Posts Tagged ‘Sydney Metro’

Over 100,000 people used Sydney Metro today on its first day open to the public, with no fare charged for those travelling between Chatswood and Tallawong. It was the first time in Australia that a driverless train line operated with passengers, but was not without teething issues and delays.

The trains, which travel at a maximum speed of 100km per hour, had a noticeably quick acceleration and deceleration, and complete the journey from end to end in 37 minutes. Platform screen doors are in use and the gap between platform and train is minimal. The stations themselves were modern and fully accessible.

Indicators above each train door show where the train is along the line, as well as showing how far the train has progressed towards the next station. Lights above each set of doors flash red when doors are opening or closing, light up solid green when the doors are open, and light up solid white when the doors are closed.

Some problems did occur. Mechanical failures with trains occurred in both the early afternoon and during the evening, leading to delays of roughly 45 minutes and 15 minutes respectively. With Sydney Metro controlling the number of people who could enter stations to reduce overcrowding, this led to a blowout in queues. Chatswood Station saw a conga line emerge starting from 1:30PM. Many of those in the queue had travelled to Chatswood from the Northwest earlier and were now returning home.

Inside the trains, the air conditioning seemed set to maximum and in-train indicators began having problems from early in the day and were soon turned off. As a result, there was little indication that doors were closing, besides the silent flashing lights that went unnoticed by most. This, together with shorter than normal dwell times, led some passengers to get caught by the doors (including some with prams) or unable to enter/exit in time. The dwell times were noticeably longer as the day progressed, with doors remaining open for 30 to 60 seconds at stations. This would no doubt lengthen journey durations if allowed to continue. However, the in-train indicators appeared to be working again by late Sunday evening and dwell times were back down to a reasonable length.

Trains also routinely overshot their platforms early in the day. This blog’s author counted roughly one in every two trains would stop past its platform screen doors in the early afternoon, requiring the train to reverse before opening its doors. However, this problem did not persist into the late afternoon, by when it was no longer occurring.

All in all it was not a perfect first day, but a few inconveniences should not eclipse the significance of the first complete new train line in Sydney in 40 years. Many of these teething issues, such as the overshooting and in-train indicators, appear to have been fixed by the end of the first day. Tomorrow’s morning peak hour will be a big test for the new line. If all goes well, most of today’s problems will be soon forgotten.

NSW voters will on Saturday decide who will govern the state for the next 4 years. Both major parties have put forward plans for how they will provide for the transport needs for the residents of Sydney. This blog post will delve into those plans, as well as some recent history.

The NSW Government has spent much of the past 8 years planning and building 3 major transport projects: Sydney Metro, Westconnex, and the CBD and South East Light Rail. Other than a widened M4, none has yet been completed in time for the 2019 election. It has also seen the introduction of the Opal Card and a significant increase in public transport service frequencies.

Sydney Metro

Sydney Metro was born as the North West Rail Link and suffered much initial criticism for the decision to build it as a single deck, driverless system that would terminate at Chatswood with no concrete plans for a CBD extension. That extension was eventually locked in thanks to the privatisation of government electricity businesses, a tough sell to the public that the government received a mandate for in the 2015 election. By 2024 Sydney will have a Metro running from Rouse Hill in the North West to Bankstown in the South West via the Sydney CBD.

Many of the initial criticisms have dried up and today Sydney Metro is the government’s proudest public transport project, set to open in May of this year $1 billion under budget. It is also set to supplement this first line with two additional lines in the second half of the 2020s: an East-West Line from Parramatta to the Sydney CBD and a North-South Line from St Marys to Badgerys Creek.

Sydney Metro. (Source: Transport for NSW)

WestConnex

WestConnex, an amalgamation of the long planned M4 East and M5 East together with an Inner West Bypass to connect the two, has had more consistent controversy. Private car travel is best when it connects disperse origins to disperse destinations, so orbital “ring roads” are the ideal sort of motorways and highways. Travel into dense centres like the Sydney CBD or Parramatta, requiring high capacity transport options, is best left for public transport which does high capacity well rather than roads which do not.

By being a combination of a radial road (the M4 and M5 extensions towards the Sydney CBD) and an orbital road (the Inner West Bypass), WestConnex was an imperfect project from the start. The re-introduction of tolling, public distrust of privatisation, and opposition from inner city residents have led to loud community opposition. Unlike Sydney Metro, opposition to WestConnex has remained strong and was largely responsible for the election of Greens MP Jenny Leong to the inner-city seat of Newtown in 2015 on a commitment to stop WestConnex.

WestConnex. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Light Rail

The CBD and South East Light Rail is the smallest of the three major projects based on its budget, but probably the most high profile one given the disruption from construction along George St. Originally set to open in early 2019, the troubled project will now open in two stages: Randwick in 2019 and Kingsford in 2020. Unlike Sydney Metro, which had very limited surface disruptions during construction, is on time, and is under budget; the light rail project is running a year behind schedule, has had its cost blown out by half a billion dollars, and has fed into a broader narrative of a government that has hampered Sydney’s entertainment and night life by discouraging Sydneysiders from going out into the George St retail and nightclub precinct.

Despite this, the benefits of a pedestrianised zone on George St are already beginning to be felt. And if the Gold Coast light rail project is anything to go by, a project that had similar problems during construction that Sydney has, then soon after opening there will be calls to extend the line out to Maroubra or further.

Sydney Light Rail. (Source: http://www.sydney.com.au)

Opal Card

An electronic ticketing system was first promised for the 2000 Olympic Games. The delayed TCard project was eventually scrapped in 2007. It was eventually replaced with Opal, which began its rollout in 2012, with all non-Opal tickets phased out by 2016.

Considering the difficult history of rolling out electronic ticketing, not just in Sydney but also in Melbourne with Myki, Opal saw a relatively painless introduction. There were concerns, principally privacy and the loss of periodical tickets such as weeklies and monthlies. Though mostly the concerns were surrounding the fare structure rather than the technology and hardware.

It should also be noted that a $2 transfer discount was introduced in 2016 and contactless payment with credit or debit cards is now available on all modes of government transport in Sydney bar buses, which will receive their rollout in the near future.

An adult Opal card. Click to enlarge.
(Source: Transport for NSW)

Timetables

Service levels have seen a significant increase in the last 8 years, particularly in the Sydney Trains network where most stations now enjoy a train every 15 minutes all day. This has been combined with a large expansion of rolling stock, allowing older train sets to be retired, with all trains soon set to be air conditioned.

This has not been without problems. A simplification of stopping patterns that came with the new timetables has been opposed by residents along stations they feel have lost out, particularly on the extremes of the T3 Bankstown Line. Meanwhile, a lack of train drivers led to a “meltdown” of the train network at the start of 2018, with insufficient staff to man the increased service levels. This required some paring back of services later that year.

Despite this, increased service levels to provide frequencies approaching a “turn up and go” service is commendable and should be further encouraged, albeit managed better to avoid previous hiccups.

Stations with a train every 15 minutes or less all day. (Source: Adapted by author from Sydney Trains.)

Government vs Opposition Plans

The common theme running through the Coalition Government’s transport projects is imperfection. All their major transport infrastructure projects have their issues, but transport infrastructure is being built. In some cases, unpopular moves like privatisation had to occur to provide the funds to build that infrastructure. It is in light of this that comparison can be made to the Labor Opposition, which has had fewer issues with imperfect projects but instead consistently promised and delivered less of it.

This can be seen most starkly in the 2015 election, where the Sydney Morning Herald described the ALP’s transport plan as “less of the same”. Now in 2019, the Opposition has promised to abandon Sydney Metro South West, WestConnext Stage 3 (the Inner West Bypass and the only portion of WestConnex that acts as an orbital ring road), the Western Harbour Tunnel, the Beaches Link, and the F6 extension. Were it not already so close to completion, the CBD and South East Light Rail would probably also be on the chopping block.

This parallel’s Labor’s last period in office, during which the Epping to Chatswood Rail Link, Airport Line, and Olympic Park Rail Lines were built. It was also responsible for delivery of the M2, Eastern Distributor, Lane Cove Tunnel, and Cross City Tunnel. However, many more projects, particularly public transport projects were cancelled. A rail line from Parramatta to Epping was announced, cancelled, announced, cancelled, then announced again in what was seen as an attempt to throw money at marginal electorates to try to win re-election. A Northwest Metro was similarly announced, cancelled, re-announced as a CBD Metro, then cancelled after spending half a billion dollars. Most of the planned T-Ways, networks of bus only roads, were never built.

The Opposition would argue that it is better to cancel a bad project and redirect resources to a good project. Specifically, it has committed to spending the billion dollars saved from not converting the Bankstown Line to metro on speeding up construction on Sydney Metro West. Their argument has merit, particularly given poor planning seems to have caused many of the headaches from the CBD and South East Light Rail.

The Government would argue that the choice is between the projects as proposed (i.e. imperfect) or nothing at all. They point to the cancelling of projects between 2005 and 2010, during which half a decade of expansion of public transport infrastructure expansion was lost because the choice there wasn’t between an imperfect project or a better one, but an imperfect project and nothing. This argument also has merit given that it’s not hypothetical, it’s recent history.

What this all means

This blog believes that the perfect should not be the enemy of the good. Sydney is going through a huge increase in population and infrastructure needs to keep up. We cannot afford to stop building if doing so risks doing nothing. Cancelling projects, even imperfect ones, is not what Sydney needs right now. That means giving the current government a mandate for another four years and spending those four years pressuring them to improve the imperfect rather than electing a government that will merely cancel them.

VIDEO: Santiago Metro Line 6 opening day, Bambul Shakibaei (3 Nov 2017)

This post will consider how to convert the T8 Airport Line between Revesby and Central as well as the T4 Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra Line between Bondi Junction and Hurstville on the Sydney Trains network to single deck metro operation without the level of disruption planned for the Epping to Chatswood or Bankstown Lines. It will not seek to analyse the merits of whether these lines are better suited to single or double deck operations, just how such a conversion would be possible.

In both cases, the lines would need to be separated from the rest of the network.

For the T8 Airport Line, Trains would begin at the Revesby turn back platform and travel to platforms 22 and 23 at Central Station via the airport. Construction of an additional turnback platform at Revesby would help to maintain a high frequency of service. (CORRECTION: As karan points out in the comments, Revesby already has 4 platforms and therefore does not require construction of an additional turnback platform.) T8 South Line trains would all run express from Revesby and be rerouted via Sydenham, made possible by the removal of T3 Bankstown Line trains once Sydney Metro City and Southwest is completed in 2024. A new set of platforms could also be built at Wolli Creek to allow T8 South Line trains to stop there and maintain a point of easy transfer between lines for passengers before continuing North via Sydenham.

In the case of the T4 Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra Line, any trains South of Hurstville would be rerouted to the City Circle (or Sydney Terminal in the case of South Coast Line trains). This would be possible due to the removal of T3 Bankstown Line and T8 Airport Line trains from the City Circle, thus creating enough spare capacity for T4 Illawarra Line and South Coast Line trains displaced from the T4 Eastern Suburbs Line.

From that point T2 Inner West and T8 South trains would enter the City Circle via Town Hall while T4 Illawarra Line trains (from Cronulla and Waterfall) would enter the City Circle via Museum. T4 Illawarra trains that begin and end at Hurstville would continue through to Bondi Junction as they currently do. This would provide much needed additional capacity to all parts of T4 South of the city, the second most used line in the network after the T1 Western Line.

If the aim is merely further sectorisation of the network, the process can end here. But to achieve metro conversion requires two additional steps: installation of platform screen doors and introduction of driverless trains.

Platform screen doors would come first. This would require trains on each of these lines to be replaced with single deck trains, each having the same configuration of doors as the new driverless trains. However, these trains would continue to have drivers. As both of these new lines would have spare capacity, this changeover could now be achieved by initially adding extra trains, rather than merely replacing existing trains 1 for 1. This means the changeover could occur with little to no loss of seated capacity.

Artists impression of the trains to run on the NWRL at Kellyville Station. Click to enlarge. (Source:Transport for NSW.)

Once all trains on the line are replaced, screen doors could be progressively installed during weekends or overnight. Some individual stations may need to be closed while screen doors are installed, but the line itself will continue to operate.

With screen doors in place, a new set of driverless trains could be rolled out.If this is done exclusively on one line first, these same trains could then be redeployed on the second line to complete the process on both lines with fewer trains.

The driver’s cabs could then be removed and the trains converted to driverless.

None of this would likely be possible before 2030 as it requires the T3 Bankstown Line to be converted to metro in 2024 and would be difficult to implement until the T8 Airport Line reverts to government ownership in 2030. But doing so could convert the T8 Airport Line between Revesby and Central as well as the T4 Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra Line between Bondi Junction and Hurstville to metro style operation.

VIDEO: Sydney Metro bids thanks and farewell to the Sydney Monorail, Transport for NSW (31 Aug 2017)

This is an updated version of a previous post from March 2016.

Below is a list of all the railways that Sydney might expect in the near future. It only includes heavy rail (i.e. Sydney Trains or Sydney Metro, but not light rail) and includes both new lines or extensions to existing lines. Railways must have been proposed by the state or federal government, so any railways proposed only by local councils or lobby groups are not included nor any railways mentioned exclusively in internal government documents not intended for public release. Also excluded are railways previously announced but since cancelled.

Under construction: Sydney Metro Northwest

The current incarnation of this line was announced in 2010, with construction commencing in 2014. It is scheduled to open in 2019. This line consists of 23km of new track between Epping and Cudgegong Rd near Rouse Hill as well as the conversion of the existing 13km Epping to Chatswood Line (opened in 2009) to metro operation.

A line with a similar alignment was originally announced in 1998 (connecting to the Northern Line at Eastwood rather than Epping), but cancelled in 2008 in favour of a metro line that was itself also cancelled. It has previously been known as the North West Rail Link and Sydney Rapid Transit.

2015-02-20 NWRL

Alignment of the Sydney Metro Northwest from Cudgegong Rd to Chatswood. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Under construction: Sydney Metro City and Southwest

This line was announced in 2014, with construction commencing in 2017. It is scheduled to open in 2024. This line consists of 13km of new track between Chatswood and Sydenham as well as the conversion of the existing 17km Bankstown Line between Sydenham and Bankstown to metro operation.

Sydney Metro City and Southwest Alignment 2016

Sydney Metro City and Southwest alignment. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Announced: Sydney Metro West

This line was announced in 2016, with no date currently set for construction to commence. It is scheduled to open in the second half of the 2020s, though the government is understood to be keen to fast track a 2026 opening date. Stations have been confirmed for Parramatta, Sydney Olympic Park, the bays precinct, and the Sydney CBD.

Four options are currently being considered, with a Metro Rapid option firming as the favourite providing the highest benefit-cost ratio. This option involves a 20 minute journey between Parramatta and the Sydney CBD, with trains travelling between 10 stations at up to 130km/hour, with a benefit-cost ratio of 2.5.

UPDATE: However, the favoured option appears to be the Metro Local South. This option involves a 25 minute journey between Parramatta and the Sydney CBD, with trains travelling between 12 stations at up to 100km/hour, with a benefit-cost ratio of 2.3 when the sale of air rights to development above stations is taken into account.

2016-10-18-west-metro-and-cbd-metro-alignment

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

Announced: Leppington to St Marys extension

Technically not yet announced, the government is understood to be about to announce an extension of the existing T2 Line from Leppington to the T1 Line at St Marys via a new Western Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek. Previous investigations into an extension of the South West Rail Link from Leppington also included a Southern extension to Narellan. This extension provides the greatest potential for a freight rail connection to the new airport, whereas a metro connection would be unlikely to provide the opportunity for freight trains to reach the new airport.

2014-05-04 swrl-extension-corridor-map

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

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has indicated her preference is for a rail connection after the airport opens and further commented that “Some major airports around the world take up to 10 years to build a rail line”. With a 2026 scheduled opening date for a Western Sydney Airport, this would suggest a 2026-36 opening date for an airport railway.

Meanwhile, Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten announced his support in April 2017 for a North-South rail connection, but went further in calling for it to be completed in time for the opening of a Western Sydney Airport in 2026. So although there is a difference in opinion on timing, there is now bipartisanship support for a rail line connecting the airport to Leppington and St Marys.

Proposed: Cudgegong Rd to Marsden Park extension

Work on preserving a corridor to extend the Sydney Metro Northwest began before construction on the line had even begun. Two options were considered: a Northern extension to Riverstone and a Western extension to Marsden Park via Schofields. The latter option was chosen with the potential to extend it further to the Mount Druitt area, although the corridor is to be reserved with mode neutrality. In other words, it could be both as an extension of Sydney Metro, but it could also be built as even bus rapid transit/light rail or even heavy rail with double deck trains from the T1 Western Line at Mount Druitt or St Marys.

NWRL Extension Corridor Options

Two options exist for linking the NWRL to the Richmond Line. One goes North West to Vineyard, the other continues west through Schofields and towards Marsden Park. Click to enlarge. (Source: http://northwestoptions.com.au)

Proposed: Bankstown to Liverpool extension

This proposal would see the Sydney Metro extended from the currently planned terminus at Bankstown out to Liverpool.

Such a line could link both Bankstown and Liverpool to Bankstown Airport, allowing for potential redevelopment of the current airport site. That would be in line with the Government´s pattern of building new transport infrastructure in places that enable new developments, including Waterloo, Sydney Olympic Park, the Bays Precinct, or the proposed redevelopment of Long Bay Prison. It would also provide connections between Liverpool and the Sydney CBD via Bankstown that are set to be lost once the Bankstown Line is converted to Metro services by 2024.

VIDEO: Sydney Metro: Future Options – Bankstown to Liverpool (Transport for NSW)

Proposed: Parramatta to Western Sydney Airport extension

A Western extension to the Sydney Metro West, this line would link up Parramatta with a Western Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek. With the airport and metro line each scheduled to open in 2026 or later, much of

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has called for a rail link to the airport to be built by the year 2046, but not necessarily ready to open simultaneously with a Western Sydney Airport. However, this was before the NSW Government opted for a North-South rail link from Leppington to St Marys, which is set to be announced jointly with the federal government.

2016-03-12 Parramatta Fast Rail Route

Potential alignments for a fast rail connection from Parramatta to a Western Sydney Airport at Badgeries Creek and the Sydney CBD. Click to enlarge. (Source: Parramatta City Council, Western Sydney Airport Fast Train – Discussion Paper, page 12.)

Proposed: City to Long Bay extension

An Eastern extension of the Sydney Metro West, this line would link up the Sydney CBD to the South East along a former tram reservation on Anzac Parade. To this date, there is no official government proposal for this line, only an unsolicited proposal from 2016.

However, Infrastructure NSW has been investigating the Anzac Parade corridor since 2014. The plans would involve the sale of the Long Bay Prison for redevelopment, which itself would help to fund the construction costs of a rail line down that corridor. This is in line with similar plans for Waterloo, the Bays Precinct and Sydney Olympic Park where new metro lines would support redevelopment that would in turn be enabled by the new metro line.

So far, this corridor has been investigated for an entension of the currently under construction light rail line out to Kingsford. Despite this, the close correlation between the unsolicited proposal and line actually being planned at the moment are close enough that an extension to La Perouse via Long Bay appears like a good proxy for official government policy.

Train capacity would be boosted by 10% into Sydney’s CBD and 16% into Central Station by terminating more trains at Central according to plans prepared for the NSW Government in 2014. The plans would seek to increase rail capacity by maximising the use of existing infrastructure rather than building new infrastructure. However, commuters from stations in Sydney’s West such as Penrith would see their trains terminating at Central’s Sydney Terminal, requiring them to change trains if they wish to continue their journey into the CBD.The changes come in the wake of warnings from the Auditor General that Sydney’s rail network requires additional investment to keep up with growing demand. The Sydney Metro CBD and Southwest will be the first increase in heavy rail capacity into the CBD since the 1979 opening of the Eastern Suburbs Line, but is not set to occur until the year 2024.


Performance data published by Sydney Trains indicates that the most crowded lines into the CBD are in order: the T4 Illawarra Line, T1 Northern Line, T1 Western Line, and T3 Bankstown Line. Each line has patronage during the busiest hour of the morning peak equal to between 147% and 158% of total seats. Crowding levels above 135% often result in delays as passengers struggle to enter and exit trains quickly at stations, resulting in fewer trains per hour and thus reducing total line capacity.

The proposed changes would seek to alleviate pressure on each of these four lines.

  • The T4 Illawarra Line would see an increase in TPH (trains per hour) from 18 to 20, the maximum possible under current signalling.
  • The T1 Northern Line would see its capacity boosted via Strathfield from 10TPH to 15 TPH and eventually an increase in capacity via Chatswood when the Sydney Metro is extended to the CBD in 2024.
  • The T1 Western Line would controversially see cuts to services West of St Marys, which would terminate at Central rather than continue on to the CBD, and on the Richmond Line, which would see a reduction in services from 6TPH to 5TPH. This would be offset by an increase in services between Parramatta and Central, from 20TPH to 26TPH, by extending the Inner West Line out to Parramatta. However, there would be no increase in the current 16TPH that continue past Central into the CBD.
  • The T3 Bankstown Line would see a 25% increase in services, rising from 8TPH to 10TPH; further increasing to 15TPH in 2024 with the extension of Sydney Metro to Bankstown (albeit with a reduction in seated capacity).


Other changes include lengthening some intercity trains from 8 carriages to 12 carriages, while a pair of peak hour train departing from Epping that currently run with 4 carriages could be doubled to 8 in order to further increase capacity. Together, the final effect of these changes could see capacity (measured in terms of the number of 8 carriage trains) of all lines during the busiest hour of the morning peak increased by 10.1% into the CBD, from 109 to 120 trains, and by 16.5% into Central Station, from 118 to 137.5 trains.

Commentary: Changes like these are a needed stop gap

Seeking ways to increase Sydney’s existing passenger rail capacity without having to resort to large investments into its infrastructure should be welcomed. This is something this blog has been calling for since 2013. While unlikely to be welcomed by those adversely affected, if implementing these proposed changes results in 16% or even 10% increases in capacity to the network overall then it will do a lot to get Sydney moving.

The opposing perspective would argue that all main suburban lines deserve direct rail access into the CBD during peak hour without requiring passengers to change trains. Demoting parts of the Western Line to the same status as the Cumberland or Olympic Park Line sets a clear precedent. This argument contains valid concerns.

Either way, infrastructure investment is still needed to cope with future increases in demand. The Auditor General’s report mentioned above found patronage had grown by 4.3% each year since 2011. At this rate, even a 16% increase in capacity would be absorbed by less than 4 years of patronage growth.

This is why new infrastructure such as the 2 Sydney Metro Lines currently being touted cannot come soon enough. Unfortunately, the 2024 opening date for the CBD and Southwest stage of the first line is already too late to meet existing demand. This is why recent suggestions that a second metro line could be opened between Parramatta and the CBD in the mid 2020s should also be welcomed.

Finally, it’s important to note is that these plans are both internal and old. Many aspects already appear to be obsolete, such as the North Shore Line only running 18TPH (the current timetable operates 19TPH) or referring to the first Sydney Metro line as T8 (current government publications suggest it will be branded with an M rather than a T). The Transport Minister Andrew Constance himself raised this in an interview with the ABC. So treat this more as a guide than actual concrete plans or promises.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A metro line connecting Sydney’s CBD to Parramatta is firming as the most likely major rail project to be completed once the currently under construction Sydney Metro opens in 2024. This follows the windfall gains received by the NSW Government in the 99 year lease of its poles and wires, with Daily Telegraph political editor Andrew Clennel citing senior government sources that the highest priority in using the proceeds of the privatisation funds will be a “third Metro line from the CBD to Parramatta — taking pressure off the above-ground rail line which is already near capacity”.

The NSW Government is currently reviewing an unsolicited proposal to build such a line, received in July of this year. The cost is estimated at $10bn and could be partly funded through value capture. This would be possible in sites like the Bays Precinct, Olympic Park, Camellia, and Badgerys Creek. However, it remains uncertain what this means for current plans for a light rail connection from Parramatta to Olympic Park, with suggestions that such a link may be shelved and replaced by a metro rail line.

2017-10-23 All Options.png

Transport for NSW subsequently published a discussion paper and is now seeking feedback until 28 October. The discussion paper outlines a number of options, split into Options A-E Western Sydney (mostly connecting Parramatta to the Sydney CBD) and Options 1-6 Western Sydney Airport (connecting the new Western Sydney Airport to the rail network).

Option A, a new western metro-style service, would appear to be the proposal being put forward by the consortium and therefore be the front runner. It is described as:

This line requires a tunnel to be built between Sydney and Parramatta / Westmead with stations located every few kilometres. It could operate as a stand-alone, metro-style, all stops service using high capacity single deck trains with the potential to transport 40,000 extra passengers per hour. It could potentially provide journey times between Sydney and Parramatta of around 30 minutes and relieve some demand on the existing network. This could also support opportunities for new developments at locations such as Olympic Park, Five Dock and The Bays precinct.

2016-10-23 Option A.png

Option 5, a direct rail express service from Western Sydney Airport to Parramatta, appears to be the proposal most similar to that being put forward by the consortium and would therefore also be the front runner. However, it involves a 160km/hour express service rather than a metro style service with frequent stops as previous Option A put forward:

This option would include a direct rail express service from the proposed Western Sydney Airport to Parramatta and through to Sydney CBD. This line would require a new tunnel as it approaches Parramatta and from Parramatta through to the Sydney CBD. This service offers the potential for the fastest service between the airport and these two major centres, but would be comparatively expensive to construct. Initial assessments indicate that such a line could achieve journey times of 15 minutes from the proposed Western Sydney Airport to Parramatta and 12 minutes from Parramatta to the Sydney CBD based on a maximum speed of 160 kilometres per hour. While such a service would provide a short travel time to the broader Sydney Basin and CBD, it would not necessarily service the population who are expected to work at and use a Western Sydney Airport in the short-term.

2016-10-23 Option 5.png

This proposal builds on a March 2016 Parramatta City Council feasability study which suggested a fast train rail link along this corridor, providing a 15 minute rail journey from Parramatta to the Sydney CBD that would also connect Parramatta to a Western Sydney Airport.

2016-03-12 Parramatta Fast Rail Route.PNG

 

Should such a line go ahead, it would pass though and potentially create a new economic corridor for Sydney. The existing “Global Economic Corridor” originally consisted of an zone spanning across Sydney Airport, the Sydney CBD, North Sydney, St Leonards, Chatswood, and Macquarie Park; recently also being expanded to include Norwest Business Park and Parramatta. This new economic corridor would encapsulate Western Sydney Airport, Parramatta, Olympic Park, the Bays District, and the Sydney CBD. This new corridor would pass through Sydney’s 3 cities described by Greater Sydney Commission Chair Lucy Turnbull.

Commentary: How might this line be built?

The Western rail corridor from Parramatta to the Sydney CBD remains one of the most congested in the Sydney network and yet has been seemingly neglected in terms of capacity improvements. Therefore, additional rail capacity is a welcome possibility. What is less certain is how much of it can be paid for with value capture, whether the journey times will be 15 or 30 minutes, and $10bn price tag.

A recent study focused on the Gold Coast Light Rail line found that value capture would be able to pay for only 25% of the capital costs of building the line. Using that as a benchmark suggests that governments will still be liable to fund the majority of the construction costs for major public transport projects. This is also why the windfall gains from recent privatisations is so significant: it makes a project like this possible.

The 15 minute journey time is possible, but unlikely unless the journey is express. The predicted journey times for the 2008 West Metro, which involved a 22km journey that included 10 stations, was 26 minutes. This equates roughly to 45 seconds/km (the equivalent of 80km/hour), plus an additional 1 minute/station. This also corresponds to the estimated journey times for the Sydney Metro currently under construction. So 25-30 minutes would appear a much more realistic journey time than 15 minutes.

2016-10-23 CBD to Parramatta Metro estimated costs.PNG

Finally, there is the construction costs. Here, a lot depends on how the line is constructed and a number of assumptions will be made. The 2008 West Metro is a good starting point, with the adjustment that it pass through the Bays Precinct and then most likely entering the CBD at Barangaroo. This would involve a similar number of stations, but with a slightly shorter length of perhaps 21km rather than 22km. Curiously, this would effectively see a hybrid of the West Metro and CBD Metro alignments, with the 2008 proposed alignments seen in the map below.

2016-10-18 West Metro and CBD Metro Alignment.PNG

Based on the costs of recent projects, but not taking future inflation into account, a more realistic cost could be just under $11bn for the Sydney CBD to Parramatta portion. From Parramatta to Badgerys Creek, the distance is longer at 26km, but about two thirds of this could be above ground rather than in a tunnel. Additionally, it would likely have fewer stations, probably 4 in total not counting Parramatta. So using the same assumptions, that portion of the project could come in at about $6bn.

That is approximately $17bn, approaching double the $10bn cited by the unsolicited proposal. This should come as no surprise, as unsolicited proposals are in the business of selling their case to the government and thus have an interest in underestimating the potential costs.

Finally there is the question of where to run the line through the CBD. The map accompanying the proposal submitted to the Government, published by the Sydney Morning Herald, suggests connecting the line to the future Sydney Metro at Barangaroo and then another line out from Waterloo out to the soon to be redeveloped Long Bay Prison in Sydney’s South East. This would have the benefit of funneling trains from two separate lines on each end of the central portion of this line, ensuring constant high frequency along the CBD portion of the Sydney Metro.

However, it would also place capacity constraints on the line. For example, it would prevent the Northwest line of the Sydney Metro from increasing its current 15 trains per hour during the peak if the Western line of the Sydney Metro were also to enjoy 15 trains per hour. It would be possible to extend the trains from 6 to 8 carriages, providing a 33% increase in capacity, but not the 167% increase in capacity that is currently possible.

The alternative is to build an additional rail line through the CBD. A second corridor under Sussex St has been reserved for such a future line, in addition to the Pitt St corridor that the current Sydney Metro line will use. Alternatively, the line could cross the CBD in an East-West direction, rather than the typical North-South direction that all the existing rail lines follow. This could potentially provide heavy rail access to Pyrmont or Taylor Square.

Either option would be challenging and disruptive. It would ordinarily also be expensive. But it could be transformational in a way very little else could and NSW has recently come across the billions of dollars necessary for such an endeavour.