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?
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.