The 5.5km extension of Sydney’s existing light rail line from the current terminus at Lilyfield to Dulwich Hill was originally announced by the former Labor government in early 2010. With planning approval received in February 2011, it was expected to be completed in 18 months, which meant roughly by the end of 2012, and at a cost of $120m. The extension was announced after plans to build the CBD-Rozelle Metro (a shortened version of the originally proposed Northwest Metro) were abandoned.
This extension would go along the disused goods line between Lilyfield and Dulwich Hill, and require new tracks (which have by now already been laid), overhead wires, signaling and platforms, but otherwise the entire path was already reserved and ready to go. As far as transport projects go, this should be a piece of cake.
However, recent news indicates that the timetable has doubled to 3 years (i.e. 2014) and the cost ballooned to $176m, almost one and a half times the original estimate. In fact, that means that the cost per kilometer for this project is now $32m.
For something where there are no land purchases and no tunneling, it is beyond outrageous that it would take this long and cost that much. Yet these sorts of cost and timetable blowouts for transport projects have become so common in NSW that they are almost to be expected. Gavin Gatenby of Eco Transit wrote an article for Crickey in 2009 in which he explained why rail projects in NSW cost 3 times more than they should.
To give you a comparison, the Mandurah Line in Perth (a 72km long heavy rail line) cost $1.22bn or less than $17m/km. That’s almost half what NSW will be paying for light rail. Not only that, but Perth’s Mandurah Line took less than 4 years to build (despite delays of its own), which means construction at a rate of over 1.5km/month, compared to the 150m/month for the light rail. That is 10 times slower!
I’m not certain as to why this delay and cost blow-out has occurred. Perhaps it’s due to the reorganisation of the transport department or maybe because these new figures came from the state treasury. Both the treasury and RTA have been known to discourage public transport projects in the past, preferring the government to focus on roads instead. If this was the reason again this time, I would not be surprised.
For more on recent transport construction projects in Australia over the last decade, Transport Textbook did a great piece on the 10 most expensive projects which I highly recommend.