Archive for December, 2012

Happy 2013

Posted: December 31, 2012 in Personal
Tags:

I’m spending Christmas and New Year with family, so apologies for the lack of posts during this time. Instead, here’s some stats about Transport Sydney over the past 12 months. Many thanks to all those who visited this site in the past year, especially to those who commented on and shared posts.

See you all in 2013, in which hopefully we will see a continued rollout of Opal to the Manly ferries and City Circle trains, the completion of the Kingsgrove to Revesby quadruplication, and a major revamp of the Cityrail timetable!

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 41,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 9 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

Advertisements

It didn’t take long after the closure of the monorail was announced for someone to suggest that it be converted into an elevated walkway, using New York’s High Line as an example. While this initially sounds like a good idea on paper, it soon becomes clear that it would not be workable, and the 1m wide beam should definitely not be compared to the 6m wide High Line in New York. (Alan Davies explains why in more detail over at The Urbanist.)

A more recent proposal which received government approval last month, but seemingly less media coverage or public interest, was the conversion of a portion of the former Goods Line at Ultimo into a public space. It too has been dubbed as Sydney’s version of the High Line. Importantly, this proposal represents both a destination as well as a means of getting from one place to another (New York’s High Line is mainly the former, while the monorail proposal was entirely the latter). It is this combination of factors that Jesse Adams Stein, blogging as Penultimo, argues will make The Goods Line superior to the High Line, and I think that hits the nail on the head.

The Goods Line artists impression

Artists impression of The Goods Line. (Source: ASPECT Studios.)

I was in New York earlier this year and visited the High Line on two occasions. It’s a great piece of public space, a former elevated rail line converted into a public park and walkway. But it doesn’t take you anywhere you want to go, it’s just a destination. So by the time you finish walking to one end, it’s time to turn around and go back the way you came. The Goods Line, on the other hand, will connect up to the Devonshire St Tunnel, allowing a pedestrian to walk North from Central Station at Chalmers St all the way to the Powerhouse Museum unimpeded.

High Line 1/2

The New York High Line. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author.)

High Line 2/2

The New York High Line. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author.)

Sydney’s CBD actually has a fairly good collection of pedestrian links at the moment, and is adding to them. A collection of major ones that currently exist or are planned are shown in the map below (blue are underground tunnels, green are pedestrianised surface spaces).

CBD pedestrian spaces

Pedestrian spaces in the Sydney CBD. Blue are underground tunnels, green are surface spaces. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author created on Google Earth.)

Right now, a pedestrian across the road from the George St Cinemas can take an underground passage to Town Hall Station, through the QVB, across to Myer and come out the other end at Pitt St Mall. All of this without having to worry about vehicle traffic or the elements up on the surface. Continuing North for two blocks past the pedestrianised Martin Place is the Eastern entrance to Hunter Connection, which will take you to Wynyard Station, where another underground tunnel (soon to be the upgraded Wynyard Walk) takes you through to Barangaroo. By the end of this decade, a large chunk of George St will also be pedestrianised, and one of the features of the redeveloped Darling Harbour will be a pedestrian boulevard running North to South.

When it comes to transport, we are all pedestrians at the most basic level. So it’s good to see a bigger emphasis being placed on creating good quality public spaces that prioritise people above vehicles.

The government released the final version of its Transport Masterplan earlier today, along with the light rail feasibility study (Sydney’s Light Rail Future), in which it announced its final decision on some key transport projects. The uncertainty stemmed from differing reports handed down by both Transport for NSW (the Transport Masterplan) and Infrastructure NSW (First Things First), which the government had to reconcile. Where both reports agreed, the recommendations were adopted, and where they conflicted, Transport for NSW got the final say every time. As a result, a 2nd Harbour Crossing will be happening, the CBD bus tunnel has been rejected, light rail will be built all the way from Circular Quay to Randwick (rather than a truncated version from Central to Randwick), and a second Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek was rejected. I think the last one was the wrong call, but it’s more of an issue for the federal government, so it’s not too concerning.

CBD light rail route

The proposed CBD portion of the light rail line. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Sydney Light Rail Futures, page 14.)

The most high profile debate was between light rail on George St or a bus tunnel through the CBD. While I didn’t agree with everything in the Infrastructure NSW Report, one thing I did appreciate about it was how it prioritised the projects with lower cost to the taxpayer, thus ensuring that more of them could be built. It did this through user pays tollways, finding ways to get more out of the existing infrastructure, looking for ways of obtaining the same outcome for a lower cost, etc. It was therefore quite strange to see this report endorsing the bus tunnel option, which cost $2bn, over light rail through the CBD, the George St portion of which cost $500m. The reason for this appears to be that Infrastructure NSW set out with the goal of finding out how to make sure light rail didn’t happen, rather than finding the best way of maximising mobility for the greatest number of people. As a result, it ended up with this bizarre recommendation.

Transport for NSW tears the bus tunnel to shreds:

It would not be feasible to build an underground tunnel between Wynyard and Town Hall due to existing building basements and tunnels. In addition, ventilation, access and safety are significant viability issues.

To provide the necessary bus capacity, the bus tunnel would need to be four lanes wide and provide wide platforms. This is likely to be physically unfeasible and economically unviable.

Infrastructure NSW has estimated it would cost $2 billion to build a tunnel in the CBD. The city component of the CBD and South East Light Rail project is a quarter of the cost – about $500 million – and will deliver significantly greater benefits for Sydney.

Building connections to the Cross City Tunnel and Sydney Harbour Bridge, redeveloping two major train stations and building a new bus tunnel will present a number of untested construction impacts on the CBD. Building new bus stations would have an impact on the operation of Town Hall and Wynyard Stations, affecting the journey of approximately 140,000 passengers every weekday. – Transport for NSW (13 Dec, 2012), Sydney’s Light Rail Future (page 26)

Ultimately the debate within cabinet appeared to boil down to 2 things: cost and disruption. The cost, at $500m, was not insignificant, but much cheaper than the alternative of the bus tunnel, and though doing nothing would have been cheaper, it was probably not seen as a viable option. Cabinet was also concerned about disruption to the CBD right around the next election in 2015, so work will instead begin on the Randwick to Central Station portion, before starting on the George St portion later on.

Randwick light rail

The currently proposed route for light rail from Circular Quay to Randwick and Kingsford. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Sydney’s Light Rail Future, page 15.)

All up, the new light rail line will cost $1.6bn in total to build, and will not open until 2019 or 2020 when the entire line is completed. When it does, it will be accompanied by a restructure of many of the bus routes through the city. The current bus routes is a spaghetti map of confusing and cris-crossing lines through the CBD. This will change, with buses to travel along one of 4 major corridors: 3 North-South corridors (Elizabeth St, Clarence St/York St, and Sussex St) plus one East-West corridor (Park St/Druitt St). This will allow for a simpler network that relies on high frequencies and interchanges by commuters. Integrated fares are an essential reform required to make sure that this works, allowing commuters to pay the same to get from A to B, regardless of how they get there, rather than the current situation where they are penalised financially for the inconvenience of having to make an interchange. Word is that cabinet will make a decision on fares in the new year, and this simple decision could possibly be the most important one that it makes in regards to transport.

CBD bus routes

Once light rail is operating in the Sydney CBD, buses will be rerouted to one of 4 corridors. This will simplify the existing network, ensuring high frequencies and an easy to understand network for commuters. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Sydney’s Light Rail Future, page 17.)

The report also talks about considering further light rail in the longer term (10 to 20 years or further into the future). These include Victoria Rd, Parramatta Rd, an extension South to Maroubra or Malabar from Kingsford along Anzac Parade, an extension to Barangaroo from Circular Quay along Walsh Bay, and Parramatta Council’s Western Sydney light rail. The draft Transport Masterplan suggests the highest priority will go to light rail on Victoria Rd (though it might potentially end up as Bus Rapid Transit), though I’d give the Western Sydney light rail proposal a wild card chance of happening, particularly if it utilises the Carlingford Line to connect Parramatta to Macquarie Park.

The idea for a Parramatta to Chatswood rail link dates back to the days of Dr John Bradfield almost 100 years ago when he recommended building a line from St Leonards to Eastwood as part of his rail expansion program. While Dr Bradfield did see the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, completion of the underground CBD subway, and electrification of much of the network, much of the rest of his plans were shelved due to the onset of the Great Depression, followed shortly by the Second World War, and then the car and freeway boom of the post-war era.

It was not until the Carr government’s Action for Transport plan in 1998 when s plan to build a rail line between  Parramatta and Chatswood was seriously raised once more. The line would go from Westmead to St Leonards, using an upgraded Carlingford Line and then a tunnel between Carlingford and Chatswood. One of the major benefits of the new line would be that it would allow residents of Western Sydney to access the Lower North Shore without having to build an expensive second Harbour Crossing. In effect, it was a second Harbour Crossing, but it crossed the Harbour near Parramatta, where deep tunnels or long bridges would not be needed.

Parramatta to Chatswood Rail Link

The Parramatta to Chatswood Rail Link was originally to go from Westmead to St Leonards. Only the Eastern portion, between Epping and Chatswood, was actually constructed in 2009, leaving the Western portion unbuilt. (Source: Historical NSW Railway Timetables)

Overall, the 1998 plan was, like the more recent metro plan from 2007, to be funded by the sale of NSW’s electricity assets. When this sale was blocked by the ruling Labor Party’s state conference, many of the planned infrastructure projects were shelved with it (though not the road projects, as these were to be funded via private tolls, and were not reliant on government funding).

UPDATE: The M5 East was completed despite being funded by the government, rather than tolls. As construction on this had already started in 1998, it may have been too late to abandon it once the planned privatisations were blocked.

The Parramatta to Chatswood line was not entirely abandoned, but it was truncated to the Epping to Chatswood Rail Link, with the unbuilt portion: the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL) having been deemed to not provide sufficient patronage to justify its construction. Additionally, opposition from local residents and environmental groups meant the alignment was re-routed deeper underground so as to bypass parts of a national park. This resulted in delays, a blowout in construction costs, and the abandonment of a previously planned train station at the UTS Kuringai campus.

Parramatta to Chatswood alignments

The original Southern alignment included a station at UTS Kuringai, which was later abandoned when the deeper Northern alignment was chosen. The Dehli Road Station was retained, but moved closer to Macquarie Park. (Source: Action for Transport, NSW Government, 1998, page 18.)

By the time this new line had been completed in 2009, the state government had announced plans to build a new metro out to Rouse Hill in Northwest Sydney, then truncated it to Rozelle in Sydney’s Inner West (due to the ALP conference again preventing the sale of electricity assets which were to fund it), and would soon abandoning the metro project altogether in favour of the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) and Southwest Rail Link.

Missing from all of these plans was the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link, until it was revived in 2010 by the Prime Minister Julia Gillard as part of an election promise to fund its construction. The Commonwealth government would contribute $2.1bn, with the state government required to fund the remainder, which was then estimated at a mere $500m. Problems soon emerged, with the cost estimated blowing out from $2.6bn to $4.4bn, meaning the NSW contribution would now be a far less affordable $2.3bn, and a change in government resulting in NSW prioritizing the NWRL over the PERL, which was quietly dumped entirely soon after.

Ironically, the NWRL vs PERL debate comes back to the question of a second Harbour Crossing. A NWRL will necessitate a second Harbour Crossing in order to meet the increased demand on the North Shore Line, while the PERL provides an alternate approach into the North Shore. However, a decade’s worth of densification of housing on the North Shore and the resulting increase in train frequencies along the North Shore Line to meet the increased demand means that the spare capacity that existed in the late 1990s no longer exists. This means that the dream of the PERL providing that second Harbour Crossing on the cheap has disappeared along with that spare capacity.

Instead the debate has moved on to providing some other sort of public transport improvement for the Parramatta to Macquarie Park corridor. Most recently the Parramatta Council has proposed light rail as a possible solution. Thus far the state government’s response has been that it will investigate the idea, but has not committed to anything further.

The Daily Telegraph reports that cabinet is expected to make a decision on light rail when it meets next week. The light rail issue had already been before cabinet twice before heading into a cabinet meeting again last week. Light rail is expected to be split into two stages: stage one from the University of NSW to Central Station, and stage two from Central Station to Circular Quay via George Street.

Stage one of the light rail extension will go from the University of NSW and head North to Central Station. Then, if it goes ahead, stage two will continue North from Central Station through to Circular Quay. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport Master Plan, page 155.)

Stage one of the light rail extension will go from the University of NSW and head North to Central Station. Then, if it goes ahead, stage two will continue North from Central Station through to Circular Quay. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport Master Plan, page 155.)

Stage one has been almost a certainty ever since it received the endorsement of both Transport for NSW and Infrastructure NSW, and will be built first.

There remains some uncertainty over whether or even when stage two, the George St light rail, will be built, though the Telegraph states that the Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian “is understood to be winning the argument” on building light rail between Central and Circular Quay. The two major arguments made against stage two have been the cost and the disruption to CBD streets during the construction phase. The latter was particularly problematic given that the disruption would occur at the height of the next state election, and it is for this reason that construction of light rail on George St will not begin until after the 2015 election.

The final version of the transport masterplan is to be released this month, in which all the recommendations from Infrastructure NSW will have been considered and then either adopted or rejected. Other things to look out for when this report is released are the fates of the BRT tunnel under the CBD and a second Harbour rail crossing.