TRAINS on the North West Rail Link will be the first in Sydney to be run by a private company, under a plan for ''Sydney's Rail Future'' unveiled yesterday by the state government.
But the government will break a pledge to allow trains from the north-west to travel all the way to Sydney's CBD, while committing to a second harbour rail crossing and the conversion of large parts of the network to single-deck train operations.
The North West Rail Link will operate as a privately run shuttle between Rouse Hill and Chatswood using single-deck carriages designed to allow passengers to board and alight quickly, the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, and the Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian, said yesterday.
When the new line between Epping and Rouse Hill is finished in 2019, the private operator will also take over the running of trains on the existing Epping to Chatswood line. Commuters on that line will have to change at Chatswood to connect to the city.
In time, the government said, that line would be extended through the city via a second harbour tunnel crossing.
The crossing would then connect south of Central onto the Illawarra line to Hurstville and the Bankstown line to Cabramatta, which would be converted to accommodate single-deck trains. The plan would add about 60 per cent capacity to the train network.
Mr O'Farrell said: ''This is a great vision for the future of rail in this city.''
Ms Berejiklian said: ''This is about changing a 19th-century rail network and making it a 21st-century rail network.''
''We are the only global city in the world that relies solely on double-decks: our rail future will also employ single-decks to give commuters that convenient turn up-and-go system where they don't have to rely on their timetable,'' the minister said.
The government would not nominate a cost for the second harbour crossing yesterday, nor a date for when it might be built.
But speaking to the Herald late yesterday, Nick Greiner, the chairman of Infrastructure NSW which is drawing up a separate plan for the city and the state, said the government should use technology upgrades on the
existing rail network to delay construction. ''Later is better,'' Mr Greiner said.
Ms Berejiklian said she had changed her mind on the construction of the North West Rail Link following consultation with the community and experts. On December 12, announcing the route for the project, she said: ''The train line must go from Rouse Hill to the CBD.''
Yesterday's plan ensures North West Rail Link trains, operating under a public-private partnership, will turn about at Chatswood. The trains will arrive every five minutes and commuters will not need a timetable. Tickets will remain consistent with the rest of the network, and so will fares.
Ms Berejiklian said the interchange at Chatswood would be manageable because commuters would have to only cross the platform for direct trains to the city.
The Opposition Leader, John Robertson, called the about-face on the rail link a slap in the face for commuters.
At Epping station yesterday afternoon commuter Darren McDonald, 40, wondered how many seats the new single-deck trains would have. ''There's always been a lack of seating space for a person that travels more than 20 minutes like myself,'' he said.