Monday, July 4, 2011

No Action for Transport 2020

All aboard the bullshit train, folks; the NSW state government is at it again…


If there is anything that I take with a grain a salt, it’s anything that comes from a bogan’s mouth and railway proposal talk. Railway proposals are the lesbian pornography of the New South Wales government – a lot of noise gets made, but it’s almost always followed with no results. Whenever some state politician starts talk of some elaborate billion dollar rail proposal they’ve put in front of the professional head shakers of our government, all I see is the start of yet another string of cancellations, broken-promises and completion dates predicted to be so far in the future that the plans being proposed won’t even be remembered by the former Minister for Transport who proposed them in the first place. It’s an all too familiar song and dance we do in this state.

This whole thing has been happening for as long as I can remember. I mention this of course in the dawn of the proposal for the North West Rail Link, another possibly doomed idea which has already been on its own thirteen year rollercoaster. The number one issue I always see with NSW transport is square one; let me explain. This square one issue doesn’t lie with CityRail, RailCorp, the indecision of our government or the reality that there has to be a square one in every plan, no, the issue lies with the fact that our government changes our minister for transport like it’s a weekly agenda, and with each new one, we always end up back at square one. This is the genesis to our long list of short-lived ideas and cancelled plans. We’ll always start at square one, then one minister will announce these plans that are expected to be completed by 2020, but by the time the 2017 construction rolls around, we’ve already gone through one or two different ministers who, let’s be frank, will be gone too quickly to care, meanwhile all having their own turn at toying with these plans at their own disposal, sometimes quashing them completely, and funnily enough, more times than none, it all ends with us either returning or remaining at square one.

In the respect to our political issues with square one, the North West Rail Link has been a political harlot. Since the proposal was first put forward (or started putting out) in 1998, it has been through six different transport ministers and two political parties over a thirteen year period. Since then, in chronological order, it was first announced with a 2010 completion date, then revised to be completed in 2017, then back to 2015, then they changed the name to the North West Metro, then extended the plan to somehow include the Sydney CBD via Drummoyne with the possible use of Hogwarts witchcraft, then they decided against that because it was clearly impossible, so they shortened their plan to extend the original plan, then it was cancelled, then they went back to the original 1998 plan in 2010 (the year the ’98 plan was meant to be finished) for construction to begin in 2017, renaming back to the North West Rail Link and now this year, 2011, our newly-appointed state premier has begun to seriously consider the 1998 plan…in 2011...thirteen years later.

If you’re still with me and haven’t yet passed out from just reading about the CityRail yo-yo that half a dozen ministers have had a go of, this is just one of many. The North West Rail Link was part of a position paper released by the government in 1998 which outlined seven projects, with three possibles, which were to be completed or at least started by 2010. The paper was called Action for Transport Plan 2010, so you’d think with what the paper was promising and having a name like that, if not all but most of it would essentially be put into ‘action’, ERRRRR! Incorrect. Of the seven proposals, one and a half were completed: the Airport Link, because it had already started construction, and the Parramatta Rail Link which was actually never truly finished, so they just threw it under the bed, said it was completed and called it the Epping to Chatswood Rail Link; none of the others have started construction. So, just to juice the comical and ironic element here for all it’s worth, a paper called ‘Action for Transport 2010’ was released back in 1998 outlining projects that were meant to have at least been started by 2010, and now it’s 2011 and majority of those projects haven’t even seen the light of day, let alone been completed…and it’s 2011…thirteen years later.

That’s just what was in that paper; as well, since the mid-90s, there was also the proposal for Bondi Beach Station; the CBD -Metro, -Relief Line and -Rail Link; the Anzac Line; the South West Rail Link; the North West Metro (mentioned above); the Western -Express, -FastRail (this would’ve been awesome) and -Metro; plus everything mentioned in the ‘Christie’ proposals and 2009 Blueprint. There is also currently an extension to Circular Quay on the existing Sydney tram line which is still floating around, possibly awaiting cancellation. By the way, did I mention that it’s 2011?

I’m no politician, but speaking as someone who has lived in Sydney all of my life and has witnessed promise after promise only being made to never come to fruition, the NSW government needs to change two things:

  • They need to stop haphazardly proposing these piss-weak, impractical and over-expensive ideas for our rail network with the rapid-fire approach. For well over a decade, it has seemed like we are just vomiting out any number of ideas in the hopes of hitting a bullseye, but instead, all we have managed to actually complete is some underused, semi-private train line to and from our international airport and the Epping to Chatswood section of the Parramatta Rail Link. What we need is to start working on some practical ideas which are properly and seriously thought out, are cost-effective and aren’t just spat out and proposed the moment the thought is born. Even if this means only having one proposal announced every five years, I’m confident that this slower approach will deliver more results in thirteen years than half a train line and another line that nobody really uses. High speed rail and train tunnels everywhere sounds really awesome but they cost too much money; we need to get real with our propositions.
  • In turn, if they actually want to see any plans get completed, they need to bring a halt to this rotation of ministers they’ve got going on; it’s what has marred the proper growth of our transport system since the ‘90s. We need a minister who can commit to the job in the long-term and not one who is just biding their time before becoming the NSW Treasurer. When it does come to leaving the position, which is inevitable, they need to be replaced with someone who will respect the proposals already in place and not one who wants to apply their own touches to all of them, creating a mess as a result. The bottom line of it is that nobody can effectively grow a complex rail network while playing a twenty year game of musical chairs; we’re getting nowhere with this shit, stop it.

Despite the dismissive tone, I personally don’t want to make too many predictions about the North West Rail Link. By building an information centre and actually having some sort of plan of attack, the government are making an obvious point of saying that they are serious this time, but only time will tell if we are just hitching another ride on the bullshit train or not. It should probably also be noted that the government have taken a crack at satisfying areas without rail with rapid bus services and that a lot of the bus (and road) proposals made in the ’98 paper were implemented, so it seems that our bus network doesn’t suffer from square one like our trains do. I know that I’ve already said it twice but it needs to be emphasised again: with thirteen years and only really accomplishing a large paper-stack of ideas and one and a half rail lines, it’s getting increasingly difficult to see state rail proposals as anything more than just a fireworks display, and that’s really sad.

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