The metro to nowhere

Another day, another incredibly well thought-out transport proposal from the NSW government.


This time it’s a $4 billion underground metro system. Oh, did I say system? I meant single line. Well, not a line as such. More the start of a line. About four kilometres long, with six stations. Factor in a typical cost blow-out, and it’s going to be well over a billion dollars a kilometre!

The only official map I can find on NSW government websites is this badly scanned slap-up job that misspells Barangaroo. And that was only off a press release. The only mention of this idea anywhere in the otherwise comprehensive Sydney Metropolitan Stategy is when it refers to the equally stupid North West Metro, which has now been indefinitely delayed. Also, the inner west section was supposed to have another station at Drummoyne, which has now disappeared from the current plan.

When I first heard of a proposed inner west metro connecting Rozelle and Central via Pyrmont, I was confused. Don’t we already have one of those? Why would we duplicate it? Turns out it’s not an exact duplication, and does go to Town Hall and Wynyard, which is good. But it still utterly fails in its purported intent, which is to reduce traffic on Victoria Road and the general north-west corridor, and reduce pressure on the heavy rail lines and stations, particularly Town Hall.

A full metro system reaching into residential areas in the west, north-west and south-east, tantalisingly alluded to in planning documents, would indeed pull people from roads and rail if they can walk to a station at either end of their trip. But who is going to ride a bus to Rozelle, get off, wait for the metro into the city, and take the metro to where their bus was going anyway? Who is going to catch a train along a western line, get off at Central, wait for a metro, and take it to where the train could go anyway? Pyrmont dwellers and workers get no additional benefit. The only thing this ludicrous suggestion has going for it is that some Balmain residents too far from the light rail could get to the city faster than by bus. For $4 billion-plus? *smacks forehead in disbelief*

Obviously the NSW government can foresee that people will have a bit of a problem with this idea as it stands, so they are at pains to suggest that the main purpose is to provide a starting point for a proper metro system, and that its very existence will force subsequent governments to expand it.

But wait – is a big metro system the best idea? Probably not. Being mainly underground, it’s expensive. Its carrying capacity is less than heavy rail. It introduces yet another mode of transport, which means more timetable and ticket integration problems than we have already. There are issues and trade-offs with station locations and frequency versus speed and efficiency. The current proposal takes up underground CBD space that could be better used by more heavy rail lines, as promised in previous versions of the Sydney Metropolitan Strategy. An expansion of rail in the CBD has, sadly, joined the enormous pile of promised-and-dumped transport infrastructure ideas that the NSW government has ignored despite it threatening to collapse all over their electoral prospects.

Let’s not forget the light rail I mentioned earlier. The best form of public transport I have ever used – frequent, clean, quiet, and it has conductors. $22 for unlimited 7-day travel is also very good. The route is too short, and possibly too meandering, but that’s why it’s such a perfect candidate for expansion. There is an ongoing campaign by Leichhardt and Marrickville councils for a west-then-south extension along a disused freight line through Petersham down to Dulwich Hill (also linking the two western rail lines), which bizarrely has been knocked back several times by the NSW government. At the other end, it seems like a no-brainer to make a north-south CBD loop from Railway Square to Circular Quay and back to the east side of Central. Light rail is narrow, perfect for Sydney streets, and is much quieter and less polluting than buses, not to mention accommodating far more people. And it’s not like Sydney hasn’t had success with trams before. In 1925, there were 60 million annual passengers in the CBD alone! There are even more possibilites for light rail to the south and south-east.

Railway Square, circa 1913

Railway Square, circa 1913

Tram on George St, circa 1905

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4 Responses to The metro to nowhere

  1. Jarrah says:

    Click the pictures for bigger versions, or just go to the link for many more, including good ones of Balmain, Newtown, Randwick and Glebe.

  2. Pingback: The metro to nowhere - ezineaerticles

  3. Pingback: Just as I predicted…

  4. Andrew says:

    Hi Jarrah,

    I couldn’t find an email for you, but would you be able to e-mail me (oindge [at] gmail), I am looking for a fellow market urbanist type to question about resources related to transport policy history in Australia. Cheers.


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