Fixers twisted metro files

 

The Herald has discovered:

A leading transport consultant, Sandy Thomas, resigned in December in protest at a request to censor his work, because it would have been “materially misleading and deceptive”.

Public servants linked to the metro have manipulated official data models to bolster the case for the project.

Tom Forrest, a former Labor adviser appointed to an executive job in RailCorp, amended a consultant’s report which was used in RailCorp’s submission to Planning on the metro.

A confidential planning document from last October about congestion at Central and Town Hall stations was shelved by RailCorp over fears of political retribution because it undercut the case for the metro.

A second version of this report, in December, was also shelved.

After ending his consultancy, Mr Thomas joined the Herald-commissioned transport inquiry, for which he was not paid.

His resignation letter, obtained independently by the Herald, said: ‘In more than 30 years of preparing technical and legal reports this is the first time I have ever been presented with such a proposition with normal ethical and professional standards apparently having been ‘relaxed’ in favour of ‘political’ considerations to the extent that concepts of honest, frank and fearless internal-to-government advice are now simply deemed unacceptable.”

Mr Thomas, who declined to comment, discovered assumptions supporting the metro had been manipulated to make other options look less attractive.

While 2041 population and employment forecasts, and more frequent train services, were used to model the favoured railway plan, alternatives were modelled against 2021 forecasts, which contained fewer services because of lower populations.

The modelling also used slower train travel times for those alternatives – by as much as eight minutes between Parramatta and the city.

”[The] … report you have asked me to compile … is to be ‘entirely positive in tone’ and will not be including any of the ‘offending’ topics, and will therefore, in my view, also be likely to be misleading and deceptive by omission,” Mr Thomas’s letter said.

”My concern about the last of these risks has been heightened this morning by your admission that you knew at the time that the STM modelling had been and is being based on lower population and employment estimates than those described in the materials you wrote as inputs to the second report,” he wrote.

”This continues a pattern throughout the investigations of several ‘inconvenient truths’, especially about the critical and often dominant inconsistencies in train plan assumptions, being revealed only when queries were raised, rather than volunteered at the outset.”

In a highly unusual move, the government retained Veitch Lister Consulting to model the metro’s patronage.

The Herald has established this occurred after a dispute with the government’s own transport modelling unit, the Transport Data Centre, which refused a request to delete the delays associated with passengers changing trains between CityRail and the new metro.

Alec Brown, a spokesman for the Sydney Metro Authority, said: ”Sydney Metro stands by its modelling, which is robust and extremely comprehensive.

”All modelling for Sydney Metro stages 1 and 2, at Central and all other interchange stations, has always included time penalties for switching between metro and CityRail.”

investigations@smh.com.au

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