The Strategic Week (no. 13, Friday 18 March 2016) – the week in governance, planning, infrastructure and transport

Top of the Week

PM links innovation, a new cities agenda and Western Sydney plans…

While the Prime Minister’s comments during the Lachlan Macquarie Lecture at the recent Out There summit on the possibility that a rail link to the proposed Western Sydney Airport could be brought forward attracted most of the media attention (see TSW12), his extensive speech also addressed a range of other issues relating to the federal government’s cities and innovation policies.

Mr Turnbull noted that Western Sydney is Australia’s third-largest urban economy. He said it is also one of Australia’s fastest-growing regions making up nearly half of Sydney’s population “with the greatest potential for even more growth”.

He also noted however that employment levels are lower for young people and about 200,000 people have to leave the region to work, a number that is forecast to grow to about 340,000 by 2041.

“So because both the promise and the problems faced by Western Sydney are so complex, the solutions we provide must be coordinated across all layers of government and indeed the private sector,” Mr Turnbull said.

“Rapid growth is a challenge because of the demand it puts on housing and transport, the problems of congestion and mobility, the concentration of high value jobs in only a few places or the lack of local jobs.

“Our cities policy will address this by focusing on investment in transport and urban renewal, increasing the supply of housing and by improving amenity, making cities wonderful places to live.”

The PM made a clear pitch to link innovation and the development of cities, quoting urban economist Ed Glaeser who called cities “our species’ greatest invention”. He stated that “strong, well connected, liveable cities and regions are vital to support the high-tech, knowledge-intensive sectors of the new economy” and that in the “knowledge economy physical proximity and connectivity is more important than ever”.

Mr Turnbull also agreed with Glaeser’s assertion that the central goal for governments in planning and building cities is to “retain and enhance this basic function of cities, improving lives and creating opportunities for people.”

“… Cities are for people, not machines. Cities must have a human form because serving humanity is their function,” Mr Turnbull said.

“All of our policies must ensure that cities continue to provide this critical role in human progress, especially as we face the transition from the old economy to the new.

“Technology and infrastructure can smooth and enable that transition. Both can unlock potential and in the history of Western Sydney this has always been true.”

Mr Turnbull claimed that “the building blocks”of great cities are simple: “affordable housing, good transport, easy access to employment and study, reliable communications, energy and water”.

“Communities need smart, well-designed, walkable density,” Mr Turnbull said.

“We should aim to have more people in western Sydney living in an ever extending zone of the 30 minute city – where people do not have to travel too long to get to work, school or university.”

Mr Turnbull also indicated that while it would no longer “discriminate between modes”, and would fund rail as well as road projects, his government would also cease to be “a passive ATM doling out grants for infrastructure, without being especially involved or concerned about the consequences of that infrastructure… We will invest more in cities and we will do so as partners.”

The Prime Minister said that the planning and delivery of this infrastructure had to improve.

“We should approach infrastructure like the best run companies approach their business – planning, investing, delivering and operating infrastructure to get the best results for the best price.

“That means being a better partner to state and local governments – working closely together in the planning stages, ensuring that project outcomes are in step with our national goals.”

See next item for a summary of some of the responses to the Prime Minister’s proposals.

… and receives a mixed response

The Prime Minister’s comments on his government’s cities and innovation policies (see previous item) have attracted a mixed response from economic and media commentators.

Peter Martin has praised Mr Turnbull’s urban strategies noting however that the government will need to borrow money long-term to fund urban and transport infrastructure, for example through 30-year bonds financed at “exceptionally low rates”. In addition Mr Martin notes that he will encourage the states to make greater use of value capture so that federal funds can be spread further.

“Turnbull’s major projects minister, Paul Fletcher, will produce a discussion paper outlining how value-capture will work within weeks. It could open the way for all sorts of projects previously regarded as uneconomic or not yet economic, including a Melbourne-Brisbane freight rail line, a railway to the site of Sydney’s second airport, and (perhaps) a Melbourne-Brisbane high-speed passenger line,” Mr Martin said.

Peter Hartcher has also supported the Prime Minister’s strategy, noting Professor Ian Harper’s comments that “the economic benefits of getting cities right is ‘many multiples’ greater than those of tax reform” and that Mr Turnbull intends to make his cities policy “a trademark of his leadership” .

Hartcher states that “Turnbull has dumped Tony Abbott’s roads fetishism” and is prepared to commit to urban rail links – and, as noted by Mr Martin, the possibility of an interstate high-speed rail line. He noted that a very fast train in Australia “has been studied since the 1980s but never made any progress towards reality”, despite the thousands of kilometres built overseas.

This was in part due to attempts to finance previous proposals entirely through ticket sales. Instead Hartcher suggests value capture could be used, claiming that “the huge surge in land values” resulting from the project could also help pay for it.

“Here is the key to the new agenda – the financing. For the new projects – the Badgery’s Creek airport rail link, the high speed Sydney-Melbourne train, for a range of other projects – the government is working on this and other mechanisms for raising the revenue without simply handing over federal tax monies,” Mr Hartcher said.

Jacob Saulwick however sounded a note of caution, specifically in relation to the proposed airport rail line, noting the promises for new rail links in Western Sydney and elsewhere made by Mr Turnbull’s predecessors which never materialised.

“Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s commitment on Friday to look at what it would take to build a fast rail link to Badgerys Creek within a decade could be an exciting and city-shaping development,” Mr Saulwick said.

“Or it could represent the most tired story of all: politician, seeking support in the polls, has a flight of steel-wheel fantasy that in a few years will be an embarrassment to all concerned.”

Another “risk” identified by Mr Saulwick is that the project could be built but result in a “express train to Badgerys Creek, but at the expense of the other transport needs of the city.”

“A more pressing need would be to do something about the lack of rail capacity on Sydney’s Western Line, between Parramatta and the CBD, which the state government’s $20 billion metro program does surprisingly little to address,” Mr Saulwick said.

Kirsty Needham raised concerns regarding the Prime Minister’s proposals to use value capture to finance transport infrastructure. She noted that in relation to the planned Sydney Metro, Transport NSW is already “investigating how high-rise towers could be built, Hong Kong style, above six of the Metro’s city stations” and that companies like MTR and China Rail are “spruiking” this model in relation to other projects.

“So if the debate about whether Sydney needs more rail to combat worsening traffic congestion is now settled, governments should move on to an honest conversation with voters about the next big questions. How much privatised rail does NSW want? At what cost to the quarter-acre block?” Ms Needham said.

“How will governments ensure that rail operators/property developers deliver affordable housing designed to make Sydney more liveable for its residents, not simply to maximise railway profits?”

See later item on High Speed Rail proposals and issues.

Strategic Planning and Policy

Sydney’s congestion worsens as federal minister mulls road pricing inquiry

A Fairfax Media analysis comparing Roads and Maritime Services weekday peak hour data from 2013 and 2015 claims that speeds on some major  Sydney roads have slumped by up to 25km/h in this period.

The analysis also claims that Sydney drivers are stuck in rush hour traffic for longer, with the worst afternoon peak – on the M4 Motorway between Concord and Clyde – now spanning six hours, from 2pm to 8pm. The study revealed that worst decline was on the M2 Hills Motorway from North Ryde to Carlingford, where the average afternoon peak hour speed decreased by 25km/h to 46km/h. While the M2 upgrade completed in 2013 temporarily lifted average speeds, they have declined again since.

Michelle Zeibots, research director in Transport at UTS’ Institute for Sustainable Futures, is quoted as saying that upgrades tended to deliver only short-term improvements to traffic.

“As people are attracted to the network, speeds deteriorate before flattening out, returning to what they were before the new capacity was added,” Dr Zeibots said.

“We see these patterns after the opening of every new motorway in Sydney.”

In an ABC radio interview the federal Minister for Major Projects, Territories and Local Government Paul Fletcher indicated that the government was considering a recommendation from Infrastructure Australia (IA) to research options to introduce road pricing partly in response to increasing congestion.

In relation to the IA recommendation Mr Fletcher sated: “… is it worth looking at different approaches, would there be benefits in terms of reduced congestion, is it fairer, does it give us better roads, so those are questions that the Government will now consider whether we want to have this more detailed study that Infrastructure Australia’s recommended and that’s something we’re giving some thought to now.”

Scott Charlton, the CEO of toll road operator Transurban backed the road pricing inquiry proposal.

“Even factoring in committed projects such as WestConnex and NorthConnex, and all the currently committed rail projects, by 2035 Sydney motorists could face congestion levels on par with Mexico City and spend 110 hours a year in traffic,” he told a Committee for Economic Development of Australia luncheon.

NSW Transport Secretary Tim Reardon sounded a word of caution however, emphasising that “we have a long way to go in expanding our public transport system before we can contemplate such measures”.

NSW Government extends final fare report deadline

The NSW Minister for Transport Andrew Constance has written to Peter Boxall, Chair of the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) to inform the organisation that the government is extending the due date for IPART’s final report on proposed NSW fare increases by six weeks to 12 May 2016.

This has been done, the letter said, “to allow the NSW Government to thoroughly consider the Tribunal’s 21 December 2016 draft report and give the Tribunal sufficient time to finalise its review after receiving the government’s announced policy position”.

According to media reports, Labor’s shadow minister for transport, Jodi McKay, has claimed that the government is “buying time” to work on a “sales pitch to try to soften the blow of steep fare rises”.IPART’s draft report proposed major changes to fares, including an increase in threshold for free travel from eight to ten journeys a week and a tightening of eligibility for the Gold Opal card.

Queensland infrastructure plan released – and criticised

The Queensland Government has released the state’s first Infrastructure Plan in more than three years, also announcing the establishment of a new State Infrastructure Fund with an injection of $500 million, “to build the infrastructure needed to grow the economy and support more than 1,000 jobs now for Queenslanders.”

The Premier said $300 million of the State Infrastructure Fund would be invested in seven critical road and rail upgrades, “to help boost capacity and reliability”.

“I made a commitment as Opposition leader to ensure that Queensland once again had a state-wide infrastructure plan, and today we deliver it,” Ms Palaszczuk said

“Our initial injection of funds will also target projects that have a clear community need and will help address important regional and economic priorities, including jobs for Queenslanders,” she said, also indicating that her government will call on the Prime Minister to match this commitment.

While the plan was generally welcomed, some regional leaders criticised it as being inadequate. For example, Sunshine Coast Mayor Mark Jamieson said it was “a case of far too little and wrong priorities” which “overlooked the needs of the Sunshine Coast”.

“The Queensland Government’s own statisticians have identified the Sunshine Coast as one of the fastest growing regions in Queensland, increasing to nearly half a million people in the next 20 years,” Mayor Jamison said.

“Yet the State Government is not shouldering its responsibilities when it comes to critical state infrastructure like road, rail and public transport.”

“State of Victoria” report identifies the state’s development scenarios…

A report as “advice” for Infrastructure Victoria prepared by consulting firm SGS Economics and Planning provides a spatial perspective on the “current and future State of Victoria”.

The report describes a number of environmental, social and economic trends affecting Victoria and the resulting infrastructure implications. These trends include an ageing population, the increasingly service-oriented and global nature of the economy and, as more of the associated employment is agglomerated in the central city, an increasing mismatch between the locations of jobs and housing with impacts on housing affordability and equality.

The report outlines a “matrix of nine possible population and employment outcomes have been generated for Melbourne and Regional Victoria”. These are various combinations of population and growth scenarios and development patterns, including “consolidated growth, business as usual and increased expansion”. It examines these outcomes on a spatial basis, for example the impact on regional cities, sub-regions of Melbourne and on the Central Sub-region.

“The Central Business District (CBD) is at the heart of the Central Subregion and how that evolves will determine the growth story of the Subregion, Melbourne, and Victoria as a whole. The boundary of Melbourne’s CBD is not a fixed line: It has expanded over time in response to structural economic change, infrastructure investments, planning policies and decisions, and evolving property market dynamics,” the report says.

It also notes that “Melbourne is in a unique position… with the benefit of having vast tracts of developable land… adjacent to the CBD which have the potential to be developed”. It cautions however that are a number of threats including climate change and extreme fire events.

Several conclusions are drawn from the study. The report finds for example that the rate and profile of population and economic growth will vary across the state, with Melbourne growing very quickly.  The growth in “higher skilled, more knowledge intensive jobs” which have “driven the renaissance of Melbourne’s central city” will continue, while regional centres will grow more slowly but age faster than the city.

Terry Rawnsley, the report’s author, told Fairfax media that Victoria needed to “think deeply” about why it built infrastructure in the first place.

“People get caught up in travel time savings or things like that, but building infrastructure is about providing people with access to services and jobs, and the ability to live happy lives,”

… while Vic government announces regional growth summit

The Victorian Government has announced that there will be a Regional Futures Summit to be held in Bendigo in July to help “drive population growth in regional and rural Victoria.”

The Summit will bring together demographers, academics, community leaders, government, industry, education and health providers “to shape new regional population strategies.” The summit will also help shape priorities for the government’s $500 million Regional Jobs and Infrastructure Fund (RJIF) as well as the work plans for the nine new Regional Partnerships.

“The Andrews Labor Government is getting on with growing and investing in rural and regional Victoria. We are working with communities, industry and local government to ensure regional Victoria is a great place to work, live and invest,” said Minster for Regional Development Jaala Pulford.

Development, Transport and Infrastructure Projects/Services

Light Rail/Tram/BRT

Newcastle tram plans reviewed

The Newcastle Herald claims that Infrastructure NSW is reviewing the state government’s light rail plans for Newcastle as part of its “assurance role”.

“One of the key roles of Infrastructure NSW is to independently review major projects throughout their planning and delivery, to help keep projects within scope, time and budget,” an unidentified spokeswoman for Infrastructure NSW is quoted as saying.

“We conduct regular reviews on all major projects, and our input to Newcastle Light Rail is no different to what we would provide for any other significant infrastructure project.”

It is unclear whether the review will look at the planning aspects of the project and no information has been provided on the Infrastructure NSW website relating to the review. According to the Herald however the spokeswoman did state that “Infrastructure NSW’s role is to advise the Government of any risks throughout planning and delivery so they can be promptly addressed.”

The article also claims that concerns have been raised by some councillors that the Connecting Newcastle document proposing light rail extensions (see TSW11) had been released by the Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes before it had been considered by Council. The Lord Mayor said however that the document would go before Council.

Gold Coast light rail stage 2 contractor appointed

CPB Contractors (formerly Leighton Contractors Pty Ltd) have been announced as the preferred contractor to design and build the 7.3 km extension to the Gold Coast light rail in time for the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

In announcing the appointment the Queensland Deputy Premier Jackie Trad and Minister for Transport Stirling Hinchliffe said the project will cost $420 million, with the Queensland Government investing $270 million.

“Stage Two will complete the missing link between Brisbane and the Gold Coast and will provide an immediate boost to the construction industry supporting up to 1,000 new construction jobs,” Ms Trad said.

“The business case confirmed Stage Two will contribute an estimated $160 million to the Gross State Product and now we’ve selected the preferred contractor it is full steam ahead to deliver this project in time for the Commonwealth Games.

“Light rail has already transformed the Gold Coast, but Stage Two will provide a seamless journey for these passengers to move around the Coast and connect to Brisbane.”

The stage 2 extension will connect the existing light rail line at Gold Coast University Hospital station with the heavy rail network at Helensvale station.

As well as the $270 million contribution from the Queensland Government, $95 million will be provided by the Australian Government and $55 million by the City of Gold Coast Council.

Work begins on Adelaide O-bahn tunnel

Preparation work has begun for the construction of the extension of Adelaide’s O-Bahn guided busway.

This involves early construction works for the installation of central bus lanes along Hackney Road and construction of the O-Bahn tunnel walls on Dequetteville Terrace just south of the Botanic Road / Hackney Road intersection.

The O-Bahn City Access Project is aimed at improving bus travel times and reducing congestion on Hackney Road. It will extend the O-Bahn system from the end of the busway at Gilberton into the cross-city bus lanes on Grenfell Street. The Project includes creation of new bus lanes along Hackney Road and a dedicated bus tunnel from next to the National Wine Centre to near Grenfell Street.


Sydney Metro Bankstown to Liverpool “extension study” announced, but no commitment on route or mode

NSW Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Andrew Constance has announced an investigation into “improving transport connections” between Bankstown and Liverpool, “including a possible extension of the new Sydney Metro”.

While the Minister states that “as Sydney Metro construction rapidly progresses, were taking the opportunity to plan for future transport possibilities down the track,” the investigation process appears to leave open the possibility that options and modes other than extending the metro to Liverpool will be considered.

“The first stage of Metro in the north west will open in 2019, the city and south west is due to open in 2024, and it’s important now to see what options lay beyond that,” Mr Constance said

“Now we’re investigating how we can deliver better transport outcomes for Sydney’s growing south west, including a potential extension of Sydney Metro, and this is a chance for people to have their say.”

The Extension Study website and the Sydney Metro Newsletter provide some more detail including a map of the proposed study areas. While neither the website nor the letter make any specific commitments regarding mode feedback is being sought on possible station and train stabling locations, how to best connect town centres and key community facilities, as well as other important local issues that need to be considered.

Bankstown to Liverpool metro extension study area (source: Sydney Metro website)

Bankstown to Liverpool metro extension study area (source: Sydney Metro website)

Urban Heavy Rail

More high capacity trains for Melbourne…

The Victorian government has nearly doubled its current order for new high-capacity trains from 37 to 65 seven-car sets, making it the “single biggest order of trains in Victoria’s history”, according to an announcement by Premier Daniel Andrews and Transport Minister Jacinta Allan.

The new trains will begin arriving in 2018 and will be used on the Cranbourne Pakenham line. The Dandenong corridor is Melbourne’s busiest and according to the media release the new longer trains, combined with power and signalling upgrades, level crossing removals and the rebuilding of five stations will boost its capacity by more than 40%, which equates to 11,000 extra passengers in the peak. The trains will also run on the new Melbourne Metro Rail cross-city line, providing capacity for 39,000 extra passengers in the peak.

“We’re making the biggest order of new trains in Victoria’s history to create local jobs, reduce congestion on Melbourne’s busiest line and make the most of Melbourne Metro Rail from day one,” Premier Andrews said.

“These 455 new carriages will be built in Victoria, for Victoria – boosting the capacity of the network and creating hundreds of long-term Victorian jobs.”

… while capacity challenge looms on SE Queensland’s rail horizon

Queensland’s Minister for Transport Stirling Hinchliffe has warned that South East Queensland’s busiest railway lines “will reach capacity in the next decade” without investment in network improvements.

The prediction was made in the South East Queensland’s Rail Horizon, the Government’s recently-released long-term rail network strategy. The Minister said the report confirmed that the busiest railway lines “will be overwhelmed by passenger growth” unless the “network capacity and congestion challenges” were addressed before 2026.

“There will be standing-room only on our commuter trains if we don’t plan for the massive population growth down the track or invest in major projects like Cross River Rail,” Mr Hinchliffe said.

“South East Queensland’s Rail Horizon released today outlines the projects and solutions to address our region’s rail network capacity and congestion challenges and ensure our infrastructure keeps place with growth.

“By 2036, the South East Queensland population is forecast to reach almost 4.9 million people and we need a better rail system to keep pace with growth and provide a better experience for passengers.”

Brisbane inner city rail constraints (source: Queensland Government website)

Brisbane inner city rail constraints (source: Queensland Government website)

The report identifies three broad strategies to respond to the capacity crisis:

  • Optimising the network, which includes actions such as improved timetabling, better management of dwell times at stations, resignalling and track upgrades;
  • Unlocking network capacity, which includes the introduction of new high-capacity trains and the development of the Cross River Rail project; and
  • Expanding network capacity, which includes new rail links such as Moreton Bay Rail Link, Salisbury to Flagstone extension, Ipswich and Springfield line extensions, Gold Coast extension, a new line to Caloundra and the North West Transport Corridor.
SEQ Rail Horizon strategies (source: Queensland Government website)

SEQ Rail Horizon strategies (source: Queensland Government website)

The document notes that because of the critical role of Cross River Rail in “easing congestion and improving accessibility into the Brisbane CBD”, the project is the state’s highest priority infrastructure project but it will require “funding contributions and cooperation” from all levels of government. It states:

“The new Cross River Rail project will take about seven years to procure, construct and become operational from the time an investment decision is made. This means a decision is required as a matter of urgency.”

HSR, Freight, other Rail

HSR unsolicited offer to be made to PM as experts spar over its benefits

Partly because of the interest of the Prime Minister in urban infrastructure and his “agnostic” approach to transport modes (see Top of the Week item) the level of interest in an eastern seaboard high speed rail (HSR) link continues to increase.

As reported in TSW11 a number of presentations from interested parties in support of HSR were made to the Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities inquiry into the role of transport connectivity in stimulating development and economic activity, while Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Cities and Tourism Anthony Albanese reintroduced a private members bill to establish a High Speed Rail Auhority.

East coast HSR 2012 study proposal (source: Federal Government and Fairfax)

East coast HSR 2012 study proposal (source: Federal Government and Fairfax)

Now Fairfax media has reported that a Melbourne-based company, Consolidated Land and Rail Australia, is making an “unsolicited offer” to the Prime Minister to build a HSR link between Sydney and Melbourne. It also claims that the federal MP chairing the inquiry, John Alexander, has “enthusiastically embraced” the proposal and believes that the company is genuine in its plan. It also claims that the firm intends to finance the project using value capture techniques along the corridor.

The benefits of HSR were argued in an article by Beyond Zero Emissions CEO Dr Stephen Bygrave. He describes HSR as “a zero-emissions form of transport that would radically reduce our emissions, connect our regional and urban areas, create jobs and enhance investment,” dismissing the two main arguments against it – the high cost and a perceived lack of demand.

On the former issue he notes that the estimated cost has decreased from $114 billion as estimated by the Labor-initiated AECOM study in 2012, to a more recent figure of $68 billion.

“The costs get lower with each study, largely because of better economic analysis and modelling, and detailed studies of the rail path, particularly the routes coming into our major capital cities,” Dr Bygrave said.

On the issue of the lack of demand he claims that “Sydney to Melbourne is the world’s fifth busiest air route and Sydney to Brisbane the world’s 13th busiest”, while 60% of Australians “live within 50km of the route”. In addition Dr Bygrave believes HSR is a commercially viable proposition “that is not dissimilar to building a toll road in terms of the financial model that can be deployed”.

In a riposte to Dr Bygrave’s article, Alan Davies, writer of the Urbanist blog at Crikey describes the east coast HSR proposal as “the boondoggle that just won’t go away” and dismisses Bygrave’s decreasing cost estimates because they were developed by lobby groups “so it’s no surprise they insist it could be built for a lot less”.

Mr Davies also dismisses the claims that HSR would “radically reduce emissions” pointing to the findings of the AECOM study that the total value of negative externalities including emissions avoided by the HSR project would amount to “just $2 billion over the 50 year life of the project.”

“HSR would be such a ridiculously expensive way to reduce emissions compared to other options, it beggars belief that any progressive-minded organisation seriously concerned about climate change could propose it. It’s likely it would crowd out public funding of more cost-effective investments like renewable energy generation”, he said.

Transport: other

Real time bus data expanded in NSW

NSW Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Andrew Constance has announced an expansion in the availability of real-time bus data, “delivering customers up to the minute service information” to mobile devices.

Real time information on bus services can accessed on any of the 11 real-time transport apps that span the network from “Nelson Bay in the north, Shellharbour in the south and west to Penrith”. Work is underway to expand real time data availability across the Blue Mountains and Hunter Valley.


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