Archive for May, 2012

Michael Deegan

Infrastructure Australia chief, Michael Deegan, has disappointed the NSW government by not initially offering to fund the NWRL. (Source: LGMA National)

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.

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A series called Moving Beyond the Automobile has done a piece on car parking in New York called parking reform. It outlines how cheap (often free) and plentiful on street parking in effect provides a subsidy to car drivers and questions whether there is a better use for the public space currently given away to cars for free. (Props to Reinventing Parking for posting it.)

Ideally, parking would happen off street in parking garages that charge a market rate, with some limited short term on-street parking for car drivers who need to make quick trips. Otherwise, it is normally ridiculious to use such a limited resource (street space) for the indefinite storage of automobiles.

This 4 Corners Report originally aired on the ABC back in 2009 and outlines the failure of the then NSW Labor Government to adequately provide for Sydney’s transport needs. It has dated somewhat (back then the plan was to build a Northwest Metro), but is a great reminder of why Sydney is now so far behind in building the much needed public transport infrastructure it really needs.

The ABC website has additional background information relating to the piece, including the full interview with then Transport Minister David Campbell and Senior Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid.

Infrastructure Australia (IA), the Federal Government body responsible for handing out Federal Government funding for infrastructure projects, has rejected a submission by the NSW Government to fund the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL). In its response, IA head Michael Deegan argued that the submission was not detailed enough and that the NWRL is not Sydney’s top priority as there is insufficient capacity for trains to enter the CBD via the Harbour Bridge. Mr Deegan says that IA will continue talks with NSW, but that the final decision lies with the federal government.

One of IA’s proposals, to run more buses from the Northwest, was rejected by Premier Barry O’Farrell. Given the lack of capacity for buses in the CBD, it’s understandable why he would take this view. Part of the reason for a NWRL is that buses can only take a certain level of capacity, and that long distance trips into the CBD (as well as to the job rich arc that spans between North Sydney to Macquarie Park) should be done on high capacity rail rather than low capacity buses.

North West Rail Link Map

Map of the Northwest Rail Link. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: http://www.northwestrail.com.au)

This clash continues the saga between the NSW and Federal governments, which began when the Federal Labor Government promised to pay $2.1bn of the cost to construct the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL) in its 2007 election and then the NSW Liberal Government (then in opposition) promised to build the NWRL ahead of the PERL in its 2011 election.

Now it seems neither party is willing to budge. The federal government, keen to get its budget back into surplus, is probably quietly happy to let this funding remain in its coffers. Meanwhile, the NSW government appears to be pinning its hopes on a change of Federal Government and that a future Prime Minister Tony Abbott would be more open to providing NSW with access to those funds. Either way, the NWRL looks set to go ahead, so the fight over the $2.1bn is essentially to determine whether or not other infrastructure gets built or not, rather than whether the NWRL will get built.

BOF NWRL on Twitter

Probably the only one who is happy about the current impasse is Cr Lorraine Wearne, Lord Mayor of Parramatta City Council. Having seen the writing on the wall for the PERL, her council has been pushing for a light rail network for Parramatta and wants part of the $2.1bn to be earmarked for this project. To this effort, Parramatta is also commissioning a $1m feasibility study into a light rail network centred around Parramatta.

The NSW Government’s response was a cautious maybe, with Acting Premier Andrew Stoner calling the $9.5bn price tag “a heck of a lot of money”, but also saying that “if they are able to convince us, if they are able to convince Infrastructure NSW, we might facilitate it”. This would be consistent with comments by State Treasurer Mike Baird, who said he was looking at opportunities to move government offices to Parramatta.

I have previously raised the option of a circuit breaker (here and here) like this as a way of ending the impasse on this issue, and while I think it’s less likely than more that this will be successful, I do think there is a chance that it might go ahead.

A quarter of a century ago, the federal Labor government decided to build a second airport in Sydney at Badgerys Creek. It spent the next few years acquiring land there. However, the Liberal Part was opposed to the Badgerys Creek location and when the Howard Liberal government was elected in 1996, this policy was scrapped. Later, Labor under Simon Crean also dropped its support for Badgerys Creek in the early 00s. The federal government still owns the land at Badgerys Creek, but both parties officially oppose a new airport there.

Last month, a joint NSW-Federal report was released recommending Badgeries Creek as the preferred site for a second airport in Sydney, with Wilton as the next best option. Instantly, the parties repeated their positions. Federal Transport and Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese of the Labor Party said his preferred location was Wilton. Meanwhile NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell of the Liberal Party said he wanted no new airports in the Sydney basin at all, preferring instead to build a high speed rail link to an upgraded Canberra Airport. Mr O’Farrell’s proposal to use Canberra Airport has been dismissed by Federal Liberal Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey who also wants an airport built at Wilton.

No one wants an airport in their backyard, it’s simple NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard). What is strange is that Mr O’Farrell has adopted a more extreme version of NIMBYism, something fellow Liberal, and Federal Opposition Leader, Tony Abbot called BANANA: Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone. Every year, more and more people move into areas that could hold a second airport, and the longer the wait before action is taken the larger the voter backlash will be.

The reality is that Sydney’s Kingsford-Smith Airport will reach capacity by 2027 according to the joint report, or 2045 according to the company that operates Kingsford-Smith Airport. The clock is ticking, and inaction is no longer an option.

“If action is not taken quickly, the chance to secure the future of aviation for the Sydney region may be lost altogether…the option of doing nothing is no longer available and the costs of deferring action are unacceptable”Joint report

Source: Daily Telegraph

Source: Daily Telegraph

Not only that, but it makes economic sense to build a second airport somewhere in Western Sydney to provide jobs both directly and indirectly to a region that will hold half of Sydney’s population in coming decades:

“[turning western Sydney into] one big housing estate with no economic drivers’ [is nonsense]”Chris Brown, co-author of the joint report

Lenore Taylor wrote the best piece I’ve read on this issue, for anyone looking for additional reading on it.