Archive for August, 2013

A 17km light rail line from Westmead to Macquarie Park would be the first stage of a light rail network centred on Parramatta that would support an additional 50,000 homes and 180,000 jobs by 2031 according to a proposal by Parramatta City Council. This would be followed up by a line to Castle Hill, with lines to Bankstown and Olympic Park/Rhodes as potential further extensions (zoomable street map available here). Parramatta Council has been pushing for light rail since the NSW Government dumped plans for the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL) shortly after the 2011 election. Both lines are designed to link up Parramatta to Macquarie Park.

Map of the proposed Macquarie Park and Castle Hill light rail lines. Click to enlarge. (Source: Western Sydney Light Rail Network - Part 2 Feasibility Report, pp. 4-5)

Map of the proposed Macquarie Park and Castle Hill light rail lines. Click to enlarge. (Source: Western Sydney Light Rail Network – Part 2 Feasibility Report, pp. 4-5)

The main advantage of the light rail option is the cost, coming in at $919m versus $4.4bn which was the most recent figure available for the PERL. (This works out to $54m/km, compared to $31m/km for the Dulwich Hill light rail extension or $133m/km for the CBD and South East light rail.) The study envisages trams running every 10 minutes during peak hour, with 15 minute frequencies during the off-peak. As the Castle Hill line will share track with the Macquarie Park line in the Parramatta CBD, this should result in 5 minute and 8 minute frequencies, respectively, in the core of Parramatta.

Much like the CBD and South East light rail currently about to begin construction, this new line would connect up a hospital (Westmead), a stadium (Parramatta), a CBD (Parramatta), a racecouse (Rosehill), and a university (UWS) with a frequent and high capacity transport service.

The majority of the alignment also provides for trams to run on an exclusive right of way. These include the Carlingford Line alignment, where the study finds that there is space for both light rail and the Carlingford Line (including a potential PERL in the future); the median on Kissing Point Road; and the reservation for the never built Country Road at Marsfield. In addition, work currently planned for James Ruse Drive for an overpass at Camellia would allow the light rail to travel under James Ruse Drive and avoid this busy intersection.

The Parramatta CBD portion would run mostly along Macquarie St, which is one block North of the main transport interchange centred around Parramatta Station. This could prove problematic if it makes transfers from bus/train to tram or vice versa more difficult. Alternatively, if Parramatta continues to grow, then Macquarie St could also become an extension of the existing transport interchange, catering for future growth.

A potential future network. Click to enlarge. (Source: Western Sydney Light Rail Network: Part 2 Feasibility Report, p. 6)

A potential future network. Click to enlarge. (Source: Western Sydney Light Rail Network – Part 2 Feasibility Report, p. 6)

The proposal is now in the hands of the state government, which mentioned in the Sydney Light Rail Future document that a Western Sydney light rail network centred on Parramatta is something it is considering (p. 20). This is by no means a guarantee that any of these lines, let alone the full network, will get built. But Parramatta Council has put forward the right project at the right time, and that makes the possibility of this being built some time next decade a better than 50:50 likelihood.

Advertisements

Opal cards will be extended for trains through to Chatswood and also accepted on all government owned ferries from this Friday 30 August, putting the roll-out 4 months ahead of schedule. Buses will begin accepting Opal cards by the end of 2013, with the roll-out (excluding trams) expected to be completed by the end of next year.

Opal roll-out as of 30 August 2013. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Opal roll-out as of 30 August 2013. Click to enlarge. (Source: Opal website)

“The full potential of the new electronic ticketing system is the ability to travel across ferries, trains and buses by the end of 2014. Planning for light rail is in development.” – Source: Opal Website

Trains were added to Opal on 14 June 2013, 2 weeks ahead of of the scheduled “2nd half of 2013”, while the Chatswood extension comes 1 month before the scheduled “4th quarter of 2013”, and the completion of the ferry roll-out is 4 months before the scheduled “end of 2013”. This means the roll-out to buses (4th quarter of 2013) and both the Northern and Western train lines (1st quarter of 2014) could also begin before their scheduled dates.

After the initial trial on the Eastern Suburbs and City Circle Lines, Opal will then be rolled out progressively onto the North Shore, Inner West, Northern, Western, and South Lines. (Sources: Transport for NSW, Cityrail, modified by author)

Original schedule: After the initial trial on the Eastern Suburbs and City Circle Lines, Opal will then be rolled out progressively onto the North Shore, Inner West, Northern, Western, and South Lines. (Sources: Transport for NSW, Sydney Trains, modified by author)

However, what remains missing is how Opal will handle multi-modal fares. Transfers on a single mode, such as from ferry to ferry or train to train (including when passengers leave the paid area of the station in the case of the latter) do not have fare penalties applied. This means that someone catching a ferry from Manly to Circular Quay and then another ferry to Balmain just pays the single fare, while someone who catches a train from Bondi Junction to Town Hall and then back again within 60 minutes also only pays a single fare. (It remains uncertain whether transfer penalties between buses will also be removed or if they will be retained as is currently the case.)

What is missing is journeys made up of trips on 2 different modes of transport, where the only fare integration is the daily $15 fare cap and free trips after the first 8, which roughly equates to the existing myMulti fare option. But this means that passengers are financially encouraged to avoid multi-modal trips, even when it is more efficient from a time or cost to the government perspective. This is not ideal, and should be addressed. If not during the current Opal trial, then soon after it is fully rolled out.

Otherwise, it will lead to problems when the North West Rail Link and CBD and South East Light Rail open, both of which will rely on converting existing bus services into feeder buses for passengers to transfer to rail.

Favourite posts of 2013

Posted: August 24, 2013 in Transport
Tags:

No full post this week due to time constraints. So instead, here are some links to some notable posts from the current year to date.

NWRL: metro or not?

Rail expert says infighting led to decision to build metros

Commentary: Are the NWRL tunnels too narrow and too steep?

Overcrowding and on time running

2013 timetable re-write (part 1): The context

Why is Cityrail getting less reliable?

October 2013 timetable

Draft 2013 timetable (part 2): AM Peak

When the October 2013 timetable comes online, a significant portion of the inner Sydney rail network will have 10 minute frequencies all day during the week. Click to enlarge. (Source: Cityrail, modified by author)

When the October 2013 timetable comes online, a significant portion of the inner Sydney rail network will have 10 minute frequencies all day during the week. Click to enlarge. (Source: Cityrail, modified by author)

Where to use public transport and where to build freeways

Is WestConnex worth building without a CBD link?

If this blog were voting on September 7 purely on transport issues, and had to make a choice between one of the 2 parties that will form government, then it would with reservations cast its vote for the ALP.

There are many other issues to be considered in this election, and many details as far as just transport is considered. But broadly speaking, for the upcoming election the Coalition has promised to the NSW Government more funding for transport infrastructure (albeit only for roads, not public transport) with fewer strings attached than the ALP have, while the ALP is both prepared to fund public transport and has made a slightly more solid commitment to building a much needed airport at Badgerys Creek.

Funding Commitments

Each of the major parties have made large commitments towards 3 transport infrastructure projects, all roads: the Pacific Highway upgrade on the NSW North Coast, the M2 to F3 Link in Northern Sydney, and the WestConnex freeway in Western Sydney.

The ALP has proposed 50:50 funding, shared with the NSW Government, for the Pacific Highway, which works out to $3.5bn. If the NSW Government does not match this amount then the deal is off, and there is some uncertainty over whether the NSW Government will match this amount. The Coalition has offered an 80:20 split, or $5.6bn, with the extra $2.1bn being the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link funding the ALP has previously promised (but since dropped). It is likely that the NSW Government is holding out for a possible Coalition win on September 7 before it tries to find funding for the ALP offer, but there is no guarantee that it will. If it does, then it is likely that some or most of this money will come from other parts of the transport infrastructure budget, including public transport as NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian alluded to in her bizarre comments that she welcomed news of not receiving any funding for public transport.

The M2 to F3 project is set to receive $400m of Commonwealth funding regardless of who wins next month, following a commitment by the ALP in May which was matched by the Coalition.

Map of the proposed WestConnex alignment showing it connecting to the City West Link. (Source: WestConnex – Sydney’s next motorway priority, Infrastructure NSW, p. 17)

Map of the proposed WestConnex alignment showing it connecting to the City West Link. Click to enlarge. (Source: WestConnex – Sydney’s next motorway priority, Infrastructure NSW, p. 17)

For WestConnex, the ALP is offering to match the NSW Government’s current $1.8bn contribution, while the Coalition has promised $1.5bn. Both parties have made their funding conditional on the M4 East being extended to the CBD (a poor decision, as explained here), while Labor has also required a link to Port Botany and for existing portions of freeway to remain toll free. These requirements will result in a higher construction cost and a lower cost recovery, to the point where the total cost to the NSW Government could be lower if it rejected the extra funding. While the Coalition’s offer does have fewer strings attached, both parties are guilty of this.

Overall, a Coalition Government in Canberra would likely provide more funding ($7.5bn vs $5.7bn), and do so with fewer restrictions.

Funding philosophy

Tony Abbott has consistently voiced his view that the Commonwealth Government should not fund any urban rail projects. He has been given many opportunities to elaborate on this view, and each time he has stuck to his guns on it. Often, this has been based on false assumptions. For example, he initially argued that the Commonwealth had no history of funding urban rail (which was incorrect). He then clarified by arguing that no Commonwealth Government before current Labor Government won office in 2007 had a history of funding urban rail (which was also incorrect). Melbourne based transport advocate put it best when he said perhaps the Federal Coalition has no history of funding urban rail, but the Commonwealth most certainly does.

The ALP, on the other hand, both supports the funding of public transport and has a history of doing so. While there are no current pieces of public transport infrastructure that the ALP is offering to provide funding for, such support may be essential for projects currently in the pipeline, such as the South East Light Rail or a Second Harbour Crossing.

Route of the George Street and South East Light Rail Line. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Route of the George Street and South East Light Rail Line. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Most importantly, public transport projects are much less able to obtain private sources of funding, whereas roads are able to source all (or atleast most) of their funding from user tolls. Therefore, it is the height of ridiculousness for a Commonwealth Government, the level of government with most access to revenue raising, to rule out funding the sort of infrastructure that most needs government support to go ahead and to instead focus its funding on those projects which least need it. This is particularly the case when it’s considered that rail has a capacity 10 times as large as the equivalent amount of road space used by cars.

On the issue of funding philosophy, the ALP comes out ahead.

Second Sydney airport

Neither party is yet willing to come out and state the obvious: that Western Sydney needs an airport of its own, and that Badgerys Creek is the best site for it. Even Max Moore-Wilton, head of Sydney Airport, agrees that Sydney will need a second airport and that Badgerys is the best location. The only thing he disagrees on is the timing, claiming that Sydney Airport will have sufficient capacity until 2045.

Current and proposed Sydney airports. Click to enlarge. (Source: Google Maps, modified by author)

Current and proposed Sydney airports. Click to enlarge. (Source: Google Maps, modified by author)

But none of this can allow politicians to ignore the fact that an airport in Badgerys Creek is an essential piece of infrastructure that will allow the much needed creation of jobs in Western Sydney, which will soon overtake Sydney’s Eastern half in population. Despite this, 200,000 Western Sydney residents currently commute into Eastern Sydney each day due to a jobs deficit, and this will only increase in coming decades if nothing is done about it. This in turn puts additional stress on transport infrastructure, which in turn has resulted in pressure to build projects such as WestConnex. Improvements to Kingsford-Smith Airport at Mascot will do nothing to ease this strain on jobs and infrastructure.

Transport Minister Anthony Albanese has now declared that if re-elected, he would like to see Labor Government will begin work on a second airport in its next term, but without nominating a site. Meanwhile, the Coalition has refused to nominate a site or a start date, though at the leader’s debate this past Sunday Opposition Leader Tony Abbott did promise to make a decision in his next term. Neither of these positions is ideal, although privately it looks like both parties plan to begin work soon on an airport and choose Badgerys Creek as the location. Despite this, the ALP’s commitment is slightly more concrete than the Coalition’s and Mr Albanese is a stronger advocate for Badgerys Creek than Warren Truss as Transport Minister is likely to be.

The question of a second Sydney airport was put to Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott at the leaders’ debate earlier tonight, a mark of how important a seemingly local issue has become on the national political stage. Daily Telegraph reporter Simon Benson asked the leaders whether they would support an airport at Badgerys in the context of job creation, putting forward the figure of 50,000 new jobs that could be created if such an airport was built. Each leader dodged the question, with Mr Abbott choosing to talk about how building WestConnex could improve the capacity of the existing Kingsford-Smith airport at Mascot, while Mr Rudd referred the question to Deputy PM and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese before attacking Mr Abbott for not supporting public transport.

The important thing to take from these responses are two fold. First, each leader has now committed to making a final decision on a second airport in the next term of government. Second, both have done their best to dance around the issue of the Badgerys location, whereas in years past political leaders have been quick to immediately rule it out. This tends to confirm a widespread belief that politicians privately accept that Badgerys is the best location for a second airport, and that a second airport is needed, but that it remains a complex issue within a political minefield.

Current and proposed Sydney airports. Click to enlarge. (Source: Google Maps, modified by author)

Current and proposed Sydney airports. Click to enlarge. (Source: Google Maps, modified by author)

Ben Sandilands at Crikey has written that an unspoken truce now exists between politicians on the issue of Badgerys. Both know that whoever wins this election will need to start work on an airport, and that both parties will probably govern at some point during its construction. And if it will have to be built at some point anyway, it makes sense to finally put the long term interests of the national economy ahead of short term political interests.

Public transport advocacy group EcoTransit has put forward a public transport alternative to the M4 East component of the WestConnex. A new train station on the Eastern end of the M4, next to a large car park in Olympic Park, with trains into Central Station, along with a light rail network, would provide sufficient relief so as to avoid the need for building the M4 East, according to a video it released called “WestConnex — Greiner’s folly Part 3”  (part two of this series have been covered previously on this blog, part one can be viewed here). It also claims to be able to do so at a much cheaper cost of $2.2bn, compared to $8bn for the M4 East.

The video is included below and worth watching. You can also subscribe to the EcoTransit YouTube channel to receive updates when new videos are uploaded.

VIDEO: WestConnex — Greiner’s folly Part 3, EcoTransit

The new train station, named Pippita Station by EcoTransit, would be above the M4 along the existing Olympic Park Line and adjacent to an existing car park currently exists for sporting events with what appears to be (using a back of the envelope estimate) 1,000 to 2,000 car spaces, These spaces tend to be used in the evening and weekends, and remain mostly empty during work hours when commuters making their journey to and from work would need a parking space. There are also enough free slots on the Main West Line tracks between Lidcombe and Central, as well as the Sydney Terminal platforms at Central Station, for a train every 15 minutes into Sydney Terminal.

But the reality is not so simple, and this may not necessarily prove to be the magic bullet solution it initially appears to be.

It’s worth remembering that there are currently park and ride facilities across the Sydney Trains network, and if these car drivers are not using them at the moment, it is questionable what difference adding an extra park and ride facility would provide (particularly considering that it would require a second transfer at Central for those continuing further into the CBD or elsewhere). That’s not to say it wouldn’t be of any benefit, and if this can be achieved as a cheap bolt on addition to the network then it should be seriously considered.

The main problem with solutions like this are that is assumes a CBD centric view of transport in Sydney, and that the only congestion problem is in the AM and PM peaks during the week. It should be remembered that only 13% of workers commute to the CBD each day, and 77% of those do so by public or active transport. Most car traffic is not destined for the CBD, and most non-CBD travelers get to their destination by car. Improving CBD transport links is unlikely to entice such people away from their cars.

Another example is when the video shows footage of Parramatta Road at 11:30AM on a weekday, pointing out that there is little to no congestion and arguing that Parramatta Road is only congested during peak hour. Yet had that footage been taken on a Saturday, it would have shown congestion on par with weekday peak hour traffic. The reason for this is only partly the lack of weekend public transport. It’s also the dispersed nature of weekend journeys (where many people are visiting friends, going shopping, or heading to a sporting event) when compared to weekday ones (where many people are going to work or study in the CBD or a major centre). Cars are much better at transporting people for the former, while public transport is much better for transporting people for the latter.

It should also be remembered that a road project like WestConnex can recover a large proportion of its capital and operating costs from user tolls, and can thus be built and operated with only a small tax payer contribution. Meanwhile, public transport projects recover none of their capital costs, and only around a quarter of their operating costs from user fares, and thus require a much larger proportion of their cost to be government contribution. Nor do the costings for light rail used in the video appear to be in line with recent light rail projects. For example, the proposed Parramatta Road light rail project is about 15km in length (using a conservative estimate) and costs $975m, or $65m/km. Meanwhile, the CBD and South East light rail project about to commence construction is 12km in length and costs $1.6bn, or $133m/km. So the $2.2bn total cost could actually be double that, around $4.4bn. Compare this to the current proposed state government contribution to WestConnex of $1.8bn (which was itself obtained by selling an asset whose value increased on the assumption that WestConnex would be completed), and it soon becomes clear why the government bean counters prefer road projects to public transport ones.

Artists impression of Parramatta Road light rail. Click to enlarge. (Source: EcoTransit)

Artists impression of Parramatta Road light rail. Click to enlarge. (Source: EcoTransit)

Finally, neither the “Pippita Express”, nor the light rail network, would provide capacity for road freight transport. Even more so than passenger movements, freight movements are highly dispersed and therefore not suited to rail transport (unless it is from one city to another). Therefore, most freight transport happens on road within Sydney. There would be some benefit from fewer cars on the road, but it would likely only be beneficial around the edges.

This is not to say that the proposals put forward are bad. In fact, the “Pippita Express” is quite innovative and, as mentioned, should be investigated further. So should the extensions to the light rail network proposed in this video. Public transport improvements like these are far more efficient than roads at transporting people to the CBD and other major centres. And if this does help to create an integrated network of heavy rail, light rail, and buses that allow a greater level of mobility between other parts of Sydney, then it might begin to compete with cars in transporting people around for those previously described dispersed journeys. But until then, and for other reasons mentioned, the proposed rail projects are likely to be supplementary to, rather than in replacement of, WestConnex.