Archive for the ‘Urban planning’ Category

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.

Pedestrianising the suburbs

Posted: September 18, 2016 in Urban planning
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VIDEO: Perth Busport (TransperthOnline)

The Committee for Sydney recently tweeted about the importance of dense intersections in creating better quality urban areas. Small blocks with frequent intersections improve pedestrian movement and lead to better experiences, whereas larger blocks with fewer intersections do the opposite.

In suburban areas, cul-de-sacs often have the effect of calming traffic on the streets, but with the negative side effect of hindering mobility by foot. It effectively forces individuals into their cars in order to get around.

But that is not always the case. Below is a map of Baulkham Hills, the neighbouring suburb to Winston Hills (second from the right in the Committee for Sydney tweet above). The two suburbs are separated by the M2, seen on the right half of the bottom edge of the image below. There are 2 main roads running North-South on either side of the image, with the connecting streets often ending in quiet cul-de-sacs. The 2 main roads, together with the M2, are also where bus routes provide public transport for this area.

The focal point is the small park in the centre of the image. It has 3 cul-de-sacs surrounding it, two to the North (above) and one to the East (right). This park has pathways connecting the park to each of these sul-de-sacs, as well as to the other street just to the West (left), which are all accessible by pedestrians but not to cars.

Satellite image of Baulkham Hills. Click to enlarge. (Source: Google Maps.)

Satellite image of Baulkham Hills. Click to enlarge. (Source: Google Maps.)

Someone in the cul-de-sac to the East would ordinarily be quite isolated. The map below shows the same area, with a red spot showing that particular cul-de-sac and the blue areas shows everywhere accessible within 400m using only streets. This is equivalent to a 5 minute walk and reaches neither of the 2 roads where the buses operate.

As can be seen, it does not provide much coverage and it is this sort of urban design that leads many suburban residents to abandon walking or even public transport in favour of their private car to get around.

2016-09-18-baulkham-hills-pedestrian-catchments

Green areas are accessible only by pedestrians. All areas accessible within 400m of the red spot if only streets are used is shown in blue; if pedestrian only areas are included then all areas accessible within 400m is shown in blue/green/yellow. Click to enlarge. (Source: Open Street Map.)

This is where the park comes in to play. By linking up the 4 surrounding streets, it massively enhances the areas accessible within 400m. An additional 3 pedestrian walkways, also shown in green, provide further access. So the actual areas accessible on foot can be seen in green and yellow as well as the initial blue on accessible by streets only. This has the added benefit of extending the areas within 400m to both the roads where buses operate.

By providing these pedestrian links, the urban design achieves the dual goals of quiet suburban street with limited traffic as well as easy and convenient pedestrian access to a large catchment.

VIDEO: Central to Eveleigh Urban Transformation Program – Overview (UrbanGrowth NSW)

The NSW Government’s decision to build the Sydney Metro via Waterloo rather than Sydney University was based on the radical densification of the area surrounding a new Waterloo station. The precinct, currently made up of about 2,000 dwellings for public housing, is set to be re-developed with 7,000 dwellings. For a site that is 19 hectares in size, this represents 368 dwellings per hectare or about 700 residents per hectare.

The response has been mostly negative, with criticism emanating from the City of Sydney Council as well as the state opposition, raising concerns that the development is too dense. Comparisons have been made to Green Square, an urban renewal site about 1km South of Waterloo, where an additional 53,000 residents are expected to occupy an area equal to 278 hectares. This represents 190 residents per hectare, much lower than the 700 planned for Waterloo. To find a comparable city with population densities that high requires comparisons with Hong Kong.

Redevelopment sites along the Central to Eveleigh corridor. Click to enlarge. (Source: UrbanGrowth NSW.)

Redevelopment sites along the Central to Eveleigh corridor. Click to enlarge. (Source: UrbanGrowth NSW.)

But that is not a fair comparison. It compares a dense town centre (the Waterloo precinct), where densities are high but are surrounded by lower density residential areas, with entire suburbs (Green Square) or even metropolitan regions (Hong Kong).

A much better comparison would be with the 5.8 hectare Central Park which contains 2,200 residential apartments and 900 units of student accommodation. All together that is 3,100 dwellings which equates to 534 dwellings per hectare, compared to a proposed 368 dwellings per hectare in Waterloo. If Central Park can handle a higher density well, then surely Waterloo can too.

This is an important distinction as Central Park has been hailed as a great success story, one of density done right and in a manner that the community supports. Ironically, some of the same individuals and groups who have supported Central Park and are concerned about reducing Sydney’s housing shortage have also come out to oppose this, a similar project that would achieve that very goal.

The key is density done right. It’s not just a matter of plonking a row of high rise towers on top of a metro station near the CBD and assume they will automatically be a success story. It has to be well planned and well integrated into the existing urban fabric.

That is the debate that should be occurring right now – how to best build the 7,000 new apartments in a way that minimises the impact on existing residents and ensures that they are supported by the necessary infrastructure. Flat out opposing it or scamongering to appease the NIMBY voters is not helping.

VIDEO: Sydney’s New Driverless Train (Sydney Trains Vlog)

12 months ago the NSW Government had already committed to the creation of a light rail network around Parramatta and an extension of the Sydney Metro from Chatswood to Sydenham. But the question remained: which alignments will it choose? At the time, the favourites were a light rail line to Macquarie Park and a metro line via Sydney University.

However, since then the Government opted for a metro line via Waterloo and light rail to Sydney Olympic Park over the previously mentioned alignments. Among the reasons given were the capacity for value capture and the potential for development of new homes.

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 – no longer available online)

“The light rail corridor will activate a priority growth area and there is an opportunity for the government to share in the value uplift that will occur along the corridor. A Special Infrastructure Contribution will be implemented, with the levy expected to be set at around $200 per square metre of gross floor area of new residential developments subject to consultation.”Transport for NSW (8 December 2015)

“[Light rail] will be a game changer for Sydney’s second CBD – the preferred route provides the most opportunity for new jobs and urban renewal.”Rob Stokes, Planning Minister (8 December 2015)

“Waterloo metro station will be the catalyst for the delivery of an additional 10,000 homes and thousands of new jobs in the precinct for families who live in the area.”Rob Stokes, Planning Minister (16 December 2015)

The first reason given of value capture, involving the contribution to construction costs of new infrastructure by those who benefit from that new infrastructure when their property values rises, is not a new one; but has been gaining in momentum by bureaucrats and politicians at both the State and Federal levels including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. The primary advantage is the ability for new infrastructure to pay for itself, freeing new projects from the constraints of government budgets. The primary limitation is that it tends to be overstated, with Alan Davies arguing that its benefits are modest.

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.)

The second reason given of potential for new development has arisen due to concerns over housing affordability. Government could address this by either curbing demand (such as reigning in negative gearing/reducing capital gains tax concessions) or increasing supply (often by removing constraints on development due to insufficient infrastructure).

The former policies on demand are almost exclusively in the domain of the Federal Government, while the latter on supply are almost exclusively in the domain of the State Governments. These pressures have shifted Government policy making in recent years, with decisions made based on what will maximise housing construction.

Sydney Metro will include a station at Waterloo, which will also see the Waterloo area undergo significant urban renewal. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Sydney Metro will include a station at Waterloo, which will also see the Waterloo area undergo significant urban renewal. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The net result of all of this is a change in Government priorities. The new priority is all about how to enable the construction of the most housing possible, at the lowest cost to Government possible.

Each of these feeds into the other. Additional housing construction provides additional stamp duty revenue to the Government. Lower net costs allows more infrastructure to be built resulting in more potential housing.

However, it has also meant that transport goals have fallen in priority. In these cases that translates into less connectivity for Sydney and Macquarie Universities as well as Macquarie Business Park.

Chalk it up as a win to the Planning Department and a loss to Transport for NSW.

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.

VIDEO: Shaun Micallef: Australia’s NBN proposals

A High Speed Rail (HSR) network connecting Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, and Brisbane has been shown to create more benefits than costs while fares would pay the operating costs of trains on such a network. Yet there seems little appetite in the government to build one. Initially, this may appear to be due to the high initial costs of $114bn to build it; but on closer inspection it may be necessary to re-evaluate the way we look at HSR as something for regional Australia rather than just for travel between the capital cities.

Cost benefit analysis suggests that HSR is worth building. The Phase 2 Study found that HSR has a BCR (Benefit Cost Ratio) of 1.1 when a 7% discount rate is used. Thus, the benefits of building HSR are greater than the costs. However, the bulk of these benefits would accrue to the users of HSR in the form of time savings. In 2028 dollars, HSR users would receive $141bn of the total $180bn of benefits that HSR is expected to create. An additional $14bn of benefit go to operator benefits, which help to pay the operating costs and up to $16bn (14%) of infrastructure costs, but this still leaves the government paying for $98bn (86%) of infrastructure spending on HSR. (Sources: HSR Phase 2 Study Executive Summary, pages 42, 9).

This means the government would be subsidising the travel costs of HSR users to the tune of $98bn. This is unlike the NBN, where the initial infrastructure spending is expected to be eventually recouped. The majority of users (65%) would be leisure travellers; however the bulk of the benefits would be realised by business travellers (the remaining 35%), who would receive $93.6bn of the $141bn of benefits. That is because of the higher value attached to their time. This point was raised by Alan Davies in Crikey, who proposed that “if the [time] saving is so valuable to business travellers, they should pay the full cost of constructing the line”. The Phase 2 Study even recognises that these travellers would be willing to pay a higher fare:

“Increasing the cost of fares would increase the financial returns and reduce the funding gap, although doing so would reduce the number of people using the system. Even so, the economic benefits of the program would remain positive.”Source: HSR Phase 2 Study Executive Summary, page 9

Higher fares would have the benefit of reducing the government’s cost below $98bn. However, it would do so by impacting leisure travellers the most, with many choosing not to travel on HSR. Business travellers would mostly still continue to use HSR, but the loss of many leisure travellers would see the total benefit of the project reduced. Although the Phase 2 Study claims the economic benefits in such a situation would still remain positive (i.e. a BCR greater than 1), this may be based on the less conservative 4% discount rate, rather than the more conservative 7% discount rate that is normally applied to transport infrastructure projects. The 1.1 BCR that a 7% discount provides is dangerously close to falling below the 1.0 required for the project to be economically viable. Therefore, as it stands HSR does not appear viable without a $98bn government subsidy, most of which would flow to business travellers who least need government welfare.

An alternative perspective

The Phase 2 Study emphasises that HSR accrues more benefits as time progresses, given the growth in population. If governments work collaboratively and actively to preserve potential HSR corridors then HSR cost increases should be limited. Therefore, HSR becomes more viable as time progresses with benefits growing faster than costs.

Since HSR gains most of its benefits from additional users, one way to increase the viability of HSR is to add additional population to the corridor. This would be much easier to achieve around the regional stations where constraints are much more limited than in the major cities. HSR could act as an enabler, allowing a greater number of people to live and work in regional areas without becoming isolated from those services only available in major cities. The Phase 2 Study’s assumptions of modest population growth in regional towns situated on the HSR route show that this was not considered as part of the feasability for HSR.

In fact, the Phase 2 Study finds that HSR will produce $73.2bn in benefits from intercity travel, more than the $67.5bn in benefits from regional travel (Source: Department of Infrastructure, page 43). This finding that most of the benefits accrue from intercity travel rather than regional travel suggest that not enough is being done to massively develop regional Australia. HSR provides this opportunity which in turn makes HSR more viable.

Proposed East Coast High Speed Rail alignment. Click to enlarge. (Source: Department of Infrastructure, page 17.)

Proposed East Coast High Speed Rail alignment. Click to enlarge. (Source: Department of Infrastructure, page 17.)

 

This idea was floated by the ABC show Catalyst in its 4 December 2014 episode “Future Cities“, in which Dr Julian Bolleter says:

“So, what we think is really important, as the capital cities grow beyond mid-century, is that we begin to think not so much in terms of mega cities, but mega regions. Essentially, it means chains of smaller cities connected with very good public transport infrastructure. So we could conceive of a mega region running from Brisbane to Sydney through Canberra to Melbourne which is bound together by a high-speed rail link, and those cities will have access to affordable land, and they’ll also be able to be designed from the ground up around the principles of 21st-century sustainability. High-speed rail can travel at about 350km/h, so there’s no city along this mega region that is further than two hours commute on a high-speed train from a capital city.”Source: Dr Julian Bolleter, ABC

Achieving this would require us to rethink how HSR would work in AustraliaShadow Transport Minister Anthony Albanese recently wrote on HSR in which he concluded one well thought out and one not so well thought out point. His statement that “people could live in regional Australia and commute to work in the city” was not well thought out; this is true only to the extent that people can currently commute to work in Sydney by flying into Kingsford-Smith Airport, or any other major city airport. However his point that “companies could establish themselves in the regions, taking advantage of lower costs but comfortable in the knowledge the city was a short train ride away” hits the nail on the head.

In order for HSR to be a success in spurring regional development people need to live, work, and spend leisure time in the same place. Employment opportunities as well as services that are needed on a day to day basis such as health and education would be provided locally. But the existence of HSR provides convenient access to services which are not needed day to day, such as medical specialists or major cultural festivals.

If the 1,700km HSR corridor had a station every 100km or so along major regional cities, and these cities were allowed to grow to 800,000 residents each (as Dr Bolleter suggests in the Catalyst video), then it would be roughly equivalent to a doubling of the existing populations of Sydney and Melbourne combined. Once it becomes prohibitively expensive to retrofit the necessary infrastructure into our growing major cities, it will become cheaper to build it in regional cities even after the cost of HSR is factored in. Australian cities have not reached that point yet, but it remains a question of when rather than if they do reach that point.

Monday: High speed rail costs could be halved

The Australasian Railway Association has released a report showing that, based on international construction costs of $35m/km, a high speed rail line from Brisbane to Melbourne could be built for $63bn. This is significantly less than the $114bn in the Australian Government’s recent high speed rail study.

Tuesday: 4 routes shortlisted for Parramatta light rail

An initial list of 10 possible light rail lines from Parramatta has been cut down to 4, with a final decision to be made in the near future. The government is set to pick a line connecting Parramatta to either Castle Hill, Macquarie Park, Olympic Park, or Bankstown.

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.)

Tuesday: Fuel excise indexation introduced via regulation

The indexation of the fuel excise is to be introduced by the Australian Government despite the Senate having blocked legislation to enable it. Reintroducing indexation will cause the price of petrol to rise by about 1c per year and is expected to raise $2.2bn over 4 years. The move is expected to put pressure on Senators to pass the measure so that the additional revenue raised does not have to be refunded to petrol companies.

Tuesday: Mobile apps to help with accessibility

The Government is calling on app developers to help create a series of apps that will meet the needs of people with a disability using public transport. This is aimed at ensuring compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act to provide better services for people with a disability. “Planning a journey, knowing that our stop is coming up next or even knowing which side of the train to alight from are tasks that most of us take for granted,” a Transport for NSW spokesman said, adding that “for customers with disability or impairment it can be a huge cause of anxiety”. Selected app proposals will receive seed funding, ongoing access to real time transport data as well as promotion of their product by Transport for NSW.

Thursday: Gold Opal card to be released

A Gold Opal card for seniors and pensioners is to be released on Monday 3 November. The card will feature a $2.50 daily cap and also offer free travel after the first 8 journeys each week. Speaking about existing paper tickets for seniors and pensioners, the Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian said that “the paper Pensioner Excursion Ticket will continue to be available on Monday November 3, and well into the future”. Gold Opal cards can only be obtained online or over the phone.

Thursday: 50,000 new homes for Parramatta Road

An additional 50,000 homes will be built along Parramatta Road over the coming decades, with over two thirds of homes slated for the Western end of these Parramatta Road between Granville and Strathfield. The NSW Government is planning to widen the M4 alongside this portion of Parramatta Road while building the M4 East Tunnel underneath the Eastern portion of Parramatta Road as part of its WestConnex project.

Map of the WestConnex freeway. Click to enlarge. (Source: RMS)

Map of the WestConnex freeway. Click to enlarge. (Source: RMS)

Friday: Whitlam Station proposed for NWRL

The terminus station on the North West Rail Link (NWRL) could be named Whitlam, after Blacktown City Council proposed naming a new suburb after the former Prime Minister. The station is currently known as Cudgegong Road.