Bankstown Line trains shut down for two weeks in July for Metro works: is the pain worth the gain?

In 2018, commuters and residents along the Bankstown Line scored a major victory when the NSW Government decided to tone down the worst construction impacts involved in the construction of the Sydenham to Bankstown Metro.

Around 563 submissions were lodged to the project’s environmental impact statement, many complaining about construction noise, heritage destruction and the disruption caused by months of rail line shutdowns.

In response, the NSW Government decided to keep heritage buildings at stations, retain more trees and move away from noisy and complicated plans to straighten railway lines and platforms and re-build bridges.

As a result, the government said it would no longer need to shutdown the Bankstown Line during the July school holidays each year – a commitment that was made in the project’s preferred infrastructure report (which is referenced in the project’s approval conditions).

The problem is that, during 2021, the government broke this formal, legal commitment by shutting down the line at precisely this time. It justified this change by saying the move would avoid the need for additional individual station closures later in the construction process.

Fortunately, at this time, Sydney was in the grip of a COVID-19 lockdown so the shutdown had little impact. 

In a few weeks, however, the government is going to do it again – with all commuters at 13 stations between Birrong and Sydenham to be shunted on buses between 2 July and 15 July.

We know this, because an undated statement was placed on a NSW Government website, which didn’t even bother to apologise to commuters for the potential inconvenience or explain why the shutdown was needed, or that the project approval was being breached.

This time around, the shutdown is likely to have a significant impact given that commuters are returning to train services in their droves. In fact, my estimate is that around 719,885 commuter trips are going to be disrupted and slowed.

Below is my estimate of the number of disrupted commuter trips at each station, based on station entries and exits during April 2022.

StationEstimated disrupted trips during July shutdown
Wiley Park48,100
Hurlstone Park17,790
Dulwich Hill69,270
Marrickville 66,475
SydenhamData not included as station services multiple lines
TOTALat least 719,885

We don’t know exactly how much disruption there will be, because the line has never been shut down before during July in normal operating conditions. 

But, based on the Temporary Transport Plan put in place last year (see image below), commuters will lose their direct train access to and from the city and instead be placed on buses which will divert to other stations. 

With road traffic increasing in the post-COVID-19 world, this bus solution surely must lead to a significantly slower ride for commuters.

It is possible that this shutdown is required because works were unable to be carried out in January, when the line was last shut down for the Metro conversion but the Omicron COVID-19 wave was still with us. However, we don’t know this, because the government statement doesn’t explain the reason for the shutdown.

Even if there is a valid reason for the shutdown, it remains a breach of the project’s approval.

The problem here though is that – because the Metro project has been declared critical State significant infrastructure – commuters, residents or anyone else for that matter are barred from challenging this breach of the project’s approval in the Land and Environment Court, without the Minister’s consent.

This means that the approval conditions can be breached without any legal recourse from anyone outside government – an absurd outcome which means the conditions themselves are meaningless and may as well not be in place.

Is the shutdown reasonable?

The Metro project is highly divisive.

On the upside, it will result in more frequent train services, improved access to northern and north-west Sydney and step-free commuter access to platforms and the trains themselves. 

On the downside, it will result in reduced access to City Circle stations and carry carriages with less seats than the current Bankstown Line trains.

It has also already caused extreme overdevelopment pressure on heritage suburbs along the corridor.

The question is: given all the above, is the pain involved in shutting down the line in July a reasonable outcome, and is it worth the gain? Let me know your thoughts

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