Why Infrastructure Australia won’t fund the NWRL

Posted: May 28, 2012 in Transport
Tags: , , , , ,

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.

  1. PeteD says:

    They could send Northern Line trains back via Strathfield… then there are four extra trains per hour with capacity to go through the lower North Shore.
    It isn’t as if the existing train layouts (which have only been used since 2010) are set in stone.
    Also, NWRL will reduce usage on other parts of the network, eg Beecroft, Seven Hills, Westmead, Parramatta etc, as more people use the local trains.

    Interesting that they don’t seem to worry where the Parramatta Rail Link trains will go when they get to Chatswood (as they would have to do some similar form of realignment), or was that funding never really approved by IA.

  2. I think you’re spot on with the first point, and that’s what the transport department wants to do based on the concept map shown in the Herald last year: https://transportsydney.wordpress.com/2011/10/06/cityrail-network-may-be-partly-converted-to-metro/

    The main problem I can see from that is that Hornsby to Strathfield trains are both express and all stops, but without many overtaking tracks. That limits the number of trains you can run, unless they are all the same type (express or all stops).

    The same link also suggests that the PERL will just be a shuttle between Parramatta and Epping, which I think is silly as you could extend that to Chatswood or St Leonards before turning those trains around and sending them back to Parramatta. But even back in the 90s it was never envisioned that trains from Parramatta would ever continue past the North Shore into the city, so that’s not really too much of a problem.

  3. PeteD says:

    The Parramatta Rail Link EIS talked about the “spare capacity” to the city over the Harbour Bridge (when compared to Lidcombe – City) with some planning to carry on to the city. Obviously there isn’t as much spare capacity now and the rail links cost a lot more to build.
    In terms of the Northern Line, there is generally space for additional tracks between Eastwood and Strathfield to allow for passing trains, but the old process of Hornsby to Epping then express, alternating with Epping to City all stops might still work.
    I’m not sure IA are right when they say that train infrastructure is not a priority (especially given M2 works etc needed to keep up with growth).

  4. […] The reality is not quite as simple. Mr Robertson is using outdated figures, as the $2.6bn cost for the PERL has since blown out to $4.4bn. This means that the state government’s contribution wouldn’t be the affordable $520m quoted, but more than 3 times that: $1.8bn. This could just about pay to build all the light rail projects currently being considered by the government. And while the federal government has committed cash to the PERL while denying funding to the NWRL, the head of Infrastructure Australia has pointed out that the NWRL is a higher priority than the PERL. […]

  5. […] Why Infrastructure Australia won’t fund the NWRL […]

  6. […] Rail Link (NWRL) can be seen in comments by Infrastructure Australia in which it declares that the  PERL is an inferior choice than NWRL (its concerns surrounding the NWRL […]

  7. […] than public rail ones, and so would most likely also attack the PERL for the same reasons. In fact, this is exactly what Infrastructure Australia Chairman Michael Deegan did when he said that “the Parramatta-Epping rail link…is not on Infrastructure […]

  8. […] which was supported for political reasons, rather than because it fit into a big picture plan (even Infrastructure Australia rejected the PERL as “not on Infrastructure Australia’s priority […]

  9. Joni says:

    They can join the NWRL to the Carlingford Line and by pass the harbour crossing probelms.

  10. Sending the NWRL via the Western Line is problematic, given that the Western Line is more congested than the North Shore Line. I wrote about the different potential alignments here:


  11. Joni says:

    OK- thanks.

    I am all for transport out to the NW but want it built the right way – not a cheap half baked system at the expense of people on the Main Northern Line who will have to change trains 4 x at least with Epping station a nightmare to access esp if elderly or you have children. I believe it is a way to force people from Normanhurst to Cheltenham onto toll roads by making a perfectly good rail system which worked for 100 years a joke.

    We have sacrificed so much and paid so much to live near a rail line and do not appreciate it being passed into private hands to be degraded.

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