This edition of The Strategic Week was delayed in part to incorporate some aspects of the Prime Minister’s media comments and address to a Western Sydney summit on Friday. This will be discussed in further detail in the next edition of TSW.
Top of the Week
PM seeks to be “more ambitious” on Badgerys Creek Airport rail connection timing …
In what appeared initially to be a significant departure from his government’s previous policy approach, the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has indicated that he is working towards bringing forward construction of the rail line to the planned airport at Badgerys Creek in Western Sydney so it is in place when the airport opens.
Speaking on ABC radio prior to addressing the Western Sydney “Out There” summit (see TSW11), Mr Turnbull said the government is making the airport “rail ready”.
“But we believe we should be more ambitious and what we are doing is working with the State Government to see how we can bring rail to the airport, more rail to western Sydney, ideally when the airport opens,” he said.
The Prime Minister however did not make a specific commitment regarding funding or timing, instead pointing to the potential to use value capture to fund transport infrastructure including the airport line.
“Let’s ask ourselves how do we improve our city, how do we increase the value of our city and its amenity? Then having done that with this piece of rail infrastructure, how do we then capture some of that to support its construction?”
Mr Turnbull expanded on this perspective when delivering the inaugural Lachlan Macquarie Lecture to the “Out There” Summit though he seemed to adopt a slightly more cautious tone.
“Neither the Australian nor the NSW Government can commit today to completing a rail connection by 2026, there is too little known about the route, the cost, the value created and the sources of funding” Mr Turnbull said.
“But instead of resigning ourselves to a two-decade delay, let’s lift our ambitions and ask, what would it take for rail to be operational at the airport when it opens? And if not then, how soon afterwards?
“How do we use a rail link to improve supply and hence affordability and accessibility of residential and business premises? How do we use rail to give people better access to quality jobs? How do we increase the rail catchment through changing land use?
“A lot of value will be created. Is there enough to enable a rail link to be delivered sooner than the traffic at the airport alone would warrant?” the PM said.
The next edition of TSW will examine other aspects of the Prime Minister’s Lachlan Macquarie address.
… after Minister sounds a word of caution
Mr Turnbull’s media comments and Lachlan Macquarie lecture statements on the prospects of a rail link to the planned Western Sydney airport (see previous item) seemed to go further than those of his Minister for Major Projects, Territories and Local Government Paul Fletcher.
The Minister spoke recently to a conference on high speed rail organised by the Sydney Business Chamber Western Sydney and Parramatta Council (see later item regarding this and for further discussion of the Minister’s comments).
In relation to the airport rail connection, the Minister said that the initial passenger numbers were expected to be “modest” at around five million a year which was “not sufficient to justify a rail connection”, though from the day of opening the airport “will have excellent road connectivity”.
Even when passenger numbers increase the Minister sounded a note of caution.
“Around 17 per cent of Sydney Airport users travel by train; for Brisbane Airport it is 10 per cent. In both cases the rail link operator has struggled to make commercial returns over time,” he said.
The Minister did however concede that a rail link to the airport would also service other development, pointing to the federal and NSW governments’ joint study into Western Sydney’s rail needs. This echoed a plea from Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (WSROC) President Clr Tony Hadchiti.
“A very fast train from Parramatta to Badgerys Creek is a great concept, but if the route doesn’t have stations and stops along the way there will be very little benefit for commuters and businesses between these two locations,” he said.
“63 per cent of Western Sydney residents drive to work, indicating that existing public transport is not capable of carrying people where they need to go.”
NSW council merger battle gets even messier
According to media reports a number of NSW councils are fighting planned mergers on several fronts, complicating the state government’s strategy of using the Boundaries Commission process to implement the amalgamations.
Some of the approaches include:
- Submission of alternative merger proposals. As noted in TSW11 Warringah Council initiated this approach which has been adopted by a number of other councils including Botany, Kogorah and Rockdale Councils in Sydney. In regional NSW Corowa, Jerilderee and Palarang Councils are pursuing similar approaches. Despite the fact that the these proposals have been added to the government’s council boundary review website, the NSW Local Government Minister Paul Toole has foreshadowed in comments to Fairfax media that any council-initiated proposals submitted after Warringah’s would probably not be examined with the government-backed mergers, meaning that the Boundaries Commission would deliver its verdict on these first.
- Legal action. Woollahra Council has threatened court action unless the government drops plans to merge the council with Waverley and Randwick Councils. According to Fairfax media the case is based on the argument that the government is proceeding under the incorrect newer sections of the Local Government Act instead of the existing more provisions for forced mergers which are more cumbersome. Other councils such as Mosman are seeking legal advice about whether than can join the challenge. Woollahra council has also made a formal complaint to the NSW Ombudsman about the conduct of the public inquiry into the merger.
- Encouraging letter-writing and other anti-merger campaigns by local residents. Other councils such as Hawkesbury City Council which are opposed to the merger have urged residents to continue writing to the Premier, Local Government Minister and local members to express opposition.
Foley announces new NSW shadow planning and transport ministers
The resignation of NSW Deputy Opposition Leader Linda Burney to run for the seat of Barton in the upcoming federal election has lead to a reshuffle and the appointment of new shadow planning and transport ministers.
The new deputy leader Michael Daley has lost the treasury portfolio to Ryan Park but takes up the planning and infrastructure portfolio. Jodi McKay, one of nine women in the shadow cabinet, being given transport to add her existing responsibilities for roads, maritime and freight.
Strategic Planning and Policy
Minister outlines federal government’s public transport strategies…
Following the release of the paper on options for a Western Sydney fast train discussed in TSW11, the Minister for Major Projects, Territories and Local Government Paul Fletcher used a long address to a conference on the topic organised by the Sydney Business Chamber Western Sydney and Parramatta Council to outline the federal government’s policies on this and a range of other public transport issues (see earlier item regarding the Minister’s comments on proposed rail link to the planned Badgerys Creek airport).
Mr Fletcher noted that “transport infrastructure is a critical part of the effective operation of a modern city”, stressing “the importance of transport— particularly public transport” to the federal government.
The Minister said he wanted to “correct the simplistic argument”, that the Abbott Government was not prepared to fund public transport, noting the funds paid to state governments through the Asset Recycling Initiative for public transport projects including the Sydney Metro.
He noted however that the Prime Minister had made it clear that the federal government will now “determine the funding of transport infrastructure projects on their merits, regardless of mode”, citing provision of $95 million towards stage 2 of the Gold Coast Light Rail Project.
“One factor which informs our thinking is the importance of public transport to provide connectivity to densely populated areas of our cities, particularly as our economy transforms,” Mr Fletcher said.
“If we are seeing a densification of our cities and inner city areas, and if this is linked with underlying economic trends, then providing efficient transport connections to and from these areas is increasingly important.”
The Minister concluded with some comments about public transport infrastructure funding, noting that the NSW government had been “doing a lot of work on value sharing”. He announced that the federal government will issue a discussion paper seeking feedback about value capture and how to encourage its use.
“Some of the questions we will be asking include:
- “What is value capture and why should we use it?
- “Should the public sector be bolder in employing value capture and are more city level powers critical to this?
- “How should public sector organisations use their own property assets to realise value uplift?
- “What role can the Commonwealth play in this space?”, the Minister said.
… while another does the same for the government’s cities agenda
The Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation, Angus Taylor, has outlined the federal government’s priorities for its cities agenda to the same Sydney Business Chamber conference on transport links between the city and Western Sydney addressed by Paul Fletcher (see previous item).
These include “improved access to quality local jobs”, housing affordability and sustainability and amenity.
“Central to this portfolio is the need for high income local jobs. We’re seeing a rapid increase in high income jobs focused on innovation, involving complex problem solving and experience. These jobs tend to co-locate in clusters,” Mr Taylor said.
A focus of the policy will be “high-tech clusters” similar to those at MIT in Boston and Stanford University in Northern California.
“As a nation we need to nurture and grow these clusters of high income jobs, for opportunity and prosperity, to support the aspirations of every Australian,” the Assistant Minister said, though he issued a caution about the challenges involved. These include the way in which population growth in outer suburban areas and some regional cities is “outpacing the delivery of jobs and services”.
“We need to use every policy lever of government – financial regulation, tax policy, immigration, environment, education policy, industry policy, infrastructure investment, even defence policy, to support and nurture these job clusters in our cities, as close as possible to where people live,” Mr Taylor said.
Other challenges include housing affordability and supply, and transport.
“We need to better understand the link between transport and development. We shouldn’t think about transport options based on the cost of moving someone from A to B. Instead we must recognise that housing developments and employment zones are heavily impacted by transport options and we need to focus on integrated developments”, he said.
Mr Taylor said that through its Cities Agenda the federal government would “work with all levels of government, industry and community” to develop agreements.
“The UK Government has created a very powerful template for this, with their so-called ‘city deals’. These are deals for cities with targets, targeted initiatives and incentives – sharply focused on economic growth and quality of life,” he said.
Development, Transport and Infrastructure Projects/Services
Development Projects and Plans
Super-tall towers planned for Brisbane and Parramatta (perhaps)
A development application has been lodged for a billion-dollar 250-metre, 76-storey building to be known as Queen’s tower to be located in Queen Street Brisbane, with “luxury residences, premium short-term accommodation and a new shopping and dining precinct.”
Meanwhile a architects Bates Smart have won a design concept competition for a $700 million, 300 metre 90-storey building in the heart of the Parramatta Square development – though Aviation authorities have not given their approval for the construction of the building to which a number aviation and airport authorities have objected. To overcome these concerns the developer Walker Corporation will lodge applications for the building in stages, starting with a DA for a 70-storey, or 243-metre tower.
Parramatta light rail briefing provides some answers – and more questions
- Parramatta light rail 1: industry briefing
The NSW government briefed industry on the Parramatta light rail project at an event last Monday, revealing it will involve over 20 km of track and around 22 stops, including six major interchanges.
Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Andrew Constance said the briefing would “share further details of how planners and industry can contribute to this transformational project.” Over 500 experts attended.
“Today we’re pressing go on Parramatta Light Rail, on the site where two light rail lines will meet to create a new tram network for the west,” Mr Constance said.
“This project will provide frequent and reliable links to the great precincts of Sydney like Westmead Hospital, The University of Western Sydney, Parramatta CBD, the Olympic sporting hub and Strathfield while also sparking rejuvenation of Camellia.
“The project will be a chance for Western Sydney businesses to get on board and benefit, all while creating hundreds of jobs.”
The Minister indicated that construction could begin by late 2018 or early 2019 and that later this year “with a specific route under consultation”, wider community input would be sought.
The industry briefing document indicates that the government is looking to “commence a conversation about Parramatta Light Rail with industry”, applying “the successful elements of industry engagement programs undertaken by other Government projects such as Sydney Metro and Western Sydney Infrastructure Plan”.
The process will begin by seeking feedback to help develop a strategic business model that includes the project objectives, need, governance and level of service. Industry will be consulted on the resulting model “through a series of challenge forums” leading to second industry briefing at the end of 2016 on the government’s preferred business model and delivery strategy at a second industry briefing prior to the start of procurement.
Part 2 (next item) will consider some of the project details released at the industry briefing.
- Parramatta light rail 2: project details
The Parramatta light rail industry briefing document released by the government (discussed in the previous item) provided more detail about the project but also raises some questions. Some of the key points to emerge included:
- The government has allocated $1 billion to the project which will need additional funding. Some of this will be provided through a special infrastructure contribution on new development in the Greater Parramatta to Olympic Peninsula Priority Growth Area through which the light rail corridor runs (see map). This will also fund other road works and infrastructure.
- Construction is planned to begin in late 2018 or early 2019 and is scheduled to be complete by 2022/23 (see indicative timetable below).
- As noted earlier the project will involve over 20 km of track with two branches. At the western end the line will commence at Westmead Station before running in an arc through the hospital precinct and North Parramatta to Parramatta Square and Station, then on to Camillia. This section will form the central “spine” of the planned network and presumably any future expansion.
- The line will divide at Camillia with the western branch going to Strathfield Station via Olympic Park Station. The northern branch will run to Carlingford, replacing the existing heavy rail line between Camillia and Carlingford.
- There will be around 20 stops which means average intervals of around one kilometre between stops. Transport interchanges are planned at Westmead, Parramatta, Carlingford (presumably bus only), Olympic Park and Strathfield Stations
- The line will have frequent “turn up and go” services though no information has been provided on frequency or operating hours. The line will also be integrated with the Opal ticketing system (though no indication is given regarding fare structure).
“Camellia is the junction between the two routes and you would think the junction point would be a good point for buses to stop. It would also have main road access via James Ruse Drive for buses,” Mr Borger said.
On the interchange issue the Sydney Business Chamber’s Western Sydney director David Borger said to Fairfax media that he was surprised an interchange at Camellia was not included as part of the government’s preferred network.
The next item discusses some of the issues relating to the Parramatta light rail proposal.
Comment: Parramatta light rail proposal still has many unanswered questions
As noted in the previous two items, the Parramatta light rail industry briefing has provided more detail regarding the project but also leaves – and in some case raises – some unanswered questions which will need to be addressed in future consultations.
Chief among these is more detail on the preferred route and location of specific stops, in particular the interchanges. As mentioned earlier it does appear that there will be around 20 stops which suggests an average one-kilometre spacing, and five interchanges.
As pointed out by Mr Borger from the Sydney Business Chamber Western Sydney branch (see previous item), there is no mention of a combined tram-to-tram and tram-bus interchange which would need to be located at or near Camellia. This would be required to allow passengers to change between the Camellia to Carlingford branch and the Camellia to Strathfield branch, and vice versa.
Little detail has been provided on the planned conversion of the Camellia to Carlingford branch, including the time involved or the alternative bus arrangements that will be put in place during this process. This will require extensive work on the existing rail bridge across Parramatta River as well as the replacement of the current electrification system and, presumably, the duplication of the existing single line. Judging by the timeframes suggested for the Epping to Chatswood and Bankstown line metro conversions and the experience of the inner west goods line to light rail conversion this could easily take around 12 months or even longer.
There is another unknown heading south from Camellia – the fate of the remaining section of the existing heavy rail line to the junction with the main western railway line at Clyde. This is not scheduled for conversion to light rail and the existing line is neither mentioned in the document nor shown on the map. This suggests that this section will be closed, and along with it the current station at Rosehill which is close to the racecourse and a number of hotels – that being said Rosehill station is only about 500 metres from the current Camellia station.
It is also unclear whether and how provision will be made to accommodate future extensions of the light rail network. This is particularly relevant on the planned Carlingford branch where the original proposals by Parramatta Council identified options for a link all the way to Macquarie Park via either Eastwood or Epping as actually being higher priority than the Olympic Park corridor. The handling of the terminus at Carlingford in the final project design will provide some clues about whether and how the government will make provision for an extension.
Finally, perhaps the biggest questions of all are the overall cost of the project and the basis on which the special infrastructure contribution to the cost will be levied. Significant sections of the Greater Parramatta to Olympic Peninsula Priority Growth Area will receive little or no direct benefit from the project, especially those which are relatively distant from the proposed light rail corridor and in some cases are closer to the existing western and northern rail lines and stations. The government has announced that it will allocate $1 billion to the project but at this stage it is a guess as to whether value capture will be able to make up the rest.
Gold Coast Mayor pledges $160 million for airport light rail link
Light rail has featured in yet another council election campaign. The current Gold Coast Mayor and candidate in the upcoming Mayoral candidate Tom Tate has committed to contributing up to $160 million towards the extension of the city’s light rail line to the Gold Coast Airport if he is re-elected.
The existing line runs between Southport and Broadbeach, with a second stage extension from Southport to Helensvale and the heavy rail network due to be completed by 2018. According to media reports Cr Tate has promised to immediately fund a $600,000 technical feasibility on a third stage to the airport. He indicated that if re-elected the Council could contribute around 11% of the estimated $1.54 billion cost, consistent with the contribution it made with stages one and two.
Cr Tate claimed that residents had overwhelmingly supported” the proposal but said that the three levels of government would again need to work together on the extension.
“But first we have to do our homework, make sure it is ‘do-able’, make sure it is what the people want and then go to state and federal governments,” he said.
“But this will be the biggest example, anywhere in Australia, of the three levels of government coming together and putting in infrastructure that is transformative for a city.”
PM and Premier discuss Hobart light rail proposal
Following discussions with independent Tasmania federal MP Andrew Wilkie (see TSW11) on the proposal to convert former rail line in Hobart’s northern suburbs to light rail, the Hobart Mercury has reported that the Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull are discussing “innovative” ways to fund the project.
The paper also claims that Mr Turnbull had said the light rail system could be a catalyst for urban renewal and regional development in Hobart, but he is “waiting for a lead” from the State Government on the $100 million project. The funding options said to be under discussion are consistent with the Prime Minister’s recent comments on the use of value capture to fund infrastructure (see lead item).
Urban Heavy Rail
NZ PM virtually views planned Auckland station
The New Zealand Prime Minister John Key “took a walk” around Aotea Station, one of the proposed two new underground station for Auckland’s $2.5 billion City Rail Link, using a virtual reality headset.
Speaking to the Weekend Herald during a visit to the CRL design offices where he viewed the video, Mr Key stressed the importance of making sure one of the biggest engineering missions in Kiwi history gets a “successful execution”.
“This is something that’s been talked about for decades. It’s exciting, but something you’ve got to get right,” Mr Key said.
“The successful execution of the plan will allow it to be delivered on the broad budget of $2.5 billion to $3 billion. If you don’t do that, everyone can see how challenging that might be.”
The paper noted that several issues are still to be ironed out between the national government and Auckland Council. The most important is how the project will be funded, with the council hoping the government will provide half the $2.5 billion cost.
HSR, Freight, other Rail
Contracts for planning north-south Inland Rail awarded as fast-tracking of existing east-west link announced
The federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Darren Chester has announced that the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) has awarded more than $11 million in contracts in recent weeks to progress planning on the Inland Rail project.
According to the Minister the contracts include” a range of crucial field studies and environmental assessments” across three states.
“Inland Rail is now in the planning and environmental approvals phase and ARTC and its consultants will commence critical field studies along the alignment over the coming weeks,” Mr Chester said.
A joint venture of SMEC and Arup won the Technical and Engineering Advisory contact. A further six contracts have been awarded to leading consultancies, GHD Pty Ltd, Parsons Brinkerhoff, AECOM, ARUP and Jacobs for the initial environmental investigations and engineering design for each of the projects in the programme.
Infrastructure Australia recently named Inland Rail as a priority initiative on the newly updated Infrastructure Priority List. The proposal envisages a Melbourne to Brisbane rail freight link with transit times of under 24 hours.
Meanwhile the Prime Minister Malcolm Turbull and and John Fullerton, CEO of the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), have announced that the ARTC will fast track a major upgrade to the east-west national rail network.
The upgrade will involve 1200 kilometres of rail replacement between Adelaide and Tarcoola. The ARTC will partner with Arrium Steel to deliver the upgrade, substantially boosting demand for steel production at the Whyalla facility.
The upgrade will replace decades old rail with stronger steel, weighing 60kg per metre compared to the current 47kg per metre, enabling axle weight to increase from 23 tonne to 25 tonne at 80 kms per hour.
How to make shorthaul rail freight succeed
The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) has released a report on the elements that make short-haul intermodal freight services succeed.
The Bureau’s head Gary Dolman notes in the report’s foreword that the shipping container has “revolutionised freight transport over the last half-century” but that this success has brought challenges. For example ports are typically located at the hearts of our cities so landside container movements impact on communities around the ports and contribute to road congestion.
“In response to these issues, planners and policymakers worldwide seek to transfer box movements from road to rail; and to use rail to shift port activities away from constrained maritime sites. However, road haulage stubbornly predominates in port–hinterland box movements because economics work against operating trains over shorter distances,” Mr Dolman said.
“That said, in spite of the odds being stacked against the operations, port–hinterland rail services do exist.”
The report considers the circumstances that can make such services viable and whether these can be replicated.
“Such insights can then provide guidance on the elements needed to enhance port access operations and port efficiency,” Mr Dolman said.
Vic V/Line wheel problem grinds to a resolution
Victorian Minister for Public Transport, Jacinta Allan, has announced that work to reduce wheel wear, accelerate maintenance and fix boom-gate detection issues with V/Line regional trains “had been more effective than anticipated”.
“Within a few weeks, more than 90 per cent of services across the major regional lines will be back on the tracks, including every Ballarat peak service and all but two Gippsland services – the line hardest hit by recent disruptions,” Ms Allen said.
“Travel will continue to be free for passengers on the remaining coach replacement services, with full restoration of services still on track for the middle of the year.”
The wheel wear and level crossing problems with VLocity trains resulted in buses replacing almost all V/Line services at one stage, and also claimed the scalp of V/Line CEO (see TSW6). Nearly 1200 VLocity train wheels required repair or replacement.