Why the Metro line from Sydenham to Bankstown should not be built
The Bankstown line is one of eleven Sydney suburban train lines and carries some 16.5 million individual journeys a year. The section of the line from Sydenham to Belmore has been in place since 1895 and the section from Belmore to Bankstown in 1909.
Despite its long and important role in Sydney’s transport network, the days of the Bankstown line are numbered. By 2024, it is proposed to be replaced by the Metro – a privately-run, single-deck train service with driverless trains which is being touted as the future of the Sydney heavy rail network.
The Sydenham to Bankstown Alliance in June 2018 published End of the Line which outlines a detailed case against the Sydenham to Bankstown Metro line. This includes some of the arguments outlined below:
There is no patronage demand for it
The Bankstown line has one of the lowest rates of over-crowding of any Sydney line, meaning there is no need for a rapid transit Metro operation. Official statistics from 2015 show that, out of the 11 suburban lines, the Bankstown line only ranks seventh for average load factor during the AM peak. The Illawarra, Northern, Inner-West and Western lines have far worse over-crowding.
This means the existing Bankstown line, while it could be improved like many other lines, is currently servicing the needs of local communities.
In fact, some leading transport planners in fact have argued the Bankstown line should not have been chosen and the Metro should have stead initially run to Parramatta, given it is servicing a major stronger growth corridor which runs to Sydney's second CBD. The inner-west section of this corridor is experiencing major problems with over-crowding.
Bankstown line commuters will lose station access
Once converted to a Metro, Bankstown line commuters will get less access to key travel destinations in the trip into the CBD, and importantly the CBD itself. A total of seven stations are being removed from direct access.
Commuters will lose direct access to the following stations, once the Metro is in operation.
St Peters - Erskineville - Redfern - Museum - St James - Circular Quay - Town Hall
In return, four new stations are to be added in the trip to the CBD (Waterloo, Pitt St, Martin Place and Barangaroo) along with new direct access being provided for the first time to stations north of the harbour.
However, only a few of these stations – mainly Barangaroo, Victoria Cross and Macquarie Park – can really be considered to be destinations in their own right and overall residents on the Bankstown are losing more than they are gaining when it comes to direct station access.
Private rail operation means public interest comes last
The current Bankstown line is operated by the publicly-owned Sydney Trains. The future Metro line will be run by a private operator. Already a private operator (majority owned by the Hong Kong-based MTR Corporation) has been awarded the contract to run the North West component of the Metro for 15 years.
The exact intentions of the NSW Government (and indeed the private sector) for the Bankstown line are shrouded in secrecy. No business case has been released to support the Metro.
The fact that it has been speculated in the media that Hurlstone Park railway station could be closed because it won’t have enough residents to justify remaining open underlines the perverse outcomes that result from private operation. Hurlstone Park has successfully hosted a publicly-run railway station since 1895 and yet now its future is under threat because it may not be sufficiently attractive for private profit.
This raises concerns that urban renewal proposed around the Bankstown line is simply being used to increase the return to government from a partnership with a private operator.
This suspicion is heightened by the fact that MTR’s primary business model is to be a property developer. In 2015, one planning expert stated that MTR was creating “fortress” communities with its high-rise towers in Hong Kong over transport hubs.
Billions wasted to replace one train with another
According to current NSW Government estimates, the total cost of the Metro line is up to $12.5 billion, of which the Metro City and South-West (which includes the section from Sydenham to Bankstown) will take up $5.8 billion. The precise cost of converting the Bankstown line to a Metro operation has not been revealed, but would presumably run into the billions of dollars.
This represents an extraordinary wastage of taxpayers’ money simply to retain a current train service.
As outlined in the submission of public transport lobby group Ecotransit to the Chatswood to Sydenham section of the Metro line, this money could be better spent on providing new public transport solutions for suburbs with limited connectivity, or improving signalling operations to speed-up the capacity of the current network, rather than cannibalising an existing line. For instance, in 2009, the former Labor government proposed a metro line north of Parramatta Rd in the busy Western corridor.
We agree with Ecotransit’s conclusion that “based on the information that has been presented to the public, one can reasonably conclude that the Sydney Metro, including the City & Southwest section, is not really about providing improved public transport. It is about providing development opportunities to developers, including MTR Corporation, and turning large tracts of Sydney into MTR’s version of Hong Kong.”
By converting the Bankstown line, NSW is squandering the once-in-a-century windfall gains presented by the sale of the State’s electricity assets.
You might not be able to get a seat
As shown from the NSW Government photo below, there will be less seats on the single-decker Metro train compared to the existing double-decker trains that run on the Bankstown line. Existing eight-car Waratah trains have 896 seats – while media reports state thethe new Metro train will only have 378 seats. This represents a 60 per cent reduction in seating per train.
The NSW Government has not stated what percentage of people it expects will be able to get a seat on the future Metro line, compared to the existing Bankstown line, given the increased population but also increased number of trains. The lack of seating means that people will not be as able to read or relax during their train journey, as they will be forced to stand, and it will be more difficult to look after small children.
Excessive property development
The Metro line is being used as an excuse to push dramatic over-development on communities along the corridor.
A total of 36,000 new homes are proposed along the corridor, with some streets of single-storey homes to be levelled for towers of up to 25 storeys. Local and State heritage items and dozens of former War Service homes built for returning World War I soldiers are among those proposed to be redeveloped.
The NSW Government's current plans do not outline how hospitals or schools will be funded to support the 80,000 additional residents (a conservative and unofficial estimate) nor outline any major new areas of open space.
Communities along the corridor have already met the NSW Government's long-term housing targets through the introduction of council local plans but are now being asked to take additional density.
Chaos during Bankstown line shutdown
The conversion of the Bankstown line to a Metro line is expected to mean the trains will stop running for at least six months, likely to be replaced by buses. You only have to listen to the NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance to know what this means for commuters: he told the SMH "it is going to be a disruptive time....I won't sugar coat it".
With a typical Sydney bus taking 80 people, streets along the corridor will be clogged with the 100 buses required to transport the 8,544 commuters required in the busiest hour in the AM peak on the Bankstown line (between 8am and 8.59am). These buses will have to compete with street traffic and will never be able to provide the fast efficient service currently provided by the train service. In short, it will be a hellish time to be a commuter – with lots of pain for no gain.
The exact date for the shutdown has not been announced, but could be precisely when additional population is flooding into the corridor from the urban renewal plans.
The Metro can stop at Sydenham and leave our corridor alone
It is a perfectly feasible option for the Metro line to stop north of Sydenham station and not impact on the Bankstown line south of Sydenham station in any way. In fact, the publicly exhibited environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Chatswood to Sydenham section of the Metro line canvasses this possibility.
The EIS states that “should the construction timeframes of this project (Chatswood to Sydenham section of the Metro) be advanced, there may be an opportunity to operate this project before completion of the Sydenham to Bankstown upgrade project. Should this occur, an additional track-turnback would be constructed between the Marrickville dive structure and Sydenham Station.”
In other words, Sydney could have all the key features of a new Metro line – such as new North-West rail link, a new harbour crossing and new stops in the CBD – but the Bankstown line could largely be left alone.
It is daft to get rid of double decker trains
When it comes to providing seatings and maximising patronage, you can’t get any better than Sydney’s existing double decker trains.
Despite this, double decker trains on the Bankstown are proposed to be replaced with single-deck Metro trains.
One of the arguments in favour of single-deck trains is that they allow more efficient disembarkation and therefore more frequent services. For instance, the environmental impact statement for the Chatswood to Sydenham section of the Metro line says “single-deck metro trains would be able to carry more customers per hour than would be the case with double-deck trains. This is because single-deck trains allow customers to get on and off at stations more efficiently than double-deck trains”.
Unfortunately, this claim is not true. The ABC Fact Check initiative in 2012 examined this claim and found it was “doubtful”. This was because double-decker trains have got a greater total capacity than single-decker trains and because double-decker trains can be modified to allow more efficient disembarkation.
It makes no sense to get rid of high-patronage double decker trains from our line.
Communities have already met their planning quotas
In the former Marrickville Council area, the council has already delivered planning controls to meet the NSW Government’s target to create 4,150 dwellings by 2031 in the Marrickville LEP 2011. This was largely through careful planning, undertaken in conjunction with the community, to allow apartment buildings in main street shopping districts and industrial areas.
Such an approach met the NSW Government’s desire to place new housing near services and transport, while at the same time preserved residential areas.
The Sydenham to Bankstown corridor plan represents a significant change in planning approach, compared to recent urban renewal practice, by targeting existing residential areas for redevelopment. It also unfair to existing communities, who have already met long-term dwelling targets – to be only told they need to meet new and higher dwelling targets.
In general, for the reasons outlined above it is clear that the disadvantages of the Metro operation outweigh the advantages when it comes to Bankstown line commuters.
The Sydenham to Bankstown Alliance recommends viewing of the videos below by public transport advocacy group Ecotransit.
Potential character change in Belmore due to urban renewal plans
Existing Bankstown line train
Towers developed by MTR in Hong Kong
Video summary: In 2012 NSW's O'Farrell Government announced that Sydney's long-awaited North West Rail Link would proceed, but only as a metro-style, privatised operation.
In addition, the Epping-Chatswood tunnel and its stations would be modified so that it could not be used by modern double-deck suburban trains. This video examines the misinformation, motivations, personalities and politics behind the decision.
Video summary: Sydneysiders are trying to get out of their cars and onto public transport but the city's most important public transport system is at capacity. Two additional tracks across the Harbour Bridge and under the Central Business District will boost capacity by 50 per cent. The cheapest, quickest, simplest solution is to restore the two rail tracks that were originally on the eastern lanes of the bridge. EcoTransit shows how it can be done