Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Now it is ALTRAC

On Wednesday 17 December 2014 I spent more than 5 hours making a detailed submission to the CBD and South East light rail report. I had not realised that the public had  given an opportunity to make submissions until the final day - this had not been allowed for the never-exhibited EIS. The submissions had to be submitted in PDF format by 5:30 pm.
The same day there was another media release from Ms Berejiklian. It said the contract had been signed late that night - within hours of the end of the exhibition period. I don't know if the professional assessors at the Department of Planning and Environment will proceed with their required assessment but they have clearly been compromised in carrying out their duties. Ms Berejiklian's actions have confirmed that the public servants appointed to the Department of Planning and Environment have been corrupted utterly: the EIS was never professionally assessed. I do not know if my submission will ever appear on the Department of Planning and Environment web site - the submissions page was identical to the submissions page for the EIS at the Transport for NSW web site. My submission can be read here.

The press release stated that the renamed ALTRAC consortium has estimated that it will cost $2.1 billion to build the tram tracks and purchase rolling stock from one of the partners but there is no information on what the project will cost the taxpayer in annual payments. It had been previously announced that the project would be an "availability PPP" but there is no precedent on what that might imply. "Availability PPPs" were developed by the NSW Treasury after O'Farrell forced the head of the Department to resign and Baird appointed his own chosen staff. The late and unlamented Napthine government in Victoria developed similar models and signed contracts for the "East West road tunnel" before the election. The facts about the project emerged only after the election and they have been devastating.

With PPPs in the past consortiums had access to all the data and projections and was able to make independent assessments of the financial risks involved. If they got it wrong they had no-one to blame but themselves. "Availability PPP" contracts pay the operators an annual return from taxpayer funds no matter what is received from patronage of the service - the taxpayer takes on all the risk. Yet the taxpayer has been given no access to any of the data about the assumptions made by consultants and has in the case of the CSELR project been given deliberately deceptive descriptions of matters that are crucial for public safety by the overseas-based consultants. Parsons Brinckerhoff were consultants to the Lane Cove road tunnel project.

The press release about a week before Chrismas does not contain any information on what conditions the contract will impose on the taxpayer and every user of public transport in the State. Only a judicial inquiry can uncover what obligations will be imposed on the taxpayer by Ms Berejiklian. This is the matter that opposition Parties must take to the next election. Only after there has been disclosure of the full costs and the physical as well as financial risks that the public will be forced to bear can decisions be made on whether to cancel the contract.

The information that needs to be uncovered includes:

  • Was a taxpayer asset, the Dulwich Hill light railway, privatised without a tender process and without a return to the taxpayer?
  • Will the taxpayer be forced to make annual payments to the consortium regardless of patronage?
  • What will be the cumulative cost to the taxpayer of these payments over the life of the contract?
  • What is the period over which the payments will be made?
  • Was an assessment, based on known present traffic flows, ever made by a competent authority of the "service frequency (the time interval or distance between LRV)" that could be safely achieved in George Street?
  • Why was the increased length of the Rawson Place stop not taken into account and an revised calculation made of maximum service frequencies attainable in George Street in preparing the modification report?
  • Has an attempt been made to indemnify the Altrac consortium from prosecution for culpable negligence if it has not provided internationally-accepted standards of safety?
  • Have penalties been written into the contract requiring ALTRAC to meet service frequencies regardless of whether these service frequencies have been shown to not be safely achievable?
  • Have assumptions been made as to how and where buses "terminated" at the Kingsford terminus will physically turn around?
  • It is physically impossible for buses to make a right turn from High Street into Avoca Avenue or left turns into High Street from Avoca Avenue or left turns into Clara Street from High Street without encroaching onto the light rail alignment. Does the contract give LRV vehicles priority signalling at any intersection on the routes regardless of the problems this would cause?
The clauses and conditions written into the contract must be disclosed in the run up to the election so the taxpayers, who are being forced to carry all the physical and financial rick, are able to make an assessment of whether the project is in their interest. The only way to encourage the government to release the information is for opposition parties and the Nationals to promise to set up a Royal Commission into "availability PPPs" in the run up to the election.

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