Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Promise he won't Forget

Politicians break promises all the time.

Big ones, small ones, implied ones, core and non-core promises - they all get broken.

Some get broken because circumstances change. Some get broken because they are no longer feasible. Still others are broken because the person or party who made them knows that no one really cares whether it is kept or not.

Some broken promises have little or no consequence, and certainly no negative result for a government.
Core and non-core promises. Photo from here
Others can have such long-reaching consequences that the very sanity of the person breaking it has to be questioned.

Sometimes this is undeserved. Perhaps the original promise has been mischaracterised, or the perhaps media's narrative makes the promise into a defining characteristic of a politician when it had no business being any such thing.

The obvious example is Gillard and the Carbon Tax. No matter what she achieves for the rest of her time as Prime Minister, whether that be for another 18 months or 18 years, it seems likely that the title of her biographies will involve a none-too-subtle pun on the Carbon Tax. It was a single, stupid sentence on a breakfast TV show at the end of a gruelling campaign, but it has coloured the entire country's perception of her.

O'Farrell has broken a heap promises in his time, and Labor has tried to convince the public that he has broken a whole lot more.
Many of those promises are so inconsequential that he would be almost crazy not to break them.

Others are big, but don't seem to have gained much traction to date.

This most recent effort, however, is a true whopper.  And, worst of all (at least for him) there is going to be an ever present reminder of what a dumb decision he has made.

He may want to be the infrastructure premier, but if he goes about it like this then all the pain of finding money to build this network is going to be for naught.

O'Farrell campaigned hard on the North West Rail Link (NWRL) during the election. And he was right to do so - the present arrangements (tollways, large numbers of buses, constantly shifting bus-lanes, seemingly ever-present road work) is, and always was, at best a stop-gap. Heavy rail to the North-West was the only solution that was going to satisfy the new residents pouring into the area.
Just one of the hundreds of articles on the topic. Original story here
As late as yesterday, the promise that there would be direct services to the city was still on the a NSW government website promoting the line. Unsurprisingly, Penny Sharpe, Shadow Minister for Transport, had one of her minions quickly grab a screenshot before it disappeared
Today, the offending paragraph is missing
This new plan is going to make no one happy. And while it is being built, and every day it exists until the new harbour crossing is built in about 2089 (or so) it will remind the population about a promise broken.
The map at present
The original plan was for the NWRL to join up with the network at Epping (top middle), head down the new line to Chatswood (top right), and then into the city. That was the only way it could work financially - I don't think anyone was seriously suggesting that the line should connect any nearer to the city - the price-tag was already eye watering, and connecting closer to the city would increase the cost several times over.

The obvious problem that raises is that the North Shore line is a crowded one - and one where capacity cannot be increased much more. For safety reasons, there is a limit on how many trains can head across the Harbour Bridge in an hour - and we are pretty much already at that limit.

In other words, for every NWRL heading across the bridge during peak hour, a North Shore service would need to be cancelled.

Now, that problem can be partially alleviated by the fact that many people who would usually get a North Shore Service from a station south of Chatswood could hop on a NWRL service.

But, as I type this blogpost sitting on a North Shore train, I can assure you that many, many people get on North Shore trains well north of Chatswood.

Moreover, under current population planning for Sydney, councils have had to find space for new residents.  At least on the North Shore, they have been finding that space by cramming apartments blocks in and around the train line. As those block are completed, even more people are going to be heading to the station to get to work.

This is not a new problem. It has been plainly obvious ever since the line was announced.

Presumably the O'Farrell government decided that it was all too hard. We haven't yet heard accusations of O'Farrell favouring the residents of his seat (a seat which covers just about every North Shore Line station north of Chatswood, but it surely won't be long.

So what is the government's new plan? The NWRL will simply be a shuttle running between Rouse Hill and Epping.

It's an awful plan. First of all, this may deal with the problem of having to squeeze the NWRL services over the bridge - but how does O'Farrell think these people are going to get to the city? They will need to hop onto a train heading to the city via Chatswood. More services will HAVE to be put on to deal with the extra passengers.

True it is that the new plan includes a new line a few km east of the North Shore line to scoop up some areas not presently served, and plans for the much needed new harbour crossing. But these plans are over a decade in the future. Construction of the NWRL will begin during this term. Heaven knows how many terms it will taken for this new harbour crossing to move off the plans into the real world.
Photo by @sarethebear, the ABC's new NSW politics reporter
Of all the options available to O'Farrell, short of cancelling the NWRL altogether, it appears to be worst one possible.

But there can be no doubt - none whatsoever - that this broken promise is going to be one that that he is never allowed to forget. Whether he'll be forced to regret it will probably depend on whether his opponents can lift their game and make some criticism stick.

1 comment:

  1. Would have been better to link between Parramatta & Epping over the carlingford line - improve service and make use of rather than burden the existing rail network. OK not as good for the North West, but it is something.