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BY JEREMY BROWN
Transport Minister John Watkins met with representatives of public transport advocacy group EcoTransit on August 15 to discuss a proposal to extend the Sydney light rail system.

The Minister later said in a statement about the meeting that EcoTransit had presented a ‘number of interesting ideas to extend light rail services throughout Sydney’.

‘I know many inner-west residents want the Dulwich Hill ‘ Rozelle line to be integrated into Sydney’s public transport network because Balmain MP Verity Firth, Marrickville MP Carmel Tebbutt and Canterbury MP Linda Burney regularly discuss the community’s concerns with me,’ Mr Watkins said.

‘However as it is a freight corridor I will have to investigate whether it is possible for it to be excised from the Metropolitan Freight Network and retained in RailCorp’s control. ‘

EcoTransit’s Leah Mason, who met with the minister, said this was typical because transport planning was done in several different government departments, and the RTA and branches within RailCorp had conflicting claims on resources.

‘The government definitely seems to have an ideological problem with light rail. There have been many studies done in the last decade, most showing its feasibility but the only project that has been built is the Central to Lilyfield section,’ Mason said.

‘And this is going great. Passenger patronage has doubled over the last year and the Metro company is very keen to extend the line to Dulwich Hill. I think the problem is with a government and a bureaucracy whose planning is done by people who don’t get out enough.’

In his statement, Watkins said that although the line seemed under-utilised at present, it might be needed as a possible rail haulage route to remove spoil from excavation works for the $12 billion North-West Metro. ‘Also the future of the rail corridor can’t be decided until the results of the $30 million West Metro Feasibility Study are in,’ he said.

But Greens MP Lee Rhiannon believes light rail has few friends within the NSW government. ‘Former Roads Minister Carl Scully dubbed it ‘a pipe dream’ and Transport Minister John Watkins is on record as saying it’s ‘a bad answer for Sydney’. But higher oil prices are here to stay. Light rail is a far better investment for the future than roads,’ she said.

Last month the government defeated by just one vote a Greens motion calling for the release of documents that would reveal details of major road plans for Sydney.

The Greens have been trying for years to get information on the planning of the M5 East, the Cross City Tunnel and the Lane Cove Tunnel.
‘The community has not been informed by the government about any of the new plans that may concern them. Turning around the RTA once it’s committed to a road proposal is like trying to turn around a massive tanker without tugs,’ Ms Rhiannon said.

‘Given the failure of recent large scale road projects the public is right to ask to know more. Documents should be made public so the community can decide whether Sydney’s motorway plans make sense.”