2019 NSW Election: A transport perspective

Posted: March 20, 2019 in Transport
Tags: , , , , ,

NSW voters will on Saturday decide who will govern the state for the next 4 years. Both major parties have put forward plans for how they will provide for the transport needs for the residents of Sydney. This blog post will delve into those plans, as well as some recent history.

The NSW Government has spent much of the past 8 years planning and building 3 major transport projects: Sydney Metro, Westconnex, and the CBD and South East Light Rail. Other than a widened M4, none has yet been completed in time for the 2019 election. It has also seen the introduction of the Opal Card and a significant increase in public transport service frequencies.

Sydney Metro

Sydney Metro was born as the North West Rail Link and suffered much initial criticism for the decision to build it as a single deck, driverless system that would terminate at Chatswood with no concrete plans for a CBD extension. That extension was eventually locked in thanks to the privatisation of government electricity businesses, a tough sell to the public that the government received a mandate for in the 2015 election. By 2024 Sydney will have a Metro running from Rouse Hill in the North West to Bankstown in the South West via the Sydney CBD.

Many of the initial criticisms have dried up and today Sydney Metro is the government’s proudest public transport project, set to open in May of this year $1 billion under budget. It is also set to supplement this first line with two additional lines in the second half of the 2020s: an East-West Line from Parramatta to the Sydney CBD and a North-South Line from St Marys to Badgerys Creek.

Sydney Metro. (Source: Transport for NSW)


WestConnex, an amalgamation of the long planned M4 East and M5 East together with an Inner West Bypass to connect the two, has had more consistent controversy. Private car travel is best when it connects disperse origins to disperse destinations, so orbital “ring roads” are the ideal sort of motorways and highways. Travel into dense centres like the Sydney CBD or Parramatta, requiring high capacity transport options, is best left for public transport which does high capacity well rather than roads which do not.

By being a combination of a radial road (the M4 and M5 extensions towards the Sydney CBD) and an orbital road (the Inner West Bypass), WestConnex was an imperfect project from the start. The re-introduction of tolling, public distrust of privatisation, and opposition from inner city residents have led to loud community opposition. Unlike Sydney Metro, opposition to WestConnex has remained strong and was largely responsible for the election of Greens MP Jenny Leong to the inner-city seat of Newtown in 2015 on a commitment to stop WestConnex.

WestConnex. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Light Rail

The CBD and South East Light Rail is the smallest of the three major projects based on its budget, but probably the most high profile one given the disruption from construction along George St. Originally set to open in early 2019, the troubled project will now open in two stages: Randwick in 2019 and Kingsford in 2020. Unlike Sydney Metro, which had very limited surface disruptions during construction, is on time, and is under budget; the light rail project is running a year behind schedule, has had its cost blown out by half a billion dollars, and has fed into a broader narrative of a government that has hampered Sydney’s entertainment and night life by discouraging Sydneysiders from going out into the George St retail and nightclub precinct.

Despite this, the benefits of a pedestrianised zone on George St are already beginning to be felt. And if the Gold Coast light rail project is anything to go by, a project that had similar problems during construction that Sydney has, then soon after opening there will be calls to extend the line out to Maroubra or further.

Sydney Light Rail. (Source: http://www.sydney.com.au)

Opal Card

An electronic ticketing system was first promised for the 2000 Olympic Games. The delayed TCard project was eventually scrapped in 2007. It was eventually replaced with Opal, which began its rollout in 2012, with all non-Opal tickets phased out by 2016.

Considering the difficult history of rolling out electronic ticketing, not just in Sydney but also in Melbourne with Myki, Opal saw a relatively painless introduction. There were concerns, principally privacy and the loss of periodical tickets such as weeklies and monthlies. Though mostly the concerns were surrounding the fare structure rather than the technology and hardware.

It should also be noted that a $2 transfer discount was introduced in 2016 and contactless payment with credit or debit cards is now available on all modes of government transport in Sydney bar buses, which will receive their rollout in the near future.

An adult Opal card. Click to enlarge.
(Source: Transport for NSW)


Service levels have seen a significant increase in the last 8 years, particularly in the Sydney Trains network where most stations now enjoy a train every 15 minutes all day. This has been combined with a large expansion of rolling stock, allowing older train sets to be retired, with all trains soon set to be air conditioned.

This has not been without problems. A simplification of stopping patterns that came with the new timetables has been opposed by residents along stations they feel have lost out, particularly on the extremes of the T3 Bankstown Line. Meanwhile, a lack of train drivers led to a “meltdown” of the train network at the start of 2018, with insufficient staff to man the increased service levels. This required some paring back of services later that year.

Despite this, increased service levels to provide frequencies approaching a “turn up and go” service is commendable and should be further encouraged, albeit managed better to avoid previous hiccups.

Stations with a train every 15 minutes or less all day. (Source: Adapted by author from Sydney Trains.)

Government vs Opposition Plans

The common theme running through the Coalition Government’s transport projects is imperfection. All their major transport infrastructure projects have their issues, but transport infrastructure is being built. In some cases, unpopular moves like privatisation had to occur to provide the funds to build that infrastructure. It is in light of this that comparison can be made to the Labor Opposition, which has had fewer issues with imperfect projects but instead consistently promised and delivered less of it.

This can be seen most starkly in the 2015 election, where the Sydney Morning Herald described the ALP’s transport plan as “less of the same”. Now in 2019, the Opposition has promised to abandon Sydney Metro South West, WestConnext Stage 3 (the Inner West Bypass and the only portion of WestConnex that acts as an orbital ring road), the Western Harbour Tunnel, the Beaches Link, and the F6 extension. Were it not already so close to completion, the CBD and South East Light Rail would probably also be on the chopping block.

This parallel’s Labor’s last period in office, during which the Epping to Chatswood Rail Link, Airport Line, and Olympic Park Rail Lines were built. It was also responsible for delivery of the M2, Eastern Distributor, Lane Cove Tunnel, and Cross City Tunnel. However, many more projects, particularly public transport projects were cancelled. A rail line from Parramatta to Epping was announced, cancelled, announced, cancelled, then announced again in what was seen as an attempt to throw money at marginal electorates to try to win re-election. A Northwest Metro was similarly announced, cancelled, re-announced as a CBD Metro, then cancelled after spending half a billion dollars. Most of the planned T-Ways, networks of bus only roads, were never built.

The Opposition would argue that it is better to cancel a bad project and redirect resources to a good project. Specifically, it has committed to spending the billion dollars saved from not converting the Bankstown Line to metro on speeding up construction on Sydney Metro West. Their argument has merit, particularly given poor planning seems to have caused many of the headaches from the CBD and South East Light Rail.

The Government would argue that the choice is between the projects as proposed (i.e. imperfect) or nothing at all. They point to the cancelling of projects between 2005 and 2010, during which half a decade of expansion of public transport infrastructure expansion was lost because the choice there wasn’t between an imperfect project or a better one, but an imperfect project and nothing. This argument also has merit given that it’s not hypothetical, it’s recent history.

What this all means

This blog believes that the perfect should not be the enemy of the good. Sydney is going through a huge increase in population and infrastructure needs to keep up. We cannot afford to stop building if doing so risks doing nothing. Cancelling projects, even imperfect ones, is not what Sydney needs right now. That means giving the current government a mandate for another four years and spending those four years pressuring them to improve the imperfect rather than electing a government that will merely cancel them.

  1. transportnsw says:

    I most certainly think a mandate for another four years will be disasterous for public transport. We need to be building the right things in the right places. The light rail and the metro are prime examples of wrong mode for the wrong corridor. It is 100% better to wait and do it right, rather than do a somewhat ok job and suffer late. It will be a shame if the privatisation agenda and underinvestment in existing rail and bus services continue, which is exactly what the Liberals always do

  2. Save T3 says:

    T3 Bankstown Line commuters especially from the 9 stations west of Bankstown (Berala, Regents Park, Sefton, Chester Hill, Leightonfield, Villawood, Carramar, Birrong, Yagoona) are quite concerned about the Sydney Metro Southwest as well as the train timetables.

    If the Liberal Government is re-elected, these 9 stations will have gone from having 2 direct lines to the City Circle (and Inner West) to No trains in the space of 10 years. (2013: Inner West Line’s Liverpool/Bankstown via Regents Park removed)

    Also with Metro Southwest being extended to Liverpool from Bankstown on a new corridor (through Bankstown Airport, Chipping Norton) but planning approval for Bankstown station being an end-to-end above ground interchange between Sydney Trains and Metro, the government needs to clarify how trains will run on the remaining heavy rail western side of the T3 Bankstown Line.

    Also with the Sydney’s Rail Future implementation plan suggesting that Leightonfield, Villawood and Carramar station being closed, to be replaced by buses from Cabramatta to Chester Hill… this government has left the T3 Bankstown Line with many critical questions that need to be addressed.

    This hasn’t received the media coverage it deserves but Labor has actually committed to restoring the City to Liverpool (and Bankstown) via Regents Park train service.

  3. Natural population growth is very modest, only 210 K until 2036. Immigration in the same period is 1.5 m. (NSW government data and targets from 2016). It is deliberately engineered because the government has run out of ideas how to develop the economy otherwise. Just take the imports of rail stock from India, China and South Korea instead of manufacturing it here. However, the GDP per capita is going down. So the strategy to grow the GDP by high immigration does not work. In the contrary, the infrastructure costs are exorbitantly high because capital cities were never designed for even the current population, not to mention the targets of governments.

    The Gladys government uses its metros as a tool to whack in high rises around all stations as generally the densities in Sydney are too low to justify high-frequency metros. I have written following post on the Metro West for an additional population of 450 K:

    Sydney’s Immigration Metros (Part 1)

    In order to make Sydney sustainable, any rail development should have the objective to replace EXISTING car traffic not cater for transport demand from future immigration.

    As we can see from recent substation and transformer failures the whole grid is not designed for any growth. On the generation side, coal fired power plants – which are all aging – are maxed out as shown in my post:

    NSW power imports in January 2019 heatwave exceed 2 GW, drive up electricity prices

    There are several other posts on the same topic.

    Energy illiterate Lucy Turnbull has the crazy idea to increase population to 8 million by 2056. She will fail. Huge mis-investments are taking place in Sydney everywhere, including expensive metros, where actually a Transperth solution (rail on freeways) would be much cheaper, faster to build and would replace car traffic.

    There are many scenarios on future oil supplies. China’s oil production peaked in 2015 while imports are going up and up. They are militarizing the South China Sea and also building up port capacities in the Northern Indian Ocean, in order to secure oil supply routes. In other words they are preparing for an (oil) war. In the US, shale oil production will peak due to exorbitant decline rates. The higher the production, the higher the cumulative decline per month. Peak US shale oil will in all likelihood be the global peak which will surprise everyone because the public has been made to believe that peak oil is dead.

    Australia, including Sydney, is NOT preparing for another oil crisis. Neither the Coalition nor the ALP have understood the system dynamics of the above.

  4. John Bellamy says:

    Hi just wondering if you know how long the CBD and South East Light Rail will Take to travel from Kingsford and Randwick to Circular Quay in the morning peak? (Average forecast time in 2018/2019 figures)

    Best wishes,

    John Bellamy 0414 755 621 john@johnnellamy.biz


  5. jufemaiz says:

    Where’s the mention of active transport in this overview? Cycling (both commuter and recreational) and walking infrastructure surely are an incredible important part of a vision for transport in the 21st century yet…. tumbleweeds?

  6. Tandem Train Rider says:

    @Bambul: I have one word for you: Stadiums

    The reason that has been such a cut through issue is it is a perfect metaphor for the direction of public capital for major projects that primarily benefit private (ie Liberal Campaign contributors) interests.

    There is widely held perception – and I believe it is an accurate one – that all the capital needed to maintain and evolve our existing infrastructure has been mis-directed mostly into high profile projects of questionable efficacy at the behest of private interests.

    And the reason it is widely held is the vast majority can see it happening locally: roads not coping with increased traffic, crowded trains and stations, demountable classrooms, local swimming pools closed to facilitate property developments etc. Spending on basic local infrastructure is curtailed to finance projects like … well …. stadium re-developments.

    Newcastle LRT, is another. And Westconnex, it has sucked up a massive chunk of our roads budget, and the primary objective of it seems to be to collect tolls. The Illawarra “regional transport investment” morphing into an F6 upgrade, morphing into a new Toll road at Botany.

    Regardless of the merits or otherwise of the NWRL metro, one of the impacts has been to reduce the funding available for the rest of the city’s rail network. In fact, everything possible has been done with this project to ensure that as little as possible investment in the remainder of the network to support it.

    We’re still running S-Sets and V-Sets FFS. Despite how venerable they are, they are life expired and should have been replaced 5 years ago. But as Transport Minister the current Premier elected not to exercise the A-Set extension (when there was the opportunity to get them dirt cheap).

    If the previous Labor Gvt tells us anything, it’s the dangers of letting a NSW Gvt (with the fixed 4 year terms) scrape back in for one more term than they deserve, and with no prospect of re-election. And there is a one word metaphor that sums this up perfectly: Stadiums

  7. Hisashi says:

    Yeah, the numerous cancellations does make me question about Labor’s political leadership at that time.

    Though it also doesn’t help that Sydney’s density isn’t as high compared to other cities with underground railways, yet has a lot of subdivisions to negotiate for an above-ground system.

    That being said, I also have to question having Stage 3 of WestConnex so close to the CBD. That part should have been built at Summer Hill – Sydney Airport (west end), or even further, considering the lack of a single route taht . Another thing to note is the lack of PT-friendly amenity over at Parramatta Road. Can we take away one lane to either fill in the gaps in the bus lanes, or introduce dedicated cycling lanes? And enforce non-local traffic onto WestConnex this way?

  8. Ray Laverack says:

    With the re-election of the LNP government, the thing I fear is that they will continue to ignore upgrading and extension of the existing Sydney Trains’ network where warranted, in favour of their ideological preference for expansion of the metro system. It alone is not going to resolve the congestion issues on the current network because of the unprecedented increase in patronage. They have dropped the ball in failing to respond to the increase in patronage. It’s all very well to order more trains to service the existing network, but unless they match that with upgrades and amplification to cater for increased services, it’s pointless.

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