Weirdness and treachery on the ghost tram to Dulwich Hill
13 Sept 2011
The first I knew about Tuesday was when my nose hit the floor. I must have fallen asleep with my head on the desk, and then, I guess, the chair rolled backwards and deposited me face down, tail up. I staggered to my feet. Weak morning sun filtered through the dusty venetians and the chair laughed at me from across the room.
I’d spent a long disturbing night finishing a report on the Craig Thompson Twatgate affair. I had a client in the media who wanted details, and quickly. I got what they wanted from an endless stream of outraged Health Services Union members. It was an ugly tale, as they told it – another sleazy saga of the ALP Right. People wondered aloud how the party had “lost its moral compass”, but it was no surprise to me. Once upon a time, long decades ago, even right-wing union officials wanted to build socialism. Now, they aspired to live like the robber baron CEOs, with platinum credit cards, blond bimbos for hire and kids in private schools.
I checked that I’d actually emailed my stuff to the newspaper and shuffled across the lane to the Brushtail Café for breakfast.
The regulars were there and all the talk was of the O’Farrell government’s deferral of the light rail extension to Dulwich Hill.
“Look at this!”, said Joadja. “Gladys Berejiklian now says they can’t finish it until 2014 and she reckons it’ll cost $176 million. Unbelievable.”
“Great Mother of Darwin!” I said “Another rail project ‘deferred’ on the point of going ahead! This is shaping up like the Carr, Iemma, Rees and Keneally governments all over again.”
“I’ve been researching what it really costs”, said Old Possum. “There’s an easy way to check that this is nonsense, and that’s to look at what the first light rail extension cost”.
“That was the one from Wentworth Park to Lilyfield, right?”
“Yep. Opened in August 2000. That one was finished in under a year. Three kilometres long and it came in at $20 million, of which the NSW government paid $16 million. Therefore it cost less than $7m a click. That was for four stops, all power supply, signals and minimal but entirely adequate track refurbishment. Adjusting for inflation, that would be about $27 million today, or about $9 million per kilometre.
“So multiply by 5.5 kilometres and you get just shy of $50 million, for the job. That’s not quite the whole story, because back in 2000, they didn’t replace all the rail track because it wasn’t necessary, whereas the Keneally government in their wisdom wanted everything ‘all-shiny, all new’. Nevertheless, on what’s been published in the papers, completely renewing the track from Lilyfield to Dulwich Hill only cost $25 million. If you adjust for that, you still only get $14 million per kilometre or $77 million for the whole gold-plated job.
“And, by the way, that’s exactly the average cost of constructing light rail in Melbourne over the last decade – $14 million a kilometre.”
“Gee, that’s very, very different to the Keneally mob’s estimate of $120 million, let alone Gladys Berejiklian’s $176 million”, I said, wondering whether I should go for the full vegetarian breakfast.
“But here’s an even more weird thing”, Old Possum said, putting yet another sugar in his long black, “The contract that Metro Transport Sydney operates under stipulates that they’re responsible for paying for all or most of the cost of extensions, so in theory at least, not much of the construction cost – whatever it really is – is an immediate cost to government.”
“What a tangled commercial-in-confidence web we weave when first we get involved in public-private partnerships. There’s just no transparency”, Joadja snorted.