Archive for June, 2015

The Federal Government’s refusal to fund public transport infrastructure dates back to 4 April 2013, when the then Opposition Leader Tony Abbott declared his opposition to it:

“The Commonwealth government has a long history of funding roads. We have no history of funding urban rail and I think it’s important that we stick to our knitting, and the Commonwealth’s knitting when it comes to funding infrastructure is roads.” – Tony Abbott, Federal Opposition Leader (4 April 2013)

In the 2 years since then, this position has barely changed. Which is to say it has evolved (very slowly) in the right direction.

2014-05-22 Jamie Briggs

The first change came on 16 May 2014, when the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development Jamie Briggs promised that federal funding from its asset recycling fund would not be restricted to roads. It followed through with this promise on 19 February 2015, providing $60m in funding to the ACT for its proposed light rail project. This funding was small, particularly compared to the billions going to the marquee roads projects; it also included a side comment from the Treasurer Joe Hockey’s office that “it has been a controversial project in the ACT” and that “there has been debate as to whether alternative projects may have higher potential economic benefits”.

While the ACT project received lukewarm support from Canberra and could be described as tokenistic in terms of the quantity of funding; the 8 March 2015 decision to send $2bn to NSW changed that. With $1.3bn of that going towards the Sydney Metro project, the Federal Government is now providing more funding to this rail project than the $1bn it has committed to WestConnex. However, the rail funding came with strings attached in the form of requiring privatisation. Funding for WestConnex has no such restrictions.

Warren Truss, Federal Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Federal Shadow Transport Minister (Image: Australian Parliament)

Warren Truss, Federal Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Federal Shadow Transport Minister (Image: Australian Parliament)

14 June 2015 showed more promise on this front, with the Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss stating that “the Federal Government is quite happy to fund metro rail projects”. This would appear to be in start contradiction to the statements quoted by Mr Abbott earlier that the Federal Government “have no history of funding urban rail” and would not be funding public transport.

Perhaps the reason can be found by winding back the clock a month to 6 May 2015 when Greens leader Christine Milne was replaced by Richard Di Natale. In the past, Ms Milne had been resistant to supporting the re-indexation of the fuel excise because additional revenue would be hypothecated (i.e. promised to) road funding. However, when the Finance Minister Matthias Cormann offered to eliminate the hypothecation Ms Milne maintained her opposition.

The party now has a new leader, and one who appears to be more willing to negotiate with the Government of the day. Following the May budget, Mr Di Natale met with Mr Abbott. In this meeting, he offerred to support indexation if some of the revenue was hypothecated to public transport projects. In that context, Mr Truss’ comments make a lot more sense.

The policy taken to the last election – to not fund urban commuter rail, is a bad one. However, the question here is not whether the Government should abandon it. By funding Sydney Metro to the tune of $1.3bn, it already has abandoned it. Instead, the question is about when the Government will take a mode neutral stance on funding of transport infrastructure. Let Infrastructure Australia or the states determine the best transport projects and fund those. There’s a chance this possibility may become a reality sooner than expected.

A new light rail line connecting Parramatta and Sydney Olympic Park, running from Westmead to Strathfield, has firmed up as the favourite route to be built by the NSW Government according to a Daily Telegraph report today. A route from Parramatta to Macquarie Park via Eastwood had been the initial preferred alignment, promoted by Parramatta City Council. However, the NSW Government has opted to consider an alignment via Carlingford and Epping for this route instead.

Parramatta City Council's proposed 4 light rail lines. Click to enlarge. (Source: Western Sydney Light Rail Network: Part 2 Feasibility Report, p. 6)

Parramatta City Council’s proposed 4 light rail lines. Click to enlarge. (Source: Western Sydney Light Rail Network: Part 2 Feasibility Report, p. 6)

The Olympic Park route received strong support from business groups, which formed the West Line Alliance and offered to part fund the line to the tune $1.1bn in “voluntary planning arrangements”. It also provides the opportunity for urban renewal of the Camellia industrial zone, which West Line Alliance spokesman Christopher Brown claims could provide 21,000 homes over the next 20 years.

Artists impression of light rail in Parramatta. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Artists impression of light rail in Parramatta. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The reason for this change of heart on the Macquarie Park alignment remains unclear. But a hint comes from Simon in the comments section of this blog:

“I’ve heard back from the government that a reason the via Eastwood alignment has not been proceeded with for the Parramatta Light Rail is difficulty getting through Brush Farm.” – Simon (June 5, 2015 at 5:16 PM)

The Brush Farm Estate was purchased by Gregory Blaxland in 1807, while the Brush Farm House built on the property in 1820 is “one of the most substantial houses surviving from the Macquarie period…[and] represents a nationally important site where some of the colony’s initial land grants were made”. Prior plans for a light rail line through this site involved a viaduct travelling above the property.

Commentary: Why the Olympic Park line is a winner

Last year in 2014, this blog called for light rail from Westmead to Macquarie Park to be built. That view stands. A line from Westmead to Macquarie Park, via Parramatta and Eastwood, takes advantage of existing rail corridors and preserved reservations. It also provides much needed direct connections between growing centres that currently lack them. This was the proposal put forward by Parramatta City Council in 2013.

But that option is not on the table. Instead, in 2015 the NSW Government is considering a line to Macquarie Park via Carlingford and Epping. This would require a difficult connection between Carlingford and Epping, currently heavily congested on the surface; it would then either duplicate an existing heavy rail line from Epping to Macquarie Park or terminate at Epping, requiring a transfer to complete the journey.

If the choice is between a line to Macquarie Park via Epping or a line to Olympic Park, then the Government’s preferred choice of Olympic Park becomes a lot more convincing. Add in the potential for private sector funding and opportunities for urban renewal, and the case for an Olympic Park line is even harder to argue against. This line will also provide the core of a future network. It will make future extensions to Macquarie Park, Carlingford, Castle Hill, and Bankstown easier.

The name Sydney Rapid Transit is no more, with the project to be renamed Sydney Metro. Its two component parts, the North West Rail Link and Second Harbour Rail Crossing are also getting new names; they will now be known as Sydney Metro Northwest and Sydney Metro City & Southwest respectively. The news comes in response to the passage of legislation through the NSW Parliament to allow the partial privatisation of the state’s electricity distribution network via a 99 lease of 49% of the business in order to provide funding for the second stage of the Sydney Metro project.

Sydney Metro Northwest is set to open in early 2019 with construction already underway; while Sydney Metro City & Southwest is set to open in 2024 with construction starting in 2017. The latter has 4 confirmed stations between Chatswood and Sydenham: Victoria Cross (North Sydney), Martin Place, Pitt Street (Town Hall), and Central. It will also include either an underground station at Crows Nest or an above ground station utilising the existing platforms at St Leonards, depending on where tunnels on the Northern end will emerge. The Sydney Metro website states that “options for where the tunnels start include just south of Chatswood or at St Leonards”, with a final decision yet to be made.

Sydney Metro proposed alignment. Click to enlarge. (Source: Project Overview, Sydney Metro.)

Sydney Metro proposed alignment. Click to enlarge. (Source: Project Overview, Sydney Metro.)

Meanwhile, additional stations are also being investigated at the Artarmon Industrial Area, Barangaroo, and either the University of Sydney or Waterloo. It remains unclear whether tunnels on the Southern end will emerge at Sydenham or whether they will emerge further North with the line then travelling along an existing reservation between Erskineville and Sydenham.

Media Coverage

VIDEO: Seven News Sydney – Electicity privatisation bill passed, Sydney Metro renaming (4/6/2015)

VIDEO: Ten Eyewitness News Sydney – Electicity privatisation bill passed, Sydney Metro renaming (4/6/2015)

Open Drum – The Daily Commute

ABC Open is taking contributions on the topic of “the daily commute”. The deadline for contributions is midday Tuesday 9 June.

“Tell us about your daily commute. What are the joys and challenges? How does it impact your life or your family? Would improved public transport, affordable accommodation near workplaces or better roads help? Whatever happened to telecommuting? Do you have a survival tip or utopian vision for policy makers? Share your story and opinions in 350-700 words.”

1 May: Rail line to Badgerys Creek downplayed

Suggestions for a fast rail service between Badgerys Creek and Sydney CBD in time for the opening of a future Western Sydney Airport were dismissed by the Federal Transport Minister Warren Truss. “A rail line connected to the metropolitan area of Sydney is not essential in that [early] phase” said Mr Truss. The NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance was more open to the idea, stating that he was “putting all things on the table”, including a possible extension of Sydney Rapid Transit out to Badgerys Creek via the existing Kingsford Smith Airport at Mascot. Proposals exist to extend the recently opened South West Rail Link to Badgerys Creek, but there are no current plans or funding to do so.

The proposed corridors for an extension of the SWRL through to Badgerys Creek and beyond. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The proposed corridors for an extension of the SWRL through to Badgerys Creek and beyond. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

4 May: Opal-only ticket gates

New ticket gates that accept only Opal cards are to be trialed at Olympic Park Station. Existing ticket barriers that accept both Opal and paper tickets will continue to be in use.

7 May: Mousetrap to catch graffiti vandals

A new technology is being trialed which detects either spray paint or permanent marker on trains, so far leading to the arrest of 30 individuals. Known as “Mousetrap”, it uses an electronic chemical sensor which detects the vapour of both spray paint and marker pens.  Live CCTV records and provides images directly to Sydney Trains staff. Removing graffiti from the Sydney Trains network cost $34 million last financial year, up from $30 million the year before.

10 May: Epping to Chatswood Line will be disconnected for almost a year

The Epping to Chatswood Line, set to be shut down for 7 months during which it will be converted and connected to the North West Rail Link in order to create the first stage of Sydney Rapid Transit, will be disconnected from the T1 Northern and North Shore Lines prior to its shut down. A recently approved government proposal will see the line operate as a shuttle service between Epping and Chatswood for 4 months prior to this conversion, most likely in 2018.

21 May: Light rail predicted to kill someone each year

A report prepared for the government predicts that 1.14 people will be killed by the new CBD and South East Light Rail line every year on average. Between 2010 and 2014, there have been 3 fatalities involving pedestrians and buses in the Sydney CBD. The report also predicts 1 fatality every 5 years for the existing light rail line to Dulwich Hill, although no deaths have occurred on this line since it opened in 1997.

22 May: Opal card user information handed over to government agencies

57 requests for Opal card data, which include the card user’s address and travel patterns, have been granted by Transport for NSW to government agencies since December 2014. A total of 181 requests were made, with no court approval required in order for information to be handed over. By comparison, information from Queensland’s Go Card had been accessed almost 11,000 times between 2006 and 2014.

26 May: NWRL tunneling 40% complete

Tunnel boring machines on the North West Rail Link have reached Showground Station. 12km of the 30km of tunneling, representing over a third of the total length, is now complete.

26 May: Long Bay Prison sale under consideration

The Government is considering the possibility of selling off Long Bay Prison, possibly raising a estimated $400m. The sale, which would see the site redeveloped, has been linked to a possible extension of the light rail line currently under construction. The CBD and South East Light Rail is set to open in 2019, initially reaching Kingsford. However, an extension as far as La Perouse has been raised as a possibility.

Potential extensions to the CBD and South East Light Rail to Maroubra, Malabar, or La Perouse. Click to enlarge. (Source: Infrastructure NSW, State Infrastructure Strategy Update 2014, p. 40.)

Potential extensions to the CBD and South East Light Rail to Maroubra, Malabar, or La Perouse. Click to enlarge. (Source: Infrastructure NSW, State Infrastructure Strategy Update 2014, p. 40.)

26 May: Congestion will be worse after WestConnex

Internal government reports show that traffic levels on inner city roads around the planned WestConnex tunnels are predicted to be higher in 2026 than in 2011, despite the planned completion of WestConnex by 2023. A spokeswoman for the WestConnex Delivery Authority commented that “[traffic on] the inner south will improve with WestConnex as opposed to a do nothing scenario”.

28 May: Light rail construction schedule announced

VIDEO: Ten Eyewitness News Sydney – Government admits public transport system “broken” (27/5/2015)

A construction schedule for the CBD and South East Light Rail was released to the public. George St is set to see three and a half years of construction, with the new CBD and South East Light Rail set to be built between September 2015 and April 2018. The line is currently scheduled to open in early 2019, following testing of the line.

The Opposition Leader Luke Foley, who recently declared his opposition to light rail on George St, compared the project to the Berlin Wall and declared that it would lead to chaos and confusion.

The Government released video (above) of a bus and pedestrian walking down George Street during the evening peak hour showing the pedestrian being faster than the bus. Pedestrianising George St, resulting in the replacement of cars and buses with trams, has been put forward as a way to reduce congestion for public transport users which currently exists in many parts of the city.

The announcement also included plans to defer construction on the Northern portion of the Castlereagh St bike path until construction on the light rail line is completed. The Roads Minister Duncan Gay had previously proposed including loading zones along portions of Castlereagh St, which would have the effect of making it a “part-time” bike path. Deferring its construction pushes back the need to make a decision on this issue. However, the existing bike path on College St is set to be converted into a bus lane. This will help to handle bus movements once George St becomes closed off to vehicles, but removes a North-South bike path in the CBD for a number of years.

28 May: mX axed

Newscorp is set to discontinue mX, its free commuter newspaper. mX is currently distributed each weekday afternoon in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane; it began in each of these cities in 2001, 2005, and 2007 respectively.

29 May: Electricity privatisation passes lower house

Legislation to allow the 99 year lease of 49% of the NSW electricity distribution network has passed the NSW Legislative Assembly. It now goes to the Legislative Council, where a combination of the Liberal, National, and Christian Democratic Parties that have committed to supporting the legislation have enough votes to ensure its passage through the upper house of Parliament.