Posts Tagged ‘Second Sydney airport’

The question of a second Sydney airport was put to Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott at the leaders’ debate earlier tonight, a mark of how important a seemingly local issue has become on the national political stage. Daily Telegraph reporter Simon Benson asked the leaders whether they would support an airport at Badgerys in the context of job creation, putting forward the figure of 50,000 new jobs that could be created if such an airport was built. Each leader dodged the question, with Mr Abbott choosing to talk about how building WestConnex could improve the capacity of the existing Kingsford-Smith airport at Mascot, while Mr Rudd referred the question to Deputy PM and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese before attacking Mr Abbott for not supporting public transport.

The important thing to take from these responses are two fold. First, each leader has now committed to making a final decision on a second airport in the next term of government. Second, both have done their best to dance around the issue of the Badgerys location, whereas in years past political leaders have been quick to immediately rule it out. This tends to confirm a widespread belief that politicians privately accept that Badgerys is the best location for a second airport, and that a second airport is needed, but that it remains a complex issue within a political minefield.

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

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

Ben Sandilands at Crikey has written that an unspoken truce now exists between politicians on the issue of Badgerys. Both know that whoever wins this election will need to start work on an airport, and that both parties will probably govern at some point during its construction. And if it will have to be built at some point anyway, it makes sense to finally put the long term interests of the national economy ahead of short term political interests.

The second phase of the federal government’s High Speed Rail (HSR) study, released earlier today, finds that a 1,700km long East Coast HSR line could cost $114bn and will not be completed until the second half of this century. The line will not require any ongoing government subsidy to pay for operational costs or asset maintenance, with fares comparable to the equivalent air fare. The report finds a benefit to cost ratio of 2.3 (indicating that every $1 spent provides $2.30 of economic value), which is much higher than in the report commissioned by the Greens earlier this year that reported total benefits of $48bn, an amount less than the $114bn cost.

Cost and completion dates for HSR broken down by stage, based on the optimal timetable. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: High speed rail study phase 2 report - Executive Summary, Department of Infrastructure and Transport, page 20)

Cost and completion dates for HSR broken down by stage, based on the optimal timetable. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: High speed rail study phase 2 report – Executive Summary, Department of Infrastructure and Transport, page 20)

If built, the project will be broken up into stages, with the Sydney to Canberra leg being the first. Even then, the earliest that portion will be operational is 2030, with an optimal commencement date of 2035. Brisbane may not be connected to Melbourne until 2058. The 1,700km of track includes 144km of tunnels, with 67km of this in Sydney. All up, tunnelling accounts for about one third of the cost of this project. The line will require a 200m wide corridor.

Federal Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese was quick to dismiss the notion that this would eliminate the need for a second Sydney airport, pointing out that it was already congested and that overseas travellers will still require air travel. He also downplayed the possibility of medium speed rail, such as in Britain, arguing that journeys must be under 3 hours or else people will choose to fly instead and that this was why Britain was now upgrading its medium speed rail to HSR. He also accepted that the high construction cost was the most sensitive part of any potential HSR line and ruled out any funding for it in this year’s budget.

Cost benefit analysis shows that benefits would outweigh costs using both a 4% and 7% discount rate. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: High speed rail study phase 2 report - Executive Summary, Department of Infrastructure and Transport, page 21)

Cost benefit analysis shows that benefits would outweigh costs using both a 4% and 7% discount rate. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: High speed rail study phase 2 report – Executive Summary, Department of Infrastructure and Transport, page 31)

The cost, roughly 4 times the cost of the National Broadband Network, is the biggest hurdle to building HSR in Australia. The interest expense of such a capital outlay alone would pay for the Gonski education reforms into perpetuity, and probably deliver far greater social and economic benefits to the nation. The discount rate of 4% also seems low, given that even the federal government’s long term borrowing costs, but a much more conservative 7% still provides a benefit to cost ratio of 1.1. This is above 1.0, but only barely, and suggests that this money could be spent on other more worthy infrastructure projects – such as the backlog of urban commuter rail improvements which Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has ruled out funding.

Ultimately this was certainly a study worth undertaking, if only to confirm that Australia is not yet ready for HSR. However, it has done much of the preparation required for it, thus allows the federal government to revisit the idea again in 10 or 20 years time when some of the assumptions currently used may no longer be valid. But until then, the video below probably best describes HSR in Australia.

This is post number 150 for this blog, which has now been running for almost 2 years since it began in August of 2011, the month after the author of this blog visited every station in the Cityrail suburban network in one 24 hour period using only the rail network to get around (video below).

In recent months, a typical week will see this blog get 1 or 2 new posts, receive about 1,000 hits, representing 500 unique visitors, generating 3 comments, and being shared 3 times on social media. About 100 of those visitors are regular readers (RSS feeds, email subscriptions, etc) or referrals from social media, while the remaining 400 are split fairly evenly between web searches and image searches. Last month, this site passed the 50,000 hits milestone.

50k hits

It’s worth re-visiting some of the posts which were read and commented on a lot during that time.

Posts with the most views

  1. Media fooled by UNSW monorail hoax 31 July 2012 (4,809 views)
  2. Point to point vs zonal ticketing 2 September 2011 (2,058 views)
  3. Light rail extension update 15 February 2012 (650 views)
  4. History of Cityrail: Eastern Suburbs Line (1979) 8 November 2011 (645 views)
  5. Are there alternatives to the metro plan? 11 October 2011 (601 views)

The most viewed post was one which was not really covered by the TV, radio, or online media, other than ones falling for the initial hoax. The lack of any competing source covering this story led to this particular post going viral, with 85 tweets and 178 shares on Facebook, including by the University of New South Wales, resulting in 3,270 hits on 31 July 2012 alone.

The second most viewed post, written in the first few weeks after this blog was started, is about different ways in which fares can be calculated. It is likely to remain an item of interest as Opal is rolled out and the possibility of integrating fares in Sydney is considered.

Posts with the most comments

  1. Should the Northwest Rail Link be a metro? 8 February 2013 (30 comments)
  2. Problems with the M4 East and Strathfield Metro 24 October 2012 (15 comments)
  3. Western Sydney makes its case for an airport of its own 15 February 2013 (13 comments)
  4. Infrastructure NSW Report (part 3): The ugly 6 October 2012 (13 comments)
  5. Infrastructure NSW Report (part 2): The bad 5 October 2012 (10 comments)

It is interesting to note that none of the 5 posts in the first list (most viewed) are repeated in the second list (most commented). As a general rule, people are more likely to comment on a post when they disagree with it, while they share it on social media when they agree with it (leading to more views). That probably explains the difference in each list.

The posts about the Northwest Rail Link and Sydney Airport in particular were great examples of commenters who disagreed with the contents of the post. Both the articles, along with the comments and follow-up responses, are a fantastic read for anyone looking to get a more in-depth discussion of those particular issues (but doesn’t who want to dip their feet into the world of online transport discussion forums).

A second airport in Sydney’s West should be built at Badgerys Creek, according to a panel of experts who addressed a forum at Parramatta earlier today. The forum, organised by the Western Sydney Community Forum and Western Sydney Business Chamber, included academics, social workers, and consultants as speakers who unanimous backed the proposed airport, arguing it would bring significant economic benefits with only minor noise pollution. The panel also rejected Wilton as an alternative, with a co-author of the recent Joint Study on Aviation Capacity saying that the study did not conclude that the options were “Badgerys or Wilton – the options were Badgerys, Badgerys, Badgerys, Badgerys, Badgerys, or Wilton”.

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

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

This is despite the there still technically being bipartisan opposition to an airport at the Badgerys Creek site. This opposition can be traced back to the construction of the third runway at Mascot’s Kingsford-Smith Airport (KSA) in 1994. Chris Brown, a member of the steering committee of the Joint Study on Aviation Capacity, described the campaign against a third runway as a grassroots movement that was responding to huge noise impacts on a large population. Meanwhile, the opposition to Badgerys Creek was led by those at the top, according to Mr Brown. It was argued at the time that Western Sydney should not be the dumping ground for Inner Sydney’s aircraft noise. In addition, the extra capacity provided by this third runway at KSA made politicians complacent on the issue of an airport at Badgerys Creek, according to the former Federal Airports Corporation and Australian Rail and Track Corporation head, Barry Murphy.

The opposition to Badgerys Creek has begun to wane recently, particularly when the issue of the economic benefits that an airport could bring to Western Sydney was raised. Mr Murphy points to cities like Dallas-Fort Worth and Atlanta, which leveraged a large airport to huge economic benefit. Director of Planning with Cox Richardson, Bob Meyer, argues that Western Sydney’s jobs shortfall of 163,000 jobs is putting a huge strain on the transport network, and that this will only get worse by mid century when that jobs shortfall is projected to rise to 406,000 jobs. He believes Western Sydney has abundant supplies of industrial zoned land that could be used for employment, but that it needs a catalyst such as a new airport in order for this to happen. This would then stem the jobs shortfall afflicting Western Sydney.

The panel also dismissed the impact of aircraft noise on Western Sydney. An A380 makes only half the noise of a 747 jumbo jet on take off, according to Mr Murphy, while the smaller A320 makes 75% less noise than a 747. Mr Meyer showed attendees a map of the hypothetical flight paths from Badgerys Creek, which showed that most of the noise would occur over industrial lands rather than residential. This, along with lower urban densities, means that slightly over 300 homes would be affected by high levels of aircraft noise from Badgerys Creek, compared to almost 30,000 from KSA.

Some background on the politics of airports in Sydney – the airport debate was shaped dramatically in 1995 following the opening of a third runway in Sydney’s Kingsford-Smith airport. While this upgrade deferred the need for a second airport for some time, it also angered many locals due to the increase in aircraft noise that it brought with it, resulting in the formation of the No Aircraft Noise Party. This party received 39% of the vote in Marrickville and 36% in Port Jackson on a 2 party preferred basis (Source: Psephos), both heavily affected by increased aircraft noise. In 2003, the Labor Party changed its platform to oppose a second airport at Badgerys Creek (the irony being that it had been Hawke Labor Government that obtained the land in the first place in 1986), and the Coalition followed soon after.

In the 2012, the debate over a Second Sydney Airport seemed to be whether or not to build one. Those against an airport included the NSW Premier, Barry O’Farrell, and the federal National Party leader, Warren Truss, who was also the Shadow Transport Minister. Local MPs and councils in the Western Sydney area (of both parties, but mostly from the area’s dominant Labor Party), where a second airport would be built, also seemed almost universally opposed to a second airport. Meanwhile, the Federal Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese, and Federal Shadow Treasurer, Joe Hockey, both supported a second airport,but appeared to rule out Badgerys Creek, leaving Wilton as the remaining preferred option.

(Source: Author and Google Maps)

Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author and Google Maps)

It began with the release of a report last year entitled the Joint Study on Aviation Capacity for the Sydney Region. The knee jerk response was measured at best, with politicians continuing to state their opposition to Badgerys Creek, despite the joint study finding that it was still the best location. Anthony Albanese, restricted by Labor Party policy, announced a second study into Wilton, the second best site identified by the joint study. Jake Saulwick’s opinion piece in the Herald suggests that Mr Albanese actually prefers Badgerys Creek, and the Wilton study is designed to demonstrate that Wilton is not suitable (primarily because it is too far from either Western Sydney or Sydney CBD, not very flat, and prone to fog). At this point, a push can be made to change the Labor Party’s platform to remove the ban on Badgerys Creek.

Meanwhile, commentators began to point out that an airport in Western Sydney would bring jobs and economic development, not just aircraft noise, and this is something that Western Sydney desperately needs in order to stem the daily mass migration from Western Sydney into the CBD because the region has fewer jobs than it has workers. This appears to have been the turning point in the debate, and by the start of 2013 politicians who had previously ruled out Badgerys Creek, and even ones who ruled out a second airport entirely, were now calling for Badgerys Creek to be put on the table as an option. Some even openly began calling for Badgerys Creek to be the site of a second airport.

The case for a second airport was also boosted when it was announced that the decision to host the 2014 G20 meeting in Brisbane rather than Sydney was driven partly by a lack of the required space in which to park 40 jumbo jets for the duration of the summit. The take home lesson from this was clear – Sydney Airport isn’t just close to reaching capacity, by some measures it already has reached capacity.

What appears to have happened is that politicians have privately come to the realisation that Sydney needs to start planning for a second airport, and that this second airport will need to happen in Badgerys Creek. Additionally, this is something that is going to affect whichever party is in government at the time, so opposing it for political gain will only come back to hurt that party in the future once they are in opposition.

While it remains an unpopular position, there has been a clear movement towards supporting Badgerys Creek in the last 12 months. The recent views of key individuals in this debate are included below.

Opposes a Second Airport

Few actually flat out oppose a second airport in the Sydney basin. Those that do tend to have self interest in mind (Sydney Airport Chairman Max Moore-Wilton) or know that as it is an issue for the federal government they can champion a popular position without having to make that decision themselves (Barry O’Farrell).

Barry O'Farrell, NSW Premier (Image: NSW Parliament)

Barry O’Farrell, NSW Premier (Image: NSW Parliament)

“The NSW government believes no other part of Sydney should be contaminated by the sort of noise that comes with an airport. The most sensible option is to build a fast-rail link to the federal capital and use Canberra Airport for additional capacity for flights.”Barry O’Farrell (6 April 2012)

Max Moore-Wilton, Chairman of Sydney Airport Corporation (Image: Infrastructure NSW)

Max Moore-Wilton, Chairman of Sydney Airport Corporation (Image: Infrastructure NSW)

“Mr Albanese has rejected the nine [of ten joint study recommendations] and focused on the one. You might well say it is not a level playing field on this issue. One of their recommendations was that the cap be increased by five movements an hour [from eighty to eighty-five] – that recommendation has been rejected by Mr Albanese.” Max Moore-Wilton (17 May 2012)

Opposes Badgerys Creek

Most of the opposition now comes not towards a second airport, but to Badgerys Creek specifically as a location. The potential for local opposition has only grown in recent decades as the population of Western Sydney has continued to grow. The case for Badgerys Creek is not helped by the presence of 2 members of Federal Cabinet (Chris Bowen and David Bradbury) being MPs from Western Sydney, nor from the state opposition leader (John Robertson) also being an MP from Western Sydney. In Mr Bowen’s case, he has remained tight lipped on Badgerys Creek ever since the 2007 election put his Labor Party into government, and you have to go back to 2007 to get an on the record comment from him on the matter.

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

John Robertson, NSW Opposition Leader and State MP for Blacktown (Image: NSW Parliament)

“State Opposition Leader John Robertson says while he has ruled out Badgerys Creek, he is waiting for a briefing on the report before cementing Labor’s position.”ABC News (23 April 2012)

Chris Bowen, Federal Minister for Immigration and Federal MP for McMahon (Image: Department of Immigration)

Chris Bowen, Federal Minister for Immigration and Federal MP for McMahon (Image: Department of Immigration)

 “A Rudd Labor government will not build an airport at Badgerys Creek.”Chris Bowen (19 September 2007)

David Bradbury, Federal Assistant Treasurer and Federal MP for Lindsay (Image: Australian Consumer Law)

David Bradbury, Federal Assistant Treasurer and Federal MP for Lindsay (Image: Australian Consumer Law)

“I will continue to be a strong advocate for our community and for as long as I represent the people of Lindsay an airport will not be built in Badgerys Creek.”David Bradbury (4 April 2012)

Open to Badgerys Creek

This category involves reading between the lines at times. In Anthony Albanese’s case, in particular, he is on the record as opposing Badgerys Creek, supporting Wilton instead. But his actions, or rather lack thereof, suggest that he actually prefers Badgerys Creek. It therefore seems most logical to place him into this category. In Warren Truss’ case, he had previously ruled out a second airport entirely, whereas he now appears to have backtracked to just ruling out Badgery Creek in the context of the next election, suggesting that he also is reconsidering his position.

Anthony Albanese, Federal Transport Minister (Image: Department of Transport and Infrastructure)

Anthony Albanese, Federal Transport Minister (Image: Department of Transport and Infrastructure)

“You get the sense [backtracking on Simon Crean’s 2003 vow that Labor would not build an airport at Badgerys Creek] is what Albanese wants to do.” Jake Saulwick (17 November 2012)

Joe Hockey

Joe Hockey, Federal Shadow Treasurer (Image:

“The suggestion that Badgerys Creek is going to disadvantage western Sydney is just rubbish. If you have a second airport in the Sydney basin there will be a massive financial and employment boost…Badgerys Creek has been foreshadowed for 30 years and the Commonwealth owns the land. There should be no barrier to Badgerys Creek.” – Joe Hockey (1 January 2013)

Warren Truss, Federal Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Federal Shadow Transport Minister (Image: Australian Parliament)

Warren Truss, Federal Shadow Transport Minister (Image: Australian Parliament)

“I know the problems with all of the sites, but I know why Badgerys Creek was chosen in the first place, and I thought it was very interesting the [recent state and federal inquiry] basically put it right back on the table. But both sides of politics have ruled it out, so that is where it is at the moment. We’ve ruled it out, and we will rule it out in the context of the next election as well, and Labor has ruled it out as well.

I think it would be helpful if there could be some kind of bipartisan agreement about what is the best site, taking into account what the options actually are, because it will be many years before the project starts and many years to build, so it is highly likely it will cross political eras.” – Warren Truss (12 December 2012)

Laurie Ferguson, Federal MP for Werriwa (Image: Australian Parliament)

Laurie Ferguson, Federal MP for Werriwa (Image: Australian Parliament)

“Werriwa MP Laurie Ferguson said he needed more time to go through the report before deciding his stance but said his decision would be greatly influenced by Campbelltown Council.” – Laurie Ferguson (7 March 2012)

Supports Badgerys Creek

Up until Nathan Rees came out in support of Badgerys Creek, it was virtually impossible to find any current Western Sydney MPs willing to state their support of Badgerys Creek on the record. Former politicians, those who stand to directly benefit, and independent experts have tended to be the only ones championing the site.

Alan Joyce, Qantas CEO (Image: Qantas)

Alan Joyce, Qantas CEO (Image: Qantas)

“We also agree that Badgerys Creek remains the best site. Since the late 1980s, this land has been reserved for a new airport…The arguments for and against Badgerys Creek – and every other contender – are familiar. We are wasting our energy going over old ground.”Alan Joyce (23 April 2012)

Nick Greiner, Infrastructure NSW Chairman and former NSW Premier (Image: Infrastructure NSW)

Nick Greiner, Infrastructure NSW Chairman and former NSW Premier (Image: Infrastructure NSW)

“The average person in western Sydney, I think, rationally ought to be overwhelmingly in favour of an airport at Badgerys Creek.” – Nick Greiner (12 October 2012)

Nathan Rees, Former NSW Premier and current State MP for Toongabbie (Image: NSW Parliament)

Nathan Rees, State MP for Toongabbie and former NSW Premier  (Image: NSW Parliament)

“in policy terms [Badgerys Creek was by far the best site for the airport but] politically this is extremely difficult”. – Nathan Rees (7 January 2013)

David Borger, Western Sydney Director for the Sydney Business Chamber and former NSW Roads Minister (Image: Sydney Business Chamber)

David Borger, Western Sydney Director for the Sydney Business Chamber and former NSW Roads Minister (Image: Sydney Business Chamber)

“Borger…is an enthusiastic backer of a Badgerys Creek airport.”Sydney Morning Herald (21 December 2012)

The government released the final version of its Transport Masterplan earlier today, along with the light rail feasibility study (Sydney’s Light Rail Future), in which it announced its final decision on some key transport projects. The uncertainty stemmed from differing reports handed down by both Transport for NSW (the Transport Masterplan) and Infrastructure NSW (First Things First), which the government had to reconcile. Where both reports agreed, the recommendations were adopted, and where they conflicted, Transport for NSW got the final say every time. As a result, a 2nd Harbour Crossing will be happening, the CBD bus tunnel has been rejected, light rail will be built all the way from Circular Quay to Randwick (rather than a truncated version from Central to Randwick), and a second Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek was rejected. I think the last one was the wrong call, but it’s more of an issue for the federal government, so it’s not too concerning.

CBD light rail route

The proposed CBD portion of the light rail line. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Sydney Light Rail Futures, page 14.)

The most high profile debate was between light rail on George St or a bus tunnel through the CBD. While I didn’t agree with everything in the Infrastructure NSW Report, one thing I did appreciate about it was how it prioritised the projects with lower cost to the taxpayer, thus ensuring that more of them could be built. It did this through user pays tollways, finding ways to get more out of the existing infrastructure, looking for ways of obtaining the same outcome for a lower cost, etc. It was therefore quite strange to see this report endorsing the bus tunnel option, which cost $2bn, over light rail through the CBD, the George St portion of which cost $500m. The reason for this appears to be that Infrastructure NSW set out with the goal of finding out how to make sure light rail didn’t happen, rather than finding the best way of maximising mobility for the greatest number of people. As a result, it ended up with this bizarre recommendation.

Transport for NSW tears the bus tunnel to shreds:

It would not be feasible to build an underground tunnel between Wynyard and Town Hall due to existing building basements and tunnels. In addition, ventilation, access and safety are significant viability issues.

To provide the necessary bus capacity, the bus tunnel would need to be four lanes wide and provide wide platforms. This is likely to be physically unfeasible and economically unviable.

Infrastructure NSW has estimated it would cost $2 billion to build a tunnel in the CBD. The city component of the CBD and South East Light Rail project is a quarter of the cost – about $500 million – and will deliver significantly greater benefits for Sydney.

Building connections to the Cross City Tunnel and Sydney Harbour Bridge, redeveloping two major train stations and building a new bus tunnel will present a number of untested construction impacts on the CBD. Building new bus stations would have an impact on the operation of Town Hall and Wynyard Stations, affecting the journey of approximately 140,000 passengers every weekday. – Transport for NSW (13 Dec, 2012), Sydney’s Light Rail Future (page 26)

Ultimately the debate within cabinet appeared to boil down to 2 things: cost and disruption. The cost, at $500m, was not insignificant, but much cheaper than the alternative of the bus tunnel, and though doing nothing would have been cheaper, it was probably not seen as a viable option. Cabinet was also concerned about disruption to the CBD right around the next election in 2015, so work will instead begin on the Randwick to Central Station portion, before starting on the George St portion later on.

Randwick light rail

The currently proposed route for light rail from Circular Quay to Randwick and Kingsford. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Sydney’s Light Rail Future, page 15.)

All up, the new light rail line will cost $1.6bn in total to build, and will not open until 2019 or 2020 when the entire line is completed. When it does, it will be accompanied by a restructure of many of the bus routes through the city. The current bus routes is a spaghetti map of confusing and cris-crossing lines through the CBD. This will change, with buses to travel along one of 4 major corridors: 3 North-South corridors (Elizabeth St, Clarence St/York St, and Sussex St) plus one East-West corridor (Park St/Druitt St). This will allow for a simpler network that relies on high frequencies and interchanges by commuters. Integrated fares are an essential reform required to make sure that this works, allowing commuters to pay the same to get from A to B, regardless of how they get there, rather than the current situation where they are penalised financially for the inconvenience of having to make an interchange. Word is that cabinet will make a decision on fares in the new year, and this simple decision could possibly be the most important one that it makes in regards to transport.

CBD bus routes

Once light rail is operating in the Sydney CBD, buses will be rerouted to one of 4 corridors. This will simplify the existing network, ensuring high frequencies and an easy to understand network for commuters. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Sydney’s Light Rail Future, page 17.)

The report also talks about considering further light rail in the longer term (10 to 20 years or further into the future). These include Victoria Rd, Parramatta Rd, an extension South to Maroubra or Malabar from Kingsford along Anzac Parade, an extension to Barangaroo from Circular Quay along Walsh Bay, and Parramatta Council’s Western Sydney light rail. The draft Transport Masterplan suggests the highest priority will go to light rail on Victoria Rd (though it might potentially end up as Bus Rapid Transit), though I’d give the Western Sydney light rail proposal a wild card chance of happening, particularly if it utilises the Carlingford Line to connect Parramatta to Macquarie Park.

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

New Timetable

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

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

Canberra High Speed Rail

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

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

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

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

Budget Estimates

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

Heavy rail:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Light rail:

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

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


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

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

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

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

Prioritisation of projects

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

Maximising efficiency

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

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

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

Funding new infrastructure at minimal or no cost to the government

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

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

A second Sydney airport

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

XPT and High Speed Rail

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

Faster rail to Wollongong and Central Coast

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

Media Coverage

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

Transport report draws mixed reactions, Sydney Morning Herald

And finally there was movement in Sydney, Daily Telegraph

New roads a fast track to the future, Daily Telegraph

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

NSW unveils 20-year infrastructure plan, ABC Radio

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.

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

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

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

M4 East and PERL

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

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

M5 East and NWRL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A quarter of a century ago, the federal Labor government decided to build a second airport in Sydney at Badgerys Creek. It spent the next few years acquiring land there. However, the Liberal Part was opposed to the Badgerys Creek location and when the Howard Liberal government was elected in 1996, this policy was scrapped. Later, Labor under Simon Crean also dropped its support for Badgerys Creek in the early 00s. The federal government still owns the land at Badgerys Creek, but both parties officially oppose a new airport there.

Last month, a joint NSW-Federal report was released recommending Badgeries Creek as the preferred site for a second airport in Sydney, with Wilton as the next best option. Instantly, the parties repeated their positions. Federal Transport and Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese of the Labor Party said his preferred location was Wilton. Meanwhile NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell of the Liberal Party said he wanted no new airports in the Sydney basin at all, preferring instead to build a high speed rail link to an upgraded Canberra Airport. Mr O’Farrell’s proposal to use Canberra Airport has been dismissed by Federal Liberal Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey who also wants an airport built at Wilton.

No one wants an airport in their backyard, it’s simple NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard). What is strange is that Mr O’Farrell has adopted a more extreme version of NIMBYism, something fellow Liberal, and Federal Opposition Leader, Tony Abbot called BANANA: Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone. Every year, more and more people move into areas that could hold a second airport, and the longer the wait before action is taken the larger the voter backlash will be.

The reality is that Sydney’s Kingsford-Smith Airport will reach capacity by 2027 according to the joint report, or 2045 according to the company that operates Kingsford-Smith Airport. The clock is ticking, and inaction is no longer an option.

“If action is not taken quickly, the chance to secure the future of aviation for the Sydney region may be lost altogether…the option of doing nothing is no longer available and the costs of deferring action are unacceptable”Joint report

Source: Daily Telegraph

Source: Daily Telegraph

Not only that, but it makes economic sense to build a second airport somewhere in Western Sydney to provide jobs both directly and indirectly to a region that will hold half of Sydney’s population in coming decades:

“[turning western Sydney into] one big housing estate with no economic drivers’ [is nonsense]”Chris Brown, co-author of the joint report

Lenore Taylor wrote the best piece I’ve read on this issue, for anyone looking for additional reading on it.