Posts Tagged ‘NorthConnex’

A NSW Labor Government will build all transport projects currently under or about to commence construction plus a second Harbour rail crossing as part of its infrastructure policy released yesterday. It would also drop plans for a 99 year lease of the electricity distribution network, obtaining its $10bn funding by not cutting $5bn worth of business taxes and using $5bn of unallocated funding in the government’s Restart NSW infrastructure fund.

Under Labor, projects already under construction, such as the North West Rail Link and CBD and South East Light Rail, would be completed. Projects about to commence construction, such as the M4 East; M5 East duplication; and NorthConnex, would also be completed. In addition, Labor has also committed to the $1bn upgrade to the Western Sydney rail network, which will include improved signalling and longer platforms for trains that are 10 carriages long rather than the existing 8 carriages.

Labor will committ to completing the NWRL and has given qualified support for a second Harbour rail crossing to connect it to the CBD. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Labor will committ to completing the NWRL and has given qualified support for a second Harbour rail crossing to connect it to the CBD. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The plan would see both WestConnex and a second Harbour rail crossing modified. WestConnex’s M4 East would link up directly to the CBD along a yet undefined path, while the M5 East duplication would be redirected to the airport and seaport at Botany. Meanwhile, the Inner West bypass linking the M4 and M5 would be dropped entirely. Any construction on a second Harbour rail crossing would begin 5 years later than currently planned, in 2022 rather than 2017, and also be subject to a “rigorous cost-benefit analysis and business case”. In addition, no committment was made for a Western Sydney Harbour road tunnel or Western Sydney light rail.

Commentary: The wrong priorities

Labor’s refusal to consider privatisation, despite being supported by former Labor Premier Morris Iemma and Prime Minister Paul Keating, has limited its ability to promise an infrastructure plan as large as the Coalition’s. The Sydney Morning Herald’s transport reporter Jacob Saulwick put it best when he described it as “less of the same” in comparing it to the Coalition plan. In fact, other than the changes to WestConnex, this is largely a copy of the Coalition plan with some elements dropped and others deferred.

One positive to come from this report is an M5 East duplication that links up to Botany rather than St Peters. One of the main benefits of WestConnex will come from taking freight trucks off local roads, and having a direct connection will achieve this while also adding capacity to a growing port.

Labor should also be commended on committing to a second Harbour rail crossing. But deferring its construction for 5 years and adding conditions to that construction puts question marks over whether it is serious about building it. Yesterday’s policy document even quotes Nick Greiner, notorious for opposing rail projects and supporting tollroads, to make this case. In doing so, it reveals the real problem with this plan – it shifts priorities away from rail and towards roads.

Most disappointing is that this plan makes a clear committment to building a new freeway right into the CBD, while maybe building a new rail line into the CBD at a later point in the future. These are the wrong way around. Roads, which have their place, should provide travel opportunities from low density origins and/or destinations, acting as a bypass of dense areas like the CBD. Rail, on the other hand, works best at transporting large numbers of people from high density origins and/or destinations. So to build a road into the CBD but not rail is highly perverse.

WestConnex and the proposed Western Harbour road tunnel, both of which are plagued with problems like property acquisitions or of inducing demand for car travel, enjoyed the major advantage that they would remove cars from places like the Sydney CBD or Newtown’s congested King St. In the CBD, it would also see roadspace on the surface taken away from cars on George St and Elizabeth St as part of the CBD light rail line as the former is pedestrianised and the latter is converted to a bus road.

It is here, and not Labor’s inability to accelerate infrastructure construction due to it committment to maintain public ownership of state owned assets, that is most concerning. Labor prioritised roads rather than rail, and those are the wrong priorities.

The 2014-15 NSW Budget contains $60bn of spending on infrastructure over the next 4 years. Major projects being funded are shown below.

Major transport infrastructure projects included in the 2014-15 NSW Budget. Click to enlarge. (Sources: NSW Treasury, Transport for NSW, Open Street Map.)

Major transport infrastructure projects included in the 2014-15 NSW Budget. Click to enlarge. (Sources: NSW Treasury, Transport for NSW, Open Street Map.)

Highlights, along with the level of NSW Government funding and estimated completion dates, include:

  • $8.3bn on the North West Rail Link, to be completed in 2019.
  • $2.8bn on 65 new trains, to be completed in 2024.
  • $1.8bn on the South West Rail Link, to be completed in 2015.
  • $1.8bn on the WestConnex freeway: M4 East/M4 South/M5 East (topping up $1.5bn in Federal Government funding), to be completed in 2023.
  • $1.6bn on the CBD and South East Light Rail, to be completed in 2019.
  • $633m for roads improvements to the Northern Beaches, including kerbside Bus Rapid Transit, to be completed in 2019.
  • $600m for roads around Badgerys Creek Airport (topping up $2.9bn in Federal Government funding), to be completed in 2024.
  • $400m for light rail from Parramatta once a priority route has been identified (Parramatta to Macquarie Park shown in the map as a potential option) with no set timetable for completion.
  • $400m on the NorthConnex freeway: M1 to M2 (topping up $400m in Federal Government funding), to be completed in 2019.
  • $91m on 199 new buses to replace ageing buses and expand the fleet, announced in 2014.

Infrastructure contingent on the sale of the electricity distribution network: an under the Harbour Rail Crossing (previously cited at around $10bn) and Northern/Southern extensions to WestConnex ($1.5bn) have been omitted from this list, as has the Opal rollout ($1.5bn) and an M9 Outer Orbital freeway (uncosted).

Commentary: Is this worth it?

This budget appears to be seen as quite popular. So much so that the Sydney Morning Herald began the losers portion of its “Winners and Losers section with “There are few obvious losers in this year’s pre-election budget”. Ultimately this budget provides a way of achieving the infrastructure that Sydney desperately needs in order to sustain the additional housing construction that is required to accommodate the millions of new residents it will have by the middle of the century. Asset recycling, the sale of 49% of the electricity distribution network seems to be the only way to achieve this. However, as the Daily Telegraph’s Andrew Clennell quoted a “senior Labor MP [who said]: The poles and wires gives you 10 years, then what do you do? The sale of Sydney Water? Then what?”.

That question of how to fund infrastructure long term on an ongoing basis does not appear to have been answered yet. If it does get answered, the most likely response is higher taxes. So it that worth it? Quite possibly, though privatisation does give the state a decade or two before it needs to be answered.

Monday: Monorail re-born as part of NWRL

Parts of Sydney’s monorail, which was taken down late last year, have been used in the construction of the North West Rail Link (NWRL). 60 beams from the monorail have been converted into 29 girders, each 32m long, used to build a bridge at the location of the future NWRL Norwest Station so that cars can continue to travel through the area during the station’s construction.

Tuesday: Budget includes $30bn on land transport, 91% of it on roads

The 2014-15 Federal Budget includes $30bn of spending on land transport over 4 years, of which $26.9bn (91%) is for roads and $2.8bn (9%) is for rail. These form part of a $50bn infrastructure program over the next 6 years, of which $11.6bn is new spending. However, much of this has been achieved by re-allocating funding from rail projects to road projects, with Shadow Transport Minister Anthony Albanese disputing the budget figures in what could be classified as the worst game of pictionary in Australian political history.

Budget forward estimates for road and rail spending. Click to enlarge. (Source: Budget 2014-15.)

Budget forward estimates for road and rail spending. Click to enlarge. (Source: Budget 2014-15.)

The budget included:

  • A return to fuel excise indexation, raising an additional $2.2bn over 4 years.
  • The creation of an asset recycling fund for states that privatise state assets to pay for new infrastructure, worth $5bn over 5 years.
  • The previously committed funding for WestConnex, worth $1.5bn, as well as a $2bn low interest loan to the NSW Government.
  • The previously committed funding for NorthConnex, worth $405m.
  • A roads package to support a future airport at Badgerys Creek, worth $2.9bn over 10 years.

Thursday: 3,500 more public transport services for Vivid

More than 3,500 additional public transport services will be provided during the two and a half week long Vivid Festival. 800,000 visitors came to see Vivid last year, and overwhelmed the transport system. The additional services include 3,200 more bus services, 350 more train services, and 132 more ferry services. Together, these will add capacity for over 660,000 passengers over the period of the festival. As a comparison, Sydney’s rail network has a maximum capacity of around 150,000 passengers during the busiest hour of the morning peak.

This follows criticism of last year’s Vivid Festival, where visitor numbers were underestimated and insufficient public transport services were provided. In particular, no additional train services were provided in 2013, nor were any additional services of any kind provided for the Sunday of the long weekend (which was also the final day of the event).

Saturday: Growing CBD bike path network may not be completed in time

Planned bike paths through the CBD may remain uncompleted until the end of the decade if not finished by next year. The final plan for the CBD bike network was only completed in December 2013, with bike path construction put in limbo in the 2 1/2 years since the 2011 NSW election in order for the network to be planned out. However, the Sydney Morning Herald reports that the NSW Government is hesitant to have 2 major construction projects in the CBD running at the same time, so any bike path construction will be put on hold while light rail is built through George St in Sydney’s CBD in order to minimise traffic disruption. This could begin as early as April 2015, with the line scheduled to open in 2019 or 2020.

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.)

Once completed, a network of separated bike paths will create a loop around the central CBD, linking up the existing Harbour Bridge to Pyrmont Bridge connection to a number of other streets to the South, East, and West of the CBD.

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.

 

 

 

If this blog were voting on September 7 purely on transport issues, and had to make a choice between one of the 2 parties that will form government, then it would with reservations cast its vote for the ALP.

There are many other issues to be considered in this election, and many details as far as just transport is considered. But broadly speaking, for the upcoming election the Coalition has promised to the NSW Government more funding for transport infrastructure (albeit only for roads, not public transport) with fewer strings attached than the ALP have, while the ALP is both prepared to fund public transport and has made a slightly more solid commitment to building a much needed airport at Badgerys Creek.

Funding Commitments

Each of the major parties have made large commitments towards 3 transport infrastructure projects, all roads: the Pacific Highway upgrade on the NSW North Coast, the M2 to F3 Link in Northern Sydney, and the WestConnex freeway in Western Sydney.

The ALP has proposed 50:50 funding, shared with the NSW Government, for the Pacific Highway, which works out to $3.5bn. If the NSW Government does not match this amount then the deal is off, and there is some uncertainty over whether the NSW Government will match this amount. The Coalition has offered an 80:20 split, or $5.6bn, with the extra $2.1bn being the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link funding the ALP has previously promised (but since dropped). It is likely that the NSW Government is holding out for a possible Coalition win on September 7 before it tries to find funding for the ALP offer, but there is no guarantee that it will. If it does, then it is likely that some or most of this money will come from other parts of the transport infrastructure budget, including public transport as NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian alluded to in her bizarre comments that she welcomed news of not receiving any funding for public transport.

The M2 to F3 project is set to receive $400m of Commonwealth funding regardless of who wins next month, following a commitment by the ALP in May which was matched by the Coalition.

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

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

For WestConnex, the ALP is offering to match the NSW Government’s current $1.8bn contribution, while the Coalition has promised $1.5bn. Both parties have made their funding conditional on the M4 East being extended to the CBD (a poor decision, as explained here), while Labor has also required a link to Port Botany and for existing portions of freeway to remain toll free. These requirements will result in a higher construction cost and a lower cost recovery, to the point where the total cost to the NSW Government could be lower if it rejected the extra funding. While the Coalition’s offer does have fewer strings attached, both parties are guilty of this.

Overall, a Coalition Government in Canberra would likely provide more funding ($7.5bn vs $5.7bn), and do so with fewer restrictions.

Funding philosophy

Tony Abbott has consistently voiced his view that the Commonwealth Government should not fund any urban rail projects. He has been given many opportunities to elaborate on this view, and each time he has stuck to his guns on it. Often, this has been based on false assumptions. For example, he initially argued that the Commonwealth had no history of funding urban rail (which was incorrect). He then clarified by arguing that no Commonwealth Government before current Labor Government won office in 2007 had a history of funding urban rail (which was also incorrect). Melbourne based transport advocate put it best when he said perhaps the Federal Coalition has no history of funding urban rail, but the Commonwealth most certainly does.

The ALP, on the other hand, both supports the funding of public transport and has a history of doing so. While there are no current pieces of public transport infrastructure that the ALP is offering to provide funding for, such support may be essential for projects currently in the pipeline, such as the South East Light Rail or a Second Harbour Crossing.

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

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

Most importantly, public transport projects are much less able to obtain private sources of funding, whereas roads are able to source all (or atleast most) of their funding from user tolls. Therefore, it is the height of ridiculousness for a Commonwealth Government, the level of government with most access to revenue raising, to rule out funding the sort of infrastructure that most needs government support to go ahead and to instead focus its funding on those projects which least need it. This is particularly the case when it’s considered that rail has a capacity 10 times as large as the equivalent amount of road space used by cars.

On the issue of funding philosophy, the ALP comes out ahead.

Second Sydney airport

Neither party is yet willing to come out and state the obvious: that Western Sydney needs an airport of its own, and that Badgerys Creek is the best site for it. Even Max Moore-Wilton, head of Sydney Airport, agrees that Sydney will need a second airport and that Badgerys is the best location. The only thing he disagrees on is the timing, claiming that Sydney Airport will have sufficient capacity until 2045.

Current and proposed Sydney airports. Click to enlarge. (Source: Google Maps, modified by author)

Current and proposed Sydney airports. Click to enlarge. (Source: Google Maps, modified by author)

But none of this can allow politicians to ignore the fact that an airport in Badgerys Creek is an essential piece of infrastructure that will allow the much needed creation of jobs in Western Sydney, which will soon overtake Sydney’s Eastern half in population. Despite this, 200,000 Western Sydney residents currently commute into Eastern Sydney each day due to a jobs deficit, and this will only increase in coming decades if nothing is done about it. This in turn puts additional stress on transport infrastructure, which in turn has resulted in pressure to build projects such as WestConnex. Improvements to Kingsford-Smith Airport at Mascot will do nothing to ease this strain on jobs and infrastructure.

Transport Minister Anthony Albanese has now declared that if re-elected, he would like to see Labor Government will begin work on a second airport in its next term, but without nominating a site. Meanwhile, the Coalition has refused to nominate a site or a start date, though at the leader’s debate this past Sunday Opposition Leader Tony Abbott did promise to make a decision in his next term. Neither of these positions is ideal, although privately it looks like both parties plan to begin work soon on an airport and choose Badgerys Creek as the location. Despite this, the ALP’s commitment is slightly more concrete than the Coalition’s and Mr Albanese is a stronger advocate for Badgerys Creek than Warren Truss as Transport Minister is likely to be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Infrastructure NSW released its 20 year infrastructure strategy, titled First Things First. Most of it was dedicated to transport, which I will be focusing on, though there were also sections on energy, education, water, etc. The recommendations of the report were summarised in this video below, which is a good 4 minute version of the 200+ page report.

The report agreed with some recommendations of the Transport Master Plan, but disagreed with others. And these weren’t just alternate views, it actually took the time to highlight its points of disagreement and explain why it disagreed with Transport for NSW. The Infrastructure NSW report feels very much like it comes from Treasury, and has what I would classify as a pro-road and anti-rail bias. Even when discussing public transport, the report almost universally discounts rail projects in favour of a bus one. But I’ll save those comments for a later post. For now, I’m just going to focus on some of the things that I thought were good about this report.

Prioritisation of projects

No one likes being the fun police, and when it comes to funding that means being the department that tells you that you can’t afford something. This report does that well, which you could argue that the Transport Master Plan did not. While the Master Plan was a bit of a wish list, this report did a good job of emphasising the limited nature of funding available and promoted projects which it believed give most bang for the government’s buck.

Maximising efficiency

Building entirely new projects – another road or a new rail line – is incredibly expensive. Maximising use of existing infrastructure, on the other hand, does not give the impression to the voters that you are doing much to improve the situation much, but is actually a very effective way of increasing overall capacity.

The Clearways project for Cityrail is a great example, which has helped to increase rail capacity via track amplifications, more turnback platforms and additional stabling yards, none of which make the headlines quite like a new rail line or freeway do, but have increased rail capacity by similar amounts for a fraction of the cost. Time of day tolling on the Harbour Bridge/Tunnel is another example, which used pricing to encourage some people to drive during off peak hours (as you only need a small change in traffic to provide a big improvement in congestion).

Infrastructure NSW is encouraging further use of time of day tolling on the remainder of the road network in order to improve efficient use of Sydney’s freeways. In regards to public transport, it looks at ways that portions of the rail network that are currently under utilised, such as the City Circle, can be better used. It also proposed that off peak travel on public transport be given deeper discounts once Opal is rolled out in order to encourage more off-peak travel where possible, rather than peak hour travel.

Funding new infrastructure at minimal or no cost to the government

Where possible, the report has attempted to minimise how much funding the government itself will have to contribute to projects, usually by emphasising private toll roads. The WestConnex (a combination of the M4 East, M5 East, and the Inner West Bypass), for example, has a price tag of $10bn, of which $7.5bn is expected to be paid by the private sector. A cheaper way of building the M4 East, by digging up Parramatta Road itself, rather than a very expensive tunnel, to bring down the cost was also welcomed. The M2-F3 link would be built if a current private sector proposal to build it entirely with private money were to go ahead. These are achieved through a user pays system, in some cases with some government funding where necessary. But if the government can get new infrastructure built for free, paid for by the user, rather than the taxpayer, then it should get as many of these projects built as possible.

Construction costs would be cut by building the M4 East as a “slotted road”, similarly to how the Eastern Distributor was built. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: First Things First, page 89.)

A second Sydney airport

The report recommends a new airport be built in Badgerys Creek. Right now this is at odds with the O’Farrell Government, which opposes any second airport in the Sydney basin, and also the federal Liberal and Labor Parties, which support a second airport at Wilton, which is a less optimal site than Badgerys Creek is.

XPT and High Speed Rail

Both regional rail links and high speed rail are played down by the report. Both are on the expensive ends of the scale, with limited benefits. Many XPT routes in regional NSW would probably be better served by buses, which would allow better connections with the limited budget, while high speed rail is just too expensive with its $60bn-$108bn price tag for the improved connectivity that it would provide.

Faster rail to Wollongong and Central Coast

The report calls for an improvement in rail lines to allow for an average 80km/hour link to both Gosford on the Central Coast and Wollongong, which would put them within 1 hour of the Sydney CBD. That trip currently takes 60km/hour on rail. Improvements like this are incremental and affordable, and are what would be required if high speed rail is eventually to be introduced to Australia’s East Coast.

Media Coverage

O’Farrell sets aside $1.8b for new motorway, Sydney Morning Herald

Transport report draws mixed reactions, Sydney Morning Herald

And finally there was movement in Sydney, Daily Telegraph

New roads a fast track to the future, Daily Telegraph

Roads a priority in $30bn plan for NSW, ABC News

NSW unveils 20-year infrastructure plan, ABC Radio

CORRECTION: In the post Transport Master Plan (part 2): What’s missing? published on Friday 7 September, it was claimed that planning for reservations for future transport projects in the Transport Master Plan had only been done for road projects, and not for public transport projects. This was incorrect, and information on public transport corridor reservations was included further into the report. The error was due to the large size of the report (370 pages) and limited time available to read through it in detail and has now been corrected.

Context

Before looking into what the Transport Master Plan has to say on roads, it’s worth giving some perspective on private cars vs public transport.

Roads, and the private motor vehicles that run on them, provide two major benefits over public transport. First, they are significantly more flexible in terms of timing and journey start and end points. Second, the majority of the cost is borne by the user (some costs, such as noise and air pollution, or the free use of roads, are communal costs, but these are actually quite small), whereas public transport is heavily subsidised (in Sydney the user pays 20% to 50% of the total operational costs, and none of the capital costs, of public transport).

The biggest benefit of public transport over private road transport is in capacity. Assuming cars travel spaced 2 seconds apart, you can fit 1,800 vehicles per hour per lane. Ignoring effects of delays from red lights and cars with multiple passengers, that’s 1,800 passengers per hour. A Waratah train has a seated capacity of 896 passengers, and the current maximum capacity on the Cityrail network is 20 trains per hour (which the Harbour Bridge and Eastern Suburbs Lines both get very close to during peak hour), giving you just under 18,000 passengers per hour. In other words, rail has a capacity 10 times the size of cars. To put this into context, the Sydney Harbour Bridge has 10 lanes: 2 for rail, 7 for cars and one bus lane. If you were to convert all of these 10 lanes to private vehicle traffic, then it would have the same capacity as a single track for rail.

This is not to say that there is no place for new roads in Sydney, in fact when a new road is financed and built privately, then funded via tolls in a user pays manner over an agreed period of years then the government should be building as many new roads as it can. But if the government has to fund the new road, then the question needs to be asked “will this cost one tenth of the cost of a rail line”? There was a great post about this at A State Of Mind, which talks more about this sort of concept.

The Transport Master Plan

Road projects announced in the Master Plan include the current M2 and M5 widenings, an M4 East, an M5 East duplication, an Inner West Bypass (linking the M4 East with the M5 East), an F3-M2 link, an extension of the F6 through to the CBD, a link between Port Botany and the Airport, widening of the M7 North of the M4, widening of the M4 East of Parramatta, the Castlereagh Freeway (between the M7 and Richmond) and an outer orbital going North-South along outer Western Sydney. By anyone’s reckoning, that is a big wishlist!

Road projects recommended by the Master Plan. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport Master Plan, page 140.)

What we don’t know yet is the priority and the specific order in which they will be built. The M2 and M5 widenings, currently being finished up or having just started, are obviously the first cabs off the rank. And based on the 6 corridors which are expected to face the most congestion, the other projects with high priority appear to be the M4 East, the M5 East duplication, the Inner West Bypass, and the M4 widening. This should all be clarified by Infrastructure NSW when their 20 year report is released to the public next month.

However, merely building more roads is not the solution. New roads cause induced demand – more people get into their cars until eventually roads are saturated and congestion returns. Doing this will not eliminate congestion, it will only move the congestion closer to the ultimate destination (i.e. the Sydney CBD), and cost tens of billions of dollars in the process. To quote the Herald, “$10 billion is an awful lot to pay for a bigger traffic jam”.

To avoid this problem, cities like London, Copenhagen and Singapore have introduced congestion charging in their CBDs to discourage people from driving all the way into the city. And while the current government has refused to introduce congestion charging (having promised last election not to do so), they are considering 3 potential reforms that could have a similar effect:

  1. Distance based tolling – This is currently in place on the M7, where you pay based on the distance travelled, and is capped at $7 per trip.
  2. Time based tolling – This is currently in place on the Harbour Bridge/Tunnel, where you pay a lower toll during off peak hours in order to encourage a more even spread of car travel throughout the day.
  3. An increased parking levy – This is an existing charge on each parking space in the CBD, charged to the owner of the property that owns the space, and may be increased.

In all three cases, commuters would be discouraged from driving into and parking in the CBD during peak hour. Those who do would pay extra but receive a better travel experience with less traffic and more abundant parking, while the funds raised would go towards funding transport infrastructure. The report recommends using tolls to both fund new infrastructure and manage congestion, while reforming the tolling system to give Sydney a city-wide consistency (page 329).

If the government actually does implement these policies in order to fund the new roads that are financed, built and operated by the private sector, then they might actually achieve the goal of alleviating congestion without significant cost to the taxpayer. And if that is the case, then these are definitely roads that the state should build.

There are many things missing from the Draft Transport Master Plan. While defining it by what it doesn’t have, rather than what it does, would result in a never ending list, there are some major omissions that deserve some specific mention. They are, in no particular order:

Integrated fares

While integrated ticketing is being introduced with the rollout of Opal, allowing commuters to use just one ticket to get around Sydney, there is nothing in the transport plan suggesting that they will be charged an equal fare regardless of which (or how many) mode (or modes) of transport they use to reach their destination. In other words, if you are going from point A to point B, then it shouldn’t matter which way you get there, you should be charged the same fare.

At the moment Sydney does not have integrated fares. In fact, if you use 2 vehicles (unless it’s trains or you have a weekly MyZone ticket) then you are charged a premium fare despite the fact that having to make a transfer is a reduction in the quality of your journey. This has led to many anywhere to anywhere bus routes all over Sydney, as commuters refuse to pay extra to change from one bus to another, resulting in the available buses being spread thin and leading to low service frequencies.

Sydney currently has a radial bus network, as seen on the left. Proposed changes to a radial and circumferential network that emphasises transfers, as seen on the right, would improve connectivity but also require integrated fares. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport Master Plan, page 55.)

The transport plan seeks to change this model, moving to a grid (or cobweb) style network that requires transfers, but provides both frequency and connectivity. However, to work effectively, integrated fares are required to ensure that commuters are no worse off for having to transfer. This currently does not appear to be in the plan.

The Parramatta to Epping Rail Link
The O’Farrell government went to the 2011 election promising to prioritise the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) ahead of the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL). Initially, this meant deferring the PERL until 2036, with a NWRL completed in 2019 and a Second Harbour Crossing completed some time in between. But when the Sydney’s Rail Futures plan was completed in the middle of this year it was missing any mention of the PERL, the first indication that this project had been dropped altogether.

Forward planning (unless it’s roads)

The Master Plan lists 3 new freeways that it would like built (an M4 East, an M5 East duplication, and an F3 to M2 link) plus another 3 new freeways for consideration beyond the 20 year scope of the plan (an F6 linking Waterfall to the airport, an Inner West Bypass between the M4 East and M5 East, and a freeway linking the M4 East to the M2). It then also recommends that the government begin planning reserving land in outer suburban areas so that freeways can be built there many decades into the future. This is fantastic forward planning, and should be commended as it will avoid huge tunneling costs in the future that we are contemplating today.

The transport plan has recommended reserving corridors for future roads, but does not include a similar recommendation for reserving corridors for future rail lines. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport Master Plan, page 140.)

And yet when it comes to public transport, no such recommendations are made. Where is the action on reserving land for future rail lines, light rail corridors, bus rapid transit, etc? This included in the 20 year rail plan, so why is it missing from the transport plan? Why has it been removed?

It’s hard to imagine a transport plan since the height of the automobiles golden age back in the 1950s that has felt so biased towards roads and away from public transport. Previous plans have ended up seeing more roads built than public transport, but at least they made an effort at planning for public transport before abandoning those plans. This one just skips that step entirely!

UPDATE (9 September 2012): Some further reading reveals that planning has been included for reserving corridors for both roads and public transport. The following diagram illustrates the locations of the corridors. The report, at 370 pages, was quite long and limited time meant I was unable to go through it in as much detail in the days following its release and I unfortunately missed this.

Transport corridors, both road and public transport, that are being investigated or reserved for future transport infrastructure projects. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport Master Plan, page 197.)

Funding and costings

There are some details on this, but it tends to be broad statements with some token details around the edges. For example, costings for individual projects are not included, although a figure of $100 billion over the next 20 years has been mentioned in the media. If this is accurate, then it is actually within the scope of the existing transport capital expenditure budget, which is equal to $25 billion over the next 4 years (Transport Master Plan, page 323), or roughly $125 billion over the next 20 years with some simple estimation.

The report has some interesting ideas. These include: increasing parking levies inside activity centres to discourage car use while funding public transport, reforming car registration to take into account road use (code for km based fees, rather than a flat fee regardless of how much you use the road), reforming public transport agencies (e.g. the creation of Transport for NSW, franchising Sydney Ferries, and splitting Railcorp into Sydney Trains and NSW Trains), allowing more commercial sites into existing transport interchanges, and capturing value created from transport investment. The last one is probably the one with the greatest scope to raise additional revenues, and one that I have written about previously.

However, other than these few points (not many for a plan this big), details on funding and costing remain general in nature and are lacking in specific details, examples or case studies much beyond saying “we will investigate this further”.

Light rail to Sydney University or to Barangaroo

Although the government has not decided what it will do with the results of the Light Rail Feasibility Study yet, the study has been completed, and this is evident by inclusion of details of light rail in the Master Plan. It suggests light rail for George Street in the CBD and a line on or under Devonshire St that then goes along Anzac Parade to UNSW. But gone is any mention of light rail to the University of Sydney or, more importantly, to Barangaroo. It is true that Barangaroo will have a new walkway to connect it quickly with Wynyard Station, and that it will sport a new ferry wharf. But it will be intriguing to see why the decision has been made to not extend the light rail line through to Barangaroo via The Rocks.

Bus priority

This has been talked about ever since the Unsworth Review into buses back in 2004. With most buses now equiped with GPS tracking teachnology, it is possible to work out when a aprticular bus is running late. In order to get that bus back on time, priority can be given to it at traffic lights, giving that bus a green light earlier than would normally happen. To ensure buses don’t run earlier than the timetable, this would only happen when a bus is late. This would be a huge improvement in reliability for Sydney’s bus network, and it’s unfortunate to see that little progress has been made in the last decade on implementing this.

Congestion charging

This has been ruled out by the government, despite such measures having worked well in places like London or Singapore. The idea behind it is that by charging road users a premium to use CBD roads during peak hours it will encourage some car users to travel at other times or to take public transport, thus giving those who do pay a faster trip with less traffic. It would also help to fund public transport. Instead, we have a situation where it is free to use surface streets which causes noise and pollution as well as danger for pedestrians (remember that 93% of CBD trips are on foot). Meanwhile, if you want to use the Eastern Distributor or Cross City Tunnel, you are charged. It really should be the other way around.

However, the government is looking at raising the parking levy, a tax on parking spaces in the city (I think it only applies to off-street parking). This would be a bit like a congestion charge, but would only discourage trips by people travelling into the CBD, while doing nothing to discourage trips through the CBD. And it is the latter that should be discouraged the most, as it congestion caused by people who aren’t even going into the CBD.

A second Sydney airport

The Premier Barry O’Farrell has made a strong stand on this. He doesn’t want a second airport in Sydney, and is not planning for one. This is a bit like when the Wran Government sold off land intended for the M4 East in an attempt to prevent the construction of that freeway. And while this seems to have delayed its construction, now we find ourselves with a government looking to pay $10-$15 billion to build that freeway in an underground tunnel instead, which has the effect of sucking funds away from public transport projects. Similarly, not planning for a second airport will not remove the need for one, it will only increase the problems and costs of one when it is eventually built.

Project priority and a timetable for completion

Some idea of priority is given in terms of whether a project is short term (0-5 years), medium term (5-10 years) or long term (10-20 years) in nature. But this is quite vague, and only applies to some projects. Road projects in particular, have no sense of priority at all, and await Infrastructure NSW’s report before some idea of which order they will be built in will happen.

If you needed any proof that the Transport Masterplan is about to be released, then it’s that key parts of it have begun to be leaked to the media. The newest details focus on the role that new roads will play Sydney’s future.

The O’Farrell government went to the last elections promising to build either the M4 East, M5 East, or M2-F3 link. its decision would be based on a report they commissioned with Infrastructure NSW that is set to be finalised in the next month. Importantly, the government only planned to build one of the three. However, the new Transport Masterplan is said to not only include all 3 of these freeways, but an additional freeway: the M6 to link Waterfall in Sydney’s South to the CBD by linking up to the M5 East near the Airport, with an estimated price tag of $10 billion.

M4 East and PERL

The proposed M4 East and Parramatta to Epping Rail Link are seen highlighted in red, along with the F3-M2 Link. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport for NSW Submission to Infrastructure Australia, August 2010)

Meanwhile, the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link has been dropped, but no additional heavy rail line (such as a Northern Beaches Line, or a rail line following a Parramatta Road, Victoria Road or Anzac Parade alignment) has been proposed in its place. In effect, the plan appears to be recommending more roads be built than was previously planned, while building fewer rail lines than was previously planned.

Action for Public Transport

Action for Transport plan from 1998. New roads are fluoro green, while new rail lines are red. The pink lines are bus T-Ways. (Source: NSW Government)

Compare this to the Carr Government’s 1998 Action for Transport plan, which proposed 5 new freeways (Eastern Distributor, M7, M2, Lane Cove Tunnel, Cross City Tunnel) and 8 heavy rail lines (Parramatta to Chatswood, Bondi Beach extension, Northwest, Airport, Strathfield to Hurstville, Glenfield Y-Link, Central Coast fast rail, Wollongong fast rail). While all 5 roads were built, only 1.5 of the rail lines were built: the Airport Line, and the Epping to Chatswood portion of the proposed Parramatta to Chatswood Line.

In both cases, rail underachieved in comparison to what was planned, while roads either met expectations (in the 1998 plan) or look to exceed expectations (in the current plan). Then again, this is all based on speculation from leaks of a report that is due to be released very shortly, so perhaps it’s better to reserve judgement until it’s made public.

At the Liberal Party Conference on 30 June, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott declared that a Liberal Government would commit $4bn to road projects in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. For Sydney, this translated to $1.5bn for the M4 East.

“Almost nothing builds confidence more than seeing cranes over our cities and almost nothing signifies progress more than new roads.”Tony Abbott (30 June 2012), Leader of the Opposition

This decision was clearly made on political criteria, rather than planning and transport criteria. It funds the projects where the benefit flows primarily to the marginal electorates, rather than where the the benefit is greatest. And unfortunately, it’s a bipartisan pattern that is emerging in Commonwealth-State infrastructure funding, with the Gillard Government making a similar mistake when it declared that it would provide $2.1bn of funding towards the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL) prior to the 2010 election.

M4 East and PERL

The proposed M4 East and Parramatta to Epping Rail Link are seen highlighted in red, along with the F3-M2 Link. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NSW Transport Department submission to Infrastructure Australia, August 2010)

In that case, Julia Gillard at least consulted with the state government first and got them to fast track the PERL. But Mr Abbott hasn’t done this prior to his announcement, and the NSW Government currently appears to be planning to build the M5 East duplication and F3-M2 Link rather than the M4 East.

M5 East and NWRL

The NSW Government’s priority road and rail projects are the M5 East and Northwest Rail Link, both seen highlighted in red. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NSW Transport Department submission to Infrastructure Australia, August 2010.)

The other problem with Mr Abbott’s offer is that it represents only a fraction of the total cost. While the majority of the cost of the PERL ($2.6bn at first, though later blowing out to $4.5bn) would be borne by the Commonwealth, the M4 East has a price tag of between $5bn (for a short route between Strathfield and Ashfield) and $10bn (for the long route that also links it to the airport at Mascot). This leaves the state government out of pocket by $3.5bn-$8.5bn, compared to $0.5bn-$1.9bn for the PERL.

In both cases the problem remains that the Australian government seems to want to pick the infrastructure that the state should build, rather than trying to fit it into the long term metropolitan plan the state has developed for the city. The ridiculousness of Federal Labor insisting on funding the PERL over the NSW State Government’s preferred Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) can be seen in comments by Infrastructure Australia in which it declares that the  PERL is an inferior choice than NWRL (its concerns surrounding the NWRL aside).

Mr Abbott’s proposal in particular is concerning in that it reverts to the view that transport funding should favour road over rail, private transport over public transport. It fits in with the liberal view of individual liberty and freedom – and the private motor car provides this much better than a centrally planned public transport system designed “for the people”.  In his book, he dismisses the need for any vehicle larger than a car:

“…there just aren’t enough people wanting to go from a particular place to a particular destination at a particular time to justify any vehicle larger than a car, and cars need roads.”Tony Abbott (Battlelines, p. 174), Leader of the Opposition

The NSW Liberal Government takes a different perspective on the role of public transport, having not only made the NWRL its centrepiece but also buying the monorail and light rail, reverting them from private to public ownership (albeit still privately operated). They’ve done this presumably out of a realisation that roads do not have the capacity of public transport, and that congestion is costing the economy in potential output.

When it comes to a second airport for Sydney, the 3 most powerful Liberals from Sydney: Mr Abbott, Shadow Treaurer Joe Hockey and Shadow Cabinet Minister Malcolm Turnbull all support a second airport in the Sydney basin. Only Mr Hockey has named a preferred site so far: Wilton. None seem to be pushing for Badgeries Creek. However, Nationals Leader Warren Truss, who is also the Shadow Transport Minister, doesn’t think Sydney needs a second airport, putting him in NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell’s camp. Should Mr Truss hold on to that portfolio in government, then it seems unlikely that Sydney will see a second airport while he and Mr O’Farrell control the levers of power.

The Federal Coalition also supports completing the construction of the Pacific Highway. The completion of this project is currently uncertain as the NSW government insists that funding continue to follow the 80%-20% split where the federal government contributes the majority of the funds, while the federal government is insisting that past 2014 all federal funding would only match state dollars. Mr Truss has mentioned he would consider the suggestion by NSW to transfer the $2.1bn earmarked for the the PERL towards the Pacific Highway, which would cover the shortfall. This again suggests an anti-rail bias by the federal Coalition.

Prior to the 2011 NSW state election, the current Liberal Government promised to build either the M4 East or F3 to M2 Link, or to duplicate the M5 East. To decide which one of the 3 would be built, Infrastructure NSW has been tasked with determining which was most appropriate. That report is to be finalised in September.

M5 and F3 to M2

Current rumours are that Infrastructure NSW will recommend the construction of the M5 East duplication, as its $5 billion price tag is considered more affordable than the larger, but bigger impact, M4 East at $10 billion. Roads minister Duncan Gay has ruled new tolls, but has made an exception for tolls that would be used for the construction of new roads:

“We would only consider tolls as part of the package of improvements and provision of new roads.”Duncan Gay, Roads Minister

As a result, it is speculated that tolls will return to the M4, and be introduced onto the M5 East in order to fund the construction of new roads. Such tolls would raise $250m per year and, together with $2.4 billion  raised from electricity privatisation, would pay for the duplication.

Further North, it is speculated that a new freeway linking the F3 to the M2 would be privately built and operated. The government has been in talks with Transurban, the owner of the M2 and Lane Cover Tunnel and also part owner of the M7, M5 and Eastern Distributor, over the possibility of building such a freeway.

This raises the question over the role of tolls. On one hand, they serve as an excellent form of user pays funding – those that use the freeway are those who pay for its use. And lets not forget that making road usage free while charging for public transport only discourages people from taking the train or bus while encouraging car use. While people should be free to drive, it is also not something that should be encouraged by subsidising it via toll free freeways.

At the same time, a large portion of the community benefit from the existence of a freeway, as it removes cars, traffic and congestion from local streets. Look at the Lane Cove portion of Epping Road, which has seen a big drop in traffic and a reduction in speeds following the opening of the Lane Cove Tunnel.

Ultimately the question therefore becomes not one of “Should there be a toll?” but rather “How much should the toll be?”. And it is here where the problem emerges – many of Sydney’s freeways are privately owned (M2, Lane Cove Tunnel, M5, M7, Cross City Tunnel, Eastern Distributor and Harbour Tunnel), with tolls set based on contractual agreements entered into at the time of construction. Some of these are set to revert to public ownership in the next 10-15 years, but others still have decades left before that happens. In the past this has meant the M4 and M5 have been free (or had a cash back system in place), while freeways North of the Harbour (M2, Lane Cove Tunnel and the Harbour Bridge/Harbour Tunnel) were all tolled.

Any government that can untangle this mess of contracts, tolls and financing, and come away with a city-wide tolling system that will fund the construction of future roads will have done what is generally considered impossible. For that reason, don’t expect it to happen.