Federal Infrastructure Funding Fallout III

Well, I said that I would outline some of the so-called “shovel ready” alternative transport projects the NSW Government could have nominated for Infrastructure Australia funding instead of the less-than-shovel-ready metro proposals that were put up. However, a lot has happened regarding transport – or at least a lot has been said about transport – since my last post.

I’ll come back to discuss “shovel-readiness” in a moment, but first to recap the past two weeks’ events. First, Dr Garry Glazebrook (UTS) released a detailed report which outlines a radically different approach to planning Sydney’s transport future. Glazebrook’s report proposes a metro system, but one quite different from that proposed by the Government, along with an upgraded heavy-rail system, light rail and a set of bus ring-routes. This is an oversimplification of a comprehensive plan, which I’ll return to in a future post.

Second, almost out of nowhere, light rail has been put back on the table by the Minster for Transport, David Campbell, who is said to have been won to the cause by seeing light rail systems in France.

Not surprisingly his initial enthusiasm to extend the line to Dulwich Hill and possibly into the CBD has run into resistance within Government (not to mention comparisons in the media with the vastly more expensive Metro), but the proposal is still being considered. Yet another feasibility study will be conducted and today the Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that inner city councils have agreed to “call the state’s bluff” by agreeing to the Government’s demand that they contribute to the cost of the study.

Campbell’s conversion to light rail apparently occurred after seeing systems in Paris and Nice, which is interesting given their nature. The Paris system comprises a set of four disconnected lines in the outskirts of the city. Like the Sydney light rail, some sections of the system have been converted from former rail lines, but they operate much more as feeders servicing the termini of Paris metro lines and other outer suburban areas.

The Nice system serves the coastal city of Nice, with a population of 350,000; the closest equivalent here in population would be Newcastle. In terms of a planned transport system, the Gold Coast light rail proposal which made up most of Queensland’s successful bid for Federal Government infrastructure funding would probably be the most similar.

Which brings us to the projects that the NSW Government could have put up for Infrastructure Australia funding. These include the North West Rail Link, probably the most expensive but arguably the most important of the cancelled/deferred rail lines. I suspect that the original heavy rail plan, to run from Epping to Rouse Hill, rather than the short-lived NW metro iteration would be the most viable option. The Epping-Rouse Hill section has also passed through all the environmental and planning hoops and could be easily integrated with the Epping to Chatswood line.

Similarly the planning for South West Rail Link is also complete. There is however a question about the timing of this project, given the economic downturn and the slowing in the rate of residential development. The third potential project, the Parramatta to Epping rail link is also a priority for the region and would make a major contribution to reinforcing the role of Parramatta, but some of the original environmental impact assessment and subsequent approvals may have to be updated.

Whilst my personal preference is for the North West Rail Link, any of these projects would have done more to meet Sydney’s transport needs than the proposed Metros, especially the CBD metro. Yes, the capacity problems in the CBD need to be addressed, but it is far from clear that the CBD metro in its current form will really address this issue – and the heavy rail projects are all a lot more shovel-ready!

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