2017 timetable (part 2): Off peak

Posted: September 4, 2017 in Transport
Tags: ,

VIDEO: More than 1,500 extra weekly services for train customers, Transport for NSW (28 August 2017)

See also: 2017 timetable (part 1): Morning peak

The number of stations with a train service every 15 minutes is set to rise from 88 to 126 (representing 71% of the networks 178 stations), an increase of 43%, thanks to the addition of 1,500 additional weekly services as part of a timetable revamp set to be introduced in November. This has been achieved by adding additional services in some parts of the network and by re-scheduling services to be evenly spaced where there are already 4TPH (Trains Per Hour) on that part of the network. These 15 minute frequencies will last most of the day, 7 days a week. The government has touted the benefits of this as allowing users to ignore the timetable and instead just turn up and go.

To visualise what this means, compare the Sydney Trains map shown above to the one shown below. The map above is the normal network map, showing all the stations. The map below (the regular map, modified by this blog´s author) only shows the stations that currently receive 15 minute frequencies all day. Lines with turn up and go frequencies can be seen in Inner Sydney as well and Nothern Sydney: the T1 North Shore Line, T1 Northern Line, T1 Epping Line, T2 Inner West Line, T3 Bankstown Line, T4 Eastern Suburbs Line, and T8 Airport Line.

The map shown below also includes the stations that are set to get 15 minute frequencies in November. These new stations are mostly in Sydney´s West: the T1 Western Line, T2 Leppington Line, and T8 South Line. The main lines still missing a regular all day 15 minute frequency are the T1 Richmond Line, T4 Cronulla Line, and the T4 Illawarra Line. The T1 Richmond and T4 Illawarra Line are hampered by being branch lines that service sparsely populated areas, meanwhile the T4 Cronulla Line does have 4 trains per hour, but enter the city on 10/20 minute frequencies due to varied stopping patterns.

Additionally, where branch lines with 15 minute frequencies merge in the inner portions of the network it results in even higher frequencies. Most of these stations thus provide all day frequencies of a train every 10 minutes or less, with a few providing frequency levels of a train every 11 minutes or less (often in one direction rather than both directions). The highest frequencies are seen on the City Circle, where trains travelling through in a clockwise direction pass through stations every 6 minutes or less all day.

There are 3 areas in particular, accounting for 27 stations, where this occurs:

  1. The T4 Cronulla Line and T4 Illawarra Line merge at Sydenham to provide 6TPH, resulting in even 10 minute frequencies between Sydenham and Bondi Junction.
  2. The T8 Airport Line and T8 South Line merge at Wolli Creek to provide 8TPH, resulting in 6/9 minute frequencies between Wolli Creek and Central via the airport stations in both directions. Services through the City Circle, entering via Museum and travelling counter-clockwise, continue this 6/9 minute frequency.
  3. The T2 Leppington Line, T2 Inner West Line, and T3 Bankstown Line merge at Redfern to provide 12TPH, resulting in 3/6 minute frequencies through the City Circle, entering via Town Hall and travelling clockwise, though to Central.
  4. The T2 Leppington Line and T2 Inner West Line merge at Ashfield to provide 8TPH, resulting in either 7/8 minute or 4/11 minute frequencies into the City Circle for Ashfield and Newtown Stations. Frequency levels depend on direction of travel and whether it is a weekday or weekend. However, Newtown´s 15 minute frequencies remain on weekends.
  5. The T1 Western Line and T1 Epping Line merge at Strathfield to provide 8TPH, resulting in 6/9 minute or 4/11 minute frequencies into the City and through to Chatswood for Strathfield Station. Frequency levels depend on direction of travel.

The stations affected can be seen in the map below.

Commentary: Why frequency matters

This blog has argued the merits of high frequency networks before (see: here, here, here). A network of high frequency public transport services, buses as well as trains, with easy interchanges between them, allow for a much greater level of mobility for its users.

The big increase in the 15 minute turn up and go network is to be commended. This will go a long way to improving access to the Sydney CBD. But for users wanting to make a transfer at an interchange, be it catching a bus to their local station or changing trains at an outer suburban station, a 15 minute frequency is just too long.

That´s why identifying where services are more frequent than a train every 15 minute is so important. As it turns out, 27 stations in and near the city currently do; reaching Chatswood, Bondi Junction, Wolli Creek, and Strathfield. Most of these have gaps between train services of no more than 10 minutes, with the best service levels seen on the City Circle for anyone travelling through it on a clockwise direction of a train every 6 minutes or less all day.

But there is still scope for improvement that requires little to no additional spending on operating costs. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Re-schedule trains on T1 between Strathfield and Chatswood to eliminate the 11 minute gaps between some services. This would allow for a train every 9 minutes or less all day without having to add more trains.
  2. Look into making express trains on T2 stop at Newtown during weekends to give that station 8TPH across the full week. Both these changes may be possible without having to add more trains.
  3. Re-route trains on T3 to run through the City Circle via Museum and then terminate at Redfern where they can turn around at the Macdonaldtown turnback and return to Bankstown through the City Circle. This would increase frequencies through the City Circle up to 12TPH in both directions, providing a train every 6 minutes or less all day with only a small increase in cost.
  4. Re-schedule trains through the City Circle to have even spacings. Where there are 12TPH, this would mean a train every 5 minutes rather than 3/6/6 minute gaps in the frequency as is currently the case. It would result in 5/10 minute frequencies in other parts of the network, rather than 6/9 minute frequencies, such as the Airport Line.

In the longer term, the two new Sydney Metro Lines should result in a large increase to the all day high frequency network out to Rouse Hill, Parramatta, and Bankstown. Sydney Metro Northwest is currently slated to run at 10 minute frequencies all day. When it gets extended through to Bankstown increasing its frequencies up to a train every 5 minutes all day would be a big improvement that would achieve the earlier stated goal of providing a true turn up and go network that makes interchanges easy and seamless.

Advertisements

Two thirds of stations on the Sydney Trains network will enjoy a train to the city every 15 minutes during most hours of the day on both weekdays and weekends under a revamp of the train timetable set to be implemented in late November. The plans will also see a boost to peak hour services, with the number of trains entering Sydney´s CBD stations increasing to 114 during the busiest hour of the morning; a 3.6% increase on the existing 110 trains per hour, while Liverpool will see the addition of fast express trains into the city during the morning peak.

The new timetable is accompanied by a new network map (shown above), which was reviewed by the Transit Maps website.

All up, an additional 1,500 services are being added per week. Half of these during the weekend. For comparison, the 2013 timetable changes saw an increase of 700 services per week, with no change to the weekend timetable. The increase in service levels will be supported by a $1.5bn capital investment, the largest part of which will be the purchase of an additional 24 Waratah trains. This will increase the existing fleet of Waratahs trains from 78 to 102.

This post will look at how the changes affect the morning peak hour. A future post will focus at the off-peak.

The Good

The number of trains into the city from Parramatta is set to increase from 20TPH (Trains Per Hour) to 24TPH. If the 4TPH on the Blue Mountains Line which stop at Parramatta but terminate at Central´s Sydney Terminal are included, Parramatta will soon see 28TPH into Central Station during the busiest hour of the morning peak.

It achieves this by extending the T2 Inner West Line to Parramatta, with 4TPH on that line now starting at Parramatta rather than Homebush. This was one of the few ways to increase capacity into the city from Parramatta, as the Western Line is currently at maximum capacity of 20TPH.

The new timetable then resolves the issue of overcrowding on the T2 Line from additional passengers boarding at Parramatta by adding an adding additional capacity on the T2 Leppington Line and T3 Bankstown Line. It is able to do this as these both run into the City Circle, which is the only line with significant spare capacity. The City Circle currently uses 34 out of the 40 paths (that being 20TPH in each direction) available during the busiest hour of the morning peak. The new timetable adds an additional 4TPH into the city, meaning that 38 paths out of a potential 40 will now be used. As a result, the T3 Bankstown Line will see an increase from 8TPH to 10TPH, and the T2 Leppington And Inner West Line will see an increase from 12TPH to 14TPH. This should, in theory, offset the loss of 4TPH to Parramatta.

The Bad

The increase in services through the City Circle now mean that Sydney’s city stations are one step away from being full during peak hour, with 114 of the available 120 paths on the 3 CBD lines being used up. This is 95% of maximum capacity.

With demand on the rail network currently growing at a rate of 10% per year, there is a risk that the network will reach capacity well before additional rail capacity comes online in 7 years when the Sydney Metro is extended through under the CBD in 2024.

The only other viable stop gap would appear to be an increase in services into Sydney Terminal. Internal government plans prepared in 2014 show this could increase capacity into Central Station by 16% during the busy morning peak, but it would cut many direct services between the city and Sydney´s outer suburbs. The current timetable goes part of the way in doing this by rerouting some T1 Richmond Line services through to the T5 Cumberland Line, but for now Richmond retains direct services into the city.

The Ugly

The T2 and T3 lines will now have some very unusual stopping patterns during the morning peak. Some stations on theT3 Bankstown Line will now have a 19 minute gap between services during the morning peak. This seems designed to cater for the new Liverpool express services.

It is unusual because this undoes part of what the 2013 timetable changes aimed to do: simplify the timetable to create regular clockface timetable. Strangely, those same stations still enjoy regular 15-minute clock face frequencies during the off peak hours of the day.

To complicate things even further, there is a possibility that these unusual stopping patterns will not survive past 2024, when the Sydney Metro City and Southwest absorbs the Bankstown Line.

The CSELR (CBD and South East Light Rail) project recently announced proposed stop names for the new line set to open in 2019. Submissions were sought from the public in response and can be made until 11 September 2017. Below is an edited version of the submission made by this blog’s author that seek to clarify stop names in order to improve wayfinding for users of the new line.

Overall, the stop names are good. However, some could be clarified and standardised so as to cause less confusion to users. In particular, ensuring that places with 2 stops (Central and UNSW) are treated in a consistent manner and ensuring that unique stop names are used that could not be confused with another location (Royal Randwick).


There are 2 pairs of stops that share a landmark, Central Station and UNSW. In each case, an additional identifier has been used to highlight where the stop is located (Grand Concourse and Chalmers St for Central, Anzac Pde and High St for UNSW). However, this is presented in a different manner for each. A more consistent approach could be used in the formatting of these stop names, without changing the actual names themselves. For example, putting the landmark first (as is currently the case) with the additional identifier on the next line and in brackets would provide consistency for all these stops. In the case of Central, that word could remain in bold as it is also a major interchange and light rail terminus. This would make the 4 stops:

Central

(Grand Concourse)

 

Central

(Chalmers Street)

 

UNSW

(Anzac Parade)

 

UNSW

(High Street)

The Royal Randwick stop, on the other hand, suffers from the confusing detail that there is both a Royal Randwick Racecourse as well as a Royal Randwick Shopping Centre. The current bus routes (and the former tramway alignment) passes by both landmarks. To avoid confusion, the name “Royal Randwick Racecourse” or simply just “Randwick Racecourse” would be a clearer descriptor, while keeping the same landmark the stop is named after.

A Peter Martin article entitled ¨Benefits from a Wollongong-to-Sydney rail upgrade would exceed costs, Cabinet told¨ appeared recently in the Sydney Morning Herald on 13 July 2017. The article suggests that a $5bn upgrade to the rail line from Sydney to Wollongong would potentially provide benefits more than double their cost. It suggests that this is a favourable option to an $18bn extension of the F6 Motorway between Sydney and Wollongong.

The biggest obstacle to upgrading the rail line to Wollongong is that there is actually no business case currently available for the full project. The SMH article claims ¨the total cost of upgrading the Sydney to Wollongong commuter line would be around $5 billion¨, of which a rail tunnel from Thirroul to Waterfall is the largest expense at $2.9bn.

A Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) of 1.5 to 2.4 is provided only for the Maldon to Dombarton freight line, which at $700m-$800m represents no more than 16% of the full project on a cost basis. This line would allow freight trains to travel to Sydney from Wollongong via Campbelltown rather than the current path via Sutherland.

The Maldon to Dombarton Railway would allow freight trains to travel between Sydney and Port Kembla without using the T4 Line through Hurstville and Sutherland. Click to enlarge. (Source: Infrastructure NSW, State Infrastructure Strategy Update 2014, p. 65.)

However, the BCR drops to 0.9 when a discount rate of 7% is used rather than 4.4%. A discount rate of 7% is the standard one used in order to compare all infrastructure projects. Using a lower discount rate inflates the benefits when compared to other projects. The reduction in BCR below 1.0 suggests that the costs of this project outweight the benefits.

Infrastructure Australia also pointed out that the benefits are probably to be overstated for 2 reasons: (1) coal freight tonnage is likely to decline in coming decades and (2) there are no current plans to convert part of the T4 Illawarra Line to metro standard which would subsequently require a new entry path for rail freight from the Illawarra into Sydney.

The full text of Infrastructure Australia´s conclusion is included below.

¨There is significant uncertainty around forecast future freight demand, particularly from 2031 onwards. Freight throughputs were estimated for 2014, 2021 and 2031. Beyond 2031, demand was assumed to remain constant at 2031 levels. The business case assumed coal would represent 58% of projected freight tonnage using the line in 2031. However, a number of coal mines which were projected to use the Maldon-Dombarton Rail Link over the entire 50-year evaluation period are expected to be exhausted within the next 20 years. For example, the Tahmoor coal mine – which was expected to account for around 22% of rail paths on the Maldon-Dombarton Rail Link from 2031 – is expected to close by early 2019. This lost freight demand is unlikely to be replaced, and lower freight demand would lower project benefits.

The base case is not a ‘do-minimum’ base case because it assumes uncommitted future network changes to the Sydney rail system, including the potential introduction of rapid transit services to Hurstville by 2031. This would affect freight rail capacity on the Illawarra line. However, these changes have not been committed or funded, so it is not certain that the related project benefits would be realised.Also important to consider is that the $700m-$800m cost was calculated at P50. In other words, there is a 50% chance that the cost will be higher than that estimate, and a 50% chance that it will be lower. Additionally, the analysis excludes wider economic benefits. These include things like agglomeration economies, improving market competitiveness, or increased tax revenues from labour markets. They are excluded in part because they are indirect and thus hard to measure. But it does mean that a BCR of close to 1.0 could still make a project such as this viable as WEBs would ultimately make the benefits outweigh the costs. However, as previously stated, if the benefits are overstated then it is unlikely that the BCR would be close to 1.0 anyway.¨

So does this mean that an upgrade of the South Coast Line from Wollongong to Sydney does not stack up? The answer is: we actually don´t know.

A section of the partly completed Maldon to Dombarton freight railway. Click to enlarge. (Source: Marcus Wong.)

Remember: this is a $5bn project and the Maldon to Dombarton freight line is just one small part of it. In order to determine if the full project is economically viable, a business case needs to be developed for the full project. Not one part of the project. Not all of the parts separately. The full project. This is because when taken as a whole, individual parts of the full project could provide benefits for another part and vice versa.

What certainly doesn´t help is a government decision to look into a road improvement to connect Sydney to Wollongong, excluding all other options. Instead, the government could have committed itself to evaluating the transport corridor first, then determining which mode provides the best possible outcome.

It remains possible that improved road connections could provide a greater benefit than improved rail connections. However, the higher estimated cost of road ($18bn) compared to rail ($5bn) makes this seem less likely when taken at face value.

But without a study into the business case of both, we won´t know for sure.

Train capacity would be boosted by 10% into Sydney’s CBD and 16% into Central Station by terminating more trains at Central according to plans prepared for the NSW Government in 2014. The plans would seek to increase rail capacity by maximising the use of existing infrastructure rather than building new infrastructure. However, commuters from stations in Sydney’s West such as Penrith would see their trains terminating at Central’s Sydney Terminal, requiring them to change trains if they wish to continue their journey into the CBD.The changes come in the wake of warnings from the Auditor General that Sydney’s rail network requires additional investment to keep up with growing demand. The Sydney Metro CBD and Southwest will be the first increase in heavy rail capacity into the CBD since the 1979 opening of the Eastern Suburbs Line, but is not set to occur until the year 2024.


Performance data published by Sydney Trains indicates that the most crowded lines into the CBD are in order: the T4 Illawarra Line, T1 Northern Line, T1 Western Line, and T3 Bankstown Line. Each line has patronage during the busiest hour of the morning peak equal to between 147% and 158% of total seats. Crowding levels above 135% often result in delays as passengers struggle to enter and exit trains quickly at stations, resulting in fewer trains per hour and thus reducing total line capacity.

The proposed changes would seek to alleviate pressure on each of these four lines.

  • The T4 Illawarra Line would see an increase in TPH (trains per hour) from 18 to 20, the maximum possible under current signalling.
  • The T1 Northern Line would see its capacity boosted via Strathfield from 10TPH to 15 TPH and eventually an increase in capacity via Chatswood when the Sydney Metro is extended to the CBD in 2024.
  • The T1 Western Line would controversially see cuts to services West of St Marys, which would terminate at Central rather than continue on to the CBD, and on the Richmond Line, which would see a reduction in services from 6TPH to 5TPH. This would be offset by an increase in services between Parramatta and Central, from 20TPH to 26TPH, by extending the Inner West Line out to Parramatta. However, there would be no increase in the current 16TPH that continue past Central into the CBD.
  • The T3 Bankstown Line would see a 25% increase in services, rising from 8TPH to 10TPH; further increasing to 15TPH in 2024 with the extension of Sydney Metro to Bankstown (albeit with a reduction in seated capacity).


Other changes include lengthening some intercity trains from 8 carriages to 12 carriages, while a pair of peak hour train departing from Epping that currently run with 4 carriages could be doubled to 8 in order to further increase capacity. Together, the final effect of these changes could see capacity (measured in terms of the number of 8 carriage trains) of all lines during the busiest hour of the morning peak increased by 10.1% into the CBD, from 109 to 120 trains, and by 16.5% into Central Station, from 118 to 137.5 trains.

Commentary: Changes like these are a needed stop gap

Seeking ways to increase Sydney’s existing passenger rail capacity without having to resort to large investments into its infrastructure should be welcomed. This is something this blog has been calling for since 2013. While unlikely to be welcomed by those adversely affected, if implementing these proposed changes results in 16% or even 10% increases in capacity to the network overall then it will do a lot to get Sydney moving.

The opposing perspective would argue that all main suburban lines deserve direct rail access into the CBD during peak hour without requiring passengers to change trains. Demoting parts of the Western Line to the same status as the Cumberland or Olympic Park Line sets a clear precedent. This argument contains valid concerns.

Either way, infrastructure investment is still needed to cope with future increases in demand. The Auditor General’s report mentioned above found patronage had grown by 4.3% each year since 2011. At this rate, even a 16% increase in capacity would be absorbed by less than 4 years of patronage growth.

This is why new infrastructure such as the 2 Sydney Metro Lines currently being touted cannot come soon enough. Unfortunately, the 2024 opening date for the CBD and Southwest stage of the first line is already too late to meet existing demand. This is why recent suggestions that a second metro line could be opened between Parramatta and the CBD in the mid 2020s should also be welcomed.

Finally, it’s important to note is that these plans are both internal and old. Many aspects already appear to be obsolete, such as the North Shore Line only running 18TPH (the current timetable operates 19TPH) or referring to the first Sydney Metro line as T8 (current government publications suggest it will be branded with an M rather than a T). The Transport Minister Andrew Constance himself raised this in an interview with the ABC. So treat this more as a guide than actual concrete plans or promises.

VIDEO: Sydney Metro West, Transport for NSW (13 Nov 2016)

When first proposed by the then State Opposition in 2010, the principal aim of the CSELR (CBD and South East Light Rail) was to reduce congestion by adding additional capacity to the Anzac Parade Corridor. Ironically, one of the major criticisms of the line today, in 2017 a full 2 years before it is due to open, is that it will not provide sufficent additional capacity. Instead, the argument goes, a metro line should have been built from the beginning. The recent decision to defer, in effect abandon, a planned light rail line between Parramatta and Olympic Park in favour of a metro line would appear to reinforce this argument.

(All this puts aside the shortcomings of the arguments against the CSELR from the recent Randwick Council report – click here and go to pages 32-34 for the report itself; that being it assumes express bus services are set to be scrapped and thus total capcity along the corridor will decrease. The express buses into the CBD along the Eastern Distributor are not only to be retained, but expanded. So the main shortcoming of the CSELR is not that it will reduce capacity, but rather that it will not increase capacity sufficiently to handle the projected growth in coming years.)

Route of the CBD and South East Light Rail Line. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Route of the CBD and South East Light Rail Line. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

In the case of both light rail lines, it appears that they have been a victim of their own success. Local Councils in Randwick and Parramatta pushed for the construction of light rail to improve transport capacity, often in the belief that this was a realistic improvement to lobby for. These were then taken up by the state government and soon began to appear insufficient. In the case of the CSELR, the project has matured so much that it is effectively too late to cancel and start again as a metro. In the case of the Olympic Park project, the change from light rail to metro was possible, but will push back the introduction of rail to that corridor by many years. If these plans are successful, eventually a metro line from Parramatta to Long Bay will provide heavy rail capacity along both of these corridors. Thus providing heavy rail capacity where light rail was first proposed.

Parramatta Light Rail route map. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Parramatta Light Rail route map. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

This raises a key question: why didn´t this happen from the start? There are two likely answers.

One was that the studies into these corridors began with a transport solution (light rail) for a particular corridor first, then tested whether it would be viable (yes) second. They should have identified a congested corridor first, then identified the ideal transport solution(s) second.

Another reason for this was the lack of sufficient funding. Heavy rail is much more expensive than light rail. As an imperfect comparison, the cost of the CSELR ($2.1bn) is much less than the estimated cost of a metro from Parramatta to the CBD ($11bn). Indeed, a Parramatta to CBD metro has been little more than lines on a map until NSW privatisations brought in more money than was initially expected.

Planned route of the 2008 West Metro, which may be indicative of the future Sydney Metro West. Click to enlarge. (Source: Railway Gazette)

Planned route of the 2008 West Metro, which may be indicative of the future Sydney Metro West. Click to enlarge. (Source: Railway Gazette)

The solution to all of these problems would appear to be simple: let Transport for NSW do its job. Have them identify corridors that need upgrades to transport infrastructure. Then let them decide what the best options are for those corridors, along with the cost for each option. The government of the time can then make decisions based on what they can afford at each moment. The good news is that this already happens. The last Transport Masterplan in 2012 operated in this manner.

The problem arises when politicians or interest groups have their special pet projects. It results in deciding on a mode of transport first and then looking for somewhere to build it. This is an answer in search of a question. It´s backwards and temptations to engage in such actions must be rejected by both decision makers and the pubic at large.

With an updated 5 yearly transport plan due this year, now is the time to go back to letting Transport for NSW do its job.

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.