Video: Rebuilding NSW, NSW Government (10 June 2014)
A $15bn asset sale of the poles and wires business, announced today by the Premier Mike Baird, will fund new transport infrastructure in Sydney with the dual centrepieces being an under the Harbour rail crossing to create a ‘Sydney Rapid Transit’ (SRT) network and North-South extension of the WestConnex freeway. The sale will involve a 99 year lease of the electricity distribution network, but will exclude the regional poles and wires after political pressure from regional MPs.
Sydney Rapid Transit
The new SRT network will see single deck trains operating from Rouse Hill to Bankstown via the CBD and will be built in 3 stages. Stage 1 will be the North West Rail Link, which will also convert the existing Epping to Chatswood Rail Link to rapid transit style operations, and open in 2019.
Stage 2 will be an under the Harbour rail crossing and CBD railway with stations at St Leonards, Victoria Cross (North Sydney), Martin Place, Pitt St (Town Hall), and Central Station – but no station at Circular Quay. Stage 3 will involve linking this up to the Bankstown Line, with SRT trains terminating at Bankstown Station – though no stations are indicated between Central and Sydenham and the current alignment does not pass through Redfern.
Initial plans, as outlined in Sydney’s Rail Future in 2012, showed an SRT network that also included a line out to Hurstville and continuing on from Bankstown to Lidcombe and Cabramatta. Even the changes to last year’s timetable, which made trains on T4 effectively run all stops to Hurstville and then terminate or run semi-express to Hurstville before continuing appeared to be setting the line up to be converted into rapid transit style operation. The changes to the Bankstown end mean that the line terminates about 20km out of the CBD, neutralising many criticisms that the line was “too long to be a metro”, but also raises questions over what to do with the remaining line out to Lidcombe and Cabramatta. Transport expert Gerry Glazebrook has previously recommended converting these lines to light rail as part of a wider light rail network surrounding Parramatta, which in the context of recent government support for such a network does question whether this is under consideration.
The benefits of SRT are outlined as an increase in capacity through the CBD equivalent to 60% more trains and 100,000 additional passengers per hour. It’s the latter, rather than the former that matters, even according to the Government’s own factsheet:
“The total number of people reliably carried on a train line in an hour is the true measure of rail capacity” – Transport for NSW, Sydney Rapid Transit Fact Sheet, p. 1 (10 June 2014)
The 100,000 additional passengers seems to come down to an additional 40,000 passengers/hour in each direction from the new line and then another 20,000 passengers/hour on the Western Line from infrastructure improvements. However, the 40,000 figure is listed as a target, and will depend on factors like the amount of seating per train, crush capacity for standing passengers, and how well the system copes when highly patronised. Existing double deck trains are often cited as having a maximum hourly capacity of 24,000 passengers/hour in each direction. Few specific details appear available about the Western Line improvements, with Government documents giving general comments about ‘advanced train control systems’, ‘upgrading power supply’, ‘building additional track’, and ‘new stabling’.
Additions to the WestConnex freeway will also be added, with a Northern extension linking up the M4 to the Anzac Bridge and a Southern extension linking up the M5 to Sutherland.
Commentary: Harbour Crossing is why NWRL is single deck
The Government has been dogmatic in its insistence that the North West Rail Link (NWRL) be single deck, and that the new tunnels be built narrower and steeper than the current double deck trains can operate through. What it has not done is to explain its reasoning why, and as a result just about every transport expert, lobby group, academic, journalist, and advocate has become an opponent of its plans. Yet this under the Harbour crossing shows why the NWRL must be single deck – a double deck train would require stations that are too deep.
It now appears that even single deck train are unable to climb up from under the Harbour quickly enough to reach the surface for a station at Circular Quay. With double deck trains, how much further would it be before a station was possible at all? The Pitt St Station near Town Hall? Central Station perhaps?
The Epping to Chatswood Rail Link was originally devised to include a bridge over the Lane Cover River, but opposition to this required it to tunnel under the river. The result meant removing a station at Kuring-gai (where UTS previously had a campus which later closed in part due to poor transport) and making the remaining stations incredibly deep – North Ryde is 35m underground. Had this been designed for single deck trains, as the rest of the NWRL will be, this may have been avoided.
UUPDATE (9:23PM, 10 June 2014): Bold words added to the paragraph below for clarity.
The NWRL itself will have a station at Castle Hill that is 25m underground, but with double deck trains the shallow gradient would require it to be 70m underground, twice as deep as North Ryde. This is so deep that escalators would, to quote Transport for NSW, “probably not even be an option” and all passengers would be required to use elevators to travel between platform and concourse.
It is unfortunate that this means current double deck trains will be excluded from the new line. But Sydney has a rail network that is moving towards being operated more as independent “sectors” that do not interact with each other. Rather than being a hinderance, this is a feature that prevents disruptions in one part of the network from spilling over to other parts of the network. Nor is it the case that future double deck trains could not be built to fit into narrower tunnels and travel at steeper gradients. So in the long term, towards the end of the century, options remain open to mix and match how the rail network is organised – just as is being done now with the creation of the Sydney Rapid Transit network.