Thursday, 28 August 2014

...there is always someone worse off.

Baird's election plan
Public Servants appointed to Transport for NSW delight in telling people that there are winners and there are losers. The big losers if Baird wins the election will be the people who live along the rail line from Bankstown to Sydenham. It was planned that they would lose access to the CBD loop stations and have access only to a station god knows how far beneath Central Station, a station adjacent to Town Hall Station and a station just north of Martin Place (see previous post). Commuters headed to destinations in the Eastern Suburbs do not at present contribute to overcrowding on the escalators at Town Hall station as they can transfer to the Eastern Suburbs line at any station along the Erskineville line, Redfern or Central.

Baird's desperate attempt to portray himself as Infrastructure Boy has changed all that. The tunnel from Sydenham to deep beneath Central station effectively makes Sydenham and Town Hall the only stations where these transfers would take place. We mortals have no idea where the Metro station under Central would be located - it is just the usual dot on an extremely vague map. Since the metro line follows a Pitt Street alignment one would expect the station to be under the country platforms - deep beneath, as the metro rail tunnels must pass under the Eastern Suburbs rail line. Rational commuters would be unlikely to ascend to the historic main concourse then down three flights of escalators to the Eastern Suburbs line platforms. Congestion on the escalators at Town Hall Station would eventually make Sydenham the preferred point of transfer. The exodus of passengers from the northbound metro line to the double-deck services at Sydenham during the morning peak and even more during the rest of the day would be even more comprehensive than the exodus of passengers from the southbound metro line at Chatswood and St Leonards. The only passengers on the 12.5km underground Metro alignment between St Leonards and Sydenham (the most expensive infrastructure project in the history of NSW) in either direction would be commuters who worked in the immediate vicinity of the Town Hall or Martin Place. This is not "for a while"; this is forever.
Sydenham station
So where will the Metro station at Sydenham be located? Underground beneath the existing platforms?

Can North Shore politicians be trusted to honour commitments made before elections?

Will a Baird government revert to type after the election and discover that a tunnel beneath the Erskineville rail lines is too expensive and does not have any cost/benefit? Will they implement Plan C as originally touted, denying train services from the southern lines any access to the CBD rail loop?

Will train services from the South Coast be denied access to the Terminal at  Central?

These are but some of the questions that will prey on the minds of the people south of the Harbour and east of Cabramatta in the lead up to the state election on 28th March.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

How the West lost everything

Parramatta to Epping rail link
The rail line from Epping to Parramatta was part of the project to build a rail link from Parramatta to Chatswood and St Leonards and received the required approval from the Director General of the Department of Planning in February 2002. The project had been the subject of extensive consultations with Councils and Community groups at Parramatta, Epping, Chatswood and tragically Lane Cove and had been extensively modified in the course of these discussions. Community groups had pressured the Government to abandon plans to build a rail bridge over the Lane Cove river and instead to tunnel under the river. Costs blew out and the relatively inexpensive rail link from Epping to Parramatta was postponed.

The Gillard government promised funding for the project but it was subsequently downgraded in the list of priorities when the O'Farrell government refused to make the required state funding contribution. Tony Abbott has announced that there will be no federal funding for urban rail projects ever by a coalition government.
The Parramatta/Epping rail link was designed to provide a direct link between the western suburbs and the northern rail lines and the bus services to the north east from Epping and the bus services to the Northern Beach suburbs from Chatswood. Commuters would not be forced to catch a train service that crossed the Harbour Bridge and transfer to an outbound Central Coast train at Strathsfield station or actually stay on the train across the Bridge. This would relieve pressure on the train services between Epping and Strathfield and on the train services across the Harbour Bridge.

Now Baird has confirmed that if he wins the election on 28th March the taxpayer funded rail line from Epping to Chatswood will be made inaccessible to double-deck trains from the Western line through Parramatta. Parramatta was the second major settlement after the establishment of the colony at Farm Cove. The hopes of Parramatta to cement its place as the western city hub will never eventuate if the self-proclaimed Minister for Western Sydney is not sent packing on 28th March.

The First Tranche

The Sydney Morning Herald was able to obtain files on the North West Rail under the Government Information (Public Access) act despite fierce opposite from the government. They have published the confidential cabinet report on CBD Rail Capacity Programs Rail Futures Investigations

The remarkable thing is that the project announced precipitously by Baird as he was reeling from resignations in the wake of the ICAC hearings did not feature in any of the scenarios considered in the investigations. As far as can be gathered from all the documents that the government was forced to release no attempt has ever been made to cost the project Baird has cited as the reason for hocking the urban electricity distribution network for 99 years.
The investigation confidential to Cabinet use stylised diagrams of the rail network and had the childish assertions about trains per hour like those that were trumpeted in the Light Rail brochures, EIS and Secretary's Assessment report. The scenarios were grouped into three categories according to whether the Harbour Bridge rail line (shown above), the Airport Line or half the Erskineville lines were to taken over by the privately-owned single-deck Metro. A tunnel under the Erskineville rail link from Central to Sydenham as announced by Baird was never considered, for obvious reasons.
Category C: the Growth Option
The scenario requiring a tunnel under the Harbour and taking over the two western rails of the Erskineville rail link was described as the Growth option. This option eliminated access to the CBD loop for all people who rely on the Bankstown rail line - the only stops in the CBD were to be at Town Hall and the dubious stop north of Martin Place.

The Plan announced by Baird as the excuse for selling 49% of the urban electricity distribution network was merely the precursor to the much larger scheme which includes the ludicrously uneconomic Northern Beaches rail line and duplication of the under-utilised line from Wolli Creek to Revesby and the line to Hurstville. It also includes conversion of the lines from Bankstown to Cabramatta and Lidcombe to single-deck trains - indeed it is difficult to see how these lines would continue to operate with double-deck trains if the line to Bankstown was unable to carry double-deck trains. Other scenarios for the Growth option show the Northern Beaches rail as a horizontal line east from Chatswood. No work has been done on the design or costing of this line but it is cited as the raison d'ĂȘtre for the Growth option.

The stylised maps taken to Cabinet by Ms Berejiklian all show the Harbour rail tunnel to the east of Wynyard and the Bridge, so clearly the costings in the "investigation" were bottom of the beer coaster calculations. $1 billion was added to the last costings for the Balmain to CBD Metro of $7 billion. No credibility can be attached to these figures - TfNSW has established form for systemic dishonesty.

Indisputably, selling 49% of electricity assets is just the first tranche of the taxpayer asset sales that would be necessary to make the Metro remotely feasible. The price of the Metro is a private monopoly controlling electricity prices with ownership of 100% of the electricity distribution network throughout urban areas.

Then there is the $3 billion dollar a year hit to recurrent state government spending in addition to the $20 billion a year Hockey says he will be taking from expenditure on schools and hospitals. No wonder Liberal Party Premiers and Federal backbenchers are calling for the GST to be increased to 15%.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Before the Harbour Bridge was built residents on the North Shore had to catch ferries to get to work in Sydney and fares were collected at Circular Quay as at present. A commuter challenged this in court and in subsequent appeals claiming that when he got off the ferry he was between the devil and the deep blue sea. Court costs were not as high in those days but he would have spent a fair bit, presumably trying to get a free ride to work. There has never been any industry in the North Shore and the main occupations have been in finance and politics. North Shore politicians can run policies that close down manufacturing industries and divert industrial jobs overseas knowing that this will have little direct impact on their electorates.


The apprentice
Three days before the 2010 election Hockey, in the conspicuous absence of Tony Abbott, announced the Liberal Party's economic policies saying that they had been audited by a West Australian company closely associated to the Party and they could "go to gaol" if they were wrong. Independents held the balance of power after the election and Abbott was forced to submit his figures to Treasury. The auditors did not go to goal but they were fined by their association. The main errors were that the Liberals were proposing to sell off taxpayer's assets but had not factored in the loss of revenue after the sale. Four of the independents from National Party leaning electorates came independently to the conclusion that Abbott could not be trusted and the Liberals would spend the next three years relentlessly (and successfully with the aid of rightwing shock-jocks on steam radio) attacking the scientific and engineering communities.

Tony Windsor, one of the independents, recalled Abbott saying "the only thing I wouldn't do is sell my arse - but I'd have to give serious thought to it." Abbott's ass (amer.) was never on the line, his overweening desire to be Prime Minister was in order to sell taxpayer's assets.

In his first budget Hockey is offering grants from federal tax collections of 15% of the money raised to states that hock public assets. Liberal Party Premiers have traditionally railed against tied grants but Baird is a mindless convert to Hock-economics. The modelling released claimed that hocking 49% of the urban electricity distribution network will raise $13 billion attracting a $2 billion grant which would grow to $20 billion through interest when deposited in the banking system. The amount raised will of course depend on what undertakings are made on the price of power to retail users.

The modelling ignores the fact that the power assets contribute more than $3 billion a year to the ongoing costs of the health and education in the state. This contribution ceases even before the merchant banks have extracted their success fees and management fees for the transaction and is an additional reduction to the $20 billion a year Australia wide that Hockey is boasting he will take from health and education according to the forward estimates. Meanwhile the money from the sale will be earning record-low interest rates which are expected to go lower as unemployment increases.

Eventually the sale of profitable tax-payer assets will be sunk into ludicrously uneconomic projects that will never make any return on the investment. The business case for the George Street trams made absurd claims of economic benefit from reduced congestion but requests in submissions to the EIS for the claims to be verified were disregarded. Now Baird is making similar assertions that he will unlock congestion. Baird has an advantage as none of his claims are backed up by any information. His projects have not been designed, let alone costed, subjected to feasibility studies or cost/benefit studies or had Environmental Assessments. He can claim anything he likes in the lead up to the election on March 28th.

Dirty Tricks

I appear to have been the victim of an attempt to close down this Blog. You make a post pointing out the obvious flaws in the signature policy that Baird will be taking to the election and that is the end of you. My profile on Google+ was blocked when I was accused of impersonating another person. It is ridiculously easy to make these allegations: you go to the profile page of your victim's account at Google+ and click on an arrow under the profile picture, you are asked to specify if the profile name impersonates
  • me
  • someone I know
  • a celebrity
and you are done. The Profile is blocked and the victim has to satisfy an automated appeal process that he is a real person. If he fails to do this within 60 days the Blog can be removed from the servers.

When I tried to open an account with Facebook some years ago my legal name was rejected. When I used my second given name I got it through. This remained one of life's little mysteries until I went to Perth to go to the Swans/Freo semifinal a year ago and went on a tour of the tunnels under Fremantle Goal. You had to introduce yourself to the group and everyone smiled. The tour guide asked if I had seen The Family Guy. I have since Googled it - I still have not watched an episode: I share the same name as the Dad. In the interests of conforming to the mores of social media I will offer the opinion that Josh Thomas has a genius for writing comedy: I Google+ "Please Like Me" (Tuesday nights ABC2).

An attempt to clear my name by giving a URL to the PUSH Facebook page failed dismally. In the end I had to upload my photo to my profile and forward a photo of my drivers licence to the Google appeals process. After more than 4 days I finally got through to my dashboard late last night - the suspension had been lifted.

I have not included the street address of my house in my Google profile or other personal information as eco-terrorists have been known to damage the houses of people they describe as NIMBYs. We are dealing with lunatic fringe groups. It turns out that the North Shore Tea Party rump is the looniest fringe party of them all.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The CBD Metro 2: the counter-production

There was no explanation given when the Keneally government abandoned the original CBD metro. There were rumours that the estimated cost had blown out from $2 billion to more than $7 billion. Published cost/benefit studies had revealed that the metro would be running at 13% capacity during the morning peak when it opened and at only 24% in 2031. This was assuming Victoria Road buses would transfer passengers to the metro in Rozelle and there would be a rail or tram service along the goods line through Lilyfield.
End of the line: Balmain-West Tigers league club
The plan was to ultimately extend the metro under Victoria Road to Epping station.

Now Baird is claiming that redirecting the metro to St Leonards and thence Chatswood under the deepest part of the Harbour would cost no more than $7 billion, albeit this eliminates the station connecting to Wynyard station. Since the project has not been designed let alone costed he can claim anything he wants.

You cannot fight Town Hall station

Town Hall Station
When the Town Hall station was built by cut and cover to complete the Bradford loop rail and the Sydney Harbour Bridge rail line there were two unused platforms on the lower level which were planned for a line under Parramatta road. When the Eastern Suburbs railway was built it was directed to the unused platforms. This was unfortunate: to transfer from a Harbour Bridge service to the Eastern Suburbs line a commuter must take an escalator up to the entry plaza under George Street then an escalator down to the lower level. The transfer does not require the commuter exit the station but it clearly overloads the stairs and escalators at Town Hall station.

Passengers using the metro as originally planned would have had to exit at the station under Pitt Street and use a series of escalators and a concourse under the site presently occupied by the Woolworths store and buildings to the east, which would be demolished, to reach the pedestrian plaza under George Street then enter the Town Hall rail station and escalate down to the lowest level to transfer to the eastern Suburbs rail service. The metro did nothing to relieve congestion at Town Hall station in fact it exacerbated the congestion. The CIA coined the phrase counterproductive to describe the saturation bombing of Hanoi. The Metro is counterproductive.

The original metro dog-legged from Castlereagh to Pitt Street under Centre Point presumably in the hope that some commuters would leave the metro at Martin Place,  ascend god knows how many banks of escalators, traipse up Martin Place and board the Eastern Suburbs railway at the station under Sydney Hospital. If it is still possible for the Metro tunnels to pass under the Westfield site the stations will be so deep this would be a forlorn hope. If it is not physically possible and still pass the metro station over the Bathurst Street Cross City tunnel then passengers are even less likely to transfer from a Martin Place station under Pitt Street.

The North Shore redirection

Redirecting the metro to the North Shore makes these questions no longer moot. Commuters from the North West metro line heading for destinations west of Central will transfer to double-decker Central Coast train services at Epping station transferring to western line services at Stratsfield as was previously mooted. Passengers headed for destinations in the Eastern Suburbs will transfer to double-decker trains at Chatswood or St Leonards stations (across the platform as planned for stage one) then transfer to the Eastern Suburbs trains at Town Hall station without breaking their trip and paying for another trip. The only passengers still on the driverless metro trains when they pull out of St Leonards station will be people who are as intellectually challenged as the Public Servants appointed to Transport for NSW by North Shore rump politicians, that is to say, hardly anyone.

Passengers alighting from the metro at Martin Place will not be able to catch the George Street trams to reach destinations to the north as there is no tram stop at Martin Place - the only stop to the north is at Wynyard. Why would they not transfer to a train passing through Wynyard? The only passengers on the metro under Sydney Harbour will be commuters that live in the dormitory suburbs to the north west and work in the immediate vicinity of the Martin Place and Town Hall stations. North Shore politicians chant implausibly that driverless single-deck trains can run more closely together since passengers alight and board the carriages more quickly. This turns out to be true since almost no-one will be leaving and entering the carriages at the few and far between stations.

The return of the living dead

Rodd Staples
So what happens to a Public Servant whose incompetence results in the loss of around half a billion dollars of taxpayer's money? Bear in mind that no public servant has ever been sacked for incompetence. They become one of the living dead, unable to get a position in the private sector, waiting for a politician silly enough to resurrect them. The Liberal Party in opposition had described the Metro project as reckless and mismanaged but Berejiklian appointed the man in charge of the Metro Rodd Stapples to head the North-West rail link project, with a Liberal Party adviser Johnstone-Donnet as chief of staff. Ms Berejiklian stated that the North-West rail line would carry double-deck trains. That all changed with Staples on board. Now the plans he was working on when one of the living dead of handing over established rail lines payed for by the taxpayer to a private monopoly running driverless single-deck trains has been cited by Baird as the main reason for privatising the electricity distribution network.

Only a Royal Commission into Transport for NSW will uncover the reasons why the original Metro was abandoned without explanation. The romantic view is that a voice piped up in the department: "This is crazy". In reality it was probably the fact the when potential private/public partners (PPPPs) were approached they laughed in their face. You can imagine the hysterical reaction Baird would have provoked when he, as Treasurer, tried to interest PPPPs in building a metro rail tunnel from St Leonards to Sydenham that would not be used by rational human beings ever.

The plan presented to PPPPs would have handed over half the capacity of the Erkinville rail link to the single-deck trains but this would have been scrapped in favour of a tunnel to avoid alienating Malcolm Turnbull's fan base when Baird came up with Plan B: taxpayer assets are sold off to fund the whole project at any cost and then the metro is handed over to a private monopoly.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Yellow Peril

Yellow Peril
The December 2012 brochure contained a single paragraph titled Sydney's Rail Future asserting "in the longer term, the second Harbour rail crossing and new CBD line will see the network carry up to 100,000 more people an hour..." A year later the government clarified this with the diagram showing a yellow stain slooshing from the North Shore rump over the whole of the CBD, with the exception of Barangaroo, and God knows how far south. This was the only information available about this project until Baird announced the if he was elected for the first time he would consider he had a mandate to privatise the urban power distribution network and cited the project as his main justification for turning a public utility into a private monopoly. It was stated that the apparently-separate tunnels would to the west of the Harbour Bridge and Baird speculated that there could be a station at Barangaroo. Diagrams issued by the government confirmed that the single-deck trains would exit the CBD along the four track Erskineville rail link but it was unclear whether they would take over two of the tracks or be built as a tunnel. I discussed this in a previous post in February "Gladys's bottom of the Harbour Scheme".

The only information we have on the project is a crudely drawn map with dots supposedly representing possible stops as in the announcement of the tram project. We will once again be forced to use deductions to comment on a project that, God forbid, we will be paying for in higher electricity prices for the next 99 years.
As far as can be made out from the crude maps released be Premier Baird the rail tunnel will be between McMahons Point and Millers Point. This is the deepest part of the Harbour.
The depth from the bedrock to the surface of the ocean is more than 40 metres as can be seen from the diagram left. Now that Baird's North Shore Federal colleagues have made Australia the only advanced country that does not have any policies to deal with global warming this depth can be expected to increase. Despite this Baird has released infantile diagrams that show the depth of the base of the proposed tunnels through the bedrock under the Harbour to be only 40 metres.

Spurious cross-section
The Public Servants appointed to Transport for NSW have a history of making convenient assertions that can be shown to be physically impossible but in the absence of any development work on the project Baird can make any assertions he likes. Baird is out of his depth, but what can one do?

The CBD Metro 1: the original and best

CBD Metro 1
The CBD Metro has been around for many years since it was first sold to the Iemma government in 2008. The metro tunnel was to have passed under the narrow and shallow entrance to Darling Harbour and looped to the north to include stations just north of Wynyard Station and under Castlereagh Street, north of Martin Place. Baird has hastily redirected the metro alignment to, you guessed it, the North Shore after the previous metro was abandoned by the Keneally Government in February 2010, without any explanation.
Maccas Park Street building

The Keneally government had begun a process of compulsory acquisitions of properties costing half a billion dollars to provide exits from the stations - one of which was to have been the heritage building in Park Street which is now a McDonalds restaurant. The Criterion Theatre on the south side was demolished to widen Park Street.

Town Hall Metro station
The metro alignment presumably passed under the Eastern Suburbs rail line swerving from under Castlereagh Street at Martin Place to under Pitt Street at Town Hall and back again to under Castlereagh Street. The crude map released by Baird has dots at the same places at Martin Place and Town Hall, but a lot has changed since the metro was abandoned. The blue strip along the red rail alignment was an area where there were restrictions on property developments so the foundations of buildings would not be undermined by the tunnels. Once the metro was abandoned property developers lost no time in proceeding with developments over the former alignment.

The critical parts of the alignment were where the rail tunnels crossed between Castlereagh and Pitt Streets. The metro tunnels would have to pass over the top of the Cross City tunnels, separate tunnels under Park and Bathurst Street with an additional ventilation tunnel.

Cross City Tunnel

In 2008 the sites between Castlereagh and Pitt Streets north of Park Street were a Greater Union cinema and a two-storey arcade as well as buildings dating back to the nineteenth century such as the Maccas building. These have been replaced by the ANZ Tower with the developer's two-storey penthouse at the top. The underground car park is accessed from Pitt Street and is set back against Pitt Street because of height restrictions to minimise overshadowing of Hyde Park.

The Westfield site that amalgamated Centrepoint with the Imperial Arcade and the arcade adjacent to the Glass House arcade that was to have had a group of smaller buildings around the Sydney Tower now has a cylindrical Office tower with a sloping top to conform with requirements to limit overshadowing of Hyde Park at odd times of the day in winter. All the allowed parking allocation for the site was consolidated in the basement of this building.

The Sky Lobby of the office tower is at the uppermost level of the retail and restaurant podium and was open to the public during the last Sydney Open. One of the columns of the tower does not reach down to the bedrock with diagonal columns taking loads to adjacent columns.

The helpful Sydney Open volunteer pointed out that there were five retail levels and a number of parking levels down from the lobby - the depth of the excavation is the main claim of fame for the building! The Liberal government did not do anything in more than three years to protect a rail tunnel alignment passing from Castlereagh to Pitt Street.

Westfield Office Tower
Now Baird has based his political future on projecting himself as Infrastructure Boy. There are a string of unanswered questions that he must surely be asked to account for before the election. He must be asked how he will connect the dots. This will be the focus of subsequent posts.