By Peter Hehir
Not according to Professor James Weirick from the University of NSW.
Sure the Stage 1 tunnels between the M4 and Haberfield do exist and are soon to open; and construction of the Stage 3 disaster is about to get underway; however Professor Weirick and a great many others believe that the tunnels can and should be repurposed for trains.
“Put trains in the tunnels” has been the cry from many of the groups and the wider community who are opposed to tolling road traffic; recognising that this freeway based approach to shifting people to and from the outlying suburbs is doomed to fail.
The tolls are already a burden on the Western Sydney demographic and as they continue to increase by 4% annually, they will leave many Sydney residents with no transport options at all.
Those for whom every cent counts will find themselves caught in a poverty trap from which there is no escaping; unable to jump through the ever increasingly stringent hoops that the Neo Cons demand in the quest for non-existent employment; will find themselves between a large rock and a very hard place.
For some the free accommodation and 3 meals a day on offer at Silverwater, Long Bay and any of the other similar NSW institutions may seem like an attractive alternative.
Professor Weirick’s students put together a detailed proposal in 2016 to repurpose the road tunnels for rail use. It is not only feasible, it is a sane and equitable solution to Sydney’s traffic woes.
The RMS CEO Ken Kanofski gave evidence on oath at the WestConnex Parliamentary Inquiry ‘that none of the gradients in any of the tunnels would exceed 4%”. This assurance eliminates the only construction related hurdle to replacing vehicles with trains; as the 4% grade is the maximum recommended for rail construction.
The incoming Government in March must ensure that the gradient of any tunnel does not exceed 4% to enable subsequent repurposing for rail; assuming NSW ever does have a Government that is genuinely interested in providing public services for its citizens.
Much has been made of the tunnels “taking 10,000 trucks a day off the roads”. But this claim warrants closer examination. The Government and the tunnel operators know that a great many restrictions apply to the types of material that can be transported through a tunnel.
These restrictions apply to materials including those that are flammable; that are capable of causing explosions; releases of toxic gas or volatile toxic liquid as well as infectious, radioactive or corrosive cargoes.
Loads such as fuel and a wide range of chemicals would obviously be denied tunnel access, but also seemingly harmless and benign everyday materials such as sugar and flour can be explosive in certain situations and so would, or should also be prohibited.
Wide, tall and overly long heavy haulage vehicles would also be unable to utilize the tunnels, so these will remain on the surface roads. The proposed construction on the peninsula associated with the Western Harbour Tunnel will generate an additional 4,500 truck movements a day in the White Bay region, compounding an already chaotic situation.
The surface roads are already unable to cope. The Anzac Bridge currently has the worst level of service rating, that being F. You can draw your own conclusions as to what the F stands for.
If the ALP are at all interested in being seen as a genuine alternative to Scomo and Glad the Impaler’s “user pays, privatise or perish push”, then they should abandon their support for tollroads and throw their weight behind the Sydney community’s demand for a public transport system that is the envy of the rest of the world, instead of the joke that it is.
Glebe Island and White Bay could become Sydney’s high speed rail hub interfacing with ferry and light rail services to the CBD, the Dulwich Hill light rail Line and also provide a light rail spur to service the Balmain peninsula.
The 3 and 4 lane tunnels could be repurposed for interstate and intrastate high speed rail and the others given over to suburban heavy and light rail services.
Surely this sort of “community first” planning is what a government is elected to do? To provide essential services and hold them in trust for future generations?
Not to flog off what should be publically owned infrastructure to multinationals who have no concern whatsoever for the welfare of the community.
Multinationals who are ready, willing and able to buy the favours of Government ministers and then provide them with obscenely well paid sinecures for a dirty job well done.
Multinationals who operate globally under a cloud of corruption; ever eager to donate to the major political parties, in return for favourable infrastructure contracts that provide them with a cash cow in order to milk the public’s transport dollars.
The bipartisan support for tollroads and the cosy relationship they have with companies like CIMIC, AECOM, John Holland, Transurban, Lendlease and others of their ilk needs to end.
So let’s push the ALP to dump the tollroads and put trains in the tunnels.