EcoTransit’s alternative to the M4 East

Posted: August 7, 2013 in Transport
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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.

  1. Ray says:

    The WestConnex proposal will go ahead as the Tunnel option, not as Greiner’s original Slot proposal along Parramatta Rd. which has been rejected as being impracticable.

    I don’t support Eco Transit’s “Pippita Express” proposal, however, I think there is merit in linking a Parramatta Rd Light Rail option with Parramatta City Council’s second stage Light Rail Line to Rhodes, at Olympic Park. This would effectively replace the West Metro proposal, just as Parramatta Council’s preferred first stage from Parramatta to Macquarie Park via Eastwood would replace the Parramatta to Epping Rail link.

    Let’s face it, the prospect of Sydney having a separate “Metro” rail system (putting aside the current plan for the NWRL and conversion of parts of the existing Sydney Trains network) is almost non-existent, because the cost would be prohibitive and beyond the resources of both the State and Federal Governments. We can see here history repeating itself, when the State Government in the early 20th Century opted to expand the tram network, instead of adopting Bradfield’s more expensive (although preferable) underground rail proposals.

    I think that for Sydney, Light Rail is the way forward, with expansion along strategic transport corridors such as Anzac Pde to Maroubra Junction/Malabar, Victoria Rd to Parramatta, Military Rd/Spit Rd to the Northern Beaches and the Princes Highway to Sutherland.

  2. JC says:

    A few thoughts…

    The Pippita express (as you say) is not the right solution to the problem because (like westconnex itself) it is too CBD-centric. But a Pippita park-and-ride station on a metro-fied inner west line extending from the waste-of-money turnbacks at Flemington to the under-used turnback at Olympic Park (the other end of Metro1 would be Kingsgrove via CBD and Airport). It would provide access from the M4 to the full range of inner west employment/entertainment centres and Sydney University via Redfern and McDonaldtown (until the P-Road LR link finally happens), not just the CBD.

    And on westconnex – if the aim is to link the M4 with the M5, and link both to Port Botany (which the Greiner plan doesn’t) why not use the a slot/tunnel under the Enfield goods line and keep it all well away from the CBD – with better land availability and access and lower costs than any of the alternatives to date.

  3. We are a Sydney removalists company who do a lot of removals in the inner west of Sydney so we are using the roads all the time in the area. I also feel that it’s narrow minded to think almost all commuters are heading to the city centre with no need for a vehicle. Of course another park and ride hub would be a great idea but the real solution is to do all of the above. An expressway to the Western distributer from the M4 and meet with M5 for Airport traffic. Trucks should almost have their own duplicate corridors from Port Botany to all the motorways. That is the answer to the roads dilemma. If you backed all this up with light rail and park & ride hubs and made public transport cheaper and more efficient. It is a do all strategy in conjunction with decentralization that will truly work. We try to provide quality removalists services at and our staff get stuck on the roads for hours trying to get to and from work and during travel within work. It is frustration that I’m sure many share. I wish we’d get on with it and have the foresight to build more than is needed now to cater for the future as was done with projects such as the harbour bridge and the Snowy mountains scheme.

  4. moonetau says:

    Quoting from the Bambul’s second last paragraph: “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.”

    I wonder what the balance is between local local pickup and delivery and through freight. The Westconnnex boosters say that it will ease congestion around Port Botany. With freight set to triple in the next couple of decades I would have thought that it will only serve to increase congestion and its associated costs. Most containers are going from Port Botany to the western suburbs (see source below). If Westconnex is built they will be going in a roundabout way in expensive tunnels or on the M5, then . Would not a more direct and more efficient and cheaper option be to put them on shuttle trains between Port Botany and Chullora / Enfield or Moorebank? This will involve double handling but most of the track work has been done (except at either end) and it will avoid the (already) significant truck congestion around Port Botany.

    Has this been seriously considered by TfNSW and the Feds?
    Is there any evidence that dual carriageway roads lead to long term decongestion of road traffic?

    In New South Wales Import Export Container Mapping Study Report prepared for the Sea Freight Council of NSW in 2004 (page 7)
    4.1.1 Full Import Container Movement Patterns
    The top 10 destinations for full imports (TEU) were all in the Sydney Metropolitan Area and accounted for 90% of inbound trade:
    1. Bankstown 25%
    2. Fairfield 15%
    3. Parramatta 12%
    4. Blacktown 11% …

  5. Moonetau –

    The main problem with rail and truck, rather than just truck transport for freight is that takes longer (and is presumably either more expensive, or at thievery least no cheaper). The freight must first wait for the next train, be loaded, arrive at the terminal, be unloaded, and only then be put on a truck to complete its journey to its final destination.

    Rail works best when transporting high capacity freight between a single origin to a single destination, such as coal from a mine to a port.

    A much better way to avoid the congestion at Port Botany would be to build an airport an Badgerys Creek, allowing air freight to arrive closer to its destination and taking trucks off the roads around Port Botany.

  6. Stevo says:

    Apparently the business case for WestConnex has been taken to cabinet (in July), but it’s not clear if cabinet has made a decision on it. Either way we probably won’t find out anything until after the federal election. Who knows what this means – probably that the NSW Govt thinks that quite a few people will be unhappy with the route.

  7. moonetau says:

    As I mentioned double handling will be an issue. But it containers at Port Botany were off-loaded en masse onto shuttle trains and taken straight to Chullora and then matched with a specific truck there then there may well be the possibility of saving time and money. Avoids the road traffic jams.
    What I really wonder is if Patrick’s / Sydney Ports / TfNSW have seriously considered this option, with a vastly improved intermodal capacity.
    Does anyone know of any research done in this area?

    Regarding congestion around Port Botany: most of it would be caused by trucks carrying containers not so much trucks carrying relatively high value but low weight freight off aircraft.

    Speaking of intermodal (and while this is not relevant to Port Botany) has anyone looked at the modalhor system which seems to have been gaining greater acceptance in Europe in recent years?

    Also if BC is built passengers and air freight will have to travel further than is the current situation.
    I would support a BC airport only if KSA was massively scaled back to a regionals only airport and all interstate and international went to BC.

  8. JC says:

    Rail transport of containers to a more central location is obviously the best solution – but the road industry is shortsighted and stubborn and (unfortuately) we live in a rubber-tyred world – we have to compromise and put up with second-best so we can avoid too much urban destruction. An achievable (and not too bad) second best would be to get all the containers on trucks and onto a motorway AT THE PORT, with tolls for using the motorways and fines for using the local roads. The port-link motorway would join the M5 and link to the M4 via a tunnel/slot further out than the Griener disaster – using the Enfield goods line corridor (sorry for being a bit repetitieve here).

  9. moonetau says:

    Interesting to see a new light rail line open in France. It is in Tours and cost about 30million euros per km or about $AU 43 million per km. Compare this to the figure for construction in Sydney of $133 million per km. We have to keep asking why it is so much more expensive. Part of the reason will be that it uses ground level power supply for part of George St. while the Tours line appears to be all catenary.


  10. Moonetau –

    My understanding is that the trams will be battery powered, not ground powered. That was from discussions with a project engineer, and also what the Telegraph reported. I think the Herald report, which mentioned ground power, might have been misleading.

    The cost is also probably higher due to the high density of underground utilities in the CBD, which I don’t think is common with other light rail projects.

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