Nathan Rees and the Tunnels of Doom
21 November 2008
It was late in afternoon when I finally gave up talking to ex-Labor types about the John Newman assassination. The ex-ALP is now, by far and away, the biggest party in New South Wales and most of these folk are bitter and want to talk. Unfortunately, a possum can only take so much of this shit. I locked up the office and crossed the lane to the Brushtail Café, searching for hope and solace, plus a vegetarian pide with a side order of wedges and a cold cider.
It quickly became clear that hope and solace were off the menu. The café regulars sat around playing with the froth on their lattes or staring moodily into their sauvingnon blancs. A mood of wary optimism about the election of Barak Obama was overwhelmed by despair and bewilderment over the latest announcements by the Carr/Iemma/Rees /Who Next? government.
What more can you say about this mob? All the nouns and adjectives have been used up. Sydney’s public transport is bursting at the seams, but so many vital rail projects have been announced and re-announced – definitely, finally, construction-starts-tomorrow announced, and then quietly cancelled, that the punters have lost count.
After all the years of talk, talk, talk about rail projects there was now just one project left standing – the new “Mini Metro”, aka, the Rees’ Line.
I got a cider and joined Old Possum who was poring over the street directory Joadja keeps behind the bar for lost tourists. I knew I could count on the ancient marsupial to have a robust response to the latest lunacy.
“When this new thing was announced, the assembled journos were dumbfounded”, he said. “For an estimate near $5 billion the thing went nowhere and solved nothing. It was no more than a line sketched on the back of a beer coaster by an unnamed consultant. Somebody asked the premier how long they’d working on it. ‘For a few weeks’, he muttered … and after that the journos fell silent.”
Old traced a line across the directory. “The Mini-Metro would start under Belmore Park at Central Station, run north deep under the city with new stations at Town Hall, Martin Place and somewhere between Wynyard and the site of the proposed Barangaroo redevelopment. And then it’d head west under Darling Harbour to a station at Pyrmont and then swing north-west to go under Johnsons Bay, Glebe Island and White Bay to terminate at a station at Rozelle which would be more or less under the Junction of Darling Street and Victoria Road.”
“But that’s nuts”, I said. “Where does it serve? A four hundred metre radius around the Rozelle station and a few people in Pyrmont who already have the excellent tram service. Where’s the sense in that? Anybody from the Balmain peninsula who was already heading into the city on the bus would just stay on the bus. There’d be no point in them getting off at the Rozelle station and transferring to the metro. And, at the city end, the metro stations are all at the same places as existing heavy rail stations.”
“But, politically speaking, that’s the crazy-mad beauty of the thing – it’s a completely useless investment of five billion. It’s really a form of mode blackmail by Rees and the mad metro rail mullahs at the Ministry of Transport. Once the state has blown the five billion it has to go on spending on metro or the original investment will have been a pure waste. So Rees is betting his ‘preferred’ option to the north-west at an estimated cost of twelve billion, will have to go ahead at the expense of anything else”.
“And wasn’t there an alternative option to extend it to Parramatta?
“Yep. In tunnel all the way – metro stations at, or close to, the existing stations – vague price tag of ten billion.”
I twisted the top off another cider, fantasising about wringing Bob Carr’s neck. “I see, so the mad five billion mini-metro finally becomes useful only after we’ve spent at least 12 billion or perhaps 27 billion and wasted another ten of fifteen years.”
“Yep, and that money isn’t going to be spent fixing up the existing rail network. Not only that, but a few of those billions could build a whole network of surface light rail lines many times the length of the expensive tunnelled metro. And, in terms of carrying capacity, they’d each rival metro.
“But wait, technically speaking, it gets even crazier. The Mini-Metro would have to pass under the existing underground rail lines in the city loop, so the stations would have to be very deep indeed. We’re talking so deep there’d be really bad emergency access problems. And then, to get under Darling Harbour, the line would have to plunge downwards and the extreme gradients would challenge the technical limits of rail. Then it’d have to heave up again to get to the proposed Pyrmont station which would, nevertheless, be at an absurd depth, and then it’d have to dive again to get under Johnsons Bay and White Bay before climbing towards Rozelle. Why all this expense, heroic engineering, and energy wastage? Why? For a fraction of the cost you could have a surface light rail line all the way along Victoria Road to Epping.”
“I’ll tell you why”, I said, spinning the bottle top on the table. “Because this weak, mad, gangster government would never think of imposing a light rail line on one of the RTA’s roads … even though, along Victoria Road, car traffic is falling steadily and commuters are already pushing the upper capacity limits of buses.”