Staples and Glazebrookt

Ministers trust their fates and Sydney's to apparatchiks & journos


Here is a tale of woe to help you to understand how bad things have become:

Rebutting Staples & Glazebrook: Legitimising Sydney’s planning through better governance and smarter ideas

The Sydney Morning Herald has had a schizophrenic relationship with Metros for 11 years, starting with a varying commitment to Rod Christie and his balanced rail/metro/tram attitude and his main commitment to the State’s most important built heritage, the Bradfield-era heavy rail network. 

From a change in personnel and the rise of Gladys Berejiklian, its central characters switched to hero worship and exclusion of all criticism, except for a crack here and there, every year or so. 

The Herald has run two foolish op-eds in a week and its management refused to publish a professional rebuttal by one of the State’s most eminent transport planners. Then its transport reporter fails to mention Christie when talking with Rodd Staples about rail system troubles and says only that “the metro project has its share of critics” (“No quick fix to Sydney’s train woes” on 14 Feb).

That project comprises the most profound and damaging series of blunders which the Herald has refused to expose. It wastes the windfall of privatisation and will worsen congestion and the housing crisis.The CityRail reform issue has been badly managed by Labor from about 2008 and the Coalition from 2011. 

Instead of opprobrium settling on Labor, Federal and State Coalition Governments are fused in a path that will be seen in history as being corrupted by lobby influences. That history is being written and once published it cannot be extinguished.

The Secretary of TfNSW, Rodd Staples, asked we stop questioning his strategies in an advertorial entitled “Trains every two minutes …” in the SMH on 8 February.  Garry Glazebrook followed up with a sympathetic “Sydney Metro and light rail will allow the city to grow for next 40 years” on 9 February.  Neither addressed failed governance which is the “elephant in the room”. I’ll take their assertions in sequence.

  1. Metros are the biggest system expansion and proven “transformative”:  $50 billion will service no more than 5% of 800,000 new dwellings over only 15 years, and nothing past that. There is less capacity in many places and not more in others making for a proportionate reduction relative to population – although it is the biggest expenditure and arguably greatest waste of money. There is nothing special about Melbourne trains. The intrinsic housing pattern will fail and options, including decentralisation to regions with an alternative infrastructure pattern, ignored. There have been authoritative reappraisals of the Bradfield rail network, most notably by Ron Christie but also by consultants to Nick Greiner’s iNSW: they and most other experts disagreed with Berejiklian’s/Staples’/Glazebrook’s assertions. Engineering and economic performance across TfNSW’s range of projects has been appalling as criticised by the Grattan Institute and Infrastructure Australia, as well as by SGS for the City of Sydney. 
  2. Two minute headway never seen in Sydney: Bradfield planned a higher turnover but with 1920s metro single-deckers. Double-deckers can maintain a higher capacity per hour with only slightly less frequency but much lower cost. Most routes (especially Bankstown) do not need and will not get 2-minute frequency anyway. The only metro “plan” was Christie’s in 2001 and he had a more logical combination of upgrading the Bradfield network, with metros filling gaps. RailCorp pursued the ANZAC Metro which made more sense than Berejiklian’s but was killed by Iemma’s metromaniacs. 
  3. Sydney Metro will work together with existing transit systems: Not so, the metro replaces Bradfield services within the four cordons (disgraceful “change of gauge” points), lessening commuting and special events performance. Treasury will not permit continuation of existing rail subsidies after spending c $50 billion-plus. Staples knows Greiner’s experts asserted 40,000 passengers per hour per direction. Metros  limited to c 30,000 and then if only 15% seated (unacceptable past say 10-15 kms); and cannot free train paths.  Infrastructure Australia and the PM’s urban team have failed to professionally surveille NSW as Sir Rod Eddington’s iA did. The Federal and NSW Governments have refused to listen to “urban innovations” including “local solutions” especially “Barangaroo Expressnet”. The Eastern Suburbs tram will increase congestion, travel times and inconvenience through forced transfers and inept route design, the cancelled Anzac Metro being clearly more effective.
  4. The state government decided in 2012 to add metro rail as a third tier to Sydney's rail network: Topsy decreed, no one decided. The Berejiklian model is plan-less with a nominal “saving” of $200 million in the NSW tunnel leading to knee-jerks designed to lessen her embarrassment. The COAG 2009 directive to stop stupidity was negated by BOF/ Baird/ Hazzard/ Berejiklian in 2012 and there is no balance between suburban infill, limited high-rise and regional decentralisation as is needed for affordability and congestion. MTR’s model predominates via lobby subtleties. Staples was reported by the Daily Telegraph to be working with the Infrastructure lobbies in pushing to reverse the Coalition’s heavy rail election promises.  The Age/SMH/ABC have published leaks which contradict Staples’ “rigorous” (as do 110 redactions in the Bankstown “Summary Business Case”). The Greater Sydney Commission has failed to achieve “orderly” coordination between land use and infrastructure on ESD-based sustainability principles.  Unfair taxation is hidden as is a risky developer-led forced densification bias. 
  5. Bankstown metro will make Central Coast commuting better: Bankstown was found by Christie and Greiner to be least needy of investment but the East Hills to be most urgent – the option between putting the metro down one or the other has been concealed by TfNSW. The cordons will diminish performance while the Central Coast is confined by the Central Coast, not Bankstown.  Extended closure of the Bankstown line to facilitate the wrong vehicles will cause massive dislocation. The Rail Union will have additional choke points through the four forced-change cordons. Metros will not aid regional population decentralisation which would relieve Sydney.
  6. Sydney Metro West is key: the upgrading of the Main West as proposed by iNSW, and the “local solution” of the Barangaroo Expressnet, would be faster, cheaper and more effective, especially in giving Badgerys the best transit network of any world city. Councils were deceived into supporting Metros before the real effects were revealed by “outsiders”. That it is a bad option was confirmed when Labor’s David Borger said “there is no downside”.
  7. Light rail is successful and should be readily extended even though mistakes have been made: Glazebrook may not even know Grattan’s criticisms and mine – lack of option-testing and pre-planning, inept engineering, poor cost and quality controls, non-existent business case probity, all being “anachronistic spatial determinism and ideology and stupidity” as PM Turnbull puts it. Trams cannot be assumed to be “one size fits all”, many cities found them the only way to retrofit transit (not an ideal one) and to have suppressed transit demand due to high fares and route inflexibility (including forced mode changes as TfNSW does routinely). Glazebrook does not know of the Lee/Gibbons Bradfield CBD tunnel and Gibbons tram/train options that might revolutionise cross-metro linkages. BRT using bio-fuelled buses is cheaper and faster to implement and more effective as Chris Stapleton explained on Stateline and Greiner and many others have argued. This tram mono-focus is a fantasy in the manner of “petticoat politics”. 
  8. End the tired debate, rather than arguing endlessly about the merits of the projects already underway: Let’s end the debate when Federal and State politicians unshackle themselves from metro, tram and connex lobby-driven ideologues and implement Eddington/Greiner protocols, including re-balancing regional, limited high-rise and suburban capacity improvements. Both Governments undermined local government and planning reforms which are still critical to Sydney’s sustainability.

The following file of early 2010 addressed errors made in an earlier Staples letter to me.  I had worked with that man in Rail Corp when I was commissioned to do a tax/value yield calculation & potential report on the ANZAC Metro which was and is the only prospectively successful transit PPP - now neutered by the tram but still on Berejiklian's revised project list.  Oh what a tangled web ....


RG Reply to Metro Response (pdf)