Following the rejection of NSW’s submission to Infrastructure Australia (IA) for funding of the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL), it’s worthwhile looking more closely at the reasons that supported IA’s rejection. Below are some excerpts, along with commentary:
“I acknowledge that the NSW Government has undertaken some good work in developing the proposal for the North West Rail Link. Whilst that work is worthwhile, it has not yet made a compelling case for this project. We have to remember that we are talking about a project estimated to cost $8.5 billion. It is not a small amount of money.” – Michael Deegan, Infrastructure Australia (7 May 2012)
This could be a polite way of saying no, though given the non-political nature of IA, Mr Deegan is probably genuine when he says that he might still be convinced to support this project. This is backed up by his later comments where he explains what NSW has to do in order to convince him.
“The NSW Government submission provided only preliminary economic analysis and that analysis shows that on the Government’s own figures the project is of marginal economic benefit. The submission has left unanswered the question as to how rail network capacity problems from Chatswood into the CBD are to be addressed. There may be interim solutions, for example terminating some trains on the lower north shore, but these have not been presented to us.” – Michael Deegan, Infrastructure Australia (7 May 2012)
Here is where Mr Deegan now delves deeper into the issue raised earlier. The NWRL has problems (primarily that there is only space for 2 trains per hour during the morning peak into the CBD over the Harbour Bridge), and in his views, the NSW Government had not addressed how it plans to deal with them. In other words, there is not yet a plan as to how the NWRL will fit into the larger network.
Will services from the North Shore be reduced in order to fit NWRL trains into the CBD? Will NWRL trains terminate at Chatswood/St Leonards? Will capacity into the CBD be increased, either via a second Harbour Crossing or by a conversion to single deck metro? Realistically, these are the only 4 options on the table, and the NSW government must pick one.
EDIT: It’s been pointed out (correctly) in the comments below that there is a 5th option – send the trains currently going from Hornsby to the City via Macquarie into the city via Strathfield, thus freeing up an additional 4 slots. This presents some additional challenges of congestion between Epping and Strathfield, but on balance is probably still better than not doing it.
I think the reason it has not done so yet is because it is waiting for the Transport Masterplan to be finalised, a process that will take most of the remainder of the year. Given this will be a plan for many decades to come, it’s understandable that they don’t want to rush it. They just better hope that this delay doesn’t jeapordise any potential funding. Either way, the NWRL will be built, and the NSW government is not backing away from that promise.
“At a deeper level, we also have a question about whether this project is obviously the highest priority project in Sydney. With Sydney growing to a population of between 6–7 million in the next 30 years, and much of that growth occurring in western Sydney, we might be better served by a north west link that can build up Parramatta as a second CBD. I stress that I’m not talking about the Parramatta-Epping rail link. That project is not on Infrastructure Australia’s priority list.” – Michael Deegan, Infrastructure Australia (7 May 2012)
Here Mr Deegan shows his political neutrality, pointing out that in his opinion neither the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL), nor the NWRL are top priorities for Sydney. However it also highlights the absurdity of the Federal Government’s position in refusing to fund an infrastructure project with a low priority (NWRL), yet offering to fund another with an even lower priority (PERL).
“Compared to the level of analysis we have seen from some other governments, on similarly large projects, the analysis to date from the NSW Government on the North West Rail Link is quite limited. Those other submissions have provided detailed economic analysis, rigorous assessment of project risks and complete environmental impact statements. That work has not yet been undertaken for the North West Rail line.” – Michael Deegan, Infrastructure Australia (7 May 2012)
Some more comments that do not bode well for the NSW submission. These comments on the inadequacy of the submission were rejected by NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian, but when it comes to a he says/she says choice between a politician and an apolitical bureaucrat, I tend to err on the view of the bureaucrat.