Posts Tagged ‘WestConnex’

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.

The Federal Government’s refusal to fund public transport infrastructure dates back to 4 April 2013, when the then Opposition Leader Tony Abbott declared his opposition to it:

“The Commonwealth government has a long history of funding roads. We have no history of funding urban rail and I think it’s important that we stick to our knitting, and the Commonwealth’s knitting when it comes to funding infrastructure is roads.” – Tony Abbott, Federal Opposition Leader (4 April 2013)

In the 2 years since then, this position has barely changed. Which is to say it has evolved (very slowly) in the right direction.

2014-05-22 Jamie Briggs

The first change came on 16 May 2014, when the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development Jamie Briggs promised that federal funding from its asset recycling fund would not be restricted to roads. It followed through with this promise on 19 February 2015, providing $60m in funding to the ACT for its proposed light rail project. This funding was small, particularly compared to the billions going to the marquee roads projects; it also included a side comment from the Treasurer Joe Hockey’s office that “it has been a controversial project in the ACT” and that “there has been debate as to whether alternative projects may have higher potential economic benefits”.

While the ACT project received lukewarm support from Canberra and could be described as tokenistic in terms of the quantity of funding; the 8 March 2015 decision to send $2bn to NSW changed that. With $1.3bn of that going towards the Sydney Metro project, the Federal Government is now providing more funding to this rail project than the $1bn it has committed to WestConnex. However, the rail funding came with strings attached in the form of requiring privatisation. Funding for WestConnex has no such restrictions.

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

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

14 June 2015 showed more promise on this front, with the Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss stating that “the Federal Government is quite happy to fund metro rail projects”. This would appear to be in start contradiction to the statements quoted by Mr Abbott earlier that the Federal Government “have no history of funding urban rail” and would not be funding public transport.

Perhaps the reason can be found by winding back the clock a month to 6 May 2015 when Greens leader Christine Milne was replaced by Richard Di Natale. In the past, Ms Milne had been resistant to supporting the re-indexation of the fuel excise because additional revenue would be hypothecated (i.e. promised to) road funding. However, when the Finance Minister Matthias Cormann offered to eliminate the hypothecation Ms Milne maintained her opposition.

The party now has a new leader, and one who appears to be more willing to negotiate with the Government of the day. Following the May budget, Mr Di Natale met with Mr Abbott. In this meeting, he offerred to support indexation if some of the revenue was hypothecated to public transport projects. In that context, Mr Truss’ comments make a lot more sense.

The policy taken to the last election – to not fund urban commuter rail, is a bad one. However, the question here is not whether the Government should abandon it. By funding Sydney Metro to the tune of $1.3bn, it already has abandoned it. Instead, the question is about when the Government will take a mode neutral stance on funding of transport infrastructure. Let Infrastructure Australia or the states determine the best transport projects and fund those. There’s a chance this possibility may become a reality sooner than expected.

Open Drum – The Daily Commute

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

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

1 May: Rail line to Badgerys Creek downplayed

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

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

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

4 May: Opal-only ticket gates

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

7 May: Mousetrap to catch graffiti vandals

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

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

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

21 May: Light rail predicted to kill someone each year

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

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

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

26 May: NWRL tunneling 40% complete

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

26 May: Long Bay Prison sale under consideration

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

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

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

26 May: Congestion will be worse after WestConnex

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

28 May: Light rail construction schedule announced

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

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

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

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

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

28 May: mX axed

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

29 May: Electricity privatisation passes lower house

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

VIDEO: Sydney Light Rail Flythrough – May 2015

The announcement on Thursday of the construction schedule for the CBD and South East Light Rail has seen the debate over the line re-open. Construction of the George St portion, set to occur between October 2015 and May 2017, will last over a year and a half. Closure of streets during this time will hurt businesses operating in the area. Meanwhile, changes to bus routes and timetables, set to change in October to co-incide with the start of construction, remain a secret to the public.

VIDEO: Sydney Light Rail Construction Schedule – May 2015

Earlier in the week, the Opposition Leader Luke Foley had declared his opposition to light rail down George Street, while supporting light rail from Central to Randwick and Kingsford. When the construction schedule was announced, Mr Foley said “the Liberals will deliver a Berlin Wall down the central spine of Sydney, dividing the CBD into east and west…Sydney needs light rail – but not down George Street. The Liberals should listen to the experts and terminate light rail at Central Station”. Mr Foley supported the full light rail project prior to the last election, committing to build it in full if elected Premier.

The Premier Mike Baird defended the decision to go ahead with construction, stating that despite the disruption “if we say we’re going to build it, we’ll build it”. The Transport Minister Andrew Constance reinforced this view, saying that “we’re not in the business of cancelling contracts”.

The former Premier Barry O’Farrell, who was Premier when the current project received approval, also criticised Mr Foley for relying on Nick Greiner’s opposition to George St light rail in order to make his case. Mr O’Farrell has previously distanced himself from Mr Greiner, a previous Chairman of Infrastructure NSW, arguing that Mr Greiner may oppose rail based public transport but Mr O’Farrell and his government support it.

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

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

Commentary: Just build it

Sydney is set to continue to grow and that growth needs an increase in transport capacity. For dense areas like the inner city, that means public transport should be prioritised ahead of private motor vehicles; while for the CBD, that means rail needs to be prioritised. When it comes to high capacity, almost nothing beats rail. Right now, that means light rail down George Street and Sydney Rapid Transit under the CBD. That is current government policy.

But not if Mr Foley had his way. In his world you not only see light rail terminate at the outskirts of the CBD but also no new funding for SRT under the CBD, effectively killing the project. Meanwhile, Mr Foley went to the last election commiting to extend the M4 all the way into the CBD. He would expand road based transport for the CBD, but not rail based transport. He has it the wrong way round.

Compare this to the government’s plans for WestConnex, bypassing the CBD and connecting the M4 and M5; with future plans for a Western Harbour road tunnel to connect Rozelle to North Sydney, further bypassing the CBD. Add this to the previously mentioned 2 major rail projects for the CBD and you get the right solution: cars out, trains and trams in.

VIDEO: Public Transport, Malcolm Turnbull (May 2007)

Monday: Light rail to Olympic Park could pay for itself

A new light rail line from Parramatta to Sydney Olympic Park could be paid for by raising $2.9bn in voluntary developer levies along the “Olympic Corridor”. The proposal has been raised by the WestLine Partnership, an alliance of business and local government groups representing interests between Parramatta and Sydney Olympic Park. Both the NSW Government and Opposition have committed to building at least one of four short listed light rail lines from Parramatta if they are elected to office. Though a line from Parramatta to Macquarie Park was initially seen as the most likely, a line from Parramatta to Olympic Park is now firming up as the favourite. It was mentioned specifically by Opposition Leader Luke Foley, and has also received the backing of Western Sydney Business Chamber Director David Borger.

Parramatta City Council's proposed 4 light rail lines. Click to enlarge. (Source: Western Sydney Light Rail Network: Part 2 Feasibility Report, p. 6)

Parramatta City Council’s proposed 4 light rail lines. Click to enlarge. (Source: Western Sydney Light Rail Network: Part 2 Feasibility Report, p. 6)

Monday: Light rail gets planning approval

Planning approval has been given to modifications proposed to the CBD and South East Light Rail Line. Changes include the removal of one stop along George St in the CBD and the relocation of the light rail line to the Northern side of Alison Road, opposite the Randwick Racecourse. The Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian said “The green light from planning means we can roll out longer light rail vehicles with more seats for customers and 50 per cent more capacity, allowing us to move up to 13,500 passengers every hour”. Construction will begin later this year, and is expected to be completed in 2018, with the line opening in early 2019.

Thursday: Nile adds conditions to asset sale

The Christian Democratic Party’s leader Fred Nile has added conditions to supporting the 99 year lease of the state’s electricity distribution assets. Mr Nile has demanded that workers rights be protected, seeking that “There would be no sackings for five years [and] their existing conditions and superannuation arrangements must be guaranteed”. The Coalition, which is seeking to lease the assets in order to go ahead with its $20bn infrastructure plans, is not expected to gain an absolute majority in the NSW Upper House and will likely need the support of the CDP in order to do so.

Saturday: WestConnex gets approval from Infrastructure Australia

Infrastructure Australia has given WestConnex, the proposed 33km surface and tunnel freeway connecting the M4 and M5 freeways in Sydney’s West via Sydney’s Inner West, the green light. IA found that WestConnex would provide $1.80 in benefits for every $1.00 spent, although this is less than the $2.55 that the NSW Government claimed it would provide in a 2013 report.

However, the report is based on the assumption that no additional car trips will occur as a result of the road’s construction. These “induced” trips were partly responsible for Melbourne’s East West Link receiving a benefit cost ratio of 0.45, compared to WestConnex’s 1.8. The report also does not take as conservative an approach to potential cost blowouts as IA normally takes, potentially understating the cost and thus overstating the benefit cost ratio.

Despite this, IA believes that the benefit cost ratio would still be above 1 (indicating benefits outweigh the costs), even if these two anomolies were taken into account.

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.

NOTE: Apologies for the lateness of this week’s post. It was written up, but then not posted immediately.

Thursday: Opal card fare hack discovered

Opal users can reach their weekly travel reward for $13.86 in under 30 minutes on Tuesdays if they have made 2 journeys on the previous Monday. The “hack”, as it has been dubbed by the Opal Card App developers who discovered it, comes less than 3 months after the Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian encouraged the public to seek ways of cutting their fare costs using their Opal card.

VIDEO: Opal Card Hack

The method requires customers to have already made 2 journeys on a previous day, due to the $15 daily cap. Customers must also travel during off-peak (outside of (7:00AM-9:00AM and 4:00PM-6:30PM) in order to receive the off-peak discount. It also makes use of the fact that Macdonaldtown Station and Erskineville Stations, the two stations that are the closest on the network, are only 350m apart.

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

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

By tapping on at one and tapping off at the other, customers simulate catching a train and making 1 trip. By returning to the original station and tapping on again, a new trip is initiated. However, these 2 trips do not appear to be linked, thus making them independent journeys for the purpose of reaching the weekly travel reward. Normally customers must wait 60 minutes between tapping off and tapping back on in order for trips not to be linked and thus count as 2 separate journeys.

The 2 stations must also be ungated, ruling out any CBD stations as well as major suburban stations.

Thursday: Pedestrian countdown timer trial

The NSW Government is set to trial pedestrian countdown timers at six intersections in Sydney to determine if the timers help improve safety for pedestrians. A yellow countdown timer, displaying the number of seconds left for pedestrians to cross the road, will replace the red flashing “don’t walk” signal.

VIDEO: Putting pedestrian countdown timers to the test

Friday: Real time data comes for ferries and trams

Real time locations for ferries and light rail is being introduced to transport apps, in addition to the existing real time vehicle information previously available for buses and trains. Real time data will be available on six transport apps: NextThere, TripView, TransitTimes+, TripGo, Triptastic, and Arrivo Sydney.

Saturday: Second Harbour road crossing planned

The NSW Government is planning a second Harbour road crossing, linking the Balmain peninsula to the M2 at Lane Cove. The plans, reported by the Sydney Morning Herald and yet to be officially announced, are reportedly contingent on the 99 year lease of the NSW electricity distribution network. It will link up to the Northern extension of WestConnex, which will link up WestConnex to the Anzac Bridge.

Commentary: Why a 2nd Harbour road tunnel is a good thing

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

A new Harbour crossing would begin at the current end of the proposed Northern extension to WestConnex and end at the M2 in Lane Cove. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Rebuilding NSW Fact Sheet 4, p. 1.)

Sunday: 60,000 apartments for Parramatta Road

Plans for 60,000 new apartments to be built along the Parramatta Road corridor are set to be released by the NSW Government. One quarter of the new homes would be built in Granville, while a third would be built in Homebush. The plan includes improved bus connections between Burwood and the city, set to coincide with the completion of the M4 East portion of WestConnex parallel to Parramatta Road. Though the existing M4 is set to be widened between Parramatta and Concord, no details have been announced about any public transport improvements in this part of Parramatta Road. Over two thirds of the 60,000 apartments are to be built in this Western portion of Parramatta Road.

This follows a push by the opposition for these plans to be made public immediately, rather than in 2015.

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.

Monday: Sydney Trains CEO outlines achievements and future plans

The Sydney Trains CEO Howard Collins has outlined his achievements during his year and a half in the job. These include: a shake up of senior management positions, a new timetable, the introduction of the Opal card, 78 new Waratah trains brought into operation, an end to the “no forced redundancies” clause in employment contracts, and consolidating maintenance facilities from 127 to 12. Looking to the future, Mr Collins said he believed Sydney Trains could operate 30 to 35 trains an hour, compared to the current limit of 20, if signalling were upgraded. He also looks forward to the opening of a $100m operations centre due to open in 2017 or 2018.

Monday: Third tunnel boring machine in the ground for NWRL

A third tunnel boring machine (TBM) has begun digging the third of four holes that will form the twin 15km tunnels between Epping and Bella Vista. The Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian used to occasion to point out how the project was running ahead of schedule, saying that “the NSW Liberals & Nationals came to government promising the first of the four massive North West Rail Link tunnel boring machines would be in the ground before the end of 2014 – now we have three machines underground digging, well ahead of schedule”.

Artist's impression of the proposed Cherrybrook Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Artist’s impression of the proposed Cherrybrook Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Tuesday: M5 East duplication plans announced

The planning application has been lodged for the New M5 East tunnels as part of WestConnex Stage 2, which will run almost entirely in tunnels between the King George’s Road interchange at Beverly Hills through to St Peters. The tunnels will initially be 2 lanes in each direction, but built to accommodate 3 lanes in each direction at a future date. The new tunnels will also be taller than the existing M5 East tunnels, at 5.3m in height.

The existing tunnels have been criticised for being built too narrow and too short in order to save money on construction costs, but limiting longer term capacity in the process. The new tunnels are set to open in 2019.

Thursday: Trains begin running on SWRL

Train testing and staff training is now underway on the South West Rail Link (SWRL), with services between Leppington and Liverpool to begin early in 2015, possibly as soon as January. Millenium trains will run on the line every half hour between 5AM and midnight.

No decision has yet been made on where SWRL trains will go. Options include Parramatta, City via Granville, City via Bankstown, or City via East Hills (an outline of some of these options can be seen here). The Government will monitor passenger movements in determining how and when it does this. All of this is complicated by the fact that much of the future demand on the SWRL will come not from existing residents, but from the hundreds of thousands of new residents that may not finish moving to the area for decades to come.

Friday: Passenger train disruptions up 60% due to freight breakdowns

An increased focus on transporting freight via rail has been blamed for the blowout in passenger train disruptions in recent years. The ABC reports that 2,191 passenger services were disrupted last year due to freight train breakdowns. This is up 62.5% on the 1,348 figure from 3 years prior. This is despite the number of freight train breakdowns remaining steady during this period.

The Sydney Trains CEO Howard Collins has called on the Federal Government to help ease this problem by funding more freight rail upgrades. The Federal Government has ruled out funding urban commuter rail projects, but has been willing to fund freight rail projects. Mr Collins also pointed the finger at the ageing freight train fleet, which at an average age of 36 years is much higher than the UK’s 13 years or the USA’s 8 years.

Monday: High speed rail costs could be halved

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

Tuesday: 4 routes shortlisted for Parramatta light rail

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

Artists impression of light rail in Parramatta. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Artists impression of light rail in Parramatta. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Tuesday: Fuel excise indexation introduced via regulation

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

Tuesday: Mobile apps to help with accessibility

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

Thursday: Gold Opal card to be released

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

Thursday: 50,000 new homes for Parramatta Road

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

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

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

Friday: Whitlam Station proposed for NWRL

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

VIDEO: Dancing Baby Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy

Monday: WestConnex construction to cost $473m per km

Analysis done for the Sydney Morning Herald finds that the WestConnex freeway will cost $473m/km to build. The high cost has been attributed to the high level of tunnelling required to build it; large parts of the 33km freeway will be entirely underground. Comparable surface only roads have a much lower cost per km, such as the M7 ($58m/km), or the planned roads to support an airport at Badgerys Creek (ranging in cost from $50m/km to $89m/km). Roads in other states that make heavy use of tunnels came in with higher price tags than WestConnex, such as Melbourne’s East-West Link ($1,000m/km) or Brisbane’s Airport Link ($747m/km).

Monday: Lane Cove Tunnel court case begins

Courts have been told that initial traffic forecasts for the Lane Cove Tunnel (LCT) of 57,686 cars per day were inflated up to between 150,000 and 187,000 cars per day in a bid to win over investors for the project. The LCT ultimately opened in 2007 with 66,000 cars per day, a figure much closer to the abandoned projection than the final one used. The forecasters, Parsons Brinkerhoff and Booz Allen, are being sued by two funds, AMP Infrastructure Equity Fund and the Retail Employees Superannuation Fund, who claim they relied on the forecasts when making investment decisions about the LCT. The funds are seeking over $144m in damages, more than half of which is interest on the initial loss.

Wednesday: Treasurer calls petrol tax progressive: poor people don’t drive as much

Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey described proposed changes to the fuel excise as progressive, telling ABC radio that “the poorest people either don’t have cars or actually don’t drive very far in many cases”. His comments were strongly criticised and Mr Hockey apologised for making the comments 2 days later, saying that “I can only apologise for any hurt I’ve caused”.

Wednesday: M4 widening EIS released

The Environmental Impact Statement for the M4 widening, the first part of the WestConnex freeway, was released. The M4 widening will see the existing M4 between Parramatta and Homebush widened up to 6 or 8 lanes, from an existing 4 or 6 lanes. The EIS forecasts that Eastbound peak hour travel between Parramatta and Homebush is expected to rise from 12 minutes (2014) to 19 minutes (2031) if nothing is done, or drop to 5 minutes with the M4 widening. Westbound peak hour travel between Homebush and Parramatta is expected to rise from 5 minutes (2014) to 15 minutes (2031) if nothing is done, or rise to 9 minutes with the M4 widening. (Source: M4 Widening EIS, p. 14.)

The M4 will have additional lanes added between Parramatta and Homebush. Click to enlarge. (Source: Roads & Maritime Service, M4 Widening EIS, pp. 16-17.)

The M4 will have additional lanes added between Parramatta and Homebush. Click to enlarge. (Source: Roads & Maritime Service, M4 Widening EIS, pp. 16-17.)

The number of vehicles per hour on Parramatta Rd in the morning peak fell 18.9%, from 3,960 (2008) to 3,210 (2011), following the removal of the toll on the M4. The return of a toll will see some cars shift from the tolled M4 to the free Parramatta Rd, while other cars will shift from the slower Parramatta Rd to the faster M4. This will see a predicted 4.3% increase in cars on Parramatta Rd, from 3,210 (2011) to 3,350 (2021). (Source: M4 Widening EIS, p. 21.)

Thursday: Premier seeks crowdsourced solutions to traffic problems

The people of NSW will have the opportunity to suggest ways to deal with Sydney’s traffic problems under a plan by the Premier Mike Baird to crowdsource solutions to this problem. The plan follows similar initiatives in cities such as Los Angeles, Toronto, and London.

Friday: Finance Minister supports Uber

The NSW Finance Minister Dominic Perrottet spoke favouorably of ride sharing app Uber, saying that NSW “should welcome the sharing economy as something profoundly conservative”. This contrasts with the existing NSW Government policy, which puts strong limits on apps like Uber. “Services must be provided in a licensed taxi or hire car, by an appropriately accredited driver, authorised by Roads and Maritime Services” a Transport for NSW spokesperson said, adding that those not following these rules could be fined up to $110,000.

Wednesday: Guardian services to be axed

Guardian services on Sydney Trains, with their guaranteed Transit Officers onboard select late night trains, are to be abolished. The government will replace them with roving police from the Police Transport Command. The Shadow Transport Minister Penny Sharpe has criticised the decision, arguing that police are under resourced to protect rail customers. According to Ms Sharpe “the Police are supposed to have 481 officers – they currently only have 401 and around 40 of those are seconded from other areas”.

Thursday: NRMA argues against bus lanes for Parramatta Road

Motoring lobby NRMA has warned against removing traffic lanes from Parramatta Road once the WestConnex freeway is opened, arguing that surface road space may be required should the M4 East tunnels be blocked in order to prevent congestion. Current plans for WestConnex involve removing traffic lanes on Parramatta Road and converting them to bus lanes or bike/pedestrian paths.

Artists impression of Parramatta Road at Five Dock after WestConnex is completed. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Artists impression of Parramatta Road at Five Dock after WestConnex is completed. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Sunday: Opal readers installed at light rail stop

Opal readers have been spotted on the previously installed mounts at Central Station. This suggests that Opal will soon be rolled out to light rail, quite possible well ahead of the current “early 2015” timetable. It also suggests that Opal readers will be off vehicle rather than on vehicle, as is the case with ferries and trains.

Video: Sydney’s Trains – Flashback Report, Seven News (21 June 2014)

Monday: Opal rolls out to buses in Northwest Sydney

600 buses in the Hillsbus fleet covering Castle Hill, Rouse Hill, Pennant Hills, Parramatta, Blacktown, and express services along the M2 Hills Motorway to the City will become Opal enabled starting from Monday 30 June. There are now more than 340,000 Opal cards issued, with the bus rollout expected to finish by the end of 2014.

Friday: Ashfield Park saved from WestConnex while WestConnex saved from inquiry

Plans for a tunnel connecting Parramatta Road to the M4 East portion of WestConnex that would have impacted on Ashfield Park have been abandoned as part of a deal between the NSW Government and the Shooters and Fishers Party. The tunnel will now emerge at another location, as yet undecided, which will leave the park untouched. In exchange, the Shooters and Fishers have agreed to not back a proposed Parliamentary inquiry into WestConnex.

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

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

Saturday: WestConnex access roads around Parramatta abandoned

Previously planned links between the M4 and local roads around Parramatta have been abandoned as not “cost effective”. A number of the M4’s on and off ramps around Parramatta only provide access in one direction or only from certain roads. The planned widening of the M4 between Parramatta and Strathfield will still go ahead as planned.

Tuesday: Budget includes $60bn for infrastructure

The NSW Budget included funding for $60bn of planned infrastructure spending over the next 4 years. The spending includes new heavy rail lines (North West Rail Link, South West Rail Link), light rail lines (CBD and South East Light Rail, a yet undetermined light rail line from Parramatta), roads (WestConnex, NorthConnex, roads around Badgerys Creek in Western Sydney, Northern Beaches roads and Bus Rapid Transit), and new public transport vehicles (trains and buses).

Major transport infrastructure projects included in the 2014-15 NSW Budget. Click to enlarge. (Sources: NSW Treasury, Transport for NSW, Open Street Map.)

Major transport infrastructure projects included in the 2014-15 NSW Budget. Click to enlarge. (Sources: NSW Treasury, Transport for NSW, Open Street Map.)

Wednesday: NWRL Skytrain construction begins

Construction has begun on the 4km Skytrain viaduct for the North West Rail Link (NWRL). Two stations, Kellyville and Rouse Hill, will be on this portion of the NWRL, elevated above the ground. It will also include a rail bridge crossing Windsor Road.

Video: NWRL Building Skytrain, Transport for NSW (17 June 2014)

Friday: New Rail Operations Centre for Sydney Trains

$11.4m will be spent this year to create a new Rail Operations Centre, which will consolidate the operations and communications functions that are currently geographically dispersed across Sydney. The concentration of these operations will allow for improved communications in responding to incidents on the network.

However, concentration of operations has been criticised in the past. Last year a fire at one of Sydney’s signal boxes (there are 19 in total, with most equipment concentrated in 2 depots) caused a virtual shut down of all trains for 30 minutes on the Sydney Trains network (other than the T4 line). The lack of contingency was blamed for the shut down, with no back up plan available to take over once the signal box was evacuated.

Friday: Transport Police make 5,000 arrests in 2 years

The Public Transport Command (PTC), police responsible for safety on public transport, was established in May 2012 and since then have issued 92,000 infringements, laid 9,000 charges, and made 5,000 arrests. Along with Transport Officers (responsible for checking that tickets are valid) the PTC replaced the old transit officers. Police and Transport Officers now patrol all forms of public transport (Transit Officers were only found aboard trains) but have been criticised for being fewer in number than the old Transit Officers.

The 2014-15 NSW Budget contains $60bn of spending on infrastructure over the next 4 years. Major projects being funded are shown below.

Major transport infrastructure projects included in the 2014-15 NSW Budget. Click to enlarge. (Sources: NSW Treasury, Transport for NSW, Open Street Map.)

Major transport infrastructure projects included in the 2014-15 NSW Budget. Click to enlarge. (Sources: NSW Treasury, Transport for NSW, Open Street Map.)

Highlights, along with the level of NSW Government funding and estimated completion dates, include:

  • $8.3bn on the North West Rail Link, to be completed in 2019.
  • $2.8bn on 65 new trains, to be completed in 2024.
  • $1.8bn on the South West Rail Link, to be completed in 2015.
  • $1.8bn on the WestConnex freeway: M4 East/M4 South/M5 East (topping up $1.5bn in Federal Government funding), to be completed in 2023.
  • $1.6bn on the CBD and South East Light Rail, to be completed in 2019.
  • $633m for roads improvements to the Northern Beaches, including kerbside Bus Rapid Transit, to be completed in 2019.
  • $600m for roads around Badgerys Creek Airport (topping up $2.9bn in Federal Government funding), to be completed in 2024.
  • $400m for light rail from Parramatta once a priority route has been identified (Parramatta to Macquarie Park shown in the map as a potential option) with no set timetable for completion.
  • $400m on the NorthConnex freeway: M1 to M2 (topping up $400m in Federal Government funding), to be completed in 2019.
  • $91m on 199 new buses to replace ageing buses and expand the fleet, announced in 2014.

Infrastructure contingent on the sale of the electricity distribution network: an under the Harbour Rail Crossing (previously cited at around $10bn) and Northern/Southern extensions to WestConnex ($1.5bn) have been omitted from this list, as has the Opal rollout ($1.5bn) and an M9 Outer Orbital freeway (uncosted).

Commentary: Is this worth it?

This budget appears to be seen as quite popular. So much so that the Sydney Morning Herald began the losers portion of its “Winners and Losers section with “There are few obvious losers in this year’s pre-election budget”. Ultimately this budget provides a way of achieving the infrastructure that Sydney desperately needs in order to sustain the additional housing construction that is required to accommodate the millions of new residents it will have by the middle of the century. Asset recycling, the sale of 49% of the electricity distribution network seems to be the only way to achieve this. However, as the Daily Telegraph’s Andrew Clennell quoted a “senior Labor MP [who said]: The poles and wires gives you 10 years, then what do you do? The sale of Sydney Water? Then what?”.

That question of how to fund infrastructure long term on an ongoing basis does not appear to have been answered yet. If it does get answered, the most likely response is higher taxes. So it that worth it? Quite possibly, though privatisation does give the state a decade or two before it needs to be answered.

Monday: Opal expands to Forest Coach Lines routes in Northern Sydney

Around 100 buses operated by Forest Coach Lines in Northern Sydney have been Opal enabled. Opal is now available on 47 bus routes around Sydney, with 300,000 Opal cards currently in circulation.

Tuesday: Second Harbour Crossing and WestConnex extensions announced

An under the Harbour rail crossing and Northern plus Southern extension to WestConnex would be the major infrastructure projects funded by selling a 49% stake in the NSW electricity distribution network, often referred to as the “poles and wires”. The new rail crossing would form the spine of a future Sydney Rapid Transit network, featuring single deck trains running from Rouse Hill in Sydney’s North West to Bankstown in Sydney’s South West via the Sydney CBD. Funding would also be included for improvements to the T1 Western Line; including improved signalling, track amplifications, and additional stabling.

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

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

Friday: Almost 500 pedestrians fined for jaywalking

495 fines were handed out by police in Sydney and Parramatta for jaywalking during as 12 hour period. The blitz was an attempt to reduce risky pedestrian behaviour. 29 pedestrians have been killed so far this year.

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

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

Sydney Rapid Transit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WestConnex

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

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

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

Commentary: Harbour Crossing is why NWRL is single deck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday: Monorail re-born as part of NWRL

Parts of Sydney’s monorail, which was taken down late last year, have been used in the construction of the North West Rail Link (NWRL). 60 beams from the monorail have been converted into 29 girders, each 32m long, used to build a bridge at the location of the future NWRL Norwest Station so that cars can continue to travel through the area during the station’s construction.

Tuesday: Budget includes $30bn on land transport, 91% of it on roads

The 2014-15 Federal Budget includes $30bn of spending on land transport over 4 years, of which $26.9bn (91%) is for roads and $2.8bn (9%) is for rail. These form part of a $50bn infrastructure program over the next 6 years, of which $11.6bn is new spending. However, much of this has been achieved by re-allocating funding from rail projects to road projects, with Shadow Transport Minister Anthony Albanese disputing the budget figures in what could be classified as the worst game of pictionary in Australian political history.

Budget forward estimates for road and rail spending. Click to enlarge. (Source: Budget 2014-15.)

Budget forward estimates for road and rail spending. Click to enlarge. (Source: Budget 2014-15.)

The budget included:

  • A return to fuel excise indexation, raising an additional $2.2bn over 4 years.
  • The creation of an asset recycling fund for states that privatise state assets to pay for new infrastructure, worth $5bn over 5 years.
  • The previously committed funding for WestConnex, worth $1.5bn, as well as a $2bn low interest loan to the NSW Government.
  • The previously committed funding for NorthConnex, worth $405m.
  • A roads package to support a future airport at Badgerys Creek, worth $2.9bn over 10 years.

Thursday: 3,500 more public transport services for Vivid

More than 3,500 additional public transport services will be provided during the two and a half week long Vivid Festival. 800,000 visitors came to see Vivid last year, and overwhelmed the transport system. The additional services include 3,200 more bus services, 350 more train services, and 132 more ferry services. Together, these will add capacity for over 660,000 passengers over the period of the festival. As a comparison, Sydney’s rail network has a maximum capacity of around 150,000 passengers during the busiest hour of the morning peak.

This follows criticism of last year’s Vivid Festival, where visitor numbers were underestimated and insufficient public transport services were provided. In particular, no additional train services were provided in 2013, nor were any additional services of any kind provided for the Sunday of the long weekend (which was also the final day of the event).

Saturday: Growing CBD bike path network may not be completed in time

Planned bike paths through the CBD may remain uncompleted until the end of the decade if not finished by next year. The final plan for the CBD bike network was only completed in December 2013, with bike path construction put in limbo in the 2 1/2 years since the 2011 NSW election in order for the network to be planned out. However, the Sydney Morning Herald reports that the NSW Government is hesitant to have 2 major construction projects in the CBD running at the same time, so any bike path construction will be put on hold while light rail is built through George St in Sydney’s CBD in order to minimise traffic disruption. This could begin as early as April 2015, with the line scheduled to open in 2019 or 2020.

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

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

Once completed, a network of separated bike paths will create a loop around the central CBD, linking up the existing Harbour Bridge to Pyrmont Bridge connection to a number of other streets to the South, East, and West of the CBD.

Monday: $100m upgrade of Wynyard Station

Wynyard Station is to receive a $100m upgrade, with improvements including:

  • An upgrade to the CBD station’s concourse and platforms, with a less cluttered concourse wider ticket gate area making it easier for customers to enter, exit and move around the station.
  • New lighting.
  • New tiling.
  • An overhaul of the retail outlets.
  • A fresh coat of paint and new signage to help customers move around the station easier.
An artists impression of an upgraded Wynyard Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

An artists impression of an upgraded Wynyard Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The project comes as work gets underway on an $8 million major refresh to Town Hall Station. Preparations are also underway to install new two new lifts at Circular Quay Station and Museum Station.

Thursday: NSW to get 65 new trains for $2.8bn

The NSW TrainLink electric train fleet is to be replaced by 65 new trains, to be rolled out between 2019 and 2024, at a cost of $2.8bn. This will allow the existing OSCAR trains to replace the non-air conditioned S-Sets on the suburban Sydney Trains fleet, resulting in all passenger trains in NSW being fully air conditioned. S-Sets are currently held in reserve and make up 10% of the Sydney Trains fleet.

Thursday: Additional $2bn support for WestConnex

The Commonwealth Government has approved a $2bn loan for the construction of the WestConnex freeway. It has already committed $1.5bn in funding, with the loan allowing the NSW Government to borrow at the lower interest rate received by the Commonwealth Government. This will allow the M5 East portion of the project to be completed by 2019, the same time as the M4 East portion and 2 years earlier than initially expected.

Do you use public transport near Lilyfield?

UNSW Masters student Robert McKinlay is studying mode choice around the Sydney Light Rail. Part of this project is a commuter survey. If you use public transport in the Lilyfield area, please consider clicking on the link and answering a few questions to help better understand user choice and preferences around transport modes.

Hits

Happy New Year. 2013 has been an eventful one. This blog received almost 138 thousand hits during a year in which:

In the coming year, we can look forward to the opening of the Inner West Light Rail extension to Dulwich Hill and the completion of the Opal rollout (currently scheduled for the end of 2014). Meanwhile, expect the major parties to begin to announce their transport plans ahead of the next state election in early 2015, with things like a Second Harbour rail crossing, a Western Sydney light rail network, Bus Rapid Transit for the Northern Beaches, and potentially plans to privatise the state owned electricity transmission network as a means to pay for all the much needed infrastructure all likely to feature prominently.

But until then, here are some of the major events and stories from the past year, as posted, shared and commented about on this blog —

Posts with the most hits

  1. Draft 2013 timetable (part 1): Introduction 20 May 2013 (7,959 hits)
  2. 2013 timetable re-write (part 3): Untangling the network 22 February 2013 (4,844 hits)
  3. What the 2013 timetable might look like 13 May 2013 (3,908 hits)
  4. Draft 2013 timetable (part 2): AM Peak 22 May 2013 (1,430 hits)
  5. WestConnex plan finalised 19 September 2013 (1,296)

The new timetable drove a lot of traffic to this blog over the previous year, particularly when a draft of the timetable was leaked in May.

Posts with the most comments

  1. 17km Macquarie Park light rail proposed by Parramatta Council 30 August 2013 (50 comments)
  2. How might the NWRL work? 16 October 2013 (49 comments)
  3. Should the North West Rail Link be a metro? 8 February 2013 (47 comments)
  4. How might the CBD and SE Light Rail work? 9 October 2013 (46 comments)
  5. North West Rail Link – policy or politics? 11 June 2013 (43 comments)

The clear thing in common here is the North West Rail Link (NWRL), which tends to generate a lot of discussion back and forth in the comments section. The post on the Macquarie Park light rail was the most commented on post and not actually about the NWRL, but the comments soon shifted towards discussing the NWRL.

Posts with the most activity on social media

  1. All Day Challenge (October 2013), 1 October 2013 (89 shares on Facebook and 3 tweets on Twitter)
  2. Draft 2013 timetable (part 2): AM Peak 22 May 2013 (43 shares on Facebook and 8 tweets on Twitter)
  3. The worst sort of NIMBY 25 September 2013 (27 shares on Facebook and 6 tweets on Twitter)
  4. Opal running 4 months ahead of schedule 28 August 2013 (31 shares on Facebook 2 tweets on Twitter)
  5. Western Sydney makes its case for an airport of its own 15 February 2013 (11 shares on Facebook and 9 tweets on Twitter)

This probably understates the level of sharing over Twitter as tweets are only counted once, regardless of how many times that one tweet may be re-tweeted, whereas Facebook shares are each counted uniquely. That said, the most shared posts have tended to be driven by shares on Facebook rather than tweets on Twitter.

Most searched terms

  1. westconnex (635 searches)
  2. cityrail map (323 searches)
  3. westconnex map (257 searches)
  4. transport sydney (170 searches)
  5. sydney train map (170 searches)

WestConnex was by far the biggest generator of hits from web searches, with the home page being the destination rather than the post itself (preventing those posts about WestConnex from ranking higher) and reflects the fact that the car remains the primary mode of transport for Sydney residents. This is in contrast to activity in the comments section and social media, both of which are more likely to be transport enthusiasts, neither of which had WestConnex in their respective top 5 for the year.

This does perhaps provide a reminder to some advocates of public transport (the writer of this blog included) that there remains some disconnect between them and the regular person on the street when it comes to enthusiasm for public transport and dislike of cars or roads.