Posts Tagged ‘Parramatta to Epping Rail Link’

The transport bureaucracy underwent a war of ideas last decade between supporters of single deck and double deck trains, according to one of the author’s of the Sydney Morning Herald’s 2010 Independent Public Inquiry into a Long-Term Public Transport Plan for Sydney, Sandy Thomas, in a 13 page article called ‘Fixing’ the trains in Sydney: 1855 revisited. The metro advocates would come out victorious, according to Mr Thomas, and their advice has been accepted without question by Transport Ministers since, despite only representing one side of the debate. He further laments that this could lead to a repeat of the year 1855, when different rail gauges in different parts of Australia prevented a unified rail network, but this time with narrower and steeper tunnels preventing double deck trains from ever using big chunks of the current Cityrail network.

Mr Thomas outlines the history that led up to this point, starting with the Metropolitan Rail Expansion Program of 2005, which would see the construction of the North West Rail Link (NWRL), South West Rail Link (SWRL), and a Second Harbour Crossing, as well as track amplifications from Chatswood to St Leonards and Redfern to Campbelltown. Together with some existing lines, these would form an entirely new fast and frequent line in the network comprised of longer ten-carriage trains for long distance trips through to the North West and South West Growth Centres, operating independently from the rest of the network. It would increase CBD capacity by almost a third.

Once built, all future lines would also be entirely separate, running independently, most likely with single deck metro rolling stock.

The 2005 Metropolitan Rail Expansion Plan. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: 1855.)

The 2005 Metropolitan Rail Expansion Plan. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: ‘Fixing’ the trains in Sydney: 1855 revisited.)

Critics of this plan included some within the Transport Department who saw Railcorp as inefficient, led on by the Rail, Tram, and Bus Union, as well as those who were motivated by what Mr Thomas describes as “playing with new train sets”. These critics found support in the NSW Treasury – from which many staff of Infrastructure NSW would be drawn from later on – who also wanted an independent line that could be operated privately instead of by Railcorp.

“the infighting, largely but not wholly hidden from public view, was by all accounts long and bitter. To this day many of the personalities involved scarcely talk to each other” – Sandy Thomas, ‘Fixing’ the trains in Sydney: 1855 revisited, page 3 (February 2013)

Together, these public servants convinced the politicians to dump the MREP and instead immediately build a new series of metro lines. Mr Thomas explains that this was done by the presenting of selective details of each plan, rather than painting the full picture, and that politicians with little to no background in transport planning accepted these half truths as fact.

“the reports of public servants and consultants whose findings turn out to be “inconvenient” can be and have been ruthlessly suppressed” – Sandy Thomas, ‘Fixing’ the trains in Sydney: 1855 revisited, page 13 (February 2013)

The first of these would be the North West Metro, which would take the existing NWRL and connect it to the CBD via Victoria Road, rather than the then still under construction Epping to Chatswood Line, in part to avoid an expensive Second Harbour Crossing. Mr Thomas points out that while this new line provided Victoria Road with a rail line, it bypassed the jobs rich corridor of Macquarie Park, Chatswood, St Leonards, and North Sydney.

This was planned to be only the first of a number of new metros, including metros to the Northern Beaches as well as under Parramatta Road and Anzac Parade. However, a lack of funds resulted in it being contracted to “CBD Metro”, going out as far as Rozelle, only to be abandoned altogether in 2009.

2007 Sydney Metros plan. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Wikipedia.)

The 2007 Sydney Metros plan. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Wikipedia.)

The government returned to something broadly resembling the MREP: the NWRL and SWRL, but replacing the Second Harbour Crossing with a “Western Express”, which would allow fast trains from Sydney’s West to continue through to Wynyard via a “City Relief Line” under the CBD. A promise of funding from the federal government also added the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL) to that list of projects. A change of government in 2011 saw the incoming O’Farrell government keep and prioritise the NWRL and SWRL, while deferring and eventually dumping the Western Express and PERL.

Meanwhile, inside the Transport for NSW, a new plan was designed to convert part of the existing network to single deck metro trains, including the existing Harbour Crossing in an attempt to avoid building a Second Harbour Crossing. This plan was leaked to the media, and consisted of the NWRL and North Shore Line to the North as well as the Inner West Line, Bankstown Line, and part of the Illawarra Line through to Hurstville (utilising a second pair of tracks between Sydenham and Hurstville).

Mr Thomas explains that this plan was prevented from getting the green light because it would be unable to handle 28 to 30 trains per hour, as previously believed, and therefore not provide the additional cross Harbour capacity that it promised. It too, would be abandoned (though while still in the planning stages), and plans for a Second Harbour Crossing were once again put back on the table.

The 2011 leaked metro conversion plan. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: 'Fixing' the trains in Sydney: 1855 revisited.)

The 2011 leaked metro conversion plan. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: ‘Fixing’ the trains in Sydney: 1855 revisited.)

Uncertainty remained. Mr Thomas points out that while Transport for NSW opposition to a new double deck line integrated into the Cityrail network was shared by Treasury, and now also Infrastructure NSW, that this did not extend to large scale expansion of the rail network. Instead these were “advocates of greater spending on motorways rather than public transport, including Infrastructure NSW supremos Nick Greiner and Paul Broad, [who] were actively ramping up their efforts to kill off any form of the North West Rail Link project” (Sandy Thomas, ‘Fixing’ the trains in Sydney: 1855 revisited, page 4).

As it were, Infrastructure NSW did endorse the NWRL, most likely due to pressure from the government, but opposed the construction of a Second Harbour Crossing, instead suggesting the government opt for the previously rejected metro conversion. Transport for NSW instead suggested a Second Harbour Crossing in addition to, rather than in lieu of, a metro conversion. The government sided with Transport for NSW.

The 2012 Sydney Rail Futures plan. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: 'Fixing' the trains in Sydney: 1855 revisited.)

The 2012 Sydney’s Rail Future plan. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: ‘Fixing’ the trains in Sydney: 1855 revisited.)

This plan, known as Sydney’s Rail Future, included a modified version of the NWRL with narrower and steeper tunnels, too small to fit existing double deck trains and too steep for them to run through even if they did fit. It is here that Mr Thomas makes not so much his main criticism, but almost a plea to the Transport Minister. His concluding remarks are replicated below in full.

“But there’s one simple step that NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian can and should take immediately: veto the lunatic attempt by her bureaucrats to quietly create a multiple “loading gauge” rail network in Sydney through the specification of unnecessarily small and steep tunnels on the North West Rail Link.

If Ms Berejiklian does this, she’ll be rightly remembered as the politician who took less than a year to unravel the loomingmess ofmultiple gauges in Sydney. In comparison, that first “expert” multiple gauge decision in Sydney, in 1855, is still creating problems around the nation 158 years on.

If she does intervene in this way, even if realpolitiks forces her in the short term to persist with Sydney’s Rail Future’s cobbled together “vision” for second-best services on the North West Rail Link, in the longer term sanity can be restored and everyone wanting to keep open a real possibility of much-needed, cost-effective improvements in all of Sydney’s rail services, instead of the cannibalisation and quiet dismantling that is now proposed, will have cause to thank her forever.” – Sandy Thomas, ‘Fixing’ the trains in Sydney: 1855 revisited, page 13 (February 2013)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NSW Newspoll

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

The idea for a Parramatta to Chatswood rail link dates back to the days of Dr John Bradfield almost 100 years ago when he recommended building a line from St Leonards to Eastwood as part of his rail expansion program. While Dr Bradfield did see the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, completion of the underground CBD subway, and electrification of much of the network, much of the rest of his plans were shelved due to the onset of the Great Depression, followed shortly by the Second World War, and then the car and freeway boom of the post-war era.

It was not until the Carr government’s Action for Transport plan in 1998 when s plan to build a rail line between  Parramatta and Chatswood was seriously raised once more. The line would go from Westmead to St Leonards, using an upgraded Carlingford Line and then a tunnel between Carlingford and Chatswood. One of the major benefits of the new line would be that it would allow residents of Western Sydney to access the Lower North Shore without having to build an expensive second Harbour Crossing. In effect, it was a second Harbour Crossing, but it crossed the Harbour near Parramatta, where deep tunnels or long bridges would not be needed.

Parramatta to Chatswood Rail Link

The Parramatta to Chatswood Rail Link was originally to go from Westmead to St Leonards. Only the Eastern portion, between Epping and Chatswood, was actually constructed in 2009, leaving the Western portion unbuilt. (Source: Historical NSW Railway Timetables)

Overall, the 1998 plan was, like the more recent metro plan from 2007, to be funded by the sale of NSW’s electricity assets. When this sale was blocked by the ruling Labor Party’s state conference, many of the planned infrastructure projects were shelved with it (though not the road projects, as these were to be funded via private tolls, and were not reliant on government funding).

UPDATE: The M5 East was completed despite being funded by the government, rather than tolls. As construction on this had already started in 1998, it may have been too late to abandon it once the planned privatisations were blocked.

The Parramatta to Chatswood line was not entirely abandoned, but it was truncated to the Epping to Chatswood Rail Link, with the unbuilt portion: the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL) having been deemed to not provide sufficient patronage to justify its construction. Additionally, opposition from local residents and environmental groups meant the alignment was re-routed deeper underground so as to bypass parts of a national park. This resulted in delays, a blowout in construction costs, and the abandonment of a previously planned train station at the UTS Kuringai campus.

Parramatta to Chatswood alignments

The original Southern alignment included a station at UTS Kuringai, which was later abandoned when the deeper Northern alignment was chosen. The Dehli Road Station was retained, but moved closer to Macquarie Park. (Source: Action for Transport, NSW Government, 1998, page 18.)

By the time this new line had been completed in 2009, the state government had announced plans to build a new metro out to Rouse Hill in Northwest Sydney, then truncated it to Rozelle in Sydney’s Inner West (due to the ALP conference again preventing the sale of electricity assets which were to fund it), and would soon abandoning the metro project altogether in favour of the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) and Southwest Rail Link.

Missing from all of these plans was the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link, until it was revived in 2010 by the Prime Minister Julia Gillard as part of an election promise to fund its construction. The Commonwealth government would contribute $2.1bn, with the state government required to fund the remainder, which was then estimated at a mere $500m. Problems soon emerged, with the cost estimated blowing out from $2.6bn to $4.4bn, meaning the NSW contribution would now be a far less affordable $2.3bn, and a change in government resulting in NSW prioritizing the NWRL over the PERL, which was quietly dumped entirely soon after.

Ironically, the NWRL vs PERL debate comes back to the question of a second Harbour Crossing. A NWRL will necessitate a second Harbour Crossing in order to meet the increased demand on the North Shore Line, while the PERL provides an alternate approach into the North Shore. However, a decade’s worth of densification of housing on the North Shore and the resulting increase in train frequencies along the North Shore Line to meet the increased demand means that the spare capacity that existed in the late 1990s no longer exists. This means that the dream of the PERL providing that second Harbour Crossing on the cheap has disappeared along with that spare capacity.

Instead the debate has moved on to providing some other sort of public transport improvement for the Parramatta to Macquarie Park corridor. Most recently the Parramatta Council has proposed light rail as a possible solution. Thus far the state government’s response has been that it will investigate the idea, but has not committed to anything further.

Three different alignments have been proposed for the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) over the years: via Strathfield, via Chatswood, and via Parramatta.

The Options

The first (via Strathfield) involved the line from Castle Hill linking up with the Northern Line around Cheltenham on the surface, allowing trains to travel into the CBD either via Strathfield or Chatswood. This was abandoned due to the requirement that the line be quadruplicating between Epping and Cheltenham in order to prevent that portion of dual track from becoming a bottleneck. Local opposition and a cost so high that tunnelling was a cheaper option led to this alignment being abandoned in favour of the second option.

NWRL via Strathfield: The alignment goes from Castle Hill to Cheltenham and then Epping via a surface route, allowing it to get to the CBD via both Strathfield and Chatswood. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Wikipedia.)

The second (via Chatswood) is the currently planned alignment. It involves connecting the rail tunnels directly to the underground station at Epping, which means all NWRL trains must continue on to Chatswood and cannot divert to Strathfield. This reduces flexibility, but Cityrail’s Clearways program of sectorising the rail network into independent lines meant that flexibility wasn’t something Cityrail was looking for anyway.

NWRL via Chatswood: The alignment goes from Castle Hill to Epping via an underground tunnel, continuing to Chatswood via Macquarie Park. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The third (via Parramatta) was floated by Parramatta Council as a way of getting the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL) built. It involved building the NWRL through to Castle Hill, then sending it South to Parramatta, before going to Epping and continuing through to Chatswood and then St Leonards (avoiding the need for an expensive Second Harbour Crossing). Passengers heading into the CBD could change at Parramatta for express services. However, it also meant a longer trip for anyone heading to Macquarie Park or the North Shore.

NWRL via Parramatta: The alignment goes from Castle Hill to Parramatta and then Epping. The dotted line shows the via Strathfield alignment. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Channel Ten News.)

All three options see capacity constraints for CBD trips: with the Western, Northern, and North Shore Lines all highly congested and near capacity.

Where do people from The Hills want to go?

The locations that Hills residents desire to travel to is ultimately what should determine which of the 3 options should be taken. For the purpose of determining this, work commutes will be taken into account (as data is most easily available for these, though the most recent data I was able to obtain was from 2001). I’ll be using Bus Contract Region 4 (see map below) as a proxy for The Hills, however this also includes areas further South such as Westmead, Northmead, Carlingford, etc. Calculations are included at the end.

Bus contract regions map. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Most Hills residents (57% [1]) work outside of large centres. The widespread nature of where their work is located means that public transport is unlikely to compete with the private vehicle for their work commutes. Nor should it, as these are the sorts of trips which require the flexibility of a car, rather than the capacity of public transport. The remaining 43% work in large centres [A], primarily in Parramatta/Westmead – 9.9% [A], the Global Economic Arc (Macquarie Park, Chatswood, St Leonards/Crows Nest, and North Sydney) – 7.7% [B], the Sydney CBD – 7.3% [1], Castle Hill – 4.7% [A], and various other centres – 12.6% [1]. These are respectively shown in green, blue, yellow, grey, and brown in the chart below.

Note: The above diagram shows North Sydney as having a 42% jobs share. That is a typo. It should read 2.3%

Given the southern half of Region 4 includes suburbs between Parramatta and The Hills, which are likely to over represent the number of people who work in Parramatta/Westmead, the proportion of Hills residents who work in Parramatta/Westmead is likely to be less than 9.9%. That would make each of the 3 major employment zones (Parramatta/Westmead, the Global Economic Arc, and the Sydney CBD) are roughly equal in size, with Castle Hill close behind them.

How the different alignments stack up

All three options have the same alignment up to Castle Hill, at which point they begin to diverge. So it is the other 3 employment zones which differentiate the alignments.

The via Parramatta alignment is the only one that provides access to Parramatta/Westmead (the latter via a change of train at Parramatta). It also provides access to both the CBD (with a change of train at Parramatta) and the Global Economic Arc (by continuing on via the Parramatta to Epping Line). However, the former is capacity constrained and the latter would be delayed by having to travel to Parramatta before continuing to Epping.

The via Strathfield alignment gives no access to Parramatta/Westmead. By allowing some trains to go to the CBD via Strathfield and some via Chatswood, capacity constraints are limited. However, it also limits access to the Global Economic Arc. Eventually, construction of a Second Harbour Crossing can allow all trains to travel via Chatswood, providing good access to both the CBD and Global Economic Arc.

The via Chatswood alignment gives no access to Parramatta/Westmead. It gives the best access to the Global Economic Arc, initially with direct trains to Macquarie Park and Chatswood, but easily extended to St Leonards by quadruplicating the track between Chatswood and St Leonards. Eventually, construction of a Second Harbour Crossing can allow all trains to travel directly to the CBD, providing good access to both the CBD as well as the Global Economic Arc.

The via Parramatta option provides benefits if a Second Harbour Crossing does not happen, and is partly designed to defer the need for one. It also highlights why the government has committed to a Second Harbour Crossing – it unlocks much of the potential of the NWRL. This makes the via Parramatta option a viable one, but also one that suffers from short sighted vision, as a Second Harbour Crossing will eventually be needed, but will be less useful if there is no NWRL for it to connect to.

The via Strathfield and via Chatswood options seem roughly neck and neck, especially considering either can be upgraded with a Second Harbour Crossing to run trains directly to the CBD via Chatswood, providing good connections to both the Global Economic Arc and CBD. But there are 2 things that make the via Chatswood option superior. First, it avoids the problems of building the surface route between Epping and Cheltenham to avoid capacity constraints on that portion of track – including high cost of land acquisition, delays due to the need to start planning again from scratch on that portion of the line, and strong local opposition. Second, it goes against the concept of sectorisation, mixing different trains on the same lines – in particular this would prevent an effective private sector operation of the new line and the associated cost benefits that could come from it.

Conclusion

Each alignment has advantages and disadvantages, and there is no clear superior option. However, the NWRL via Chatswood alignment does appear to have a slight edge over the other options, on the assumption that a Second Harbour Crossing is built right after the NWRL is completed (as is current government policy).

However, this does not increase capacity on between the Hills to Parramatta, so improvements here should also be considered, particularly on the key Windsor Rd and Old Windsor Rd corridors. The former has a proposal for light rail linking Parramatta to Castle Hill currently undergoing a feasibility study, while the latter already has a T-Way where increased bus frequencies would easily achieve improved mobility.

Sources

[1]: Contract Region 4 (page 15)

[2]: Contract Region 7 (page 6)

[3]: Employment and Commuting in Sydney’s Centres, 1996 – 2006 (page 8)

Calculations

[A]: “Of the workforce living in Region 4 approximately 43% work in major centres. Of those employed in centres, most were employed in…the centres of Parramatta (16%), Castle Hill (11%) and Westmead (7%)” [1]

Castle Hill: 11% x 43% = 4.7%

Parramatta: 16% x 43% = 6.9%

Westmead: 7% x 43% = 3.0%

Parramatta/Westmead: 6.9% + 3.0% = 9.9%

[B] 13.2% of Region 4 workers are employed in Region 7, which includes all 4 centres of the Global Economic Arc [1]

Region 7 employs 206,500 workers in total [2]

Each of the centres in the Global Economic Arc employ the following number of workers: Macquarie Park (26,814), Chatswood (19,842), St Leonards/Crows Nest (36,514), North Sydney (36,597) [3]

Macquarie Park: 13.2% x ( 26,814 / 206,500 ) = 1.7%

Chatswood: 13.2% x (19,842 / 206,500 ) = 1.3%

St Leonards/Crows Nest: 13.2% x (36,514 / 206,500 ) = 2.3%

North Sydney: 13.2% x (36,597 / 206,500 ) = 2.3%

Global Economic Arc = 1.7% + 1.3% + 2.3% + 2.3% = 7.7%

The completed second Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) was released yesterday, and it has some further details on the project.

The Northwest Rail Link will include a new railway from Epping to Rouse Hill (green), plus a retrofitted Epping to Chatswood Line (blue). Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NWRL EIS – Introduction, page 1-3.)

NWRL Details

The new rail line is expected to remove 14 million cars off the road each year in 2021, rising to 20 million by 2036. This 14 million cars figure compares to an earlier figure of 9 million new passengers per year in 2021, prepared by NSW Treasury in July of last year, which suggests that the patronage forecast has been increased following the addition of 2 more stations to the line (Bella Vista and Cudgegong Road) and from higher frequency, higher speed services provided by single deck compared to double deck trains.

The estimated completion date remains 2019, with tunneling to begin in 2014, then trackwork and station construction to occur between 2016 and 2018.

Construction timeline. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NWRL Environmental Impact Statement – Executive Summary, page 8.)

The new line will commence from the existing stub tunnels at Epping that were designed as the beginning of the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL). New stub tunnels will be built on the new line to allow for a future PERL to still be built as originally planned. This means that a future PERL will also be a single deck metro system.

No specific operating times are given, other than “early morning until late at night”, which suggests similar operating hours as the existing Cityrail network, rather than a 24/7 operation. The trains themselves are listed as having a capacity of 1,300 passengers (presumably including standing passengers), compared to the existing double deck train “crush” capacity of approximately 1,200.

The line will see an increase in maximum speeds, from the existing 80km/hour to 100km/hour, and have frequencies of 12 trains per hour during the peak and 6 trains per hour at other times, with the potential to increase frequencies to 20 trains per hour if demanded. Commuters continuing past Chatswood will need to change there for a connecting train, with peak hour frequencies increased to 20 trains an hour on the North Shore line. This means that during peak hour there will be a train every 5 minutes on the NWRL, and every 3 minutes on the North Shore Line.

Artist’s impression of the new Kellyville Station. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NWRL EIS – Chapter 6, p. 6-53)

4,000 new park and ride spaces will be built on selected stations, while all stations on the line (including the existing Epping to Chatswood portion) will have kiss and ride, bike storage, taxi ranks and bus interchanges. Once completed, the bus network will be redesigned to have shorter distance but frequent feeder buses into the new rail line rather than long distance buses connecting directly to the CBD or North Sydney. This had already been announced previously, and no additional specific details are available are included on what the bus network changes will be.

The new line also includes a stabling yard on the Cudgegong Road end of the line.

Unanswered Questions

The new single deck metro line from Chatswood to Rouse Hill will require a conversion of the existing line between Chatswood and Epping to be compatible with the new rolling stock. Yet missing from the EIS (or hidden away in a hard to find place) is any mention of a timetable for when this will happen. The line will presumably have to be shut down while this occurs, and this would likely happen right before the full line opens, causing a not insignificant level of disruption. So the question remains: how long will the Epping to Chatswood Line be closed?

The EIS also contains information on peak hour frequencies on the North Shore Line of 20 trains per hour. This had already been hinted at, so it is a confirmation of an open secret rather than new information. What is missing is details of what sort of off peak frequencies will exist on the North Shore Line, and how they will be organised to interface with the 6 trains per hour on the NWRL that start and end at Chatswood.

Additionally, what will happen on the Northern Line? It only has 1 track pair, yet operates both local (all stops) and express services. The inability of the express services to overtake the local services means the capacity is capped at 8 trains per hour (4 local, 4 express). In order to increase this, either the express trains must be scrapped or the tracks must be quadruplicated to allow express trains to overtake local trains. The latter is preferable, though will incur a price tag of hundreds of millions of dollars, given that the Northern Line currently shares the title of highest level of overcrowding (average passenger levels equal to 150% of seats, above the recommended maximum “crush capacity” of 135%) with the Bankstown Line. Recent reports in the Herald suggest that this option is being considered by Transport for NSW, and this was further reinforced by comments made at recent Budget Estimates hearings where it was argued that these, and other costs, have already been budgeted for.

The maximum frequency for the NWRL is quoted as being 20 trains per hour, and not 28 or 30 trains per hour as had been previously suggested in media reports. One of the purported benefits of single deck over double deck trains was the higher frequencies possible given the shorter dwell times and higher acceleration/deceleration rates of single deck trains. In fact, the Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian has even pointed out that improved signaling technology is expected to raise the frequency of double deck trains to 24 trains per hour.

Finally, there is still no answer to the question of whether the NWRL will be a driverless system. The government’s line thus far is that they “are planning for the trains on this important rail link to have drivers”. This new phrase: “no plans” has become the new weasel word, as Sean Nichol’s explained so well in last weekend’s Herald. That is not to say that driverless trains are a bad thing, quite the contrary. But the government knows that it would face a backlash from the union were it to publically declare it was seriously considering the option. And rather than have to wait a long 7 years to demonstrate the benefits of a driverless metro, it seems to have chosen to hold off until as late into the process as it can in order to minimise union clashes.

Media reports

Bus services to go when rail link opens, Sydney Morning Herald

New rail line to slash car trips, Daily Telegraph

Noise annoys along North West Rail Link link, Daily Telegraph

North West Rail Link: Have your say, Northern District Times

North West rail station designs released, Hills Shire Times

The Transport Master Plan has highlighted a number of corridors in which it will consider either better bus connections or light rail, and in light of that it is logical to look at both as part of a larger package.

While it is the role of the heavy rail network to do the heavy lifting in Sydney’s transport network (about half of all people in Sydney live within 2km of a train station), it is designed primarily as a radial network to get people to and from the CBD. So buses and light rail serve to connect people to transport interchanges (often, but not always, a train station) as well as to provide cross city links that do not start or end in the CBD. To do this, the bus network will be redesigned (page 136), from a radial network with the CBD at the centre, to a grid network based on high frequency and transfers (for an explanation on the benefits of a network based on transfer, click on the link to Jarrett Walker’s transport blog). While this is an improvement, it does not appear to be followed with integrated fares. In other words, it should cost the same to get from A to B, regardless of what mode of transport you choose and how many transfers you make, and it does not appear that this will be the case. Instead, you will be charged extra for being inconvenienced by a forced transfer.

A hypothetical “grid” network for the Inner City bus network. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Herald Independent Transport Inquiry, page 315.)

The other major network wide change related to buses in the Sydney CBD. Currently most buses operate on far side terminations, travelling into and through the CBD before terminating on the other end. This is an incredibly wasteful use of CBD road space, as it requires 2 buses to use the same road: one the is dropping passengers off and a second that is picking them up. To ensure a more efficient, and therefore faster trip, buses will either through route through the CBD or begin near side terminations (page 135). Metrobuses currently do through routing, passing through the CBD and then continuing out the other end, in effect halving the number of buses required to travel through the CBD and having the added benefit of providing a cross city connection for passengers starting and ending their journey outside of the CBD. Near side terminations will involve buses terminating at an interchange either outside the CBD or on the edge of the CBD where passengers will be change to a frequent (and also faster, due to less bus congestion) vehicle that will take them to their final destination within the CBD. That vehicle could be another bus, a light rail vehicle or a train, depending on specific circumstances.

As for specific projects, the Master Plan list out a number of corridors, which are listed below in rough order of priority. In the short term, improvements will be made to existing bus services, with a longer term view to putting in place Bus Rapid Transit or Light Rail.

Northern Beaches Bus Rapid Transit

An options paper has already been released in regards to the Northern Beaches, and here it has been decided to go with BRT, rather than light rail. What hasn’t yet been decided is what sort of upgrades are to be made. All options require an upgrade of the Spit and Narabeen Bridges to 6 lanes, and include:

  1. Making bus lanes 24 hours. Cost: $336m
  2. Segregated BRT on the kerb. Cost: $488m
  3. Segregated BRT on the median. Cost: $572m
  4. Segregated BRT on the median, but with buses terminating at North Sydney rather than in Sydney CBD. Cost: $552m
  5. Segregated BRT on the median, with a tunnel under Military Road connecting the Spit Junction with the Waringah Freeway. Cost: $1.2bn

The Treasurer, Mike Baird, who’s Pittwater electorate is located in the Northern Beaches, has said that he prefers the tunnel option.

The East-West link between Dee Why and Chatswood would upgrade the bus lanes to 24 hours and cost $77m.

Transport for NSW has shortlisted 6 options for building BRT for the Northern Beaches. The currently predicted alignment is shown on this map. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport Master Plan, page 153.)

Victoria Road Bus Rapid Transit or Light Rail

Further investigation will be made into whether BRT or light rail can be used on the Victoria Road corridor between Parramatta and the CBD. (See: Transport Master Plan, pages 151 and 185.)

Light Rail in the CBD and out to UNSW/Randwick

The government’s light rail feasibility study, which is completed, has not yet been released to the public, but details of it were included in the Transport Master Plan. It suggests a new line will be a North-South line linking Circular Quay in the North to the University of NSW/Prince of Wales Hospital in the South. Options for an alignment via Oxford Street have been rejected, probably in part because this would prevent the line from connecting Central Station to Circular Quay. Light rail to Barangaroo via The Rocks and out to the University of Sydney are of lower priority. Once it is operational, bus lines that previously went into the city would be re-routed to operate as feeder services for light rail.

What has not yet been determined is whether the line will run along the surface along Devonshire Street, or if it will be built in a tunnel underneath it. The tunnel option has been rumoured to cost $100m. A tunnel would allow a faster and more reliable trip. The speed is a key factor, as it also reduced the need for additional rolling stock and staff required, thus reducing operating costs, while the increased patronage will boost fares received. The lower costs and higher revenues would, in theory, repay the additional cost of the tunnel option over time.

The option is also left open to link the Anzac Parade and Alison Road alignments via High Street along UNSW. However, given the steep gradient of High Street, I’m not sure trams would be able to operate along that alignment.

A new light rail line is expected to run between Circular Quay, down George Street to Central, along Devonshire St to the SGC and Randwick Racecourse before going South on Anzac Parade to UNSW or East along Alison Road to the Prince of Wales Hospital. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport Master Plan, page 155.)

Longer term Bus Rapid Transit corridors: M2 and Windsor Road

Over the longer term, BRT will also be considered for the M2 between Seven Hills and Macquarie Park, as well as Windsor Road between Parramatta and Castle Hill. (See: Transport Master Plan, page 185.)

Parramatta Light Rail

The Parramatta City Council has been pushing for a light rail network centred around Parramatta, in part to compensate for the lack of a Parramatta to Epping Rail Link. The Transport Master Plan acknowledges this proposal, suggesting that it will consider the recommendations of any feasibility study that the Council is able to commission. (See: Transport Master Plan, page 189.)

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.