Posts Tagged ‘Trains’

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.

VIDEO: Sydney’s Ghost Railways – Part 1 (Bambul Shakibaei)

Lachlan Drummond visited the Transport Heritage Expo on Monday 13 June 2016, the final day of the 3 day event. Below is his account of the event, which he wrote shortly after the event and would have been posted a week ago had this blog’s regular author not allowed it to sit idly during that time.

On the Monday public holiday, my partner and I decided to go down to the Transport Heritage Expo. I had been meaning to go for a few years but something had always crept up.

What is the expo?

The Transport Heritage Expo is a collaboration between Transport Heritage NSW, Transport for NSW, and a number of other NSW transport heritage organisations who are involved in operating and restoring old transport. It has been running for a few years now at Central Station over the June long weekend.

Central station allocates four platforms on the main concourse to display vintage steam, electric and diesel trains and carriages and to run vintage train rides on the actual Sydney trains network.

Steam engine 3642. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

Steam engine 3642. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

The event begins on the Saturday with the now traditional Great Train Race, where 3 vintage trains race down the Western Line from central to Strathfield. After this, the trains come back to central and continue to run services on other city rail lines every two hours or so over the long weekend.

At the station there are vintage trains and carriages on display that have been lovingly restored and maintained by the various transport heritage organisations. You can book a Devonshire tea cooked inside an original 1950s train carriage, and you can even hop into the driver’s cab of a Waratah train on the platform. There’s also a merch stand, a jazz band, and some vintage buses running outside on the colonnade.

The great thing about this expo is you don’t just get to see the trains and buses as a static museum piece. You get to see the trains leave and arrive at a real train station. You get to jump inside the carriages, hop into the drivers cabs and have a look around. And best of all – it’s mostly free. It does cost $25 to ride one of the vintage trains or to have Devonshire tea, but you don’t have to pay anything to climb around them while they’re back at the station. It’s also free to ride the buses. It’s a really great event for train enthusiasts, families and kids in particular.

The trains and carriages

This year the expo showed off a variety of different trains. The big highlight for most people was probably to see a fully operational steam train – engine 3642, hauling vintage carriages down to Hurstville (with an assist from a vintage diesel engine). This train has been beautifully restored, and it was a real joy to see it at the station (unfortunately I didn’t get to ride this one as tickets sold out very quickly). When it pulled into the station you could jump into the drivers cab and have a look around.

A variety of organisations also had some lovely diesel engines on display. The blue engine 4001 was a standout – beautifully painted, and sitting on the platform with its engine open so you could see the inner workings.

Red Rattler F1 with diesel engine 4001 in the background at Central Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

Red Rattler F1 with diesel engine 4001 in the background at Central Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

The guys at 3801 Limited also showed of their excellent restoration job on an old lounge and sleeper car, including the sitting area and bunk cabins. They are looking for some financial assistance to restore the toilet to full working order – if you want to give them a hand you can visit their website. Diesel engine 42101 also looked great.

Sydney Trains also came to the party with a very new Waratah set sitting at the station with the driver cab open. Kids young and old got to sit in the front seat and were shown by a driver how it works.

Riding on the Red Rattler

For me, the train that really stole the show was the recently restored “F1” red rattler electric train, returning to heritage service for the first time in 15 years. We hopped on the 9:30AM Monday service to East Hills and back.

Red Rattler F1 at East Hills Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

Red Rattler F1 at East Hills Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

A collection of 4 carriages built in the 1920s in Clyde and Newcastle, the set features three driver cabins and one passenger cabin, which we travelled in. Amazingly, one of the driver cabins (C3426) was part of the first scheduled service across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932. Some of the carriages saw some renovation work in the 1980s as they were kept in service until 1992 due to the delay of the Tangara trains. After this, Sydney Trains grabbed them and restored them for heritage services in about 1999, but they hadn’t been seen since 2002.

These carriages and interiors were in fantastic condition, with the seats containing the old NSWGR logo on them and the windows and (manual!) doors were fully functioning. An old 1970s network map was still on the wall above my head, featuring stations such as “Goodyear” (Goodyear tires) and “Hardies” (James Hardie) on a spur line near Clyde. An interesting insight into Sydney’s industrial past.

Best of all, this train is in fantastic working order and was an absolute joy to ride. We travelled down the Erskinville-Sydenham-Tempe line, slowly through stations due to the width of the train and rebuilt platforms. Once we hit Wolli Creek and the East Hills express line, the driver opened the throttle and we were soon overtaking local Waratah train services at what must have been close to 70kph. It was seriously impressive stuff.  At East Hills we got out to admire the train before we turned around and went back to central. Plenty of the heritage guys were on the train and were happy to answer questions.

The restoration work on this set is absolutely top notch and full credit must go to Transport Heritage, Heritage Express, Sydney Trains, Howard Collins, and everyone else who worked on it and helped get it back on the rails. Have a ride on this if you get the chance- it’s a real gem.

Riding on a Vintage Bus

The guys from the Sydney Bus Museum are currently going through renovations (and will be reopening in August). This didn’t stop them from bringing out a collection of four vintage double decker buses for some joyrides through the Sydney CBD.

A vintage Sydney double decker bus. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

A vintage Sydney double decker bus. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

Their collection included two sky blue Sydney double deckers, a Green one, in fantastic condition. They also had something pretty special – a genuine Leyland London Routemaster from the 1960s, complete with the great old red colours. By chance we were lucky enough to get on it, and we drove up Pitt street up to Park street, and then around Hyde park and back. These rides were free and very popular, although I did chuck 5 bucks in their donation box (and I hope others did too). It was great to see the city from another angle.

Overall

Last year the Transport Heritage Expo won first prize in the NSW Heritage awards, and it’s not hard to see why. This really is a great day out for everyone, whether you’re a kid, a train enthusiast, or just an older person wanting a bit of nostalgia. While there’s plenty of great stuff to do for free, I really recommend spending the 25 bucks (adult) to ride on one of the old heritage trains. It’s not often that you get the chance to get on a vintage train at central and go somewhere far away on the network. You know the money will be used to keep these great machines running.

This expo is a credit to all the transport heritage organisations who put aside their differences for a weekend to create something really special. It’s an example of what can be achieved when everyone works together. I can see it growing into the future – hopefully in a few years we could get some vintage Sydney trams running through the CBD when the new line is built. How awesome would that be?

VIDEO: Metropolitanisationing: Sydney Transport (Jack Walsh)

There are two rail lines in Sydney currently under construction or in the planning phase. The first is the Sydney Metro Northwest, announced in 2010 and set to open in 2019; it 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. The second is the Sydney Metro City and Southwest, announced in 2014 and set to open in 2024; it 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.

Although no firm plans are currently in place for expansion of the rail network beyond 2024, there are a number of rail lines that have been mentioned by state and federal Transport Ministers, Premiers, and Prime Ministers. In chronological order of their first announcement, these include an extension of the Sydney Metro from Cudgegong Rd to Marsden Park, an extension of the South West Rail Link to Badgerys Creek, an extension of the Sydney Metro from Bankstown to Liverpool, and a new fast train from Parramatta to the Sydney CBD and Badgerys Creek.

(Left out of this list are previously announced rail lines that have been raised in internal government documents or were official government policy but in either case have since been abandoned. These include the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link, a metro line to the Northern Beaches, a metro line to Hurstville, and an extension of the Eastern Suburbs Line to UNSW.)

Cudgegong Road to Marsden Park

Work on preserving a corridor to extend what was then known as the North West Rail Link, now 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)

Leppington to Badgerys Creek

The South West Rail Link would be extended from the current terminus at Leppington through to Badgerys Creek at the new Western Sydney Airport. This line would also include a potential extension North to St Marys and South to Narellan. By connecting to the existing heavy rail network, this line also provides the greatest potential for a freight rail connection to the new airport. However, it does not provide a fast nor a direct rail connection between the airport and Parramatta, the Sydney CBD, nor the existing Kingsford Smith Airport at Mascot.

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

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

This is also the only proposed new rail line that is an extension of the existing heavy rail network. All of the other 3 proposals involve extensions of the Sydney Metro network currently under construction or the creation of a new single deck fast train.

Bankstown to Liverpool

An extension of the Sydney Metro City and Southwest, set to open in 2024 between Chatswood and Bankstown via the Sydney CBD, this would see the line extended further out to Liverpool.

The proposed Southern extension of Sydney Metro would see the line extended from the currently planned terminus at Bankstown out to Liverpool. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The proposed Southern extension of Sydney Metro would see the line extended from the currently planned terminus at Bankstown out to Liverpool. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Such a line could link both Bankstown and Liverpool to Bankstown Airport, allowing for potential redevelopment of the current airport site into a new business park. 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 at some point in the next 8 years.

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

Sydney to Parramatta

Parramatta City Council, in conjunction with the Western Sydney Business Chamber, have proposed a fast train from the Sydney CBD to Parramatta that would complete the journey in as little as 15 minutes. It also includes a Western Link between Parramatta and a future Western Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek.

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.)

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.)

The Eastern Link has 4 potential alignments to Parramatta Station:

  1. Upgrading the existing surface rail corridor with stations at Central, Strathfield, and Lidcombe. This would not reduce travel times by more than a few minutes below the current 25 minute minimum. It would also do the least to add extra capacity.
  2. A tunnel underneath the existing rail corridor with stations at the future Sydney Metro Station in Pitt St, Croydon, and Lidcombe. This has longer journey times than Options 3 or 4 and has limited scope for value capture. However, it provides the most favourable tunneling conditions.
  3. A tunnel South of the Parramatta River with stations at the future Sydney Metro Station in Pitt St, White Bay, and Olypmic Park. This is the shortest and fastest option. It also has the best scope for value capture and most challenging tunneling conditions.
  4. A tunnel North of the Parramatta River with stations at the future Sydney Metro Station in Barangaroo, White Bay, and Ryde. This is longer than Option 3, but passes through more existing centres. It has less scope for value capture but better patronage in the medium term.

The Western Link has 2 potential alignments between Parramatta Station and Badgerys Creek:

  1. A Southern corridor with an intermediate station in Liverpool.
  2. A Northern corridor with an intermediate station in either Blacktown or near the M4/M7.

The Western Link has fewer details than the Eastern Link. Proponents are split over which section to build first, with Parramatta City Council CEO Greg Dyer supporting an Eastern Link and Parramatta MP Geoff Lee supporting a Western Link. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has called for a Western Link to be built earlier than 2046, but not necessarily ready to open simultaneously with a Western Sydney Airport. Sydney Morning Herald City Editor Jacob Saulwick argues that an Eastern Link is more pressing given the capacity constraints between Parramatta and the Sydney CBD, but that it would be a good stage one for when a future extension to Badgerys Creek becomes needed and built as stage two.

A station at either McEvoy St or Green Square could form part of the new Sydney Metro railway currently under construction according to NSW Government plans. These plans show a range of potential alignment options considered for the line between Central Station and Sydenham, ranging from a Western alignment through Sydney University and Newtown through to an Eastern alignment through Waterloo and Green Square. The Government recently decided that the line should pass through Waterloo, rejecting the Sydney University option. However, these plans pre-date that decision.

Sydney Metro station and alignment options. Click to enlarge. (Source: Chatswood to Sydenham State Significant Infrastructure Application Report, page 51)

Maps of the potential alignments show that a line through Waterloo could go directly to Sydenham, but could also potentially continue South to include an additional station either McEvoy St in Alexandria or Green Square where an existing Airport Line station is located. A station at Green Square could allow for easy transfers between the two lines outside of the congested CBD. These stations have not been mentioned previously by the Government when discussing either the Sydney University or Waterloo options.

The Sydney Metro consists of two stages. Stage one comprises the former North West Rail Link from Rouse Hill to Epping together with the Epping to Chatswood Rail Link, which is scheduled to open in 2019. Stage two consists of a new tunnel from Chatswood to Sydenham together with the conversion of the Bankstown Line from Sydenham to Bankstown, which is set to begin construction next year and open in 2024. The line will operate with driverless single deck trains with limited seating on a frequent turn up and go style timetable.

VIDEO: Shaun Micallef: Australia’s NBN proposals

A High Speed Rail (HSR) network connecting Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, and Brisbane has been shown to create more benefits than costs while fares would pay the operating costs of trains on such a network. Yet there seems little appetite in the government to build one. Initially, this may appear to be due to the high initial costs of $114bn to build it; but on closer inspection it may be necessary to re-evaluate the way we look at HSR as something for regional Australia rather than just for travel between the capital cities.

Cost benefit analysis suggests that HSR is worth building. The Phase 2 Study found that HSR has a BCR (Benefit Cost Ratio) of 1.1 when a 7% discount rate is used. Thus, the benefits of building HSR are greater than the costs. However, the bulk of these benefits would accrue to the users of HSR in the form of time savings. In 2028 dollars, HSR users would receive $141bn of the total $180bn of benefits that HSR is expected to create. An additional $14bn of benefit go to operator benefits, which help to pay the operating costs and up to $16bn (14%) of infrastructure costs, but this still leaves the government paying for $98bn (86%) of infrastructure spending on HSR. (Sources: HSR Phase 2 Study Executive Summary, pages 42, 9).

This means the government would be subsidising the travel costs of HSR users to the tune of $98bn. This is unlike the NBN, where the initial infrastructure spending is expected to be eventually recouped. The majority of users (65%) would be leisure travellers; however the bulk of the benefits would be realised by business travellers (the remaining 35%), who would receive $93.6bn of the $141bn of benefits. That is because of the higher value attached to their time. This point was raised by Alan Davies in Crikey, who proposed that “if the [time] saving is so valuable to business travellers, they should pay the full cost of constructing the line”. The Phase 2 Study even recognises that these travellers would be willing to pay a higher fare:

“Increasing the cost of fares would increase the financial returns and reduce the funding gap, although doing so would reduce the number of people using the system. Even so, the economic benefits of the program would remain positive.”Source: HSR Phase 2 Study Executive Summary, page 9

Higher fares would have the benefit of reducing the government’s cost below $98bn. However, it would do so by impacting leisure travellers the most, with many choosing not to travel on HSR. Business travellers would mostly still continue to use HSR, but the loss of many leisure travellers would see the total benefit of the project reduced. Although the Phase 2 Study claims the economic benefits in such a situation would still remain positive (i.e. a BCR greater than 1), this may be based on the less conservative 4% discount rate, rather than the more conservative 7% discount rate that is normally applied to transport infrastructure projects. The 1.1 BCR that a 7% discount provides is dangerously close to falling below the 1.0 required for the project to be economically viable. Therefore, as it stands HSR does not appear viable without a $98bn government subsidy, most of which would flow to business travellers who least need government welfare.

An alternative perspective

The Phase 2 Study emphasises that HSR accrues more benefits as time progresses, given the growth in population. If governments work collaboratively and actively to preserve potential HSR corridors then HSR cost increases should be limited. Therefore, HSR becomes more viable as time progresses with benefits growing faster than costs.

Since HSR gains most of its benefits from additional users, one way to increase the viability of HSR is to add additional population to the corridor. This would be much easier to achieve around the regional stations where constraints are much more limited than in the major cities. HSR could act as an enabler, allowing a greater number of people to live and work in regional areas without becoming isolated from those services only available in major cities. The Phase 2 Study’s assumptions of modest population growth in regional towns situated on the HSR route show that this was not considered as part of the feasability for HSR.

In fact, the Phase 2 Study finds that HSR will produce $73.2bn in benefits from intercity travel, more than the $67.5bn in benefits from regional travel (Source: Department of Infrastructure, page 43). This finding that most of the benefits accrue from intercity travel rather than regional travel suggest that not enough is being done to massively develop regional Australia. HSR provides this opportunity which in turn makes HSR more viable.

Proposed East Coast High Speed Rail alignment. Click to enlarge. (Source: Department of Infrastructure, page 17.)

Proposed East Coast High Speed Rail alignment. Click to enlarge. (Source: Department of Infrastructure, page 17.)

 

This idea was floated by the ABC show Catalyst in its 4 December 2014 episode “Future Cities“, in which Dr Julian Bolleter says:

“So, what we think is really important, as the capital cities grow beyond mid-century, is that we begin to think not so much in terms of mega cities, but mega regions. Essentially, it means chains of smaller cities connected with very good public transport infrastructure. So we could conceive of a mega region running from Brisbane to Sydney through Canberra to Melbourne which is bound together by a high-speed rail link, and those cities will have access to affordable land, and they’ll also be able to be designed from the ground up around the principles of 21st-century sustainability. High-speed rail can travel at about 350km/h, so there’s no city along this mega region that is further than two hours commute on a high-speed train from a capital city.”Source: Dr Julian Bolleter, ABC

Achieving this would require us to rethink how HSR would work in AustraliaShadow Transport Minister Anthony Albanese recently wrote on HSR in which he concluded one well thought out and one not so well thought out point. His statement that “people could live in regional Australia and commute to work in the city” was not well thought out; this is true only to the extent that people can currently commute to work in Sydney by flying into Kingsford-Smith Airport, or any other major city airport. However his point that “companies could establish themselves in the regions, taking advantage of lower costs but comfortable in the knowledge the city was a short train ride away” hits the nail on the head.

In order for HSR to be a success in spurring regional development people need to live, work, and spend leisure time in the same place. Employment opportunities as well as services that are needed on a day to day basis such as health and education would be provided locally. But the existence of HSR provides convenient access to services which are not needed day to day, such as medical specialists or major cultural festivals.

If the 1,700km HSR corridor had a station every 100km or so along major regional cities, and these cities were allowed to grow to 800,000 residents each (as Dr Bolleter suggests in the Catalyst video), then it would be roughly equivalent to a doubling of the existing populations of Sydney and Melbourne combined. Once it becomes prohibitively expensive to retrofit the necessary infrastructure into our growing major cities, it will become cheaper to build it in regional cities even after the cost of HSR is factored in. Australian cities have not reached that point yet, but it remains a question of when rather than if they do reach that point.

VIDEO: Malcolm Turnbull announces new Cabinet (ABC News)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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