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BY JEREMY BROWN
While the State Government moves to implement its ‘Metro’ system (first train out of the station in 2017), councils in Sydney’s Inner West are angry.

On May 28, Leichhardt Council voted in support of converting the disused freight line from Rozelle to Dulwich Hill to commuter transport, and on June 9 Ashfield Council did the same.

The motion was introduced by Independent Ashfield councillor Monica Wangmann who said this densely populated part of Sydney would benefit enormously from light rail. Cr Wangmann said it would reduce the impact of commuter traffic on suburban areas and could provide a tourism boom in the Inner West.

The new track section would be an extension of the existing privately owned and operated Metro Transport Sydney that runs from Central Station through Pyrmont to Lilyfield. The tracks and wiring already continue from Lilyfield to the railway junction at Dulwich Hill and freight use finished on the line in 2007.  Kevin Warrell, CEO of Metro welcomes the idea. ‘Extending the current light rail from Lilyfield would be low cost, simple and quick and enable us to offer a high quality public transport solution for more of the Inner West,’ Mr Warrell said.

Gavin Gatenby, a spokesman for transport pressure group Ecotransit, agreed it would be inexpensive to convert the line to accommodate light rail. The 10 kilometres of track would service a large number of people who have less access to public transport than state guidelines recommend. He also said that building and commissioning this service would cost considerably less than the money earmarked in the last state budget for a feasibility study of the unpopular proposed M4 East motorway extension.
The current roads-based ideology is being made obsolete by escalating fuel prices and the need to cut greenhouse emissions, Mr Gatenby said, adding that oil production worldwide had peaked and fuel costs would continue to rise. He noted that last year public transport commuter numbers in Sydney increased by 8 per cent, caused by a 50 per cent rise in fuel prices.  ‘Sydney bus and train services are above peak capacity now and people will not be able to afford to drive to work,’ he said. ‘And an underperforming public transport network won’t be able to cope.’

Leichhardt, Ashfield and Canada Bay Councils and the NSW Greens have several times called for an extension of the Metro Transport line, so far without success. Councillor Rachel Porteous, who put forward the motion at Leichhardt Council’s meeting, blamed the lobby group ‘Friends of Greater Sydney’ (FROGS), composed of local councils, RTA officials, building and road contractors and transport planners. Cr Porteous says FROGS is pushing for the Dulwich Hill ‘ Lilyfield rail corridor as a likely route for a motorway feeder intersecting the City-West Link at Leichhardt.
At its May 28 meeting, Leichhardt Council voted unanimously to cancel its membership of FROGS. Ashfield has followed suit, and other Inner West councils, including Marrickville and Canterbury, are expected to do so in coming weeks.

Transport Minister John Watkins is on record saying in late 2006 that he had not ruled out light rail as a solution for Sydney’s transport problems, but that major questions remained over its suitability. This week a spokesman from the Minister’s office told the Sydney City Hub: ‘The Government is always open to receiving proposals that have the potential to improve public transport for residents of NSW.’
For more information visit www.ecotransit.org.au or www.leichhardt.nsw.gov.au