One criticism sometimes raised on the O’Farrell government’s transport policies are that all new transport projects are CBD centric. The Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) and Southwest Rail Link (SWRL) will both funnel commuters into the CBD, as will the Southeast and Inner West Light Rail Lines aswell as the Northern Beaches BRT. But what about Western Sydney? The previous Labor government, for all its shortcomings, did build the Y-Link at Harris Park that enabled the Cumberland Line and also constructed the Northwest and Southwest T-Ways, all of which were Parramatta centric rather than CBD centric.

These comments are almost always followed up by calls for the construction of some new transport line in Western Sydney, be it re-routing the NWRL via Parramatta, building the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link, or the creation of a Western Sydney Light Rail network. If resources were unlimited, then construction on all of these would begin tomorrow. But they are not, so it poses the question: given the limited transport budget, what would provide the largest benefit to Western Sydney for the smallest cost?

Current transport infrastructure in Western Sydney that is currently underutilised: the Cumberland Line in red and the bus T-Ways in blue, as well as the proposed Parramatta to Epping Rail Link in purple. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Open Street Map.)

Current transport infrastructure in Western Sydney that is currently underutilised: the Cumberland Line in red and the bus T-Ways in blue, as well as the proposed Parramatta to Epping Rail Link in purple. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Open Street Map.)

A counter-argument to this is that rather than suffering from underinvestment, Western Sydney instead suffers from poor planning. So rather than building new infrastructure  the government should instead first seek to fully utilise existing infrastructure. The Cumberland Line, for example, runs only 5 trains per day. Yet because this line branches out at Granville, about half the trains go South to Liverpool and half go West to Blacktown, there is plenty of spare capacity on it. It would be quite easy to run 2 or even 4 trains an hour in each direction on this line all day. The T-Ways, while currently providing good service with 10-15 minute frequencies all day (and as many as 20 buses during the busiest hour in the AM and PM), could easily scale this up even further. A lack of layover space for buses in Parramatta’s CBD means buses may need to be through-routed past Parramatta and end their route elsewhere, but this would also have the added benefit of providing additional direct links to Parramatta.

The main reason why this does not happen is the political benefit from it is small compared to new construction. “Government to build new rail line to XYZ” makes a great headline, whereas “Government to provide additional frequencies on existing line with spare capacity” does not. Here the O’Farrell government should learn from the Carr Government’s Clearways Program, which sought to increase the capacity of the Cityrail network by targeting bottlenecks and pinch points in the existing network, rather than increasing capacity by building new lines. It did not get the sort of headlines that the NWRL, SWRL, or WestConnex have, but it achieved the sorts of benefits of these new projects at a fraction of the cost.

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Comments
  1. RichardU says:

    “The main reason why this does not happen is the political benefit from it is small compared to new construction. ” Does this still happen given the number of transport projects which have been announced with the mandatory video only to be unannounced with a much more modest advertisement.

    The experts claim Julia Gillard’s promise to help finance PERL was met with such derision, it killed Maxine McKew’s chances in Bennelong.

  2. Ray says:

    PERL wasn’t even on Infrastructure Australia’s priority list. So much for independent advice.

  3. […] having to resort to large investments into its infrastructure should be welcomed. This is something this blog has been calling for since 2013. While unlikely to be welcomed by those adversely affected, if implementing these proposed changes […]

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