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Sydney City has a major stake in the wellbeing of wider Sydney’s transport system simply because it sits at the hub of the network. While we privileged locals have far better transport choices than most areas, our inner suburbs have been desiccated by transport throughways feeding other suburbs. For a taste of bad transport planning take a walk around Ultimo or Woolloomooloo; or listen to the residents of Chippendale who are besieged by multi-lane commuter roads; or go play with the traffic in Newtown.

The current road-dominated network is bad for us, bad for wider Sydney and even for the nation because this city is its biggest economic and population powerhouse. Not only is it costing $12 billion each year in congestion, according to last week’s Four Corners program, but it also creates untold tonnes of greenhouse pollution. Building even more roads will only induce more traffic.

So it’s crucial that the City’s transport policies are driven by objective planning, not by political deal-making.

The state government has abandoned its promised heavy rail lines to the north- and south-west linked by a new harbour crossing, and is rushing headlong into the far more costly, unfunded and strategically bankrupt CBD Metro linking Rozelle and Central via the city. Both Four Corners and The Sydney Morning Herald’s ‘Campaign for Sydney’ have exposed the impracticality of this project, which seems to be based on little more than a back-of-the-envelope plan and right-wing Labor’s obsession with crushing the rail unions.

On the other hand, the City’s Sustainable 2030 plan follows the considered advice of numerous experts and places an expanded light rail system at its centre, as described in a major media release last week from Lord Mayor Clover Moore. It came complete with a lovely mockup of George and Bathurst Streets at Town Hall replete with trams, cyclists, happy pedestrians and even a bike hire rack.

All very well but, if you look closely, the Woolworths building on the corner of Park and George has gone from the picture, signalling plans to demolish it in favour of a large public square, an old idea given new life now it is to be the site of a Metro entrance.

This might be good news for the shiny happy people in the picture, except for one thing: There is no logical way that the Metro and the light rail can co-exist, a fact so well-known to Sydney’s transport advisers that you have to wonder why Clover Moore is backing both. Is political deal-making behind this?

We see Ms Moore on the one hand defending the sandstone terrace houses of Union Square, threatened with demolition in favour of a Metro entrance, while on the other spruiking Town Hall Square and its Metro entrance. The latter involves acquiring and demolishing a business and service community equivalent to a medium-sized country town, including Woolworths and its attractive Deco building. Council has wanted this project for a long time, and one had the sense that we were spared this massive money splurge simply because of the cost, and the difficulty in justifying it.

Bingo! Along comes the Metro, which requires part-demolition of the site, and suddenly two follies come together in convenient synergy. The Metro provides not only the excuse but also significant funding towards the Square, so Ms Moore has fallen in right behind the Metro.

“A connected network of public transport that includes bus interchange, light rail, heavy rail and metro is critical,” she says in the media release.

Why does this statement deeply contradict itself?

Because the $5.6bn Metro, if built, will sabotage the hubs of both an expanded heavy rail system and a viable light rail network.

Expanded heavy rail requires new tunnels under the city, along routes long reserved by forward-thinking planners from the Bradfield era. But Metro will usurp one of these, threatening future rail routes to Sydney’s car-ridden North- and South-west expansion zones, as well as possible routes into the Northern Beaches.

The rail chiefs parried this in a letter to The SMH last Saturday, claiming that the Metro still left open for heavy rail the corridor to the west of the city, while the Metro would use the Pitt Street corridor.

But Gavin Gatenby, co-convenor of the Eco-Transit group disagrees: “Basically, this would stop CityRail building a relief line that would enable it to increase services by 50 per cent to most stations on the system. It would be possible to do this on the Western alignment but with far less efficiency and at vastly greater cost… whereas, the western alignment is technically and operationally quite suitable for metro.”

So instead of a fully realised, cost-efficient future heavy rail system, we get an expensive toy serving Rozelle, from where commuters can already walk or ride to the city. Yes, we know the Metro is one day supposed to extend out to Parramatta (if untold more $billions can be found), but this still duplicates existing heavy rail, leaving vast swathes of outer Sydney forced to drive cars and pay heavy tolls. It would inevitably intensify high-density development along the twin rail corridor and drive up the cost of housing close to public transport.

The Metro would also sabotage the core of a viable light rail network. With the government desperately plucking ever-expanding estimates of passenger numbers out of the air to justify the Metro – not very credible after similar predictions scuttled the private builders of the Cross-City and Lane Cove Tunnels – there is little chance they will also pay for the light rail city loop, which would serve the city far better at a fraction of the cost.

“Light rail will provide stops every 200–300 metres around the city,” says Mr Gatenby. “It will immediately replace large numbers of buses. The Metro with only three city stops cannot do this, and people will simply prefer light rail because it will be so much more convenient. Nor would you have to travel 100 feet underground each time you get on or off,” he said.

And even if the state can find the $5.6bn to pay for the Metro, the money-box would be empty, the state deep in debt while the under-patronised underground lost yet more money operationally. Sydney would have a second ‘ghost train’ to keep the Airport Line company while further funding for public transport would be scant.

It’s clear that a light rail network reaching out to Dulwich Hill via Leichhardt, to the University of NSW via Oxford Street (relieving some of Oxford Street’s traffic problems) and down to Circular Quay, would do a far better job than the Metro of shifting people and reducing car and bus use.

If you believe in both coexisting, you have to believe that a Government which has been pathologically opposed to Light Rail for years is going to allow it, and pay for it, even as it sends the Metro broke.

Yet Clover Moore is taking just that line, so I asked her media people how she resolved the contradictions. The reply was a post-modern babble of buzzwords:

“Light rail would complement the metro, along with transport links to north-west and south-west Sydney to help move the 850,000 people who travel around the city daily,” replied the Lord Mayor’s spokesperson.

“The Sydney Metro can lay the foundation for a modern, sustainable and integrated transport system that includes light rail.” …And so-on.

In other words, when I asked how mutually opposing transport systems could be complementary, the answer was a simple assertion that all three systems would be complementary. This is called begging the question, a classic fallacy.

So I asked again, pointing out that my question had not been answered.

“I think we’ve addressed your question about what the City’s view is on Metro/heavy rail/light rail,” came the content-free reply.

John Bradfield and Jack Lang must be rolling in their graves.

Council, it seems, cannot refute the mutual contradictions between the CBD Metro and other transport modes. So does it simply lack the intelligence to see this? Or has a deal been done between Clover Moore and the state government – ‘you support our Metro and we’ll subsidise Town Hall Square and, oh, we’ll throw in that new selective legislation you wanted freezing night life in the city’s entertainment precincts’.

Either way, the outlook for Sydney is bleak.

by Michael Gormly

Postscript: (13/10/09) The Plot Thickens – According to The Sydney Morning Herald today the state government “caved in” because  Clover Moore had “threatened to pull out of a study into the extension of the light rail network after the Government refused to extend its terms of reference to include the inner-city loop.”

The article also refers to the inherent conflict between a feasible light rail system and the CBD Metro. But, given that, surely the Transport Minister would welcome Council pulling out of the light rail study – a perfect excuse to cancel it and leave the way clear for the Metro. It doesn’t add up. Whatever leverage Ms Moore seems to have gained over the state government, it wasn’t that. But if it results in a sensible light rail network instead of a treasury-busting mini-metro, everyone will win.

  • Michael

    When will you tram lovers get it? Inner Sydney residents don’t want a useless tram system. They got rid of it years ago and with good reason. We want a superior public transport system which is what the CBD Metro & West Metro will bring. We don’t want to walk, ride a bike or catch a tram. Groups like Eco-Transit who obviously have a vested interest with light rail operators are trying to tell us, the people of inner Sydney that trams are the solution to all our public transport problems. Rubbish. How is getting on a tram at Leichhardt (If the extension is built) or say Lilyfield after waiting 10-15 minutes, then a slow trip of another 15-20 minutes to the southern end of the Sydney CBD where no one wants to go, ok, lets be fair and add another 5-10 minutes if the extension up George Street gets built to say Martin Place, a total of 20-30 minutes travel time better than the proposed metro which will have the following travel times and a frequency of 2-5 minutes?

    Rozelle to Martin Place (The middle of the city) in 6 minutes.
    Rozelle to Sydney University in 12 minutes.
    Leichhardt to Martin Place (The middle of the city) in 9 minutes.
    Leichhardt to Sydney University in 3 minutes.
    Leichardt to Olympic Park in 11 minutes.
    Leichhardt to Parramatta in 18 minutes.

    I think it is blatantly obvious why Clover Moore is supporting a metro system and as a resident of Pyrmont she’s got my vote.

  • Russell

    Hey Michael I wonder answer a couple of questions? You have in the past responded to my comments, and I appreciate that you’ve taken the time to do do so. I am only asking this in the spirit of open debate, and I am not being cynical or smart arse or anything… But
    1. If the Metro was a “plot by right wing labor” why was Michael Costa so opposed to it? So much so that he forced the abandonment of the longer and more viable NW line?
    2. Re: …” Labor’s obsession with crushing the unions” Labor? Come on Michael, be honest. How many unionists does Veolia Transport in Sydney employ? You are spruiking their interests so comprehensibly and so enthusiastically, I’m beginning to think you must be on their board. So know the answer, right?.
    3. How much power in within the Labor Party do people who “want to crush unions” have, in your estimation? Do you have some inside knowledge of this secret cabal inside Sussex St so intent on committing suicide? Which political party really has most interest, and track record in “crushing unions”? And why do you think most of the anti Metro hysteria is coming from papers run by the ringmaster of Wapping, Mr Rupert Murdoch? Is he as confused as you?
    And finally
    4. Is light rail a religion?

    Reply: Huh, I can’t reply because the system thinks my posts are spam. So I’m editing into this post.

    Labor wanting to crush unions? So The Sydney Morning Herald reports. I don’t know why you are surprised at anything the right does. The same people want to privatise everything partly for the same reason — witness Frank Sartor’s contract-based makeover of City Council. And the rail unions are pretty crook.

    I am not convinced by the argument that ‘Sydney needs a Metro first because other cities have a Metro’. I love Metro. I could ride the London Underground all day. But do these other cities have vast swathes of sprawling hinterland with no rail at all, their residents forced to pay $hundreds a week in road tolls while polluting the air? It’s clear to me fixing that for less money has priority over a CBD Metro that hardly anyone will use and will cost more. Your Metro ideals assume that NSW has money to spend. No it doesn’t.

    Metro suits dense tight urban areas. Heavy rail suits Rouse Hill and Campbelltown, and will provide a second harbour crossing to ease the Bridge bottleneck and boost heavy rail 50%.

    After that lot is in place, then we’ll need a Metro.

    As for the short journey times on a Metro, I can only quote the low passenger predictions to counter that. And you ignore light rail’s far greater frequency of stops in the cbd, and having to go 100 feet underground to get on one of the three-only Metro stops, and its ability to quickly spread to several branch feeders which will reduce both cars and buses.

    And the vested interests you claim, Russell — they don’t exist. Or is Jamie Parker sponsoring the SMH, all the transport planners and Four Corners as well and Rupert Murdoch? Or is the Metro just a bad idea right now?


  • Michael

    Hi Russell,

    My interests are in infrastructure/ transport planning etc; an unfortunate, ugly, unavoidable part of this process is the politics of it all… I am pro metro because I believe Sydney is at a point now where it needs to start building a comprehensive metro system. Not just cheap, nasty, bandage solutions like we constantly hear from this action group & that self interest group pushing their own agenda’s most of which have no scope past 20 years… I’m sick of returning from overseas trips where I have seen world’s best practice including cities in the USA, Europe & China only to see the run down, dilapidated, rubbish that is Sydney. Do you know that even in India a supposedly third world country they are building comprehensive metro systems! So why do we have all the BS when it comes to doing it in Sydney? I’ll try and answer your political questions but I really don’t know…

    1.Not sure about it being a plot against right wing Labor but Michael Costa has always been opposed to public transport infrastructure. I think that’s just part of who he is.
    2.Why would Labor want to crush the Unions? Isn’t this part of who they represent?
    3.Don’t know… I did read an article during week where they said its gaining momentum. Definitely something to keep an eye on if that interests you…
    4.I think as with religion you either love or hate light rail… But let’s get the definition right first… Light rail runs on a separated track where it doesn’t need to give way to pedestrians, traffic and has its own right of way. Trams on the other hand are in a shared zone and have to compete with pedestrians, traffic and do not necessarily have right of way. So with this definition is it fair to say that Sydney has limited opportunity for light rail? What these action groups & small interest groups are really talking about is bringing back trams & that is what I’m against. It will do nothing accept replace current buses with trams. There is no doubt that a light rail link from Lilyfield to Dulwich Hill along the old goods line and an extension from Rozelle Bay around White Bay to the current wharf 5 or 6 of the Conaust Container Terminal when this area is redeveloped makes good sense & definitely a quick win for public transport but an extensive inner Sydney tram network? This will achieve nothing… The only thing that will save Sydney now is a comprehensive metro system which complements the existing Cityrail system…

    PS: And I don’t work for the Sydney Metro Authority either…

  • Russell

    Thanks Michael and MG

    MG, you may be or may not be happy to know (or not even care!) that this is my last post to this site. I am an inner city person and my concerns are those of the inner city and the inner west. I did once feel that City Hub and City News reflected those interests and concerns, but that is no longer the case.

    You have in you reply, highlighted that. Your focus in this debate, and this is particularly true of the inner west Independent, is almost wholly centered around the transport needs of outer west of Sydney. I don’t doubt they are pressing. But I don’t go there, and neither interestingly, does City News.

    I was reading David Penberthy in the Punch this morning, once again arguing for the needs of outer west Sydney. Its something which he did constantly (and with style) while at the Tele. I’m not approving of the rest of his views or anything, just noting that his are, on this issue, identical to those of City News. For the Tele and News Ltd, that positioning makes sense. Buggered if I know what City News is on about anymore but I guess I don’t really care that much.

    And Penbo is a lot more interesting to read. Ciao MG, I’ve enjoyed debating and discussing the Metro and other things with you and other contributors to this site. But I won’t any more.

  • Michael

    Hey Russell,

    I’ve enjoyed reading your posts… You will be missed…

  • Michael

    Hi MG,

    In reply to your reply to Russell…

    Its not that Sydney needs a metro first because other cities have metro’s. After 40-50 years of neglect by successive governments we need a massive public transport building injection. The money needs to be found/ borrowed. The CBD Metro is a piece in a puzzle of about 6 major projects that need to be built over the next 10-15 years… It’s no good completing just one and thinking that the job is done. The order in which these projects are completed is unavoidably politically motivated with the current government favouring a CBD Metro & West Metro. The opposition favouring the Northwest Rail Link. As part of my submission to the Sydney Morning Heralds Transport Enquiry this is what I believe needs to happen over the next 10-15 years and why… After so many years of neglect the order in which they are built is irrelevant & all serve different purposes of urgent need.

    Sydney’s north west needs a rail link but for it to be affective and work it needs to be built in conjunction with a Chatswood to Victoria Cross (North Sydney) Link via St Leonards for additional slot spaces and the Epping to Parramatta Link so commuters from Western Sydney have an alternative route to Chatswood, St Leonards and North Sydney. This would include quadruplication of track between Chatswood and St Leonards and a new tunnel and underground station at Victoria Cross (North Sydney) where trains would terminate with the possibility of an underground station at Crows Nest and a tunnel from Epping to the Carlingford Line, then duplication of track to Camelia and a tunnel to Parramatta with a new underground station at Parramatta. Trains would terminate at Parramatta. This would create the “Macquarie Line” with trains running from Parramatta and Rouse Hill via Epping to Victoria Cross (North Sydney). This is vital to reduce overcrowding on the Western Line and would also relieve overcrowding on the Western Line at the main CBD stations of Central, Town Hall and Wynyard. It would also allow/ justify peak hour services from Rouse Hill to run via the Northern Line to the city via Strathfield and push back the second harbour crossing by at least another 20-25 years. The CBD Metro/ West Metro from Rozelle to Westmead via Central as a first stage of an extensive metro system for Sydney would further reduce overcrowding on the Western Line (Sydney’s busiest corridor) especially at Strathfield and Burwood as the majority of commuters at these stations will change modes and start using the metro to get to/from the city. It would also further relieve overcrowding in the CBD at Central, Town Hall, Martin Place and Wynyard. As a result this would further allow/ justify slot spaces for peak hour services from Rouse Hill to run via the Northern Line to the city via Strathfield. The CBD/ West Metro would also open up new spatial fields at Rozelle, White Bay, Pyrmont, Sydney University/ Broadway, Camperdown, Leichhardt, Five Dock and Silverwater and introduce Sydney to this new mode of transport. The light rail line from Lilyfield to Hurlstone Park should be extended as soon as possible. This is a quick win for public transport in the inner west. This line should also be extended from Rozelle Bay around White Bay to the current wharf 5 or 6 of the Conaust Container Terminal when this area is redeveloped but instead of competing against the CBD Metro I would re-route it so it feeds the CBD Metro at the White Bay Station with the current line running from Central to White Bay (After Rozelle Bay is would be re-routed north to White Bay) and the line from Dulwich Hill running to White Bay after Lilyfield. This line would not go directly to the city. This would create a light rail hub at White Bay. Apart from this there is no scope/ need for an extensive inner Sydney tram network. The South-West Rail Link is out of scope as this area is still predominately green field land and will not need to be built for at least another 15 years as long as sufficient money is spent now to reserve a suitable corridor…

    MG replies here (because the system spams me):

    Wow, that’s a headful of information, and seems much better thought-out than I gather the CBD Metro proposal was before it was announced. However I have less confidence that “the money will be found/borrowed” and, pending further examination of your post, suggest that a Liberal government will be wedded to privatised development (the big hole in their platform, so to speak). The Feds are broke after borrowing the stimulus money and NSW is broke anyway. In that light, I wonder what you think of the following:

    Ecotransit research estimates that the $5.3B allocated to the Sydney to Rozelle metro could finance the construction of stage 1 of the heavy rail link to Castle Hill ($700M), plus the South west rail link ($1.36B), plus the Parramatta to Epping rail link ($2.2B), plus light rail extensions to Dulwich Hill, White Bay, Barangaroo and Green Square ($500M), plus $500M change to improve current CityRail services;

    I’ll be asking what the planners say about your analysis — thanks for the input.

    Regards, MG

  • Hi Russell,
    I argue for the needs of greater Sydney rather than just the self-interest of my particular area because it seems self-evidently logical to me. Read the beginning of my story again — I suggest that what happens to wider Sydney affects us inner residents because we are at the hub of the network. I think it’s in OUR interests — and the planet’s — to get as many people as possible onto rail transport ASAP. And I am sure that heavy rail north and south will carry a lot more people a lot sooner than a fledgling mini-metro serving Rozelle — and for less money.

    PS: Wow — the system didn’t spam me!

  • Michael

    Hi MG,

    I agree, the Libs have always been wedded to privatized development & why the Feds didn’t look at more public transport infrastructure spending (Especially bigger projects) for the stimulus money (And not just in NSW) is beyond me…

    Firstly, I’m not sure if what I said previously about services from Rouse Hill to the city was clear? Peak hour services from Rouse Hill would run via the Northern Line to the city via Strathfield in the morning peak and back again in the afternoon peak. I only mentioned services running from Rouse Hill to the city.

    The Ecotransit ideas for the 1st stage of a heavy rail link to Rouse Hill, the Epping to Parramatta link & the light rail link to Dulwich Hill & White Bay I like… I still believe & I’m starting to hear it more & more that one of the biggest problems/ challenges that the existing Cityrail system faces is capacity/ overcrowding & congestion on the Western Line to/from & through the Sydney CBD. This also has a knock on effect especially for Western Line station platforms within the Sydney CBD. Commuters from other lines are increasingly struggling to get onto trains during the morning peak to get to North Sydney, St Leonards & Chatswood & vice versa in the afternoon peak. I don’t think you need a 2nd harbour crossing for at least 20-25 years, maybe even longer if you address the Western Line problem. My proposal allows commuters from Western Sydney to get to Chatswood, St Leonards and with a new link to Victoria Cross (North Sydney) quickly from Parramatta in the morning peak & vice versa in the afternoon peak. For the first time you have a Cityrail line that is not Sydney CBD centric. This will reduce overcrowding on the Western Line. Some services and all non peak hours services would also run from Rouse Hill to Victoria Cross (North Sydney) via the Epping to Chatswood Rail Link with commuters outside of peak hour changing at Epping to get to the city via Northern Line services or at Chatswood or St Leonards to get to the city via North Shore Line services and vice versa going the other way. Building the West Metro to Westmead will also further reduce overcrowding. The CBD Metro as an add on to the West Metro is vital as it provides stations within the Sydney CBD at Central, Town Hall Square, Martin Place and Wynyard. Personally I think it would have been better going to, & terminating at Circular Quay after Martin Place but with stabling, maintenance & a control centre required I guess that’s why it then proceeds to Pyrmont & Rozelle. Either way I think it’s a good start to an extensive metro system & I’m sure one day it will be extended from Rozelle to at least the new Cityrail station at Macquarie Park.

    I’m not a fan of an extensive tram system within inner Sydney so I might seem to be a bit bias with my response. A tram link from Green Square to Central would be problematic because of the existing roads this system would have to use. The area definitely has the densities to support a tram system but I think a loop to the existing heavy rail station at Green Square would be a better idea. Trams on George St unless you get rid of all the buses will also be problematic. I really cannot see this happening in the short term. I think if you want to support Barangaroo & the Western Corridor of the Sydney CBD trams would work better running down the full length of Sussex St especially when you look at the spatial fields from the existing Cityrail system and the currently proposed CBD/ West Metro alignment.

  • Greg

    It is a real shame that the woolworths building would need to be demolished in order to have this green square. It is such a beautiful building!