Ben Fowler is right to be cynical about the NSW government's planned metro railway. After all, Action for Transport 2010, launched in 1998, was supposed to see us have a railway line from Chatswood to Parramatta, a North West Rail Link, 7 rapid bus transitways and an extensive bicycle network. Also started by 2010 was to be a new line linking Strathfield to Hurstville, a link to allow trains to run from Fairfield to Hurstville, a railway to Bondi Beach, and a pony for every child in NSW. Instead the only parts that were implemented as publicised were the roads projects. This is precisely what transport activists lobbying for public transport predicted at the time.
The problem we have is that roads can be started and completed within an election cycle. Heavy rail and the like takes much more time. So our gormless politicans have every incentive to talk about public transport while doing nothing.
What's more, our government is still working to the 1945 County of Cumberland Main Road Development Plan, Sydney's answer to Los Angeles, where freeways have been such a success. Just have a look and see how much of it they've managed to build. Notice how the next links in the motorway network are still those from this 1945 planning document?
Now if you were serious about new rail in Sydney, there are two areas that urgently need attention.
The big bottleneck is Central station going into the City Circle. At this point you have seven lines reduced to two, which causes obvious problems. My solution to this would be to install a very fast, very regular metro-style line underneath the platforms at Central and connecting to the city. All the suburban trains then stop at Central (except the through trains to North Shore and Eastern Suburbs) and passengers change to the metro for the final part of the journey. This system, of course, requires that the metro be incredibly regular, every five minutes as a minimum for peak hour, and the interchange be cleverly thought out. It's basically the same system used in Paris (RER and metro) and Tokyo (JR and subway).
The second big thing that's required is a vast new network of suburban lines. There are huge swathes of Sydney that don't have railways, with the city expanding in all directions even further out of the reach of public transport. A massive programme building lines to these areas will improve many social indicators for these areas by improving transport. After all, what do you think 12-17 year olds do when they can't get our of their suburban hell because there's no public transport? That's right, they fuck, commit crimes, take smack. Here's my prediction: Castle Hill will experience a crime wave in the next ten years or so, precisely because of this factor. Rouse Hill will be a bit later.