WestConnex – slot abandoned but funding locked in

Posted: April 14, 2013 in Transport
Tags: , , , ,

An artists impression of the now abandoned slot portion of WestConnex. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: First Things First, page 89.)

An artists impression of the now abandoned slot portion of WestConnex. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: First Things First, Infrastructure NSW, page 89)

The NSW government’s preferred slot option for the M4 East portion of the WestConnex freeway is set to be abandoned following the revelation that it would be more expensive than the tunnel option rather than cheaper as initially believed. The news was first rumoured by Nine News reporter Kevin Wilde  in late March, then confirmed by the Sydney Morning Herald’s Jake Saulwick earlier today.

The change will increase the construction costs by billions of dollars and is reminiscent of the $500m that were lost when the Rozelle Metro was abandoned in part because the then Labor Government did not do sufficient planning prior to beginning the project. Premier Barry O’Farrell had promised not to repeat this mistake, yet this is exactly what has happened in both here and with the North West Rail Link. In both cases, the government committed to something before doing its homework on it, and then had to go back on their previous announcement once public servants demonstrated that prior promises were not the ideal option to take.

Map of the proposed WestConnex route. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Open Street Map.)

Map of the proposed WestConnex route, including where the slot would have been. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Open Street Map)

These revelations raise additional questions over the viability of WestConnex. Some of these concerns, as well as some good history on the general topic, were covered by EcoTransit in a recent video. While I have questioned some of the conclusions made by EcoTransit in the past, this video is one whose broad message I am generally in agreeance with, and is worth viewing.

Meanwhile, this week the state government also announced the $5bn sale of the Ports of Botany and Kembla, by way of a 99 year lease, thus locking in the funding it needed for a number of road improvements – chief among them being the $1.8bn it had promised for WestConnex. This price is much higher than the $3bn initially expected, and key to this was the abolition of the container movement cap of 3.2m TEU. In order to facilitate this, the government is effectively locking itself in to freight transport improvements around these ports that will allow for an increase in container movements. In effect, the government inflated the value of the port assets by committing to invest in the surrounding infrastructure with the money raised, a win-win situation.

In the case of Port Botany, that means building WestConnex. This is in addition to the political imperative to build WestConnex, so as not to be seen to be a government that announces infrastructure projects and then abandons them – something which contributed to the defeat of Mr O’Farrell’s predecessor.

And so we find ourselves with a state government that has painted itself into a corner – it must build WestConnex. Yet it has done so before all the planning work on it is complete. That is not to say that the numbers do not stack up in favour of WestConnex, we won’t know until all the planning is done. But the government should have done the planning first and made a decision second, not jump the gun to announce its support for it. Instead, we will now get a new road whether we need it or not.

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Comments
  1. Nath English says:

    > Subject: URGENT: Volunteers Needed – Monday Morning 15th April, 7.30am – Balmain! > > Dear all, > > This is an urgent call for volunteers! > > ————————————————————————————————————————– > > Tomorrow: The first cruise ship to visit White Bay’s new Cruise Terminal will arrive at roughly 7am. > > Some of you may know that I am part of a volunteer group called EcoTransit Sydney. We are a not-for-profit public and active transport advocacy group – and we need some community help on short notice… > > We (like many), are frustrated that this O’Farrell Government appears content to continue a long-held NSW tradition of funding mostly roads in Sydney at the expense of long-needed rail infrastructure additions. The truth is, Dr JJC Bradfield (who we thank for the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney’s CityRail Network), had far bigger masterplan for rail in Sydney – but we’ve long been denied the privilege… > > If you own a car in Sydney and find it a rising expense, you are one of millions who everyday carry the load for a State Government and its Departments which have been out-sourcing their public transport responsibilities to you, the individual, for decades. > > Up until the 1960s, Sydney enjoyed the third biggest tram network in the world. > > This extended from the northern beaches down to Rockdale. The InnerWest was very well serviced by tram, as were the Eastern Suburbs and the City’s CBD. Even the narrow-streets of older suburbs like Balmain had trams, which took its workers straight to city-bound ferries or further afield. > > Despite always returning a profit, this incredible tram network was destroyed following immense pressure from an aggressive and growing motoring lobby. These facts, along with a refusal to fund additional heavy rail and cycling corridors next to our modern motorways – as will be the case with the now projected $12billion WestConnex -is the story of how Sydney’s current public transport infrastructure lag developed. > > Today, we’re paying double for fuel compared to 15 years ago – and this figure is set to rise further as the world’s more easily accessed conventional crude oil reserves run-out. Imagine what a litre of petrol might be if we our Aussie Dollar weren’t so high… > > Nonetheless, there seems no rush by current Government’s to provide us with a safe, time-efficient and easy alternative to cars. Even buses get caught in our already congested streets – and they cause further congestion, same as the increasing number of freight trucks. > > Motorways are no commitment to changing the current motor-driven status quo. That’s why Sydney remains grid-locked to this day. > > White Bay has an opportunity to be different, and provide Sydney with a view for how things could look if alternatives were persude. So far, the O’Farrell Government is failing to provide that opportunity. > > Late last year, Sydney Ports illegally ripped up an old rail freight line in White Bay, which could have been adaptively re-used for light rail and cycling into the Balmain Peninsula. Not only would this have provided a true and appealing alternative to private cars and helped reduce local congestion on the Anzac Bridge, but it could have served Sydney Ports’ own future cruise terminal – and its passengers wanting to reach Central (20mins). > > Despite a strong campaign by EcoTransit to promote this idea in Balmain, Sydney Ports gave no notice for the destruction of the existing rail line on which their idea hinged. Local outrage and press coverage forced the Department of Planning to retrospectively approve it’s own agency’s mistake. Whilst this avoided the Government having to pay out any compensation, the people of Balmain and even the new Cruise Terminal now remain completely motor dependent for their commuting and delivery needs. > > That’s why EcoTransit Sydney will be heading to White Bay tomorrow – and we need your help! > > Join us tomorrow to send a clear message (by banner) to the O’Farrell Government, that light rail and cycling becomes an intergral part of the Bays Precinct’s future – for as yet, roads are all they’ve go planned… > > This will be a short exercise – maybe an hour of your time before work (7.30am). Feel free to drag along a friend, housemate, partner, dog, child – all sets of hands are appreciated. > > Despite the short notice, this is a really big issue… > > We believe it’s about the future of the InnerWest and how we move around our city. This can either be by car – or something far more sustainable in the coming age of Peak Oil. > > If you’re interested, you can drop EcoTransit Sydney a line by replying to this email or contact@ecotransit.org.au. > > You’ll be put in contact with our organisers from there. Gathering time will be around 7.30am sharp, somewhere in Balmain – all volunteers who respond will be kept well informed… We’ll be making a peaceful, silent statement – with a banner – but our Convener will have a few words in the event we do achieve some media interest. > > Your support would be greatly appreciated – we feel this Monday, there’s no better way to start the day. It would mean so much to us – and hopefully you too! > > > > Many thanks, > > Committee of EcoTransit Sydney

    > 0407219787 >

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. Peter Isaacs says:

    Why is it necessary to build the Wasteconnex or to duplicate the M5 east? There is a perfectly good single track RAIL LINE to Port Botany which is not fully utilised. If it were to reach capacity the provision of the difficult parts to duplicate it (bridges) have already been installed making duplication relativly simple and inexpensive. Port Kembla also has excellent rail connections which may shortly improved by the building of the Maldon Dombarton link. Would we still need all of this road infrastructure if all of the port traffic travelled from satelite intermodal hubs to port by rail? One hub exists at Minto already and has been recently expanded, Moorebank is on the drawing boards and a third at Chullora would go a long way to getting containers off inner metropolitan roads and reduce congestion at a cost that would be almost trivial compared to the massive roading projects that are proposed.

  3. Ray says:

    I never thought the WestConnex proposal was a goer from the start and I expressed my opinion in my submission to their website. The slot proposal along Parramatta Rd can’t be compared with the Eastern Distributor, because there would be overwhelmingly far more disruption caused to existing traffic during construction, let alone the need to resume vast tracts of properties along the Parramatta Rd corridor as well as the disruption and relocation of services, ie, water, sewerage, electricity, gas and telecommunications. I’m not surprised that the construction in tunnel would be cheaper. I find it incredulous that the O’Farrell Government committed funds to this project before any detailed assessment was prepared. It says a lot about the credibility and expertise of Infrastructure NSW and the naivety of the government.

    Having said that, I still support the extension of the M4 and expansion of the M5 Motorways to the CBD and Port Botany, to complete an integrated Motorway network. The extension of the M4 Motorway in particular is more about providing a high standard motorway link from the west to the Lower North Shore and Northern Beaches via the Anzac Bridge, Western Distributor and Harbour Bridge than a link to the CBD for commuters. That doesn’t mean to say that public transport should be neglected. There has to be a balance and part of that balance has to be a commitment to also expand public transport services and in the case of freight, to provide the infrastructure to dramatically increase the percentage moved by rail from Port Botany to the inland intermodal terminals.

  4. moonetau says:

    Ray, I too put in a submission to the Masterplan which included the idea of a combined 3km slot road and underground rail line between North Strathfield and Rosebank College at Fivedock then a road tunnel under Dobroyd Point to the City West Link at Darley Road. Most of the land south of Parramatta Road there is taken up by car yards (with a few heritage buildings), so it could “acquired” without too much loss and construction could be done with limited disruption. (Still the issue with exhaust stacks and the the psychological separation that a slot motorway would bring).
    The rail line should then continue to Eveleigh and become the Western Relief Line, which has been talked about for ages.
    This is the ONLY logical extension to the M4 and the only motorway project that should go ahead, except to join the M2 and F3.
    Otherwise completely agree with Peter. The Feds have to get moving on Moorebank and finish the rail line to Port Botany, ie the duplication of the line and sidings at the port itself, which is still more suited to trucks.
    Sadly the vast majority of people still think roads are the answer to moving people and freight. With real investment in rail and intermodal this can change, but I don’t think either the current Feds or the news ones – Tony Abbott is on record as only wanting to build roads – or the State Govt have the will to do it.
    The failed road PPPs in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane ought to make the NSW govt think very carefully ….

  5. Ray says:

    With the greatest of respect moonetau, I don’t think your suggestion of a combined slot road (for the M4 extension) and an underground rail line between North Strathfield and Five Dock is feasible. The government has already ruled out the “slot M4” as being more expensive than the tunnel option following industry feedback. Apart from the high cost of resuming adjoining properties along Parramatta Rd, the cost of relocating utilities would be prohibitive let alone managing the disruption during construction, which I suggest wouldn’t be “limited”.

    As far as the Western Relief Line is concerned, there is no need to construct an additional line between Strathfield and Eveleigh as there is already excess capacity available on the existing “Main Line” tracks between Strathfield and Central. I propose that a link from the Main Line tracks at Eveleigh to a future CBD relief line via the Pitt St corridor and a second harbor crossing would be more appropriate.

    The WestConnex proposal is clearly not viable and the government has to choose between a staged construction of the M4 extension as previously proposed and the upgrading of the M5 link to Port Botany.

    The other major priority for the government is to expedite the upgrading of the rail link to Port Botany (which seems to have gone on for decades) so that the share of container movements by rail can be substantially increased (preferably to 50%).

  6. moonetau says:

    Ray, according to “Sydney’s Rail Future” the western line is the most congested. Hence my proposal.

  7. Ray says:

    Yes Moonetau, the Western Line is the most congested, but they’re referring to the “Suburban Tracks” (the centre pair) between Strathfield and Central and more specifically between Eveleigh Junction and Central, because some Western Line services cross over to the “Suburban Tracks” from the “Main Line Tracks at Eveleigh Junction. There is additional capacity available on the “Main Line Tracks” between Strathfield and Central if those Western Line services crossed over to the “Suburban Tracks” at Homebush Junction rather than at Eveleigh Junction, which would ultimately have the same track utilization through to Central. After all, the previous Government’s Western Relief Line proposal was predicated on the basis that there was spare capacity on the “Main Line Tracks” between Strathfield and Central and the need to construct a new underground line from the “Main Line Tracks” at Eveleigh to Wynyard to complete a link into the CBD. Whether you agree or disagree with the Western Relief Line proposal, there is no need for any additional track between Strathfield and Eveleigh Junction.

    The previously proposed West Metro from Central to Westmead along the corridor north of Parramatta Rd is a separate issue and no doubt will be part of future planning.

  8. moonetau says:

    Ray, happy to defer to your intimate knowledge of lines …this is something I don’t have.
    As for the road part, if a strip 20-30m wide south of Parramatta Rd could be “resumed” would it not be possible to install new services on / under that strip as well as 3 lanes of traffic and a below surface rail line?
    This would cause almost no disruption to through traffic. Then when complete the westbound traffic could be diverted to the new lanes, while the middle section of Parramatta Rd could be worked on (again without interfering too much with through traffic.)
    And so on.
    Hope that is clear ……..

  9. Ray says:

    I understand your suggestion, but the fact is the Government has already acknowledged that the “slot” proposal is not viable. Any disruption to Parramatta Rd caused by diversions and relocation of utilities would be catastrophic.

  10. Dudley Horscroft says:

    A far better proposition than WestConnex would be to use the existing railway line from Lidcombe to Campsie. The line is or was electrified as far as Marrickville (the masts are still in place) and is double to near O’Riordan St in Mascot. Completing doubling of the short section to Port Botany would massively increase capacity for freight traffic to and from the port. Adding a short single track elevated spur from the existing line via 9th St to Keith Smith Avenue and a double track terminus next to the main passenger buildings of KSA would enable an excellent passenger service to be provided from Parramatta and points west to the airport, and with an additional station on the overbridge at Sydenham, would give excellent connections from Illawarra line stations. This would do all that the M4/M5 tunnel and elevated roadway link is supposed to do at probably not much more than one 50th of the cost, and better. Removing this cost of these sections from the WestConnex project could perhaps even make the rest of the M4 and M5 ‘improvements’ a viable proposition.

  11. mich says:

    The slot road should be built between Strathfield and Five Dock only.

    The “City West Link Road” should then be finished properly with more grade separations and fewer lights.

  12. Greg Cameron says:

    From: Greg Cameron
    Sent: Friday, 4 October 2013 7:30 PM
    To: Warren Truss
    Subject: Sydney rail infrastructure

    The Hon Warren Truss MP
    Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for
    Infrastructure and Regional Development

    Dear Mr Truss,

    Are you willing to acknowledge that Sydney is on track to have 5.5 million shipping containers (TEUs) trucked between Port Botany and western Sydney each year by 2030, unless the NSW government finds $1 billion to build a rail spur linking a new intermodal terminal at Eastern Creek with Port Botany container terminal?

    If so, do you still consider that proceeding to build the Moorebank intermodal terminal is an appropriate infrastructure investment by the Australian government?

    A ”mere” 1.7 million TEU were trucked last year between Port Botany and western Sydney, while 0.3 million TEU were railed.

    Container movements through Port Botany are expected to reach 3.2 million TEU by 2020. By then, the Australian government plans to have its proposed intermodal terminal at Moorebank operating at full capacity of 1.2 million TEU. With a further 0.3 million TEU to be railed to the intermodal terminal at Enfield, this leaves 1.7 million TEU to be moved by truck in 2020.

    Therefore, the Moorebank intermodal terminal will not produce a decrease in the number of truck movements compared with today.

    However, by 2030, estimated container movements through Port Botany are 7 million TEU. To meet this demand, the NSW government proposes to build an intermodal terminal at Eastern Creek.

    Eastern Creek has several key advantages. There is land available for expansion to meet container demand into the next century. The design can accommodate unlimited truck movements, as compared with Moorebank, where road capacity is inadequate. Most importantly, Eastern Creek is closer to the main demand areas for freight than either Moorebank or Port Botany.

    At present, the NSW government has no funds for building a freight rail line connecting Eastern Creek with the metropolitan freight network. Therefore, the intermodal terminal would not be built. Reliance on Moorebank intermodal terminal will result in 5.5 million TEU movements by truck in 2030. (This number may be reduced by 1 million TEU if a second intermodal terminal is built at Moorebank by the private SIMTA consortium, which would add to Moorebank’s traffic woes.)

    An additional $4.4 billion, in present value terms, is required to upgrade the Northern Sydney Freight Corridor to carry more freight by 2028. The primary reason for upgrading the corridor is to service Moorebank and Port Botany. Since the NSW government has no funds for upgrading the corridor, it is obliged to abandon its freight rail strategy for Sydney.

    It would be possible for private enterprise to fund and build a freight rail bypass of Sydney and Newcastle, by building a container terminal at the Port of Newcastle and railing containers between Newcastle and Eastern Creek. Commercial viability would be achieved by fixing a charge to cover principal and interest over a period up to 50 years. A use for the Port Botany container terminal site is for expanding Sydney Airport including extending the parallel runway to 4000 metres.

    The freight rail bypass would extend to Glenfield and containers would be railed between Port Botany and Eastern Creek via Glenfield until the bypass was completed, in around 10 years’ time.

    100 per cent of Sydney rail capacity can be used for passenger services when freight is removed from the metropolitan network.

    Given that the NSW government has no freight rail strategy, as determined by the lack of funds to implement its current proposal, can you justify proceeding with the Moorebank intermodal terminal without addressing the alternative?

    Yours faithfully,

    Greg Cameron

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