Posts Tagged ‘Freight’

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.

Infrastructure NSW released an update to its infrastructure plan in November 2014. Unlike the 2012 report, this one puts a greater emphasis on rail. Here is a (belated) overview of the main recommendations for the rail network.

Sydney Trains/NSW TrainLink (p. 34)

Major upgrades will focus on the T1 Lines, which are expected to see stronger growth in demand than other lines. These include lengthening of platforms, to allow longer trains to stop at certain stations; amplification of track, akin to adding more lanes to a road; and improved signalling, which allows more frequent train services without compromising safety.

The longer platforms will primarily benefit intercity train services, with new intercity trains to be 12 cars in length compared to the current 8 car trains. Meanwhile, the business case for improved signalling is expected to be completed over the next 18 months.

No specific details are given on where track amplifications will occur. A commonly touted corridor is on the Northern Line between Rhodes and West Ryde, which would upgrade the entire Strathfield to Epping corridor up to 4 tracks. This would allow service frequencies to be increased along this corridor while still maintaining a mix of all stops and express services. Such capacity improvements are necessary for Upper Northern Line trains that currently reach the city via Chatswood to instead be diverted via Strathfield when the Epping to Chatswood Line is closed down for upgrades as part of the North West Rail Link project in 2018.

Sydney Rapid Transit (pp.37-38)

Construction on a Second Harbour Rail Crossing is to begin in 2019, with completion in 2024-25. It has a BCR (Benefit to Cost Ratio) of 1.3 to 1.8, meaning that every $1 spent on the project will produce benefits of $1.30 to $1.80. The total cost will be approximately $10.4bn, with $7bn to come from privatisation of state electricity assets and $3.4bn from existing funding already committed. Additional stations will be considered at Artarmon, Barangaroo, and either Waterloo or Sydney University; which the report recommends partly being funded by beneficiaries of the new stations, a concept known as “value capture” (p. 146). The current plan has the line connecting to Sydenham Station via tunnel, rather than utilising the existing corridor between Erskineville and Sydenham which has been reserved for an additional pair of tracks.

Proposed new stations include Artarmon (not shown), Barangaroo, and either Sydney University or Waterloo. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Proposed new stations include Artarmon (not shown), Barangaroo, and either Sydney University or Waterloo. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Improving efficiency (p. 35)

Transport for NSW will further investigate the effectiveness of off-peak pricing and improved shoulder peak services on spreading demand. The report notes that, following the October 2013 timetable changes, improved frequencies during the shoulder peak periods (the time immediately before and after peak hour) saw 5% of peak hour journeys shift from peak hour to the shoulder. Transport for NSW notes that this represents “more than two years of patronage growth”, adding however that “this option is not ‘cost free’: additional rolling stock may be required to provide these services on some lines”. Despite these concerns, it is likely that improved efficiency can at the very least defer the need for more expensive capital expenditure to expand the rail network.

Light rail (p. 40)

Two light rail projects are discussed, the first being and extension to the existing Inner West Line out to White Bay where significant urban development is planned; which the second is an extension of the proposed CBD and South East Line to either Maroubra (1.9km), Malabar (5.1km), or La Perouse (8.2km). Neither of these extensions have funding attached to them.

Potential extensions to the CBD and South East Light Rail to Maroubra, Malabar, or La Perouse. Click to enlarge. (Source: Infrastructure NSW, State Infrastructure Strategy Update 2014, p. 40.)

Potential extensions to the CBD and South East Light Rail to Maroubra, Malabar, or La Perouse. Click to enlarge. (Source: Infrastructure NSW, State Infrastructure Strategy Update 2014, p. 40.)

Freight (pp. 62-63, 65)

A Western Sydney Freight Line is mentioned, as is a Maldon to Dombarton Railway and associated improvements to the Southern Sydney Freight Line (SSFL). The latter would link up Port Kembla to the SSFL in South West Sydney, thus removing freight trains from the T4 Line in Southern Sydney. Such a move is likely a prerequisite for increase passenger frequencies on the T4 Illawarra Line as well as extending Rapid Transit Services from Sydenham to Hurstville at some point in the future.

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.)

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.)

Commentary: What’s missing and what’s next?

No mention is made of a rail line to the Northern Beaches, the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link, an extension to the T4 Eastern Suburbs Line, or a CBD bus tunnel. The last 2 of these projects were proposed by Infrastructure NSW in its original 2012 report, designed to eliminate the need for light rail through the CBD. With the NSW Government opting to go ahead with the surface light rail option, both of these projects appear to have been dropped by Infrastructure NSW.

Infrastructure NSW’s combatative approach also appears to have been dropped replaced with a more cooperative approach to transport planning with Transport for NSW. Whereas in 2012 the Infrastructure NSW report was seen as an alternative to the Transport for NSW Transport Master Plan, and an alternative that focussed more on road based transport rather than rail based transport; this 2014 update reinforces, rather than contradicts Transport for NSW. It’s difficult to look past the departure of Infrastructure NSW’s inaugural Chairman and CEO, Nick Greiner and Paul Broad (both strong advocates for roads and road based transport), when looking for a reason why this may have happened.

Looking towards the future, the $20bn privatisation of 49% of the electricity distribution network in 2016 will provide funding for a decade – in particular to fund the construction of the Second Harbour Crossing, $7bn from privatization money is to be added to the existing $3.4bn allocated to it, with construction to begin in 2019 and the project completed by 2024-25. If the Premier Mike Baird has his way then construction will begin in 2017, potentially fast tracking this project to 2023. This would be 4 years after the opening of the NWRL, a welcome change to delays and deferrals that NSW has become used to.

Additional expansions of the transport network that come after that are currently unfunded and uncommitted. These include any extension to the North West and South West Rail Links, light rail to Maroubra and White Bay, and the Outer Western Orbital Freeway.

One option is that the remaining 51% could be sold off to pay for it. Alternatively, these projects could be funded out of consolidated revenue, built at a slower pace than would otherwise be the case. Following the coming decade of strong additions to Sydney’s stock of infrastructure, this may be an acceptable option. Either way, the 2015 election will not settle the debate over privatisation. This will be an issue that will remain on the table for decades to come.

Monday: Sydney Trains CEO outlines achievements and future plans

The Sydney Trains CEO Howard Collins has outlined his achievements during his year and a half in the job. These include: a shake up of senior management positions, a new timetable, the introduction of the Opal card, 78 new Waratah trains brought into operation, an end to the “no forced redundancies” clause in employment contracts, and consolidating maintenance facilities from 127 to 12. Looking to the future, Mr Collins said he believed Sydney Trains could operate 30 to 35 trains an hour, compared to the current limit of 20, if signalling were upgraded. He also looks forward to the opening of a $100m operations centre due to open in 2017 or 2018.

Monday: Third tunnel boring machine in the ground for NWRL

A third tunnel boring machine (TBM) has begun digging the third of four holes that will form the twin 15km tunnels between Epping and Bella Vista. The Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian used to occasion to point out how the project was running ahead of schedule, saying that “the NSW Liberals & Nationals came to government promising the first of the four massive North West Rail Link tunnel boring machines would be in the ground before the end of 2014 – now we have three machines underground digging, well ahead of schedule”.

Artist's impression of the proposed Cherrybrook Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Artist’s impression of the proposed Cherrybrook Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Tuesday: M5 East duplication plans announced

The planning application has been lodged for the New M5 East tunnels as part of WestConnex Stage 2, which will run almost entirely in tunnels between the King George’s Road interchange at Beverly Hills through to St Peters. The tunnels will initially be 2 lanes in each direction, but built to accommodate 3 lanes in each direction at a future date. The new tunnels will also be taller than the existing M5 East tunnels, at 5.3m in height.

The existing tunnels have been criticised for being built too narrow and too short in order to save money on construction costs, but limiting longer term capacity in the process. The new tunnels are set to open in 2019.

Thursday: Trains begin running on SWRL

Train testing and staff training is now underway on the South West Rail Link (SWRL), with services between Leppington and Liverpool to begin early in 2015, possibly as soon as January. Millenium trains will run on the line every half hour between 5AM and midnight.

No decision has yet been made on where SWRL trains will go. Options include Parramatta, City via Granville, City via Bankstown, or City via East Hills (an outline of some of these options can be seen here). The Government will monitor passenger movements in determining how and when it does this. All of this is complicated by the fact that much of the future demand on the SWRL will come not from existing residents, but from the hundreds of thousands of new residents that may not finish moving to the area for decades to come.

Friday: Passenger train disruptions up 60% due to freight breakdowns

An increased focus on transporting freight via rail has been blamed for the blowout in passenger train disruptions in recent years. The ABC reports that 2,191 passenger services were disrupted last year due to freight train breakdowns. This is up 62.5% on the 1,348 figure from 3 years prior. This is despite the number of freight train breakdowns remaining steady during this period.

The Sydney Trains CEO Howard Collins has called on the Federal Government to help ease this problem by funding more freight rail upgrades. The Federal Government has ruled out funding urban commuter rail projects, but has been willing to fund freight rail projects. Mr Collins also pointed the finger at the ageing freight train fleet, which at an average age of 36 years is much higher than the UK’s 13 years or the USA’s 8 years.

Monday: Real time train and parking capacity information coming soon

Sydney Trains customers will soon be able to work out how full trains and station car parks are on their smart phones if CEO Howard Collins has his way. Mr Collins explained “we know on a Waratah train how many people are in each carriage by how much it weighs” and that this information can be passed on to customers to more evenly spread customers on trains. Waratah trains account for about 40% of the Sydney Trains fleet. Mr Collins also hoped that similar information could be provided for car parks at train stations.

Real time information could soon also include how full each train carriage is based on their weight. Click to enlarge. (Source: TripView)

Real time information could soon also include how full each train carriage is based on their weight. Click to enlarge. (Source: TripView)

Tuesday: Airport access fee deal for regular airport commuters

Regular users of the airport stations will pay no more than $21 a week under a $10m deal when using their Opal cards. Previously those travelling to and from the airport stations on a regular basis, usually airport workers, paid a $12.60 access fee each time they entered or exited one of the two airport stations. However, customers purchasing a weekly ticket would pay an access fee of only $21 for the whole week, on top of the regular fare. This concession did not exist for Opal users, but now their access fee will also be capped at $21 if using Opal. This was seen as necessary given the retirement of weekly train tickets starting from 1 September. The Government will pay the private operator of the airport line a one off $10m payment as part of the deal.

Wednesday: Majority of Opal rollout on buses complete

More than half the NSW fleet of buses will be Opal enabled, with 2,890 buses accepting Opal cards from 26 August. NSW has around 5,000 buses in its public transport fleet.

Wednesday: Maldon to Dombarton Line back on the agenda

A Registration of Interest for the Maldon to Dombarton freight railway line has been approved to see if there is private interest in building the $667m line. The line would complete the missing link that would connect Wollongong and Port Kembla to the Southern Sydney Freight Line running through Southwest Sydney. This could remove or at least reduce the number of freight trains using the T4 Line through Sutherland and Hurstville, reducing their impacts on passengers trains on that line.

The worst sort of NIMBY

Posted: September 25, 2013 in Transport
Tags: , ,

Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) is a common view with any major piece of infrastructure. While often derided by those not negatively affected, it is not entirely without merit. The benefits of something should be weighed up against the costs that it imposes on others, and when these costs are disproportionately imposed on a small portion of the community then it should be looked into further to see if those problems can be mitigated.

However, in some cases the cry of the NIMBY becomes so entrenched that they go on to oppose something that will actually alleviate their concerns.

Take the case of the residents living adjacent to the Northern Sydney Freight Line. The ABC’s 730 NSW program reported on this last week, and rightly pointed out that some residents suffer from freight trains passing by that are as loud as aircraft. But unlike aircraft noise, which is prevented by a curfew from occurring at night time, many of these freight trains pass by at night because of restrictions that prevent them from using the Northern Line during the morning and evening peak when the line is full of passenger trains. This is a legitimate concern, and given the push to transfer freight off trucks on the road and onto rail, one that deserves to be investigated as this problem will only become more intensified in years to come.

“Residents are presently considering a class action against extant freight train pollution, noting that we are facing 24-hour a day exposure to noise in the range of 90-108db; respiratory disease from asbestosis from freight train brake pads and diesel loco emissions; and, psychological damage because of the savageness, intrusiveness and frequency of the freight train movements.”Alex Sell, Northern Rail Noise Committee (10 May 2012)

But this opposition to additional freight trains has now extended to an opposition to the expansion of the Northern Sydney Freight Line. The current plan, to separate freight trains between Strathfield and Hornsby from passenger trains, would allow freight trains to pass through this busy portion of the railway during the peak commuter hour. This would end the ironic reality that noisy freight trains have a day time curfew, while noisy aircraft have a night time curfew. Yet what should be an improvement has instead been rejected in what seems to be a knee jerk reaction.

Moorebank Intermodal

The Northern Sydney Freight Line is shown in yellow. Click to enlarge. (Source: Department of Infrastructure and Transport)

Ideally no loud freight trains would pass through residential areas. But if they must pass through, it is madness to not build a piece of infrastructure that would allow as many of them to pass by during the day time when the least number of residents are at home, rather than night time when virtually all of them are home asleep.

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.

Both major parties have committed funding towards the NSW Government’s signature road project, WestConnex, ahead of the federal election this year. In doing so it has become a textbook example of all the significant players putting politics ahead of good policy.

The Federal Labor Government, which had previously committed $1bn, recently upped its funding offer to $1.8bn as part of its annual budget, on the condition that it include “direct routes through to the CBD and Port Botany” and that “new tolls should not be imposed on existing un-tolled roads” (Source: Anthony Albanese). The push to link up to Port Botany has merits, and will take freight trucks off local roads around Botany and Masacot. The link to the CBD is more questionable, given that roads do a terrible job at transporting large numbers of people into a compact activity centre like the CBD. While the limitation placed on new tolls is a populist measure that goes against the recommendation of its own advisory body, of Infrastructure Australia, which normally makes the imposition of tolls a requirement for the provision of funding.

When asked whether the City West Link was sufficient to satisfy the requirement for a direct route through to the CBD, a spokesperson for the Infrastructure and Transport Minister told this blog that WestConnex did not connect to the City West Link. When it was pointed out that the current plans for WestConnex do include such a link, he added that “Infrastructure Australia has advised that there is inadequate links to get people to the city and freight to the port”.

Map of the proposed WestConnex alignment showing it connecting to the City West Link. (Source: WestConnex – Sydney’s next motorway priority, Infrastructure NSW, p. 17)

Map of the proposed WestConnex alignment showing it includes a connection to the City West Link, but no connection to Port Botany. (Source: WestConnex – Sydney’s next motorway priority, Infrastructure NSW, p. 17)

On the issue of whether the widened portions of the M4 and M5 constituted an existing un-tolled road, this blog was told that these were considered existing roads, and that new tolls must not be imposed there in order for the NSW Government to be eligible for the $1.8bn in funding. The spokesperson for the Minister argued that a policy of no new tolls being introduced on existing roads was the “NSW govt’s position before the [2011] election”.

What the NSW Liberal Party’s actual commitments prior to the 2011 election are difficult to find, as policy platforms tend to get taken down from party websites soon after an election, but the following document listing the transport policies of the 3 major parties has been archived by UTS. It does not include any mention of a commitment to not impose tolls on existing roads. However, Roads Minister Duncan Gay did say in June 2012 that “we won’t be putting tolls on roads in their current state…We would only consider tolls as part of the package of improvements and provision of new roads” (Source: NineMSN). This may boil down to an issue of semantics, and whether existing roads and improved roads are the same or different.

On the other side of Parliament, the Federal Liberal Party has put forward $1.5bn towards WestConnex, on the condition that it link up with the CBD, but without the Port Botany link or toll-free requirements. Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey has ruled out matching Labor’s $1.8bn, saying that “We will not be adding one dollar more than the $1.5 billion that we’ve committed and we can account for” (Source: Sky News), even though Opposition Leader Tony Abbott did exactly that with the M2 to F3 tunnel less than a week ago when he matched Labor’s contribution of $400m. Not that it would matter, given that WestConnex would not be eligible for this funding regardless of who is in the Lodge after September based on the current plan.

None of this leaves the NSW Government off the hook. It is now becoming clear that it did not do its homework on WestConnex before announcing its decision to give it the green light. The suggestion from Infrastructure NSW for a slot design along Parramatta Road has now been discredited as more expensive, not less, than the tunnel option, while its recommendation to build an underground CBD bus tunnel through the CBD rather than light rail along George St was rubbished by Transport for NSW. When given the task of recommending one new road project for Sydney out of the M4 East, M5 East, and M2 to F3 tunnel, Infrastructure NSW recommended two of the three (M4 East and M5 East) as well as another road that was not even on the priority list (the Inner West Bypass) in order to link the former 2 up and technically make it a single contiguous road project, a long bow by anyone’s standards.

It should be clear that Infrastructure NSW cannot be trusted to design transport projects and recommend which ones to build, as all of its attempts to date have been littered with problems. It should instead focus on what it can do – act as a middleman between the government and the private sector in order to obtain private funding to build infrastructure.

Given these continued failures to put the politics aside when it comes to building essential infrastructure, it’s no surprise that the electorate remains cynical of governments’ abilities to do the job effectively.

An artists impression of the now abandoned slot portion of WestConnex. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: First Things First, page 89.)

An artists impression of the now abandoned slot portion of WestConnex. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: First Things First, Infrastructure NSW, page 89)

The NSW government’s preferred slot option for the M4 East portion of the WestConnex freeway is set to be abandoned following the revelation that it would be more expensive than the tunnel option rather than cheaper as initially believed. The news was first rumoured by Nine News reporter Kevin Wilde  in late March, then confirmed by the Sydney Morning Herald’s Jake Saulwick earlier today.

The change will increase the construction costs by billions of dollars and is reminiscent of the $500m that were lost when the Rozelle Metro was abandoned in part because the then Labor Government did not do sufficient planning prior to beginning the project. Premier Barry O’Farrell had promised not to repeat this mistake, yet this is exactly what has happened in both here and with the North West Rail Link. In both cases, the government committed to something before doing its homework on it, and then had to go back on their previous announcement once public servants demonstrated that prior promises were not the ideal option to take.

Map of the proposed WestConnex route. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Open Street Map.)

Map of the proposed WestConnex route, including where the slot would have been. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Open Street Map)

These revelations raise additional questions over the viability of WestConnex. Some of these concerns, as well as some good history on the general topic, were covered by EcoTransit in a recent video. While I have questioned some of the conclusions made by EcoTransit in the past, this video is one whose broad message I am generally in agreeance with, and is worth viewing.

Meanwhile, this week the state government also announced the $5bn sale of the Ports of Botany and Kembla, by way of a 99 year lease, thus locking in the funding it needed for a number of road improvements – chief among them being the $1.8bn it had promised for WestConnex. This price is much higher than the $3bn initially expected, and key to this was the abolition of the container movement cap of 3.2m TEU. In order to facilitate this, the government is effectively locking itself in to freight transport improvements around these ports that will allow for an increase in container movements. In effect, the government inflated the value of the port assets by committing to invest in the surrounding infrastructure with the money raised, a win-win situation.

In the case of Port Botany, that means building WestConnex. This is in addition to the political imperative to build WestConnex, so as not to be seen to be a government that announces infrastructure projects and then abandons them – something which contributed to the defeat of Mr O’Farrell’s predecessor.

And so we find ourselves with a state government that has painted itself into a corner – it must build WestConnex. Yet it has done so before all the planning work on it is complete. That is not to say that the numbers do not stack up in favour of WestConnex, we won’t know until all the planning is done. But the government should have done the planning first and made a decision second, not jump the gun to announce its support for it. Instead, we will now get a new road whether we need it or not.

Southern Sydney Freight Line opens

Posted: January 22, 2013 in Transport
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3 years behind schedule and $700m over budget, the Southern Sydney Freight Line was opened yesterday. This new line will separate freight trains from passenger trains between Sefton and Macarthur, which until now had required an 8 hour curfew between the morning and afternoon peak hours that prevented freight trains from using that section of the line.

Sydney previously had an exclusive freight rail line only between Port Botany through to Sefton (red in the diagram below), with freight trains having to share track with passenger trains on the Western, Northern, South, and Illawarra Lines. There was also a freight line that connected Dulwich Hill to Darling Harbour, but the conversion of Sydney Harbour from a working port to a cultural centre has allowed that line to be used for light rail.

Moorebank Intermodal

The Southern Sydney Freight Line is shown in green. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Department of Infrastructure and Transport)

The South Sydney Freight Line (blue in the diagram above) will now allow trains to continue South unimpeded by passenger trains. It will later be supplemented by the Northern Sydney Freight Line (orange in the diagram above), which will allow freight trains to cross the entirety of metropolitan Sydney without disrupting passenger services, helping to take more trucks off the road.

Media reports

Billion-dollar freight rail line opens in Sydney, ABC News

‘We wanted to make sure we got it right’: new rail line opens … three years late, Sydney Morning Herald

Freight train bottleneck solution finally lands, with $1b price tag, Sydney Morning Herald

New freight link boosts speed: govt, Daily Telegraph

It didn’t take long after the closure of the monorail was announced for someone to suggest that it be converted into an elevated walkway, using New York’s High Line as an example. While this initially sounds like a good idea on paper, it soon becomes clear that it would not be workable, and the 1m wide beam should definitely not be compared to the 6m wide High Line in New York. (Alan Davies explains why in more detail over at The Urbanist.)

A more recent proposal which received government approval last month, but seemingly less media coverage or public interest, was the conversion of a portion of the former Goods Line at Ultimo into a public space. It too has been dubbed as Sydney’s version of the High Line. Importantly, this proposal represents both a destination as well as a means of getting from one place to another (New York’s High Line is mainly the former, while the monorail proposal was entirely the latter). It is this combination of factors that Jesse Adams Stein, blogging as Penultimo, argues will make The Goods Line superior to the High Line, and I think that hits the nail on the head.

The Goods Line artists impression

Artists impression of The Goods Line. (Source: ASPECT Studios.)

I was in New York earlier this year and visited the High Line on two occasions. It’s a great piece of public space, a former elevated rail line converted into a public park and walkway. But it doesn’t take you anywhere you want to go, it’s just a destination. So by the time you finish walking to one end, it’s time to turn around and go back the way you came. The Goods Line, on the other hand, will connect up to the Devonshire St Tunnel, allowing a pedestrian to walk North from Central Station at Chalmers St all the way to the Powerhouse Museum unimpeded.

High Line 1/2

The New York High Line. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author.)

High Line 2/2

The New York High Line. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author.)

Sydney’s CBD actually has a fairly good collection of pedestrian links at the moment, and is adding to them. A collection of major ones that currently exist or are planned are shown in the map below (blue are underground tunnels, green are pedestrianised surface spaces).

CBD pedestrian spaces

Pedestrian spaces in the Sydney CBD. Blue are underground tunnels, green are surface spaces. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author created on Google Earth.)

Right now, a pedestrian across the road from the George St Cinemas can take an underground passage to Town Hall Station, through the QVB, across to Myer and come out the other end at Pitt St Mall. All of this without having to worry about vehicle traffic or the elements up on the surface. Continuing North for two blocks past the pedestrianised Martin Place is the Eastern entrance to Hunter Connection, which will take you to Wynyard Station, where another underground tunnel (soon to be the upgraded Wynyard Walk) takes you through to Barangaroo. By the end of this decade, a large chunk of George St will also be pedestrianised, and one of the features of the redeveloped Darling Harbour will be a pedestrian boulevard running North to South.

When it comes to transport, we are all pedestrians at the most basic level. So it’s good to see a bigger emphasis being placed on creating good quality public spaces that prioritise people above vehicles.

Some of the smaller transport stories from the last 2 months. In chronological order:

Moorebank intermodal freight terminal (23 April)

The Federal government is to build a $1.6bn freight terminal in Moorbank in Sydney’s Southwest. The site will connect to a freight rail line with a direct link to the Port Botany, Chullora and Enfield industrial areas as well as the Southern Sydney Freight and Northern Sydney Freight Lines currently being constructed. The end result will be an estimated 3,300 truck trips taken off roads and onto rail each day.

Moorebank Intermodal

The proposed Moorebank Intermodal freight terminal will be located in Southwest Sydney, with rail access to take trucks off the road. (Source: Department of Infrastructure and Transport)

The decision to go ahead with this project has been criticised by Qube Logistics, a group headed up by Chris Corrigan, which wanted to build and operate such a site itself. The advantage of Qube’s proposed terminal would be that it could be built at no cost to the taxpayer. However, the government site is both larger and closer to the freight rail line and it would also avoid the problem of a player in the logistics industry (Qube Logistics) owning a key piece of infrastructure and thereby being able to deny access to its competitors.

Crowding on trains is increasing (3 May)

Morning peak hour trains have an average of 1.23 passengers per available seat, an increase on 1.19 in the last year. According to the Cityrail report, the most crowded trains are on the Bankstown Line and the Western Line carries the most passengers, with only trains from the Eastern Suburbs and Blue Mountains having spare seats on average.

Train patronage March 2012

Train patronage March 2012. (Source: Cityrail)

Sydney Ferries will be privately operated starting July (3 May)

Veolia Transdev and Transfield Services will take over operation of Sydney Ferries as soon as next month. Ownership and planning of ferries, as well as the setting and collection of fares, will remain with the government and the Sydney Ferries brand will remain unchanged. Making ferries operate under a franchising model will bring them into line with the system used for the private bus network aswell as the light rail line, both of which are (mostly) publicly owned but privately operated. If this change results in a reduction in the cost to the government of operating the ferry network then expect speculation on whether the government will look to expand franchising to Sydney Buses and the rail network (particularly CountryLink).

Railcorp to be split into 2 entities (15 May)

Railcorp will be split into Sydney Trains (which will run the suburban part of the Cityrail network) and NSW trains (which will run the intercity part of the Cityrail network and the entirety of the CountryLink network). As part of this, 750 back office staff will be offered voluntary redundancies in order to cut costs and responsibility for cleaning will be put into a new subsidiary unit in order to improve cleanliness on trains and at stations. Nationals backbencher Andrew Gee denies that this is a step towards privatising CountryLink/NSW Trains. However, this would not appear to extend to a franchising of NSW Trains, as is being done with Sydney Ferries, particularly if the ferries plan is a success financially.

Quiet carriages made permanent (23 May)

After a trial of so called quiet carriages, they are to be made a permanent feature of Newcastle and Central Coast trains. A trial will now be done on the Blue Mountains and South Coast Lines.

1,200 new park and ride spots (29 May)

An additional 1,200 car parking spaces will be built at stations in order to encourage train use, as well as improvements to transport interchanges such as lifts, kiss and rise zones, and bus interchanges. Big winners are Sutherland (300 spaces), Oak Flats (230 spaces), Lindfield (240 spaces), and Gordon (160 spaces).

I sometimes wonder if park and ride is the most cost effective way of improving train patronage. For example, each new parking spot in Oak Flats costs $25,000, and is quite reasonable. But the cost for the other 3 stations ranges from $123,000 to $275,000 per parking space. (These amounts are inflated as they include the cost of other improvements, but are a good rough guide.) Above a certain price it surely must make sense to re-direct that money towards funding feeder buses rather than parking spaces.

A couple of smaller updates that probably wouldn’t warrant a dedicated post, so I’m doing them all together

Freight rail upgrade progressing

The first stage of works on Sydney’s freight rail lines has been completed, with an upgrade and reconfiguration of the rail yard at Port Botany now finished. This forms part of a greater overall freight rail network, that will both take trucks off the road and segregate freight trains from commuter trains. It will link up to the existing freight rail network around Chullora/Enfield and eventually be linked to the Southern Sydney Freight Line and Northern Sydney Freight Line, which will connect freight from Sydney through to Melbourne and Brisbane.

Sydney Freight rail map

Outdated map of freight rail lines, current and proposed, in Sydney. This map is a few years old, but gives you a good idea of what the network looks like. (Source: http://www.metrostrategy.nsw.gov.au/)

Opal rollout starts in CBD stations

New Opal card readers are being installed in rail stations in the CBD (photos at Central and Wynyard) aswell as ferry stops. The Opal card is set to begin on ferries later this year before eventually rolling out to trains, buses and light rail.

Hobart and Canberra show interest in Sydney’s monorail.

Both Hobart and Canberra have mentioned potential interest in purchasing the Sydney monorail when it is finally dismantled by the NSW government following its purchase of the company that owns the monorail. The Canberra bid seems a bit dire, and almost seems like a light rail proposal with “light rail” crossed out and replaced with “monorail”. Hobart, on the other hand, with its compact CBD and lack of major public transport infrastructure, might possibly have a case. Why they would want to go with a 25 year old piece of technology that needs significant upgrade and repairs is beyond me, but if they want to buy it then they are more than entitled to.

On the topic of the monorail, a great Sydney based parody of the classic Simpons monorail song has emerged. I can’t embed it here, so check out the Sydney Morning Herald website to see it for yourself.

Plans for the Olympic Park Line were begun after Sydney won the rights to host the 2000 Olympic games in 1993. The games were to be held on a former military and industrial site in Homebush Bay, which had an existing freight rail line. This line would be eventually converted into the Olympic Park Line, served by a single station: Olympic Park Station.

Trains to the station today are mainly shuttle services, running every 20 minutes on weekdays and 10 minutes on weekends, stopping at Lidcombe Station (on a dedicated “Sprint Platform”, nominally Platform Zero) and Olympic Park Station. During major events, additional trains will also go to Olympic Park Station from Central. There are also a few interurban trains from the Blue Mountains that go into Central Station which then go to Olympic Park Station before dead running to the Flemington stabling yards to be parked during the off-peak.

Olympic Park Station

A Tangara approaches Olympic Park Station. This train can be services by both platforms 3 and 4, while another train can simultaneously be services by platforms 1 and 2. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NSWrail.net)

Olympic Park Station is unique in that it has 2 platforms for each train, with passengers on the train alighting on one platform and other passengers boarding from the other platform on the other side of the train. This prevents any conflicting movements of passengers getting both on and off at the same time, reducing dwell times and allowing a more efficient movement of passengers. This was particularly useful during the Olympics, during which huge numbers of people had to be moved to and from the Olympic Park all day. However, this function has been rarely used since the Olympics (if all at).

Next week: The Airport Line.