By JESSICA GUTTRIDGE
The NSW Legislative Council’s Inquiry report for the Sydenham to Bankstown line conversion has recommended the immediate release of the full business case of Sydney Metro Southwest but Transport for NSW continues to deny public access to the critical document.
Transport for NSW has just deemed a Government Information Public Access (GIPA) request for the business case not to be of public interest, despite the Parliamentary report released in April that makes nine recommendations including “that the NSW Government immediately publish the full Sydney Metro City & Southwest final business case, including the final financial model and benefit cost analysis for the Metro Southwest project.”
The project having blown out by $3 billion has raised the total cost to about $15 billion, which is higher than the original budget estimate of $11.5 billion. The Government is refusing to release the business case claiming it is “cabinet in confidence,” without completing a public interest test as part of processing the GIPA request.
The Metro Southwest project promises new trains from Sydenham to Bankstown every four minutes in peak times, resulting in fifteen trains an hour.
But commuters west of Bankstown station could be worse off as a result of the Metro, having to catch up to three trains to get to work and study in the city.
Lack of transparency
The Inquiry into the Sydenham to Bankstown line conversion found that the NSW Government had failed to properly make the case for the project.
Committee Chair of the Inquiry, Abigail Boyd, believes the NSW Government ought to be more transparent with the project.
“The case for the South West Metro project has not been made out. If the government was confident that the project would stand up to scrutiny, they would have released the full business case long ago.”
The purpose of the business case is to demonstrate whether the project is value for money and is the best use of funds to address a particular infrastructure need.
Sydney Metro has only published a summary of the business case; however, many experts believe it is does nothing to alleviate concerns about the Government’s lack of transparency with the project.
Transport analyst and planner, Matthew Hounsell stated to the Inquiry that the project’s Environmental Impact Statement lacked information for him to conduct proper evidence-based analysis on alternatives the Government proposed.
Retired transport economist, John Austen, also noted that, “the [summary] document cannot be used in serious analysis […] its defects are so serious as to undermine public confidence in Government decision making. It would have been better for it not to be published.”
Figures in the summary have also been redacted, further preventing analysis of the project.
Community groups have also been left asking why billions in public funds are being used to replace functional trains currently with many seats with more expensive trains with substantially less seats on the Bankstown line.
Marrickville Residents’ Action Group were displeased with the summary, saying it was ‘impossible to determine how cost benefits have been calculated,’ while calling for the full business case.
The Sydenham to Bankstown Alliance also attested that the summary lacks the negative costs associated with Metro Southwest construction from the benefit cost analysis.
Digital Signalling as an alternative to Metro
The Inquiry report also includes Marrickville Residents’ Action Group’s call to implement alternatives to the Metro Southwest, such as digital signalling, which would allow twenty four trains an hour.
Former Sydney Trains chief executive, Howard Collins in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, revealed signalling improvements to existing rail lines was “not very sexy to sell to the public and politicians”, compared to a ceremonial ribbon cutting on a new line.
Collins explained improving signals could mean a train every two and half minutes, which would mean a great return with a “relatively cheap investment.”
Transport for NSW is currently upgrading signalling on the T4 Illawarra line and the T8 Airport line, as part of the government’s ‘More Trains, More Services’ program.
With the NSW Government refusing to release the full business case, there are growing calls for the Sydenham to Bankstown line conversion to be cancelled.
“The South West Metro must terminate at Sydenham, with the billions saved being redirected into funding new rail links to communities in Sydney that currently have none,” committee chair Boyd said.
“Spending billions to rip up existing rail services solely to replace them with slower privatised services is not money well spent.”
The Inquiry concluded that the project does not enjoys strong community support, and that the project would cause more harm than benefit citing environmental concerns, disruptions and possible cheaper alternatives.
The deadline for the NSW Government to provide a formal response to all nine Parliamentary recommendations is due in early October.