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Will USyd’s transport dreams be derailed again?

The University is trying to get a metro station — again.

The USyd of the future? Original image: Sydney Metro The USyd of the future? Original image: Sydney Metro

Noticed the crowds getting bigger at the City Road bus stops? Finding it harder than ever to overtake others on the Redfern Run? The University has noticed too, but whether or not these concerns will result in any real change is another question.

In January the Sydney Morning Herald announced that the University of Sydney would be vying for a station on the Sydney Metro West line, which Transport for NSW (TfNSW) is in the preliminary stages of planning. TfNSW intends the line will connect Parramatta, Sydney Olympic Park, the Bays Precinct and the CBD, but confirmed station locations are yet to be announced. Although a route connecting these precincts would seem to pass nowhere near the Camperdown campus, the University “believes that there is a strong business case that supports the proposal,” but said no investigation into the feasibility of this route had commenced.

A University spokesperson told Honi, “existing rail transport to campus can involve up to a 10-minute walk and both buses and trains are often very congested. Our closest rail station at Redfern is one of Sydney’s busiest … and only has one lift to service people living with a disability and parents with prams”.

“The University wants to see a linked and quality transport system that will serve a significant number of commuters, relieve stress on other major rail stations, reduce traffic congestion and provide a more connected and reliable public transport.”

This has been the party line for a considerable amount of time. The current cycle for improving campus transport options has been ongoing since 2014, when the then Minister for Transport Gladys Berejiklian announced plans for what is now the Sydney Metro project. The University formalised its desire for a campus train station on the Sydney Metro line in June 2015. This put them in a bidding war for a station with Waterloo, who were represented by the government agency UrbanGrowth NSW.

Campus Infrastructure Services (CIS) proposed a Barangaroo-style town-centre in the space currently occupied by Maze Crescent and part of Cadigal Green, with a commitment of $1 billion in private funding. It was to include large office spaces to attract industry leaders, as well as 10,000 square metres of retail space and a large underground car park to deal with the increase in patronage. This was in addition to the existing Campus Improvement Program (CIP), which will see the Wilkinson building demolished and rebuilt, along with a complete redevelopment of the Wentworth Building. The station itself would have been included in the development of new these buildings, with a predicted 36,000 trips made each day through entrances servicing the Seymour Centre, and the corner of City Road and Eastern Avenue.

The competition against a government agency was an uphill battle for the University. When the vote finally went before Cabinet in late 2015, the loyalties of each portfolio were clear. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Gladys Berejiklian (then Treasurer), Andrew Constance (Minister for Transport and Infrastructure), Duncan Gay (Minister for Roads), and Jillian Skinner (then Minister for Health) all voted in favour of the University’s proposal. Troy Grant (Minister for Police), Rob Stokes (then Minister for Planning) and Brad Hazzard (Minister for Social Housing) all voted in favour of Waterloo. Then Premier Mike Baird voted for Waterloo, overruling the dead heat and (temporarily) ending the University’s dream.

Less than a month after this decision was announced, the University had a new dream: a light rail down Parramatta Road. Whether a ploy to keep the University in the headlines, or the result of envy towards the prioritisation of UNSW in the current CBD and South East Light Rail project, the new dream in no way reflects reality. TfNSW’s current Transport Master Plan, which runs through to 2021, makes no mention of City Road, King St, or Parramatta Road, save for “improving bus frequencies on Parramatta Road after the opening of Stage 1 of WestConnex in 2019”.

Jenny Leong, the Member for Newtown, told Honi, “the next logical step is a [Light Rail] connection … that links Strathfield to the city and services Parramatta Road”. This connection is now a core component of the NSW Greens’ 2020 Transport Vision, though Honi understands that no such plans are reflected in TfNSW’s transport plan.

Clearly disappointed with the lack of public response to this plan, almost exactly a year after the previous press briefings, the University has revealed an even grander dream: a metro station on campus linking with the Sydney West Metro line.

The competing interests for this new line mirror the original USyd and Waterloo conflict. The Bays Precinct, like Waterloo, is managed by UrbanGrowth NSW and is set to become a residential and technological hub. An alignment from Central to the Bays Precinct via USyd would be feasible, but would require a significant diversion of the line, and potentially a large contribution from the University.

It is unlikely that we will hear further from the University until TfNSW announces more about the project. A University spokesperson said “any form of transport along Parramatta Road, either light rail or metro, is needed and would be welcome.”

TfNSW have promised both parties “have formed a working group to develop a Transport Action Plan”.

In the meantime, an eager interpretation of the TfNSW Transport Master Plan has led the Inner West Council to propose a ‘trackless tram’ (read: bus) as the future of Parramatta Road, last week.

Honi is eagerly awaiting the University’s comment.

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