Yeah! Premier and Transport Minister celebrate toy train tunnel progress.

Sydney has just opened an extravagently costly SW Rail Link which will never, ever, be able to accommodate the trains that will be run on its incomplete NW Rail Link after it opens in four years time.

It may be difficult for rail transport proponents to get their minds around this if they do not live in Sydney, but this is one of the biggest stuff ups in the history of public transport in Australia, most of which have occurred in the harbour city, and have become something of a cultural characteristic shared by all New South Wales governments since the opening of the last successful major project of its type in the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932.

This is how the SW-NW Rail link disconnects were set up.

The SW Rail Link was a NSW Labor project to improve rail access in that fast growing corner of the Sydney basin suburban sprawl with an extension which would also be compatible with a full above ground rail line to the site of a second future Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek.

The two station line that opened yesterday to Leppington is in effect an extension of the existing East Hills or Airport line, involving the rebuilding of the Glenfield station where the current north-south line from Campbelltown to Liverpool and other points north merges with it.

It would be easy, in terms of construction, to extend the Leppington line all the way to the second airport site, and indeed through it, to a further link into the main western suburban line. The big dividend for the wider community would be a network of new rail links into the existing suburban network, which originally focused on the eastern CBD but increasingly serves new satellite CBDs starting to rise all over the Sydney basin and along the north shore line and south toward Sutherland.

Unfortunately, the two new stations, the Glenfield upgrade, and the rail flyover all came to $1.8 billion, an astonishingly high price that suggests Sydney’s rail network would have a current replacement value exceeding the entire GDP of the combined economies of the southern hemisphere. Well, exceeding anything that would seem remotely reasonable even in high cost economies like those of Germany, or France, or Japan, that complete far larger rail infrastructure projects for a fraction of the time and cost of anything in NSW, where it seems financial engineering has been elevated to levels not achieved anywhere else on the planet.

After the electoral purge of Labor in NSW its remarkably corrupt coalition successors under Barry O’Farrell and now Mike Baird completed the SW Rail link but embarked on the much needed and promised NW Rail Link, due to open in 2019.

Unfortunately, it also changed tack in favour of making the NW Link a sort of toy train set project, in which the metro style carriages would be narrower than anything in service on state’s railways and involve what is an outer Sydney train ride being put into stand up inner city metro style cars for what will be quite long trips for most commuters.

The rationale appears to be ideological. The coalition government wants to create a new city rail service totally separate from the unionised standard heavy rail network, and have it run by a private entity, using tunnels and plartforms incompatible with the double deck wider cars used on the current services.

To do this it will eventually build a new narrow tunnel second harbour rail crossing that will also have new (and much needed) stations under the CBD and eventually emerge on the surface network to take over the current Bankstown line.

This involves vandalising the newest section of the underground rail network between Chatswood and Epping so that its heavy rail double decker trains can be replaced by the smaller narrower train sets from the new NW Rail Link, which will then dump its CBD bound passengers onto the already terminally overcrowded North Shore line pending the building of the $24 billion (or more) second harbour crossing.

Sydney will thus lose the functionality of an existing underground line to advance the use of a less comfortable outer suburban line, and move toward a private network which will have trains too narrow to cope with increased demand for rail services in a city which is expected to greatly increase in population before the middle of this century and the lifetimes of younger current residents.

The disconnect between the newly opened SW Link and the forthcoming NW link will become much more painfully apparent as Sydney grows.

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