Posts Tagged ‘Inner West light rail’

Open Drum – The Daily Commute

ABC Open is taking contributions on the topic of “the daily commute”. The deadline for contributions is midday Tuesday 9 June.

“Tell us about your daily commute. What are the joys and challenges? How does it impact your life or your family? Would improved public transport, affordable accommodation near workplaces or better roads help? Whatever happened to telecommuting? Do you have a survival tip or utopian vision for policy makers? Share your story and opinions in 350-700 words.”

1 May: Rail line to Badgerys Creek downplayed

Suggestions for a fast rail service between Badgerys Creek and Sydney CBD in time for the opening of a future Western Sydney Airport were dismissed by the Federal Transport Minister Warren Truss. “A rail line connected to the metropolitan area of Sydney is not essential in that [early] phase” said Mr Truss. The NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance was more open to the idea, stating that he was “putting all things on the table”, including a possible extension of Sydney Rapid Transit out to Badgerys Creek via the existing Kingsford Smith Airport at Mascot. Proposals exist to extend the recently opened South West Rail Link to Badgerys Creek, but there are no current plans or funding to do so.

The proposed corridors for an extension of the SWRL through to Badgerys Creek and beyond. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The proposed corridors for an extension of the SWRL through to Badgerys Creek and beyond. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

4 May: Opal-only ticket gates

New ticket gates that accept only Opal cards are to be trialed at Olympic Park Station. Existing ticket barriers that accept both Opal and paper tickets will continue to be in use.

7 May: Mousetrap to catch graffiti vandals

A new technology is being trialed which detects either spray paint or permanent marker on trains, so far leading to the arrest of 30 individuals. Known as “Mousetrap”, it uses an electronic chemical sensor which detects the vapour of both spray paint and marker pens.  Live CCTV records and provides images directly to Sydney Trains staff. Removing graffiti from the Sydney Trains network cost $34 million last financial year, up from $30 million the year before.

10 May: Epping to Chatswood Line will be disconnected for almost a year

The Epping to Chatswood Line, set to be shut down for 7 months during which it will be converted and connected to the North West Rail Link in order to create the first stage of Sydney Rapid Transit, will be disconnected from the T1 Northern and North Shore Lines prior to its shut down. A recently approved government proposal will see the line operate as a shuttle service between Epping and Chatswood for 4 months prior to this conversion, most likely in 2018.

21 May: Light rail predicted to kill someone each year

A report prepared for the government predicts that 1.14 people will be killed by the new CBD and South East Light Rail line every year on average. Between 2010 and 2014, there have been 3 fatalities involving pedestrians and buses in the Sydney CBD. The report also predicts 1 fatality every 5 years for the existing light rail line to Dulwich Hill, although no deaths have occurred on this line since it opened in 1997.

22 May: Opal card user information handed over to government agencies

57 requests for Opal card data, which include the card user’s address and travel patterns, have been granted by Transport for NSW to government agencies since December 2014. A total of 181 requests were made, with no court approval required in order for information to be handed over. By comparison, information from Queensland’s Go Card had been accessed almost 11,000 times between 2006 and 2014.

26 May: NWRL tunneling 40% complete

Tunnel boring machines on the North West Rail Link have reached Showground Station. 12km of the 30km of tunneling, representing over a third of the total length, is now complete.

26 May: Long Bay Prison sale under consideration

The Government is considering the possibility of selling off Long Bay Prison, possibly raising a estimated $400m. The sale, which would see the site redeveloped, has been linked to a possible extension of the light rail line currently under construction. The CBD and South East Light Rail is set to open in 2019, initially reaching Kingsford. However, an extension as far as La Perouse has been raised as a possibility.

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.)

26 May: Congestion will be worse after WestConnex

Internal government reports show that traffic levels on inner city roads around the planned WestConnex tunnels are predicted to be higher in 2026 than in 2011, despite the planned completion of WestConnex by 2023. A spokeswoman for the WestConnex Delivery Authority commented that “[traffic on] the inner south will improve with WestConnex as opposed to a do nothing scenario”.

28 May: Light rail construction schedule announced

VIDEO: Ten Eyewitness News Sydney – Government admits public transport system “broken” (27/5/2015)

A construction schedule for the CBD and South East Light Rail was released to the public. George St is set to see three and a half years of construction, with the new CBD and South East Light Rail set to be built between September 2015 and April 2018. The line is currently scheduled to open in early 2019, following testing of the line.

The Opposition Leader Luke Foley, who recently declared his opposition to light rail on George St, compared the project to the Berlin Wall and declared that it would lead to chaos and confusion.

The Government released video (above) of a bus and pedestrian walking down George Street during the evening peak hour showing the pedestrian being faster than the bus. Pedestrianising George St, resulting in the replacement of cars and buses with trams, has been put forward as a way to reduce congestion for public transport users which currently exists in many parts of the city.

The announcement also included plans to defer construction on the Northern portion of the Castlereagh St bike path until construction on the light rail line is completed. The Roads Minister Duncan Gay had previously proposed including loading zones along portions of Castlereagh St, which would have the effect of making it a “part-time” bike path. Deferring its construction pushes back the need to make a decision on this issue. However, the existing bike path on College St is set to be converted into a bus lane. This will help to handle bus movements once George St becomes closed off to vehicles, but removes a North-South bike path in the CBD for a number of years.

28 May: mX axed

Newscorp is set to discontinue mX, its free commuter newspaper. mX is currently distributed each weekday afternoon in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane; it began in each of these cities in 2001, 2005, and 2007 respectively.

29 May: Electricity privatisation passes lower house

Legislation to allow the 99 year lease of 49% of the NSW electricity distribution network has passed the NSW Legislative Assembly. It now goes to the Legislative Council, where a combination of the Liberal, National, and Christian Democratic Parties that have committed to supporting the legislation have enough votes to ensure its passage through the upper house of Parliament.

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.

VIDEO: Sydney Public Transport Is Third World, The Feed (22 July 2014)

Wednesday: 3 new trams for Sydney Light Rail

The first 3 of the 12 new trams ordered for the Sydney Light Rail network arrived this week. These 12 Urbos 3 trams are to replace the existing 11 trams, a mix of Variotram and Urbos 2, currently operating on Sydney’s single light rail line between Central and Dulwich Hill. The 7 original Variotram vehicles date back to the lines opening back in 1997, while the 4 Urbos 2 vehicles were leased as a stop gap measure to provide sufficient rolling stock between the opening of the Dulwich Hill extension and the arrival of the 12 new Urbos 3 trams.

Sydney's light rail fleet. Clockwise from top left: Urbos 3, Urbos 2, Variotram. Click to enlarge. (Sources: Transport for NSW, Transport for NSW, Hourann Bosci.)

Sydney’s light rail fleet. Clockwise from top left: Urbos 3, Urbos 2, Variotram. Click to enlarge. (Sources: Transport for NSW, Transport for NSW, Hourann Bosci.)

Plans to increase peak hour frequencies from one tram every 10 minutes to one tram every 7.5 minutes, as suggested in October 2013, does not appear to have eventuated, with the Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian confirming that “Under the turn-up-and-go schedule, light rail customers don’t need a timetable, with services every 10 minutes in the peak and real-time information at all the stations” (Source: Transport for NSW).

Friday: Central Station partly shut down

Platforms 25 and 25 at Central Station were shut down, as was the Devonshire Street Tunnel that connects Chalmers Street with Lee Street, after these areas were sprayed with aerosol cans.

Members of the public in the area were reported to have subsequently started coughing, with emergency personnel shutting off both areas from public access during the busy evening peak (between around 3:51PM and 6:03PM).

Police arrested the 4 men in relation to the incident, and later charged 1 of them.

Monday: $100m upgrade of Wynyard Station

Wynyard Station is to receive a $100m upgrade, with improvements including:

  • An upgrade to the CBD station’s concourse and platforms, with a less cluttered concourse wider ticket gate area making it easier for customers to enter, exit and move around the station.
  • New lighting.
  • New tiling.
  • An overhaul of the retail outlets.
  • A fresh coat of paint and new signage to help customers move around the station easier.
An artists impression of an upgraded Wynyard Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

An artists impression of an upgraded Wynyard Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The project comes as work gets underway on an $8 million major refresh to Town Hall Station. Preparations are also underway to install new two new lifts at Circular Quay Station and Museum Station.

Thursday: NSW to get 65 new trains for $2.8bn

The NSW TrainLink electric train fleet is to be replaced by 65 new trains, to be rolled out between 2019 and 2024, at a cost of $2.8bn. This will allow the existing OSCAR trains to replace the non-air conditioned S-Sets on the suburban Sydney Trains fleet, resulting in all passenger trains in NSW being fully air conditioned. S-Sets are currently held in reserve and make up 10% of the Sydney Trains fleet.

Thursday: Additional $2bn support for WestConnex

The Commonwealth Government has approved a $2bn loan for the construction of the WestConnex freeway. It has already committed $1.5bn in funding, with the loan allowing the NSW Government to borrow at the lower interest rate received by the Commonwealth Government. This will allow the M5 East portion of the project to be completed by 2019, the same time as the M4 East portion and 2 years earlier than initially expected.

Do you use public transport near Lilyfield?

UNSW Masters student Robert McKinlay is studying mode choice around the Sydney Light Rail. Part of this project is a commuter survey. If you use public transport in the Lilyfield area, please consider clicking on the link and answering a few questions to help better understand user choice and preferences around transport modes.

Monday: SWRL extension to Badgerys Creek in the planning

Planning has begun to preserve a corridor for a new rail line to the proposed new airport at Badgerys Creek. The new corridor will extend from the currently under construction South West Rail Link at Leppington through to Bagderys Creek Airport and then North to St Marys, with another line branching South at Bringelly to Narellan.

The proposed corridors for an extension of the SWRL through to Badgerys Creek and beyond. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The proposed corridors for an extension of the SWRL through to Badgerys Creek and beyond. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian explained that this was more than just the airport, pointing out that This work isn’t just about servicing an airport, it’s about servicing Western Sydney communities with appropriate transport links, now and into the future”. The new line will pass right through the South West Growth Centre, which is expected to house an additional 300,000 residents in coming decades.

Consultations will run for 6 weeks from 28 April to 6 June on both the alignment and station locations. Currently there are no indicative station locations North of Badgerys Creek, despite one station in this area having been earmarked in a 2013 draft strategy.

Tuesday: NWRL brings 18 storey apartments to Kellyville

Plans for high rise residential buildings up to 18 storeys are being opposed by a local residents group, who want the project restricted to 15 storeys. The project, adjacent to the Kellyville station site that will form part of the North West Rail Link set to open in 2019, was originally proposed to have a maximum height of 25 storeys. Height reductions were achieved by converting the project from a mixed use residential/commercial/retail development into primarily a residential development. The 7,000 to 8,250 square metres of planned office space was removed entirely, the amount of retail space was reduced from 3,000 to 1,900 square metres, and the number of apartment units was cut from 746 to 660 (Source: Hills Shire Council, 29/04/2014 EGM Minutes, pp. 35, 40).

Plans for 18 storey residential apartments next to Kellyville Station on the NWRL. Click to enlarge. (Source: Hills Shire Council, 29/04/2014 EGM Minutes, p. 40.)

Plans for 18 storey residential apartments next to Kellyville Station on the NWRL. Click to enlarge. (Source: Hills Shire Council, 29/04/2014 EGM Minutes, p. 40.)

The Hills Shore Council has also designated areas around the proposed Bella Vista and Showground railways stations for high rise developments in order to house the expected 100,000 new residents expected over the next 25 years.

Wednesday: Ride sharing apps restricted to taxis and hire cars

Private drivers cannot use ride sharing apps like Uber to carry paying passengers according to a clarification by Transport for NSW. These apps can allow individuals to book a driver directly, bypassing the taxi booking companies which currently enjoy close to monopoly status in the market. A Transport for NSW spokesperson said that Under the [Passenger Transport] Act, [ride sharing] must be provided in a licensed taxi or hire car, by an appropriately accredited driver, authorised by Roads and Maritime Services (RMS)”. Any driver authorised by RMS undergoes a police check.

Thursday: Multiple incidents cause transport chaos

Sydney’s road and rail transport network saw significant disruptions after a number of incidents across the city. These included a fatal collision with a cyclist by a bus on Military Road in Neutral Bay, a car crash on the M1 on the Hawkesbury River Bridge, a 2 car crash in the Harbour Tunnel, and a power outage on the light rail line between Dulwich Hill and Lilyfield.

Thursday: School contest to name tunnel boring machines

School students from Sydney’s North West will have the opportunity to name the tunnel boring machines used to create the tunnels for the North West Rail Link. Given the long-held tradition that tunnel boring machines around the world are named after women, the theme will be “Women who have made a positive contribution to life in Sydney”. Competition entries close on May 25, and will only be accepted via the North West Rail Link project website, where there is also more detail about the competition.

Friday: ARTC listed as potential privatisation target

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) has been listed for potential privatisation in the long term, with a predicted sale value of $500m. The ARTC is owned by the Commonwealth Government, which in turn owns and operates much of the interstate freight rail network on the East Coast of Australia. It has made a financial loss in all but one year since 2007, however these have all been primarily due to asset impairment write downs and not due to losses from ongoing operations. The ARTC has earned $200m to $300m per year in the last 3 years when measured from an operating cashflow perspective, a measure which strips out non-cash transactions such as asset impairments and depreciation (Sources: ARTC, Annual Report 2013, p. 58 and Annual Report 2011, p. 48).

Friday: Cyclists may require licenses, bike paths lead to more bike usage

Cyclists would be required to hold licences and avoid major roads under a proposal being considered by the Roads Minister Duncan Gay. Meanwhile, documents obtained by the Sydney Morning Herald show that bike paths in the Sydney CBD led to a doubling in the number of cyclists but a reduction in injuries. The documents also show that more bikes use Kent St, King St, and College St each morning peak hour than cars do. These are the 3 streets in the Sydney CBD with separated bike paths currently installed.

Sydney Strategic Cycle network, much of which is currently being planned or under construction. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Sydney City Access Strategy, p. 45.)

Sydney Strategic Cycle network, much of which is currently being planned or under construction. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Sydney City Access Strategy, p. 45.)

The government announced its preferred bike path network last year as part of the Sydney City Access Strategy (see image above). It involved removing the College St bike path, but adding new bike paths on Castlereagh St, Pitt St, and Liverpool St while also extending the existing bike paths on Kent St and King St.

Monday: NSW Labor promises feasibility study for Western Sydney Light Rail

NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson committed the Labor Party to a $20m feasibility study into a Western Sydney Light Rail network if it wins next year’s state election. Parramatta Council has been pushing for a light rail network linking Parramatta to Macquarie Park and Castle Hill, and has funded its own pre-feasibility study into such lines. This mirrors the CBD and South Eastern Light Rail, currently under construction, where Randwick Council funded its own pre-feasibility study before the the then Opposition Liberal Party committed itself to a full feasibility study if it won office in the 2011 state election

This also follows revalations that the NSW Government is considering a Western Sydney Light Rail network after the publication of an official government document showing the light rail lines on a map of Parramatta. If this is the case, support for such a network could receive bipartisan support.

Wednesday: Dulwich Hill light rail extension boosts patronage by 30%

Patronage on the Inner West Light Rail Line has increased by an estimated 30% since being extended to Dulwich Hill last week. Although an additional 4 trams were obtained to maintain 10 minute frequencies on the line during peak hour, the increased demand has led to overcrowding and meant some passengers have not been able to board a tram.

Interior of a Sydney tram. Overcrowding is up on the Cityrail network. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author)

The 30% increase in patronage on the Inner West Light Rail Line has led to overcrowding, similar to that in this image taken in 2013. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author)

It has also dampened the likelihood of school students being given free travel on trams to get to and from school until overcrowding is addressed. An additional 12 trams are currently scheduled to enter service over the next 18 month to replace the original 7 trams used on the line. Peak hour frequencies are set to increase to one tram per 7.5 minutes from 1 July this year, which will ease overcrowding.

Thursday: Real-time data for ferries and trams coming to transport apps

Real-time data, currently available for trains and buses, will soon be expanded to ferries and trams. There is no fixed timetable for when these will become available, but a spokesman from Transport for NSW hopes that they will be rolledout “within the next year”.

Thursday: Mobile phone reception now available on Eastern Suburbs Line

The Eastern Suburbs Line has joined the City Circle and North Shore Line in having mobile phone reception available in its underground tunnels. Sydney’s other major underground rail tunnels, for the Airport Line and Epping to Macquarie Line, were designed to include mobile phone reception for when the lines opened in 2000 and 2009 respectively.

Friday: Opal rolled out to South Coast and Southern Highlands Lines

Opal readers went online in the South Coast and Southern Highlands Lines, with the Blue Mountains and Hunter Lines to go online next week. 165,000 Opal cards have been registered to date. Opal readers are now being rolled out onto buses, starting with the Upper North Shore and Eastern Suburbs.

 

Monday: NWRL months ahead of schedule, O’Farrell calls double deck trains a mistake

The tunnel boring machines for the North West Rail Link (NWRL) will be in the ground by October, 2 months ahead of the original “end of 2014” deadline. The NSW Government had previously committed to begin construction of the NWRL in its first term of government, which places a deadline of the March 2015 state election.

The tunnels for the new line will be too steep and too narrow for the existing double deck rolling stock to run on, a controversial decision that will save $200m in constructions costs. Opponents have linked this move to the 1855 decision that resulted in different 3 different rail gauges being used in different parts of Australia as it will create completely independent sectors of the rail network. NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell countered by saying that “one of the decisions I think state governments got wrong decades ago was to move to double-decks, instead of matching what’s happening in Paris, in London, where single-deck were retained”, adding that single deck trains “can carry more people, travel more quickly, and disembark those people more quickly without people having to come down those difficult steps that exist on our double-decks and that delay people at railway stations”.

Wednesday: Opal to rollout to entire rail network by April

The Opal electronic ticketing system was rolled out the remainder of the Sydney Trains network on Friday 28 March, with 150,000 Opal cards now registered for use. It is currently scheduled to be rolled out to all NSW TrainLink stations progressively on 4 April and 11 April, which will complete the rollout to ferries and trains. The rollout will then move on to buses, which are scheduled to have Opal readers installed by the end of 2014, and light rail, which are currently scheduled to have Opal readers installed by 2015.

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

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

The lack of Opal readers or poles to hold readers installed at the new light rail stations suggests that readers will be instead installed directly inside the trams themselves. However, given that the current fleet of trams is being replaced, and that the new trams are not expected to arrive until early 2015, this further suggests that the light rail rollout is unlikely to be completed earlier than 2015 unless the new trams arrive earlier than is currently scheduled.

Thursday: Federal Government links Medibank Private sale to Badgerys Creek infrastructure

The $4bn expected to be raised from the sale of Medibank Private could go towards funding infrastructure, particularly infrastructure required for a Second Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek. Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey has encouraged states to follow this policy of “asset recycling”, where state owned assets are sold off in order to fund the construction of additional assets in the form of infrastructure. The NSW Government has done this, with part of the proceeds of the sale of Port Botany funding the initial stage of WestConnex.

 Thursday: Inner West Light Rail extension to Dulwich Hill opens

The 5.6km extension to Sydney’s sole light rail line opened on Friday 28 March, with trams now running between Dulwich Hill and Lilyfield before continuing on to Central Station via Pyrmont. EcoTransit co-convenor Gavin Gatenby wrote on the history of how the line came to be a reality, while Lachlan Drummond wrote a review of the line itself after riding one of the new trams from Dulwich Hill into Chinatown and back.

Friday: Transurban buys Cross City Tunnel for $475m

Toll road operator Transurban has acquired Sydney’s Cross City Tunnel (CCT), solidifying its ownership of toll roads in Sydney. The CCT had been in voluntary administration since September 2013 for the second time since opening in 2005. It first went into receivership in 2007 and was bought by the Royal Bank of Scotland for $700m, much less than the original construction cost of $1bn. Shortly after returning to receivership in September 2013, the senior debt of the CCT was acquired by Transurban in November 2013 for $475m, effectively making Transurban the new owners of the toll road. Transurban owns a large number of other toll roads in Sydney, including the M2, M7, M5, and Eastern Distributor, as well as the currently under construction M1 to M2 tunnel (formerly known as F3 to M2). Analysts predict that this will allow Transurban to operate the CCT with lower maintenance and operational costs than the previous operators.

 

 

 

Lachlan Drummond took a ride on the Inner West Light Rail line from Dulwich Hill to Chinatown and back on its first day of operation. Below is his account of the extended line plus his take on what was done well and what could have been done better.

PART ONE – My experience in the new line

Dulwich Hill Station

I started my journey at the Dulwich Hill end of the new line.

Sadly there is no cross-platform access from the Sydney Trains station. If you want to go from heavy rail to light rail, you have to exit the station, walk around the corner, and back down some stairs. Annoyingly, there is no footpath along the side of the road, so you have to walk down the street to get to the entrance. It’s a ridiculous situation and the council should act to fix this as soon as possible.

However, once I was on the platform, the station was well lit and covered. An electronic sign informs us when the next tram will arrive.

I didn’t have to wait long for a tram, because they come every fifteen minutes, even in the off-peak. Luckily for me, one of the brand new trams from Spain arrived right on time at 1:05PM, so I got to have a look.

The New Trams

As you can see from the video above, the new trams are very spacious. They have much fewer seats than the existing trams on the network, which means there is a larger amount of standing capacity. These Trams will be great for high capacity in peak hour.

Interestingly, the new trams have buttons on the outside of the doors, and you can actually press them to open the door from the outside.

Interior of one of the new Urbos 2 trams. Click to enlage. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

Interior of one of the new Urbos 2 trams. Click to enlage. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

The ride was very smooth on the new track. There were almost no bumps anywhere. You shouldn’t have a problem standing the whole way, it’s a very pleasant ride indeed. The drivers and the tickt inspectors were all friendly and efficient.

Seeing The Sights

From an urban geography point of view, the line is picturesque and quite interesting. It winds through cuttings, road bridges, parks, old Industrial sites (some of which have been gentrified), and over some major roads. Particularly spectacular are the old mills near the Lewisham West and Waratah Mills stations, and the huge cutting and Tunnel between Leichhardt North and Lilyfield.

In between these the train goes past back fences, parks and some very quiet suburban streets.

Unlike the Sydney Trains network, where towns and shops sprung up next to train stations, this line barely hides its origin as an old goods line. Many of the stations look like they have been put at the end of a tiny suburban street, or next to someone’s back fence. Importantly, however, the Tram does go past several potential Greenfields development sites, so this will help with patronage and other infrastructure.

(Note: If you want to “see the sights” on the new line, you will get a much better view on one of the “older” trams, because they have full floor to ceiling windows. The newer trams have smaller windows).

Stations

The new stations are bright, well lit, covered, and all of them have electronic signs that show when the next train is coming.

Some stations are very nicely decorated with pictures overlaid into the metalwork. At one of the stations (either Marion or Taverner’s Hill from memory) there’s a picture of the last tram that ran in the area in 1958, which is a nice touch. At Leichhardt North, some beautiful orange art works have been painted onto the walls.

Sydney's light rail will be extended to Dulwich Hill and feature new trams in red livery. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Dulwich Grove Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Importantly, all light rail stations on the new line are Wheelchair accessible. This includes both the new Dulwich Hill light rail station (which has an elevator) and the Lewisham West station. The heavy rail stations in these areas do not yet have disabled access, so if you need to get a train to the city, head to the tram stop.

Journey Times

From Dulwich Hill station it didn’t take very long at all before I was at some of the stations near Leichhardt. It only took ten minutes to get to Taverners Hill, and thirteen minutes to get to Leichhardt North.

After Leichhardt North, the tram snakes through a tunnel, then a spectacular old cutting, and underneath the City Westlink to Lilyfield. A new stabling facility has been built there.

Interestingly, enough space seems to have been left next to the renovated Lilyfield station for another light rail line to go down towards White Bay and Balmain. This will no doubt please many local activists and politicians.

From Dulwich Hill to John Street Square and The Star is about 25 minutes. When we pulled in to the front door at Paddy’s Markets at Haymarket, at 1:39PM, I had counted 34 minutes.

I spent a short time shopping before getting on the tram again at 2:28PM at Capitol Square station (just after Central – the one next to George Street). I arrived back at Dulwich Hill at 3:03PM.

Patronage

While the majority of people on both trips seemed to be Joyriders like me who got off at Dulwich Hill, many people did seem to be already using the line for the purpose in which it was made, which is a big positive.

On the way in, one gentleman got on the Tram with his bicycle in Dulwich Hill, and got off at Lilyfield. On the way back, several people got off the tram at the new stations. Marion station in particular seemed to be popular.

Conclusion

Overall I was pretty impressed with the service. Notwithstanding some missed opportunities (see PART TWO below), the service overall it was efficient and useful. I believe that people from the Leichhardt and Haberfield areas in particular will find the new service very useful.

Perhaps most poignantly, a lot of elderly people who got on for a joyride seemed genuinely excited that Trams had finally returned to the Inner West after 55 years. Many of them would have seen the last trams leave the area in the late 1950s.

The real test will be whether they, and others, use this line every day. I hope so, because light rail has a lot of potential to solve some of Sydney’s trickiest transport problems.  In the next part below, I’ll deal with the question of whether it’s worth your time to use the new line.

PART TWO: Who is the line useful for?

Perhaps the biggest question facing the new Light Rail extension is to see how many people use it.

The O’Farrell government has been saying that it takes 40 minutes on the new line between Dulwich Hill and Central, and about 30 minutes from Lewisham West.

It was obvious from my journey that most people won’t use the line in this way, especially not in peak hour.

It takes less than twenty minutes to get to Central on the heavy rail line from Dulwich Hill. Light rail can’t beat that. Nor does light rail currently go further into the city (though that will change when the CBD – South East line is built).

However, if your destination is closer to one of the several light rail stops around Haymarket, Darling Harbour and Pyrmont, you will certainly save time when you consider walking time from Central.

Trips The Light Rail Will Be Very Useful For

1. If you live in the Leichhardt/Haberfield area, and need to travel to Pyrmont, Haymarket, South George Street or Central Station.

The light rail won’t get stuck in traffic, but the peak hour buses might (even though on paper the 438 bus is a few minutes quicker to Railway Square from the corner of Marion Street and Norton Street).

Secondly – if you live or work really close to a light rail station, you might to do a lot less walking.

2. If you need to make a north-south trip between Dulwich Hill and Leichhardt/Lilyfield, or to go further down to The Fish Markets, Pyrmont, The Star Casino or Haymarket.

There’s really no contest on these trips, in my view. The light rail takes between 10-13 minutes to go from Dulwich Hill to the Leichhardt stops. It comes every ten minutes during the peak, and every fifteen minutes during the middle of the day, which is more frequently than most of the buses (including the 412). It’s a clear winner, and if they build a spur line to Balmain and White Bay, it will be a big boon to the nightlife of that area.

If you need to go from Dulwich Hill to The Star Casino or Pyrmont (or Vice versa) the Light rail will drop you at the door in 25 minutes. From Leichhardt it’s only 15 minutes.

If you want to go to Chinatown, the light rail will drop you right next to the front door of Paddy’s Markets in 35 minutes from Dulwich Hill, or about 20-25 mins from Marion, Hawthorne or Leichhardt North.

Missed Opportunities

On the flipside, I see two main missed opportunities on the new line.

1. This line has great potential as an interchange service, but it hasn’t been fully utilised.

Given that it only takes about 15 minutes to travel to Lewisham or Dulwich Hill stations from Central on the heavy rail, many people could potentially interchange to the light rail to complete their journey to stops like Dulwich Grove, Arlington, Waratah Mills, Taverner’s Hill or Marion. This would be particularly handy for people who get the heavy rail from the city circle stations.

However without integrated fares, or direct platform to platform interchanges, this is more difficult than it should be.

To go from Lewisham Heavy rail to Lewisham West Light Rail is apparently a 500 meter walk. On ABC702 radio yesterday, a transport planner revealed that a developer had proposed to place a shopping mall nearby which would have cut the journey to a mere 200 meters. This would have made interchanges much easier.

The Dulwich Hill tram and train stations are not designed for an easy interchange from one to the other. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

The Dulwich Hill tram and train stations (tram station shown in above image) are not designed for an easy interchange from one to the other. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

In the case of Dulwich Hill, they should have redesigned the stations so that a platform to platform interchange was possible. At the moment you have to walk out of one station, around the corner, and into the other. Yet I’d fancy myself to throw a tennis ball onto the platform of the Dulwich Hill heavy rail station from the light rail platform – that’s how close it is.

2. Not building the Greenway and cycle path was silly.

There is great potential for cyclists to use the line both to and from work, or for other journeys. Bringing your bicycle on the bus is usually impractical, and many heavy rail trains into the inner west are too crammed in the peak. But there is plenty of room on the new trams. Hawthorne station in particular is right next to the park and would be ideal for cyclists from the Haberfield area.

Monday: Town Hall Station gets an upgrade

Town Hall Station is to be the first of 19 stations across the network to get a major $8m facelift with new tiles, better lighting, and upgraded staircases. It forms part of a $20m “refresh” program for stations across the network including Parramatta, Bondi Junction, St Leonards, and Hurstville.

Artists impression of the upgrades for Town Hall Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Artists impression of the upgrades for Town Hall Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Wednesday: Badgery’s Creek airport needs an express rail line

Peter Thornton, one of the authors of the report calling for an airport at Badgery’s Creek, has called for express trains to run on any future rail line out to a potential airport on the site. Mr Thornton argues that running all stop services would cause unacceptably long journey times for passengers travelling from Badgery’s Creek to either Kingsford Smith Airport or the Sydney CBD, both of which could potentially be on the same line that links up to Badgery’s Creek.

It has been previously pointed out that building a rail line after the airport is complete would require billions of additional dollars in tunnelling costs, compared to the much cheaper option of cut and cover before any runways are built.

Thursday: Opal rollout to Sydney Trains as well as Southern Highlands and South Coast Lines

The Opal smartcard will be rolled out to the entire Sydney Trains network on Friday 28 March. This will be followed a week later with the South Coast Line down to both Port Kembla and Bombaderry as well as the Southern Highlands Line down to Goulbourn coming online on Friday 4 April.

This leaves the Blue Mountains and Hunter regions as the only two that will still not be Opal enabled. Opal readers have been installed at some, but not all stations in these two remaining regions. The Opal rollout will likely move on to complete the bus rollout, which so far includes only the 594/594H and 333 bus routes.

Friday: Inner West Light Rail extension to open

Sydney’s sole light rail line is set to double in length. Currently operating between Central Station and Lilifield, from Thursday 27 March it will be extended out to Dulwich Hill. The line will also feature four new look red trams, which will soon be the sole vehicle type running on the line. Frequencies will also be improved, with trams running every 10 minutes between 7AM-10AM and 3PM-6PM, with 15 minute frequencies at other times. Opal cards are not expected to be rolled out to trams until 2015.

Sydney's light rail will be extended to Dulwich Hill and feature new trams in red livery. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Sydney’s light rail will be extended to Dulwich Hill and feature new trams in red livery. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Hits

Happy New Year. 2013 has been an eventful one. This blog received almost 138 thousand hits during a year in which:

In the coming year, we can look forward to the opening of the Inner West Light Rail extension to Dulwich Hill and the completion of the Opal rollout (currently scheduled for the end of 2014). Meanwhile, expect the major parties to begin to announce their transport plans ahead of the next state election in early 2015, with things like a Second Harbour rail crossing, a Western Sydney light rail network, Bus Rapid Transit for the Northern Beaches, and potentially plans to privatise the state owned electricity transmission network as a means to pay for all the much needed infrastructure all likely to feature prominently.

But until then, here are some of the major events and stories from the past year, as posted, shared and commented about on this blog —

Posts with the most hits

  1. Draft 2013 timetable (part 1): Introduction 20 May 2013 (7,959 hits)
  2. 2013 timetable re-write (part 3): Untangling the network 22 February 2013 (4,844 hits)
  3. What the 2013 timetable might look like 13 May 2013 (3,908 hits)
  4. Draft 2013 timetable (part 2): AM Peak 22 May 2013 (1,430 hits)
  5. WestConnex plan finalised 19 September 2013 (1,296)

The new timetable drove a lot of traffic to this blog over the previous year, particularly when a draft of the timetable was leaked in May.

Posts with the most comments

  1. 17km Macquarie Park light rail proposed by Parramatta Council 30 August 2013 (50 comments)
  2. How might the NWRL work? 16 October 2013 (49 comments)
  3. Should the North West Rail Link be a metro? 8 February 2013 (47 comments)
  4. How might the CBD and SE Light Rail work? 9 October 2013 (46 comments)
  5. North West Rail Link – policy or politics? 11 June 2013 (43 comments)

The clear thing in common here is the North West Rail Link (NWRL), which tends to generate a lot of discussion back and forth in the comments section. The post on the Macquarie Park light rail was the most commented on post and not actually about the NWRL, but the comments soon shifted towards discussing the NWRL.

Posts with the most activity on social media

  1. All Day Challenge (October 2013), 1 October 2013 (89 shares on Facebook and 3 tweets on Twitter)
  2. Draft 2013 timetable (part 2): AM Peak 22 May 2013 (43 shares on Facebook and 8 tweets on Twitter)
  3. The worst sort of NIMBY 25 September 2013 (27 shares on Facebook and 6 tweets on Twitter)
  4. Opal running 4 months ahead of schedule 28 August 2013 (31 shares on Facebook 2 tweets on Twitter)
  5. Western Sydney makes its case for an airport of its own 15 February 2013 (11 shares on Facebook and 9 tweets on Twitter)

This probably understates the level of sharing over Twitter as tweets are only counted once, regardless of how many times that one tweet may be re-tweeted, whereas Facebook shares are each counted uniquely. That said, the most shared posts have tended to be driven by shares on Facebook rather than tweets on Twitter.

Most searched terms

  1. westconnex (635 searches)
  2. cityrail map (323 searches)
  3. westconnex map (257 searches)
  4. transport sydney (170 searches)
  5. sydney train map (170 searches)

WestConnex was by far the biggest generator of hits from web searches, with the home page being the destination rather than the post itself (preventing those posts about WestConnex from ranking higher) and reflects the fact that the car remains the primary mode of transport for Sydney residents. This is in contrast to activity in the comments section and social media, both of which are more likely to be transport enthusiasts, neither of which had WestConnex in their respective top 5 for the year.

This does perhaps provide a reminder to some advocates of public transport (the writer of this blog included) that there remains some disconnect between them and the regular person on the street when it comes to enthusiasm for public transport and dislike of cars or roads.

A 17km light rail line from Westmead to Macquarie Park would be the first stage of a light rail network centred on Parramatta that would support an additional 50,000 homes and 180,000 jobs by 2031 according to a proposal by Parramatta City Council. This would be followed up by a line to Castle Hill, with lines to Bankstown and Olympic Park/Rhodes as potential further extensions (zoomable street map available here). Parramatta Council has been pushing for light rail since the NSW Government dumped plans for the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL) shortly after the 2011 election. Both lines are designed to link up Parramatta to Macquarie Park.

Map of the proposed Macquarie Park and Castle Hill light rail lines. Click to enlarge. (Source: Western Sydney Light Rail Network - Part 2 Feasibility Report, pp. 4-5)

Map of the proposed Macquarie Park and Castle Hill light rail lines. Click to enlarge. (Source: Western Sydney Light Rail Network – Part 2 Feasibility Report, pp. 4-5)

The main advantage of the light rail option is the cost, coming in at $919m versus $4.4bn which was the most recent figure available for the PERL. (This works out to $54m/km, compared to $31m/km for the Dulwich Hill light rail extension or $133m/km for the CBD and South East light rail.) The study envisages trams running every 10 minutes during peak hour, with 15 minute frequencies during the off-peak. As the Castle Hill line will share track with the Macquarie Park line in the Parramatta CBD, this should result in 5 minute and 8 minute frequencies, respectively, in the core of Parramatta.

Much like the CBD and South East light rail currently about to begin construction, this new line would connect up a hospital (Westmead), a stadium (Parramatta), a CBD (Parramatta), a racecouse (Rosehill), and a university (UWS) with a frequent and high capacity transport service.

The majority of the alignment also provides for trams to run on an exclusive right of way. These include the Carlingford Line alignment, where the study finds that there is space for both light rail and the Carlingford Line (including a potential PERL in the future); the median on Kissing Point Road; and the reservation for the never built Country Road at Marsfield. In addition, work currently planned for James Ruse Drive for an overpass at Camellia would allow the light rail to travel under James Ruse Drive and avoid this busy intersection.

The Parramatta CBD portion would run mostly along Macquarie St, which is one block North of the main transport interchange centred around Parramatta Station. This could prove problematic if it makes transfers from bus/train to tram or vice versa more difficult. Alternatively, if Parramatta continues to grow, then Macquarie St could also become an extension of the existing transport interchange, catering for future growth.

A potential future network. Click to enlarge. (Source: Western Sydney Light Rail Network: Part 2 Feasibility Report, p. 6)

A potential future network. Click to enlarge. (Source: Western Sydney Light Rail Network – Part 2 Feasibility Report, p. 6)

The proposal is now in the hands of the state government, which mentioned in the Sydney Light Rail Future document that a Western Sydney light rail network centred on Parramatta is something it is considering (p. 20). This is by no means a guarantee that any of these lines, let alone the full network, will get built. But Parramatta Council has put forward the right project at the right time, and that makes the possibility of this being built some time next decade a better than 50:50 likelihood.

VIDEO: Bicycle Rush Hour Utrecht (Netherlands) III, markenlei

While the state government has put public transport front and centre, with new projects like the North West Rail Link and South East Light Rail Line, its support for bicycles remains less enthused. Even in the 2011 election campaign, then Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell joked that if Sydney Lord Mayor had been in charge of building the Harbour Bridge then the bike paths would have probably met up, ridiculing what he saw as Ms Moore’s overly keen stance on bike infrastructure.

The current separated bike path network in the CBD is made up of 3 North/South paths which do not currently connect up, as well as one East/West path which links up to only one of the other paths. Click to enlarge. (Source: Open Street Map)

The current separated bike path network in the CBD is made up of 3 North/South paths which do not currently connect up, as well as one East/West path which links up to only one of the other paths. Click to enlarge. (Source: Open Street Map)

Mr O’Farrell, now the Premier, is backed up by Roads Minister Duncan Gay. Mr Gay has complained about the College St bike path, despite the fact that the RTA (now RMS) is of the view that College St was a preferred location for a bike path and that no traffic lanes were removed in order to create it (Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 20 August 2012). Mr Gay has also squashed any hope that a potential future bike hire scheme in Sydney could be exempted from the compulsory helmet laws, making it far less likely that such a scheme would succeed.

But it’s not just the Roads Minister that has put up obstacles to improving bike access. The Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian dropped the Greenway, a shared pedestrian and bike path in the Inner West, that was to go alongside the light rail extension to Dulwich Hill. Cost savings no doubt contributed to this decision, but the government’s budget shines a light on its priorities. Indeed, when the minister in the state cabinet who has been a strong advocate of public transport shows little interest in progressing such a project, it shows that this mode of transport has few friends in Macquarie St.

Current and proposed bike paths for City of Sydney. Click to enlarge. (Source: City of Sydney)

Current and proposed bike paths for City of Sydney. Click to enlarge. (Source: City of Sydney)

So when news emerged recently that the government was considering a new bike path along a pedestrianised George St, it’s difficult to give this the benefit of doubt. The Central Sydney Traffic and Transport Committee, created by the state government after the 2011 election and required to approve any new bike paths in the CBD, has stalled any new bike paths in the CBD since that date. This has meant that the existing paths have not been able to be linked up, improving connectivity for bike riders going from one part of the CBD to another.

Doing this with a new bike path along George St would achieve this. But in light of past experience, this may well just be another stalling tactic by a government that is just not interested in promoting cycling.

Two years since the last state election and two years until the next one, it’s time to evaluate how the O’Farrell government has performed on the issue of transport. Given the scale of time it takes to implement changes and additions to such a large system (a new rail line take almost a decade from inception to opening), it would not be fair to judge the government on things it has not yet had a chance to reform. At the same time, 2 years is enough to take advantage of low hanging fruit, make operational improvements, and begin the process of changing the direction of the heavy ship that is Sydney’s transport system.

This is a long post, so here is the summarised version:

  • The good: The government has committed to a Second Harbour Crossing, Gladys Berejikliian is a good Transport Minister, the rollout of integrated ticketing (Opal) is on track, there will be a big increase in train services later this year, the South West Rail Link is running 6 months ahead of schedule, the creation of an integrated transport authority (Transport for NSW) will allow an integrated transport network, the government has prioritised public transport ahead of roads, the government learned from the PPP mistakes of the past, and new transport apps are making getting around easier.
  • The bad: Overcrowding on Cityrail is up, on time running on Cityrail is down, no congestion charging, and no committment to a second Sydney airport.
  • The uncertain: Integrated fares, sectorisation of the rail network to untangle it, and driverless trains??

The most important parts at this point in time, in my opinion, are a Second Harbour Crossing (good), integrated fares (uncertain), sectorisation (uncertain), creation of Transport for NSW (good), Opal (good), overcrowding (bad), on time running (bad), Transport Minister (good). our good, two uncertain, two bad. The two bad points could be improved with the October 2013 timetable changes, if some hard decisions are made, whereas the two uncertain points will require a decision some time this year. It will be worth revisiting this in 12 months time to see if the government delivers on those four points, but until then I would rate the government as a B overall (on a scale of A to F). This is giving them some benefit of the doubt, based on a good overall performance in other areas. Without the benefit of the doubt, bump that down to a C.

This is obviously quite subjective, so I welcome your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below.

Capacity improvements

The best way to improve capacity into dense employment centres, like the CBD, Parramatta, or Macquarie Park, is with rail, preferably heavy rail. It is pleasing to see, therefore, that the government has committed to a Second Harbour Crossing, a new light rail line down the CBD through to Randwick, and the North West Rail Link (NWRL), in addition to the South West Rail Link (SWRL) and Inner West Light Rail extension, both commenced under the previous government. The Second Harbour Crossing in particular, expensive and opposed by some as necessary given the cost, will result in a 33% increase in capacity across the network by adding a fourth path through the CBD.

The decision to dump the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL) is unfortunate, but was the right call as the priority right now is with the projects listed above. Similarly, the decision to build the NWRL with smaller and steeper tunnels, thus preventing existing double deck trains from using them, could be seen as short sighted. However, it also guarantees that the line will remain separate from the Cityrail network, opening up the possible benefits of a new operating model that has a lower cost to operate and therefore can provide more frequent services (see: Private sector involvement). It also has the benefit of lower construction costs, which would be very beneficial should the Second Harbour Crossing go under the Harbour, as seems likely.

  • Conclusion: A committment to expand the rail network, a Second Harbour Crossing in particular, will improve capacity by 33%. The decision  to make the NWRL tunnels narrower and steeper remains controversial.
  • Grade: B

Service quality

The Cityrail network, which forms the backbone of transport in Sydney, is under a lot of pressure at the moment. Overcrowing is up, while on time running is down. February was one of the worst months in Cityrail’s history, with 5 major disruptions during peak hour causing a suspension of services, which often spilled over onto other lines in the network. You have to go back 4 years to find operational figures this bad. It urgently needs additional train services to ease overcrowding and a more simplified network to improve reliability.

Interior of a Sydney tram. Overcrowding is up on the Cityrail network. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author)

Interior of a Sydney tram. Overcrowding is up on the Cityrail network. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author)

Part of the cause of these problems is the network that the government inherited. But 2 years in, it is now incumbent on the government to fix it. So far, this has meant 63 new services per week in 2011, and then 44 new services per week in 2012, for a total of 107 new services per week. This is a good start, but baby steps at best. What is really needed is an increase on the scale of the 2005 timetable, which cut 1,350 weekly services. Previously there have not been enough train drivers or rolling stock to do this, and it remains uncertain whether it’s possible now. Older, non-airconditioned trains may need to be used if the government does not order more Waratah trains to increase capacity.

Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian has continually pointed to October of this year as the moment that a new timetable, re-written from the ground up, will be introduced that features a streamlined network with additional services. But few details have been officially released, though some proposed changes have been leaked. Once that is implemented, it would be worth revisiting this issue. Service is also still better than the horror years of 2003-05. These two factors give the government a slightly more favourable rating than would have otherwise been the case.

There have been some minor improvements that are worth mentioning in passing. Quiet carriages have been introduced and phone reception is now available in the CBD’s underground rail tunnels.

  • Conclusion: Overcrowding and reliability are at 4 year lows in the rail network, though there have been minor improvements such as quiet carriages and phone reception. Overall, it’s a poor result.
  • Grade: D

Ticketing and fares

The major issues here are the Opal rollout and integrated fares.

The implementation of Opal appears to be on track, with the new smartcard set to expand to the Manly Ferry on April 8, and then to the Eastern Suburbs and City Circle stations in the second half of 2013. Up to now it appears to have proceeded without any major hiccups, and has gotten further in the rollout than the T-Card did.

There remains little detail on integrated fares other than that cabinet will consider fares at some point in early 2013. This is a potential game changer, and it seems likely that it could be implemented once Opal is fully rolled out.

The government has made a committment to not increase fares beyond CPI unless service levels improve, and has also incorporated the light rail into myZone. Both are positive, though the former is problematic in that it will erode the ability of fares to recover operating costs, as fares only account for about a quarter of the cost to operate Sydney’s transport network.

  • Conclusion: Good progress on Opal, but not on integrated fares. Limiting fare increases and putting the light rail on myZone are also some good minor improvements.
  • Grade: C

Transport Minister

Gladys Berejiklian has been a good Transport Minister for 2 reasons: she supports public transport and she is a strong advocate of it.

She strikes the right balance between public transport (trains, buses, ferries, trams) and private transport (cars, roads). It’s worth pointing out that, despite numerous claims that this government is pro-car and anti-rail, the current government spends more than half of its transport capital works budget on public transport. It’s also worth remembering that private motor vehicle trips will continue to play a key role in providing mobility to Sydney residents, and therefore the road network should still be expanded. But the focus should be on public transport, as it currently is.

As an aside, this support for public transport is unusual for a politician from the conservative side of politics. But both Ms Berejiklian and the Premier Barry O’Farrell are not your traditional hard conservatives, both more accurately described as moderate pragmatists. They both seem to recognise that congestion is costing the NSW economy money and the best way to improve the situation is to focus on public transport.

The Victorian Liberal Government’s top transport project is a road tunnel under the CBD, while the recently elected WA Liberal Government rejected the opposition’s 75km expansion of the rail network in favour of a short airport rail link and light rail for the inner city with a greater focus on improving the road network. Across the Tasman, the Auckland Transport Blog speaks favourably of conservatives in Australia (though really it’s more a comment on NSW, because as seen this is not a view necessarily shared by Liberal Parties in other states):

“I guess this is what happens when you have a centre-right government that isn’t completely insane in its ideological dislike of public transport…I do wonder why centre-right politicians in Australia don’t seem to have the same ideological dislike of public transport as seems to be the case in New Zealand.”Mr Anderson, Auckland Transport Blog (23 December 2012)

The other, and arguably more important, reason why Ms Berejiklian is a good Transport Minister is her strong advocacy. It’s not enough to support something if the cabinet or Premier overrule you. And Ms Berejiklian has demonstrated an ability to get her agenda through the cabinet where it’s been needed. She got cabinet to support an expensive Second Harbour Crossing, despite opposition from Infrastructure NSW Chairman Nick Greiner and took the light rail issue to cabinet 3 times until it accepted her preferred option of George St light rail over the CBD bus tunnel. These two major items, along with numerous other minor ones, were not a fait accompli, and are a testament to Ms Berejiklian’s influence.

  • Conclusion: Gladys Berejiklian is supporter of and effective advocate for public transport
  • Grade: A

Funding, costs and scheduling

Public transport projects in NSW seem to come in over budget and behind schedule all too often. That appears to have been partly continued. The Inner West Light Rail extension has been delayed by 18 months and its cost blown out by $56m, while the cost of the South West Rail Link (SWRL) went from $688m to $2.1bn. However, the SWRL is running ahead of schedule: the new Glenfield Station was completed 4 months ahead of schedule, while the new line is on track to open 6 months early. While this project was started by the previous Labor government, it’s delivery has been overseen by the current Liberal government and that’s what matters. The North West Rail Link has seen some blow outs in costs, but these are tens of millions of dollars in a multi-billion dollar project, so here it’s too early to make any judgement.

On the revenue side, the government has spoken about value capture as a way of funding infrastructure improvement, where property owners whose land values increase because of government built infrastructure contribute to the cost of building it. This is welcome, but no action has yet been taken. It has also openly committed to making users of any new or improved freeways pay tolls to contribute to their construction. This move to a user pays system, where the users of motorways pay for them rather than all taxpayers whether they use them or not, is a welcome one. What is unfortunate, is that the government has refused to introduce congestion charging, as pricing roadspace would allow a more efficient use of it, reducing congestion and the need to build more roads.

  • Conclusion: Cost blowouts and delays remain, though a possible early finish to the SWRL is a welcome surprise. Tolling and funding is a mixed bag, but mostly positive.
  • Grade: C

Governance

The two big reforms made by the government in the area of governance are the creation of Transport for NSW, which brought all transport related departments and agencies under the one umbrella, and the splitting of Railcorp into Sydney Trains and NSW Trains.

Transport for NSW’s creation is a game changer. By centralising planning into one department, rather than independent “silos” in separate departments that rarely communicate with each other, it will allow transport in Sydney to be fully integrated as one network, rather than a collection of separate networks. This extends to things like timetables and fares, but also adds roads to the mix – changing a transit department into a true transport department. All of this which will allow commuters to get from A to B much more easily than is currently the case. It will make examples like the following a thing of the past:

“For example, a customer could travel from St Ives to Sydney, via a private bus to Turramurra, a Cityrail train and walking along the city streets… The journey requires 2 separate tickets and therefore revenue streams, which never meet. The two vehicles are owned, maintained and driven by vastly different staff working for different silos.

The station facility is provided by Cityrail. If they’ve thought to accommdate the bus in the design of the facility, it would be the exception rather than the norm. The timetabling, if it is done at all, would be by a third silo in a distant building, remote from the reality of what’s happening.” – Riccardo, Integrated transport planning – what is it really? (11 June, 2011)

The Transport Master Plan put a great deal of emphasis on moving towards an integrated network, one where it would be much more common practice to take a feeder bus to a transport interchange and then take train, tram, or another bus to your final destination, with all coming frequently and all day, in order to maximise mobility. This would be a big improvement on the current network design, which is designed more around a single seat trip to the CBD than on connections to get you from anywhere to everywhere. However, this will be difficult to implement without integrated fares (discussed above), as currently commuters are penalised for making a transfer as though it is a premium service, when really it’s an inconvenience.

Evidence of the benefits of centralised planning can be seen in the recent decision to house metrobuses in separate depots in order to minimise dead running. This was not previously possible, as planning was done at the depot level, and so shifting buses from one depot to another was not feasible.

A Metrobus on George St in the Sydney CBD. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author)

A Metrobus on George St in the Sydney CBD. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author)

The changes to Railcorp are not set to occur until July 1 of this year, so the jury is still out on that.

  • Conclusion: The creation of Transport for NSW, centralising the planning function and creating a true transport department.
  • Grade: A

Planning

NSW has had no lack of plans in recent years, if anything it’s had the problem of too many plans but not enough action. When it comes to just planning, the government had 2 competing visions: the Transport Master Plan from Transport for NSW and the State Infrastructure Strategy from Infrastructure NSW.

To its credit, every time the two plans disagreed, the state government sided with the Transport Master Plan every time. That means it has committed to building a Second Harbour Crossing for the rail network and light rail down George Street rather than the ill-fated bus tunnel idea.

It also dogmatically refused to commit to a light rail line to Randwick until a feasibility study was completed, but then got totally behind the project once it was completed and put before cabinet.

That is not to say that there aren’t concerns about the planning process. For example, the government has committed to the Second Harbour Crossing before having done enough work into it to name a cost or set a timetable for its completion. It was this sort of behaviour that contributed to the $500m spent on the aborted Rozelle Metro by the previous government.

  • Conclusion: The government has sided with Transport for NSW, rather than Infrastructure NSW, leading to a greater focus on public transport, rather than private transport. However, it has a mixed history of committing to projects before having done its homework.
  • Grade: B

Private sector involvement

The failure of PPPs like the Airport Line as well as the Cross City and Lane Cove Tunnels mean that government’s should approach private sector involvement with caution. But that does not mean that it should avoid it entirely.

In NSW, the government has opted to adopt the WA model, rather than the Victorian model. In WA, the government plans and owns the network, but puts the operation of various lines or regions out to tender, allowing competitive practice to drive down costs while maintaining a minimum contractual level of service. The government then pays the operator, but keeps all fares, ensuring that the operator can increase profits only by operating more efficiently, rather than by cutting service. The Victorian model sees the operators keep farebox revenue, which is then topped up by a government subsidy. The disadvantage of the Victorian model is that the operator can increase profits by cutting services with low patronage, even if these services are part of an overall network such as feeder buses.

The chosen model has proven successful in NSW, having been used on the bus network for almost a decade. It allowed the government to put some bus contracts out to tender, resulting in $18m of annual savings for the tax payer. It has also recently been expanded, when Sydney Ferries being franchised last year. The NWRL is also planned to be privately operated, while the Sydney light rail line was recently re-purchased by the government but will remain operated by a private company.

Sydney Ferries were franchised in 2012. (Source: Author)

Sydney Ferries were franchised in 2012. (Source: Author)

The decision to turn the NWRL into a completely separate and privately operated line, but one where commuters still pay the same fare as if they were on a Cityrail train, has the potential to finally stem the bleeding in Cityrail’s costs, perhaps through the use of driverless trains that would allow very high all day frequencies.

The recently introduced unsolicited proposal process has also allowed a proposal for an M2-F3 link to be constructed by the private sector at no cost to the taxpayer. While the outcome is uncertain, the process has been shown to work, and is a great way to increase the stock of infrastructure in Sydney. (Setting aside the involvement of this process for another Sydney Casino, which has raised some controversy.)

  • Conclusion: The government has learned from the bad PPPs of the past and appears to be using private sector involvement as a means, rather than as an ends.
  • Grade: A

Second Sydney airport

The current government has not only ruled out the preferred site of Badgerys Creek for a second airport, it has ruled out a second airport altogether, suggesting that a high speed rail line to Canberra airport could be used as a substitute. Not only is this unlikely to happen, given the high costs involved, but it means passing up on the opportunity to bring jobs to Western Sydney and revitalise its economy, which currently has a huge jobs shortfall that is only predicted to increase.

Current and proposed Sydney airports. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Google Maps)

Current and proposed Sydney airports. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Google Maps)

Given the lack of support for a second airport, it is then disappointing that the government has not sought to reduce or elimiate the access fee for users of the airport train stations in order to ease the ground transport congestion around the airport, cited as the biggest constraint on Sydney’s Kingsford-Smith Airport at the moment.

  • Conclusion: The government does not support a second airport, and has not done enough to improve the capacity of the existing airport.
  • Grade: F

Transport apps

The makers of transport apps have seen an increase in the amount of transport data available to them. This has allowed for Google Transit to expand to all forms of public transport (previously it was just light rail and the monorail), and has also now included bike paths (though it seems Google did this on its own, rather than with help from the state government). More recently real time bus data was provided for STA buses, and will hopefully later be extended to all buses and also trains.

  • Conclusion: The government has been proactive in improving transport information to commuters by involving third party developers.
  • Grade: A

One criticism sometimes raised on the O’Farrell government’s transport policies are that all new transport projects are CBD centric. The Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) and Southwest Rail Link (SWRL) will both funnel commuters into the CBD, as will the Southeast and Inner West Light Rail Lines aswell as the Northern Beaches BRT. But what about Western Sydney? The previous Labor government, for all its shortcomings, did build the Y-Link at Harris Park that enabled the Cumberland Line and also constructed the Northwest and Southwest T-Ways, all of which were Parramatta centric rather than CBD centric.

These comments are almost always followed up by calls for the construction of some new transport line in Western Sydney, be it re-routing the NWRL via Parramatta, building the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link, or the creation of a Western Sydney Light Rail network. If resources were unlimited, then construction on all of these would begin tomorrow. But they are not, so it poses the question: given the limited transport budget, what would provide the largest benefit to Western Sydney for the smallest cost?

Current transport infrastructure in Western Sydney that is currently underutilised: the Cumberland Line in red and the bus T-Ways in blue, as well as the proposed Parramatta to Epping Rail Link in purple. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Open Street Map.)

Current transport infrastructure in Western Sydney that is currently underutilised: the Cumberland Line in red and the bus T-Ways in blue, as well as the proposed Parramatta to Epping Rail Link in purple. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Open Street Map.)

A counter-argument to this is that rather than suffering from underinvestment, Western Sydney instead suffers from poor planning. So rather than building new infrastructure  the government should instead first seek to fully utilise existing infrastructure. The Cumberland Line, for example, runs only 5 trains per day. Yet because this line branches out at Granville, about half the trains go South to Liverpool and half go West to Blacktown, there is plenty of spare capacity on it. It would be quite easy to run 2 or even 4 trains an hour in each direction on this line all day. The T-Ways, while currently providing good service with 10-15 minute frequencies all day (and as many as 20 buses during the busiest hour in the AM and PM), could easily scale this up even further. A lack of layover space for buses in Parramatta’s CBD means buses may need to be through-routed past Parramatta and end their route elsewhere, but this would also have the added benefit of providing additional direct links to Parramatta.

The main reason why this does not happen is the political benefit from it is small compared to new construction. “Government to build new rail line to XYZ” makes a great headline, whereas “Government to provide additional frequencies on existing line with spare capacity” does not. Here the O’Farrell government should learn from the Carr Government’s Clearways Program, which sought to increase the capacity of the Cityrail network by targeting bottlenecks and pinch points in the existing network, rather than increasing capacity by building new lines. It did not get the sort of headlines that the NWRL, SWRL, or WestConnex have, but it achieved the sorts of benefits of these new projects at a fraction of the cost.

The NSW Government has ignored Western Sydney and the advice of its independent advisory body, Infrastructure NSW, according to Opposition Leader John Robertson in a speech yesterday to the Rail Future Conference. He also accused the government of mismanaging those projects currently underway, pointing to cost blow-outs, choosing projects with a poor cost-benefit ratio, and lacking either a start or end date for construction.

Mr Robertson defended the previous Labor Government’s record on transport, admitting that while he is “the first to admit that the previous Labor Government made its share of mistakes” that it also had its fair share of achievements.

“The South West Rail Link – planned and construction commenced under Labor, leaving the incoming Government with little but a ribbon to cut. The creation of rail clearways – a first step towards untangling Sydney’s spaghetti of lines. Rolling stock renewal through the acquisition of 35 Millennium trains, 55 Oscars and 78 Waratahs. The Inner West Light Rail Line. The Epping-Chatswood Rail Link. Dozens of commuter car parks and easy access upgrades. The $100 million state-of-the-art bus interchange at Parramatta railway station. And an innovative new system of Metrobuses.”John Robertson, Opposition Leader (28 February 2013)

John Robertson, NSW Opposition Leader (Image: NSW Parliament)

John Robertson, NSW Opposition Leader (Image: NSW Parliament)

Many of these achievements should not be understated. Clearways sought to improve the existing network rather than just add new lines, leading to higher capacity and greater reliability. The new rolling stock listed represents a renewal of about half of Cityrail’s electric trains over a period of about a decade. Metrobuses, which introduced the concept of through-routing and certainty over all day frequency, are a fantastic addition to the Sydney transport system, and one which should be expanded. Mr Robertson failed to mention other improvements, such as the introduction of myZone – which was a (baby) step towards integrated fares, the construction of T-Ways from Parramatta to Rouse Hill and Liverpool – allowing fast and reliable bus services to and from Parramatta, or the Unsworth Review – which brought planning for bus routes under central control but established an effective way for private companies to operate them. All of these are positive, and should be remembered every time Labor’s failures (which were more than its fair share, as Mr Robertson claims) are raised.

Where Mr Robertson’s speech falls short is in providing a positive vision for transport in Sydney, it is instead a critique of the government’s policy, what he doesn’t stand for rather than what he does.

“Taxpayers are forking out $17 million a year on Infrastructure NSW – only for the Government to ignore its advice.” – John Robertson, Opposition Leader (28 February 2013)

His attack on Infrastructure NSW shows a misunderstanding of the purpose of that body. Mr Robertson compares the ignorance of Infrastructure SWN to Infrastructure Australia, who’s advice is used to fund various infrastructure projects around the country. But Infrastructure NSW is not designed to hand out funding, it is designed to attract funding, primarily from the private sector via Public Private Partnerships (PPPs). That is why its board includes members with expertise in PPPs – such as Chairman Nick Greiner or board member Max Moore-Wilton. When it comes to making policy decision on which transport project to fund, the government instead relies on Transport for NSW, as it should.

“We have a Government stubbornly committed to its flagship project, the North West Rail Link. One that has been approved outside the Infrastructure NSW process…that Mr Greiner says has a low cost-benefit ratio and is being built for political reasons.” – John Robertson, Opposition Leader (28 February 2013)

In his introduction, Mr Robertson presents transport in Sydney as a choice between differerring options. One of these options is between the North West Rail Link (NWRL) and the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL). He then all but endorses the PERL as a preferred option, while attacking the NWRL for its low cost-benefit ratio. Problematic here is that he relies on Mr Greiner’s judgement, someone who would generally prefer private road projects than public rail ones, and so would most likely also attack the PERL for the same reasons. In fact, this is exactly what Infrastructure Australia Chairman Michael Deegan did when he said that “the Parramatta-Epping rail link…is not on Infrastructure Australia’s priority list” (7 May 2012). Criticising a project for being political in nature, only to put forward an alternative that is just as, if not more political, is not convincing from a policy perspective.

“The problem with the O’Farrell Government’s transport priorities is that they’re completely at odds with Western Sydney’s emerging needs…It has ignored Western Sydney’s exponential population growth, its high car dependency and low residential density…And it has provided no new vision for Western Sydney bus routes and transitways.” – John Robertson, Opposition Leader (28 February 2013)

These words presented the best opportunity for Mr Robertson to attack the government and present a viable alternative. It is very true that the current NSW Government has very little in the way of transport improvements for Western Sydney. But instead of using this as the basis for something transformative, Mr Robertson uses it as a soap box to all but call for the construction of the PERL. Yet this falls right into the narrative of an expensive project that sucks out the capital works budget for the entire region, the very criticism aimed at the government on the NWRL, Second Harbour Crossing, WestConnex, and South East Light Rail. Not only would this project be expensive, but it fails to fit into the dispersed and low density urban form that he himself speaks of.

Frequency transport map for Sydney. The left shows all areas within 400m of public transport, while the right shows the same but only for services with 15 minute frequencies. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Sydney Alliance.)

But his words on a new vision on buses is where he really drops the ball. Here he could have easily have made a commitment to raise bus frequencies to 15 minutes or better all day all across Western Sydney. It would help to solve the problem he had just described: “the Sydney Alliance produced maps showing which parts of Sydney are within 400 metres walking distance of public transport…where a service comes at least every 15 minutes across the day…as soon as you start going west from Strathfield, the map looks pretty bleak”. But instead he opted to talk about the PERL, without ever actually committing to it.

This month will be the mid point between the 2011 election and 2015 election. In that time the NSW Labor Party has barely closed the gap in the polls. Mr Robertson’s speech contained some positive vision, but it was drowned out by the negativity. That is not to say that the opposition should not hold the government to account, but if it then fails to present its own vision, an alternative, then it is likely to stay in opposition for quite some time.

NSW Newspoll

Pointing out Labor’s past achievements are a good start. Now how about telling us what you will do in the future, Mr Robertson?

Three things came up in the news in the previous week which are worth touching on just quickly – a new Cityrail timetable, the report by Canberra Airport recommending the construction of high speed rail between Sydney and Canberra rather than building a second airport in the Sydney basin, and the NSW Budget Estimates hearings.

New Timetable

A few extra train services are being added to the timetable. (The associated Transport for NSW press release says it is 44 services per week, while the Telegraph reports 36 new services per week, but I count only 34.) It includes 4 new services each day (weekdays only) to the Illawarra/Eastern Suburbs Line as well as 2 new services each day (weekdays and weekends) to the Blue Mountains Line (all the way to Bathurst, which until recently was served by buses rather than trains). This is on top of the 63 new services per week introduced last year, bringing it up to about an extra 100 train services per week since the Coalition won the 2011 election.

However, word is that it is the next timetable change, coming at the end of 2013, that will deliver real changes to service levels on the Cityrail network and will also involve a complete re-write of the timetable from the ground up. This is when the Liverpool turnback platform and Kingsgrove to Revesby track quadruplication are set to be completed, allowing for a significant increase in the number of trains operated. This is particularly the case for trains that use the City Circle, which currently is not being used to its full capacity during either the morning or afternoon peak.

Canberra High Speed Rail

A report released by Canberra Airport suggests that High Speed Rail (HSR) could enable Canberra Airport to function as Sydney’s second airport, eliminating the need to build a second airport in the Sydney Basin. Given the $11bn price tag of HSR, compared to $9bn for a second airport, and a total travel time of 57 minutes into the Sydney CBD, the plan appears to be quite reasonable. However, Alan Davies points out that the $11bn figure comes from the federal government’s HSR feasibility study, which found that:

“the report says there’s only a 10% chance that estimate wouldn’t be exceeded. No one uses that figure – the preferred estimate is $19 billion because at least there’s a 90% chance it won’t be exceeded” – Alan Davies (10 Oct, 2012), The Urbanist

A HSR link was also quickly rejected by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who said it was “some time away” from being viable.

Hopefully one or both the state and federal government will bite the bullet and accept the conclusion of the both the Joint Study on Aviation Capacity and the Infrastructure NSW report, which recommend a second airport be built at Badgerys Creek. This location provides improved transport links and employment opportunities for the growing Western Sydney region. It’s an unpopular decision, but it’s the right one.

Budget Estimates

The Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian, fronted the state budget estimates hearing on transport on Tuesday. Major information arising from that hearing included points below.

Heavy rail:

The portion of the hearings that made the headline news was about non-air conditioned trains being kept on, despite these being scheduled to be phased out by the end of 2014 once all the Waratah trains are delivered. It comes from the following question and answer:

“Are you planning beyond 2014 for the C and K sets and other non air-conditioned sets to have to remain on the network to meet the timetable changes…Mr Wielinga are you confident that the C, K and S sets are not going to remain on the network beyond the rollout of the Waratahs?” – Penny Sharpe (9 Oct, 2012), Shadow Transport Minister

“No. We are being as flexible as we can be. The question that needs to be asked is: How many additional services do we want to put on? If our customers are seeking additional services and we want to increase that above what is programmed at the moment, we will use whatever rolling stock is available to us to provide those customer services.” – Les Wielinga (9 Oct, 2012), Director General of Transport for NSW

Some confusion remains as to what this means, primarily due to Ms Sharpe’s questions, and whether she was asking only about non-air conditioned trains, or about the old silver sets (each given a letter classification, with C and K being air conditioned, while L, R, and S are not air conditioned). This led to the following back and forth on Twitter:

What could potentially be happening is that all non-air conditioned trains are being withdrawn from service, but kept warehoused for use in case of emergency, should a situation arise in which Cityrail was short on trains. In these cases, a non-air conditioned train is better than a cancelled train. Mr Wielinga’s response would be consistent with such a scenario. Or alternatively, it could just mean that increased numbers of services each day means that some non-air conditioned trains will be kept on in regular service in order to meet timetabling requirements.

Ms Berejiklian was asked if a second harbour crossing that is not in the form of an under-harbour tunnel was being considered, but she did not directly address the question (page 30). She instead pointed out that 15 different options had been considered for Sydney’s rail network once the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) is completed, but these were high level options (such as converting the existing harbour crossing to single deck metro, rather than building a new one, or maintaining double deck rolling stock on the entire network) that did not include specific alignments. She did, however, reaffirm that a second harbour crossing will be built (page 14).

A figure cited by the Sydney Morning Herald of $4bn of extra work which would be required to handle the NWRL once it is completed is not new money, and these costs are already budgeted for.

The narrower tunnels on the NWRL, large enough for single deck rolling stock but not double deck rolling stock, will result in cost savings. However, the cost savings are less than the cost of refitting the existing Epping to Chatswood section of the line to run the single deck trains (page 29). The real savings would occur when building new tunnels, most potentially an under-harbour tunnel, as single deck trains can handle steeper gradients than the heavier double deck trains.

Light rail:

The Greenway – a pedestrian and bicycle path, which was originally part of the Dulwich Hill light rail extension before being deferred, would have costed $37m to build (page 34), compared to the cost of the light rail extension of $176m. The $176m figure includes $24m for rolling stock (page 16), and was revised upwards from $120m under the previous Labor Government, which (along with the delay in its completion) Ms Berejiklian says is because the previous government had not done any geotechnical work, considered where the rolling stock would be acquired from, etc.

A final decision on George St light rail will be made in the final transport plan (page 33), to be released by the end of the year.

Miscellaneous:

Opal is on track to be rolled out on ferries in December of this year.

The Director General of Transport for NSW, Les Wielinga, was never a full director of Infrastructure NSW, he was only ever a temporary “guest” (page 9). Mr Wielinga also argued that the differing conclusions made by his organisation (Transport for NSW) and Infrastructure NSW was due to each taking a different approach, and so different solutions were inevitable but that he also did “not think this is a problem”.

Warning: This post contains lots of statistics and graphs. If this is the sort of thing you are into, then may I recommend the blog Charting Transport.

The NSW Bureau of Transport Statistics does 30 year forecasts of transport within the Sydney Metropolitan area every 5 years. The most recent are for 2006-36, based on the 2006 census results (the transport results of the 2011 census have not yet been released), and give an insight into how we are likely to get around. I’ll be looking more specifically at the Sydney statistical division figures, which exclude Newcastle but include the Illawarra.

This post looks only at all day transport, not peak hour. Ferries do not appear to be included.

The assumptions on which it is based have already changed slightly, with a Second Harbour Crossing now expected to be built instead of the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link, so these figures probably underestimate rail’s proportion of trips to be undertaken. But otherwise the assumptions seem fairly sound.

Number of trips

In 2006 there were 16,175,000 trips on an average weekday. Just over 8 million of these were trips made by the driver of a car (50.1% of all trips). Most other trips were either car passengers (20.7%) or made on foot (19.1%), each accounting for just over 3 million trips. The remaining 1.6 million trips were split fairly evenly between rail (4.5%) and bus (4.1%). Taxis, bikes and light rail made up a tiny 203,000 trips (1.2%).

All are expected to grow over the subsequent 30 years, and by 2036 there are projected to be 22,160,000 trips per day, an increase of 6 million or 37% on 2006. The proportions are expected to remain roughly the same as in 2006, so the increases are also roughly in line with their share of trips in 2006. Looking just at the increase in trips, there will be an additional 3.3 million by car drivers (56.4% of the increase in trips), 1.0 million by car passengers (16.8%), 0.9 million walking (15.6%), 349,000 on trains (5.9%), 234,000 on buses (4.0%) and 79,000 on taxis/bike/light rail (1.4%). The disproportionate increases are in car drivers, rail and light rail.

Note: The first 3 modes of transport (car driver, car passenger and walking) are so dominant, accounting for 90% of all trips, that a second graph is included below showing just the other modes of transport so that they can more easily be read.

As mentioned previously, when looking at proportional increases, car driver, rail and light rail modes are projected to see the biggest increases. Light rail sees such a large proportionate increase (521%) that it’s included in a separate graph. This is due to the relatively small size of the current light rail network, which here is assumed to grow to include the Dulwich Hill (by 2016) and CBD (by 2021) extensions. It does not appear to factor in its inclusion in the myZone system, nor possible extensions to the Universities of Sydney and NSW. So it is quite possible that growth could be even higher. However, it should be stressed again that this increase is from a very low base.

Other modes of transport are expected to mostly see a steady increase in number of trips, with the exception of rail and bus. Rail growth picks up steam over time, with the strongest growth occurring in the 2020s once the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) and Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL) are completed. Although the PERL looks unlikely to be built to that timetable, the additional capacity from a Second Harbour Crossing is likely to have a similar if not larger effect on rail patronage during that period. Ultimately, rail trips are projected to grow by 48%.

This, together with expansions to the light rail network in the late 2010s means that growth of trips by bus grows rapidly at first while light rail and heavy rail infrastructure is being constructed, then slows once it comes online, growing by 35% over the 30 year period. This will be most obvious on the M2, where the government is expected to remove many bus services once the NWRL is completed, and the CBD, where bus lines are likely to be rerouted to become feeders for light rail rather than travel through the CBD itself.

The other large increase is car driver trips, which grow by41%. All other modes are projected to increase by between 28% and 37%.

Distance of trips

Just looking at the number of trips can be misleading. For example, although rail and bus have a fairly even share of trips, rail trips tend to be much longer than bus trips. Similarly, walking tends to be for fairly short trips.

In 2006, the longest average trip was a rail trip of 24.4km, expected to rise 14% to 27.6km in 2036.

The average length trip on cars, buses and taxis tend to be in the middle of the pack. Car drivers travelled 9.7km and car passengers travelled 7.6km in 2006, with both projected to drop 7% to 9.0km and 7.0km by 2036. Trips on buses, 8.5km in 2006, are projected to increase by 7% to 9.1km by 2036. Meanwhile, taxi trips averaged 6.3km in 2006 and are projected to fall slightly to 6.0km by 2036.

Short trips tended to be on foot (0.9km) or bicycle (3.1km), and their average distance is not expected to change much between 2006 and 2036.

Note on light rail: The data says that the average trip for light rail was 18.2km in 2006, rising to 22.6km in 2036, which seems unusual given that the current line is only 7km long, and even when the extension is completed will still be only roughly twice that distance. It might have something to do with the statistical methodology, which looks at distance by “main mode”. 

Putting the average trip distance together with the number of trips gives us the total number of passenger kilometres travelled on the average workday.

In 2006, residents of Sydney travelled a total of 131 million km on an average workday. Here again we see cars travel dominating travel, car drivers travelled 78 million km (59.5% of all passenger km) while car passengers travelled 25 million km (19.3%). Next biggest is rail, with just under 18 million km (13.6%), then bus travel with 5.6 million km (4.3%), and walking with 2.7 million km (2.1%). The remaining 1.0 million km (0.7%) were shared by light rail/taxis/bikes.

By 2036 it is projected that Sydney residents will travel 177 million km, an increase of 46 million km or 35% on 2006. This increase is driven mostly by car drivers, with an additional 24 million km (53.0% of the increase), followed by rail with 12 million km (26.9%), car passengers with 5.2 million km (11.3%), and buses with 2.5 million trips (5.5%). The remaining 1.5 million km (3.3%) were shared by light rail/taxis/bikes/walking.

Note: Similarly to before, as the car driver category is so dominant, accounting for 60% of all trips, a second graph is included below showing just the other modes of transport so that they can more easily be read.

When measuring the proportional increase in total passenger km, it is the public transport modes that have the biggest increases: light rail, rail and buses. As was the case previously, light rail’s increase is off such a low base that it is on a completely different scale to the increase in all other modes of transport, and so is included in a separate graph. Light rail km are projected to increase 670% between 2006 and 2036.

The dramatic increase in rail usage is clearly seen here. Other than light rail, it is projected to see the biggest proportionate increase in both number of trips (by 48%) and average distance of each trip (by 14%), resulting in a huge 69% increase in total passenger km. Total bus passenger km also see a modest increase, rising 45% between 2006 and 2036.

Other modes of transport are projected to see an increase in passenger km of between 20% and 31%.

Conclusion

If the end goal is to increase public transport (buses, trains, light rail) and active transport (walking, bicycles), then these projections show how much of a challenge that is. The proportion of trips on public and active transport are projected to fall from 28.3% to 27.8%, though this appears to be due to an increase in short distance car trips. However, even when looking at total passenger km, that proportion still only increases from 20.2% to 24.1%.

Meanwhile, total car km are projected to increase by 31%, meaning that an additional 31% of roadspace will be needed to keep up. Alternatively, existing roadspace could be used more efficiently via decentralisation and/or congestion tolling to encourage a more even distribution of traffic, both over time and over space.

Ideally an increase in public transport and active transport use would allow a static car km statistic, meaning less stress on our road system. And lets not forget that this is all a bit of a chicken and egg exercise. Bureaucrats predict increasing car usage and call for more roads to handle the additional traffic. New roads result in an induced demand for people to drive rather than taking public transport. The forecasts become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and meanwhile the additional traffic mean a return to the congestion that the new roads were meant to eliminate.

Duplication of the Richmond Line began in 2002, when it was duplicated through to Quakers Hills. Plans to extend the duplication were then announced in 2003 as part of the Clearways Project, which sought to increase capacity on the existing network by removing bottlenecks rather than by building new lines. This extension was split into 2 parts: the first between Quakers Hill and Schofields, the second between Schofields and Vineyard. While the second part was deferred, and now appears to have been scrapped entirely, the first was completed in 2011.

This was not without its controversy. The duplication required the demolition of the old station, which had only a single platform, and the construction of a new station located 800 South of the existing one. The long term plan is to develop the area around the new station with shops and housing, however at the time of opening there was little more than a few houses and an empty paddock on each side of the station (see images below).

Schofields houses

View from Schofields Station, looking East. (Source: author)

Schofields padock

View from a citybound train leaving Schofields station, looking West. (Source: author)

This has left the old town centre isolated from the new train station. It has also moved the station a 10 minute walk away from where it used to be, which for many locals would have been literally on their doorstep. Probably because of this, there was little celebration when the new station opened, with the government not even acknowledging the opening of a new piece of transport infrastructure. Keep in mind that this is a government that has made transport infrastructure its number one issue and that there will be no new transport infrastructure projects opened until the Dulwich Hill light rail extension is completed in 2014, not long before the next state election.

Schofields Town Centre

The old Schofields town centre. (Source: author)

Going forward, it is possible that the Northwest Rail Link may also be extended through and past Schofields, making this station an interchange between the Northwest’s 2 major rail lines.

An expansion to Sydney’s solitary light rail line is looking clearer and more concrete. The existing line to Lilyfield is currently being extended to Dulwich Hill, while 3 additional lines are on the drawing board: (1) through the CBD between Central and Circular Quay down George Street, (2) from the CBD to the University of Sydney down Broadway and (3) from the CBD to the University of NSW down Anzac Parade. Routes for these 3 lines have been shortlisted, and can be seen in the map below.

Sydney Light Rail Shortlisted Routes

Existing and proposed light rail lines. The existing line (green) goes West from Central. The proposed George St line (red) goes North from Central to Circular Quay along George Street before looping around Hickson Road to Barangaroo. The proposed Anzac Parade line (blue) does not have a preferred route finalised yet. The Parramatta Rd line (red) goes Southwest from Central to Sydney University, either along the Northern or Southern edge, before reaching Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: http://www.lightrailtorandwick.com.au)

In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Premier Barry O’Farrell stated “I absolutely would expect there to be a start to work on light rail before the next election” and added that he did not see a point in building a line to either the University of NSW or University of Sydney unless a line was also built through the CBD. However, he also does not want to commit to which line will be built first, which suggests that construction could occur in any order so long as eventual construction of the CBD line is confirmed. Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian has said that no decision will be made until a feasibility study is completed in mid-2012.

Here is what is known about each line at the moment.

Dulwich Hill

This line is following the alignment of a disused freight line between Lilyfield and Dulwich Hill. The green light was given in late 2010 under the Keneally Labor government and the incoming Liberal government committed to follow through with its completion. Though originally meant to be completed by 2012, it was later announced that the extension would not be up and running until 2014. As of early 2012, the track has all been laid and the project still requires the construction of platforms and overhead wiring plus additional rolling stock.

George Street

This line was also announced by the Keneally government, to be built after the Dulwich Hill extension. Originally the plan was to have a line going from Central to Barangaroo via Sussex Street, then on to Circular Quay via Hickson Road (see map below). However, it was later decided that the preferred route would be via George Street, as shown in the first map above. City of Sydney Lord Mayor is pushing to close down a few blocks of George Street to private motor vehicle traffic – limiting it to trams, bikes and pedestrians. As far as I know, the state government has not commented on this proposal, which suggests they are open to the possibility and want to see details before ruling anything in or out.

Sussex Street CBD extension

An early proposed route for the light rail CBD extension via Sussex Street. (Source: lightrailextension.metrotransport.com.au)

University of NSW

A light rail line down Anzac Parade is probably one of the most logical routes for light rail. It was the last tram line to be shut down in 1961, running from the CBD down to La Perouse along Anzac Parade. Most of this is along a reservation in the centre of Anzac Parade, making it ideal for light rail.

There are a number of potential alignments for this route, both on the approach from the CBD and again when the line arrives at the university. The approach from the CBD will be either (1) from Circular Quay through Oxford Street, (2) from Central through Campbell Street, (3) from Central through Devonshire Street or (4) from Central through an underground tunnel.

The Oxford Street alignment would not include stops on Oxford Street in order to speed up trams travelling along here, but is also opposed by Oxford Street business as it removes a major benefit of having a public transport route along Oxford Street: allowing people to use it to get to and from places on Oxford Street. In addition, it provides limited benefit for people travelling to the university, racecourse or hospital as it does not link to Central, and the primary beneficiaries are residents in the Randwick area travelling to and from the CBD. Therefore, I do not think the Oxford Street option will be selected.

The tunnel option is the most expensive, costing an additional $100 million, but also the one I am warming to the most. (The tunnel option is also favoured by Randwick Council mayor Scott Nash and Eco Transit convenor Gavin Gatenby.) It would see light rail run from Central to Anzac Parade in a tunnel, removing any interference with surface traffic, eliminating most delays due to to traffic and reducing travel time by 7 minutes by allowing faster speeds. The benefits here are not just limited to reduced travel times for passengers, but also reduces operating costs as one vehicle is able to transport more passengers in the same period of time. As such, the additional capital cost will eventually pay itself back in lower operating costs. A tunnel would mean no stops in Surrey Hills unless an expensive underground station is built, but that area is currently well served by buses and so is not a huge problem.

At the Randwick end there are 3 potential alignments for the route. One would go along Alison Road towards Randwick and goes past the Randwick Racecourse. A second continues along Anzac Parade, then goes along High Street (adjacent to the University of NSW) towards Randwick. The third stays on Anzac Parade and continues South towards Maroubra Junction. The most likely outcome is a combination of 2 or all of these alignments, probably the first and second acting as a loop through Randwick, as shown in the map below.

Light Rail to Randwick route

Proposed light rail routes put forward by Randwick Council. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: http://www.lightrailtorandwick.com.au)

Sydney University

This extension would go down George Street from Central, then along Broadway until it reaches Sydney University. It will then continue either West along Parramatta Road or South along City Road and Carillon Avenue. Either route then turns into Missenden Road towards Royal Prince Alfred Hospital before terminating. Presumably, as with the Randwick route, this could also be formed into a loop by building both alignments.

Fitting light rail into the network

This is rarely talked about, but a very important detail. There is little point in building light rail if it’s just going to duplicate existing services. By all means build it if it’s going to increase capacity, but if it’s just going to run alongside buses, then you’re taking away capacity that could be going to other parts of Sydney. What this means is that light rail will need to improve modal change, i.e. people getting off a train/bus and onto light rail or vice versa. The inclusion of light rail into the myMulti system was the first step in this and hopefully Opal will allow for a seamless ticketing system where you pay for the total distance travelled, regardless of the mode used or the number of vehicles taken (as is currently the case, and which discourages an efficient use of the network).

What this is also going to mean is additional interchanges. For example, buses that traditionally went all the way into the city along Parramatta Road, City Road or Anzac Parade will need to stop where they meet with light rail and have people get off the bus and onto light rail to complete their journey. This will not be possible if service frequencies are low or if there is a financial penalty in doing so. If this is done, then it will go a long way to end the conga lines of empty buses congesting up the CBD during rush hour and to provide frequencies high enough to allow for turn up and go transport. If it’s not done then we will have seen another waste of taxpayers dollars to build a white elephant that doesn’t actually add value to the transport network.

It is looking more and more likely that Sydney’s troubled monorail will be removed from CBD. Sydney City Council has wanted the monorail removed to make way for light rail, with Lord Mayor Clover Moore having opposed the monorail ever since it was first built back in the late 80s when she was the local state MP (see video below). Now it appears that the state government is also shifting to a position to tear down the monorail, having told the redevelopers of the Entertainment Centre (through which the monorail passes through) “don’t let the monorail constrain your thinking”.

The history of the monorail dates back to the 80s, when redevelopment of Darling Harbour (along with neighbouring Pyrmont and Ultimo) was a major urban renewal project designed to co-incide with bicentenary celebrations planned for 1988. Part of this urban renewal included plans for a new transport link into the area. The choice came down to light rail or a monorail. The decision to ultimately go with the monorail appears to have been a political one, motivated by the minister responsible Laurie Brereton, who took responsibility for the project out of the committee and into his own hands. A detailed SMH article explaining the behind the scenes events that led up to this was published in 1988 notes that the light rail option was described as the “best long-term solution” but that the monorail was chosen because Mr Brereton personally supported it, as did Premier Neville Wran.

Pitt Street

Pitt Street is currently a one way street with 2 traffic lanes and 2 parking lanes (one on each side). The monorail pylons prevent the lane on the left from being turned back into a traffic lane. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Google Maps)

A light rail line would eventually be built in 1997 between Central and Lilyfield which is now being extended through to Dulwich Hill. The current O’Farrell state government has also pledged to extend this further through the CBD (most likely down George Street), to Sydney University and to UNSW. However, putting the light rail on George Street would mean re-diverting some traffic down other streets (potentially removing all private vehicle traffic altogether from portions of George Street) and one option is to make Pitt Street a two way street again by removing the monorail’s pylons from the ground and thus allowing a constant flow of traffic along what is now a parking lane only (see image).

I had previously supported the idea of keeping the monorail, it’s already been built and runs at no expense to tax payers. But if removing it in order to replace it with a more effective and more efficient light rail system would improve transport options, then I think it’s a good move.