13 August 2010


Yesterday, the Federal government announced that it would fund the construction of a rail line between Parramatta and Epping. This is poor policy and worse politics.

Firstly, whose idea was it for the Prime Minister and other Federal ministers to be photographed with Keneally? Federal-State separation is all very well, but no Labor person would want to make any sort of association in the public mind between Gillard, who has a strong chance of winning, and Keneally, who has none. Keneally should have been sent to Ohio for the length of the campaign. Only if you are in denial about how bad the NSW goverment is would you risk the entire Labor campaign for federal government by giving Gillard a dose of the loser virus, Macquarie Street strain.

Secondly, it won't make any difference to Bennelong.

On a policy level, it is important to link the dormitory suburbs of northwestern Sydney to the jobs being created in and around North Ryde and northern Sydney. A Parramatta-Epping link is the cut-down version of that. The rail line is unnecessary for Bennelong, because we already live here. There is little desire or impetus for people in Bennelong communities like Gladesville, Denistone or Ermington to go to places like Greystaines or Cambridge Park.

This response from the Opposition was poor. It's gotcha politics, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing. It reinforces the Abbott image of no vision. The Federal Libs could do with some of the popularity and low-profile competence that Barry O'Farrell has gradually built up - if Hockey had embraced the NSW Liberal policy of a proper northwestern rail line, it would have built credibility and synergy for the Federa Libs. Instead, Hockey did himself no favours with bombast and sliding around real issues about transport through the nation's biggest city, issues that have far-reaching political, economic and social repercussions.

The Parramatta-Epping rail line was indeed first announced in 1998. And reannounced, and reannounced. An entire generation of journalists were employed in the State Parliamentary press gallery to follow around successive ministers as they reannounced this project, and they would dutifully report on this announcement (ready by 2010, apparently). The clogging up of media space on this non-event is another reason why the mainstream media have declined in circulation and influence, within Bennelong and elsewhere.

Most of the proposed Epping-Parramatta rail line involves duplication of existing rail lines. The major engineering challenge and greatest cost will come from linking the existing stations at Carlingford and Epping via a tunnel of about 4km. People living in West Epping can look forward to rumbling, drilling sounds for months on end, including the possibility of undermining your very home, for no benefit (there should be a station between Carlingford and Epping but I bet there won't be).

That's if it goes ahead at all: NSW Labor have no credibility and can't come up with $500m, even if you believe (against all evidence) that the costs won't blow out and make a nonsense of this announcement.

Now do you see why this won't be a vote-winner in Bennelong? Everyone involved in this has railroaded themselves.


  1. Richard Green13/8/10 6:59 pm

    On a policy level, it's not about Ryde, or even the North West entirely.The transport planners who have been pushing for this link for many many years argue that the link reduces the stress on the main trunk line (between Strathfield and the city) and the Western line between the latter and Parramatta. These lines end up being part of almost every other line in the city (Since trains cycle around). Relieving this bottleneck has knock on effects throughout the network. The same reasoning applies to the proposed second harbour crossing and the ,much less important Strathfield-Hurstville link.
    Ideally the system would be restructured so each line is self contained (like the Eastern Suburbs-Illawarra line) so that bottlenecks and delays on one line aren't spread to others, but we're forced to work with what we have.
    Whether it is bad politics is a boring question. As for policy, I have no reason to believe that the planners who have been puhsing for this have been disingenuous or stupid in their reasoning.

  2. Thanks Richard,

    North Ryde and the corridor of the Pacific Highway from Chatswood to North Sydney is one of Sydney's great growth corridors for job creation into the foreseeable future. These places are destinations in themselves. The focus on the city is still important but not as all-encompassing as it once was. Otherwise, why not shunt more trains via Bankstown, or run a new line via the inner west?

    I don't think that all of those involved with drafting policy are disingenuous or stupid, but I wish they hadn't limited their scope to the politicians we have rather than been a bit more choosy about which politicians get to make decisions.

    I believe that good policy is good politics. NSW Labor and the Abbott Liberals believe these are opposites and that the better one is the worse the other must be. There's one thing worse than a boring question, and that is having to live with the decisions made by dull-witted people subject to low expectations.

  3. John Bignucolo14/8/10 4:56 pm

    Andrew, I believe the Parramatta-Epping line to be good policy for the reasons that
    Richard gave. I'd add that the extension was included as one of the recommendations of the SMH's Long Term Public Transport Inquiry and in Dr Garry Glazebrook's 30 Year Transport Plan for Sydney.

    I really hope that once the federal election is out of the way, the NSW Liberals will take another look at this project and give it their support. At the moment they're presenting it as an either/or option with the North-West line. It doesn't have to be this way. Assuming that Anthony Albanese can follow through (granted, this may be an heroic assumption), the NSW Liberals will be able to build the North-West and Parramatta-Epping lines for just the cost of the former plus $500m.

  4. It doesn't have to, but it probably will - and I think Parra-Epping is the lesser option. Better than nothing but nothing is no longer an alternative.

    Another assumption is the idea that $(amount promised by Albanese) + $500m or so from the NSW govt = the real cost of the project. C'mon John, you've seen this movie before: change from $10b, much?