NSW premier Kristina Keneally’s new transport plan to do nothing in her political lifetime about Sydney transport shows she knew not to step on the minefield of policy obligations left by past disastrous policy decisions.
When she killed off the metro plans yesterday she also assiduously avoided any commitment to finish the Chatswood-Parramatta heavy-rail underground line, which was only completed as far as Epping.
This sidesteps the risk of litigation by the private public partnership interests in Sydney’s motorway projects, and specifically the M2 motorway, who were sold guarantees of non-competition by rail projects by the Unsworth and Greiner administrations.
The dead hand of feasibility studies, such as those that vastly misrepresented the probable success of the Airport Railway and the Cross City Tunnel, two of the worst failures of that financing model in Australian infrastructure history, lies heavy over the Keneally “plan”.
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Those failures have poisoned the investment environment for the roughly $150 billion worth of projects (including a new Sydney basin airport and expanded port facilities) that are prerequisites to saving Sydney from relegation by strangulation to a minor role as an Australian centre for commerce and industry within 2-3 decades.
NSW is incapable of raising the money to fund a fraction of them. Terminal gridlock for all transport modes is drawing ever closer.
The Keneally deferrals (mercilessly summarised here) “commit” to $11.2 billion in heavy-rail expansions, including a forgotten century-old tunnel, $500 million in light rail or tram extensions, $2.9 billion in new buses, and about $22.4 billion in rubbery plans for more roads.
Two fixed-term elections from now, in 2015, Keneally promises to start work on a five-kilometre tunnel from Eveleigh near Redfern to Wynyard that would include two new underground platforms at Redfern, Central, Town Hall and Wynyard stations.
But almost lost in the mists of time, the foundations of the extra platforms, at Redfern, and the ghost platforms 26 and 27 at Central, and a tunnel the public never sees, which actually runs from Eveleigh to Central, have all been built.
The mystery tunnel is still used to shunt empty country trains back from Central to the Eveleigh cleaning yards.
Back then, before the opening of the first city underground stations in 1926 and the Harbour Bridge in 1932, Sydney had mature visions of an extensive metropolitan rail system. They influenced the design of the Redfern and Central stations and saw tunnelling work begin not just at Eveleigh, but under Sydney University, and at North Sydney for the Mona Vale railway, which would have run along the original tram tracks on the eastern side of the coathanger and down into the tram platforms at Wynyard, now used as a hotel car park.
The significance of the “unglamorous’ Eveleigh-Wynyard project was lost on the media. If ever completed, it would compel much needed improvements in the death trap peak-hour crowding conditions that make Town Hall and Wynyard so unpleasant today. Reconfiguring those stations is desperately needed.
And while the Keneally abdication avoids the obvious need to provide a second harbour rail crossing, in competition with the sacred interests of the private investment in the Sydney Harbour Tunnel and M5 East tollway, the so called “western express” tunnel to Wynyard would do something successive NSW state government have yearned to do.
It would completely destroy “the block” and the focus its legacy has given Aboriginal disadvantaged and associated crime in Redfern and South Sydney in general.
Redfern would be transformed by modern rail services into a much more efficient hub for many commuters than Central. The station sits in the middle of an area that is a logical zone for the southwards expansion of the CBD, and is well placed for a tram connection to Darling Harbour as well as the western side of the CBD right up to the Hungry Mile, er, Banging roo, development.