The announcement on the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) and how it will fit in with the rest of the rail network contained a number of broken promises. Promises to use double deck trains rather than a single deck metro, to not privatise rail, and to run the NWRL directly into the CBD.
Of these broken promises, the first hasn’t caused much angst other than a perceived reduction in seats, but as Premier Barry O’Farrell has pointed out: services every 5 minutes means there will actually be more seats available than with services running every 15 minutes. The second broken promise is a grey area, and comparisons have been made to the Airport Line, with its privately owned stations and $11 access fee ontop of the regular fare. While the NWRL will be privately operated, the government will still own the infrastructure: stations and rolling stock, as it does with ferries, all non STA-buses and the light rail (all of which are also privately operated). This means that fears of additional access fees, as happens on the Airport Line, will probably not happen, especially given the government knows how unpopular such a decision would be.
However, it’s the final broken promise that will probably get traction: no direct services into the CBD. It’s understandable why people are angry about this. If passengers have to get off at Chatswood, and North Shore trains already run at an average of 110% capacity, then how will they handle all the passengers from the NWRL unloading off a train every 5 minutes? The problem with this thinking is that it assumes that one variable will change (number of trains from the NWRL) while another remains static (number of trains from the North Shore Line). The reality is that these changes would allow for an additional 6 trains per hour to run on the North Shore Line (4 that now turn around at Chatswood rather than continuing into the CBD and 2 from existing spare capacity), an increase in capacity of over 40% for the North Shore Line. Signalling upgrades could increase this further to almost a 70% increase. The simplified timetable (which reduces the number of lines using that track from 2 to 1) also means fewer disruptions.
The problem with this promise is really that it should never have been made in the first place, as it took the best option off the table (as dictated by the the lack of CBD capacity). The bigger mistake here would be to follow through on a bad promise, rather to bite the bullet and make the unpopular but right decision.
Sidenote: I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with me on this. But I’ve never been a fan of oppositions making promises of what they will do in government before they know all the facts. I have a lot of respect for governments that do go back on their promises when they realise those were a mistake. Though I would have preferred that they not make a hollow promise in the first place.
Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian’s comments seem to reflect this thinking:
“I assumed when I became Transport Minister that double decks were the way to go but expert advice, community input, industry input, demostrates to me and also looking at what happens around the world, the best way to go for the north-west rail line is single deck” – Gladys Berejiklian, Transport Minister (20 June 2012)
And I think she’s right. This is all part of a process to simplify Sydney’s rail network, so that each line is completely separate, with its own stopping pattern and own rolling stock. The mixed system currently means dropping to the lowest common denominator: a delay in one part of the network spills over to the rest of the network, express trains cannot overtake local trains, passengers wait for their specific train on overcrowded platforms rather than catching the next one causing long dwell times at stations, etc.
Despite my personal misgivings towards a metro in the past, I’ve recently become a supporter of such an idea. A single deck metro system is off the shelf, meaning Sydney could just buy trains designed for the rest of the world rather than expensive custom made trains. If they are driverless, or atleast combine the role of driver and guard thanks to automation, then high frequencies can be maintained all day. And by moving to a private operator, this will also side step the bureaucracy and poor customer service of Railcorp and the resistant trade unions that value their working conditions above a good transport network.
Tomorrow I’ll put up my third and final post on this topic. It will be about unanswered questions arising out of this announcement.