Population ponzi to overrun new Sydney light rail on open

By Leith van Onselen

If you want a textbook example of the futility of Sydney’s infrastructure program, look no further than the controversial $2.1 billion CBD and eastern suburbs light rail project, whose cost has blown-out by over $500 million due to an incomplete business case, and was thoroughly rubbished in a recent damning NSW Auditor-General assessment.

Due to Sydney’s manic immigration-fueled population growth, the light rail project will have 1,000 more people wanting to use it than its capacity when it finally opens in 2019. From The Australian:

Documents obtained under freedom of information show that in a Transport for NSW “CBD and South East Light Rail Project Benefits Realisation Plan”, dated April 2015, the document puts demand for the light rail at “14,547 morning peak one-hour demand growing at an annual rate of 1 per cent to 16,935 in 2036’’.

Yet in an answer to a question on notice from a budget estimates committee delivered last month, Transport Minister Andrew Constance said that from early 2019 light rail would have 15 services operating in each direction per hour, “meaning total hourly cap­acity is 13,500 in both directions”.

The Transport for NSW document also contains figures for demand “modelled for the business case” of the project — an earlier estimate — which has demand at 17,866 one-hour peak demand in 2021 growing to 22,533 in 2036.

Labor parliamentary secretary for transport Daniel Mookhey said the documents meant “Gladys Berejiklian and Andrew Constance knew that on the very first day of the Sydney light rail, 1047 people will stand by the kerb, watching packed trains go by’’.

“If people are packed like sardines from day one, imagine what it will be like by 2036, when the area is surrounded by the high-rise apartments meant to pay for it,” Mr Mookhey said.

With Sydney’s population projected to increase by 87,000 people a year for (77,000 via net overseas migration) for the next 20-years – equivalent to 4.5 Canberra’s – the state government will need to invest heavily in infrastructure or risk crippling congestion, as well as lower urban amenity and living standards:

The problem is that these light rail projects are unlikely to provide net benefits for residents and instead represent a subsidy to high-rise property developers located along the line.

The other problem is that large cities like Sydney and Melbourne have already reached such a size that they are exhibiting diseconomies of scale, which occurs when the cost of providing an extra unit of infrastructure increases as the city grows.

Basically, because Sydney and Melbourne are already built-up, there is little room to retro-fit new infrastructure without expensive additions like land buy-backs, tunnelling, or hideous disruptions to existing infrastructure.

Hence, running a population ponzi economy becomes increasingly costly for existing residents. The huge infrastructure costs also forces unpopular asset sales, increased debt borrowings and austerity.

The obvious solution is to significantly dial back Australia’s immigration intake and forestall the need for the costly new infrastructure projects in the first place.

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Unconventional Economist


  1. Hahaha, hahaha, hahaha! I could go on, and on and on and on and spend the whole day laughing.

    Is anyone surprised?

    Australian governments aren’t even a joke without a punchline. They are beyond pathetic. There are no words to describe how pathetic governance in this country is.

    • No-one is surprised. We knew all along that this light rail would actually reduce public transport capacity as buses were replaced. However the opportunities for high rise apartment developments wouldn’t have existed. This is the NSW state government infrastructure model. Public transport is only ever a Trojan horse for high density residential development. That’s why they feel free to laugh off a negative business case.

      • Yep, was about to add what MB misses is the monopoly on the only public transport into town created. Inevitably flogged off as a very valuable asset in the future.

        I currently reside on the Kingsford/Maroubra border near Anzac Parade. My commute to Goulburn St in town is never really more than 35-40 minutes with a plethora of buses to choose from. These will all be diverted to terminate now at Kingsford for everyone onto the light rail for a commute estimated to take longer! Folks like me at Kingsford will be OK (though once Trubicoffs monstrosity at Pagewood is complete watch the crowds) but people getting on anywhere after about UNSW are going to be quite disappointed. The buses already get very, very full and have to express those stops.

        Considering the money spent and the entire shutdown of parts of the CBD and East to do it, the project will be a lead balloon for the ages. They’ll end up with no choice but having to re-start the bus routes again which kinda defeats the purpose of building it!

      • You have to wonder what it is about light rail that makes people clamour for it over buses. We ripped up tram lines in Sydney 50+ years ago thinking it made more sense to have something that could follow a flexible route. It wouldn’t surprise me if that happened again in future as new technologies such as “trackless trams” that follow painted lines in the road (if you really need it to follow a fixed path) are already reality.

        But for now yes its all about the transport monopoly and the value uplift to the developers.

      • Dan,

        “..Public transport is only ever a Trojan horse for high density residential development. ..”

        Yep – only need to glance at the ‘new route’ for stage 2 of the Parramatta Light rail. The route goes right along South Street Rydalmere which is already serviced by an underused bus route between Olympic Park and Parramatta.

        We can expect all the light industry along South Street to be demolished for massive unit development. Turning Parramatta into a #SardineSydney nest of high rise skyboxes is exactly what Gladys and the local LNP member Geoff Lee have in mind.

        Wouldn’t be a problem if the construction was going to drive down apartment prices but as we know the model requires them to be stuffed full at top dollar with mortgage hungry immigrants who can afford a deposit.

        Pity the Greens and the ALP are too clueless to see the opportunity.

      • You have to wonder what it is about light rail that makes people clamour for it over buses.

        It’s usually more comfortable to travel in, and fancy European cities have it.

      • If you’re jammed in like sardines its no more comfortable than a bus.

        The original Inner West light rail was popular because it added a new route along a disused rail line. Since then all they have done is replace existing rail (e.g. Newcastle and Parramatta) or bus lanes. Same thing happening with South West Metro, tearing up perfectly adequate rail at cost of $12b because we are supposed to believe that single deck trains without seats are superior to the existing single/double deck trains with some seated and some standing zones.

    • Queensland too “4.4 billion dollars, up in smoke just here.
      Can Do Newman and his mob ordered 75 half-price trains (made in India) in 2014, with the expectation all the trains would be delivered and in service by about this time next year (2018). But testing uncovered problems with braking, air-conditioning, ventilation, sightlines for train drivers and disability access. So the QLD Government halted delivery of the trains. Current minister holding the can, Ms Trad said she wanted to reassure Queenslanders that the train involved in a recent derailment had not been “provisionally accepted” Ms Trad said only 2 trains had been provisionally accepted by the Government. Transport Minister Jackie Trad said today she expected many of the 15 New Generation Rollingstock trains to be in operation, but an exact figure would not be known until March. Ms Trad promised reports into the incident would be publicly released.
      Some say the botched implementation of the train deal is 100% Labor’s mess and they need to explain why after the trains were given the green light late in 2016 that they still haven’t been put into service,” How many new trains will be ready for the Commonwealth Games will not be known until about 4 weeks before the extravaganza gets under way. (Submarines anyone)

      • Where else would you buy trains to cope with passenger overcrowding than from India? With our rampant population growth (and quite a few coming from the same manufacturer) we’ll need them – to be well tested for those conditions. Of course none of those “luxury” items (aircon, ventilation, line of sight) are relevant for the manufacturer, given the real-use-case they get, so I’m not surprised they don’t work – they don’t know how they’re supposed to work!

        I’m actually mildly surprised that the wagons don’t have parallel runs of hand-rails mounted on the exterior, every 1.5m interval. Brisbane will need them!

      • Looks like a job for an Inquisition. What a joke. They should have asked us in Melbourne where they replaced the Port Melbourne train with a light rail in the Kennet years (I think) and are now regretting it as high density apartments replaced factories. Round and round we go, nada ever gets learned.

    • The problem is that these light rail projects are unlikely to provide net benefits for residents and instead represent a subsidy to high-rise property developers located along the line.

      Ha Ha we always knew this was going to happen.
      The light fail from Leichardt to Central station was perfect example of how it doesn’t work.
      A 15 minute drive from Lilyfield to Central station by car generally takes 40 minutes by light rail.
      I was astonished to see real human conductors taking CASH from patrons to pay for the privilege ($4.80 one way) circa 2015-2016.
      OPAL had already been introduced however the light rail mainly serves foreign punters visiting the Casino and heading to and from the airport for an additional $19.00 – allow 40 mins for this trip as well. You will need time to locate the lift to the platform (max capacity 6 pax with luggage) or drag your bag up the stairs against the flow of punters racing to work. Too much cash to grab and too easy to play the “I don’t speak English. I don’t understand OPAL (neither did most Sydney citizens) so best practice to maximise gains is to employ actual conductors. Im still astounded by this.

  2. And foreigners get to ride it for the same price as locals.

    Time to link tram tickets to Aussie passports and charge unlinked tickets $40/day for tram travel.

  3. Let’s see any level of Strayan govt organise a piss up in a brewery.
    (They’d have to commission BCG, McKinsey to do it)

  4. How did that song go?

    “… The answer, my friend, is pissing in the wind,
    The answer is pissing in the wind…”

  5. And 75% of light rail capacity will be students going to UNSW which is planning to DOUBLE its student numbers to 100,000 students on its campus which will overwhelmingly be international.

    UNSW now brands itself as a Global University. Not an Australian university but a Global university for ‘global’ students…

  6. They should have learnt from the current inner west light rail line. Once the extension to Dulwich Hill was opened, it was crush loaded from day one. The services can’t do better than 1 every 8 minutes in peak, and they struggle to reach that.

    Sardine Sydney is real on the current LR track, it’s unbearably uncomfortable from lilyfield to central. I see people missing trams all the time because it’s too full, you couldn’t even push people on. People miss stops all the time because they are stuck between the doors.

    The lesson is don’t build a light rail line when you need heavy rail.

    So sick of this.

    • @Jason
      Yes I had same experience and from my limited engineering knowledge it appeared that the light rail was in fact run on old train line!
      This sounds insane but Im pretty sure its true.
      Happy to be wrong as it would mean the council, govt, powers that set out to f things up for all concerned didn’t this time!

  7. Hey at least you’re not in sunny QLD where last year the government decided to push ahead with the opening of a new rail line to Redcliffe despite not having enough train drivers to run the extra services. Result? System wide chaos and a rail network that even now has fewer services running per day than it did in 2010. Not sure if it’s improved but at one point last year the Toombul line was only managing 23 more services per day than it had in 1981!
    Why didn’t they have enough drivers? Basically because the union wouldn’t let them hire any because it would screw up their plans to have the new services staffed by people collecting mega overtime. As of last month QLD Rail had only trained 35 of the 200 new drivers required to get the system back up to speed and the Rail Tram and Bus Union was still fighting in Fair Work to prevent QR from recruiting drivers externally.

  8. so is the West Connex thing also just smoke & mirros for getting 100,000 new high-rise apartments built along the western corridor into the city ?

    • No WestConnex isn’t mass transit, it could never support that many apartments and there are no “stations” per se, its just an overpriced, misconceived boondoggle toll road. South West Metro on the other hand…yes totally.

  9. To the point of the article – migrant Ponzi racket.

    We need a proper social & economic impact study..
    – Sydney light rail is all predicated on massive high density development along the light rail corridor and to convey up to 100,000 fake/pretext ‘international student’ migrant temporary visas (70% of the expected usage) to & from UNSW – back to their foreign owned sub let bunk & mattress share hovels, or to their illegal & illicit work.

    They will all be on travelling on massively expensive public infrastructure & paid little or no contribution in tax or otherwise to the billions in the light rail cost.

    New Zealand now sets the example…

    New Zealand is to reduce migrant intake dramatically.
    And stop foreign ownership of established housing.

    On Tuesday (today) prime minister elect Jacinda Adern and NZ First leader Winston Peters – who will serve as deputy prime minister and foreign affairs minister in the new government – signed a commitment in Wellington.

    Major commitments include :
    * banning foreign buyers from purchasing existing New Zealand homes.
    * reducing immigration by up to 30,000 people a year
    * reviewing & reforming the Reserve Bank Act.
    * increasing the minimum wage to NZ$20 an hour by 2020.

    Speaking after the deal was signed, Arden said: “As a priority, we will restore funding to the health system, ensure all Kiwis can live in warm, dry homes, take action on child poverty and homelessness, crack down on foreign speculators.

    New Zealand First will have four cabinet positions in the new government and one under-secretary role, with portfolios to include defence, infrastructure, regional development, children, seniors and internal affairs.

  10. This is really perfect NSW incompetence.

    The light rail has been poorly planned and is going to be completely overrun from day one and capacity won’t cope with the population crush. At the same time it will never run a profit.

  11. – Perhaps by 2019 our ozzie economy has taken such a hit that there will be enough room for everyone in the train. I that regard I am not so pessimistic.