Last Sunday’s Sun-Herald editorial was headlined: “Mike Baird’s action on a second harbour rail crossing is no excuse for secrecy”.
The Fairfax paper opined “… [T]his vision-splendid [of a turn-up-and-go rail service] and the necessity of the crossing do not give Mike Baird a free pass when it comes to answering some key questions about the project. These include explaining in detail why his government chose a metro system to solve Sydney’s train problems and exactly how it will do so.”
It was a very belated and deferential response to the creeping takeover and downgrading of Sydney’s heavy rail system by MTR Corporation, the Hong Kong-based property development giant and metro rail operator.
EcoTransit has for years warned of the threat posed by the metro. A week before the Sun-Herald’s editorial we released a new 12-minute video – Four passengers per square metre – that takes a hard look at the grim realities.
Systematically concealed from the public is that the metro involves a massive downgrading of passenger capacity and comfort. The grim reality is that in the peaks 70 per cent of passengers will have to stand, many for over half an hour, at four passengers per square metre or more (six per square metre is the norm on MTR’s Hong King operation).
No European rail operator would remotely consider retro-converting an existing double-deck heavy rail operation to metro, especially over Sydney’s long commuting distances.
The Baird government plans to convert Sydney’s system to single-deck driverless metro, progressively locking out double-deck rolling stock. The plan has proceeded under a veil of deception, secrecy and misinformation. As Premier Baird, Treasurer Berejiklian and Transport Minister Constance tell it, only metro trains can run at better than five-minute frequencies. This is a nonsense, because even with the Sydney system’s antiquated signalling, there are platforms at Central station where, in the peaks, trains arrive on average every two or three minutes.
Around the world, rail operators that can convert suburban and regional rail to double-deck rolling stock are doing so, citing passenger capacity and comfort as the reason. To cite one example, the Paris RER system – the equivalent of Sydney’s suburban rail system – is converting to all double-deck operation, and in the peaks their trains arrive every two minutes. But against the global trend, the Baird government is bent on downgrading to cattle-class travel to fit in with MTR’s Hong Kong development model.
The metro plan is linked to the decision to transform vast swathes of Sydney into cheap, densely-packed high-rise apartments built for the investor market. In the case of Sydney Metro the link is tighter and more gratuitous than the link between the WestConnex tollroad project and the “vertical sprawl” developers backing tollways because MTR will be both the rail operator and the lead property developer along the metro rail corridor – an East Asian model the corporation is attempting to export around the world.
Gavin Gatenby is co-convenor of EcoTransit Sydney, a community public and active transport advocacy group.