Is a Western Metro Sydney’s next rail line?

Posted: October 23, 2016 in Transport, Urban planning
Tags: , ,

A metro line connecting Sydney’s CBD to Parramatta is firming as the most likely major rail project to be completed once the currently under construction Sydney Metro opens in 2024. This follows the windfall gains received by the NSW Government in the 99 year lease of its poles and wires, with Daily Telegraph political editor Andrew Clennel citing senior government sources that the highest priority in using the proceeds of the privatisation funds will be a “third Metro line from the CBD to Parramatta — taking pressure off the above-ground rail line which is already near capacity”.

The NSW Government is currently reviewing an unsolicited proposal to build such a line, received in July of this year. The cost is estimated at $10bn and could be partly funded through value capture. This would be possible in sites like the Bays Precinct, Olympic Park, Camellia, and Badgerys Creek. However, it remains uncertain what this means for current plans for a light rail connection from Parramatta to Olympic Park, with suggestions that such a link may be shelved and replaced by a metro rail line.

2017-10-23 All Options.png

Transport for NSW subsequently published a discussion paper and is now seeking feedback until 28 October. The discussion paper outlines a number of options, split into Options A-E Western Sydney (mostly connecting Parramatta to the Sydney CBD) and Options 1-6 Western Sydney Airport (connecting the new Western Sydney Airport to the rail network).

Option A, a new western metro-style service, would appear to be the proposal being put forward by the consortium and therefore be the front runner. It is described as:

This line requires a tunnel to be built between Sydney and Parramatta / Westmead with stations located every few kilometres. It could operate as a stand-alone, metro-style, all stops service using high capacity single deck trains with the potential to transport 40,000 extra passengers per hour. It could potentially provide journey times between Sydney and Parramatta of around 30 minutes and relieve some demand on the existing network. This could also support opportunities for new developments at locations such as Olympic Park, Five Dock and The Bays precinct.

2016-10-23 Option A.png

Option 5, a direct rail express service from Western Sydney Airport to Parramatta, appears to be the proposal most similar to that being put forward by the consortium and would therefore also be the front runner. However, it involves a 160km/hour express service rather than a metro style service with frequent stops as previous Option A put forward:

This option would include a direct rail express service from the proposed Western Sydney Airport to Parramatta and through to Sydney CBD. This line would require a new tunnel as it approaches Parramatta and from Parramatta through to the Sydney CBD. This service offers the potential for the fastest service between the airport and these two major centres, but would be comparatively expensive to construct. Initial assessments indicate that such a line could achieve journey times of 15 minutes from the proposed Western Sydney Airport to Parramatta and 12 minutes from Parramatta to the Sydney CBD based on a maximum speed of 160 kilometres per hour. While such a service would provide a short travel time to the broader Sydney Basin and CBD, it would not necessarily service the population who are expected to work at and use a Western Sydney Airport in the short-term.

2016-10-23 Option 5.png

This proposal builds on a March 2016 Parramatta City Council feasability study which suggested a fast train rail link along this corridor, providing a 15 minute rail journey from Parramatta to the Sydney CBD that would also connect Parramatta to a Western Sydney Airport.

2016-03-12 Parramatta Fast Rail Route.PNG


Should such a line go ahead, it would pass though and potentially create a new economic corridor for Sydney. The existing “Global Economic Corridor” originally consisted of an zone spanning across Sydney Airport, the Sydney CBD, North Sydney, St Leonards, Chatswood, and Macquarie Park; recently also being expanded to include Norwest Business Park and Parramatta. This new economic corridor would encapsulate Western Sydney Airport, Parramatta, Olympic Park, the Bays District, and the Sydney CBD. This new corridor would pass through Sydney’s 3 cities described by Greater Sydney Commission Chair Lucy Turnbull.

Commentary: How might this line be built?

The Western rail corridor from Parramatta to the Sydney CBD remains one of the most congested in the Sydney network and yet has been seemingly neglected in terms of capacity improvements. Therefore, additional rail capacity is a welcome possibility. What is less certain is how much of it can be paid for with value capture, whether the journey times will be 15 or 30 minutes, and $10bn price tag.

A recent study focused on the Gold Coast Light Rail line found that value capture would be able to pay for only 25% of the capital costs of building the line. Using that as a benchmark suggests that governments will still be liable to fund the majority of the construction costs for major public transport projects. This is also why the windfall gains from recent privatisations is so significant: it makes a project like this possible.

The 15 minute journey time is possible, but unlikely unless the journey is express. The predicted journey times for the 2008 West Metro, which involved a 22km journey that included 10 stations, was 26 minutes. This equates roughly to 45 seconds/km (the equivalent of 80km/hour), plus an additional 1 minute/station. This also corresponds to the estimated journey times for the Sydney Metro currently under construction. So 25-30 minutes would appear a much more realistic journey time than 15 minutes.

2016-10-23 CBD to Parramatta Metro estimated costs.PNG

Finally, there is the construction costs. Here, a lot depends on how the line is constructed and a number of assumptions will be made. The 2008 West Metro is a good starting point, with the adjustment that it pass through the Bays Precinct and then most likely entering the CBD at Barangaroo. This would involve a similar number of stations, but with a slightly shorter length of perhaps 21km rather than 22km. Curiously, this would effectively see a hybrid of the West Metro and CBD Metro alignments, with the 2008 proposed alignments seen in the map below.

2016-10-18 West Metro and CBD Metro Alignment.PNG

Based on the costs of recent projects, but not taking future inflation into account, a more realistic cost could be just under $11bn for the Sydney CBD to Parramatta portion. From Parramatta to Badgerys Creek, the distance is longer at 26km, but about two thirds of this could be above ground rather than in a tunnel. Additionally, it would likely have fewer stations, probably 4 in total not counting Parramatta. So using the same assumptions, that portion of the project could come in at about $6bn.

That is approximately $17bn, approaching double the $10bn cited by the unsolicited proposal. This should come as no surprise, as unsolicited proposals are in the business of selling their case to the government and thus have an interest in underestimating the potential costs.

Finally there is the question of where to run the line through the CBD. The map accompanying the proposal submitted to the Government, published by the Sydney Morning Herald, suggests connecting the line to the future Sydney Metro at Barangaroo and then another line out from Waterloo out to the soon to be redeveloped Long Bay Prison in Sydney’s South East. This would have the benefit of funneling trains from two separate lines on each end of the central portion of this line, ensuring constant high frequency along the CBD portion of the Sydney Metro.

However, it would also place capacity constraints on the line. For example, it would prevent the Northwest line of the Sydney Metro from increasing its current 15 trains per hour during the peak if the Western line of the Sydney Metro were also to enjoy 15 trains per hour. It would be possible to extend the trains from 6 to 8 carriages, providing a 33% increase in capacity, but not the 167% increase in capacity that is currently possible.

The alternative is to build an additional rail line through the CBD. A second corridor under Sussex St has been reserved for such a future line, in addition to the Pitt St corridor that the current Sydney Metro line will use. Alternatively, the line could cross the CBD in an East-West direction, rather than the typical North-South direction that all the existing rail lines follow. This could potentially provide heavy rail access to Pyrmont or Taylor Square.

Either option would be challenging and disruptive. It would ordinarily also be expensive. But it could be transformational in a way very little else could and NSW has recently come across the billions of dollars necessary for such an endeavour.

  1. A CBD-Parramatta metro will benefit the CBD more than Parramatta. It is a city-centric proposal while we actually need to decentralize and strengthen subcentres by improving their own catchment areas in surrounding suburbs.

    Already during the EIS for the Parramatta – Chatswood rail link it was established that the capacity of Strathfield – CBD would be reached by 2016. The idea was to divert Western trains to Chatswood through the tunnel so that commuters working along the North Shore would not have to go through the CBD. Costa cancelled the Epping – Parramatta leg. Take a 5 pm train from Epping to Emu plains or Richmond via the CBD and there is only standing by the time it has reached Milsons Point. In Wynyard it’s chaos. It is a self-inflicted problem.

    And because of a 500 m long section of tunnel North of Epping with a stub to Parramatta this option has been botched for good.

    In the recently published “business case” for the Chatswood – Bankstown metro

    Click to access Sydney%20Metro%20CSW%20Business%20Case%20Summary.pdf

    the global arch Airport – CBD – Rouse Hill got 2 new babies: Parramatta and Olympic Park (Fig 3.2 page 34). The latter have no proper rail connection to the global arch. Bankstown is not even on the global arch, with only 2,400 new jobs against 17,400 jobs in the North West (table 6.4), so the proposed metro is completely out of balance.

    The Olympic Park Master Plan 2030
    proposes a high density area around the Olympic Park loop so at least there is a rail connection although inconvenient to go to Macquarie Park. The light rail alignment (see Fig 3.11) is only indicative.

    All this planning is inconsistent.

    What we need is a North South link Hornsby – Parramatta – Liverpool. Maybe we can use the NorthConnex tunnel for this because this will become a white elephant. We do not even know whether oil companies will survive low oil prices until 2020. From my website

    Royal Dutch Shell’s upstream earnings peaked 2008, now in the red

    A 2nd Sydney airport is not needed because the untested assumption is perpetual growth in China which will not happen due to many limitations including debt and oil Planners should first calculate China’s oil import requirements for the next 20 years before dreaming.

    China’s oil peak 45 years after the US peak

    The more immediate problem is this:

    Given that the financial and oil supply systems are highly unstable and looking what is happening in the Middle East it is suicide to close the Epping – Chatswood tunnel in 2018 for a completely unnecessary conversion to single deckers. My proposal is that between Epping and Chatswood drivers should take over the automatic trains, using existing signalling and allowing flexibility in continuing use of double deckers in that tunnel.

    I had written this post:

    Sydney mismanages transition to driver-less single deck trains (part 2)

    but this government stubbornly sticks to its plans.

  2. Matthew Chan says:

    Wouldn’t it be appropriate to keep a section of light rail say Carlingford to Stratfield alongside the Badgery Creek to CBD via Parramatta and Five Dock metro?

    If they go through Sussex street, wouldn’t they have to acquire basements and underground carparks?

  3. @Matthew –
    Officially, the light rail line to Strathfield is still being built. But based on media reports (see links in the blog post) the line might now be built in 2 stages. Stage One would be Westmead to Carlingford, with Stage Two being a spur from Camellia to Strathfield via Olympic Park.

    Underground rail corridors under Sussex and Pitt Streets have been reserved for decades now. This has prevented any construction of basements or car parks that would block such a future rail line. However, as I understand it, these reservations do not include spaces for stations and this might require property acquisitions. We have seen this occur for the Sydney Metro project, with some quite large properties on Martin Place set to be acquired and demolished.

  4. meltdblog says:

    Is property acquisition part of the estimates for station costs above? Melbourne is getting its new stations built as part of the level crossing removal projects for a fraction of that price (including some property acquisition).

  5. @meltdblog –

    Those stations in Melbourne are above ground. As soon as you do something underground, the construction costs become about 8 times as much as doing it on the surface (as a rough rule of thumb). So it makes sense for the cost of those stations in Melbourne to be a fraction of the cost of those in Sydney.

  6. meltdblog says:

    Many are cut and cover, which can be built as part of an underground route. But deep stations would greatly increase costs.

  7. Ray says:

    Reading between the lines, everything seems to point to a Western Metro being the next “metro” rail line in the pipeline, but not necessarily the next rail line. I think that there’s a very good chance that an extension of the SWRL to the Badgerys Creek Airport as part of the Sydney Trains network will come before it. By the time the airport is due to open in a decade’s time, there will most likely be a demand for the link with the increasing urbanisation along that corridor. The fact that it would also service the airport is an added incentive.

    It can be constructed at a relatively inexpensive cost providing a direct service to the Sydney CBD via the East Hills Line as well as a link, albeit indirect, to Liverpool and Parramatta via the Cumberland Line, which would suffice until more direct routes are warranted.

    A Western Metro should be viewed as servicing a new rail corridor through the Inner West with multiple stations along its route, such as the Bays Precinct, Five Dock, Strathfield, Sydney Olympic Park and Camellia to name a few. I don’t see it as an express service to Parramatta, let alone to the Badgerys Creek Airport, which is just too far away for a metro. In any event the cost wouldn’t be justified when far cheaper alternatives are available. It shouldn’t extend beyond Parramatta/Westmead. If such a link were to be built, then it should replace that part of the Western Light Rail between Strathfield and Camellia as it would otherwise only be a wasteful duplication. Buses could easily service the intermediate stops along this route.

    At the city end, it would be a closer hybrid to the West Metro and the original North West Metro proposal, which took a different alignment across the CBD from White Bay to a new station at St James, located between the existing station platforms and Elizabeth St, but deeper underground. It could be extended to the South East under Oxford St and Taylor Square, passing below the City Circle.

    I don’t have much faith in unsolicited proposals, for reasons already mentioned, because they are biased towards the profit incentive of the proponent and not necessarily in providing an acceptable transport solution and the maximum public benefit. I also think that value capture is highly overrated as a source of finance. It might work in some instances, but there are too many imponderables for it to be considered in an existing urban environment.

    The most pressing need for the Sydney Trains network is to provide more express train paths for outer suburban locations through the inner suburbs. In the short term, this can be achieved with the proposed Western Line upgrade which I understand will also eventually include Automatic Train Operation allowing up to 24tph. I presume this will initially be introduced on the Western Main to Sydney Terminal and subsequently on the Suburban, although I wouldn’t think that would be feasible until the new metro line is extended through the CBD easing congestion on the existing Central, Town Hall and Wynyard Stations. A Western Metro service from Parramatta to the CBD isn’t going to do much for those commuters boarding further out, without having to change.

    An express service from Parramatta on the existing Western Main would probably be faster to Central anyway. The fastest service under the current timetable is 25 minutes, with one stop at Strathfield. When you consider that the timetable was slowed down a decade ago and the infrastructure improvements that have been undertaken since, I can’t see why a time from Parramatta to and from Central of 20 minutes couldn’t be achieved with faster running speeds.

    In the longer term, as more development takes place on Sydney’s fringes, there will be a need to augment the capacity through the inner city with an express tunnel for the outer suburban services from, say, Granville to the CBD, possibly linking with a City Relief Line from Eveleigh to Barangaroo. This can’t be provided by a metro.

  8. Anthony says:

    The problem with this proposal is that it doesn’t really improve the connection between Parramatta (and suburbs to its west) and the CBD apart from adding services which will likely be slower than current services. I’m not sure how this will relieve western line services in a meaningful way.
    The major benefit is adding stations between Parramatta and the City but these won’t be very far from existing stations unless this line goes north of the Parramatta River.
    Running the line along Victoria Rd to Top Ryde where it can head through Olympic Park and Camellia to Parramatta would be a better option.
    As for what happens to this line when it reaches the City, why not run it onto the current Eastern Suburbs line?

  9. Pete says:

    It will almost certainly run through the Drummoyne and Balmain electorates where huge development has happened.
    For the sake of argument, it could be aligned Westmead (vacant land nearer to the Hospital), Parramatta, Camelia, Olympic Park, Rhodes, Concord/Breakfast Point/Mortlake, Five Dock, Drummoyne, Balmain, White Bay, Pyrmont, Barrangaroo, Museum, Moore Park…

    This would avoid duplication, and open up additional value capture via rezoning driven stamp duty.

    It would also reopen the option to convert the line from Bankstown to Olympic Park as a Metro 1 service extension (alongside Bankstown to Liverpool).

  10. Judy Paxton says:

    If we are keeping the existing airport as well as Badgery’s Creek, the most sensible thing would be to extend the East Hills / Airport line to go through Leppington and then on to Badgery’s Creek. That way people can move easily from one airport to the other. It needs to be planned and started now rather than in 10 years after the areas have all been built out!!!

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