On Friday, the state government agreed to pay $20 million to buy Metro Transport Sydney (MTS), the company that owns the monorail and light rail. Now back in public ownership, the government plans to tear down the monorail as part of its redevelopment of the Entertainment Centre, while also making it much easier for the government to go forward with its planned expansion of the light rail system (by removing the need to negotiate with and come to an agreement with the private owner of the existing light rail line). Considering that the Entertainment Centre redevelopment will cost $550 million and the light rail extension into the Inner West plus CBD will cost $500 million, the $20 million cost to buy the company outright does not seem excessive.
In announcing the deal, Premier Barry O’Farrell said that:
The monorail is not integrated with Sydney’s wider public transport network and has never been truly embraced by the community… the NSW government cannot justify costly upgrades like the purchase of new vehicles required to keep it running. This decision paves the way for the development of a world class Sydney International Convention, Exhibition and Entertainment Precinct. – Barry O’Farrell (23 March 2012)
Mr O’Farrell points out that the problem with the monorail is that it doesn’t go anywhere people want to go. There was actually one time in my 20 years living in Sydney when I was in Pitt Street Mall and wanted to go to the Convention Centre side of Darling Harbour in which I realised the monorail would take me from where I was to where I wanted to go. Though for $4.90, it was quite an expensive trip and I may have been better off walking. So I think the Premier is right on the money with his analysis.
Public ownership of the light rail will make it easier to integrate it into the greater transport network, including a better alignment of its fares, which are currently much higher than those of other transport modes (albeit with light rail now included in the myMulti ticketing system). The headlines have all been about the monorail, but this is the real long term impact of the decision to purchase MTS, particularly considering the potential size of the light rail network the government is considering. Transport minister Gladys Berejiklian explained it as follows:
There were provisions in the contract that would have meant we would have had to negotiate any potential links in the future, in fact I think even the contract stated any extensions could not touch the existing light rail line. This means we have that option now to extend the light rail network and to make it completely integrated, not have a stop start system. – Gladys Berejiklian (23 March 2012)
The curious thing about this move is that the Liberal Party is generally known as the party that favours the market and privatisation over government control, yet it has chosen to take back ownership of a private company. Veolia is being retained as the operator of the light rail, though I expect that once this contract expires the operation of the light rail will be put out to tender rather than handed over to a government department or agency. This is the model the government is seeking for ferries, with public ownership but a private operator, and the model that has been rumoured it is seeking for any future metro rail network.
I’ve included links to all the major media coverage below. Many are quite similar, so if you’re after something with more depth, I recommend listening to the 2 interviews under the radio section, particularly the Frank Sartor one as he tends to be more opinionated and speculates a lot more.
Print media reports
Last stop: Sydney’s monorail to be scrapped – ABC News
Monorail to be pulled down – Sydney Morning Herald
Monorail goes, but look what we get – Sydney Morning Herald
NSW monorail to be pulled down – Australian Financial Review
Last stop for Sydney Monorail – Daily Telegraph
Radio media reports
Monorail to be pulled down – ABC Radio 702
Interview with former Sydney Lord Mayor Frank Sartor – ABC Radio 702
Interview with Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian – ABC Radio 702
Last rides for Sydney’s monorail – ABC Radio National
Television media reports