Barangaroo and the Other Proposed Stations
While the 2015 NSW budget released earlier this week has confirmed that an additional station will be built as part of the planned Sydney Metro at Barangaroo to service new commercial and residential development there, a number of other station locations north and south of the harbour remain undecided. It also appears that while it will make a significant contribution to increasing capacity, Metro’s role in expanding rail network coverage will remain limited largely confined to the north side of the Harbour, the CBD and southern central Sydney, at least in the medium term.
The budget confirmed pre-budget speculation that such a station would be built, confirming its likely route through the CBD. In addition to Barangaroo, stations will be built at St Leonards-Crows Nest and Victoria Cross north of the harbour and Martin Place, Pitt Street and Central in the CBD. The Sydney Morning Herald article also claimed that the station at Barangaroo would need to be built north of the current commercial development to allow the line to swing across the CBD to an interchange with the Eastern Suburbs Railway at Martin Place.
Still undecided is where exactly a station will be built in the St Leonards-Crows Nest area and whether one will be provided in the Artarmon industrial area north of the Harbour. On the southern side and to the south of the CBD there is a wider choice, one which will determine which corridor the line will take until it joins the Bankstown line at Sydenham. The line will either swing north of the current rail line with a station at Sydney University, possibly near the Seymour Centre and City Road, or swing south where UrbanGrowth NSW wants a station in Waterloo to service new residential development.
Either choice and in particular the option involving a station at Sydney University would still leave a significant gap between that station and Sydenham, an issue I was asked to comment on for a Herald article about the prospects for new inner-city stations. I also noted my support for the university station and suggested some scenarios in which both a station here and one at Waterloo could be accommodated (more on this in a moment), though my comments on these issues weren’t published.
Capacity v. Coverage
Part of my response which did get a mention was a point also made by transport expert Garry Glazebrook that the project ought to do a lot more south of the harbour to improve the rail network’s reach other than connecting to the Bankstown line and converting it to metro operation, a point reiterated in an article today. This brings us to the wider issue of the metro’s role in relation to capacity and coverage.
There is no doubt that for all its criticism (mine included) the metro line will greatly increase capacity in the rail network. The most obvious way is by providing a new train path through the most congested part of the system – from North Sydney, under the harbour and most critically through the CBD. The line will add four major stations in the CBD and while some of this capacity will obviously be soaked up by new passengers these stations will also relieve congestion on existing lines and stations, particularly Town Hall and Wynyard.
The line will also add capacity indirectly through the conversion of the Bankstown line. This means that these trains will be replaced by metro services and will no longer run through the existing City Circle. This leaves these CBD train paths to be taken up by trains from other lines, for example the Western and Airport lines.
So far so good. But we do, literally, pay a price for this which isn’t just the cost of constructing the new line. Two sections of existing publicly-owned rail infrastructure and services will also be handed to the private operators of the metro for conversion to form part of that system’s infrastructure which will be incompatible with the existing network. One section, the Epping to Chatswood Rail Link (ECRL), was opened only six years ago as the very expensive first stage of a project originally intended to run to Parramatta. The second, the Bankstown line, is an established major suburban railway line.
Undoubtedly services on these converted lines will be faster and more frequent, even if a much higher percentage of passengers will have to stand during peak hour, but in both cases the decision to hand over these lines was much more about making the metro a commercially viable project. In the case of ECRL the line was essential in providing a link from the new line in the north west to the lower North Shore and eventually to the CBD. In the case of the Bankstown line the decision appears in part an attempt to provide an income stream for the metro operators for the cost of converting a line rather than building a new one.
The other price we pay is that by adopting this approach the new line as it stands will extend the coverage of fixed rail in Sydney only to the catchments of the eight new stations in the north west, the two or three stations on the lower north shore and the station at either Sydney University of Waterloo. Barangaroo will provide some additional coverage in the CBD but while the other three stations will increase capacity they are too close to existing CBD stations to be counted as increasing network coverage.
Obviously any increase in network coverage is beneficial but this approach means that for all the expense involved (ultimately, in the order of $20+ billion) there will be only 12 or 13 new stations which significantly expand the reach of the rail network. This is an interesting contrast to the previous government’s discarded metro plan, which despite its faults was a largely independent system, predicated on the assumption that the metro should complement the existing rail network by significantly increasing coverage, rather than take over sections of it.
To be fair, construction of a new rail tunnel under the Harbour and through the CBD was never going to be cheap. The government has also indicated that this section of the line will form the core of a new metro system and that eventually other lines will be built. These may be stand-alone lines, but given the huge expense and complexity that will be involved in building this first line there is the potential for additional lines to be integrated into the first link.
Indeed, as the Herald points out the high frequency planned for services through the CBD section of the metro provides the potential to operate two branches north and south, each with lower frequencies. The Herald’s suggestion that a possible extension in the north could run under Military Road through Neutral Bay and Cremorne and possibly as far as the Spit (or even further) seems logical and indeed there are few other options this side of the Harbour.
Increasing Rail Coverage South of the Harbour
South of the Harbour however the story is a bit more concerning. The government originally proposed not a new additional line but instead the partial conversion of a third existing line, the Illawarra, as far as Hurstville. In affect this means that while the metro could end up adding a second new line to the north, it would do nothing at all to expand heavy rail coverage south of the CBD (and the Sydney Uni/Waterloo station) – hence the call from me, Garry and others for a new line to be built as the second southern branch. It is encouraging that today’s press coverage claims the government is now reconsidering its options.
One possible route for a new line would have been to the southeast to service the University of NSW and the surrounding suburbs which rely on bus services, but this option has been closed off with the government’s commitment to construct the CBD and South East Light Rail. There is another alternative, however – the construction of a Western Metro Along Parramatta Road as far as Parramatta and, ideally, either North Parramatta and/or Westmead.
This has been floated on numerous occasions and in many different forms. While it may seem very close to the existing rail line such a metro would actually service a distinctive market – the increasing residential and commercial development along this strip which is already occurring and which is set to accelerate under the government’s WestConnex plans.
Stations could be spaced so that they were not overly close to existing ones on the Western line, with the exception of stations like Strathfield, Parramatta and possibly Olympic Park where interchanges to the suburban rail network and buses could be provided. Of course proposals to build a light rail line from Parramatta to Olympic Park complicate matters, but the two projects could be designed so that they complemented rather than duplicated each other.
Sydney Uni or Waterloo – or Both?
As I noted earlier, I favour the Sydney University option over Waterloo for a station between Central and Sydenham, ideally with an additional station between the uni and Sydenham. As well as being next to a substantial traffic generator in the form of the university, this station would serve a significant residential catchment and also provide the opportunity for a bus-metro interchange which could reduce the number of inner west buses coming into the CBD.
On the other hand the Waterloo option would provide a catalyst for major redevelopment proposed for this area. Before these competing merits are debated however, it’s important to examine whether this really is an either/or option. I can think of at least three ways in which both stations could be constructed:
1. Connect both Sydney Uni and Waterloo. Although this has been ruled out because the circuitous route involved would add to travel times, I don’t think it is such a silly idea. While metro lines like most transport corridors generally take the most direct route, they can and do make deviations because of geological, environmental or heritage constraints or to connect to significant destinations. Apart from connecting both centres this option would also have the potential to provide bus-metro interchanges for both inner west and south bus services.
2: Adopt the Sydney Uni corridor and build a deviation on the Airport Line to connect to Waterloo. I understand that adding a station to the current Airport Line at Waterloo has been ruled out because of the major disruption involved in retrofitting a station to an existing line and also because the line does not provide ideal location options as it passes under Waterloo. It may be possible however to construct a few hundred metres of track complete with a new station in a more suitable location as an isolated project which is connected to the existing line only when construction has been completed. There would still be some disruption but this would be minimised. The main difficulty with this option however may not be technical but rather the limited spare capacity on the Airport Line.
3. Commit to building the Western Metro. The metro line would divide south of Central with one branch forming the line to Bankstown via Sydenham with a station at Waterloo while the other would be the Western metro line suggested earlier wih a station at Sydney University.
This alternative would be the most expensive and would have to be a longer-term commitment but it is the most attractive for the reasons outlined earlier. Apart from solving the Sydney Uni/Waterloo conundrum, it would leverage the Metro’s capacity in Western Sydney as well as potentially providing a high-speed link between the CBD and Parramatta.