History of Cityrail: Airport Line (2000)

Posted: January 16, 2012 in Transport
Tags: , , ,

Two new lines were constructed in preparation for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The first one to open was the Olympic Park Line to the main Olympics site, and opened many years prior to the games. The second, a line to Sydney’s Kingsford-Smith airport, did not open until the year 2000 itself.  Constructed in conjunction with the private sector, this would be the first rail Private Public Partnership (PPP) in NSW and was considered such a failure that no future rail projects since (other than the Waratah trains) have made use of PPPs.

Green Square Station

The 4 underground stations on the Airport Line all have a modern subway look. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Bambul Shakibaei)

The line consisted of 5 new stations, one South of Tempe (Wolli Creek) and 4 underground stations between Wolli Creek and Central (Domestic and International Airport stations, Mascot and Green Square).

The 4 underground stations have a very modern subway feel to them, much like the Eastern Suburbs Line before it or the Epping to Chatswood Line after it. These 4 stations are also privately owned and operated, with the track and trains publicly owned and operated. What this means is that the private operator charges a station access fee to anyone wanting to get on or off at one of these stations (though not to anyone merely passing through them) and requires Cityrail to run a minimum number of trains each hour through these stations.

This access fee was relatively low ($2.60) for Green Square and Mascot, which are suburban stations, but much higher at ($11.80) at the two airport stations. As this was on top of any regular fare, it meant a single adult fare from Central to Domestic Airport Station cost $15.00 in 2011. Given a large proportion of people using the airport stations are not residents of Sydney (or even Australia) and that the cost of transport from the city to the airport is similar in Melbourne ($16 on the Skybus), I actually think this is an appropriate price and to subsidise it would mean subsidising foreign tourists as well as locals.

This thinking was probably part of the reason why in 2011 the NSW government decided to eliminate the station access fee for the 2 suburban stations, but not the 2 airport station. (It did this by agreeing to pay the access fee directly to the private operator, rather than requiring passengers to do it). This proved to be hugely successful, and 3 months later patronage had surged by 70% (compared to 20% growth that the line has seen in previous years). Talk later emerged of a possibility of extending this to the airport stations, perhaps as a 50% subsidy rather than full elimination of the access fee, but nothing subsequently materialised.

Wolli Creek station is worth mentioning. It was built on the Illawarra Line just South of where the East Hills Line separates from it and goes West toward Campbelltown. The new Airport Line runs perpendicular to the Illawarra Line, connecting up with the East Hills Line in its Westward direction. This new line runs physically underneath Wolli Creek and has an additional 2 platforms along with the 2 platforms for the Illawarra Line trains, allowing passengers to transfer from Airport Line trains to Illawarra/Eastern Suburbs Line trains or vice versa.

Airport Line

Express trains to/from Campbelltown still go via Sydenham, as seen by the dashed line. All other East Hills Line trains now go via the Airport Line. Click on image for full network map. (Source: Cityrail)

The Airport Line had a major benefit of helping to untangle the Cityrail network. Most trains on the East Hills Line (and all during the off-peak) now travel to and from the city via the Airport Line rather than via Sydenham (which is now used almost exclusively for Illawarra and Bankstown trains). This increased the capacity into the city from the South from 2 track pairs to 3 track pairs. However the real benefit comes from untangling the complex web of lines that make up the Cityrail network. What it now means is that any delays between Tempe and Redfern will often not flow on to East Hills Line trains, as (other than a few express trains during peak hour) they do not use that part of the network anymore.

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