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.

  1. SimonL says:

    Not sure that any of the road projects were fully funded by the tolls via the private sector. The state chipped in something for most, if not all of them, or tolled an existing road.

  2. The M5 East was government funded (my mistake there, I’ll correct that), but the other road projects in Action for Transport (the Lane Cove Tunnel, the Cross City Tunnel, the Eastern Distributor, and the M7) were all paid for by the private operator and funded by tolls on them, though the federal government did contribute to the M7.

  3. Ray says:

    I have always maintained that the original route selection process for the Chatswood to Parramatta Rail Link was flawed as the criteria upon which the route from Macquarie University to Parramatta via Epping and Carlingford was based was questionable, if not deliberately misleading. The route via Epping and Carlingford was selected over the more direct route via Eastwood to Dundas on the Carlingford Line because it was the cheapest, though not necessarily the best, option by utilising most of the existing Carlingford Line infrastructure.

    Even though Eastwood is on the most direct route and is the largest retail and commercial centre on the Main Northern Line between Strathfield and Hornsby, its comparative analysis with Epping was consistently rated poorly, which defies logic, and this was before the North West Rail Link came onto the agenda. The route via Eastwood is 3km shorter than the steep and circuitous route via Epping and Carlingford and is considerably faster, not only because of the shorter distance, but also because of the straighter and gentler alignment permitting higher average speeds. The original EIS did not provide a full financial evaluation of the route via Eastwood and an objective assessment of the relative merits of the alternative alignment could not be made. The outcome of the EIS exhibition was pre-determined to suit the then government’s agenda and community consultation was a waste of time.

    However, the tables have now been turned as the recent proposal by Parramatta City Council for a light rail network centred on Parramatta includes a link from Dundas on a converted Carlingford Line to Macquarie Park via Eastwood, utilising in part the Eastwood County Road reservation from Marsden Rd, Dundas to Epping Rd, North Ryde (a valuable transport corridor already in place which incomprehensibly has been ignored in recent transport plans). The light rail plans also include the complete conversion of the Carlingford Line with a later extension to Epping, which I doubt will ever happen. I think the light rail plans have more chance of proceeding than the heavy rail option and at least the government is considering it.

  4. That’s a very well thought out contribution. I think you’re right on the chances of light rail along that particular corridor. Previously, I had hoped that it could act as a circuit breaker for the $2.1bn of funding the federal government had promised for the PERL, but it seems both the state and federal governments would rather nothing be built than to be the first to blink.

  5. SimonL says:

    I think the major reason the Epping alignment was chosen was that would allow the upper northern line trains to run via North Sydney. Without that, the ECRL didn’t allow increased access to Town Hall for the Western line.

  6. SimonL says:

    As for the motorways, I’d counter with:
    M4: Tolled an existing road
    Harbour Tunnel: tolled an existing road (well, multiplied the toll by 10)
    ED arguably tolled an existing road – it’s hard to avoid it heading northbound. Previously heading up Crown St was relatively easy. Certainly the domain tunnel was untolled heading northbound before.
    CCT and LCT didn’t make financial sense, I think we can say now.
    I’m less sure about the M5 and M2.

  7. The M2, M4, and Harbour Tunnel had all been completed by the time Action for Transport was released. And it was the 5 road projects in APT that were referring to, of which all but the M5 East were funded by tolling users rather than the NSW taxpayer.

  8. Ray says:

    The route option via Eastwood to Parramatta did actually include a link to Epping to allow for upper Northern Line services to have access to the new link to Chatswood ( and remember this was before the North West Rail Link was proposed) . It also included a “Y” Link from Epping to Eastwood to the new line to Parramatta which would have allowed for direct services from Hornsby and the Central Coast to Parramatta (Option 2 in the EIS), which wouldn’t be possible with the selected route to Parramatta via Epping and Carlingford. Obviously this would be a more expensive proposal than connecting with the Carlingford Line at Carlingford, but the “Y” Link from Epping to Eastwood could have been deferred, substantially reducing the cost, but as no financial evaluation was ever publicly released, we have no idea of what the relative costs were for the alternative options. But as I alluded to in my previous post, the PERL is now dead in the water, and the light rail network proposed by Parramatta City Council, including the link from Parramatta to Macquarie Park via Eastwood, is more likely to gain approval.

  9. Paul McCann says:

    A modified version involving a junction from Granville onto the Carlingford Line would be much cheaper and would only add a few minutes extra travelling time between Parramatta and Chatswood. A connection at Granville would also enable trains direct from Liverpool and Campbelltown to Hornsby if the Y link at Epping was included. Such a project would greatly enhance public transport in the entire Western Sydney region and would be an essential link to the proposed new airport at Badgerys Creek. Badgerys Creek airport was propsed to be linked to the Sydney Rail network with an extension off the soon to be opened Glenfield to Leppington Railway.

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