A history of the Parramatta light rail

Posted: December 8, 2015 in Transport, Urban planning
Tags: ,

Video: Parramatta Light Rail, 8 December 2015 (Transport for NSW)

Light rail between Parramatta and Olympic Park, announced today, is the culmination of years of planning and proposals for light rail in Western Sydney. To fully recognise the significance of this announcement, it’s worth going back almost 4 years into the past to see how this ultimately developed from the ashes of the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link.

23 December 2011: Parramatta to Epping Rail Link cancelled

The change of state government earlier in the year saw the dropping of the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link as official government policy, which in turn sparked Parramatta City Council to push for a light rail line instead. It sought to mimic the work of Randwick Council, whose pre-feasibility study into light rail to Randwick resulted in the now CBD and South East Light Rail line from getting the green light from the NSW Government. In both cases, light rail would link a CBD, university, stadium, racecourse, and hospital.

30 August 2013: Parramatta City Council commissions light rail feasibility study

The initial pre-feasibility study recommended a 169km light rail network, with lines linking Parramatta to Macquarie Park via Eastwood, Epping via Carlingford, a loop to Olympic Park and Rhodes, Bankstown, Castle Hill, Rouse Hill (on the existing T-Way), and Liverpool (on the existing T-Way). It also included a line from Cabramatta to Rouse Hill via Blacktown and Parklea (on the existing T-Way between these two suburbs).

Parramatta Light Rail

Light rail proposal for Parramatta and its surrounding areas. Stage 1 is in yellow, green and red. Stage two is in black. Click to enlarge. (Source: Parramatta City Council.)

The lines were estimated to cost $9.5bn, based on the cost of the Dulwich Hill light rail extension and Gold Coast light rail.

The final pre-feasibility study by Parramatta City Council concluded that two lines should be built first: one from Westmead to Macquarie Park via Parramatta and Eastwood, the other from Parramatta to Castle Hill via Baulkham Hills and Castle Hill Showground.

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.)

These lines would be 30km in length, cost $1.5bn to build, and require 21 trams in order to provide 10 minute frequencies (Source: Western Sydney Light Rail Network – Part 2 Feasibility Report, p. 5). They would then be followed by two additional lines, one to Bankstown via Chester Hill, the other to Rhodes via Olympic Park.

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.)

8 March 2014: Berejiklian confirms light rail is “in the mix”

Urban Growth NSW, the Government’s development agency, publishes a report about Parramatta showing a light rail alignment on one of its maps. Though not much more than lines on a map, it is the first time that light rail has appeared in an official government report.

When asked about this by the Daily Telegraph, the Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian confirms that light rail is “in the mix”.

31 March 2014: Robertson commits to light rail feasibility study

The Opposition Leader John Robertson announced plans for a $20m full feasibility study into light rail around Parramatta if elected in 2015. This would build on the Parramatta City Council’s pre-feasibility study completed in 2013.

2 June 2014: Baird commits to light rail feasibility study

The NSW Premier Mike Baird announces a $10m full feasibility study into light rail around Parramatta. Though less than the $20m promised by his opposition counterpart 2 months earlier, this study commences immediately.

17 June 2014: 10 routes shortlisted and funding committed

With a feasibility study underway on 10 potential routes, the NSW Government commits $400m in funding to pay for the new line. An additional $600m would later be committed from the sale of the electricity distribution network, bringing the total funds committed to $1bn.

17 July 2014: Berejiklian suggests light rail should link health and education precincts

The Transport Minister Gladys Berejilkian stressed the importance that any light rail line should connect Parramatta up to both Westmead hospital and Western Sydney University (then still named UWS). With Westmead to Macquarie Park being the only one of the 10 potential routes that passes through both the education and health precinct, this suggested that the Westmead-Parramatta-Eastwood-Macquarie Park alignment that Parramatta City Council had previously pushed would be the one chosen.

28 August 2014: 6,000 new apartments announced for North Parramatta

An announcement by the Premier Mike Baird that a $2bn urban renewal project of North Parramatta would bring 6,000 new apartments builds on the earlier report in March that these developments are likely to be supported by additional infrastructure. The area is located around one of the proposed light rail alignments between Parramatta and Westmead, which heads North from Parramatta before passing Parramatta Stadium and then crossing the Parramatta River on the Northern end of Westmead hospital.

Artists impression of the Parramatta North precinct. Click to enlarge. (Source: Urban Growth NSW.)

Artists impression of the Parramatta North precinct. Click to enlarge. (Source: Urban Growth NSW.)

27 October 2014: 4 routes shortlisted

The earlier 10 routes were reduced to a final 4 routes on the shortlist, which would then be investigated in greater detail. The 2 lines proposed by Parramatta City Council, Parramatta to Macquarie Park via Eastwood and Parramatta to Castle Hill via Windsor Road, did not make the shortlist. Instead, a line to Macquarie Park via Carlingford would be investigate as would a line to Castle Hill via Old Northern Road. In addition to these 2 routes, a line to Strathfield/Burwood via Olympic Park and a line to Bankstown would also be investigated. These again mirror the routes investigated by Parramatta City Council, though its Olympic Park line would extend out to Rhodes rather than Strathfield.

23 February 2015: Westline Partnership promotes benefits of Olympic Park Line over Macquarie Park

A coalition of businesses, developers, and councils begins to push for a line from Parramatta to Olympic Park. The group; calling itself the Westline Partnership and comprising of the ANZ Stadium, the Australian Turf Club, Accor, Dexus, Sydney Olympic Park, Sydney Business Chamber, Auburn council, and Canada Bay council; claims that doing so could unlock $2.9bn of funding through “value capture” in the form of developer levies. Doing so would allow the Government to build two lines, one to Olympic Park and the other to Carlingford, according to Westline Partnership spokesman Christopher Brown.

Artists impression of light rail through Sydney Olympic Park. Click to enlarge. (Source: Westline Partnership.)

Artists impression of light rail through Sydney Olympic Park. Click to enlarge. (Source: Westline Partnership.)

8 June 2015: Olympic Park firms as preferred option

The NSW Government begins to hint that it is shifting from Macquarie Park to Olympic Park as its preferred option.

26 November 2015: Decision on Olympic Park line accidentally revealed

The Roads Minister Duncan Gay accidentally says that light rail will be coming to Olympic Park while outlining improvements to the nearby WestConnex project. Both Olympic Park and Parramatta had recently been hit by the announcement that the Commonwealth Bank would be moving its operations out of both those suburbs and into Redfern’s Australian Technology Park. The move resulted in criticisms towards the NSW Government for not being quicker in its decision making on a route for any Western Sydney light rail line.

8 December 2015: Light rail lines to Olympic Park and Carlingford announced

The Premier Mike Baird announces that two light rail lines are to be built simultaneously from Parramatta: one to Olympic Park and one to Carlingford. Both lines will travel along the same corridor through to Camellia before branching off.

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

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

The project will raise funds through the use of a Special Infrastructure Contribution (SIC), “expected to be set at around $200 per square metre of gross floor area of new residential developments subject to consultation”. This is in addition to the $1 billion already committed by the NSW Government, with the Government also seeking contributions from the federal and local governments.

  1. robertybob says:

    It may be imperfect but it’s something. Action for Transport 2010, from which the Epping-Parramatta railway emerged, was aimed at joining up the network. The Parramatta council’s study was focused on improving connectivity to its CBD and it viewed the world through that prism. Finally, the State Government’s study focused on corridors with the highest redevelopment potential. In synthesising the options Transport for NSW has failed to prioritise the network benefit of joining up disparate pieces of infrastructure. Still, we’ve ended up with two starter lines, not one. We’ve ended up with a formal commitment to raising infrastructure funding through value capture. They’re all big steps forward. The obvious oversight is the 3.5km gap between Carlingford station and Epping Station. Nearly one-third of Sydney lives north of the river/harbour but the new metro doesn’t connect to Parramatta nor does the northern line. Sure, it will be easier to add this short link later after the Carlingford line’s conversion to dual-track light rail – as long as it’s included in the planning. It will need a short underpass under Pennant Hills Road; the link lies in its entirety on the Carlingford Road reservation, long ear-marked for road widening. The complexity is getting the interchange right at Epping to allow simple transfer to the northern line and the north west metro. Yet it is solvable. In the meantime, it remains a missed opportunity that could have transformed housing/job accessibility over a wide slice of the metropolitan area. A start, nonetheless.

  2. Not quite right says:

    Not quite as it seems re the Randwick Council report leading to light rail in the south-east. There were no less than 78 reports into city and Anzac corridor light rail before there was action, most commissioned by various state governments and the biggest single study was by the City of Sydney. Nothing happened there overnight. Clearly now the Hills Council is going to have to join with business (to replicate the work of the West Line Alliance) to invest in a highly detailed evaluation of the next stage to Epping.

  3. Alex says:

    @Robertybob – I broadly agree with your assessment, though to be fair to Parramatta Council its proposal while obviously putting Parramatta at the centre of the network was also about improving connectivity within the region and also providing circumferential links between the radial corridors in the northwest, west and southwest.

    Council put a lot of work into the proposal and its preferred option as the first priority was originally a route to Macquarie Park via Eastwood, not Epping via Carlingford, and did not necessarily involve taking over the Carlingford line. As a route this made a lot of sense as it connected directly to Macquarie Park but avoided adding to the complexity of adding another mode to the Epping interchange while still connecting to the main north rail line and the metro and also adding a direct link between Eastwood and Macquarie Park.

    Unfortunately for a number of reasons the original proposal was quietly dropped and the two-volume feasibility report has been removed from Council’s website (incidentally Bambul this means that the links to the report in your post are no longer live, but you can still access it using Wayback). The Epping via Carlingford route was chosen instead as the council’s preferred option.

    I also agree that the proposal announced by the government can be seen as a glass half full/half empty debate. The Olympic line was certainly not rated the highest priority by council but clearly the state government wants to use it to drive new development which it sees as a priority over intra-regional connectivity, with the added bonus that this development can help fit the bill. I wrote earlier that I didn’t have a problem with this, provided the government then used its contribution for the Parramatta to Epping/Macquarie Park link.

    Unfortunately we haven’t quite got there. I think the government sees the Carlingford option largely as a convenient way to solve the “problem” of the current heavy rail link, though given the current poor patronage it’s hard to see the economic rationale unless the line is extended to Epping or there is a lot of high density development, or both.

    But you are right – while this is a missed opportunity, we do get one complete route and half another. As you suggest the important thing to do now is to ensure that the missing link is preserved and that a strong case is made for its construction as soon as possible.

  4. Alex says:

    Correction – that should be “foot the bill” in the fourth paragraph of my post, not “fit the bill”.

  5. @Alex –

    Links often become broken, unfortunately. So many that I just don’t bother to correct them. However, I have gotten into the habit of saving documents to my computer and backing them up to the cloud for this very reason!

  6. Ray says:

    @robertybob – To the best of my knowledge, there is no plan to widen Carlingford Rd and there never has been. Any road widening which would be needed to accommodate the light rail extension from Carlingford to Epping would require part resumption of properties along the length of the road, which was not previously planned.

    There is a current proposal to upgrade the Beecroft Rd and Carlingford Rd intersection in Epping and there is no mention of widening Carlingford Rd. There is also a plan to widen Epping Rd on the eastern side of the rail line by providing an additional westbound lane. It will be used exclusively for westbound traffic turning left into Blaxland Rd. There is no plan to widen Epping Bridge. Major multi-storey redevelopments are proposed on both sides of Epping Rd, so there is no prospect of any further road widening to accommodate light rail.

    Contrary to your assertion, the complexity of running a light rail line either to or through the congested Epping Town Centre is not solvable. The only option would be to go underground and that just wouldn’t be viable for light rail. All of the indications are that there is no intention of extending the light rail route through Epping.

    My belief is that a future extension to Macquarie Park will revive Parramatta Council’s original preferred first stage via Eastwood, which is the most direct route along an existing reserved transport corridor. It would branch from the Carlingford Line at Dundas onto Kissing Point Rd and run along an existing 6-lane corridor and the Eastwood County Rd reservation direct to Macquarie Park. Property resumptions would be minimal and would be mostly to buy up the remainder of properties not already owned by RMS along the County Rd corridor.

    Think about it. There is no reason why a Macquarie Park route has to go through Epping. The more direct route via Eastwood also interchanges with the Northern Line and the North West Metro at Macquarie University. It also provides a new high capacity transport corridor.

    It is still a mystery why Parramatta Council’s preferred first stages in their feasibility study to Macquarie Park via Eastwood and Castle Hill via Windsor Rd didn’t even make the shortlist of options in the State government’s assessment. I’d give a lot more credence to that study than the current process. The fact that the original feasibility study is no longer assessable on Parramatta Council’s website suggests that there’s been a bit of heavying going on behind the scene.

  7. JC says:

    As always a second-best option to our own individual best plans we have been sketching out on the bacvks of envelopes for years…

    But I can see a lot of potential. Combining the Olympic, Carlongford and Westmead means that at least some of the the key problems are coveres i.e. tyhe routhe through Parramatta CBD, the eastern approach to the CBD and where and hpw to cross the River. A CBD-Camelia-Rydalmere truck can provide a good basis for future expansion in several directions – via Clyde link and on to Bankstwn; east from Rydalmere along Victoria Road – ultimately linking up with the inner west line(s); and northeast to the Northern and Metro lines (whether via Carlingford-Epping or the “Ray route” via Dundas-Epping-Macquarie – which although preferable doen’t rule out the beneft of a Parramatta-Carlingford connection); and even the long awaited Windsor Road link.

  8. Ray says:

    @JC – Just to correct you, my preferred option is from the Carlingford Line at Dundas to Macquarie Park via EASTWOOD, which was Parramatta Council’s original preferred route. No one seems to want to acknowledge that Eastwood exists. It’s as if it’s a no go area.

  9. JC says:

    Sorry Ray – I understand your proposal – it was slip of the pen/lack of concentration. I agree with your analysis – especially about the route availability via Eastwood – but there there is an understandable tendency to (wrongly) favour the Carlingford-Epping route because of the seemingly short gap that needs filling.

  10. Alex says:

    @JC – I agree that the short gap from Carlingford to Epping is probably part of the rationale for the initial choice of this route, but as I said before I think one of the main reasons the government chose the Carlingford option was to solve the “problem” of the current under-utilised heavy rail route.

  11. Ray says:

    @JC & Alex – Yes, I agree with you that the short gap between Carlingford and Epping would appear to the uninitiated to be a logical option to complete the link, just as it was with the original PERL concept, instead of adopting the more direct route via Eastwood. The desire to fully utilise the existing Carlingford Line infrastructure was the overriding factor, even though it is longer (by 3km). It was also cheaper than the Eastwood route, according to the government of the day, which would mainly have to be in tunnel as far as Dundas, where it would surface to connect with the Carlingford Line. There were never any publically released estimates to compare the relative costs of the two options. Remember, this was under the Labor Government at the time. The Eastwood option also included a ‘Y’ link from Epping to Eastwood which would have allowed for direct services from the Northern Line to Parramatta. If the Carlingford Line didn’t exist, there may have been a different outcome.

    Similarly, it has been assumed that the light rail route from Parramatta to Macquarie Park should adopt the Carlingford Line and the ‘short’ gap between Carlingford to Epping, which I admit appears to be a logical choice. However, what has been overlooked is that this is a surface route, unlike the PERL, and there are insurmountable problems in constructing a light rail link along existing 4-lane roads through the Epping Town Centre. It would also be a waste of resources in constructing a light rail link from Epping to Macquarie Park when it would only duplicate the existing rail link.

    Although Parramatta Council has inexplicably been favouring a light rail route via Carlingford and Epping, contrary to its own feasibility study, this option was eliminated in the early stages of the investigations for reasons already expressed. The favoured and more direct route was via Eastwood along an existing reserved transport corridor which makes complete sense.

  12. PeteD says:

    Anyone suggesting property resumption along Carlingford Road to accommodate light rail hasn’t driven along it recently.

    Resuming new five storey apartments may not quite work. Similarly, if the Light Rail gets to Epping, it will be unlikely to duplicate the Metro (especially due to traffic issues in the Town Centre noted above).

    The low patronage on the Carlingford line is a function of the frequency (1 per hour) and connectivity at Clyde. Most would likely take a bus.

    The reason the service is going to Carlingford is in part to manage the infrastructure issues created by The Hills and Hornsby councils dumping apartments in the area.

  13. Anthony says:

    Many of the proposed light rail lines is they are to be built along major roads and would require two traffic lanes to be removed from congested roads such as Old Northern Line and Carlingford Rd. That said unless the Camellia industrial area becomes highly populated, the light rail to Olympic Park will be a white elephant.

  14. Ray says:

    Agree Anthony. Just as it is inappropriate to build the light rail route along the 4 lane Carlingford Rd, requiring significant resumptions to widen the corridor, it is also inappropriate to run a Castle Hill Link along the 4 lane Old Northern Rd for the same reason.

    Parramatta Council’s feasibility study recommended that the Castle Hill route should follow Windsor Rd through Baulkham Hills to Victoria Ave then Showground Rd to the Castle Hill Town Centre. All of these roads are already 6 lanes or capable of being widened to 6 lanes with minimal resumptions. The Old Northern Rd route was nominated as an alternative. Although it is more direct, it is doubtful if it would be preferable because of the wholesale resumptions and disruption that would eventuate, when the Windsor Rd/Victoria Ave/Showground Rd option would be more acceptable, particularly as it is likely to attract greater patronage.

    I still have my doubts about the wisdom of selecting the Sydney Olympic Park route as the first priority, although it would certainly be warranted in the longer term. It will still be many years before development of the Camellia Precinct reaches the stage when patronage levels justify the building of the light rail line. In the meantime, the State Government will effectively be underwriting the operating costs for the benefit of developers along the route in the early development phase.

    It would have been more prudent to build the Macquarie Park and/or Castle Hill routes as the first stage of the light rail network (as recommended in Parramatta Council’s feasibility study) as there would be an existing demand for the service generating an immediate return on investment.
    As development intensifies along the Sydney Olympic Park corridor in the future (it’s not going to happen overnight), a light rail link would then be warranted as the next stage. It’s hard to justify it otherwise.

  15. MrV says:

    No more light rail should be constructed until it is shown construction costs can be got under control! Paying close to $100 million/km for light rail is what overseas countries pay to get underground metro or HSR.

  16. John Bellamy says:

    Would there be any benefit to the community for light rail in Parramatta, or would it be cheaper and more beneficial to use electric buses, or existing buses?

    Operational capacity of light rail is far less than crush capacity – a recent study of the inner west light rail revealed only 140 passengers on average for each tram packed to capacity in peak or only 1050 passengers an hour with an 8 minute headway.

    Buses using the same corridor would be much cheaper, faster, quieter, convenient, safer, etc etc etc.

    I love trams more, as we all do, but it is 19th Century technology and we have schools, hospitals, roads and green space that would be better to spend the money on

  17. Matthew Gee Kwun Chan says:

    Unresolved issues
    1. Speculation of cost blow outs.
    2. Duplication of light rail and rapid metro between Parramatta and Olympic Park.
    3. How would passengers be transported between heavy and light rail to and from ferry wharf at Olympic Park especially during low tide on Parramatta River?
    4. The question of Rosehill heavy rail after Carlingford line cut at Camellia. Unclear if there would be a light rail stop at Rosehill. Either way I think Rosehill heavy rail station would be negatively affected if unincorporated into the light rail project.
    5. Speed and frequency for a line feeding two branches base on a signal.

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