Posts Tagged ‘Transport plan’

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.

Train frequencies will be boosted, with hourly train capacity increasing from the current 20 trains per hour to 24 trains per hour, under a recently announced NSW Government plan to spend $880m on a new digital signalling system. This would mean a train every 2.5 minutes, compared to the current maximum frequency of 3 minutes, and future proof the network to allow a train every 90 seconds in the future.

The new technology will be rolled out on the T4 and T8 Lines first, with additional capacity likely to come online by 2022. The NSW Government points out that these lines require additional capacity due to the surge in demand on them in recent years, with the number of trips on stations on these lines increasing by as much as 94% in the 3 years to 2017. It will then be expanded to the remainder of the network throughout the rest of the 2020s. Capacity at Central Station’s Sydney Terminal will also be boosted to allow more outer suburban and intercity trains to terminate there.

https://t.co/JUW1kGFRQi

Source: More Trains, More Services, NSW Government (page 5)

South Line trains from Campbelltown and Northern Line trains from Epping and Hornsby could now terminate at Sydney Terminal rather than continuing through the City Circle and Harbour Bridge.

Meanwhile, the T2 Inner West Line looks set to be extended from Parramatta out to Richmond, with the Richmond Line moving from T1 to T2. This would sectorise the T1 and T2/T5 Lines, which run from Sydney’s West into the Harbour Bridge and City Circle respectively.

What this means is that trains on each of these lines would no longer share tracks, as they currently do between Blacktown and Strathfield. Thus, a disruption on one of these lines would not spillover into the other. The T4 Line has been operating on a separate sector for decades, quarantining it from any disruptions on other lines.

https://t.co/JUW1kGFRQi

Source: More Trains, More Services, NSW Government (page 7)

Additional trains for these additional services are also set to come online in the coming years, with the arrival of the new B-Set Waratah trains and repurposed OSCARS as well as the transfer of the Epping to Chatswood and Bankstown Lines to Sydney Metro coinciding with the installation of the new digital signalling. Although the Waratah trains are likely to simply replace the ageing unairconditioned S-Sets, the OSCARS (which themselves are being freed up due to a new intercity fleet of trains) could provide the additional capacity required.

At the same time, the new signalling system could provide the opportunity to simplify train operation from 2 staff per train to 1 staff per train. Together with the introduction of driverless trains on the new Sydney Metro Line, this could provide a pool of drivers and guards who could be trained to operate the new services. This would be critical if the Government wishes to avoid a similar network meltdown like the one that occurred on the network in early 2018 when insufficient drivers caused an emergency timetable rewrite.

Previous proposals to send all Richmond Line trains to Liverpool on the T5 Cumberland Line look to have been abandoned in favour of maintaining direct Sydney CBD access for all stations, albeit with a much longer journey time for those wanting a one seat journey. Passengers on the Richmond Line wanting a faster journey would have the option of changing to an express train on T1, or to a Sydney Metro service at Parramatta or Schofield if and when metro lines are built to those stations. However, it will have the benefit of extending direct services from Sydney’s Inner West further out than Parramatta as is currently the case.

This plan compares favourably to a 2014 plan presented to the NSW Government that could increase train capacity without waiting for new rail lines come online in the mid 2020s, but do so by terminating more trains at Sydney Terminal. This was a necessary compromise given that multiple line branches merge into a central core with a maximum capacity of 20 trains per hour, which itself is almost exhausted. Instead, by increasing that capacity by 20%, from 20 to 24, those additional services will continue to be able to enter the Sydney CBD. Thus achieving a medium term step up in capacity at the cost of an $880m signalling upgrade while waiting for new lines to be built that will provide long term increases in capacity.

VIDEO: Sydney Metro Means: This Engineering Life, Transport for NSW (2 November 2017)

It was a simple plan: create a new government agency to oversee a top down plan for Sydney’s future infrastructure needs as a city, bringing together various departments that had previously operated in isolated silos. To give it legitimacy, appoint someone with good political connections and relevant government experience. Though this might sound a lot like Lucy Turnbull and the Greater Sydney Commission (GSC), it’s actually a description of Nick Greiner and Infrastructure NSW (iNSW).

However, iNSW’s fate seems to have been isolation and subservience given that its 2012 infrastructure plan famously clashed with the Transport for NSW (TfNSW) transport plan. Ultimately, this ended with the then state government opting for the TfNSW plan and Mr Greiner stepping down. Despite this, the GSC appears to be faring much better.

It does raise the question of if adding a 2nd agency to manage Sydney’s infrastructure was unsuccessful, whether adding a 3rd is a step in the right direction. So far, the GSC’s tendency to cooperate with existing departments at the state and federal level could explain its success and provide support for retaining it going forward. Indeed, the Greater Sydney Commission’s plan, the Metropolis of Three Cities, was released in late 2017 and does not differ much from Transport for NSW’s plan, the recently released Future Transport 2056.

Metropolis of Three Cities. Click to enlarge. (Source: Greater Sydney Commission.)

As the Greater Sydney Commission’s plan has been in the public domain for longer, the remainder of this post will focus more on that plan, but in the context of the recently released Transport for NSW plan.

The Greater Sydney Commission plan curiously looks to the past, revisiting the concept of a polycentric city from the 2005 City of Cities Metropolitan Plan. This concept simultaneously rejects the idea of continuing to centralise solely in the Sydney CBD or to continue to decentralise out into the suburbs. Instead, it is a hybrid solution of focusing on Sydney’s various activity centres. The main three, the Sydney CBD; Parramatta; and future aerotropolis at Badgerys Creek, are the most prominent and form the basis of the 3 cities proposal. But it also includes many suburban centres such as Bondi Junction, Castle Hill, or Liverpool.

The release of the Future Transport 2056 plan earlier this week appears to further reinforce this idea of looking backwards, with train lines from Bondi Junction to Bondi Beach or from Parramatta to Epping that had been abandoned for years making their way out of their graves, almost zombie-like, back into an official Government transport policy document. Whether these are serious considerations, a desire to regularly revisit old ideas in the hope that the facts on the ground have changed sufficiently to make them viable, or merely a cynical exercise at promising new infrastructure so far out into the future that few will even remember it when it doesn’t end up happening won’t be known for quite some time.

Future Transport Plan 2056. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

 

However, the Greater Sydney Commission plan looks to the future through the addition of that extra major centre: the aerotropolis at Badgerys Creek. Prior plans for Sydney included a major urban centre in the Sydney CBD and a secondary centre at Parramatta. The Western Sydney aerotropolis will likely mirror Parramatta in size, though both will continue to be dwarfed by the Sydney CBD.

This focus on 3 cities, each with their own major urban centre at their heart, is reflected by how transport would be organised around it. Unlike other transport plans from the previous 2 decades, this new plan includes an expansion of the high capacity rail network to create orbital rather than radial lines. In other words, new rail lines that do not reach the Sydney CBD but rather work to create a grid or mesh of lines that allow easy travel from a disperse range of origins and destinations through the use of quick and easy transfers.

But a closer look at this plan shows that these orbital lines are in fact radial lines for the two new centres. For example, a North-South rail line from St Marys to Campbelltown via Badgerys Creek or an Epping to Kogarah rail line via Parramatta. Even light rail lines such currently planned in Western Sydney linking Westmead, Carlingford, and Sydney Olympic Park all radiate out from Parramatta.

There is merit to these sorts of proposals. Up until now, all high capacity transport lines (be they rail or road based) have been based on carrying passengers to or from Sydney’s CBD. This radial network works great if travel to or from the CBD is the main aim, but does little to provide mobility for those hoping to travel from other origins and destinations unless they both happen to be on one of these radial connections to or from the CBD. In fact, when the now head of Transport for NSW, Rod Staples, was asked what he thought the priorities should be following the completion of the current set of public transport projects (see video at the beginning of this post), his answer was the creation of a grid rail network, such as by building a North South railway line between Hurstville and Macquarie Park via Bankstown and Sydney Olympic Park. However, as this line does not pass through one of the 3 identified cities, the current apparent key criteria, such a line would seem unlikely to receive approval under the current regime.

 

One other issue of note that should be commended is the ongoing emphasis on promoting transport corridors for improvement that do not immediately indicate the mode of transport. These are corridors where additional capacity needs have been identified first, and where improvements to them is to be investigated. Once that is done, the mode (e.g. heavy rail, metro, light rail, bus, etc) is to be determined. This method, where the problem is identified first and then a solution proposed, is far superior to the alternative: proposing a solution in the form of a mode of transport (often a pet project of a particular minister or lobby group) and then looking for a corridor in which to install it. Indeed, at least some of the problems of the CBD and South East Light rail could be put down to this sort of thinking when it was proposed.

With this comes uncertainty. And it is this uncertainty that is one of the main weaknesses of the current plan. Projects currently under construction seem pretty certain to be completed. Then there are a few other projects that are set to begin soon, such as the Sydney Metro West. But beyond that there is little sense as to which of the myriad of proposals are likely to actually get built and which will end up being deferred indefinitely yet again, code for cancelling a project.

VIDEO: South West Rail Link Aerials

Thursday: Federal government funds first urban rail project

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

2014-05-22 Jamie Briggs

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

Thursday: Opposition infrastructure plan

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

A NSW Labor Government will build all transport projects currently under or about to commence construction plus a second Harbour rail crossing as part of its infrastructure policy released yesterday. It would also drop plans for a 99 year lease of the electricity distribution network, obtaining its $10bn funding by not cutting $5bn worth of business taxes and using $5bn of unallocated funding in the government’s Restart NSW infrastructure fund.

Under Labor, projects already under construction, such as the North West Rail Link and CBD and South East Light Rail, would be completed. Projects about to commence construction, such as the M4 East; M5 East duplication; and NorthConnex, would also be completed. In addition, Labor has also committed to the $1bn upgrade to the Western Sydney rail network, which will include improved signalling and longer platforms for trains that are 10 carriages long rather than the existing 8 carriages.

Labor will committ to completing the NWRL and has given qualified support for a second Harbour rail crossing to connect it to the CBD. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Labor will committ to completing the NWRL and has given qualified support for a second Harbour rail crossing to connect it to the CBD. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The plan would see both WestConnex and a second Harbour rail crossing modified. WestConnex’s M4 East would link up directly to the CBD along a yet undefined path, while the M5 East duplication would be redirected to the airport and seaport at Botany. Meanwhile, the Inner West bypass linking the M4 and M5 would be dropped entirely. Any construction on a second Harbour rail crossing would begin 5 years later than currently planned, in 2022 rather than 2017, and also be subject to a “rigorous cost-benefit analysis and business case”. In addition, no committment was made for a Western Sydney Harbour road tunnel or Western Sydney light rail.

Commentary: The wrong priorities

Labor’s refusal to consider privatisation, despite being supported by former Labor Premier Morris Iemma and Prime Minister Paul Keating, has limited its ability to promise an infrastructure plan as large as the Coalition’s. The Sydney Morning Herald’s transport reporter Jacob Saulwick put it best when he described it as “less of the same” in comparing it to the Coalition plan. In fact, other than the changes to WestConnex, this is largely a copy of the Coalition plan with some elements dropped and others deferred.

One positive to come from this report is an M5 East duplication that links up to Botany rather than St Peters. One of the main benefits of WestConnex will come from taking freight trucks off local roads, and having a direct connection will achieve this while also adding capacity to a growing port.

Labor should also be commended on committing to a second Harbour rail crossing. But deferring its construction for 5 years and adding conditions to that construction puts question marks over whether it is serious about building it. Yesterday’s policy document even quotes Nick Greiner, notorious for opposing rail projects and supporting tollroads, to make this case. In doing so, it reveals the real problem with this plan – it shifts priorities away from rail and towards roads.

Most disappointing is that this plan makes a clear committment to building a new freeway right into the CBD, while maybe building a new rail line into the CBD at a later point in the future. These are the wrong way around. Roads, which have their place, should provide travel opportunities from low density origins and/or destinations, acting as a bypass of dense areas like the CBD. Rail, on the other hand, works best at transporting large numbers of people from high density origins and/or destinations. So to build a road into the CBD but not rail is highly perverse.

WestConnex and the proposed Western Harbour road tunnel, both of which are plagued with problems like property acquisitions or of inducing demand for car travel, enjoyed the major advantage that they would remove cars from places like the Sydney CBD or Newtown’s congested King St. In the CBD, it would also see roadspace on the surface taken away from cars on George St and Elizabeth St as part of the CBD light rail line as the former is pedestrianised and the latter is converted to a bus road.

It is here, and not Labor’s inability to accelerate infrastructure construction due to it committment to maintain public ownership of state owned assets, that is most concerning. Labor prioritised roads rather than rail, and those are the wrong priorities.

Infrastructure NSW released an update to its infrastructure plan in November 2014. Unlike the 2012 report, this one puts a greater emphasis on rail. Here is a (belated) overview of the main recommendations for the rail network.

Sydney Trains/NSW TrainLink (p. 34)

Major upgrades will focus on the T1 Lines, which are expected to see stronger growth in demand than other lines. These include lengthening of platforms, to allow longer trains to stop at certain stations; amplification of track, akin to adding more lanes to a road; and improved signalling, which allows more frequent train services without compromising safety.

The longer platforms will primarily benefit intercity train services, with new intercity trains to be 12 cars in length compared to the current 8 car trains. Meanwhile, the business case for improved signalling is expected to be completed over the next 18 months.

No specific details are given on where track amplifications will occur. A commonly touted corridor is on the Northern Line between Rhodes and West Ryde, which would upgrade the entire Strathfield to Epping corridor up to 4 tracks. This would allow service frequencies to be increased along this corridor while still maintaining a mix of all stops and express services. Such capacity improvements are necessary for Upper Northern Line trains that currently reach the city via Chatswood to instead be diverted via Strathfield when the Epping to Chatswood Line is closed down for upgrades as part of the North West Rail Link project in 2018.

Sydney Rapid Transit (pp.37-38)

Construction on a Second Harbour Rail Crossing is to begin in 2019, with completion in 2024-25. It has a BCR (Benefit to Cost Ratio) of 1.3 to 1.8, meaning that every $1 spent on the project will produce benefits of $1.30 to $1.80. The total cost will be approximately $10.4bn, with $7bn to come from privatisation of state electricity assets and $3.4bn from existing funding already committed. Additional stations will be considered at Artarmon, Barangaroo, and either Waterloo or Sydney University; which the report recommends partly being funded by beneficiaries of the new stations, a concept known as “value capture” (p. 146). The current plan has the line connecting to Sydenham Station via tunnel, rather than utilising the existing corridor between Erskineville and Sydenham which has been reserved for an additional pair of tracks.

Proposed new stations include Artarmon (not shown), Barangaroo, and either Sydney University or Waterloo. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Proposed new stations include Artarmon (not shown), Barangaroo, and either Sydney University or Waterloo. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Improving efficiency (p. 35)

Transport for NSW will further investigate the effectiveness of off-peak pricing and improved shoulder peak services on spreading demand. The report notes that, following the October 2013 timetable changes, improved frequencies during the shoulder peak periods (the time immediately before and after peak hour) saw 5% of peak hour journeys shift from peak hour to the shoulder. Transport for NSW notes that this represents “more than two years of patronage growth”, adding however that “this option is not ‘cost free’: additional rolling stock may be required to provide these services on some lines”. Despite these concerns, it is likely that improved efficiency can at the very least defer the need for more expensive capital expenditure to expand the rail network.

Light rail (p. 40)

Two light rail projects are discussed, the first being and extension to the existing Inner West Line out to White Bay where significant urban development is planned; which the second is an extension of the proposed CBD and South East Line to either Maroubra (1.9km), Malabar (5.1km), or La Perouse (8.2km). Neither of these extensions have funding attached to them.

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

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

Freight (pp. 62-63, 65)

A Western Sydney Freight Line is mentioned, as is a Maldon to Dombarton Railway and associated improvements to the Southern Sydney Freight Line (SSFL). The latter would link up Port Kembla to the SSFL in South West Sydney, thus removing freight trains from the T4 Line in Southern Sydney. Such a move is likely a prerequisite for increase passenger frequencies on the T4 Illawarra Line as well as extending Rapid Transit Services from Sydenham to Hurstville at some point in the future.

The Maldon to Dombarton Railway would allow freight trains to travel between Sydney and Port Kembla without using the T4 Line through Hurstville and Sutherland. Click to enlarge. (Source: Infrastructure NSW, State Infrastructure Strategy Update 2014, p. 65.)

The Maldon to Dombarton Railway would allow freight trains to travel between Sydney and Port Kembla without using the T4 Line through Hurstville and Sutherland. Click to enlarge. (Source: Infrastructure NSW, State Infrastructure Strategy Update 2014, p. 65.)

Commentary: What’s missing and what’s next?

No mention is made of a rail line to the Northern Beaches, the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link, an extension to the T4 Eastern Suburbs Line, or a CBD bus tunnel. The last 2 of these projects were proposed by Infrastructure NSW in its original 2012 report, designed to eliminate the need for light rail through the CBD. With the NSW Government opting to go ahead with the surface light rail option, both of these projects appear to have been dropped by Infrastructure NSW.

Infrastructure NSW’s combatative approach also appears to have been dropped replaced with a more cooperative approach to transport planning with Transport for NSW. Whereas in 2012 the Infrastructure NSW report was seen as an alternative to the Transport for NSW Transport Master Plan, and an alternative that focussed more on road based transport rather than rail based transport; this 2014 update reinforces, rather than contradicts Transport for NSW. It’s difficult to look past the departure of Infrastructure NSW’s inaugural Chairman and CEO, Nick Greiner and Paul Broad (both strong advocates for roads and road based transport), when looking for a reason why this may have happened.

Looking towards the future, the $20bn privatisation of 49% of the electricity distribution network in 2016 will provide funding for a decade – in particular to fund the construction of the Second Harbour Crossing, $7bn from privatization money is to be added to the existing $3.4bn allocated to it, with construction to begin in 2019 and the project completed by 2024-25. If the Premier Mike Baird has his way then construction will begin in 2017, potentially fast tracking this project to 2023. This would be 4 years after the opening of the NWRL, a welcome change to delays and deferrals that NSW has become used to.

Additional expansions of the transport network that come after that are currently unfunded and uncommitted. These include any extension to the North West and South West Rail Links, light rail to Maroubra and White Bay, and the Outer Western Orbital Freeway.

One option is that the remaining 51% could be sold off to pay for it. Alternatively, these projects could be funded out of consolidated revenue, built at a slower pace than would otherwise be the case. Following the coming decade of strong additions to Sydney’s stock of infrastructure, this may be an acceptable option. Either way, the 2015 election will not settle the debate over privatisation. This will be an issue that will remain on the table for decades to come.

It was revealed earlier today that the Government is making plans for a new Harbour tunnel, which would link a proposed extended Westconnex freeway near the Anzac Bridge to the M2 in Sydney’s North. Such a corridor was not news, it was included as one of the 4 corridors for investigation in the 2012 Transport Master Plan. But it now appears that the Government has moved beyond investigation and is actively planning for its eventual construction.

Road projects recommended by the Transport Master Plan. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport Master Plan, page 140.)

Road projects recommended by the Transport Master Plan. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Transport Master Plan, page 140.)

Concerns have been raised about the continued expansion of the freeway network. One source reportedly asked “where does WestConnex end” while transport advocacy group Action for Public Transport said the proposal was “bad policy” and that “more roads = more congestion”. Urban planner Lewis Mumford famously said in 1955 that “building more roads to prevent congestion is like a fat man loosening his belt to prevent obesity”.

The author of this blog sympathises with these views and believes strongly that a sustained investment in expanding public transport infrastructure should take priority over road infrastructure in Australia’s major cities.

Despite that, roads are still needed. While it makes sense to encourage mode share towards public transport and away from cars, there are some trips that are more suited to public transport and other better suited to cars. Trips into the CBD and other major centres or within the dense inner city, for example, are well suited to public transport. This is evident by the high mode share which public transport already has into the CBD (70% of all journeys to work in the 2006 census). In these places, it should be further encouraged through greater investment in public transport, more bus lanes, or even pedestrianisation of streets. However, trips from dispersed and/or low density origins and destinations are much better suited to car transport and here car trips hold a high mode share (85% of all journeys to work in the 2006 census). Consider that a single occupant car is much more sustainable from both a financial and environmental perspective than a bus with a single passenger. In these cases, investment in roads is needed to provide the most efficient mode of transporting people.

Too many times ideology clouds what should be a mode-agnostic review. If the best mode for a particular area is rail, then rail is what should be built. If it is walking, then wider footpaths are needed. If it is cars, then more roads should be the solution. Extremist and ideological views, such as opposing all urban freeways or all urban railways, are not helping.

Which brings us back to the proposed tunnel. This tunnel, much like Westconnex, does not actually take traffic into the CBD. It acts as a bypass, allowing cars to go from the very dispersed origins and destinations mentioned earlier. It is a ring road which, as this blog outlined last year, is the best kind of road. It allows cars to do what they do best – transporting people and goods to and from dispersed locations; meanwhile it quarantines the CBD for what public transport does best – transporting large numbers of people into a small area.

The smart thing to so would be to push for improvements to the proposal, rather than oppose it. For example, this would provide a great opportunity to have bus lanes all the way along the Western Distributor, Anzac Bridge, and Victoria Road. This would be similar to the bus lane that was instated on the Harbour Bridge when the Harbour Tunnel was built. This would go well with the planned urban renewal of the surrounding Bays precinct, which would need additional public transport capacity to support additional development. Light rail, either a spur from the existing line to Dulwich Hill or a new line along the Victoria Road corridor, should also be considered.

What is not helpful is the idea that this is an either/or situation. Sydney can and should have more road and public transport infrastructure. What matters is not the mode, but whether that mode is appropriate for the purpose.

Note: I’ts been pointed out by Simon in the comments that buses feed in from Chalmers St, not just Cleveland St, and that those buses from there that continue through the city do so via Elizabeth St. These buses were all assumed to terminate at Railway Square, so it does not change any of the figures used below, though it should probably increase the number of buses on Elizabeth St (both now and in the future) by perhaps a few dozen.

The current CBD bus network is a spaghetti like tangle of lines that are difficult to understand and even harder to run efficiently. It can, however, be broadly broken down into 3 main corridors: Elizabeth St, George St, and York St/Clarence St. In total, 1,010 buses enter the CBD area during the busiest hour of the AM peak (Source: Sydney’s Light Rail Future, p. 18).

The current CBD bus network is complex, inefficient, and leads to unnecessary congestion. The current proposal would consolidate buses into 3 main North/South corridors and 1 East/West corridor. Click to enlarge. (Source: Sydney's Light Rail Future, p. 17)

The current CBD bus network is complex, inefficient, and leads to unnecessary congestion. The current proposal would consolidate buses into 3 main North/South corridors and 1 East/West corridor. Click to enlarge. (Source: Sydney’s Light Rail Future, p. 17)

Elizabeth St

This is busiest in the Northbound direction during the AM peak. It is primarily fed by buses from William St (45/hr), Oxford St (99/hr), Campbell St (23/hr), and Foveaux St (33/hr), and Chalmers St (85/hr). Many of the Chalmers St buses (those coming from Cleveland St) terminate at Railway Square, rather than continuing on to Circular Quay, so that equates to about 200 buses on Elizabeth St in the Northbound direction.

There are also Southbound express buses coming off the Eastern Distributor (56/hr) at the Northern end of the CBD, but this is not the peak direction so causes little congestion.

George St

This is currently the main bus corridor in the CBD and is busiest in the Northbound direction in the AM peak. It is primarily fed by buses from Cleveland St (85/hr), Parramatta Rd (175/hr), and the Anzac Bridge (113/hr). Most of the Cleveland St buses terminate at Railway Square, rather than continuing on to Circular Quay, so that results in about 288 buses on George St in the Northbound direction. The 2 main feeder roads into George St merge at Town Hall, and North of this point there are a significant number of half empty buses, causing unnecessary congestion.  By running high capacity trams along this corridor and forcing some passengers to transfer onto half empty vehicles heading towards Circular Quay, there exists a real potential to raise both speed and capacity.

South of Town Hall, buses on the York St/Clarence St corridor also travel along George St. However, this is not the peak direction  so causes little congestion.

York St/Clarence St

This is busiest in the Southbound direction during the AM peak. It is fed exclusively by buses from the Harbour Bridge (379/hr). Buses from the Northern Beaches terminate at Wynyard Station, while buses from the North West continue South to Central Station. The latter travel on George St South of Town Hall Station.

Proposed changes

A number of changes are being looked at to reduce the number of buses travelling through the CBD. These include diverting buses from York St to the Cahill Expressway (implemented in February 2013), converting buses from North West Sydney to the CBD into feeder buses for the North West Rail Link (NWRL), making buses from the Anzac Bridge through-route to William Street and vice versa, reducing the number of buses when the new South East Light Rail Line opens, and moving any remaining George St buses to Elizabeth St to make way for a pedestrianised George St with light rail.

Initial proposed changes to the CBD bus network in the AM peak. Click to enlarge. (Source: Sydney's Light Rail Future, p. 18)

Initial proposed changes to the CBD bus network in the AM peak. Click to enlarge. (Source: Sydney’s Light Rail Future, p. 18)

York St: Diverting buses that currently travel along York St to the Cahill Expressway began on 18 February 2013, with those buses now terminating at Market St and Pitt St. Passengers are able to show their ticket to continue South on another bus, which is a promising sign for integrated fares. This resulted in the removal of about 60 buses during the morning peak, or about 33 buses arriving in the CBD between 8AM and 9AM.

Once the NWRL comes online in 2019, a further 160 buses during the morning peak (which according to some rough estimates is about 103 buses between 8AM and 9AM) will be converted into feeder services for the NWRL. Together with the Cahill diversions, this will reduce the number of buses on York St in the AM peak from the current 379 in the busiest hour to about 243 buses. These buses will also now terminate at Town Hall rather than continuing to Central, and passengers will have to transfer at Town Hall onto an East/West bus or a North/South tram or train if they want to travel further into the CBD or elsewhere.

2013-08-24 Bus numbers on York St

George St: 158 buses currently enter the CBD from the Anzac Bridge (113/hr) and William Street (45/hr) before continuing through to Circular Quay via George St. These will instead become East-West through-routed buses, requiring passengers to get off at either George St for a connecting tram, Elizabeth St for a connecting bus, or either for a connecting train in order to get to their final destination in the CBD. The previously mentioned buses, trams, and trains should by then have spare space due to some passengers disembarking, thus allowing a much greater capacity within the CBD via a more efficient use of the existing public transport infrastructure (rather than running lots of half empty buses and trains as is currently the case). Druitt St will become bus only between York St and Clarence St in order to accommodate this.

Elizabeth St: Once the George St and South East Light Rail Line comes online by 2020, an additional 93 buses will be removed, from Parramatta Road (33/hr); Foveaux St (33/hr); and Oxford St (27/hr), while an additional bus will be added to Campbell St (1/hr). This will result in the Foveaux St/Albion St routes disappearing, with passengers being shifted nearby either to buses on Crown St/Campbell St or trams on Devonshire St. Together with the removal of Anzac Bridge/William St buses, this will reduce the number of buses on the combined George St and Elizabeth St corridors from 488 buses to 238 buses. That in turn will allow all these buses to travel exclusively on Elizabeth St, which will see its number of buses increase from 200 to 238 in the busiest hour, thus becoming the main bus corridor in the CBD.

2013-08-24 Bus numbers on Elizabeth St

This loss of 92 buses during the busiest hour of the AM peak represent a loss of capacity equivalent to 4,600 passengers (assuming 50 passengers per bus). However, this will be offset by the 9,000 passengers per hour capacity of the new light rail line. Government figures suggest that this will result in a 50% increase in passenger capacity along the Anzac Parade corridor from the current 10,000 per hour to 15,000 per hour.

Express buses along the Eastern Distributor will remain, as these service the Northern end of the CBD and travel in the counter peak direction, thus don’t significantly contribute to congestion. The redesign will also include a new North/South corridor along the Western edge of the CBD up to Barangaroo, though details on this are limited.

Integrated fares

For many passengers, these changes mean transferring from one vehicle to another, generally from a bus to a tram or vice versa. Passengers on Anzac Bridge/William St buses will need to change in order to continue travelling into the Northern end of the CBD, many passengers from North West Sydney will need to catch a feeder bus to a NWRL station and then catch a train the rest of the way, while passengers from South East Sydney might similarly need to catch a feeder bus before transferring to a tram to get into the CBD. All of these are multi-modal journeys, and would require passengers to pay a multi-modal fare.

Currently, this means a myMulti, which represents a fare penalty, with different passengers being charged a different fare for travelling the same route depending on how many vehicles they used. This is despite transfers generally being more efficient, from both a passenger time and operating cost perspective.

Opal does have a fare cap ($15/day and $60/week), but these would still be well above the cost of a myBus Travel Ten ($7.36/day and $36.80/week) or even a myMulti1 ($44/week).

It therefore makes a lot of sense for an integrated network (which relies on transfers) to be accompanied by an integration of fares. If it doesn’t happen with the Opal roll-out, then it should happen when the CBD bus network is redesigned at the end of this decade.

This week’s announced dual resignations of Nick Greiner and Paul Broad, the Chairman and CEO of Infrastructure NSW (iNSW), was the eventual result of a battle of ideas within the NSW Government. On one side was those who supported a large scale expansion of Sydney’s roads network via aggressive use of toll roads, a view shared  by Mr Greiner, Mr Broad, iNSW, and the Daily Telegraph. On the other was those who supported a large scale expansion of Sydney’s public transport capacity with a focus on the rail network, a view supported by Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian, Transport for NSW (TfNSW), and the Sydney Morning Herald.

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

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

The two government departments each championed their view via separate policy documents. TfNSW published the Transport Masterplan, which called for light rail on George St and a Second Harbour Rail Crossing. iNSW published the State Infrastructure Plan, which called for a CBD Bus Tunnel and extension of the Eastern Suburbs Railway, which rejecting both light rail on George St and the Second Harbour Rail Crossing. TfNSW responded by itself rejecting the Bus Tunnel and not incorporating the extended Eastern Suburbs Line into the final version of its plan. The NSW Government adopted both of the TfNSW proposals, but never of iNSW’s. Given the option, e government sided with TfNSW every single time its department disagreed with iNSW.

Part of the media circus around this revolves around a misunderstanding of the role of iNSW. It is often compared to Infrastructure Australia (IA), which is tasked with evaluating transport projects and determining which will get government funding, a process designed to take the politics out of the decision. But while IA is staffed by former Transport Department bureaucrats and in in charge of distributing funding from the federal government, iNSW is staffed by former Treasury bureaucrats and is in charge of obtaining funding from the private sector.

The role of iNSW is not, and should not be to determine, design, or deliver transport projects. Where it has, it has failed. The CBD Bus Tunnel was discredited and rejected by TfNSW on the basis that it lacked integration, did not provide opportunities for urban renewal, lacked a viable corridor for construction, and cost 4 times as much as the light rail option, amongst other reasons (Source: Sydney’s Light Rail Future, pages 25-26). The WestConnex’s slot idea for Parramatta Road, initially conceived as an innovative way to build the M4 East at a lower cost than a tunnel, turned out to be more expensive than a tunnel and has now been scrapped because iNSW did not do its homework. Even the first project set to be administered by iNSW, the temporary Glebe Island convention centre, will now not happen. It is now clear that iNSW has been ineffective at determining, designing, or delivering transport projects, and should leave this to the experts at TfNSW while it sticks to what it can do – obtain private sector funding for PPP projects.

This might have been fine, had Mr Greiner considered himself a valued contributor to the NSW Government. But as has been demonstrated, the Premier Barry O’Farrell sided with his Transport Minister over his Infrastructure Tsar every time Ms Berejiklian and Mr Greiner had a disagreement. Disappointed by his inability to convince the NSW Government on issues like those mentioned, as well as things like privatising the state owned poles and wires in order to fund additional infrastructure, it was clear that someone had to go. And that meant that Mr Greiner and Mr Broad’s resignations became an inevitability.

They will be missed by some, such as the Daily Telegraph’s state political editor Andrew Clennell, who believes that “it’s ended in tears” and that “the danger is now, with a cautious poll-driven premier, nothing will get built”. But few tears are likely to be shed by those who have advocated for a greater focus on public transport, rather than on roads.

The 2013 October timetable re-write is the O’Farrell Government’s greatest opportunity to fix the trains, as Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian often chants, during its first term. The Cityrail system is currently plagued by poor reliability and rising levels of overcrowding. The latter has been caused by insufficient capacity and has become so much of a problem, that it has led to longer dwell times at stations which in turn further reduces reliability and also the maximum number of trains that can pass through those stations during peak hour. This, ironically, further reduces total capacity, which makes the problem even worse.

I’ve previously looked at how the rail system can be improved via simplifying the network. In this post I’m going to look into how to do it by increasing capacity. In particular, what has been confirmed for the 2013 timetable, and what is rumoured to be likely.

Overcrowding

Cityrail measures overcrowding twice a year in terms of passenger loads – the proportion of passengers to seats on each train (each 8 carriage train has about 900 seats). If each seat is taken, then it has a 100% load. If there are 35 standing passengers for every 100 seated passengers, then it has a 135% load. It is once you go above a load of 135% that dwell times begin to become problematic.

Actual overcrowding by line in September 2012. (Source: Cityrail)

Actual overcrowding by line in September 2012. (Source: Cityrail)

Based average loads during the AM peak, the most overcrowded lines are the Bankstown Line (134%) and Northern Line (143%). Also high are the Airport & East Hills Line (127%), Illawarra Line (123%), Western Line (119%), and South Line (119%). These are just average loads, however, and it can be higher or lower for each individual train. So when looking at maximum loads, only 2 of the 9 suburban lines have all their trains below the 135% load – those being the Eastern Suburbs Line (which consists of only 3 stations before reaching the CBD) and the North Shore Line (which at 128% is only just below the 135% cut-off).

Spare capacity

The CBD subway portion of the rail network has 3 lines (Sectors) – the Eastern Suburbs Line (Sector 1), the City Circle (Sector 2), the Harbour Bridge (Sector 3). Each of these can handle 20 trains per hour in each direction. Sydney Terminal at Central Station also provides some capacity, and currently handles 12 trains per hour during the AM peak (4 Blue Mountains, 4 Central Coast, 3 South Coast, 1 Schofields). Each of these has some spare capacity (subject to rolling stock availability).

The Harbour Bridge (Sector 1). 16 Western Line and 4 Northern Line trains enter the CBD from the South, meaning this approach is already at capacity (though the one Schofields train that terminates at Central could be extended to cross the Bridge). 18 trains from the North Shore Line enter the CBD from the North, meaning 2 additional trains can be added here.

The City Circle (Sector 2). 15 trains pass through the City Circle in both the clockwise and anti-clockwise directions. The breakdown is 7 South Line, 5 Inner West Line, and 3 Bankstown trains enter the CBD via Town Hall, while 12 East Hills & Airport Line, and 3 Bankstown Line trains enter the CBD via Museum. Trains from Bankstown can enter from either direction, providing a large amount of flexibility in how the spare capacity of 10 trains per hour is assigned.

The Eastern Suburbs Line (Sector 3). 15 Illawarra Line trains enter the CBD from the South and 15 Eastern Suburbs Line trains enter the CBD from the East. However, there are also 3 South Coast Line trains that terminate at Central which share the same track as the 15 other trains South of Central, and so there is only really an additional capacity of 2 trains per hour in each direction here.

Sydney Terminal. If the 3 South Coast Line trains are extended to Bondi Junction while the Schofields train continues across the Harbour Bridge, as mentioned earlier, then this can create additional capacity at Sydney Terminal for 4 trains an hour.

Changes in the 2013 Timetable

The Eastern Suburbs Line (including the South Coast Line) will see its capacity increased from 18 trains per hour to the maximum 20 trains per hour. Whether this is in both directions, or just from the Illawarra Line side is uncertain. The latter is likely given that trains from Bondi Junction are the least crowded in the network and probably don’t need additional services.

“two additional services [on the Eastern Suburbs Line] to be provided in the peak” – Source: Sydney’s Rail Future, p. 19

Additional services will be added to the Bankstown Line, though no figure is mentioned. However, 2 more trains per hour, increasing the current 6 to 8, seems reasonable.

“The Bankstown line will receive new services in peak times from 2013” – Source: Sydney’s Rail Future, p. 18

On the Airport & East Hills Line’s maximum capacity will be increased to 20 trains per hour, compared to the current 12 (4 express via Sydenham and 8 all stops via the Airport). However, for the 2013 timetable, it appears only an additional 4 services are being added, raising the number of services via the airport from 8 to 12, while maintaining the 4 Sydenham express services

“Sydney’s south west will see an increase in train services with the commencement of the 2013 timetable…Upgrades to the power supply and safety aspects of the Airport line will allow for services from Holsworthy, Glenfield and the South West to be doubled from the current eight to up to 16 services per hour…With the addition of Revesby services, this will allow a total of 20 services per hour through the Airport line” – Source: Sydney’s Rail Future, p. 19

“increase peak hour services to the Airport from eight to 12 per hour” – Source: Transport Master Plan, p. 313

This uses up 6 of the available 10 “slots” on the City Circle (discussed above in spare capacity), leaving 4 unused. This leaves enough spare capacity for when the South West Rail Link comes online in 2016 and Sydney Trains has another major timetable re-write.

“new rail timetables planned for 2013 and 2016” – Source: Transport Master Plan, p. 135

This means that no additional capacity is available for the South Line or Inner West Line in the short to medium term. However, on overcrowding, the problem with these lines appears to be less their average loads (109% and 119%) which are on the low end for Cityrail as a whole, but more their maximum loads (153% and 164%) which are near the top of the list for all the lines. Here the solution seems to be to more evenly spread out services, rather than have long waits between successive trains – which causes overcrowding of some trains even if the average load is quite reasonable. This would certainly be an improvement, though is still less than ideal.

“Following the opening of the Homebush turnback and the introduction of new trains, the Inner West line will see the introduction of a reliable timetable offering higher frequency services. These measures will eliminate the 20 minute service gaps that can occur at some stations during peak periods” – Source: Sydney’s Rail Future, p. 19

A lot of rumours exist about the Western Line and Northern Line, but few things have been officially confirmed. It initially appeared that the government was considering removing direct services for the Richmond Line, sending its trains to Campbelltown via the Cumberland Line, and also for Northern Line trains from Epping via Strathfield, which would terminate at Central Station. However, a draft copy of the 2013 timetable, circulated to Railcorp employees recently, appears to show no stations on these lines will lose direct services to the CBD. Instead, some Western Line trains will continue through to Hornsby via Macquarie Park rather than along the North Shore Line as they do now. This may provide an increase in capacity to the upper Northern Line at the expense of the upper North Shore Line – though this could also be done by trains that terminate shortly after Chatswood, and so see little change in services for the Upper North Shore.

What is more certain is the addition of 2 more trains per hour on the Northern Line starting at Rhodes, a station that has seen its patronage grow strongly in recent years due to surrounding developments. These trains would probably terminate at Central.

“Two additional trains to service the busy North Strathfield to Rhodes corridor will be introduced in the shorter term” – Source: Sydney’s Rail Future, p. 19

The government has also spoken of increasing frequencies on the North Shore Line from 18 to 20 per hour. However, it has not said when it plans to do this, other than it will happen by the time the North West Rail Link (NWRL) opens in 2019. Given the relatively low average loads on the North Shore Line compared to other lines, this makes additional services in 2013 look unlikely.

“Peak period services [on the North Shore Line] will increase from the current 18 trains per hour to 20 trains per hour prior to the new Harbour Crossing” – Source: Sydney’s Rail Future, p. 17

[tweet 304804527931002880 align=’center’]

Finally, the Cumberland Line, which provides a direct link between Parramatta and Liverpool, will return to all day service. The draft timetable suggests it will be half hourly services from 7AM till 7PM.

“Parramatta will be better connected to Liverpool and the south west, with all-day, frequent and reliable Cumberland services” – Source: Sydney’s Rail Future, p. 19

Improvements and remaining problems

If the new timetable does look like this, then it will provide significant improvements to overcrowding on a number of lines. Assuming similar patronage numbers, overcrowding as measured by average loads could drop on the Illawarra Line (123% down to 109%), the Northern Line (143% down to 95%), and the East Hills & Airport Line (127% down to 95%). Sending Western Line trains to Epping via Chatswood could also further alleviate overcrowding on the Northern Line.

Estimated overcrowding by line for October 2013.

Estimated overcrowding by line for October 2013.

Where it does not directly deal with overcrowding is on the Inner West Line, South Line, and Western Line. This may be partly mitigated by some passengers opting to take trains on other lines that have seen increased services, or perhaps via a more even distribution of crowds on trains on the South and Inner West Lines due to shorter headways between trains (as discussed above in Changes in the 2013 Timetable).

Some additional relief could be provided by running some trains into Sydney Terminal at Central Station, or by improvements in signalling allowing more trains to operate per hour. However, the former provides only limited improvements while the latter is both expensive and may take many years to roll out.

Future developments

The NWRL is currently scheduled to begin operation in either 2019 or 2020. Preliminary estimates show this will divert around 19 million passengers per year to it from other lines, presumably mostly from the Western Line. This translates to around 6,000 passengers per hour during the AM peak (using some quick back of the envelope calculations), compared the the current 16,000 passengers that use the Western Line’s 16 suburban trains during the busiest hour in the AM peak. This will have the effect of providing additional capacity on the Western Line (Sector 3) by shifting passengers away from it, rather than expanding its actual capacity.

Once a Second Harbour Rail Crossing is built around 2030 it will link up the NWRL to the Bankstown Line as well as the Illawarra Line through to Hurstville. This will free up space on the City Circle (Sector 2) previously used by Bankstown Line trains as well as space on the Eastern Suburbs Line (Sector 1) previously used by Hurstville trains that will now use the new Harbour Crossing route instead.

Sources

Sydney’s Rail Future, Transport for NSW (June 2012)

Transport Master Plan, Transport for NSW (December 2012)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NSW Newspoll

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

The 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.

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

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

Parramatta to Chatswood Rail Link

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

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

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

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

Parramatta to Chatswood alignments

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

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

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

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

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

The Daily Telegraph reports that cabinet is expected to make a decision on light rail when it meets next week. The light rail issue had already been before cabinet twice before heading into a cabinet meeting again last week. Light rail is expected to be split into two stages: stage one from the University of NSW to Central Station, and stage two from Central Station to Circular Quay via George Street.

Stage one of the light rail extension will go from the University of NSW and head North to Central Station. Then, if it goes ahead, stage two will continue North from Central Station through to Circular Quay. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport Master Plan, page 155.)

Stage one of the light rail extension will go from the University of NSW and head North to Central Station. Then, if it goes ahead, stage two will continue North from Central Station through to Circular Quay. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport Master Plan, page 155.)

Stage one has been almost a certainty ever since it received the endorsement of both Transport for NSW and Infrastructure NSW, and will be built first.

There remains some uncertainty over whether or even when stage two, the George St light rail, will be built, though the Telegraph states that the Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian “is understood to be winning the argument” on building light rail between Central and Circular Quay. The two major arguments made against stage two have been the cost and the disruption to CBD streets during the construction phase. The latter was particularly problematic given that the disruption would occur at the height of the next state election, and it is for this reason that construction of light rail on George St will not begin until after the 2015 election.

The final version of the transport masterplan is to be released this month, in which all the recommendations from Infrastructure NSW will have been considered and then either adopted or rejected. Other things to look out for when this report is released are the fates of the BRT tunnel under the CBD and a second Harbour rail crossing.

The recent Infrastructure NSW report correctly states that 93% of motorised transport is on roads (page 77), and concludes from this that funding should go primarily to roads (it includes buses in the 93%, as they travel on roads). Yet another way of looking at it is to look at the share of trips by cars (both drivers and passengers) of total trips, and in that case only 68% of trips are by private car, the remainder being mostly 11% on public transport (buses and trains) and 18% walking (Source: 2010/11 Household Travel Survey). A better way of measuring the relative importance is to look at the total distance by mode, in which case cars represent 79% of total passenger km, while public transport is 16% of passenger km.

The reason this is important is that Infrastructure NSW argues that roads do the main heavy lifting, and so deserve the bulk of the funding. Yet by doing so it perpetuates the dominance of the car over public transport, something which is unsustainable from both an environmental and economic point of view given the direction in which oil prices are headed in coming decades. Quentin Dempster’s interview with the CEO of Infrastructure NSW, Paul Broad, on 7.30 NSW highlights this perfectly:

Dempster: You’ve surrendered to our dependency on the car. There’s no attempt by Infrastructure NSW to facilitate a paradigm shift to double public transport usage to decongest this city.

Broad: 93% of movements are on roads today. I don’t see that changing a lot given the nature of our city.

Dempster: You’re not even going to try to change it.

Broad: And secondly, I’ll make the point, I’ll make the point we’re very pro-buses. As many people get on a bus, which runs on a road, as get on a train. Buses are a very effective means of public transport, often the poor relation to much of the public transport debate.

Mr Broad’s report does support buses, but buses cannot handle the sorts of capacities that rail can, particularly over longer distances. That’s why the total passenger km for rail in Sydney is over double what it is for buses, despite the number of trips for buses and trains being about the same. This is because the average train trip is 16.7km, while the average bus trip is only 6.7km, so to compare just the number of trips does not show the full load carried by each mode.

In addition, transport is something where building supply creates its own demand. By building more roads, it also builds demand for them. This is illustrated by the graph below taken from the Herald Independent Transport Inquiry, which shows how the completion of the M4 between Mays Hill and Prospect created what’s known as induced demand – demand for driving that was not previously there.

The Infrastructure NSW report provides the counter argument (page 80-81) that new roads are in fact needed to keep up with growing demand, and that building these new roads is merely unlocking that demand which was already there, but being held back by congestion and slow travel speeds. They are not, it argues, designed to reduce congestion or increase speeds. But given the higher capacity of public transport, a better way of providing this additional capacity would be to entice a modal switch from car to public transport, thus freeing up existing capacity.

Nor is it guaranteed that demand for roads will continue to grow. Infrastructure NSW points out that it is currently forecast that 4 million additional trips per year will be made in 2031 compared to 2011 (age 81). Of these, 73% are from cars (drivers and passengers) while 7% are from trains and 3% from buses. It uses these figures to argue that a Second Harbour Crossing is not needed, and so should not be built.

However, looking at number of km travelled, rather than trips, then the proportion by cars drops to 64% of the increase, while public transport’s share of the increase jumps from 10% to one 32%. Not only that, but these assume that no Second Harbour Crossing will be built! Infrastructure NSW is therefore merely peddling a self fulfilling prophecy.

Despite this, the government’s marquee road project: the West Connex, is on balance a good idea. It has been designed in a way that minimises the cost (by using a slot rather than a tunnel for the M4 East), while maximising the contributions to the project’s cost (through the collection of tolls and potentially value capture of the increase in land values along the corridor). As a result, the road can be constructed with an estimated $2.5bn contribution by the government, despite the $10bn price tag. It also provides capacity for the sort of trips which are best made by cars: to non-activity centre destinations (West Connex does not connect up directly to the CBD and parking spaces there will remain unchanged, so car drivers will not be encouraged to drive in) and off-peak trips (both the M4 and M5 remain congested during the off-peak hours, as well as peak).

The real problem with West Connex is if the government is forced to take on the traffic risk, away from the private sector. If this is the case, and traffic volumes are not as high as predicted, then the cost to the government will blow out beyond $2.5bn, and put other projects at risk, particularly public transport projects.

When I discussed the main problems I had with Infrastructure NSW’s First Things First report, I mentioned that there were a few other issues I had with it which I had left out for the purposes of brevity. Those two were the potential for high density development along the Parramatta Road corridor and the problems caused by trying to retrofit the Harbour Crossing into a single deck metro system.

The cut and cover slot construction method proposed for the M4 East benefits from having much lower costs than a tunnel. The concept art for this shows an increase in housing density along a rejuvenated Parramatta Road (below). Suggestions for increasing housing density along Parramatta Road have been talked about for decades, and the corridor has been spoken of as being able to house some 100,000 residents. But high density needs good quality public transport to work (a motorway is not enough), just as good quality public transport needs high density to work. And what this proposal seems to be lacking is improved public transport, either Bus Rapid Transit or Light Rail, perhaps even an underground or aboveground metro, to carry large quantities of people along the corridor.

An artists impression of the M4 East portion of West Connex. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: First Things First, page 89.)

The Urban Taskforce is one group pushing for higher densities along Parramatta Road and its CEO, Chris Johnson, voiced his concerns for just this reason. This means one of two things: the opportunity for high density, walkable, sustainable housing will be squandered, or provision must be made for some kind of mass transit system to be built concurrently with the M4 East.

Infrastructure NSW’s insistence that a Second Harbour Crossing it too expensive and should be deferred until it is really needed also has its problems. One would be that the CBD rail lines could be shut down for months and access remain restricted for years as the existing Harbour Crossing is converted to single deck metro capability and then connected to lines that enter the CBD from the South. Such a conversion and link would also occur with a Second Harbour Crossing, but this would involve a new line built through the CBD which ensures that any lost capacity is made up by new capacity through this new line.

What the Infrastructure NSW report does not seem to appreciate is the complicated system of connections between different lines. Connecting trains on one line to another can often result in the use of flat junctions, which delay trains on other lines. Think of it like an intersection with traffic lights, if there is a green light for one road then there must be a red light for the other road. This is why there is a system of dives and flyovers on the rail lines between Redfern and Central, to allow trains to move from one line to another without disrupting trains on those other lines. But these connections are limited in what they can do, and to build in new ones to link up the lines the way Infrastructure NSW wants would result in the shut down mentioned earlier.

Taking the massive disruptions into account, along with the cost of retrofitting the existing crossing, and the lack of long term capacity improvements that it brings, you have to start to wonder if not building a Second Harbour Crossing really is as unaffordable as Infrastructure NSW makes it out to be.

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.

Miscellaneous:

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”.

Despite the conflicting views between the Transport for NSW Transport Master Plan and Infrastructure NSW First Things First report, the two reports actually agree on quite a few things. Both endorse the construction of one large rail project: the Northwest Rail Link, and both endorse the construction of one large road project: the WestConnex. Both endorse distance tolling and time of day tolling (i.e. congestion charging).

A summary of the projects recommended, along with the timetable for their construction, is included below. It is split up by transport corridors identified as having high and medium constraints by Transport for NSW, and also colour coded by which department supports each project.

Click on image for higher resolution. (Sources: Transport Master Plan, Transport for NSW, and First Things First, Infrastructure NSW.)

Probably the best bit of news is that both agree on what needs to be done in the next 5 years. Even in the medium term, there are only minor differences between the 2 plans, essentially a choice between light rail on George Street or a bus tunnel connecting Town Hall to Wynyard. It’s only in the long term, the 10-20 year window, where serious differences begin to appear.

It will be up to the Premier, Barry O’Farrell, and the Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian, to make the final decision on which bits of each report to go along with. In an interview with ABC’s 7.30 NSW program, Mr O’Farrell has recently repeated his promise that congestion charging will not be introduced, despite both plans recommending it, and that a Second Harbour Crossing will occur, despite opposition from Infrastructure NSW.

The ideological debate

The transport debate in Sydney seems to be building up on two sides: those who want more public transport, and those who want more roads.

On one side you have those who want funding for public transport prioritised. This includes the Minister for Transport, Gladys Berejiklian, who’s department, Transport for NSW, released a (relatively) pro public transport report: the Transport Master Plan, as well as the Sydney Morning Hearld, which released a (very) pro public transport report: the Independent Public Inquiry into Public Transport and has trashed the idea of the $10bn WestConnex plan as “an awful lot to pay for a bigger traffic jam”.

On the other side you have those who want funding for roads prioritised. This includes Nick Greiner, who’s department, Infrastructure NSW, released a pro roads infrastructure report: First Things First, as well as the Daily Telegraph, which released a (mildly) pro public transport report: The People’s Plan for Sydney (Transport and Driving), then ironically went on to seemingly only focus on the roads aspect of it, dismissing the Transport Master Plan as “vague and cobbled-together”.

The tension between the two sides erupted quietly behind the scenes two months ago when the Director-General of Transport for NSW, Les Wielinga, resigned from the board of Infrastructure NSW due to differing visions that each of the two bodies had towards how transport should be approached in Sydney. The differences of opinion, amongst other things, became so great, that Mr Wielinga no longer felt it appropriate to sit on a board that would sign off on a report that presented recommendations so different to those of his own department’s report.

Interestingly, when asked what the best way to reduce traffic congestion was at the recent Community Cabinet this past August, Roads Minister Duncan Gay said it was to get as many people out of their cars and into public transport. That puts the 2 most important members of the cabinet more or less on the side of public transport, while the biggest supporter of roads, Mr Greiner, sits as the chairman of an independent body that advices cabinet but does not make the final decisions.

Where the risk lies

The poor financial experiences of both the Lane Cove Tunnel and Cross City Tunnel, which saw the private sector take on the risk of unknown levels of traffic, have put a dent in the viability of private public partnerships. Many private infrastructure funds are now hesitant to invest in road projects, given the uncertainty of toll revenues that may come from it. However, it hasn’t all been doom and gloom – both the M7 and M2 have performed well, with the latter being widened to meet higher than expected traffic levels. The difference, I think, was the higher costs of tunnels, making recouping the initial investment more difficult – if you raise the toll then you also reduce traffic, which further reduces your revenues.

The Infrastructure NSW report seeks to lessen the risk to private investors by shifting some of that risk back to the government. Presumably, if traffic forecasts, do not eventuate, then it will be the government that is left to pay the costs of the project, rather than the private investor. This will increase the number of potential investors, but at what cost?

The point of PPP projects is precisely that it shifts the risk away from the government and into private hands. And risk goes in two ways – you might get a dud (like the CCT or LCT), but you might also land what is effectively a license to print money (like the M2 and M7). It’s the basic risk vs return concept that you learn in every introductory business subject in the first year of university. If the government is now suggesting that it will accept the downside risk, while letting the private investors take all the upside risk, then it defeats the purpose of doing a PPP in the first place! You may as well get the government to build it.

In reality, the way to lure more private investors is to find ways of building new roads more cheaply. Tunnels are expensive, building on open land is not. This where the WestConnex plan of digging a slot under Parramatta Road came from – it’s cheaper than building a tunnel, thus making it a more viable project. It can then be tolled and given over almost entirely to private investors, who will then take on the risk of what the actual traffic volumes will be. But if the government takes on the downside risk, then that estimated $2.5bn government contribution could balloon. Suddenly that Second Harbour Crossing won’t seem so expensive after all.

The cost of priorities

Barry O’Farrell’s landslide victory in 2011 was based in large part on a promise to build new infrastructure. His biggest promise was to build the Northwest Rail Link, which is progressing and will be built by the end of the decade. (The Second Harbour Crossing is not quite guaranteed to happen, no matter how many times the government wants to reassure the people of Sydney that it will also complete it.) He also promised to build a new motorway, but declined to specify which one, instead choosing to commission Infrastructure NSW to decide which one. The release of its report this week meant the government will now get started on building the WestConnex. The price tag for these 3 projects is $29bn, or over $6,000 per person in Sydney. Excluding the Second Harbour Crossing, and assuming that three quarters of the WestConnex will be paid for by tolls still leaves the government with a cost of $11.5bn.

This has to be paid for. And it would be difficult to pay for under normal conditions. But this government doesn’t have normal conditions. It is facing a revenue black hole, led by a slow NSW economy and lower than expected GST receipts. This is why the government has been cutting spending so much: $1.7bn cut from education, $3bn cut from health, $2.2bn from capping salary increases to 2.5%, amongst others. It has also put privatisation on the table: the power generators, Port Botany, the desalination plant, everything except the poles and wires might be sold off by the government. Many of these are unpopular, but the government has made the decision that its priorities lie in funding infrastructure investment and that this means other areas must have their priorities reduced in order to achieve that goal.

The government has not considered deficit spending to build new infrastructure, and this is a shame. A budget deficit now means spending tomorrow’s money today. If spending that money today results in a stronger economy tomorrow, one that creates greater tax revenues tomorrow, then deficit spending makes sense. Spending on infrastructure or education, things that create a more productive workforce and/or economy, are different to spending on social programs or handing out tax cuts. But don’t expect that to happen if it puts our AAA credit rating at risk.

There were a lot of things in Infrastructure NSW’s First Things First report that I didn’t like. Whereas the Transport for NSW Transport Master Plan tried to look at each transport corridor objectively, considered how it fit into the bigger picture, and then suggested the best possible solution for it, Infrastructure NSW almost seemed like it just wanted to build more roads and approached each transport corridor with that vision in every case.

CBD Bus Rapid Transit Tunnel

This idea needs to die an unholy death. I almost hate that I need to explain why this is such a bad idea, but here goes.

A very early proposed map for the CBD BRT would see a tunnel between Wynyard and Town Hall, removing many buses from the surface streets. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: First Things First, Infrastructure NSW, page 99.)

The idea behind the underground bus tunnel is that light rail on George Street between Central and Circular Quay is flawed, and that a better option would be to link up buses that normally travel through the city and send them under the CBD instead. Light rail, the report argues on pages 97 and 98, would be incompatible with a pedestrian boulevard on George Street, and the presence of large numbers of pedestrians on the relatively narrow stretch of road would require light rail to run at slow speeds. Light rail would also require people to interchange from buses to light rail to travel through the city, and make trips that originate and end outside the city but are on buses that travel through the city require 2 interchanges (one at each end of the city). The report also argues that the bus tunnel would have a maximum capacity of 20,000 passengers per hour, compared to only 9,000 for light rail.

While the report generally does a good job of prioritising projects based on cost, this is the one exception where it has opted for a $2bn bus tunnel, rather than a $1bn surface light rail. To put that into perspective, for $2bn you could build light rail along George Street, extend the Northwest Rail Link to St Leonards to reduce interchanging problems at Chatswood Station, and build the Northern Beaches BRT through to Mona Vale.

This plan also eliminates one major benefit that buses currently have, which is frequent bus stops that connect passengers with the streetscape. Instead, they will be required to get off at one of two super interchanges, then struggle to find a way to their ultimate destination.

The last point appears to be the most dubious, the figures just look fudged. Brisbane’s extensive busways network (one of the largest BRT networks in the world) and underground CBD bus stations are cited almost as inspiration for this bus tunnel, yet the peak load for Brisbane is 9,000 passengers per hour (source: Harkness, 2003, page 4). Meanwhile, Melbourne’s tram network (one of the largest light rail networks in the world) sees 1 tram per minute travel along Swanston St during the peak hour (source: City of Melbourne, 2009, page 19), which at 300 passengers per tram (the same figure used in the report) gives 18,000 passengers per hour. That’s twice the capacity of BRT. In practice, the gap in the realistic capacity of BRT vs light rail is likely to be narrower, but the idea that BRT has a higher passenger carrying capacity than light rail in practice is fanciful.

Now in theory, buses have an hourly capacity of close to 100,000 passengers, assuming one full bus every 3 seconds. This works on a freeway with no traffic impediments, but runs into trouble as soon as you start to need enormous amounts of kerbside space for passengers to get on and off the bus. This problem currently exists, particularly along York Street in the morning, where 600 buses enter the CBD via the Harbour Bridge each morning peak. The lack of kerbside space dedicated to bus stops (it’s about 200m at Wynyard and Town Hall) means you get a conga line of buses waiting for their turn to turn into the kerb and open their doors. That is the biggest capacity contraint at the moment, and is one reason why the government is trialling double decker buses (which have longer dwell times, but use up less kerbside space than the longer bendy buses). Yet somehow the bus tunnel plan would handle this better with 2 platforms, each 55m in length at each of Town Hall and Wynyard. In other words, it would halve the kerbside space available at the moment. This will not end well.

The one good part of this proposal is the overhaul of Town Hall and Wynyard Stations that it also recommends. This part of the proposal should definitely happen, whatever ends up happening to the rest of it.

Roads, Roads, Roads

The report provides a lot of statistics about transport use, and then uses these to support its conclusion that more roads are the answer. But we all know the old saying: “lies, damned lies, and statistics”. Here is an example of 2 statistics that paint starkly different pictures

  1. 93% of all motorised transport each day is on roads.
  2. 81% of all CBD journeys to work each day are made on modes other than cars.

The first makes it look like everyone drives everywhere. But motorised trips excludes active modes of transport like cycling (2% of trips) and walking (18% of trips), while also counting bus trips (6% of total) as road trips. The second, on the other hand, looks only at peak hour into the very dense core of the city, the part of Sydney with the best public transport links at the time of day when they are most plentiful.

A better question would be, what is the problem we have with transport? The top two answers to that would be:

  1. there is too much congestion, which is slowing down my journeys, and
  2. there is no public transport (or it is infrequent) to where I need to go so it is easier to drive

The first occurs mainly during the peaks, and mainly heading into dense activity centres. In these cases, the best way to reduce congestion, is to get more people out of cars and into high capacity transport. This is where public transport shines – predictable, twice daily large scale migrations of people to and from dense activity centres. You would need 10 lanes of road traffic for every track of rail to move the same number of people, so it just doesn’t make sense to make more roads the answer to this problem.

The second occurs mainly during the off peak and for journey that start and end in low density suburban areas. Both of these tend to occur in areas and road corridors that have spare capacity, so not only is congestion less of an issue, but additional road capacity is not needed.

Unfortunately, the Infrastructure NSW report does not make this nuanced differentiation, and instead lumps it all together, sees that there is congestion in the peak to dense activity centres on one hand and that car trips dominate travel in the off peak and to non-activity centre locations, then suggests that the answer is more roads. But in reality, in many cases, more roads are not the answer.

The pro roads agenda can be seen best when any mention of public transport is almost immediately assumed to be buses. The report sees little to no role for rail to play in Sydney’s transport future. This should not be a road vs rail debate, each mode has its place and people who constantly argue for a metro or light rail even where a road based transport solution is a better fit are as much of a problem as those who advocate for roads.

No Second Harbour Crossing

Had the O’Farrell Government not made the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) its signature infrastructure project, then this report would probably have told the government not to build it. In fact, the NWRL barely even rated a mention in the report, potentially because it was originally only mentioned in the context that it should not go ahead, and when you got rid of all of that then there was nothing left to say. But what the report was able to say was that a Second Harbour Crossing is not needed, and won’t be needed for a number of decades. This puts is directly at odds with the Transport Minister Galdys Berejiklian and Transport for NSW, which argue that a Second Harbour Crossing should be the next project to commence once the NWRL is complete.

The report points to the cost of a Second Harbour Crossing, which is estimated at $10bn, and argues that improved efficiency can increase the capacity of the existing crossing sufficiently to warrant deferring a second one. Strangely, it cites the large number of buses crossing the Habour Bridge (so many that more passengers cross the bridge by bus than do by train) as a success for buses, when the same fact could be used to argue that the rail bridge crossing is currently capacity constrained and that lack of capacity is flowing over onto buses, which have now also reached saturation point (as discussed earlier).

This is a more complicated issue that it initially seems. For example, about half of the passengers who will use the NWRL are expected to travel to a destination North of the Harbour (i.e. North Sydney, St Leonards, Chatswood, Macquarie Park, Norwest). This does lessen the apparent need for a Second Harbour Crossing, and is why the government is able to build the NWRL first and the Second Harbour Crossing second, rather than the other way around. At the same time, that still leaves half of the passengers staying on through to the city. A Second harbour Crossing also has the benefit of increasing capacity into the CBD not just from the North, but from the South.

A new rail line has been built through the CBD roughly every 25 years: the Harbour Bridge (1932), Circular Quay (1956), the Eastern Suburbs Line (1979). It’s now been 33 years since the last expansion of CBD heavy rail capacity, and probably another 2 decades before another one can be built.

Postscript: It’s getting late and this post is getting quite long. There are other areas that probably deserve mention, but they are not as important, so in the interest of not turning this into a novel and I’m going to leave it here for now.