Top of the Week
High Speed Rail 1: has the time come at last for an eastern seaboard HSR?
There has been an renewal of interest in proposals for high speed rail (HSR) along the eastern seaboard of Australia, with support coming from some surprising quarters.
Recently Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Cities and Tourism Anthony Albanese reintroduced his private members bill in federal parliament to establish a High Speed Rail Auhority, noting the positive outcomes of the study into HSR he commissioned when he was infrastructure minister.
He said that the study found that an east coast HSR between Brisbane and Melbourne would be a “game changer”.
“In relation to the capital city routes between Sydney and Brisbane and between Sydney and Melbourne, which consistently rank in the top 10 of the most travelled air routes in the world—indeed, at one stage last year, Sydney to Melbourne was the busiest air route in the world—it would put those great cities under three hours away from each other”, Mr Albanese said.
“This is truly a nation-building project. It was found that, between Sydney and Melbourne, there would be a $2.15 benefit for every dollar invested.”
Funding mechanisms for HSR and other transport infrastructure are also being investigated by the Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities inquiry into the role of transport connectivity in stimulating development and economic activity
Prior to addressing the committee, Mr Torkel Patterson, vice-chairman of the International High Speed Rail Association, said “the stars are aligning” for Australia to act on HSR, according to a Fairfax Media report.
“Australia’s flirted with it for a long time, I think this is the time to make a decision on this,” he said.
Perhaps the most unexpected expression of support came from former trade minister Andrew Robb. Fairfax Media claimed to have received a recording of a speech he gave at a freight symposium at Canberra Airport in which he praised the airport for providing space for a HSR station
The report said Mr Robb said three international companies had approached him “again and again” offering to finance and build the line, to link Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne. He claimed that high speed trains were in operation “everywhere I go”, pointing to their massive expansion in China
“… there’s not many developed countries in the world that haven’t got the advantage of this and we have to do it,” he said.
In expressing his support for HSR Mr Robb rejected one of the key criticisms of HSR – that it may not be viable due to low patronage as a consequence of Australia’s low population. He noted that systems as diverse as California 19th Century railways and Hong Kong’s current rapid transit railway system were funded by value capture associated with redevelopment rather than patronage.
“They work out where the next train line will be and they go and buy the land where the stations will be,” he said.
The federal government is continuing to work with the NSW, Victoria, Queensland and ACT governments to protect the identified rail corridors. In 2013 the project was estimated to cost $114 billion.
High Speed Rail 2: Paper outlines detailed high speed Sydney-Parramatta-WS Airport metro options
High speed – or more precisely moderate speed options – within the Sydney basin have also received detailed assessment in a paper released by Parramatta City Council and the Sydney Business Chamber – Western Sydney.
The organisations have combined to prepare a Western Sydney Airport Fast Train – Discussion Paper. According to the paper’s Executive Summary, “the purpose of this Discussion Paper is to understand the opportunities of a Fast Train service linking the new WAS [Western Sydney Airport], Parramatta and Sydney CBD’s. The context of the study is initial high level considerations of technical limitations and opportunities, high level economic benefits and opportunities and discussion of potential funding arrangements.”
The paper notes that to “maximise the customer experience” the service must provide “frequent, all day, every day services which are safe, fast and reliable” with frequencies of five to 10 minutes to support “walk up and go” usage.
“The Fast Train concept in the context of this study is defined as modern metro style rolling stock (trains), single deck with limited type gallery seating, six or eight car sets with capacity of approximately 1,000 to 1,200 passengers per train… Train speeds in the range of 140 to 160 km/h are possible.”
The paper considers different options for each link. For the Western link from Parramatta to the airport it considers two options are viable via Blacktown or via Liverpool. The eastern link to the CBD is more complex, with four options:
- Option 1, the existing rail corridor, has significant and multiple constraints and is unlikely to provide travel times significantly less than the current minimum of 25 minutes.
- Option 2, a tunnel underneath the existing rail lines both to Parramatta and then south to Liverpool LGA before turning west to Leppington, has longer length and travel times but appears to have the most favourable ground conditions for tunnelling.
- Option 3, a tunnel just south of the Parramatta River is the shortest and therefore the fastest link with the best scope for value capture but the most challenging ground conditions.
- Option 4, a tunnel north of the Parramatta River, is longer than Option 3, but passes through more existing centres. It has less scope for value capture but better patronage at least in the medium term.
According to Fairfax media Sydney Business Chamber’s Western Sydney Director David Borger claimed a 15-minute rail link to the city would allow Parramatta to better compete with the Sydney CBD for jobs.
“We know there are real challenges in generating employment outside of the CBD and the solution to that problem would have to be bold – and this a bold solution that would actually shift the focus and make Parramatta a real second choice option for employment,” Mr Borger said.
“If this isn’t built, the Western Line will become increasingly congested and that’s going to hamper the efficiency of our whole city.”
NSW councils fight government mergers with their own
Warringah Council has come up with an unusual strategy to counter the NSW government’s merger proposals – using Section 218E of the Local Government Act to lodge its own alternative proposal.
Under the government’s proposal (see TSW4) Warringah would be split in two with the northern section merged with Pittwater and the southern portion with Manly and Mosman. This option has been strongly opposed by council and also by residents at a number of local meetings.
At a 24 February extraordinary meeting Council adopted the recommendation of a Mayoral Minute to make a proposal to the Minister for Local Government for “the amalgamation of the Pittwater, Manly and Warringah local government areas into one new area”.
In the Minute Warringah Mayor Michael Regan said he had become aware of the option after being approached by a number of residents.
“Essentially Warringah is able to initiate its own proposal directly to the Minister for Local Government,” the Mayor said.
“This will allow Council on behalf of the community to have a further say under a different process.”
A Fairfax media report confirms that if the council initiative meets the legislative requirements the Local Government Minister Paul Toole has to refer it to the Boundaries Commission for consideration. The Premier Mike Baird said however that he still backed the government’s original option.
“I have put a position forward in terms of two [councils], I’ve supported that position,” Mr Baird said.
“But I’m happy for [a single council] to come forward…Both [proposals] bring significant benefits to the community. I’m happy for the community to have their say.”
The Fairfax report suggests that other councils may follow Warringah’s lead and lodge their own proposals.
City of Perth to expand boundaries
The Western Australian parliament has passed the City of Perth Act which expands the city’s boundaries to incorporate the University of Western Australia, Kings Park, the QEII Medical Centre, and areas that were formerly part of the City of Subiaco with about 3,000 residents.
Perth Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi said the legislation will “ensure Local and State Government can work together on vitally important issues”.
An ABC report noted that the Act had been by “salvaged” after the government had had to abandon wider reforms in the face of strong community opposition with Local Government Minister Tony Simpson welcoming the bill’s passage through the Legislative Council.
“This is an important moment for Western Australia, giving greater recognition to the City of Perth as the state’s capital city and acknowledging its central role in tourism and economic development,” Mr Simpson said.
“Bringing some of Perth’s most iconic landmarks into the one council will create a bigger, stronger capital city.”
Strategic Planning and Policy
Privatisation Take Two: “$1 billion national benefit” for bus privatisation claimed
Following on the rumours that the NSW government is actively considering the privatisation of the Sydney rail network (see TSW10), the Tourism and Transport Forum (TTF) has released a report claiming that the franchising of government-run bus services in Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra, Hobart and Newcastle could “generate $1 billion over five years in savings that could be used to further improve public transport services”.
The report, On the Buses: The Benefits of Private Sector Involvement in the Delivery of Bus Services, was prepared by TTF and consulting firm L.E.K. to assess the financial and service benefits to government and commuters of competitive contracting of bus routes.
“Franchising is a great model for state and territory governments to embrace for their bus networks – it keeps the infrastructure including the buses and depots in public hands but contracts out the operation of these assets to experienced private operators for the period of the contract,”said Margy Osmond, TTF CEO
Ms Osmond noted that the bus networks in a number of Australian cities including Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide and Darwin are managed by the private sector and that Sydney was already “halfway there” with a “hybrid system” of private and publicly operated buses. She claimed that “up to half a billion dollars” could be saved in Sydney alone.
The proposal has attracted criticism from the Bus, Rail and Tram Union.
“No matter what the government or the transport forum call it, this is privatisation,” the secretary of the union’s bus division, Chris Preston, told Fairfax Media.
“The government is trying to sell off Newcastle Buses, and they will hide behind this report to privatise Sydney Buses by stealth next.”
Western Sydney “Out There” summit draws strong speaker list
The Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue “Out There” Summit to be held on 11 March has attracted a strong field of speakers.
According to the Dialogue group, the inaugural Out There Summit will “generate and explore, new, big ideas for Western Sydney and help set the debate for regional investment, growth, governance, infrastructure and social inclusion”.
The list of speakers includes the NSW Premier Mike Baird and Opposition leader Loke Foley, the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Greater Sydney Commission Chief Commissioner Lucy Turnbull. There will be a special presentation by lawyer and WSU Brand Ambassador Deng Adut.
Development, Transport and Infrastructure Projects/Services
Development Projects and Plans
A mini-Manhattan mooted for Sydney…
A recent forum organised by the Sydney Business Chamber and Committee for Sydney in partnership with Lendlease and UTS has generated debate over plans for midtown Sydney as well as Parramatta’s relationship with the CBD.
The event discussed how cities like New York and London have regenerated their inner city precincts, as well as NSW Government plans for redevelopment.
“If Sydney is to achieve its aspiration to be a global city, we must look beyond current projects and consider what’s next,” Executive Director of the Sydney Business Chamber Patricia Forsythe said.
“The planning and procurement strategy for Sydney Midtown will be pivotal to realising the full value of the Central Station precinct. Getting this right will require a whole of government approach, and a shared vision involving the private sector and community”.
Some of the proposals discussed have generated controversy. According to a News report of the forum, Greens Newtown MP Jenny Leong said she was concerned of glib references to New York, a city that was very different to Sydney.
“What makes Manhattan work is the incredible expanse of open, green public space that is Central Park, the extensive subway systems and bus networks and the mechanisms in place to keep housing affordable — you can’t create urban density while maintaining the livability of a city without these things,” she said.
The comments of another speaker at the forum, Professor Peter Rees, also stirred controversy in Western Sydney (see next item).
… but Professor’s comments cause consternation in Parramatta
Comments of some of the speakers at the city centres visions forum (see previous item) have caused controversy in Western Sydney and especially Parramatta. According to Fairfax Media, Professor Peter Rees, a former City of London’s chief planning officer who spoke at the forum criticised the Baird government’s plan to relocate the Powerhouse Museum from Ultimo to Parramatta, saying “fix the place first”.
“You need to get people into that pretty dead area and I would be doing that before building some magnificent cultural project,” Professor Rees told Fairfax Media, claiming that “Parramatta can hardly be called a CBD”.
This drew a strong response from Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue Chairman Chris Brown, who said Professor Rees’ approach would leave people in western Sydney facing long commutes to reach good jobs.
“That is the kind of stupid planning that has gone on for the past 200 years and it has failed. While obviously some jobs will centre in the CBD we won’t stand around and let western Sydney be condemned to back office jobs,” Mr Brown said.
Parramatta Council has invited Prof. Rees “to come and see for himself” what Parramatta has to offer.
“I understand that Professor Rees has not been to Parramatta for several years and he may not be aware of the many wonderful things that are taking place here in the heart of Global Sydney,” Lord Mayor of Parramatta Cr Paul Garrard said.
“When discussing his last experience with Parramatta Professor Rees described our city as a mini CBD which was not very successful, but this is an outdated view and I think he’d find the reality very different today.”
The Lord Mayor described Parramatta as “a vibrant city that is being transformed by billions-of-dollars’ worth of private and public investment”.
“Professor Rees argues against decentralising jobs to suburban centres because it would create congestion. This shows a lack of understanding of the principle of creating a dual CBD, which is to focus jobs and transport on key, well-connected nodes,” Cr Garrard said.
Newcastle seeks to activate CBD via Hunter Street
Newcastle Council has released its vision for the city’s centre, proposing cycle ways and footpaths separated from traffic “to keep people safe and help activate Hunter Street”.
Council’s Connecting Newcastle: Our Urban Renewal Vision seeks to preserve space for parking on the edges of a dual-use centre lane and create room for wider footpaths and separated cycle ways. As well as providing a physical buffer for cyclists and pedestrians, parked cars will help create a “quieter footpath environment that will help bring people back to CBD shopfronts”.
“The shared arrangement or what’s called ‘mixed running’ will suit all commuters regardless of the mode of transport they use and help activate the city,” Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said.
“Separated cycle ways and quieter areas for pedestrians support plans to activate Hunter Street with streetscape improvements to attract people to inner-city businesses and the harbour foreshore.
“This will mark the start of an integrated public transport network with the potential to link our suburbs with the city centre, education and medical facilities as well as major transport nodes including Newcastle Airport and the Lake Macquarie Transport Interchange,” the Mayor said
The urban renewal vision also calls for the light rail to loop from Scott Street in the east around Pacific Park via Telford Street and back west along Hunter Street Mall. This will be discussed in the next item.
Light rail supported in Newcastle council vision…
As noted in the previous item, Council’s recently-released plan for the city centre, Connecting Newcastle: Our Urban Renewal Vision calls for the light rail (to be constructed in the CBD to replace the recently-closed heavy rail line) to loop from Scott Street in the east around Pacific Park via Telford Street and back west along Hunter Street Mall.
“The reinstatement of this unique loop will provide optimal urban renewal outcomes and reflect the city’s character and heritage,”Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said.
“Hunter Street Mall has long needed a boost and having the light rail run back along it will go a long way to restoring the area’s heyday as a busy business precinct.”
The plan also proposes a number of future opportunities for the expansion of the light rail in the longer term. These include links to Hunter Stadium, John Hunter Hospital, Newcastle University, Newcastle Airport, Lake Macquarie Interchange and to Merewether Beach.
…While Randwick Council support for Sydney light rail reaches the end of the line
Randwick Council has expressed its concerns regarding the environmental impacts of the construction of Sydney’s CBD and South East Light Rail (CESLR) and in particular the removal of hundreds of trees by effectively withdrawing support for the project.
At a meeting held on 23 February the council resolved unanimously to call on the Premier to “cease all light rail works in any area of environmental or heritage sensitivity and conduct an urgent design review of the project to ensure best design practice is employed to integrate Light Rail within existing heritage and environmentally sensitive zones within our local area”.
The resolution also urgently requested the “immediate provision” of all relevant information regarding the six-lane temporary diversion to be put in place while the light rail tunnel under Anzac Parade is constructed.
According to a News report NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance said he was “disappointed” in the decision since the council had lobbied hard for light rail.
“It’s bizarre they now want to see construction grind to a halt,” he is reported as saying.
“I am disappointed, but it won’t distract me from getting on with delivering light rail. This is a tough and complex build, but we’re absolutely determined to get on with delivering this project.”
Hobart’s light rail proposal attracts PM’s attention
Independent federal MP for Denison Andrew Wilkie has released a statement on his recent meeting with the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in which the proposal to convert former rail line in Hobart’s northern suburbs to light rail was a major topic of conversation.
“Most time was spent exploring the proposal to restore passenger rail in the greater Hobart area”, Mr Wilkie said.
“The Prime Minister clearly sees the merit of light rail generally and the opportunity offered by the availability of the land corridor from the Hobart docks through to Glenorchy and beyond. He is also aware that the Hobart and Glenorchy City Councils are committed to the project. However the Prime Minister realises that the project cannot proceed without a firm proposal by the State Government.”
In later statements quoted in media reports, Mr Wilkie said that he was pleased the PM had given him “a good hearing” on all the issues discussed but it was the light rail in particular which piqued Mr Turnbull’s interest.
“I think that people would be well aware that Malcolm Turnbull has a particular interest in passenger rail and he sees the possibilities for Hobart,” Mr Wilkie said.
“He understands that we’ve got a land corridor just sitting there, we have a public transport problem and he seemed quite interested in the proposition.”
Mr Wilkie warned that the State Government needed to “get serious” about producing a proper proposal federal consideration.
“[The Prime Minister] can be as interested as he wants, I can jump up and down as the local federal member as much as I want, but unless and until the State Government puts together a proposal that we can bring up to Canberra … then nothing will happen.” Mr Wilkie said.
City Vision seeks to bring trams back to Auckland
City Vision which is contesting the upcoming Auckland Council elections has launched a new “Bring Back the Trams” campaign.
“Sixty years after trams were removed from our major arterial roads, our streets are choked with cars, causing delay, costs, and pollution. We believe that a modern light rail system is the key to solving these problems in our communities”, City Vision Councillor Cathy Casey said.
The group claimed that the city’s central suburbs are part of a rapid transport “void” which had been identified by Auckland Transport and that Light Rail is “the ideal way” to move people around.
“We also know that a modern Light Rail system is one of the best ways of enlivening our village centres. When people have access to fast, reliable public transport it becomes viable for them to go to their local centre to shop, eat, and socialise. Light Rail has the ability to positively transform many of our village centres that are otherwise choked with traffic and often struggle to compete”, says Roskill Community Voice Chair of the Puketapapa Local Board Julie Fairey.
Resident anger over Sydney Metro Waterloo station rejuvenation
According to media reports local residents were angered by the NSW government’s approach at a recent consultation to discuss the rejuvenation of the Waterloo housing estate that forms part of the construction of a Sydney Metro station at the site.
“We have just wasted 50 minutes, people came here to find out what the hell is going on,” Waterloo resident Paul Marshall was heard yelling during the consultation, Channel 9 reports.
“I’m 76, I’ll be dead before it’s finished,” Evelyn Morris yelled at Planning Minister Brad Hazzard, after he refused to directly answer questions at the community forum.
Local Labor MP Ron Hoenig has campaigned for the area to be improved.
“Now there’s lawn, now there’s garden, now there’s clotheslines, there are fences, there’s new roofs, there’s new guttering – and they want to bring a wrecking ball through this place, throw the people out, knock it all down,” Mr Hoenig said.
Urban Heavy Rail
New operations centre to coordinate Sydney’s trains
NSW Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Andrew Constance has announced a new rail “nerve centre will be built to consolidate operations with the aim of reducing train delays and provide faster information to customers.
The $276 million Sydney Trains Rail Operations Centre will be built at Green Square. All facets of the train network are controlled from this single location, with new technology to manage train movements and customer safety.
“This new centre will ultimately improve train reliability for customers and when there are delays, information will be communicated much more quickly,” Mr Constance said.
“This is a massive commitment to a transformational project that will help ensure Sydney Trains can continue to improve the service it provides to customers.”
Knowledge from across the globe has been “sourced from London, Hong Kong and Tokyo” to ensure the centre’s design incorporates the latest technology.
NSW government $50+ million annual “windfall” from airport rail link
Fairfax Media has claimed that the NSW government is receiving windfalls of over $50 million annually from the station access fees charged at the Sydney international and domestic airport stations.
The report notes that since a “threshold” was reached in July 2014, the government has been entitled to 85% of the sales revenue from Airport Link with Airport Link paying the government almost $54 million in the year to last June, up from $27.2 million in 2013-14.
Transport Minister Andrew Constance said any funds the government received from the Airport Link contract were “put back to improved transport services or better infrastructure”. However with patronage on the line forecast to increase by about 7% this year resulting in even greater revenue for the government, there is increasing pressure for the access fee to be reduced or abolished.
EcoTransit spokesman Colin Schroder is quoted as claiming the public transport advocacy group was strongly in favour of these options, or even the government buying out the company.
“The pay off for the public from that would be massive. It would reduce road traffic in the vicinity of the airport massively … and address many of the traffic problems in the south west,” he said.
Federal-Vic discussions on Melbourne Metro proposals are positive but not conclusive
Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Darren Chester and Minister for Major Projects, Paul Fletcher, has met with the Victorian Minister for Public Transport, Jacinta Allan in Canberra to discuss infrastructure needs including the Melbourne Metro Rail project.
“We had a positive and productive meeting,” Mr Chester said in a media statement.
“The Commonwealth and Victorian Governments recognise the infrastructure challenges facing Melbourne and regional Victoria.
“The business case for Melbourne Metro Rail proposal has been sent to Infrastructure Australia, which will now proceed to evaluate the Melbourne Metro Project business case.
“In addition, I have asked Minister Allan to provide me with details on other projects that can unlock the potential of regional Victoria and create jobs and economic opportunities,” Mr Chester said.
According to Fairfax media Ms Allan said the meeting had “set up the next stage of negotiations” over funding the Melbourne metro.
“We’ve all agreed to authorise our departments to go and do the detailed next stage of works, to go through the issues that are raised in the business case,” she said.
“Today wasn’t necessarily about leaving with a cheque in hand, as nice as that would have been.”
Melbourne Flinders St Station upgrade to be complete by 2018, while Mernda rail project released to market
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews joined Minister for Public Transport Jacinta Allan have announced that Australian construction company Built Pty Ltd has been awarded the contract to restore Flinders Street Station in a $100 million project.
Works to begin in the coming weeks include fixing the leaky roof, restoring the crumbling façade and re-painting the more than 100 year-old building. The concourse will be extended along Swanston Street, with new entrances at the western end of the station near Elizabeth Street, and in the Degraves Subway.
The main entrance on the corner of Swanston Street will be redesigned and ticketing services across the station will be revamped to allow people to get through the gates faster. New information boards and signage will also be installed. The project is expected to be complete in 2018.
“Our practical project will fix Flinders Street Station – restoring the crumbling building, fixing the leaks, and making the station more functional for the 200,000 passengers that use it every day,” the Premier said.
In a separate statement the Premier and Transport Minister have announced that Expressions of Interest to have been called to design and construct the new rail line to Mernda.
The rail extension includes a premium station at Mernda, integrated with the proposed Mernda Town Centre, and a new station near Marymede Catholic College with extensive car parking, bike storage and bus facilities.
Marymede was chosen as the first station due to its far greater car parking capacity, proximity to schools and local jobs, and because of the opportunities for value capture and partnership with the private sector. However the release notes that because of “strong community support for a third station”, bidders will be required to investigate and price the proposed station near Hawkstowe Parade as part of the tender process.