Transport for NSW denies separation of T4 rail line designed for privatisation

Passengers board a train at Sutherland.
Passengers board a train at Sutherland.

Transport for NSW says plans to separate the T4 Illawarra and Eastern Suburbs line from the rest of the rail network are unrelated to privatisation.

The government transport body was responding to a report the move would create opportunities for private companies to run more of Sydney’s rail network.

There has been speculation in the past the T4 line was seen as ideal for privatisation because it is already largely independent of the rest of the system.

Fairfax Media reported  that Infrastructure NSW documents confirmed Transport for NSW had started work on a plan to further extricate the line as part of a decade-long program of improvements called SmartRail.

A Transport for NSW spokesman said, “Upgrades to help parts of the network operate more independently are about improving capacity, frequency and reliability”.

“There are no plans to privatise the existing heavy rail network.”

The spokesman said Transport for NSW was investigating options for road and transport upgrades to the Illawarra and the South Coast. 

“Future rail initiatives are likely to involve significant investment in new services, advanced signalling, infrastructure upgrades and additional fleet,” he said

Greens MP and spokeswoman on transport Mehreen Faruqi said privatised rail has been “rubbished across the world”.

“Just look at London where there are calls to re-nationalise the entire network,” she said.

“Anyone who has travelled on the T4 line knows it is chock full during peak hours.

“Instead of improving services, this government is seeing a ripe opportunity to sell off a line with so much patronage so a private owner can make huge profits off of the backs of commuters.

“We are already seeing the Bankstown and Epping to Chatswood Lines being given over to the private sector and the Transport Minister has said he wants to see government no longer providing public transport which is an absolute disgrace.

“The Greens will continue to campaign to bring any privatised public transport services back into public hands.”

Privatisation of other sections of the rail network is due to start soon.

The Epping to Chatswood line will be retrofitted to run automated and driverless trains by the private operator of the metro rail extension to Rouse Hill.

Early next decade, the existing Bankstown Line will be under the control of a new operator when the metro line is extended from Chatswood under the harbour and central business district to Sydenham.

Fairfax Media said the State Infrastructure Strategy, released in February by the peak advisory body Infrastructure NSW, said the first three stages of the SmartRail program developed by Transport for NSW “should be delivered over the next 10 years”.

The first stage would involve capacity upgrades to the T4 Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra line and the T8 Airport line, and the second would involve more upgrades and the introduction of a new intercity fleet of trains.

The third would include “deploying automation and providing the transformative programs needed to separate inner urban and intercity services on the T1 Western and Northern line and the T4 Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra line.”

“SmartRail will allow the independent operation of rail lines across the system, improving the capacity, frequency and reliability of the network and permitting the conversion of lines to provide high-frequency all-day services in the future, with the T4 Illawarra Line as the top priority for transformation,” the strategy says.