Are metros the answer in Sydney?

Posted: October 8, 2011 in Transport
Tags: , , , , , ,

Following on from news that the government is considering converting part of the Cityrail network to metro, it’s appropriate to question whether metros actually have a place in Sydney. The short answer appears to be: yes.

Even the Herald’s 2010 Public Transport Inquiry, which supported the dumping of the CBD-Rozelle Metro proposal that the government had previously pushed for, believes that there is a case to be made for metros in Sydney. However, it argued that the number 1 priority was to complete essential improvements to Cityrail’s existing heavy rail network (in particular the Southwest and Northwest Rail Links, City Relief Line and a Second Harbour Crossing) before any work begins on constructing a metro network. Such a metro network should be centered on the CBD (or Parramatta) and not extend far beyond the inner city suburbs surrounding it. Sandy Thomas, one of the people behind the work of the Inquiry, described some of the problems of conversion to metros following the publication of its details earlier this week. This suggests that the Inquiry’s conclusions remain applicable today as much as they did 18 months ago.

Here is what the Inquiry had to say on page 200 (emphasis theirs):

The Inquiry does, however, believe “metro” rail services will be needed in Sydney in the longer term, as first publicly recognised and argued for in the 2001 “Christie Report” into long-term rail options for Sydney, Long- Term Strategic Plan for Rail, Greater Sydney Metropolitan Region, which suggested relatively high seating capacity forms of metros, reflecting the trip distances involved.

The highest priority will probably be a “West Metro” between Westmead and Barangaroo, as proposed by the Inquiry under the “European” scenario.

The development of metros should be the result of a clear public conversation, through the Public Transport Network Plan’s cyclical development and finalisation processes described in section 2 of this report, about the desired shape of Sydney and the best public transport solutions, recognising that:

  • Metros have a fundamentally different relationship to urban density than Sydney’s existing and future heavy rail, bus and light rail modes, and
  • Sydney’s challenging geography and the small size but tight development of its CBD mean a poorly conceived metro can easily cripple opportunities for essential improvements to the heavy rail network, and vice versa.

In addition to overcoming the deficiencies of the government’s original “metro” concepts, the technologies ultimately selected for a Sydney “metro” system should seek to maximise—rather than deliberately minimise, as was proposed for the CBD Metro—the system’s compatibility with Sydney’s existing and future heavy rail systems.

The aim should be to ensure that crucial and expensive pieces of infrastructure, such as harbour crossings, can be used with maximum flexibility and efficiency. The last thing we need is a 21st century version of different gauges.

2001 proposed metro plan

The possible metro routes suggested in Ron Christie's 2001 report to the state government. Click on image for higher resolution version. (Source: Public Transport Inquiry, page 200)

This philosophy of “build the heavy rail network first and metros second” can be seen in the 2001 report by Ron Christie, then the Coordinator General of Rail, later the head of the Herald’s Transport Inquiry, to the state government. In it, he recommended a number of potential metro routes, but warned that they should be built only after the heavy rail system was extended out to the Northwest, Southwest and another line crossing the Harbour. Even then, you can see (on the above map) that the metro routes radiate out of the CBD and Parramatta, but only for 15km-20km. The proposal to convert portions of the Cityrail network to metro would include a 40km route from the CBD to Rouse Hill and 30km from the CBD to Cabramatta.

For a better idea of the sort of area that a metro would cover, the NSW Business Chamber recently commissioned a review of the Cityrail network (which I’ll probably cover in more depth later on) in which it contained a number of maps of Sydney overlayed with major metro systems from around the world. The green circle is 15km from the CBD and the orange circle is 20km from the CBD. As you can see, a metro out to Cabramatta or Rouse Hill would be far beyond the maximum distance used by most other metro systems.


Singapore. Click on image for higher resolution version. (Source: NSW Business Chamber)

Hong Kong

Hong Kong. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NSW Business Chamber)


Paris. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NSW Business Chamber)


Berlin. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NSW Business Chamber)


Madrid. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NSW Business Chamber)

  1. […] part of the Cityrail network to metro which is being considered by the government as well as what sort of metro system is appropriate for Sydney. My opinion is that Sydney does need metros, but not this one. The metro proposal seems to be less […]

  2. […] deck trains on some of Cityrail’s lines as part of a metro proposal (discussed by me here, here and here) are somewhat ironic when you consider that Cityrail spent much of the 70s and 80s […]

  3. […] a portion of the Cityrail nework into a single deck metro style rail system (I wrote about it here, here and here). However, seeing that the new plan in effect locks in what was in the previous plan and […]

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