Archive for September, 2012

The Transport Master Plan has highlighted a number of corridors in which it will consider either better bus connections or light rail, and in light of that it is logical to look at both as part of a larger package.

While it is the role of the heavy rail network to do the heavy lifting in Sydney’s transport network (about half of all people in Sydney live within 2km of a train station), it is designed primarily as a radial network to get people to and from the CBD. So buses and light rail serve to connect people to transport interchanges (often, but not always, a train station) as well as to provide cross city links that do not start or end in the CBD. To do this, the bus network will be redesigned (page 136), from a radial network with the CBD at the centre, to a grid network based on high frequency and transfers (for an explanation on the benefits of a network based on transfer, click on the link to Jarrett Walker’s transport blog). While this is an improvement, it does not appear to be followed with integrated fares. In other words, it should cost the same to get from A to B, regardless of what mode of transport you choose and how many transfers you make, and it does not appear that this will be the case. Instead, you will be charged extra for being inconvenienced by a forced transfer.

A hypothetical “grid” network for the Inner City bus network. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Herald Independent Transport Inquiry, page 315.)

The other major network wide change related to buses in the Sydney CBD. Currently most buses operate on far side terminations, travelling into and through the CBD before terminating on the other end. This is an incredibly wasteful use of CBD road space, as it requires 2 buses to use the same road: one the is dropping passengers off and a second that is picking them up. To ensure a more efficient, and therefore faster trip, buses will either through route through the CBD or begin near side terminations (page 135). Metrobuses currently do through routing, passing through the CBD and then continuing out the other end, in effect halving the number of buses required to travel through the CBD and having the added benefit of providing a cross city connection for passengers starting and ending their journey outside of the CBD. Near side terminations will involve buses terminating at an interchange either outside the CBD or on the edge of the CBD where passengers will be change to a frequent (and also faster, due to less bus congestion) vehicle that will take them to their final destination within the CBD. That vehicle could be another bus, a light rail vehicle or a train, depending on specific circumstances.

As for specific projects, the Master Plan list out a number of corridors, which are listed below in rough order of priority. In the short term, improvements will be made to existing bus services, with a longer term view to putting in place Bus Rapid Transit or Light Rail.

Northern Beaches Bus Rapid Transit

An options paper has already been released in regards to the Northern Beaches, and here it has been decided to go with BRT, rather than light rail. What hasn’t yet been decided is what sort of upgrades are to be made. All options require an upgrade of the Spit and Narabeen Bridges to 6 lanes, and include:

  1. Making bus lanes 24 hours. Cost: $336m
  2. Segregated BRT on the kerb. Cost: $488m
  3. Segregated BRT on the median. Cost: $572m
  4. Segregated BRT on the median, but with buses terminating at North Sydney rather than in Sydney CBD. Cost: $552m
  5. Segregated BRT on the median, with a tunnel under Military Road connecting the Spit Junction with the Waringah Freeway. Cost: $1.2bn

The Treasurer, Mike Baird, who’s Pittwater electorate is located in the Northern Beaches, has said that he prefers the tunnel option.

The East-West link between Dee Why and Chatswood would upgrade the bus lanes to 24 hours and cost $77m.

Transport for NSW has shortlisted 6 options for building BRT for the Northern Beaches. The currently predicted alignment is shown on this map. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport Master Plan, page 153.)

Victoria Road Bus Rapid Transit or Light Rail

Further investigation will be made into whether BRT or light rail can be used on the Victoria Road corridor between Parramatta and the CBD. (See: Transport Master Plan, pages 151 and 185.)

Light Rail in the CBD and out to UNSW/Randwick

The government’s light rail feasibility study, which is completed, has not yet been released to the public, but details of it were included in the Transport Master Plan. It suggests a new line will be a North-South line linking Circular Quay in the North to the University of NSW/Prince of Wales Hospital in the South. Options for an alignment via Oxford Street have been rejected, probably in part because this would prevent the line from connecting Central Station to Circular Quay. Light rail to Barangaroo via The Rocks and out to the University of Sydney are of lower priority. Once it is operational, bus lines that previously went into the city would be re-routed to operate as feeder services for light rail.

What has not yet been determined is whether the line will run along the surface along Devonshire Street, or if it will be built in a tunnel underneath it. The tunnel option has been rumoured to cost $100m. A tunnel would allow a faster and more reliable trip. The speed is a key factor, as it also reduced the need for additional rolling stock and staff required, thus reducing operating costs, while the increased patronage will boost fares received. The lower costs and higher revenues would, in theory, repay the additional cost of the tunnel option over time.

The option is also left open to link the Anzac Parade and Alison Road alignments via High Street along UNSW. However, given the steep gradient of High Street, I’m not sure trams would be able to operate along that alignment.

A new light rail line is expected to run between Circular Quay, down George Street to Central, along Devonshire St to the SGC and Randwick Racecourse before going South on Anzac Parade to UNSW or East along Alison Road to the Prince of Wales Hospital. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport Master Plan, page 155.)

Longer term Bus Rapid Transit corridors: M2 and Windsor Road

Over the longer term, BRT will also be considered for the M2 between Seven Hills and Macquarie Park, as well as Windsor Road between Parramatta and Castle Hill. (See: Transport Master Plan, page 185.)

Parramatta Light Rail

The Parramatta City Council has been pushing for a light rail network centred around Parramatta, in part to compensate for the lack of a Parramatta to Epping Rail Link. The Transport Master Plan acknowledges this proposal, suggesting that it will consider the recommendations of any feasibility study that the Council is able to commission. (See: Transport Master Plan, page 189.)

CORRECTION: In the post Transport Master Plan (part 2): What’s missing? published on Friday 7 September, it was claimed that planning for reservations for future transport projects in the Transport Master Plan had only been done for road projects, and not for public transport projects. This was incorrect, and information on public transport corridor reservations was included further into the report. The error was due to the large size of the report (370 pages) and limited time available to read through it in detail and has now been corrected.


Before looking into what the Transport Master Plan has to say on roads, it’s worth giving some perspective on private cars vs public transport.

Roads, and the private motor vehicles that run on them, provide two major benefits over public transport. First, they are significantly more flexible in terms of timing and journey start and end points. Second, the majority of the cost is borne by the user (some costs, such as noise and air pollution, or the free use of roads, are communal costs, but these are actually quite small), whereas public transport is heavily subsidised (in Sydney the user pays 20% to 50% of the total operational costs, and none of the capital costs, of public transport).

The biggest benefit of public transport over private road transport is in capacity. Assuming cars travel spaced 2 seconds apart, you can fit 1,800 vehicles per hour per lane. Ignoring effects of delays from red lights and cars with multiple passengers, that’s 1,800 passengers per hour. A Waratah train has a seated capacity of 896 passengers, and the current maximum capacity on the Cityrail network is 20 trains per hour (which the Harbour Bridge and Eastern Suburbs Lines both get very close to during peak hour), giving you just under 18,000 passengers per hour. In other words, rail has a capacity 10 times the size of cars. To put this into context, the Sydney Harbour Bridge has 10 lanes: 2 for rail, 7 for cars and one bus lane. If you were to convert all of these 10 lanes to private vehicle traffic, then it would have the same capacity as a single track for rail.

This is not to say that there is no place for new roads in Sydney, in fact when a new road is financed and built privately, then funded via tolls in a user pays manner over an agreed period of years then the government should be building as many new roads as it can. But if the government has to fund the new road, then the question needs to be asked “will this cost one tenth of the cost of a rail line”? There was a great post about this at A State Of Mind, which talks more about this sort of concept.

The Transport Master Plan

Road projects announced in the Master Plan include the current M2 and M5 widenings, an M4 East, an M5 East duplication, an Inner West Bypass (linking the M4 East with the M5 East), an F3-M2 link, an extension of the F6 through to the CBD, a link between Port Botany and the Airport, widening of the M7 North of the M4, widening of the M4 East of Parramatta, the Castlereagh Freeway (between the M7 and Richmond) and an outer orbital going North-South along outer Western Sydney. By anyone’s reckoning, that is a big wishlist!

Road projects recommended by the Master Plan. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport Master Plan, page 140.)

What we don’t know yet is the priority and the specific order in which they will be built. The M2 and M5 widenings, currently being finished up or having just started, are obviously the first cabs off the rank. And based on the 6 corridors which are expected to face the most congestion, the other projects with high priority appear to be the M4 East, the M5 East duplication, the Inner West Bypass, and the M4 widening. This should all be clarified by Infrastructure NSW when their 20 year report is released to the public next month.

However, merely building more roads is not the solution. New roads cause induced demand – more people get into their cars until eventually roads are saturated and congestion returns. Doing this will not eliminate congestion, it will only move the congestion closer to the ultimate destination (i.e. the Sydney CBD), and cost tens of billions of dollars in the process. To quote the Herald, “$10 billion is an awful lot to pay for a bigger traffic jam”.

To avoid this problem, cities like London, Copenhagen and Singapore have introduced congestion charging in their CBDs to discourage people from driving all the way into the city. And while the current government has refused to introduce congestion charging (having promised last election not to do so), they are considering 3 potential reforms that could have a similar effect:

  1. Distance based tolling – This is currently in place on the M7, where you pay based on the distance travelled, and is capped at $7 per trip.
  2. Time based tolling – This is currently in place on the Harbour Bridge/Tunnel, where you pay a lower toll during off peak hours in order to encourage a more even spread of car travel throughout the day.
  3. An increased parking levy – This is an existing charge on each parking space in the CBD, charged to the owner of the property that owns the space, and may be increased.

In all three cases, commuters would be discouraged from driving into and parking in the CBD during peak hour. Those who do would pay extra but receive a better travel experience with less traffic and more abundant parking, while the funds raised would go towards funding transport infrastructure. The report recommends using tolls to both fund new infrastructure and manage congestion, while reforming the tolling system to give Sydney a city-wide consistency (page 329).

If the government actually does implement these policies in order to fund the new roads that are financed, built and operated by the private sector, then they might actually achieve the goal of alleviating congestion without significant cost to the taxpayer. And if that is the case, then these are definitely roads that the state should build.

There are many things missing from the Draft Transport Master Plan. While defining it by what it doesn’t have, rather than what it does, would result in a never ending list, there are some major omissions that deserve some specific mention. They are, in no particular order:

Integrated fares

While integrated ticketing is being introduced with the rollout of Opal, allowing commuters to use just one ticket to get around Sydney, there is nothing in the transport plan suggesting that they will be charged an equal fare regardless of which (or how many) mode (or modes) of transport they use to reach their destination. In other words, if you are going from point A to point B, then it shouldn’t matter which way you get there, you should be charged the same fare.

At the moment Sydney does not have integrated fares. In fact, if you use 2 vehicles (unless it’s trains or you have a weekly MyZone ticket) then you are charged a premium fare despite the fact that having to make a transfer is a reduction in the quality of your journey. This has led to many anywhere to anywhere bus routes all over Sydney, as commuters refuse to pay extra to change from one bus to another, resulting in the available buses being spread thin and leading to low service frequencies.

Sydney currently has a radial bus network, as seen on the left. Proposed changes to a radial and circumferential network that emphasises transfers, as seen on the right, would improve connectivity but also require integrated fares. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport Master Plan, page 55.)

The transport plan seeks to change this model, moving to a grid (or cobweb) style network that requires transfers, but provides both frequency and connectivity. However, to work effectively, integrated fares are required to ensure that commuters are no worse off for having to transfer. This currently does not appear to be in the plan.

The Parramatta to Epping Rail Link
The O’Farrell government went to the 2011 election promising to prioritise the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) ahead of the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL). Initially, this meant deferring the PERL until 2036, with a NWRL completed in 2019 and a Second Harbour Crossing completed some time in between. But when the Sydney’s Rail Futures plan was completed in the middle of this year it was missing any mention of the PERL, the first indication that this project had been dropped altogether.

Forward planning (unless it’s roads)

The Master Plan lists 3 new freeways that it would like built (an M4 East, an M5 East duplication, and an F3 to M2 link) plus another 3 new freeways for consideration beyond the 20 year scope of the plan (an F6 linking Waterfall to the airport, an Inner West Bypass between the M4 East and M5 East, and a freeway linking the M4 East to the M2). It then also recommends that the government begin planning reserving land in outer suburban areas so that freeways can be built there many decades into the future. This is fantastic forward planning, and should be commended as it will avoid huge tunneling costs in the future that we are contemplating today.

The transport plan has recommended reserving corridors for future roads, but does not include a similar recommendation for reserving corridors for future rail lines. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport Master Plan, page 140.)

And yet when it comes to public transport, no such recommendations are made. Where is the action on reserving land for future rail lines, light rail corridors, bus rapid transit, etc? This included in the 20 year rail plan, so why is it missing from the transport plan? Why has it been removed?

It’s hard to imagine a transport plan since the height of the automobiles golden age back in the 1950s that has felt so biased towards roads and away from public transport. Previous plans have ended up seeing more roads built than public transport, but at least they made an effort at planning for public transport before abandoning those plans. This one just skips that step entirely!

UPDATE (9 September 2012): Some further reading reveals that planning has been included for reserving corridors for both roads and public transport. The following diagram illustrates the locations of the corridors. The report, at 370 pages, was quite long and limited time meant I was unable to go through it in as much detail in the days following its release and I unfortunately missed this.

Transport corridors, both road and public transport, that are being investigated or reserved for future transport infrastructure projects. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport Master Plan, page 197.)

Funding and costings

There are some details on this, but it tends to be broad statements with some token details around the edges. For example, costings for individual projects are not included, although a figure of $100 billion over the next 20 years has been mentioned in the media. If this is accurate, then it is actually within the scope of the existing transport capital expenditure budget, which is equal to $25 billion over the next 4 years (Transport Master Plan, page 323), or roughly $125 billion over the next 20 years with some simple estimation.

The report has some interesting ideas. These include: increasing parking levies inside activity centres to discourage car use while funding public transport, reforming car registration to take into account road use (code for km based fees, rather than a flat fee regardless of how much you use the road), reforming public transport agencies (e.g. the creation of Transport for NSW, franchising Sydney Ferries, and splitting Railcorp into Sydney Trains and NSW Trains), allowing more commercial sites into existing transport interchanges, and capturing value created from transport investment. The last one is probably the one with the greatest scope to raise additional revenues, and one that I have written about previously.

However, other than these few points (not many for a plan this big), details on funding and costing remain general in nature and are lacking in specific details, examples or case studies much beyond saying “we will investigate this further”.

Light rail to Sydney University or to Barangaroo

Although the government has not decided what it will do with the results of the Light Rail Feasibility Study yet, the study has been completed, and this is evident by inclusion of details of light rail in the Master Plan. It suggests light rail for George Street in the CBD and a line on or under Devonshire St that then goes along Anzac Parade to UNSW. But gone is any mention of light rail to the University of Sydney or, more importantly, to Barangaroo. It is true that Barangaroo will have a new walkway to connect it quickly with Wynyard Station, and that it will sport a new ferry wharf. But it will be intriguing to see why the decision has been made to not extend the light rail line through to Barangaroo via The Rocks.

Bus priority

This has been talked about ever since the Unsworth Review into buses back in 2004. With most buses now equiped with GPS tracking teachnology, it is possible to work out when a aprticular bus is running late. In order to get that bus back on time, priority can be given to it at traffic lights, giving that bus a green light earlier than would normally happen. To ensure buses don’t run earlier than the timetable, this would only happen when a bus is late. This would be a huge improvement in reliability for Sydney’s bus network, and it’s unfortunate to see that little progress has been made in the last decade on implementing this.

Congestion charging

This has been ruled out by the government, despite such measures having worked well in places like London or Singapore. The idea behind it is that by charging road users a premium to use CBD roads during peak hours it will encourage some car users to travel at other times or to take public transport, thus giving those who do pay a faster trip with less traffic. It would also help to fund public transport. Instead, we have a situation where it is free to use surface streets which causes noise and pollution as well as danger for pedestrians (remember that 93% of CBD trips are on foot). Meanwhile, if you want to use the Eastern Distributor or Cross City Tunnel, you are charged. It really should be the other way around.

However, the government is looking at raising the parking levy, a tax on parking spaces in the city (I think it only applies to off-street parking). This would be a bit like a congestion charge, but would only discourage trips by people travelling into the CBD, while doing nothing to discourage trips through the CBD. And it is the latter that should be discouraged the most, as it congestion caused by people who aren’t even going into the CBD.

A second Sydney airport

The Premier Barry O’Farrell has made a strong stand on this. He doesn’t want a second airport in Sydney, and is not planning for one. This is a bit like when the Wran Government sold off land intended for the M4 East in an attempt to prevent the construction of that freeway. And while this seems to have delayed its construction, now we find ourselves with a government looking to pay $10-$15 billion to build that freeway in an underground tunnel instead, which has the effect of sucking funds away from public transport projects. Similarly, not planning for a second airport will not remove the need for one, it will only increase the problems and costs of one when it is eventually built.

Project priority and a timetable for completion

Some idea of priority is given in terms of whether a project is short term (0-5 years), medium term (5-10 years) or long term (10-20 years) in nature. But this is quite vague, and only applies to some projects. Road projects in particular, have no sense of priority at all, and await Infrastructure NSW’s report before some idea of which order they will be built in will happen.

The NSW Transport Master Plan was released yesterday, and at 370 pages it is a very long document. It’s going to take me a little while to get through it, so I’m going to periodically post bits and pieces of it over the coming days as I digest it. So today it’s just a quick overview and links to some media reports. Make sure to come back later for more, or follow me on Twitter.

Problems and solutions

The Master Plan works by identifying which transport corridors are going to see high levels of congestion by 2031, assuming nothing is done today. These are the problems. It then considers what mode of transport provides the best way of relieving that congestion. This is the solution. It also takes a big picture view of the transport network as a unified network, and sees what improvements can be made to help it run more smoothly as a whole system, rather than just lots of little transport routes operating independently of each other.

Identifying the problems first, then seeing which are the most suitable solutions to them is the right approach. I wrote earlier about how enthusiasm for a particular type of mode or technology can result in these two steps becoming inverted, and this is an example of where that is not being done.

What are the problems?

Six transport corridors are projected to have high constraints if nothing is done between now and 2031;

  1. Rouse Hill to Macquarie Park
  2. Northern Beaches to CBD
  3. Parramatta to CBD via Victoria Road
  4. Parramatta to CBD via Parramatta Road
  5. Liverpool to Airport
  6. Airport to CBD

These 6 corridors are seen in dark blue in the map below:

Sydney’s major transport corridors. Those in dark blue are expected to experience the highest levels of congestion by 2031 if nothing is done about it. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Draft Transport Master Plan, page 84)

What are the solutions?

In order to alleviate congestion along these corridors, a number of actions have been recommended. These have been placed into short term (0-5 years), medium term (5-10 years) and long term (10-20 years) periods. Most of these actions involve the construction of new transport links, rail, bus and road. In the case of the road projects, their priority will be determined by Infrastructure NSW’s report, to be handed down next month. I will discuss these in more detail in a later post.

Much media criticism has been based on a lack of a timetable and costing/funding that accompanied this report, and while the latter is certainly true, a rough timetable has been provided through the breaking down of proposed infrastructure projects into short, medium and long term.

The 6 most constrained corridors, and what Transport for NSW recommends be done to deal with it. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Draft Transport Master Plan, page 148)

These are not the only planned projects. The Master Plan also includes potential upgrades, enhancements and extensions of a number of other transport corridors. Below is a map of the existing major transport corridors, those new transport corridors that have been committed to, and other potential new transport corridors or upgrades to existing ones.

Current and proposed major transport corridors in Sydney. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Draft Transport Master Plan, page 93)

What happens next?

The next major cab off the rank is the Infrastructure NSW report, due next month. It will recommend which projects should go ahead (the road projects in particular) and how they are to be funded. Infrastructure NSW and Transport for NSW have competing views on what Sydney should be building: the former believes it should be roads while the latter thinks it should be rail. How this pans out will be interesting to watch.

Media reports

There’s lots floating around in the media. Below is a selection. The Telegraph, Channel Seven and Channel Nine reports are all quite pro-road, in some cases almost ignoring the role that public transport plays. Channel Ten was the only television report to actually speak to an expert who wasn’t a lobbyist or politician and, along with the Herald articles, is probably the best place to go for more details. The 2GB piece is an interview with the Telegraph State Political Editor, Andrew Clennell, which is also worth listening to, if heavily opinionated.

Print media reports

Transport plan to ease six of the worst, Sydney Morning Herald

Transport plan long on hope, light on detail, Sydney Morning Herald

O’Farrell plans a way out of paying for a solution, Sydney Morning Herald

All roads lead to more frustration, Daily Telegraph

Too many concepts amount to no idea, Daily Telegraph

O’Farrell’s action plan takes us nowhere fast, Daily Telegraph

Greiner tells powers that be not to sit on their assets, Daily Telegraph

Radio media reports

Congested Sydney gets transport master plan, ABC Radio National

Fixing Sydney’s transport system, 2UE

State announces grand plan for public transport, 2GB

Television media reports

A story by Nine News on Sunday reports that the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) will result in longer trips into the city for some commuters. In particular, it singles out Baulkham Hills, which will see journey lengths increase by 20 minutes. This is because bus services into the city will cease once the NWRL is completed, instead becoming feeder routes that direct commuters to the new rail line. In the case of Baulkham Hills, this means catching a bus away from the city in order to catch a train into the city, resulting in the 20 minute delay quoted.

When taken in isolation, this seems highly illogical. It’s a step backwards, and an expensive one at that considering the $8.5bn price tag of the NWRL. But a bit of digging deeper, and some looking at the bigger picture, shows that there’s more to it than what was reported in the story.

SIDENOTE: Ordinarily, a lot of transport enthusiasts tend to actually be a technology enthusiast (light rail and bicycles in particular) who will push their preferred mode of transport, regardless of whether it is appropriate or not. I have previously said that BRT or light rail could be a sufficient solution to the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link corridor (here and here), given that heavy rail appears to have dropped off the radar. In this case, I am going to do the opposite: argue that buses are not enough, and that this transport corridor really does require rail. Jarrett Walker wrote an excellent piece on modal bias, which I encourage you to read if you want to know more about this concept.

North West Rail Link Map

Map of the Northwest Rail Link. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source:

Firstly, direct buses into the city are planned to be scrapped. Transport for NSW announced in December 2011 that this would remove almost 160 buses from the CBD each morning peak. The CBD is already so heavily congested with buses so slow that it is literally faster to get out and walk. Population growth over the next decade means this problem will only get worse. Back in 2009, when I used to live in Northwest Sydney and get the M2 bus into the city, it wasn’t uncommon to spend 10 minutes waiting for the bus to get from the Southern end of the Harbour Bridge to the bus stop at Wynyard before you could get off. This is an important point, and one I will return to.

The other major problem with the story is that it appears to have gone out looking for a route from a specific origin to a specific destination, that would result in the biggest disruption. A different trip could have shown a significant time saving. Not only that, but it is also very CBD centric, and while half of all NWRL trips have the CBD as a destination, the other half do not. Many commuters will be getting off before North Sydney, at Macquarie Park, St Leonards, or even go in the other direction towards Norwest Business Park. For example, a one way Rouse Hill to St Leonards journey would be cut from 87 minutes down to 45 minutes. This is because for most non-CBD trips, the NWRL will provide a much better connection than buses currently do.

Ultimately, it all boils down to the one major benefit that rail has over buses: capacity. While frequency and speed may indeed be better for commuters if they are served by buses rather than rail, at some point buses can only take so much capacity before the entire system becomes so congested that travel times skyrocket and delays become regular occurences. This point has already been reached, which is why the NWRL is needed. And if the NWRL isn’t built, then the delays caused by bus traffic congestion will mean that for those few routes that are predicted to have “faster bus trips”, it will never happen anyway.

If you needed any proof that the Transport Masterplan is about to be released, then it’s that key parts of it have begun to be leaked to the media. The newest details focus on the role that new roads will play Sydney’s future.

The O’Farrell government went to the last elections promising to build either the M4 East, M5 East, or M2-F3 link. its decision would be based on a report they commissioned with Infrastructure NSW that is set to be finalised in the next month. Importantly, the government only planned to build one of the three. However, the new Transport Masterplan is said to not only include all 3 of these freeways, but an additional freeway: the M6 to link Waterfall in Sydney’s South to the CBD by linking up to the M5 East near the Airport, with an estimated price tag of $10 billion.

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: Transport for NSW Submission to Infrastructure Australia, August 2010)

Meanwhile, the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link has been dropped, but no additional heavy rail line (such as a Northern Beaches Line, or a rail line following a Parramatta Road, Victoria Road or Anzac Parade alignment) has been proposed in its place. In effect, the plan appears to be recommending more roads be built than was previously planned, while building fewer rail lines than was previously planned.

Action for Public Transport

Action for Transport plan from 1998. New roads are fluoro green, while new rail lines are red. The pink lines are bus T-Ways. (Source: NSW Government)

Compare this to the Carr Government’s 1998 Action for Transport plan, which proposed 5 new freeways (Eastern Distributor, M7, M2, Lane Cove Tunnel, Cross City Tunnel) and 8 heavy rail lines (Parramatta to Chatswood, Bondi Beach extension, Northwest, Airport, Strathfield to Hurstville, Glenfield Y-Link, Central Coast fast rail, Wollongong fast rail). While all 5 roads were built, only 1.5 of the rail lines were built: the Airport Line, and the Epping to Chatswood portion of the proposed Parramatta to Chatswood Line.

In both cases, rail underachieved in comparison to what was planned, while roads either met expectations (in the 1998 plan) or look to exceed expectations (in the current plan). Then again, this is all based on speculation from leaks of a report that is due to be released very shortly, so perhaps it’s better to reserve judgement until it’s made public.

The first draft of the NSW Transport Masterplan is now two months overdue. Additionally, the Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian said at this week’s Community Cabinet in Bondi Junction that the light rail feasibility study has been completed and is being considered by the cabinet. Despite this, neither has been released to the public yet. In both cases there are rumours that the release of both is imminent. Channel Nine reports that the Transport Masterplan will be released next week (it’s the last few seconds of the video), while Councillor Geoff Stevenson, an ALP member of Randwick Council, says an announcement on light rail should happen soon (see below)

But why the delay? That hasn’t been explained anywhere, but my money is on the conflict between Transport for NSW and Infrastructure NSW. The former wants more public money spent on public transport, while the latter wants more of that money spent on roads. It’s the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) vs the M4 East, two projects that won’t give you much change out of $10 billion. This conflict goes all the way up to the top, with Ms Berejiklian pushing for the NWRL, while both the Chairman and CEO of Infrastructure NSW, Nick Greiner and Paul Broad respectively, pushing for the M4 East as well as privatisations and additional tolls to fund it. At this point, it would appear that Ms Berejiklian has the Premier Barry O’Farrell’s approval, and word has it that Mr Broad is considering his future in Infrastructure NSW once its 20 year strategy is finalised in October.

Until this fight is concluded, it would appear the government would rather it occur behind closed doors, rather than out in the public arena. Therefore the public release of these transport plans has become collateral damage in the road vs rail debate.