Posts Tagged ‘Parramatta light rail’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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VIDEO: Sydney’s New Driverless Train (Sydney Trains Vlog)

12 months ago the NSW Government had already committed to the creation of a light rail network around Parramatta and an extension of the Sydney Metro from Chatswood to Sydenham. But the question remained: which alignments will it choose? At the time, the favourites were a light rail line to Macquarie Park and a metro line via Sydney University.

However, since then the Government opted for a metro line via Waterloo and light rail to Sydney Olympic Park over the previously mentioned alignments. Among the reasons given were the capacity for value capture and the potential for development of new homes.

Parramatta City Council's proposed 4 light rail lines. Click to enlarge. (Source: Western Sydney Light Rail Network: Part 2 Feasibility Report, p. 6)

Parramatta City Council’s proposed 4 light rail lines. Click to enlarge. (Source: Western Sydney Light Rail Network: Part 2 Feasibility Report, p. 6 – no longer available online)

“The light rail corridor will activate a priority growth area and there is an opportunity for the government to share in the value uplift that will occur along the corridor. A Special Infrastructure Contribution will be implemented, with the levy expected to be set at around $200 per square metre of gross floor area of new residential developments subject to consultation.”Transport for NSW (8 December 2015)

“[Light rail] will be a game changer for Sydney’s second CBD – the preferred route provides the most opportunity for new jobs and urban renewal.”Rob Stokes, Planning Minister (8 December 2015)

“Waterloo metro station will be the catalyst for the delivery of an additional 10,000 homes and thousands of new jobs in the precinct for families who live in the area.”Rob Stokes, Planning Minister (16 December 2015)

The first reason given of value capture, involving the contribution to construction costs of new infrastructure by those who benefit from that new infrastructure when their property values rises, is not a new one; but has been gaining in momentum by bureaucrats and politicians at both the State and Federal levels including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. The primary advantage is the ability for new infrastructure to pay for itself, freeing new projects from the constraints of government budgets. The primary limitation is that it tends to be overstated, with Alan Davies arguing that its benefits are modest.

Artists impression of light rail through Sydney Olympic Park. Click to enlarge. (Source: Westline Partnership.)

Artists impression of light rail through Sydney Olympic Park. Click to enlarge. (Source: Westline Partnership.)

The second reason given of potential for new development has arisen due to concerns over housing affordability. Government could address this by either curbing demand (such as reigning in negative gearing/reducing capital gains tax concessions) or increasing supply (often by removing constraints on development due to insufficient infrastructure).

The former policies on demand are almost exclusively in the domain of the Federal Government, while the latter on supply are almost exclusively in the domain of the State Governments. These pressures have shifted Government policy making in recent years, with decisions made based on what will maximise housing construction.

Sydney Metro will include a station at Waterloo, which will also see the Waterloo area undergo significant urban renewal. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Sydney Metro will include a station at Waterloo, which will also see the Waterloo area undergo significant urban renewal. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The net result of all of this is a change in Government priorities. The new priority is all about how to enable the construction of the most housing possible, at the lowest cost to Government possible.

Each of these feeds into the other. Additional housing construction provides additional stamp duty revenue to the Government. Lower net costs allows more infrastructure to be built resulting in more potential housing.

However, it has also meant that transport goals have fallen in priority. In these cases that translates into less connectivity for Sydney and Macquarie Universities as well as Macquarie Business Park.

Chalk it up as a win to the Planning Department and a loss to Transport for NSW.

Video: Parramatta Light Rail, 8 December 2015 (Transport for NSW)

Light rail between Parramatta and Olympic Park, announced today, is the culmination of years of planning and proposals for light rail in Western Sydney. To fully recognise the significance of this announcement, it’s worth going back almost 4 years into the past to see how this ultimately developed from the ashes of the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link.

23 December 2011: Parramatta to Epping Rail Link cancelled

The change of state government earlier in the year saw the dropping of the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link as official government policy, which in turn sparked Parramatta City Council to push for a light rail line instead. It sought to mimic the work of Randwick Council, whose pre-feasibility study into light rail to Randwick resulted in the now CBD and South East Light Rail line from getting the green light from the NSW Government. In both cases, light rail would link a CBD, university, stadium, racecourse, and hospital.

30 August 2013: Parramatta City Council commissions light rail feasibility study

The initial pre-feasibility study recommended a 169km light rail network, with lines linking Parramatta to Macquarie Park via Eastwood, Epping via Carlingford, a loop to Olympic Park and Rhodes, Bankstown, Castle Hill, Rouse Hill (on the existing T-Way), and Liverpool (on the existing T-Way). It also included a line from Cabramatta to Rouse Hill via Blacktown and Parklea (on the existing T-Way between these two suburbs).

Parramatta Light Rail

Light rail proposal for Parramatta and its surrounding areas. Stage 1 is in yellow, green and red. Stage two is in black. Click to enlarge. (Source: Parramatta City Council.)

The lines were estimated to cost $9.5bn, based on the cost of the Dulwich Hill light rail extension and Gold Coast light rail.

The final pre-feasibility study by Parramatta City Council concluded that two lines should be built first: one from Westmead to Macquarie Park via Parramatta and Eastwood, the other from Parramatta to Castle Hill via Baulkham Hills and Castle Hill Showground.

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.)

These lines would be 30km in length, cost $1.5bn to build, and require 21 trams in order to provide 10 minute frequencies (Source: Western Sydney Light Rail Network – Part 2 Feasibility Report, p. 5). They would then be followed by two additional lines, one to Bankstown via Chester Hill, the other to Rhodes via Olympic Park.

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.)

8 March 2014: Berejiklian confirms light rail is “in the mix”

Urban Growth NSW, the Government’s development agency, publishes a report about Parramatta showing a light rail alignment on one of its maps. Though not much more than lines on a map, it is the first time that light rail has appeared in an official government report.

When asked about this by the Daily Telegraph, the Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian confirms that light rail is “in the mix”.

31 March 2014: Robertson commits to light rail feasibility study

The Opposition Leader John Robertson announced plans for a $20m full feasibility study into light rail around Parramatta if elected in 2015. This would build on the Parramatta City Council’s pre-feasibility study completed in 2013.

2 June 2014: Baird commits to light rail feasibility study

The NSW Premier Mike Baird announces a $10m full feasibility study into light rail around Parramatta. Though less than the $20m promised by his opposition counterpart 2 months earlier, this study commences immediately.

17 June 2014: 10 routes shortlisted and funding committed

With a feasibility study underway on 10 potential routes, the NSW Government commits $400m in funding to pay for the new line. An additional $600m would later be committed from the sale of the electricity distribution network, bringing the total funds committed to $1bn.

17 July 2014: Berejiklian suggests light rail should link health and education precincts

The Transport Minister Gladys Berejilkian stressed the importance that any light rail line should connect Parramatta up to both Westmead hospital and Western Sydney University (then still named UWS). With Westmead to Macquarie Park being the only one of the 10 potential routes that passes through both the education and health precinct, this suggested that the Westmead-Parramatta-Eastwood-Macquarie Park alignment that Parramatta City Council had previously pushed would be the one chosen.

28 August 2014: 6,000 new apartments announced for North Parramatta

An announcement by the Premier Mike Baird that a $2bn urban renewal project of North Parramatta would bring 6,000 new apartments builds on the earlier report in March that these developments are likely to be supported by additional infrastructure. The area is located around one of the proposed light rail alignments between Parramatta and Westmead, which heads North from Parramatta before passing Parramatta Stadium and then crossing the Parramatta River on the Northern end of Westmead hospital.

Artists impression of the Parramatta North precinct. Click to enlarge. (Source: Urban Growth NSW.)

Artists impression of the Parramatta North precinct. Click to enlarge. (Source: Urban Growth NSW.)

27 October 2014: 4 routes shortlisted

The earlier 10 routes were reduced to a final 4 routes on the shortlist, which would then be investigated in greater detail. The 2 lines proposed by Parramatta City Council, Parramatta to Macquarie Park via Eastwood and Parramatta to Castle Hill via Windsor Road, did not make the shortlist. Instead, a line to Macquarie Park via Carlingford would be investigate as would a line to Castle Hill via Old Northern Road. In addition to these 2 routes, a line to Strathfield/Burwood via Olympic Park and a line to Bankstown would also be investigated. These again mirror the routes investigated by Parramatta City Council, though its Olympic Park line would extend out to Rhodes rather than Strathfield.

23 February 2015: Westline Partnership promotes benefits of Olympic Park Line over Macquarie Park

A coalition of businesses, developers, and councils begins to push for a line from Parramatta to Olympic Park. The group; calling itself the Westline Partnership and comprising of the ANZ Stadium, the Australian Turf Club, Accor, Dexus, Sydney Olympic Park, Sydney Business Chamber, Auburn council, and Canada Bay council; claims that doing so could unlock $2.9bn of funding through “value capture” in the form of developer levies. Doing so would allow the Government to build two lines, one to Olympic Park and the other to Carlingford, according to Westline Partnership spokesman Christopher Brown.

Artists impression of light rail through Sydney Olympic Park. Click to enlarge. (Source: Westline Partnership.)

Artists impression of light rail through Sydney Olympic Park. Click to enlarge. (Source: Westline Partnership.)

8 June 2015: Olympic Park firms as preferred option

The NSW Government begins to hint that it is shifting from Macquarie Park to Olympic Park as its preferred option.

26 November 2015: Decision on Olympic Park line accidentally revealed

The Roads Minister Duncan Gay accidentally says that light rail will be coming to Olympic Park while outlining improvements to the nearby WestConnex project. Both Olympic Park and Parramatta had recently been hit by the announcement that the Commonwealth Bank would be moving its operations out of both those suburbs and into Redfern’s Australian Technology Park. The move resulted in criticisms towards the NSW Government for not being quicker in its decision making on a route for any Western Sydney light rail line.

8 December 2015: Light rail lines to Olympic Park and Carlingford announced

The Premier Mike Baird announces that two light rail lines are to be built simultaneously from Parramatta: one to Olympic Park and one to Carlingford. Both lines will travel along the same corridor through to Camellia before branching off.

Artists impression of light rail through Parramatta. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Artists impression of light rail through Parramatta. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The project will raise funds through the use of a Special Infrastructure Contribution (SIC), “expected to be set at around $200 per square metre of gross floor area of new residential developments subject to consultation”. This is in addition to the $1 billion already committed by the NSW Government, with the Government also seeking contributions from the federal and local governments.

Note: For the second time this year, this blog has taken an unannounced hiatus for a number of months due to the pressures of real life. This post was written up at the end of June but never properly finished and thus not posted. It will probably be the final monthly round up, at least for the foreseeable future. This blog will not be ending, posts will still continue. But instead, the focus will be on specific issues or events as they occur with no set frequency of posts. For now, please enjoy the breaking news from 3 months ago…

VIDEO: Urban Taskforce Research- Who Lives in Apartments (31 May 2015)

2 June: $50m cost blowout for NWRL

The budget for constructing the skytrain portion of the North West Rail Link, an elevated viaduct between Bella Vista and Rouse Hill, has blown out from $340m to $390m. Despite the cost blowout, a project spokesperson said that there has been no change to the completion date for the skytrain, while the Transport Minister Andrew Constance stated that variations in cost had been factored into the full $8.3bn budget and that the overall budget remained unchanged.

The skytrain portion of Sydney Metro, shown at the proposed Rouse Hill Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The skytrain portion of North West Rail Link, shown at the proposed Rouse Hill Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

 4 June: Sydney Rapid Transit renamed Sydney Metro

Sydney’s single deck train network will be known as Sydney Metro, replacing the previous name Sydney Rapid Transit. This follows the passage of legislation authorising the privatisation of state owned electricity assets, which passed both chambers of Parliament the previous day.

4 June: NSW Opposition dumps support for light rail because of Infrastructure NSW Report

The new Shadow Transport Minister Ryan Park, who together with the Opposition Leader Luke Foley recently withdrew their support for light rail down George Street, announced that the change of heart on light rail came after reading the 2012 Infrastructure NSW Report that opposed George Street light rail. The alternative bus tunnel option suggested by the report was criticised by Transport for NSW, with Infrastructure NSW later supporting George Street light rail.

A very early proposed map for the CBD BRT would see a tunnel between Wynyard and Town Hall, removing many buses from the surface streets. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: First Things First, Infrastructure NSW, page 99.)

A very early proposed map for the CBD BRT would see a tunnel between Wynyard and Town Hall, removing many buses from the surface streets. Click to enlarge. (Source: First Things First, Infrastructure NSW, page 99.)

6 June: Transport corridors in Western Sydney to be reserved

Work to reserve transport corridors in Sydney’s West for an Outer Sydney Orbital motorway, Bells Line of Road to Castlereagh Connection, and South West Rail Link extension is moving into the public consultation phase. The NSW Roads Minister Duncay Gay said that work on the 2 roads was not expected to begin for decades; with the SWRL corridor set to be identified by late 2016.

8 June: Olympic Park becomes preferred light rail option

A light rail line connecting Parramatta to Olympic Park has firmed as the favourite option for a new light rail line in Sydney’s West. The line could extend out to Wesmead in the West and Strathfield in the East. It gained favour after a campaign by businesses and developers who touted the possibility for development of the corridor and the potential for value capture from that development to fund the cost of building the new line. However, local councils have labelled the line a white elephant and are calling for the Government to build a line to Epping instead.

11 June: Opal only gates installed at Wynyard Station

New Opal only gates have been installed as part of the Wynyard Station upgrade. Opal only gates have recently been installed at Olympic Park Station. No date has been set for the full phase out of ticket gates that accept magnetic stripe paper ticket.

12 June: SWRL connection to CBD via Granville?

Transport blogger Nick Stylianou suggests that Leppington trains may be connected up to the T2 South Line, travelling to the CBD via Granville. This may happen as soon as the end of this year, with Campbelltown to city services running exclusively on the T2 Airport Line.

12 June: 65 new transport officers

Sydney’s existing 150 transport officers is set to increase to 215, with an additional 65 transport officers to be hired.

15 June: Trial of backdoor boarding on CBD buses

The Government is set to trial boarding of buses via the back door for 2 weeks. The trial will be restricted to Opal card users between 4PM and 7PM at 7 bus stops in the CBD. Marshals will be present to ensure boarding occurs safely. It is hoped that the trial will see lower dwell times for buses by allowing customers to board more quickly.

VIDEO: Seven News Sydney – Trial of back door loading on buses (15/6/2015)

19 June: Reduction in minimum parking requirements

The NSW Government has announced a watered down version of a minimum parking requirement policy that it announced last year. The new policy allows new apartment blocks in areas well serviced by public transport to have fewer off-street parking spots than is currently mandated by local government regulations. The previously announced policy would have eliminated the requirement for off-street parking entirely and has not been adopted. Supporters of the move argue that it will help to keep construction costs down and help with housing affordability. Opponents of the move claim that it will cause cars to spill over into existing streets where parking is already scarce.

23 June: Barangaroo Station confirmed

A Station at Barangaroo has been confirmed in the Sydney Metro City and Southwest. Stations still to be determined are Artarmon, St Leonards/Crows Nest and either Sydney University or Waterloo.

VIDEO: Sydney Metro Barangaroo Station

A new light rail line connecting Parramatta and Sydney Olympic Park, running from Westmead to Strathfield, has firmed up as the favourite route to be built by the NSW Government according to a Daily Telegraph report today. A route from Parramatta to Macquarie Park via Eastwood had been the initial preferred alignment, promoted by Parramatta City Council. However, the NSW Government has opted to consider an alignment via Carlingford and Epping for this route instead.

Parramatta City Council's proposed 4 light rail lines. Click to enlarge. (Source: Western Sydney Light Rail Network: Part 2 Feasibility Report, p. 6)

Parramatta City Council’s proposed 4 light rail lines. Click to enlarge. (Source: Western Sydney Light Rail Network: Part 2 Feasibility Report, p. 6)

The Olympic Park route received strong support from business groups, which formed the West Line Alliance and offered to part fund the line to the tune $1.1bn in “voluntary planning arrangements”. It also provides the opportunity for urban renewal of the Camellia industrial zone, which West Line Alliance spokesman Christopher Brown claims could provide 21,000 homes over the next 20 years.

Artists impression of light rail in Parramatta. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Artists impression of light rail in Parramatta. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The reason for this change of heart on the Macquarie Park alignment remains unclear. But a hint comes from Simon in the comments section of this blog:

“I’ve heard back from the government that a reason the via Eastwood alignment has not been proceeded with for the Parramatta Light Rail is difficulty getting through Brush Farm.” – Simon (June 5, 2015 at 5:16 PM)

The Brush Farm Estate was purchased by Gregory Blaxland in 1807, while the Brush Farm House built on the property in 1820 is “one of the most substantial houses surviving from the Macquarie period…[and] represents a nationally important site where some of the colony’s initial land grants were made”. Prior plans for a light rail line through this site involved a viaduct travelling above the property.

Commentary: Why the Olympic Park line is a winner

Last year in 2014, this blog called for light rail from Westmead to Macquarie Park to be built. That view stands. A line from Westmead to Macquarie Park, via Parramatta and Eastwood, takes advantage of existing rail corridors and preserved reservations. It also provides much needed direct connections between growing centres that currently lack them. This was the proposal put forward by Parramatta City Council in 2013.

But that option is not on the table. Instead, in 2015 the NSW Government is considering a line to Macquarie Park via Carlingford and Epping. This would require a difficult connection between Carlingford and Epping, currently heavily congested on the surface; it would then either duplicate an existing heavy rail line from Epping to Macquarie Park or terminate at Epping, requiring a transfer to complete the journey.

If the choice is between a line to Macquarie Park via Epping or a line to Olympic Park, then the Government’s preferred choice of Olympic Park becomes a lot more convincing. Add in the potential for private sector funding and opportunities for urban renewal, and the case for an Olympic Park line is even harder to argue against. This line will also provide the core of a future network. It will make future extensions to Macquarie Park, Carlingford, Castle Hill, and Bankstown easier.

VIDEO: Public Transport, Malcolm Turnbull (May 2007)

Monday: Light rail to Olympic Park could pay for itself

A new light rail line from Parramatta to Sydney Olympic Park could be paid for by raising $2.9bn in voluntary developer levies along the “Olympic Corridor”. The proposal has been raised by the WestLine Partnership, an alliance of business and local government groups representing interests between Parramatta and Sydney Olympic Park. Both the NSW Government and Opposition have committed to building at least one of four short listed light rail lines from Parramatta if they are elected to office. Though a line from Parramatta to Macquarie Park was initially seen as the most likely, a line from Parramatta to Olympic Park is now firming up as the favourite. It was mentioned specifically by Opposition Leader Luke Foley, and has also received the backing of Western Sydney Business Chamber Director David Borger.

Parramatta City Council's proposed 4 light rail lines. Click to enlarge. (Source: Western Sydney Light Rail Network: Part 2 Feasibility Report, p. 6)

Parramatta City Council’s proposed 4 light rail lines. Click to enlarge. (Source: Western Sydney Light Rail Network: Part 2 Feasibility Report, p. 6)

Monday: Light rail gets planning approval

Planning approval has been given to modifications proposed to the CBD and South East Light Rail Line. Changes include the removal of one stop along George St in the CBD and the relocation of the light rail line to the Northern side of Alison Road, opposite the Randwick Racecourse. The Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian said “The green light from planning means we can roll out longer light rail vehicles with more seats for customers and 50 per cent more capacity, allowing us to move up to 13,500 passengers every hour”. Construction will begin later this year, and is expected to be completed in 2018, with the line opening in early 2019.

Thursday: Nile adds conditions to asset sale

The Christian Democratic Party’s leader Fred Nile has added conditions to supporting the 99 year lease of the state’s electricity distribution assets. Mr Nile has demanded that workers rights be protected, seeking that “There would be no sackings for five years [and] their existing conditions and superannuation arrangements must be guaranteed”. The Coalition, which is seeking to lease the assets in order to go ahead with its $20bn infrastructure plans, is not expected to gain an absolute majority in the NSW Upper House and will likely need the support of the CDP in order to do so.

Saturday: WestConnex gets approval from Infrastructure Australia

Infrastructure Australia has given WestConnex, the proposed 33km surface and tunnel freeway connecting the M4 and M5 freeways in Sydney’s West via Sydney’s Inner West, the green light. IA found that WestConnex would provide $1.80 in benefits for every $1.00 spent, although this is less than the $2.55 that the NSW Government claimed it would provide in a 2013 report.

However, the report is based on the assumption that no additional car trips will occur as a result of the road’s construction. These “induced” trips were partly responsible for Melbourne’s East West Link receiving a benefit cost ratio of 0.45, compared to WestConnex’s 1.8. The report also does not take as conservative an approach to potential cost blowouts as IA normally takes, potentially understating the cost and thus overstating the benefit cost ratio.

Despite this, IA believes that the benefit cost ratio would still be above 1 (indicating benefits outweigh the costs), even if these two anomolies were taken into account.

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.