Up until 1980, the Western Line had 4 tracks as far out as Blacktown. This allowed trains to be separated into express and all stations services, each with its own line, without having to worry about express trains getting stuck behind slower all stations trains and unable to overtake them. From Blacktown, one track pair went Northwest towards Richmond and another track pair continued West to Penrith and the Blue Mountains.
The lack of a second track pair between Blacktown and Penrith made express services difficult, potentially adding 9 minutes to a train trip for Penrith commuters. This problem was solved in 1980, when the track between Blacktown and St Marys was quadruplicated, allowing the separation of trains depending on their stopping patterns.
There was one proposal to extend the quadruplication all the way to Penrith in 2002 when the Fast Rail Link was proposed. This would be a private sector project that would also construct a tunnel from Parramatta to the CBD, allowing a trip from Penrith to the CBD to be cut from 55 to 28 minutes. However, it would do so by gaining exclusive control of a track pair between Penrith and Westmead, before continuing though the underground tunnel. This would prevent the operation of express trains between Penrith and Parramatta on the remaining Cityrail track pair, forcing Penrith commuters that did not pay for the premium express service onto 84 minute all stop services. This, along with concerns that the $2.5 billion price tag was highly optimistic, ultimately led to the government rejecting the proposal.
A more recent proposal is the Western Express, first announced in February 2010 as part of the Metropolitan Transport Plan (which I wrote about here), it would involve the construction of the $4.5 billion City Relief Line, a new line between Redfern and Wynyard. This would then connect up to the “express” Western Line track pair (officially known as the Main West Line, with all stops trains using the Suburban West Line), allowing express trains to remain separated from all stops trains all the way to the Northern end of the CBD. Currently, interurban trains from the Blue Mountains and the Central Coast use the Main West Line, but terminate at Central Station as they still use V-Set trains, which are longer than suburban trains and do not fit into the shorter underground stations in the CBD. A City Relief Line would be expected to have longer platforms, and also potentially screen doors that are commonly found in Asian metro systems. The Western Express was deferred by the incoming O’Farrell Liberal Government earlier this year, but based on recently released draft plans this appears to have been a genuine deferral, rather than code for cancellation.
Next week: Gymea to Caringbah duplication.