Sydney Uni lashes out at government over ‘serious impact’ of train timetable changes

Sydney University has warned of the “serious impact” on thousands of students, staff and other commuters of a decision for trains on the Blue Mountain Line to no longer stop at Redfern station, making their trips “lengthier and more challenging”.

In a swipe at the state’s transport agency, vice-chancellor Michael Spence said the decision for trains on the line to bypass Redfern in favour of Central Station had “added greatly to the university’s already significant public transport pressures”.

“We are disturbed that we were not consulted about such a significant change,” he said in a letter to the state opposition.

Dr Spence said Transport Minister Andrew Constance had identified demand for trains “going through the roof”, and “yet he had allowed a timetabling change which makes train travel for thousands of our students and staff lengthier and more challenging”.

As a result of the changes, commuters travelling from the west on the Blue Mountains Line now have to switch services at Strathfield, or travel to Central and then catch another train back to Redfern.

Redfern station is the major access point from trains to the university’s campus at Camperdown in Sydney’s inner west. About 10,000 students and staff travel on trains on weekdays from western Sydney to Redfern where they walk to the university.

In a sign it has lost patience with the government’s plans to improve transport links, Dr Spence has told the state opposition that “you have the University of Sydney’s support in your ongoing advocacy on this vital transport issue”.

“I know you will be advocating on behalf of those who will be suffering the ill-effects of this change,” he wrote in the letter to Labor’s transport spokeswoman, Jodi McKay.

In response to questions from the Herald, Dr Spence said the detriment of the timetable changes was “especially staggering” given that commuters who travelled past Redfern to Central would save only three minutes at most on their journey.

“We will continue to ask the NSW government to take public transport access to our campuses seriously,” he said.

But Sydney Trains chief executive Howard Collins said the number of trains stopping at Redfern had actually risen by 11 per cent, which was in addition to frequent bus services between the station and Central.

“We’ve delivered the largest increase in capacity ever introduced on the train network. This means customers will have more options to travel to key education hubs, not fewer,” he said.

Mr Collins said an evidence-based approach had been taken to developing the new timetable, which showed where and when commuters travelled.

“In the weekday morning peak, five times as many customers from Blue Mountains stations are travelling to Central rather than Redfern,” he said.

Labor has vowed to review the new timetables and “correct the bias against western Sydney” if it is elected to government at the state election in 2019.

Ms McKay said Mr Constance had made life difficult for up to 10,000 students and thousands more who worked at the Australian Technology Park “and he didn’t think to tell anyone about it”.

“It’s disturbing, but not particularly surprising, that he overlooked the needs of thousands of students and workers and didn’t bother consulting them,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Mr Constance said the minister had received a letter from Dr Spence and a response was due within the next week.

Hopes dashed

Sydney University has been repeatedly knocked back in the past two years in its attempts to improve public transport links to its Camperdown campus.

In late 2015, the government chose Waterloo as the site of a station on a new metro line from Chatswood in the north to Sydenham in the south, instead of the university.

And it is unlikely it will gain a station as part of the second metro project from the CBD to Parramatta due to the government committing to a stop at the Bays Precinct at Rozelle.

Its hopes of a light rail line along Parramatta Road have also been dashed.

The sandstone university has forecast its student population will grow by 26,000 to 76,000 over the next two decades.

But it has conceded that its ability to achieve that growth will be constrained by public transport because potential students consider ease of travel when picking universities.

Macquarie University is next to a station on the Northern Line and the University of Technology is close to Central Station, while the University of NSW will be linked to Sydney’s eastern suburbs light rail line by 2019.