Second Northwest Rail Link Environmental Impact Study completed

Posted: October 31, 2012 in Transport
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The completed second Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) was released yesterday, and it has some further details on the project.

The Northwest Rail Link will include a new railway from Epping to Rouse Hill (green), plus a retrofitted Epping to Chatswood Line (blue). Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NWRL EIS – Introduction, page 1-3.)

NWRL Details

The new rail line is expected to remove 14 million cars off the road each year in 2021, rising to 20 million by 2036. This 14 million cars figure compares to an earlier figure of 9 million new passengers per year in 2021, prepared by NSW Treasury in July of last year, which suggests that the patronage forecast has been increased following the addition of 2 more stations to the line (Bella Vista and Cudgegong Road) and from higher frequency, higher speed services provided by single deck compared to double deck trains.

The estimated completion date remains 2019, with tunneling to begin in 2014, then trackwork and station construction to occur between 2016 and 2018.

Construction timeline. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NWRL Environmental Impact Statement – Executive Summary, page 8.)

The new line will commence from the existing stub tunnels at Epping that were designed as the beginning of the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL). New stub tunnels will be built on the new line to allow for a future PERL to still be built as originally planned. This means that a future PERL will also be a single deck metro system.

No specific operating times are given, other than “early morning until late at night”, which suggests similar operating hours as the existing Cityrail network, rather than a 24/7 operation. The trains themselves are listed as having a capacity of 1,300 passengers (presumably including standing passengers), compared to the existing double deck train “crush” capacity of approximately 1,200.

The line will see an increase in maximum speeds, from the existing 80km/hour to 100km/hour, and have frequencies of 12 trains per hour during the peak and 6 trains per hour at other times, with the potential to increase frequencies to 20 trains per hour if demanded. Commuters continuing past Chatswood will need to change there for a connecting train, with peak hour frequencies increased to 20 trains an hour on the North Shore line. This means that during peak hour there will be a train every 5 minutes on the NWRL, and every 3 minutes on the North Shore Line.

Artist’s impression of the new Kellyville Station. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NWRL EIS – Chapter 6, p. 6-53)

4,000 new park and ride spaces will be built on selected stations, while all stations on the line (including the existing Epping to Chatswood portion) will have kiss and ride, bike storage, taxi ranks and bus interchanges. Once completed, the bus network will be redesigned to have shorter distance but frequent feeder buses into the new rail line rather than long distance buses connecting directly to the CBD or North Sydney. This had already been announced previously, and no additional specific details are available are included on what the bus network changes will be.

The new line also includes a stabling yard on the Cudgegong Road end of the line.

Unanswered Questions

The new single deck metro line from Chatswood to Rouse Hill will require a conversion of the existing line between Chatswood and Epping to be compatible with the new rolling stock. Yet missing from the EIS (or hidden away in a hard to find place) is any mention of a timetable for when this will happen. The line will presumably have to be shut down while this occurs, and this would likely happen right before the full line opens, causing a not insignificant level of disruption. So the question remains: how long will the Epping to Chatswood Line be closed?

The EIS also contains information on peak hour frequencies on the North Shore Line of 20 trains per hour. This had already been hinted at, so it is a confirmation of an open secret rather than new information. What is missing is details of what sort of off peak frequencies will exist on the North Shore Line, and how they will be organised to interface with the 6 trains per hour on the NWRL that start and end at Chatswood.

Additionally, what will happen on the Northern Line? It only has 1 track pair, yet operates both local (all stops) and express services. The inability of the express services to overtake the local services means the capacity is capped at 8 trains per hour (4 local, 4 express). In order to increase this, either the express trains must be scrapped or the tracks must be quadruplicated to allow express trains to overtake local trains. The latter is preferable, though will incur a price tag of hundreds of millions of dollars, given that the Northern Line currently shares the title of highest level of overcrowding (average passenger levels equal to 150% of seats, above the recommended maximum “crush capacity” of 135%) with the Bankstown Line. Recent reports in the Herald suggest that this option is being considered by Transport for NSW, and this was further reinforced by comments made at recent Budget Estimates hearings where it was argued that these, and other costs, have already been budgeted for.

The maximum frequency for the NWRL is quoted as being 20 trains per hour, and not 28 or 30 trains per hour as had been previously suggested in media reports. One of the purported benefits of single deck over double deck trains was the higher frequencies possible given the shorter dwell times and higher acceleration/deceleration rates of single deck trains. In fact, the Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian has even pointed out that improved signaling technology is expected to raise the frequency of double deck trains to 24 trains per hour.

Finally, there is still no answer to the question of whether the NWRL will be a driverless system. The government’s line thus far is that they “are planning for the trains on this important rail link to have drivers”. This new phrase: “no plans” has become the new weasel word, as Sean Nichol’s explained so well in last weekend’s Herald. That is not to say that driverless trains are a bad thing, quite the contrary. But the government knows that it would face a backlash from the union were it to publically declare it was seriously considering the option. And rather than have to wait a long 7 years to demonstrate the benefits of a driverless metro, it seems to have chosen to hold off until as late into the process as it can in order to minimise union clashes.

Media reports

Bus services to go when rail link opens, Sydney Morning Herald

New rail line to slash car trips, Daily Telegraph

Noise annoys along North West Rail Link link, Daily Telegraph

North West Rail Link: Have your say, Northern District Times

North West rail station designs released, Hills Shire Times

  1. Peter Isaacs says:

    Why does the Epping Chatwood section need any changes? To accomodate 1300 passengers, 100 more than double deck stock, the “metro” cars will need to be the same width as current wide bodied stock. There is no reason that the platform height cannot be the same and any worry about collecting traction current can easily be handled by a longer travel pantograph just as it was on our original single deck stock. So what I am saying is it is quite easy to design the stock to fit the existing line. As for the Northern line, ARTC will soon (and likely before the newly planned Metro) provide a 3rd track between Epping and Thornleigh. Some funding from the state could easily see it extended to Hornsby. Bi direction signalling will allow extra peak direction expresses. So all will be well except that many of the patrons on the new metro will be expected to STAND in order to obtain the loading figures quoted.

  2. Bi-directional use of the Northern Sydney Freight Line could certainly provide the required capacity boost. However it still doesn’t explain why this is missing from either the NWRL or Sydney Rail Futures documents.

    Perhaps the ECRL modifications are because the NWRL tunnels will be narrower and thus have lower overhead wires, requiring the overhead wires in the ECRL to be lowered also. Or perhaps it could be to allow for driverless trains. Though I can’t say I find either of those theories convincing, so the question remains out there.

  3. cudchewer says:

    I wonder what they are doing with the NWRL to get higher speeds. If so, where does this leave the ECRL with top speeds (I think) of 80Km/hr? (The ECRL *feels* slow to travel on it).

    I went looking for how the physical characteristics of tunnels affects designed speed and came up with blank.. is this a black art?

    Give a Rouse Hill to Chatswood time of 37 minutes, doesn’t this mean a total journey time to Town Hall of just over an hour? So, better than a car in peak periods, but worse at other times. For me the planners are still flirting with the upper threshold of what people will put up with when confined to a train.

    Which takes me back to the original question. Are there design parameters that relate physical tunnel characteristics to speed? If so, what would it have taken to get the peak speed up to 120Km/hr and thus take 10 or more minutes off the journey?

    I’d always hoped that the NWRL would be a shining example of how to wean people off cars. But speed does matter.

    I’m also worried that they’ve underestimated the need for car parking.

  4. cudchewer says:

    And from this article..

    “The statement also says Transport for NSW expects trains to reach up to 130km/h on the line, running between Rouse Hill and Chatswood. Trains on the existing Epping to Chatswood line, which will become part of the new north-west rail link public-private partnership, have a present speed limit of 80km/h. When the new line opens, Transport for NSW plans to lift that to 100 km/h.”

    Now I’m completely confuzzled :/

  5. Joni says:

    Most people on the Northern Line use the train to get to Macquarie Park, Mac Uni, North Ryde, Chatswood, North Sydney and Wynyard so they will all need to change at Epping – the worst ever place to try and change trains with several banks of steep, extensive escalators (and then again at Chatswood if needed). They paid and sacrificed a lot to make a conscious decision to live on a direct route close to work and the anger out here is the worst I’ve ever seen. Many people that use the trains who are not working are elderly and not as mobile or have no licence due to advanced age or are parents of small children.How is this progress???

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