Posts Tagged ‘Best of the Rest’

Other blogs worth reading

Posted: September 25, 2014 in Transport
This photo is a selfie taken by a Macaca nigra, thus putting it into the public domain. Click to enlarge. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

This photo is a selfie taken by a Macaca nigra, thus putting it into the public domain. Click to enlarge. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

Time constraints have meant that posts on this blog have begun to become less frequent and often limited to a weekly recap. For those who can’t get enough of a fix, here are some other transport blogs (in alphabetical order):

Charting Transport: Infrequently updated with a focus on Melbourne but generally covering all Australian capital cities. This blog uses charts and maps to display data relating to transport and urban planning.

David Caldwell’s blog: Infrequently updated by David Caldwell, an engineer who has lived and worked in Sydney, London, and San Francisco. Posts tend to be very detailed and have often been about electronic ticketing and integrated fares.

Human Transit: Usually updated weekly by transport consultant Jarrett Walker. The author currently resides in Portland, Oregon but up until recently lived in Sydney. Posts cover a variety of cities across the English speaking new world countries (USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) and have often been about network design.

Love Your Trains: Usually updated once or twice a week. It is a relatively new blog that strives to give a positive view of the Sydney Trains network.

Sydney Ferry Blog: Usually updated weekly by ferry planning consultant Robin Sandell. It is a relatively new blog with a strong focus on ferries. Posts are quite detailed and well written.

Sydney’s Transport Sketchbook: Infrequently updated with posts that often alternate between flashbacks of past transport documents such as timetables, network maps, transport plans, etc or commentary on contemporary issues in the Sydney transport system. Posts can often be quite technical, covering aspects not covered elsewhere.

The Urbanist: Updated daily with a focus on Melbourne, but also other Australian capital cities. As the title suggests, this blog focuses more on urban planning (plus a bit of architecture), but does delve into transport issues too.

Public transport advocacy group EcoTransit has put forward a public transport alternative to the M4 East component of the WestConnex. A new train station on the Eastern end of the M4, next to a large car park in Olympic Park, with trains into Central Station, along with a light rail network, would provide sufficient relief so as to avoid the need for building the M4 East, according to a video it released called “WestConnex — Greiner’s folly Part 3”  (part two of this series have been covered previously on this blog, part one can be viewed here). It also claims to be able to do so at a much cheaper cost of $2.2bn, compared to $8bn for the M4 East.

The video is included below and worth watching. You can also subscribe to the EcoTransit YouTube channel to receive updates when new videos are uploaded.

VIDEO: WestConnex — Greiner’s folly Part 3, EcoTransit

The new train station, named Pippita Station by EcoTransit, would be above the M4 along the existing Olympic Park Line and adjacent to an existing car park currently exists for sporting events with what appears to be (using a back of the envelope estimate) 1,000 to 2,000 car spaces, These spaces tend to be used in the evening and weekends, and remain mostly empty during work hours when commuters making their journey to and from work would need a parking space. There are also enough free slots on the Main West Line tracks between Lidcombe and Central, as well as the Sydney Terminal platforms at Central Station, for a train every 15 minutes into Sydney Terminal.

But the reality is not so simple, and this may not necessarily prove to be the magic bullet solution it initially appears to be.

It’s worth remembering that there are currently park and ride facilities across the Sydney Trains network, and if these car drivers are not using them at the moment, it is questionable what difference adding an extra park and ride facility would provide (particularly considering that it would require a second transfer at Central for those continuing further into the CBD or elsewhere). That’s not to say it wouldn’t be of any benefit, and if this can be achieved as a cheap bolt on addition to the network then it should be seriously considered.

The main problem with solutions like this are that is assumes a CBD centric view of transport in Sydney, and that the only congestion problem is in the AM and PM peaks during the week. It should be remembered that only 13% of workers commute to the CBD each day, and 77% of those do so by public or active transport. Most car traffic is not destined for the CBD, and most non-CBD travelers get to their destination by car. Improving CBD transport links is unlikely to entice such people away from their cars.

Another example is when the video shows footage of Parramatta Road at 11:30AM on a weekday, pointing out that there is little to no congestion and arguing that Parramatta Road is only congested during peak hour. Yet had that footage been taken on a Saturday, it would have shown congestion on par with weekday peak hour traffic. The reason for this is only partly the lack of weekend public transport. It’s also the dispersed nature of weekend journeys (where many people are visiting friends, going shopping, or heading to a sporting event) when compared to weekday ones (where many people are going to work or study in the CBD or a major centre). Cars are much better at transporting people for the former, while public transport is much better for transporting people for the latter.

It should also be remembered that a road project like WestConnex can recover a large proportion of its capital and operating costs from user tolls, and can thus be built and operated with only a small tax payer contribution. Meanwhile, public transport projects recover none of their capital costs, and only around a quarter of their operating costs from user fares, and thus require a much larger proportion of their cost to be government contribution. Nor do the costings for light rail used in the video appear to be in line with recent light rail projects. For example, the proposed Parramatta Road light rail project is about 15km in length (using a conservative estimate) and costs $975m, or $65m/km. Meanwhile, the CBD and South East light rail project about to commence construction is 12km in length and costs $1.6bn, or $133m/km. So the $2.2bn total cost could actually be double that, around $4.4bn. Compare this to the current proposed state government contribution to WestConnex of $1.8bn (which was itself obtained by selling an asset whose value increased on the assumption that WestConnex would be completed), and it soon becomes clear why the government bean counters prefer road projects to public transport ones.

Artists impression of Parramatta Road light rail. Click to enlarge. (Source: EcoTransit)

Artists impression of Parramatta Road light rail. Click to enlarge. (Source: EcoTransit)

Finally, neither the “Pippita Express”, nor the light rail network, would provide capacity for road freight transport. Even more so than passenger movements, freight movements are highly dispersed and therefore not suited to rail transport (unless it is from one city to another). Therefore, most freight transport happens on road within Sydney. There would be some benefit from fewer cars on the road, but it would likely only be beneficial around the edges.

This is not to say that the proposals put forward are bad. In fact, the “Pippita Express” is quite innovative and, as mentioned, should be investigated further. So should the extensions to the light rail network proposed in this video. Public transport improvements like these are far more efficient than roads at transporting people to the CBD and other major centres. And if this does help to create an integrated network of heavy rail, light rail, and buses that allow a greater level of mobility between other parts of Sydney, then it might begin to compete with cars in transporting people around for those previously described dispersed journeys. But until then, and for other reasons mentioned, the proposed rail projects are likely to be supplementary to, rather than in replacement of, WestConnex.

2013-07-15 STA bus time lapse

Visualisation of STA buses in Sydney at 9:01AM on a typical weekday. The bright vertical line in the middle is the Harbour Bridge. (Source: Flink Labs)

Some interesting time lapse visualisations of commuter transport from around the world. All of these show vehicle movements (trains, buses, etc), as opposed to passengers movements, unless otherwise stated.


This first video is STA buses only. That means the government Sydney Buses, as well as the Parramatta-Liverpool T-Way buses. Despite the limitations of its data, and that it is now a few years old, it’s also quite clear and easy to watch.

Major corridors like Anzac Parade, Oxford Street, Parramatta Road, Victoria Road, and Military Road stand out quite well. They are the brightest during the day, and the only ones still operating late into the night. By showing busier corridors as brighter, you really get a good idea of what frequent services look like, as opposed to a bus map where all lines look the same.

This is another video of Sydney. It is more recent, includes all modes of public transport, and goes out as far as Newcastle and Wollongong. Trains are shown in the same colour as the line they operate on. It’s also a bit crowded, and harder to follow than the previous video, so it’s recommended that you watch it directly on Youtube with the settings set to 720p(HD) for better quality if it doesn’t do so automatically here.


A similar video to the earlier Sydney bus video, but this time from Melbourne for trains. Blue is for city bound, while yellow are outbound.


This video was created by Chris McDowall, but the blog post associated with it no longer appears to be working. So instead, here is a short piece about it from Human Transit, in which the vehicles are described as “tadpoles”.


This video is from an article over at the Atlantic Cities, which is worth a read for some background. This shows passenger movements via the collection of Oyster smartcard data. Inbetween the morning and evening commute, passangers are shown as a red dot while at work.

New York City

This video of New York City includes the subway and bus system, as well as some longer distance commuter rail trains (these are most noticeable in Long Island on the right hand side of the map which is otherwise mostly blank). New York has one of the few transport systems in the Western world that runs 24/7 at decent frequencies, with most subway lines running at 20 minute frequencies all night. You can see this in the video, as unlike other cities here where transport is almost non-existant between 2AM to 5AM, because at no point do the dots stop moving around. New York really is the city that never sleeps!

As with before, best seen on Youtube with 720p(HD) settings.

Washington DC

The Washington Metro trains are shown as the colour of their line, while buses are the white dots. Long distance commuter trains (mostly to the North of Washington) are large dots with a while tail. Once again, if it doesn’t show up well here, then try it on Youtube with the maximum 720p(HD) settings.

More videos

If you’re interested in seeing more, the second Sydney video, as well as the New York and Washington videos are from a group called STL Transit, and their Youtube page is full of many other videos. And for a more detailed description of their Vancouver video, make sure to check out the Human Transit post on that particular video.

A number of articles and videos I saw recently, each describing a move away from a suburban lifestyle towards a more urban one, when taken together really do seem to dismiss the idea that all Australians (or Sydneysiders atleast) want their own house with a backyard in the suburbs. While there will always be people who prefer this sort of lifestyle, more and more the demand and desire of residents is to forgo the house in the suburbs and instead seek an apartment in the inner city.

Location of new greenfield and infill housing developments. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Department of Planning, Homes and Jobs for Sydney’s Growth, 2013, page 5.)

Location of new greenfield and infill housing developments. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Department of Planning, Homes and Jobs for Sydney’s Growth, 2013, page 5.)

Tim Barlass writes in yesteday’s Sun Herald that residents of The Ponds, a new suburb in Sydney’s Northwest that has been listed by the ABS as the most advantaged suburb, do not count themselves as particularly advantaged. They point to problems with getting a phone line installed plus poor mobile reception, insufficient transport options, poor roads, and high mortgage costs. This is the price they pay to obtain the lifestyle they want, says mother of 3 Brigid Vincent:  “It’s ideal for us, lots of young children, close to schools…It’s pretty. I love it”.

Meanwhile, big and active downtown areas in Sydney are continuing to expand. A few decades ago, the Sydney CBD was the only area in Sydney with numerous tall skyscrapers, but these have now spread to numerous regional centres across the Sydney Metropolitan area. In fact, Leesha McKenny points out that Parramatta has plans to build the tallest building in NSW, possibly even taller than Sydney’s current tallest building – Centrepoint Tower, in an article in yesterday’s Sun Herald.

Some have tried the reinvented granny flat, known as a “glam flat”, according to another Sun Herald article by Stephen Nicholls. The number of granny flats approved in the previous financial year was 858, which was twice the number in the previous year, which in turn was twice the number in the year before that. These dwellings are much smaller than a regular house, but with land at such a premium these days, particularly in well sought after areas, that is also the price that some have been willing to pay for their chosen lifestyle.

It’s amazing how little space people really need to live comfortably. The video below shows a tour of a 2 storey house (one of the floors is a loft above the ceiling) from Tumbleweed Houses which is only 8 square metres in size. Despite this, it can house 2 residents plus 2 additional guests, while including a kitchen and bathroom. It makes even the smallest of granny flats seem spacious.

Even a regular home could benefit from space saving furniture. One example that caught my eye recently was from US firm Resource Furniture, whose furniture saves space by creating beds that double up as sofas or tables that can be enlarged or shrunk down easily depending on need at any particular moment. Despite things like sofa-beds not being a new thing, some of these are really amazing to watch due to the apparent simplicity of design.

These all brought me back to a lecture that City of Melbourne city planner Rob Adams has given in recent years arguing in favour of compact cities rather than urban sprawl in order to cope with rising populations. This lecture was a formative part of developing my views on urban planning and public transport. In it, Mr Adams argues that 10% of Melbourne’s urban footprint should be changed to mixed used and mid rise (5-6 storeys) in order to allow the remaining 90% to remain suburban, all the while without losing the rural farmland outside of the urban footprint.

There are many examples of things that you see, hear, or read which make you pessimistic about the future, but Mr Adams’ lecture gives hope that the future can be a better place, not something we should be afraid of. There are 2 versions of it, the video below is the short 20 minute version, but if you can spare the time, his 1 hour version is much more comprehensive. In his the latter, he points out that of all groups in Melbourne’s population, couples with children is the only group whose population is projected to fall over the next 25 years. These are exactly the sorts of households that want the detached house in the suburbs, and partly explains why there has been a move away from this, and towards more compact living in more active areas.

A recent piece on Channel Seven’s Today Tonight program discusses transport usage across a number of Australian cities over the last 35 years, and finds that Sydneysiders have the highest public transport use of any Australian city. (This isn’t really new information, given that transport is one of the questions asked in each 5 year census.) The video of the story is included at the end of this post.

Public transport mode share vs population density for various Australian cities. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Charting Transport via The Urbanist.)

Public transport mode share vs population density for various Australian cities. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Charting Transport via The Urbanist.)

The report correctly points out that this fact would probably surprise many Sydney commuters, as would the assertion made by Dr Lucy Groenhart, an RMIT academic and author of the report, that Sydney is “built around a strong heavy rail network” and has buses which “are better co-ordinated than in other cities”. Dr Groenhart appears to be comparing Sydney to Melbourne, where one major flaw in the network design was separate train and tram networks that competed rather than complemented each other (so it’s quite common to see a train and tram line running in parallel). Conversely, in Sydney the network has been designed around the rail network, with feeder buses that link commuters from their home to the nearest station or transport them between stations on different lines. This expands the catchment of the transport network considerably.

Countering this view is Kerryn Wilmot, Research Principal for the Institute for Sustainable Futures at UTS, who points out that Sydney lacks integrated fares. It’s true that while Sydney has an integrated network, it lacks an integrated fares system. That means that users are penalised if they make a transfer (unless it is train to train), which prevents an integrated network from working most efficiently. Having a myMulti ticket does get around this problem, but these are currently only available as periodicals (there is a daily ticket, though very expensive at $21) and are city-centric, meaning that if you only intend to travel within one of the outer zones then you must also pay for the inner zones even if you aren’t heading into the CBD or inner city. However, Ms Wilmot’s claim that “you can’t get a yearly that just allows you to become a public transport user to do all of the stuff you want to do during the week” would appear to be incorrect, as you can get a yearly myMulti ticket which would allow you to do that (unless you just wanted one for one of the outer zones only, which as mentioned earlier is not currently allowed).

Towards the end of the piece it makes the point that taking the toll roads from Northwest Sydney only saves one minute of travel time, yet costs $12 in tolls. What it does not point out is that most of this trip is along the M2, which is being widened and where the associated road works have virtually eliminated the travel time savings until the construction has finished (which just so happens to be some time early this year). This is just sloppy journalism, but while that’s normally the norm for Today Tonight, this time it appears to be the exception. That, and the bit where the reporter is walking on the bike path, which is just as illegal as bikes on footpaths not designated as shared paths.

Dr Groenhart concludes that “the government’s priorities are not with sustainable transport so they are with roads”. She doesn’t state which government she is referring to, and given that Today Tonight did a Sydney and Melbourne version of this story, it is possible that she was referring to the Victorian government. This would make sense, given the Victorian government has made a road tunnel under the CBD it’s top priority, with a smaller CBD rail tunnel being the next most important transport project. Compare that to NSW, where the top project is the Northwest Rail Link (a public transport project), and the next most important projects are WestConnex (a road) and a Second Harbour Crossing (another public transport project).

The 2011 census data on journey’s to work (JTW) is set to be released this coming Wednesday, and it will be interesting to see if there have been any changes since the 2006 data. To prepare for this, here are some links to a few recent blog posts by Chris Loader at Charting Transport and Alan Davies at The Urbanist on the topic of mode share and urban density.

Is Los Angeles really the densest city in the US? – The Urbanist (17 Oct 2012)

This post points out that if you look at average densities alone, then Los Angeles is actually more dense than New York. However, this is due to New York having an incredibly dense core surrounded by urban sprawl at very low densities. A better measure is the population weighted density, which measures density based on the population density for people, rather than for parcels of land.

Population density for New York and Los Angeles based on distance from City Hall. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: The Urbanist)

Comparing the residential densities of Australian cities (2011) – Charting Transport (19 Oct 2012)

Taking a more Australian centric look at population density shows that Sydney has the highest density of all Australian cities. In fact, Sydney’s median density of 33 people per hectare is closely followed only by Melbourne at 28, with no other city being above 22. It argues that if suburbs are defined are areas with a population density of 30 people per hectare, then Sydney’s average density doesn’t drop below 30 until you are 39km from the CBD, compared to 9km for Melbourne.

Population density for Australian cities. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Charting Transport)

Does public transport use correlate with density in Australian cities? – The Urbanist (21 Oct 2012)

The question then arises about whether there is a link between population density and public transport use. Alan Davies finds that weighted population density and public transport use have an R squared of 0.943 when a logarithmic curve is fitted along the graph below, which indicates a very strong correlation. However, he points out that high public transport use is more likely to be caused by dense employment centres (which is covered more in the subsequent Charting Transport blog post).

Public transport mode share vs population density for various Australian cities. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Charting Transport via The Urbanist.)

How did Sydney get to work in 2006? – Charting Transport (26 Oct 2012)

Something that sets Sydney apart from other cities is a large number of dense employment centres, whereas other Australian cities tend to just have their CBD. And public transport usage is higher for Sydney both in CBD travel and travel to non-CBD employment centres in other cities (e.g. the proportion of workers in Bondi Junction, North Sydney, Parramatta, Chatswood, and St Leonards who travel by public transport ranged from 34% to 53%, whereas no centre in any other Australian city was above 15%). However, this is also due to state and local governments in Sydney restricting the amount of parking available for workers, meaning many of them have no choice but to take public transport.

Employment density in Sydney. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Charting Transport.)

A series called Moving Beyond the Automobile has done a piece on car parking in New York called parking reform. It outlines how cheap (often free) and plentiful on street parking in effect provides a subsidy to car drivers and questions whether there is a better use for the public space currently given away to cars for free. (Props to Reinventing Parking for posting it.)

Ideally, parking would happen off street in parking garages that charge a market rate, with some limited short term on-street parking for car drivers who need to make quick trips. Otherwise, it is normally ridiculious to use such a limited resource (street space) for the indefinite storage of automobiles.

This 4 Corners Report originally aired on the ABC back in 2009 and outlines the failure of the then NSW Labor Government to adequately provide for Sydney’s transport needs. It has dated somewhat (back then the plan was to build a Northwest Metro), but is a great reminder of why Sydney is now so far behind in building the much needed public transport infrastructure it really needs.

The ABC website has additional background information relating to the piece, including the full interview with then Transport Minister David Campbell and Senior Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid.

The state government recently officially declared that George Street is now the favoured route for a CBD light rail extension, with trams likely to soon travel from Central to Circular Quay via George Street, before continuing along Hickson Road to Barangaroo. Sydney Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, has been pushing for such a route for a few years now, and hopes that light rail will transform George Street. Part of this transformation will be to pedestrianise a large part of George Street, banishing cars (and probably buses too), leaving only light rail, bicycles and pedestrians.

Melbourne has recently decided to take such an approach with Swanston Street, its main tram route through the city. Swanston Street has been car free during certain times of the day for many years now, but will soon be entirely free of vehicle traffic – currently one block has been completed, with a tram super stop installed.

Daniel Bowen wrote a piece about the new tram super stop shortly after it opened last month. If Clover gets her way, Swanston Street would give us a good idea of what a future George Street might look like.

Following on from a previous piece on medium speed rail (MSR), Transport Textbook has followed up with a possible case study for Sydney to Canberra MSR. The argument goes that by using existing lines within Sydney rather than a long tunnel into the CBD (significantly reducing the cost) and building a new alignment between the outskirts of Sydney through to central Canberra that can be scaled up to high speed rail (HSR) in future, a MSR link could provide a high speed connection between the two cities at an affordable price tag (the article quotes $3 billion, compared to the $15 billion for HSR, albeit on very rough calculations).

It could also allow for transport between the CBD’s of Sydney and Canberra, but via each city’s airport, thus making the 2 to 2.5 hour point to point trip competitive with air or car travel. There would also be benefits for freight trains travelling between Sydney and Melbourne.

Two links today about frequency of transport in Sydney. Both talk about 15 minute frequencies, and routes that maintain that level of frequency all day every day. I’m not sure how the 15 minute frequency was agreed on as the right amount, as opposed to say 10 minutes or 20 minutes (I’ve heard stories of Hong Kong commuters spitting the dummy when they discover that the next train is a whole 4 minutes away, so I guess it’s all relative). But as a rule of thumb, I think 15 minutes is frequent enough that you can afford to turn up to your bus stop or train station without having to worry about a timetable, so long as you’re not in a rush.

Sydney transport frequencies. (Source: Human Transit.)

Sydney transport frequencies. (Source: Human Transit.)

The first is by Jarret Walker from Human Transit, which shows maps of buses, trains, ferries and the light rail in Sydney based on their frequency (60, 30 or 15 minutes). It has a layout much like a transit map, so is not to scale with the actual city, but gives you a good idea of the routes. I noticed a few inaccuracies (in particular in the rail network with some stations on the Western and South Lines which have 15 minute frequencies all day on both weekdays and weekends but are shown as having less than 15 minute frequencies), but overall it’s quite a good visual guide. A number of maps are shown – I’ve included one above.

Transport frequencies in Western Sydney - 60 minutes, 30 minutes and 15 minutes. (Source: WSPTU.)

Transport frequencies in Western Sydney – 60 minutes, 30 minutes and 15 minutes. (Source: WSPTU.)

The other is from the Western Sydney Public Transport Users blog, which shows a map of Western Sydney with transport frequencies. Each map shows 60, 30 and 15 minute frequencies and what area of Western Sydney is within 400m of public transport. Bus routes are seen as long rectangular shapes following the route, while train stations are a radius around the station.

These maps come from a presentation given by the Sydney Alliance, a coalition of churches, trade unions and community groups that is pushing for (amongst other things) improved public transport. Their slogan is for transport that is no more than 400m from your home/work, comes at least every 15 minutes, can be taken with just 1 ticket and is safe, clean, accessible and affordable, which shortens to a catchy 400:15:1:SCA2.

Again, there a few things I might take issue with. One is the exclusion of metro bus routes which, even though they technically don’t meet the criteria, I think are frequent enough (they run at 20 minute intervals on weekends but 10-15 minutes during the week). Another is having a radius of only 400m around train stations, when people are willing to walk further to a train station than a bus stop (and is why 800m is usually used for train stations). However, technically speaking, the maps are correct based on the criteria used, and give a different (but still correct) visual representation of frequency in Sydney.

I only wish I could see a similar map for the Eastern Suburbs or the Inner West, which actually do have quite a few 15 minute frequencies (or often better) all day.

Two videos of trains which go right through markets today. The first is of  Mae Klong market near Bangkok in Thailand. And by right through, I mean right through, there is virtually no space between where the stalls are and where the train runs through. The second is Juliaca’s Market in Peru, and is filmed from the back of the train. Both are amazing for someone used to Western style suburban or metro train systems.

I’m a supporter of higher density, as my post last week on the Randwick Council housing plan decision probably suggested. I think it helps in building walkable communities, improved public transport and more sustainable living. But whatever your views on the pros and cons of density, there is undeniably a link between urban planning and transport. Where we live determines where we go and, more importantly, how we get there.

There’s a couple of articles/talks/documentaries which I think cover these topics really well, and I’d highly recommend them to anyone interested in contemporary housing/transport in Sydney.

Housing for Millions – This is a Background Briefing piece on how Australian cities will manage the challenge of finding sufficient housing for the estimated 10 million additional residents that are expected be living in Australia over the coming decades (not to mention those who are already here). It outlines the problem of housing affordability, the impact of NIMBYism, what constitutes good urban planning and what governments are currently doing to tackle housing.

Building Better Cities

This presentation by Rob Adams (head of urban planning for the City of Melbourne) at the TEDx conference in Sydney in 2010 is probably the most influential thing I’ve ever seen/heard/read when it comes to urban planning. It is why I think that higher density is good and urban sprawl is bad. Rob Adams outlines Melbourne’s plan to double its population without increasing the footprint the city, while only using 7.5% of the land.

NSW Off the Rails – Another Background Briefing documentary, this one is on the problems that Sydney has had with rail infrastructure. Unfortunately, this documentary is getting a bit dated, having been produced in 2008 and talking a lot about Labor’s later dumped metro proposal, but many of the problems and challenges still exist today.

Off the Rails – A Four Corners follow-up to the Background Briefing documentary from 2008. This was produced a year later in 2009 and overlaps quite a bit with the Background Briefing documentary.

A feasibility study into high speed rail (HSR) by the federal government released earlier this year got a few people talking about the possibility of HSR in Australia. However, the high cost ($70 billion to $110 billion just to build the infrastructure) seems very excessive to me, especially considering all the benefits you could get from investing that money into the suburban rail networks.

What did catch my eye was a piece on medium speed rail on Transport Textbook, which suggested connecting Sydney and/or Melbourne to some of their satellite cities (Newcastle, Wollongong, Bendigo and Ballarat). Rather than aiming for the 250km/hr to 350km/hr required for HSR over long distances, increasing speeds to something around half of that over a much shorter distance and still obtain a significant benefit, but at a much lower cost. For example, increasing the average speed to 112km/hr would allow a Newcastle-Sydney trip to take just 90 minutes (compared to the current 170 minutes).

A very interesting take on the question of is fast enough good enough?

Alan Davies at the Melbourne Urbanist believes that the answers to the two questions above are “no” and “yes”. You can read why in his posts on Should public transport be free and Should public transport fares be higher.

Welcome to the first in what will hopefully be an ongoing series: Best of the rest, where every Friday I’ll be linking you to another article/story/blog post that I found interesting. These are generally going to be quite short, with a brief description and a link.

Today’s item is about construction costs of transport projects around the world. I’ve spoken about how transport construction costs in NSW are over-inflated, an issue that was raised by Jacob Saulwick in the Sydney Morning Herald last weekend. For some comparisons using 2009 dollars, the Mandurah Line in Perth (a 72km mostly above ground rail line) was built in 2007 for a cost of $15m/km, the Airport Line in Sydney (10km all underground rail line) was built in 2000 for $100m/km and the Northwest Rail Link (23km partly above ground, party below ground rail line) is currently estimated at $348m/km (I don’t think this is in 2009 dollars, so it’s a bit higher than it should be in comparison to the other two). A full list of Australiasian transport projects can be found at Transport Textbook.

It seems, however, that NSW has been outdone by the yanks, who paid $4bn/km for a new line connecting Manhattan to Queens. While this (and the others listed) are extreme cases, building anything in Manhattan is going to cost you, it is an interesting comparative to the cost blowouts here in Sydney. Check out Alon Levy’s post at Pedestrian Observations for the full list.