded as being of the highest priority," the 2002 Long-Term Strategic Plan for Rail said. "Without a new route through the CBD and serious relief for congested stations within the CBD, the metropolitan rail system will face progressive operational collapse.

"The solutions if this occurs will all have very long lead times, of up to 10 years or more."

The Government deemed the report so top-secret that in late 2007 it refused its release to the Herald under freedom-of-information laws. It was prepared by the former director-general of the ministry, Michael Deegan, who is now the Commonwealth infrastructure co-ordinator and is overseeing the team considering the CBD metro proposal for federal funds.

The report's predictions are already coming true. Late last year, the pricing regulator warned that the network would reach choking point within four years, despite the billions being spent on new trains and the Epping-to-Chatswood line.

If recent growth continues, Boston Consulting Group research shows on-time running will collapse in just over a year to below 70 per cent, 22 points under the official target, because heavily overcrowded trains are held up by alighting passengers.

The cross-city rail link, costed at $5.5 billion in early 2007, would have provided the equivalent of a 50 per cent increase in network rail capacity.

Jim Maher, a spokesman from the Department of Planning, said the Planning Minister, Kristina Keneally, was about to review the protected metropolitan rail expansion corridors "to determine whether any of the land included in the corridor should be excluded from the operation of the policy on the basis that the land is no longer required for railway purposes".

The line was pledged by the former premier Bob Carr in 2005. But his promised metropolitan rail expansion program was shelved by his successor, Morris Iemma, in March.

The issue has come to a head because senior officials are pushing for construction to begin next year on the metro line and the Government wants to complete the project by 2015.


THE head of the Roads and Traffic Authority, Les Wielinga, has been appointed chief executive of the new Sydney Metro Authority, in charge of delivering $13 billion of subways in Sydney.

At the RTA, Mr Wielinga oversaw delivery of the M7 and the Lane Cove Tunnel.

He was sounded out several weeks ago but waited for the blessing of the Roads Minister, Michael Daley.

Mr Wielinga is renowned for being wheeled out by the Government to apologise for letdowns in traffic management. He said sorry when the Spit Bridge failed to close in June last year and when the city went into gridlock in February 2007 during the visit of two giant cruise ships.
Oh What a Gasser! Rex Mossop.

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