Archive for August, 2012

Many issues have been raised over plans for the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL), that it’s single deck, that it wil require more transfers, that it will require an expensive second harbour crossing. These are legitimate issues that are raised, which in my opinion when considered as part of the big picture of long term transport planning will still result in the conclusion that what the government is currently planning is the right approach to take. But the most recent complaint: that it will shut out high speed rail (HSR), raised by the NSW Business Chamber earlier this week, is just plain hard to swallow.

The full report is available from their website, and I’d encourage you to read it if you’d like a better idea of how transport planning works (even if, like me, you disagree with the conclusions).

Here are some key points from the report:

“International experience shows that in almost every highspeed rail case study, existing urban rail infrastructure has initially been used through major cities. Dedicated highspeed rail urban infrastructure has followed the growth of patronage and hence, the economic and financial case.” – How Would High-Speed Rail  Change Sydney and NSW, page 3

This is an excellent point. It would indeed be much cheaper to use existing rail infrastructure within the city limits, as doing so could bring the cost down from as high as $100bn to just a few billion dollars for a shorter Canberra-Sydney-Newcastle link. The problem occurs when the report then insists that the best connection between Sydney and Newcastle is via Chatswood and Macquarie Park. A quick look at the timetable shows that a train takes about 60 minutes to get from Central to Hornsby via Macquarie Park, compared to 51 minutes via Gordon, and only 36 minutes via Strathfield. The reason for this is that only the via Strathfield route has additional track pairs, which allow faster trains to overtake slower ones. Sending HSR trains via the slower route (as this report suggests), would cause them to be stuck behind slow trains that stop at every station.

This strategy is followed on the Southern approach to Sydney, where trains would come in via the East Hills Line, which also express tracks. See map below.

HSR routes

Long term HSR routes are shown in red, completely separated from the suburban rail network. Until then, the NSW Business Chamber is recommending using existing rail lines, shown in brown. These would make use of fast express tracks on the Southern approach (East Hills Line), but not on the Northern approach (Macquarie Park Line). Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NSW Business Chamber)

“To integrate a high-speed rail service with the Sydney suburban rail network, a second harbour crossing will be needed.” – How Would High-Speed Rail  Change Sydney and NSW, page 5

Ideally a HSR network would not be integrated with suburban trains (and the report acknowledges that this is the long term aim), and only in the short term it would it use existing infrastructure (to keep initial costs down). However, no reason is given for why a second harbour crossing is needed, other than the existing capacity constraints. But if that’s the case, then why not just share the existing crossing on the Sydney Harbour Bridge for HSR and suburban trains, leaving the new crossing exclusively for single deck metro trains? Why does the new crossing have to be built to HSR specifications when the current one already is?

Not that this should matter anyway, as it would be faster to use the via Strathfield route. If HSR users want to reach Macquarie Park, Chatswood or North Sydney, then there will be frequent and fast suburban trains from a number of connecting stations that they could use.

However, the recently announced plan by the NSW Government, Sydney’s Rail Future, does not allow for the integration of high-speed rail with the suburban network. This is because it is generally unviable for high-speed rail services to share with the rapid transit trains proposed to travel the second harbour crossing. In effect, the NSW Government’s recent proposal has planned high-speed rail out of the current network” – How Would High-Speed Rail  Change Sydney and NSW, page 5

This statement just makes no sense. Only the NWRL past Epping (which would not be used by HSR anyway) and the second harbour crossing would be incompatible with HSR. And there’s nothing stopping HSR from using the existing harbour crossing, so it’s hard to see how HSR has been “planned…out of the current network”.

“The North West Rail Link is an important piece of infrastructure to Sydney, but it should be designed to permit both a link to North Western Sydney and the operation of high-speed rail through Sydney’s CBD.” – How Would High-Speed Rail  Change Sydney and NSW, page 6

As mentioned, the existing portion of the future NWRL already built (between Epping and Chatswood) is already capable of taking HSR. While the second harbour crossing may not be, HSR could easily shift to the existing harbour crossing once they reach Chatswood in order to reach the CBD. Yet building the second harbour crossing at HSR specifications would increase the cost of such a project, reducing (or perhaps eclipsing) the proposed cost savings of having HSR use that crossing.

“Recommendation: A single transport vision for Sydney out to 2061 should be developed by the NSW and Federal Governments.” – How Would High-Speed Rail  Change Sydney and NSW, page 9

With the Federal Government taking a more active involvement in funding infrastructure that was traditionally the responsibility of the states, this is an excellent suggestion. Both levels of government need to be on the same page and moving in the right direction in order to overcome the infrastructure deficit that Sydney suffers from.


Ultimately, the undelying argument that this report is trying to give: that using existing infrastructure initially and planning between state and federal governments to make sure that these options are maintained, is a very good one. Doing so would allow the sorts of cost savings that would make high speed rail (or even just medium speed rail) more likely to actually get off the ground. And if there’s one thing to take from this report, it’s definitely that. Unfortunately, the bit about the NWRL (a red herring, in my opinion) has garnered most of the media attention.

UNSW Monorail postscript

Posted: August 22, 2012 in Transport

As with any good media mistake, the recent UNSW monorail hoax that was picked up by the ABC, MX and 2UE ended up on the ABC’s Media Watch program, mostly mocking David Oldfield from 2UE. Worth a watch.


The UNSW monorail proposal was about as realistic and believeable as this monocoaster

A bit short for time this week, so that’s all for now. Will hopefully have something more substantial next week.

At the Liberal Party Conference on 30 June, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott declared that a Liberal Government would commit $4bn to road projects in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. For Sydney, this translated to $1.5bn for the M4 East.

“Almost nothing builds confidence more than seeing cranes over our cities and almost nothing signifies progress more than new roads.”Tony Abbott (30 June 2012), Leader of the Opposition

This decision was clearly made on political criteria, rather than planning and transport criteria. It funds the projects where the benefit flows primarily to the marginal electorates, rather than where the the benefit is greatest. And unfortunately, it’s a bipartisan pattern that is emerging in Commonwealth-State infrastructure funding, with the Gillard Government making a similar mistake when it declared that it would provide $2.1bn of funding towards the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL) prior to the 2010 election.

M4 East and PERL

The proposed M4 East and Parramatta to Epping Rail Link are seen highlighted in red, along with the F3-M2 Link. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NSW Transport Department submission to Infrastructure Australia, August 2010)

In that case, Julia Gillard at least consulted with the state government first and got them to fast track the PERL. But Mr Abbott hasn’t done this prior to his announcement, and the NSW Government currently appears to be planning to build the M5 East duplication and F3-M2 Link rather than the M4 East.

M5 East and NWRL

The NSW Government’s priority road and rail projects are the M5 East and Northwest Rail Link, both seen highlighted in red. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NSW Transport Department submission to Infrastructure Australia, August 2010.)

The other problem with Mr Abbott’s offer is that it represents only a fraction of the total cost. While the majority of the cost of the PERL ($2.6bn at first, though later blowing out to $4.5bn) would be borne by the Commonwealth, the M4 East has a price tag of between $5bn (for a short route between Strathfield and Ashfield) and $10bn (for the long route that also links it to the airport at Mascot). This leaves the state government out of pocket by $3.5bn-$8.5bn, compared to $0.5bn-$1.9bn for the PERL.

In both cases the problem remains that the Australian government seems to want to pick the infrastructure that the state should build, rather than trying to fit it into the long term metropolitan plan the state has developed for the city. The ridiculousness of Federal Labor insisting on funding the PERL over the NSW State Government’s preferred Northwest 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 aside).

Mr Abbott’s proposal in particular is concerning in that it reverts to the view that transport funding should favour road over rail, private transport over public transport. It fits in with the liberal view of individual liberty and freedom – and the private motor car provides this much better than a centrally planned public transport system designed “for the people”.  In his book, he dismisses the need for any vehicle larger than a car:

“…there just aren’t enough people wanting to go from a particular place to a particular destination at a particular time to justify any vehicle larger than a car, and cars need roads.”Tony Abbott (Battlelines, p. 174), Leader of the Opposition

The NSW Liberal Government takes a different perspective on the role of public transport, having not only made the NWRL its centrepiece but also buying the monorail and light rail, reverting them from private to public ownership (albeit still privately operated). They’ve done this presumably out of a realisation that roads do not have the capacity of public transport, and that congestion is costing the economy in potential output.

When it comes to a second airport for Sydney, the 3 most powerful Liberals from Sydney: Mr Abbott, Shadow Treaurer Joe Hockey and Shadow Cabinet Minister Malcolm Turnbull all support a second airport in the Sydney basin. Only Mr Hockey has named a preferred site so far: Wilton. None seem to be pushing for Badgeries Creek. However, Nationals Leader Warren Truss, who is also the Shadow Transport Minister, doesn’t think Sydney needs a second airport, putting him in NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell’s camp. Should Mr Truss hold on to that portfolio in government, then it seems unlikely that Sydney will see a second airport while he and Mr O’Farrell control the levers of power.

The Federal Coalition also supports completing the construction of the Pacific Highway. The completion of this project is currently uncertain as the NSW government insists that funding continue to follow the 80%-20% split where the federal government contributes the majority of the funds, while the federal government is insisting that past 2014 all federal funding would only match state dollars. Mr Truss has mentioned he would consider the suggestion by NSW to transfer the $2.1bn earmarked for the the PERL towards the Pacific Highway, which would cover the shortfall. This again suggests an anti-rail bias by the federal Coalition.

EDIT: This post was written about a month ago, before the tragic events that led to the death of Thomas Kelly in Kings Cross. This event has set in motion a serious conversation about this topic, and I do intend to write about it when I get time. However, my life is currently quite busy (hence why I wrote a number of posts, such as this one, a while back to be published later), so it might have to wait a little while. Until then, this post provides some good background on the issues currently being discussed, without the hindsight that we all now have.

The City of Sydney has set its sights on improving its night time economy between now and 2030. This plan would see a doubling of the night time economy from $15 billion to $30 billion and an increase in the proportion of people over 40 from 6% to 40%. They’ve also produced a video about it:

This has kicked off some discussion about transport options late at night. Most public transport is provided during the peaks, and outside of the peak it is most frequent in the daytime between the peaks. To illustrate that point visually, take a look at the video below, which shows bus routes (for STA Sydney Buses only) in Sydney for 24 hours. From late evening there are a few buses running on the major roads, and after midnight there doesn’t seem to be more than 4 bus routes operating. Few private bus companies run 24 hour services, though that is starting to change. For example, the 610 bus between the CBD and Castle Hill in Sydney’s Northwest began 24 hour operations in December of 2011, though only for Friday and Saturday nights.

The rail network, which runs nightride buses after midnight, has also seen some improvements recently, adding 91 new services per week. This extended the network to Richmond and Carlingford on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. However, outside of those days, most nightride buses still run only at hourly frequencies and are often packed.

Nightride map

Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Cityrail)

One area that has been spoken of for improvement is taxis. Currently, a changeover time of 3AM means most taxis are unavailable at that time as they are changing drivers. This leads to a shortage of taxis between the hours of 2AM and 4AM, when public transport options are most limited. The solution appears to be issuing licenses with staggered changeover times, so that not all taxis go out of action simultaneously.