The Australian newspaper claimed recently that the NSW and Commonwealth governments are “no closer to resolving their differences on the Epping-Parramatta rail link [PERL] than on state election night, a year ago”. The Commonwealth government pledged at its last election to provide $2.1 billion of funding for the PERL, while the NSW government pledged at its last election to prioritise the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) over the PERL and wants that $2.1 billion to be provided for the NWRL instead.
The article quotes Commonwealth Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese as saying that:
“It’s extraordinary that the NSW government have had this funding on the table and yet haven’t responded to correspondence. The NSW government is the only state government that seems incapable of basic dealings between governments. I don’t have this problem with anyone else” – Anthony Albanese (23 March 2012)
Responding to this, NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian says that her government has:
“told him repeatedly — in departmental correspondence and submissions — that our priority rail projects are the northwest rail link and the southwest rail link. The only political paralysis comes from the federal government” – Gladys Berejiklian (23 March 2012)
This suggests that either resolving this issue is not an immediate priority for the two governments or that neither is willing to budge from their existing position. If it is the former, then there remains hope that a compromise solution will eventually be reached (perhaps Ms Berejiklian is waiting for the next federal election in the hope that a new Abbott led Liberal government will be easier to negotiate with, or that the threat of loss for the federal Labor Party will give her an edge in negotiations). However, if it is the latter then this can only lead to a lose-lose situation where nothing happens and the infrastructure deficit in NSW is added to.
Given that both the NSW and Commonwealth governments went to their last elections promising to build the PERL and NWRL respectively, I can understand the problem arising from neither government wanting to break its promise. But a compromise solution is really the only way to break the deadlock, and the only way to arrive at this is through negotiations and by considering other, innovative, solutions to Sydney’s transport problems. I’ve previously written about how light rail or bus transit ways have been suggested as a way to create a short term connection between Parramatta and Epping/Macquarie, which would provide a stop gap for the missing link until the PERL is constructed to provide a solid long term solution. The form of transport solution should not be the focus, instead the focus should be on getting a more efficient transport connection to build capacity, one that can be build in the near future and within a certain budget.
In December of 2011, I sent letters to (1) Anthony Albanese, (2) Gladys Berejiklian, (3) Parramatta City Council and my local MP (4) Bruce Notley-Smith, on the issue of arriving at a compromise solution to the PERL funding problem, suggesting the bus transit way as a possible compromise solution. The responses I received were as follows:
1. Office of Anthony Albanese, Minister for Infrastructure and Transport (Commonwealth)
Cristina Mojica, Acting General Manager for Rail and Intermodal, wrote that the Australian government has provided funding of “$12.2 billion to 2013-14 on road and rail project [sic]…also committed and additional $2.1 billion from 2014-15 to construct the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link”. She then argues that “public transport is primarily a responsibility for the New South Wales Government” and that my letter has been forwarded to the NSW transport minister’s office for consideration.
It does appear like quite a cop out that the Commonwealth Department of Infrastructure can on one hand boast about how much infrastructure funding they have provided and where they have directed it to, then defend its decision to fund certain projects but not others by pointing out that these decisions should be made at the state level. The very decisions that it is insisting on making itself in choosing to fund the PERL over the NWRL.
2. Office of Gladys Berejiklian, Minister for Transport (NSW)
Kate Foy, General Manager for Customer Service, indicated that my letter had been forwarded to Transport for NSW for advice on the matter. I have yet to receive a follow up response.
3. Parramatta City Council
David Gray, Manager for Transport Planning, writes that the council is aware of the bus transit way proposal, and that though there were “possible advantages”, that there were also “disadvantages of T-Ways including the congestion created with the large number of terminating buses in Parramatta city centre and the lack of suitable layover space”. For this reason, the council is seeking funding for a light rail feasibility study. While I was disappointed to hear that they were not putting more options on the table, this was the only response I received that understood that a compromise solution was the only way to progress in this situation.
4. Office of Bruce Notley-Smith, Member for Coogee (NSW)
I have yet to receive a response.