UPDATE (6:40PM, 30 Nov): The government has announced the process for finalising its transport plan on Transport for NSW’s website. It will involve a 12 month period of consultation with the community and various interest groups before a final version of the plan is finalised. A discussion paper and draft plan will be released during 2012, prior to the completion of the process. This is a welcome move, and should help to prevent the transport planning disasters that we’ve had in Sydney in the last decade (such as the $500m cost of the aborted Rozelle Metro).
The NSW Government has released a draft version of the rail portion of its transport plan. It’s definitely worth a read – the first half outlines existing projects (NWRL, SWRL, etc), so if feel free to skip to page 24 if you want to get to the meat of the report. I have previously voiced concerns about a new transport plan, as it suggests trashing the previous plan and starting again from scratch. In NSW, this reminds me all too much of the Rees Labor Government’s Rozelle Metro, which cost NSW tax payers $500m before being scrapped – $500m that couldn’t be spent elsewhere. However, the new plan appears to retain all the key elements of the previous plan developed under Kristina Keneally’s government in 2010: a Southwest Rail Link, a Northwest Rail Link and a Western Express (including a City Relief Line), and then provides a number of options through to 2036 for expanding network capacity after these projects are complete.
This fear grew larger when it became apparent that the government was considering converting 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 then builds on it. I have since warmed somewhat to the metro plan as a result of reading the draft plan, and I might have been a bit too hostile to it initially. (I still think a second Harbour Crossing is more important than a conversion to single deck, but I’d be happy for that second pair of tracks to carry single deck trains.)
One thing not included in the report is the cost of each option. The Herald has obtained estimates of the costs, which range from $26 billion to $38 billion (see below). However, the Herald also points out that the costs may not have been calculated consistently, and that the Sector Five option (which involved maintaining a fully double deck network) includes the costs of necessary upgrades but the other options do not, despite also requiring the same upgrades. If true, this would suggest the report is biased towards the metro proposal.
All plans follow the same initial timeline: SWRL to be completed in 2016, NWRL to be completed in 2019 (the diagram says 2021, but the document says 2019) and a City Relief Line to be completed in 2026 allowing express trains from Penrith and Richmond via Parramatta to go through the CBD (though not across the Harbour). Image quality is unfortunately quite poor, even at full resolution, but these were the maps included in the draft report:
It has been suggested (I can’t remember where) that the Western Express trains will stop at Blacktown, Seven Hills, Westmead and Parramatta before continuing express to Central and the CBD stations. Central may be misleading, as the platform may actually be located underneath Railway Square, a few hundred metres West of the suburban rail platforms, then continuing North most probably either under Sussex Street towards Barangaroo or under Pitt Street towards Martin Place.
It is after this point that the plans diverge. One plan recommends converting a large portion of the network to single deck metro, the other recommends connecting the City Relief Line to Chatswood. These plans seem to suggest the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link and Chatswood to St Leonards Quadruplication might also be built, but no mention is made of either in the document.
What is common for both plans is a merging of the non-express Western trains (which start at St Marys) with South Line trains going from Liverpool to the City via Granville. This makes a lot of sense as it puts each different line onto a different physical set of tracks: the Western Express trains on the Main West Line, the St Marys and Liverpool/Granville trains on the Suburban West Line and the Homebush starting Inner West trains on the Local West Line. Currently Western Line and South Line trains share track between Granville and Homebush, while South Line and Inner West Line trains share track between Homebush and Redfern, despite each having separate stopping patterns (i.e. express, limited stops and all stations).
This makes it a 25 year plan, however there are also a number of future corridors which it recommends should be kept for future consideration, allowing land to be reserved for any developments in the future. The report points out that these corridors may end up being developed either as a non-rail option (such as light rail along the Anzac Parade corridor) or as part of a “stand-alone rail system” (code for metro) in addition to just adding to the Cityrail network. Realistically, other than a minority of these corridors (the NWRL and SWRL extensions in particular), I would imagine that no further extensions would be made to the Cityrail network, with any new developments either forming the start of a new metro network or an extension of the metro network created by converting a portion of the Cityrail network.