Posts Tagged ‘Private sector’

VIDEO: Malcolm Turnbull announces new Cabinet (ABC News)

The new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will abandon the ban on urban rail funding and have a Minister for Cities instead of an Assistant Minister for Infrastructure. In a 14 minute press conference yesterday announcing his new ministerial line up, Mr Turnbull dedicated almost 3 minutes to cities and urban transport in which he stated that “infrastructure should be assessed objectively and rationally on its merits” and that “there is no place for ideology here at all”.

Malcolm Turnbull in Perth before becoming Prime Minister, about to take the train to Mandurah. Click to enalrge. (Source: Malcolm Turnbull.)

Malcolm Turnbull in Perth before becoming Prime Minister, about to take the train to Mandurah. Click to enalrge. (Source: Malcolm Turnbull.)

Mr Turnbull, an avid promoter of public transport who still intends to catch public transport as Prime Minister, is famous not just for taking public transport but also announcing to the world that he takes public transport.

“Livable vibrant cities are absolutely critical to our prosperity. Historically the federal government has had a limited engagement with cities. And yet that is where most Australian live. It is where the bulk of our economic growth can be found. We often overlook the fact that livable cities, efficient productive cities, the environment of cities are economic assets.

You know, making sure that Australia is a wonderful place to live in, that our cities and indeed our regional centres are wonderful places to live is an absolutely key priority of every level of government. Because the most valuable capital in the world today is not financial capital, there’s plenty of that and it is very mobile. The most valuable capital today is human capital. Men and women like ourselves who can choose to live anywhere. We have to ensure for our prosperity, for our future, for our competitiveness that every level of government works together constructively and creatively to ensure that our cities progress.

That federal funding of infrastructure in cities, for example, is tied to outcomes that will promote housing affordability. Integration is critical. We shouldn’t be discriminating between one form of transit and another. There is no ‘roads are not better than mass transit’ or vice versa. Each of them has their place. Infrastructure should be assessed objectively and rationally on its merits. There is no place for ideology here at all. The critical thing is to ensure that we get the best outcome in our cities.

Now of course, we have a Minister for Regional Development in the Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss. But cities have been overlooked, I believe, historically from the federal perspective. So within the Ministry for the Environment I’m appointing the Honorable Jamie Briggs MP to be the Minister to Cities and the Built Environment to work with Greg Hunt, the Environment Minister, to develop a new Australian Government agenda for our cities in cooperation with states, local government, and urban communities.” – Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister (Press Conference, 20/09/2015)

The former Assistant Minister for Infrastructure Jamie Briggs will become the Minister for Cities and Built Environment. Transport and urban development consultant Alan Davies points out that this moves the cities portfolio out of the Department of Infrastructure, where cabinet member and Minister for Infrastructure Anthony Albanese held responsibility for the then Major Cities Unit; shifting it into the Department of the Environment. Mr Briggs will not be in cabinet, and will instead rely on his senior: the Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt.

Mr Davies raises concerns that yesterday’s announcement was mostly symbolic and that he wants to see action, saying “I don’t think it can just be assumed the appointment of Mr Briggs heralds a new dawning for cities that goes beyond rhetoric”. He adds that Mr Briggs “is neither personally influential – he’ll have to rely on Greg Hunt’s efforts in Cabinet – nor pushing policies that most in his party think are critical issues. Mr Briggs administrative support will come from the Department of Environment; in terms of the Commonwealth’s influence on urban policy that’s a much less relevant portfolio than Infrastructure”.

This is a big turnaround from the previous Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, who refused to fund urban commuter rail and abolished the Major Cities Unit. Mr Abbott argued that the funding of public transport was not in the government’s knitting, preferring to leave this to the states. He promoted himself as the infrastructure Prime Minister, committing billions of dollars to transport infrastructure so long as that infrastructure was roads or freight rail. This was consistent with the views on transport outlined in his 2009 book Battlelines.

“…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, Leader of the Opposition (Battlelines, p. 174)

But this was not a unanimously held view within the Coalition. The Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss, who also holds the title of Minister for Infrastructure, has voiced his willingness to provide funding for rail projects: “The Federal Government is quite happy to fund metro rail projects” (Source: Herald Sun, Regional Rail Link unites state and federal MPs, 14/06/2015). Meanwhile, the Commonwealth Government has been willing to provide funding for urban rail projects as part of its asset recycling program; under this program it has provided funding to the NSW and ACT Governments for the Sydney Metro and Capital Metro projects.

NSW has a number of rail projects currently being planned which lack funding: the CBD and South East Light Rail extension South of Kingsford, light rail around Parramatta beyond the first line currently being planned, and a heavy rail line out to Badgerys Creek from the current South West Rail Link terminus at Leppington. But, these projects are all still in the planning phases and none will be shovel ready for many years. So the real test for the change of policy is likely to come from outside of NSW, with projects like the Melbourne Metro in Victoria and Brisbane’s Cross River Rail in Queensland.

However the most immediate project, which is both ready to go from a planning perspective and could be completed in the next few years, is the extension of the Gold Coast light rail. The Queensland Government is seeking to complete it in time for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, but has been unable to find sufficient funding for it. The initial line was funded jointly by the Commonwealth, Queensland, and Gold Coast Governments. The extension has the support of local MP Stuart Roberts, a member of the LNP and Turnbull supporter, and also the Queensland Government.

Queensland Deputy Premier Jackie Trad has called on Mr Turnbull to commit to funding the extension within a week, otherwise she argues that construction will not be able to commence in time to complete the project before the start of the 2018 Commonwealth Games. If this is the case, then Mr Davies’ question as to whether Mr Turnbull’s move is purely symbolic or not will be answered very soon.

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.

Open Drum – The Daily Commute

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

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

1 May: Rail line to Badgerys Creek downplayed

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

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

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

4 May: Opal-only ticket gates

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

7 May: Mousetrap to catch graffiti vandals

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

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

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

21 May: Light rail predicted to kill someone each year

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

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

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

26 May: NWRL tunneling 40% complete

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

26 May: Long Bay Prison sale under consideration

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

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

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

26 May: Congestion will be worse after WestConnex

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

28 May: Light rail construction schedule announced

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

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

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

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

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

28 May: mX axed

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

29 May: Electricity privatisation passes lower house

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

VIDEO: Infrastructure (Last Week Tonight with John Oliver)

Sydney Rapid Transit (SRT) could reach a new airport at Badgerys Creek, possibly via the existing Kingsford Smith airport at Mascot, as part of the Southern extension of a Second Harbour Rail Crossing. The idea was floated last week by the Transport Minister Andrew Constance when he said that “I think it is a case of putting all things on the table”, in which he also called on the Australian Government to provide funding for a rail line to Badgerys Creek. The Australian Government has committed $2.9bn in funding for roads to support the airport, but no money for rail.

The proposal is currently little more than a thought bubble. But if it were to happen, what could it look like and how would it build on existing plans that are already locked in?

The current plan

The North West Rail Link (NWRL) from Rouse Hill to Epping is currently under construction. It will be connected to the Epping to Chatswood Line, set to be closed in 2018 so that it can be converted, with the new Rouse Hill to Chatswood Line opening in 2019. Construction of a Second Harbour Rail Crossing from Chatswood to Sydenham will begin in 2017, and is expected to open in 2024. This will also see the Bankstown Line converted to single deck operation between Bankstown and Sydenham, also with a 2024 opening.

SYdney Rapid Transit following the conversion of the T3 Bankstown Line. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Rebuilding NSW Fact sheet 3, p1.)

SYdney Rapid Transit following the conversion of the T3 Bankstown Line. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Rebuilding NSW Fact sheet 3, p1.)

There are further plans to expand the line from Sydenham to Hurstville. Earlier plans showed the line extending from Bankstown to both Lidcombe and Cabramatta, but more recent plans show the line terminating at Bankstown and not continuing further.

Sydney Rapid Transit as currently proposed. Click to enlarge. (Source: Sandy Thomas, 1855 revisisted.)

Sydney Rapid Transit as currently proposed. Click to enlarge. (Source: Sandy Thomas, 1855 revisisted.)

Past plans

A rail line from the North West to the South West via the CBD is not a new concept. This is exactly what was proposed in 2005 as part of the Metropolitan Rail Expansion Program (MREP). This would involve the extension of the Epping to Chatswood Line via the construction of the NWRL and the extension of the then East Hills Line (now T2 Airport Line) via the construction of the South West Rail Link (SWRL). Core capacity would then be increased by building a new under the Harbour and CBD rail line, plus additional tracks from Chatswood to St Leonards; Sydenham to Erskineville; and Kingsgrove to Revesby. The difference is that the MREP proposal would use double deck trains and travel via Sydenham, therefore bypassing the existing Airport Line.

Metropolitan Rail Expansion Program. Click to enlarge. (Source: Sandy Thomas, 1855 revisisted.)

Metropolitan Rail Expansion Program. Click to enlarge. (Source: Sandy Thomas, 1855 revisisted.)

A metro line out towards Sydney’s South West was also part of a leaked 2012 report, which suggested extending SRT from Wolli Creek to Revesby. This would follow the initial conversion of the T3 Bankstown Line and then later also a portion of the T4 Illawarra through to Hurstville to the new SRT system. The latter of these two conversions passes through Wolli Creek, which would allow the portion of the T2 Airport Line to also be converted. SRT could then provide all station services on these lines, with the remaining T2 and T4 trains running express from the outer suburbs.

Previously proposed metro network for Sydney, including a line out to Revesby and the Northern Beaches. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, CBD Rail Capacity Program Rail Futures Investigations - Engineering & Construction, p30.)

Previously proposed metro network for Sydney, including a line out to Revesby and the Northern Beaches. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, CBD Rail Capacity Program Rail Futures Investigations – Engineering & Construction, p30.)

However, this proposal would not actually reach either airport.

How it could work

If both airports are to be connected then the entire T2 Airport Line would need to be converted to SRT between Glenfield and Central. The resultant shift of patronage from the T2 Airport Line to SRT together with the ability for SRT to reach the T2 Airport Line directly from Central without having to travel between Wolli Creek and Sydenham, eliminates the need to convert the T4 Illawarra Line to SRT. In fact, it would make more sense to maintain all station services from Hurstville within the Sydney Trains network and instead send them into the City Circle, joining the remaining T2 Airport Line trains (which would likely revert to the previous East Hills Line name, given they would no longer travel via the airport). This lifts the current capacity constraint on the T4 Illawarra Line, which along with the T1 Western Line is Sydney’s most congested.

The T2 Airport Line currently has 4 tracks between Wolli Creek through to Revesby in the West, where it drops down to 2 tracks. The line West of Revesby would need to be quadruplicated out to Glenfield, providing 2 tracks for T2 trains and 2 tracks for SRT trains. The Northern end of Glenfield Junction may also require some upgrading to prevent any conflicting moves between T2 and SRT trains, however the Southern end is flexible enough to be able to handle the merger of Sydney Trains and SRT services. From there it is simply a matter of converting the existing SWRL to SRT, while also extending the line out to Badgerys Creek or further.

Journeys from the SWRL would be limited to all stop services on SRT, which would probably take around 60 minutes from Badgerys Creek to Central (perhaps 45 minutes if SRT allowed for shorter dwell times and faster acceleration). Passengers could change at Glenfield with a simple cross platform transfer to a faster express train directly to Central (or elsewhere).

Meanwhile, the shutdown of the T2 Airport Line for SRT conversion could also be used as an opportunity to add an additional station (Doody St) between Mascot and Green Square and/or an additional station (Waterloo) between Green Square and Central. This would allow the Central to Sydenham alignment of SRT to take the Northern approach, via Sydney University; rather than the alternative proposal via Waterloo.

The proposed Doody St Station would be located between the existing Mascot and Green Square Stations on the Airport Line. Click to enlarge. (Source: EcoTransit.)

The proposed Doody St Station would be located between the existing Mascot and Green Square Stations on the Airport Line. Click to enlarge. (Source: EcoTransit.)

The 10km portion of the T2 Airport Line between Wolli Creek and Central is currently privately owned, but reverts to public ownership in 2030. Conversion would probably have to occur after 2030. However, with the initial Rouse Hill to Bankstown portion of SRT set to open in 2024 and an airport at Badgerys Creek set to open in 2026, the timing is not too far off the mark. Rail services would not be running on the day the airport opens, but they could commence a few years afterwards. This is problematic if the aim is rail on day one, but ideal timing if the aim is for a gradual increase in transport connections as airport usage ramps up over time.

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.

VIDEO: South West Rail Link Aerials

Thursday: Federal government funds first urban rail project

The Federal Government will provide $60m in funding to the ACT to help pay for a new light rail line as part of the federal government’s “asset recycling” policy. The Abbott Government has been unwilling up until now to fund urban rail, but had confirmed that rail projects would be considered for funding if state governments privatised state owned assets in a statement by the Assistant Infrastructure Minister Jamie Briggs in May of 2013.

2014-05-22 Jamie Briggs

Federal funding may also be provided for public transport projects to Victoria if the sale of Melbourne Port goes ahead and to NSW if the electricity distribution network is leased.

Thursday: Opposition infrastructure plan

The NSW Labor Opposition announced its infrastructure plan, a scaled back version of the Coalition’s infrastructure plan with fewer projects planned but without the 99 lease of the electricity assets that the Coalition plans to go ahead with. Under its plan, a Labor Government would complete the North West Rail Link; the CBD and South East Light Rail; the M4 and M5 stages of WestConnex (with the latter connecting to Botany rather than St Peters); and build a light rail line around Parramatta. A second Harbour Crossing would be deferred for 5 years and be subject to a cost-benefit analysis and business case. Both the Inner West bypass road tunnel connecting the M4 and M5 as well as a Western Harbour road tunnel would both be scrapped.

Monday: High speed rail costs could be halved

The Australasian Railway Association has released a report showing that, based on international construction costs of $35m/km, a high speed rail line from Brisbane to Melbourne could be built for $63bn. This is significantly less than the $114bn in the Australian Government’s recent high speed rail study.

Tuesday: 4 routes shortlisted for Parramatta light rail

An initial list of 10 possible light rail lines from Parramatta has been cut down to 4, with a final decision to be made in the near future. The government is set to pick a line connecting Parramatta to either Castle Hill, Macquarie Park, Olympic Park, or Bankstown.

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.)

Tuesday: Fuel excise indexation introduced via regulation

The indexation of the fuel excise is to be introduced by the Australian Government despite the Senate having blocked legislation to enable it. Reintroducing indexation will cause the price of petrol to rise by about 1c per year and is expected to raise $2.2bn over 4 years. The move is expected to put pressure on Senators to pass the measure so that the additional revenue raised does not have to be refunded to petrol companies.

Tuesday: Mobile apps to help with accessibility

The Government is calling on app developers to help create a series of apps that will meet the needs of people with a disability using public transport. This is aimed at ensuring compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act to provide better services for people with a disability. “Planning a journey, knowing that our stop is coming up next or even knowing which side of the train to alight from are tasks that most of us take for granted,” a Transport for NSW spokesman said, adding that “for customers with disability or impairment it can be a huge cause of anxiety”. Selected app proposals will receive seed funding, ongoing access to real time transport data as well as promotion of their product by Transport for NSW.

Thursday: Gold Opal card to be released

A Gold Opal card for seniors and pensioners is to be released on Monday 3 November. The card will feature a $2.50 daily cap and also offer free travel after the first 8 journeys each week. Speaking about existing paper tickets for seniors and pensioners, the Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian said that “the paper Pensioner Excursion Ticket will continue to be available on Monday November 3, and well into the future”. Gold Opal cards can only be obtained online or over the phone.

Thursday: 50,000 new homes for Parramatta Road

An additional 50,000 homes will be built along Parramatta Road over the coming decades, with over two thirds of homes slated for the Western end of these Parramatta Road between Granville and Strathfield. The NSW Government is planning to widen the M4 alongside this portion of Parramatta Road while building the M4 East Tunnel underneath the Eastern portion of Parramatta Road as part of its WestConnex project.

Map of the WestConnex freeway. Click to enlarge. (Source: RMS)

Map of the WestConnex freeway. Click to enlarge. (Source: RMS)

Friday: Whitlam Station proposed for NWRL

The terminus station on the North West Rail Link (NWRL) could be named Whitlam, after Blacktown City Council proposed naming a new suburb after the former Prime Minister. The station is currently known as Cudgegong Road.

Monday: New train station likely for Waterloo or Sydney University

The NSW Government is considering building a rail line via either Waterloo or Sydney University as part of its new Sydney Rapid Transit network according to a Sydney Morning Herald report. The line will connect to the currently under construction North West Rail Link via a Second Harbour Crossing at its Northern end near Central Station and to the Bankstown Line at its Southern end near Sydenham Station. Transport for NSW is believed to prefer a Sydney University alignment, while Urban Growth NSW, a government urban development agency, is believed to prefer a Waterloo alignment to support new developments in the area.

Erskineville Station has space on the Western end (right in this photo) for an additional 2 tracks and 2 platforms. This space may or may not be used as part of a new line between Central and Sydenham. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author.)

Erskineville Station has space on the Western end (right in this photo) for an additional 2 tracks and 2 platforms. This space may or may not be used as part of a new line between Central and Sydenham. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author.)

An alignment also exists between Sydenham and Erskineville at add an extra pair of tracks and new platforms at both Erskineville and St Peters Stations. It is unclear whether this surface alignment will be used or if the new line will run entirely underground through to Sydenham.

Thursday: Credit cards could soon be used instead of Opal cards

The Commonwealth Bank is understood to be in talks with the Government to develop the ability to use credit or debit cards to pay for fares instead of Opal Cards. The Opal system was designed with the technical capability to use any contactless credit or debit card (i.e. anything able to use Paywave or PayPass), as well as Opal cards in order to pay a fare. London’s Oyster Card, which is based on the same technology as the Opal Card, has already introduced such a system; meanwhile the Commonwealth Bank was one member of the consortium involved in the design and rollout of Opal.

VIDEO: Man races a train to the next stop

Tuesday: Parking minimums for new developments scrapped

New developments near transport hubs in and around the inner city will no longer be required to include parking spaces as part of government reforms to planning laws. Including a parking space can add an additional $50,000 or more to the cost of a unit, with the changes designed to allow inner city residents who do not need or want a parking space from being forced to pay for one. Developers can still choose to include parking spaces, should market demand for them exist. Opposition to the plan prevented it from being extended to outer suburban locations, with critics worried that it would result in cars spilling over into streets and using up the limited amount of available on-street parking in the inner city.

Tuesday: Replacement Epping to Chatswood Line bus routes announced

Five indicative bus routes have been identified which will run while the Epping to Chatswood Line is shut down during 2018 and 2019. The line is being upgraded as part of the North West Rail Link and will not operate for 7 months. During this time, additional bus services will operate to connect the T1 Northern Line and T1 North Shore Lines that are currently linked by rail between Epping to Chatswood.

5 bus routes will replace the Epping to Chatswood Rail Link in 2018 and 2019 during the 7 months that it is being upgraded as part of the North West Rail Link. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

5 bus routes will replace the Epping to Chatswood Rail Link in 2018 and 2019 during the 7 months that it is being upgraded as part of the North West Rail Link. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Thursday: Registration of Interest for Maldon to Dombarton Line opens

Update: Northern Line added (10:52PM, 28/09/2014)

The NSW Government has called on private sector investors to show their interest in building and operating the 35km Maldon to Dombarton Rail Line. The freight line would connect Port Kembla in Wollongong to the Southern Sydney Freight Line, potentially removing freight trains from the T4 Illawarra Line that currently travel via Sutherland to reach Sydney from Port Kembla. This could mean a completely segregated freight and passenger rail network in metropolitan Sydney outside of the Western Line and Northern Line, much of which consists of 2 pairs of tracks and can better handle disruptions to passenger services caused by broken down freight trains, while also allowing more freight to operate during the busy commuter peak hour during which curfews are in place for freight trains on much of the passenger network.

Construction on the Maldon to Dombarton freight line began in 1983 but was never completed due to an economic downturn and the forecast growth in coal traffic not eventuating.

Saturday: Rail line building plan to be scrapped

Plans to build high rise buildings close to the CBD by utilising the airspace above the rail line between Central and Redfern Stations looks set to be abandoned. The plan has proven to be too risky and too expensive. This made it unlikely that the private sector would be willing to bear the risk of the project, leaving the Government the risk burden. The plan, which would also contain a redevelopment of industrial areas on either side of the rail line near Redfern, had been compared to Barangaroo in size and scale.

VIDEO: TBM1 Elizabeth assembly and start of tunnelling, Transport for NSW

Monday: NWRL tunneling begins 4 months ahead of schedule

The first of 4 tunnel boring machines (TBM) began work on the 15km twin tunnels that will form the core of the 23km North West Rail Link. Tunneling was expected to begin by the end of this year. The current TBM, along with a second when it is ready, are beginning from Bella Vista and will cut a pair of 9km tunnels through to Cherrybrook, where a second pair of TBMs will cut another pair of 6km tunnels to Epping.

Tunneling is likely to take about 2 years, with station and tunnel fit outs to take an additional 2 years, and a final year to bring the line to operational rediness in time for a 2019 opening.

4 tunnel boring machines like these will be used on the NWRL. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

4 tunnel boring machines like these will be used on the NWRL. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Monday: Sydney Trains cancel cleaning contract midway through

An agreement with Transfield to manage cleaning services for Sydney Trains has been cancelled 2 years into the 4 year contract. The cleaning will still be contracted out, but the management of the private contractors has been brought in house within Sydney Trains.

Thursday: Opal bus rollout two thirds done

Opal readers have been enabled on buses in Sydney’s Inner West as well as in the lower Hunter region. This brings the number of Opal enabled buses up to 3,290. There are 5,000 buses in NSW that are on track to be Opal enabled by the end of the year.

850,000 Opal cards have been issued, a large increase on the 500,000 Opal cards that had been issued at the start of August.

Friday: Granville parking and bus interchange upgrade complete

Granville Station’s bus interchange upgrade has been completed, along with an increase in 40 car spaces for commuter parking. Construction on an additional 20 car parking spaces is also planned to commence soon.

Saturday: SWRL completed, will open in early 2015

The South West Rail Link has been completed a year ahead of schedule and $300m under budget. The line was originally announced in 2005, with a $688m budget and an expected opening date of 2012. However, by the time it had been scheduled to be completed in 2012, the budget had blown out to $2.1bn and the opening date pushed back to 2016.

The line will be opened early next year, with January being rumoured as the planned date. The new line’s timetables and operating patterns will be worked out between now and when it is opened.

Map of the SWRL. Click to enlarge. (Source: Glenfield Transport Interchange Review of Environmental Factors, page 2)

Map of the SWRL. Click to enlarge. (Source: Glenfield Transport Interchange Review of Environmental Factors, page 2)

VIDEO: South West Rail Link complete, Seven News (14 September 2014)

Monday: Real time train and parking capacity information coming soon

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

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

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

Tuesday: Airport access fee deal for regular airport commuters

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

Wednesday: Majority of Opal rollout on buses complete

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

Wednesday: Maldon to Dombarton Line back on the agenda

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

The 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.

Video: Rebuilding NSW, NSW Government (10 June 2014)

A $15bn asset sale of the poles and wires business, announced today by the Premier Mike Baird, will fund new transport infrastructure in Sydney with the dual centrepieces being an under the Harbour rail crossing to create a ‘Sydney Rapid Transit’ (SRT) network and North-South extension of the WestConnex freeway. The sale will involve a 99 year lease of the electricity distribution network, but will exclude the regional poles and wires after political pressure from regional MPs.

Sydney Rapid Transit

The new SRT network will see single deck trains operating from Rouse Hill to Bankstown via the CBD and will be built in 3 stages. Stage 1 will be the North West Rail Link, which will also convert the existing Epping to Chatswood Rail Link to rapid transit style operations, and open in 2019.

The Sydney Rapid Transit line will include 3 new CBD stations - Central, Pitt St (Town Hall), and Martin Place. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Sydney Rapid Transit Fact Sheet, p. 2)

The Sydney Rapid Transit line will include 3 new CBD stations – Central, Pitt St (Town Hall), and Martin Place. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Sydney Rapid Transit Fact Sheet, p. 2)

Stage 2 will be an under the Harbour rail crossing and CBD railway with stations at St Leonards, Victoria Cross (North Sydney), Martin Place, Pitt St (Town Hall), and Central Station – but no station at Circular Quay. Stage 3 will involve linking this up to the Bankstown Line, with SRT trains terminating at Bankstown Station – though no stations are indicated between Central and Sydenham and the current alignment does not pass through Redfern.

Proposed Sydney Rapid Transit network. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Sydney Rapid Transit, p. 1)

Proposed Sydney Rapid Transit network. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Rebuilding NSW – Fact Sheet 3, p. 1)

Initial plans, as outlined in Sydney’s Rail Future in 2012, showed an SRT network that also included a line out to Hurstville and continuing on from Bankstown to Lidcombe and Cabramatta. Even the changes to last year’s timetable, which made trains on T4 effectively run all stops to Hurstville and then terminate or run semi-express to Hurstville before continuing appeared to be setting the line up to be converted into rapid transit style operation. The changes to the Bankstown end mean that the line terminates about 20km out of the CBD, neutralising many criticisms that the line was “too long to be a metro”, but also raises questions over what to do with the remaining line out to Lidcombe and Cabramatta. Transport expert Gerry Glazebrook has previously recommended converting these lines to light rail as part of a wider light rail network surrounding Parramatta, which in the context of recent government support for such a network does question whether this is under consideration.

Gerry Glazebrooks Western Sydney light rail network, shown as incorporated into the Sydney Morning Herald's wider Public Transport Inquiry, involved converting the Western ends of the T3 Bankstown Line beyond Bankstown Station into light rail. Click to enlarge. (Source: Sydney Morning Herald, Public Transport Inquiry, p. 185.)

Gerry Glazebrooks Western Sydney light rail network, shown in blue as incorporated into the Sydney Morning Herald’s wider Public Transport Inquiry, involved converting the Western ends of the T3 Bankstown Line beyond Bankstown Station into light rail. Click to enlarge. (Source: Sydney Morning Herald, Public Transport Inquiry, p. 185.)

The benefits of SRT are outlined as an increase in capacity through the CBD equivalent to 60% more trains and 100,000 additional passengers per hour. It’s the latter, rather than the former that matters, even according to the Government’s own factsheet:

“The total number of people reliably carried on a train line in an hour is the true measure of rail capacity”Transport for NSW, Sydney Rapid Transit Fact Sheet, p. 1 (10 June 2014)

Single deck metro systems overseas achieve a capacity of 40,000 passengers per hour in each direction, compared to 24,000 passengers per hour in each direction for Sydney's double deck trains. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Sydney Rapid Transit Factsheet, p. 1)

Single deck metro systems overseas achieve a capacity of 40,000 passengers per hour in each direction, compared to 24,000 passengers per hour in each direction for Sydney’s double deck trains. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Sydney Rapid Transit Fact Sheet, p. 1)

The 100,000 additional passengers seems to come down to an additional 40,000 passengers/hour in each direction from the new line and then another 20,000 passengers/hour on the Western Line from infrastructure improvements. However, the 40,000 figure is listed as a target, and will depend on factors like the amount of seating per train, crush capacity for standing passengers, and how well the system copes when highly patronised. Existing double deck trains are often cited as having a maximum hourly capacity of 24,000 passengers/hour in each direction. Few specific details appear available about the Western Line improvements, with Government documents giving general comments about ‘advanced train control systems’, ‘upgrading power supply’, ‘building additional track’, and ‘new stabling’.

WestConnex

Additions to the WestConnex freeway will also be added, with a Northern extension linking up the M4 to the Anzac Bridge and a Southern extension linking up the M5 to Sutherland.

WestConnex and its new North-South extension to the Anzac Bridge and Sutherland. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Rebuilding NSW Fact Sheet 4, p. 1.)

WestConnex and its new North-South extension to the Anzac Bridge and Sutherland. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Rebuilding NSW Fact Sheet 4, p. 1.)

Commentary: Harbour Crossing is why NWRL is single deck

The Government has been dogmatic in its insistence that the North West Rail Link (NWRL) be single deck, and that the new tunnels be built narrower and steeper than the current double deck trains can operate through. What it has not done is to explain its reasoning why, and as a result just about every transport expert, lobby group, academic, journalist, and advocate has become an opponent of its plans. Yet this under the Harbour crossing shows why the NWRL must be single deck – a double deck train would require stations that are too deep.

It now appears that even single deck train are unable to climb up from under the Harbour quickly enough to reach the surface for a station at Circular Quay. With double deck trains, how much further would it be before a station was possible at all? The Pitt St Station near Town Hall? Central Station perhaps?

The Epping to Chatswood Rail Link was originally devised to include a bridge over the Lane Cover River, but opposition to this required it to tunnel under the river. The result meant removing a station at Kuring-gai (where UTS previously had a campus which later closed in part due to poor transport) and making the remaining stations incredibly deep – North Ryde is 35m underground. Had this been designed for single deck trains, as the rest of the NWRL will be, this may have been avoided.

UUPDATE (9:23PM, 10 June 2014): Bold words added to the paragraph below for clarity.

The NWRL itself will have a station at Castle Hill that is 25m underground, but with double deck trains the shallow gradient would require it to be 70m underground, twice as deep as North Ryde. This is so deep that escalators would, to quote Transport for NSW, “probably not even be an option” and all passengers would be required to use elevators to travel between platform and concourse.

The proposed Castle Hill Station will be 25m underground with single deck trains, but would be 70m underground with double deck trains. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Rapid Transit System.)

The proposed Castle Hill Station will be 25m underground with single deck trains, but would be 70m underground with double deck trains. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, North West Rail Link Fact Sheet, p. 2.)

It is unfortunate that this means current double deck trains will be excluded from the new line. But Sydney has a rail network that is moving towards being operated more as independent “sectors” that do not interact with each other. Rather than being a hinderance, this is a feature that prevents disruptions in one part of the network from spilling over to other parts of the network. Nor is it the case that future double deck trains could not be built to fit into narrower tunnels and travel at steeper gradients. So in the long term, towards the end of the century, options remain open to mix and match how the rail network is organised – just as is being done now with the creation of the Sydney Rapid Transit network.

Monday: Security the biggest concern for commuters

An NRMA commuter survey found that the most common concerns were cleanliness (50%), clear announcements (47%), air conditioning (46%), overcrowding (43%), safety (38%), parking (37%), and insufficient staff (32%). The survey, ‘Seeing Red on Rail’, had 12,000 respondents and is the second annual survey conducted by the motoring group.

The Shadow Transport Minister Penny Sharpe blamed the concerns on security on government cuts to security staff; arguing that the number of security staff had fallen from 900 staff in 2011 to 551 staff in 2014, a drop of 39%.

When asked what improvements could be made, respondents cited wifi (45%), air conditioning (38%), and mobile apps with real time arrival and departure information (23%). All trains outside of the Olympic Park Line are now air conditioned and real time data has been available on transport apps since April 2013.

Tuesday: Final Waratah train delivered

The last of the 78 Waratah trains has been delivered and has allowed all timetabled train services outside of the Olympic Park Line to be fully air conditioned. During special events air conditioned trains will be provided on the Olympic Park Line, which normally runs as a shuttle service between Lidcombe and Olympic Park.

The government has retained 24 un-air conditioned 8-carriage S-set trains. These are used when a regular air conditioned train is unavailable, and are also likely to be re-introduced for regular timetabled services when the South West Rail Link opens next year as it will require an expansion of train services.

Tuesday: Parramatta light rail receives bipartisan support

The Premier Mike Baird announced $10m for a feasability study into light rail from Parramatta to surrounding areas; including Macquarie Park, Castle Hill, and Bankstown. This follows on from a promise from the opposition for a similar $20m feasibility study if it wins the 2015 state election. Work on the study will begin ‘straight away’ according to Mr Baird, and will build on a pre-feasibility study published by Parramatta City Council.

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: Parramatta City Council, Western Sydney Light Rail Network – Part 2 Feasibility Report, pp. 4-5)

Tuesday: Centennial Park bike path for Oxford St

The government will spend $1.6m on an 800m bike path along Centennial Parklands, resulting in a new 3.5 metre wide bi-directional cycle path and separate 1.8 metre wide pedestrian path. The new path will help to link Bondi Junction to the CBD along Oxford St in Paddington and is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Wednesday: Planning approval granted for CBD and South East Light Rail

Planning approval has been granted to the $1.6bn light rail line connecting the CBD to Kingsford and Randwick. Work in the line will commence in 2015 and be completed by 2019 or 2020.

Video: CBD and South East Light Rail Flythrough, Transport for NSW (6 June 2014)

Thursday: Government to consider privatisation to fund infrastructure

State Liberal Party and National Party MPs will on Tuesday consider the potential sale of 49% of the state’s poles and wires assets in a bid to raise capital for major infrastructure projects. The sale will be in the form of a 99 year lease and could raise $15bn, which could then be used to fund a Second Harbour Rail Crossing and other road or rail infrastructure projects. Any “asset recycling”, as this practice has come to be known, will also be eligible for additional Commonwealth funding equal to 15% of any money raised from the sale.

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: SWRL extension to Badgerys Creek in the planning

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday: NWRL brings 18 storey apartments to Kellyville

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

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

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

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

Wednesday: Ride sharing apps restricted to taxis and hire cars

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

Thursday: Multiple incidents cause transport chaos

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

Thursday: School contest to name tunnel boring machines

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

Friday: ARTC listed as potential privatisation target

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday: Opal rolled out to 24 bus routes on Upper North Shore

Opal cards can now be used on 24 bus routes operating in the Kuring-gai and Hornsby region. These include all routes between 556 and 599. It can also be used on the 333 bus route between the Sydney CBD and Bondi Beach, as well as all trains and ferries. The next buses to become Opal ready are expected to be in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, with Opal readers to be rolled out to all buses by the end of 2014. Light rail is to become Opal ready in 2015.

Wednesday: Road upgrades and new rail line for Badgerys Creek Airport

The Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced $3.5bn in funding for roads around the proposed site of Badgery’s Creek Airport, with $2.9bn to be provided by the Commonwealth and $600m by NSW. A corridor for extending the current South West Rail Link through to the airport and then up to the Western Line will also be preserved, including a tunnel and cavity for a station under the airport runway. While the roads are mostly funded by the Commonwealth and expected to be completed in time for the airport’s opening in the middle of next decade, the rail line is not expected to be opened until after the airport is completed and will have to be funded entirely by the NSW Government.

3 major road improvements - The Northern Road, Bringelly Road, and a motorway along Elizabeth Drive - as well as a rail line from Leppington through the airport and through to the Western Line, are planned to support an airport at Badgerys Creek. Click to enlarge - the image is quite large. (Source: Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development.)

3 major road improvements – The Northern Road, Bringelly Road, and a motorway along Elizabeth Drive – as well as a rail line from Leppington through the airport and through to the Western Line, are planned to support an airport at Badgerys Creek. Click to enlarge – the image is quite large. (Source: Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development.)

Thursday: Gladys Berejiklian to stay on as Transport Minister

The Premier Barry O’Farrell’s surprise resignation on Wednesday has resulted in the Treasurer Mike Baird replacing him as Premier. The Transport Mininster Gladys Berejiklian becomes Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, but retains the Transport portfolio. There was speculation that she may have made a run for the top job or given the Treasurer’s position.

The new Premier Mr Baird has been a strong supporter of the state’s “asset recycling” policy, where state owned assets are sold off in order to fund the construction of new assets. It is speculated that the sale of the state’s electricity poles and wires could raise as much as $30bn in proceeds that could fund infrastructure projects like the North West Rail Link, Second Harbour Crossing, and light rail from Parramatta to Macquarie Park or Castle Hill, but the outgoing Premier Mr O’Farrell had been uncomittal about taking privatisation of the poles and wires to the next state election.

Thursday: Final Waratah train delivered to Sydney

The last of the 78 Waratah trains has been delivered to Sydney, almost 3 years since the first one began carrying passengers and almost 4 years since the first test train arrived. The Waratah trains now make up almost half the Sydney Trains fleet, operating on all lines except for T4 (Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra) and T6 (Carlingford).

Friday: Randwick Council to provide $68m in funding for light rail

Randwick City Council has announced its intention to provide $68m over 5 years for the CBD and South East Light Rail project. It is also pushing for the line to be extended to Maroubra Junction, from the current terminus in Kingsford, as well as for additional new parking spaces to replace those that will be lost as part of the project. The light rail line has previously received a pledge of $220m in funding from Sydney City Council. The project is estimated to cost $1.6bn and will be completed by 2019/20.

 

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.

 

 

 

Roads Minister Duncan Gay has hosed down rumours that the government might eliminate the toll on the Cross City Tunnel following earlier news of it entering voluntary administration for the second time in a decade. Mr Gay told the Sydney Morning Herald (link unavailable) that buying back the road and then not charging a toll was “just an urban myth; that’s not happening”. However, he did not rule out the possibility of buying it back and reducing the toll or paying the new owner a concession to cut the toll.

The motivation for this comes from the 5 to 6 years of construction through the CBD for light rail on George Street and the desire to divert as much traffic away from the city centre in order to minimise disruptions. Such a buyback could also fit in neatly with the introduction of a congestion charge, which could provide offsetting revenue to eliminate the Cross City Tunnel’s toll, thus incentivising surface traffic to re-route underground. However, this is not the current government’s policy, and something it has rejected despite the concept of a congestion charge being raised by both Transport for NSW and Infrastructure NSW.

Video: Gatepass could be removed at Airport stations, Seven News

Meanwhile, the NSW opposition has succeeded in establishing a Legislative Council inquiry into the removal of the airport station access fee. The $2.60 access fee was lifted for Mascot and Green Square stations in 2010, resulting in an estimated 50% increase in patronage. Removing or reducing the much higher $12.30 fee at the airport stations would be expected to also raise patronage. The possibility of this occurring has grown due to the rising proportion of access fee revenue going to the government, which is set to receive close $50m from it next year alone.

A stations access fee of $12.30 is currently payable for anyone travelling to or from the airport stations. Click to enlarge. (Source: Sydney Trains)

A stations access fee of $12.30 is currently payable for anyone travelling to or from the airport stations. Click to enlarge. (Source: Sydney Trains)

However, this remains an opposition and cross bench led inquiry, and the reduction or removal of the access fee is not currently supported by the government, who point out that any money raised goes into general revenue and has already been accounted for in the budget. Despite this, construction of the M5 East expansion as part of WestConnex in the latter part of this decade would be assisted by even a temporary cut in the access fee in order to reduce the already high congestion around Sydney Airport when construction of WestConnex makes it even worse.

The financial collapse of the Cross City Tunnel, likely resulting in it entering into receivership for the second time since it was opened in 2005, has started a debate over the role of private public partnerships (PPP) in delivering transport infrastructure. The Greens have used the collapse to call on the state government to scrap its plans for the WestConnex freeway, which will be delivered and operated as a PPP.

Despite going into receivership, the Cross City Tunnel will remain open to the driving public. Click to enlarge. (Source: Ben Harris-Roxas)

Despite probably going into receivership for a second time, the Cross City Tunnel will remain open to the driving public. Click to enlarge. (Source: Ben Harris-Roxas)

This is rather ironic, as the financial collapse of the Cross City Tunnel actually represents a benefit, not a disadvantage of the PPP model. Despite the financial collapse, for the driving public the tunnel will continue to operate as though nothing had changed. Meanwhile, the cost of the financial collapse will be felt by the private owners, just as any financial benefit would be received by the owners had traffic on the tunnel boomed. The government and driving public benefit from improved transport infrastructure regardless of the financial success or failure of the company that owns the tunnel. That the private sector ended up paying for it, and not the taxpayer, puts the taxpayer ahead.

In fact, the government should use this opportunity to consider whether they could buy back the Cross City Tunnel, at a fraction of its construction cost. If it can do so, it should seriously think about doing so. This would make it much easier at some point in the future to introduce a congestion charge on the CBD surface streets by making the tunnel free and giving drivers an alternative route if not travelling into the CBD itself.