An expansion to Sydney’s solitary light rail line is looking clearer and more concrete. The existing line to Lilyfield is currently being extended to Dulwich Hill, while 3 additional lines are on the drawing board: (1) through the CBD between Central and Circular Quay down George Street, (2) from the CBD to the University of Sydney down Broadway and (3) from the CBD to the University of NSW down Anzac Parade. Routes for these 3 lines have been shortlisted, and can be seen in the map below.
In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Premier Barry O’Farrell stated “I absolutely would expect there to be a start to work on light rail before the next election” and added that he did not see a point in building a line to either the University of NSW or University of Sydney unless a line was also built through the CBD. However, he also does not want to commit to which line will be built first, which suggests that construction could occur in any order so long as eventual construction of the CBD line is confirmed. Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian has said that no decision will be made until a feasibility study is completed in mid-2012.
Here is what is known about each line at the moment.
This line is following the alignment of a disused freight line between Lilyfield and Dulwich Hill. The green light was given in late 2010 under the Keneally Labor government and the incoming Liberal government committed to follow through with its completion. Though originally meant to be completed by 2012, it was later announced that the extension would not be up and running until 2014. As of early 2012, the track has all been laid and the project still requires the construction of platforms and overhead wiring plus additional rolling stock.
This line was also announced by the Keneally government, to be built after the Dulwich Hill extension. Originally the plan was to have a line going from Central to Barangaroo via Sussex Street, then on to Circular Quay via Hickson Road (see map below). However, it was later decided that the preferred route would be via George Street, as shown in the first map above. City of Sydney Lord Mayor is pushing to close down a few blocks of George Street to private motor vehicle traffic – limiting it to trams, bikes and pedestrians. As far as I know, the state government has not commented on this proposal, which suggests they are open to the possibility and want to see details before ruling anything in or out.
University of NSW
A light rail line down Anzac Parade is probably one of the most logical routes for light rail. It was the last tram line to be shut down in 1961, running from the CBD down to La Perouse along Anzac Parade. Most of this is along a reservation in the centre of Anzac Parade, making it ideal for light rail.
There are a number of potential alignments for this route, both on the approach from the CBD and again when the line arrives at the university. The approach from the CBD will be either (1) from Circular Quay through Oxford Street, (2) from Central through Campbell Street, (3) from Central through Devonshire Street or (4) from Central through an underground tunnel.
The Oxford Street alignment would not include stops on Oxford Street in order to speed up trams travelling along here, but is also opposed by Oxford Street business as it removes a major benefit of having a public transport route along Oxford Street: allowing people to use it to get to and from places on Oxford Street. In addition, it provides limited benefit for people travelling to the university, racecourse or hospital as it does not link to Central, and the primary beneficiaries are residents in the Randwick area travelling to and from the CBD. Therefore, I do not think the Oxford Street option will be selected.
The tunnel option is the most expensive, costing an additional $100 million, but also the one I am warming to the most. (The tunnel option is also favoured by Randwick Council mayor Scott Nash and Eco Transit convenor Gavin Gatenby.) It would see light rail run from Central to Anzac Parade in a tunnel, removing any interference with surface traffic, eliminating most delays due to to traffic and reducing travel time by 7 minutes by allowing faster speeds. The benefits here are not just limited to reduced travel times for passengers, but also reduces operating costs as one vehicle is able to transport more passengers in the same period of time. As such, the additional capital cost will eventually pay itself back in lower operating costs. A tunnel would mean no stops in Surrey Hills unless an expensive underground station is built, but that area is currently well served by buses and so is not a huge problem.
At the Randwick end there are 3 potential alignments for the route. One would go along Alison Road towards Randwick and goes past the Randwick Racecourse. A second continues along Anzac Parade, then goes along High Street (adjacent to the University of NSW) towards Randwick. The third stays on Anzac Parade and continues South towards Maroubra Junction. The most likely outcome is a combination of 2 or all of these alignments, probably the first and second acting as a loop through Randwick, as shown in the map below.
This extension would go down George Street from Central, then along Broadway until it reaches Sydney University. It will then continue either West along Parramatta Road or South along City Road and Carillon Avenue. Either route then turns into Missenden Road towards Royal Prince Alfred Hospital before terminating. Presumably, as with the Randwick route, this could also be formed into a loop by building both alignments.
Fitting light rail into the network
This is rarely talked about, but a very important detail. There is little point in building light rail if it’s just going to duplicate existing services. By all means build it if it’s going to increase capacity, but if it’s just going to run alongside buses, then you’re taking away capacity that could be going to other parts of Sydney. What this means is that light rail will need to improve modal change, i.e. people getting off a train/bus and onto light rail or vice versa. The inclusion of light rail into the myMulti system was the first step in this and hopefully Opal will allow for a seamless ticketing system where you pay for the total distance travelled, regardless of the mode used or the number of vehicles taken (as is currently the case, and which discourages an efficient use of the network).
What this is also going to mean is additional interchanges. For example, buses that traditionally went all the way into the city along Parramatta Road, City Road or Anzac Parade will need to stop where they meet with light rail and have people get off the bus and onto light rail to complete their journey. This will not be possible if service frequencies are low or if there is a financial penalty in doing so. If this is done, then it will go a long way to end the conga lines of empty buses congesting up the CBD during rush hour and to provide frequencies high enough to allow for turn up and go transport. If it’s not done then we will have seen another waste of taxpayers dollars to build a white elephant that doesn’t actually add value to the transport network.