HEATH ASTON June 24, 2012
I ONCE received a letter from a gentleman claiming to have an answer to Sydney's transport conundrum.
I was a novice transport reporter at the time and believed a solution must exist, so I sat down to read his thesis, the crux of which was that the state government should dig a network of tunnels fanning out from the central business district. The tunnels would be just big enough to fit a person lying down.
Inside, individual capsules would be ''fired'' by a catapult-like mechanism towards people's destinations. The atmosphere inside the hundreds of tunnels going to the northern, southern, eastern and western suburbs would be a type of vacuum with no friction and no fuel costs.
Commuters would head to established centres such as Wynyard and Town Hall stations to be placed in a pod before literally shooting off home.
There was scant detail on how they would be stopped at the other end. Pillows, perhaps?
But this wasn't just pie in the sky. There was a website, too.
I liked the sound of an underground Jetsons world but for whatever reason - mainly my editor's insistence that news stories have more parts truth than science fiction - I never followed up with a story.
Seven years later, Sydney is still searching for a transport fix and, unfortunately, the only capsules being used are the ones swallowed by commuters stuck on motorways and crowded trains for their headaches.
I think of my correspondent every time the government makes another blue-skies announcement on transport, such as the pledge by the Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian, to build a second harbour crossing for the north-west rail line. The tunnel would run underground for the equivalent of nine CityRail stations between Chatswood and Redfern - about 15 kilometres as the crow flies.
The minister doggedly refused to put a price tag on the tunnel but you can safely assume $10 billion and keep adding a billion dollars every couple of years that it isn't built.
The tunnel would have to be bigger than a person lying down, but Berejiklian said it would be smaller than first envisaged because of the single-deck metro trains that would use it.
Besides the toe-curling price tag, the problem for Berejiklian is that the underground metro - launched by Morris Iemma, amended by Nathan Rees and canned by Kristina Keneally at a cost of nearly $500 million - has a vintage odour.
Announcing a second harbour crossing without any guide to its cost or time of completion appeared to be straight out of Labor's playbook.
It also informed communities from Hurstville to Bankstown and Cabramatta that they will get metro services once the tunnel is built, which, in effect, has started the clock ticking on their disappointment.
Now where were those plans for the personalised capsules?