In part one I outlined what we do know about the NSW government’s Sydney Metro West announcement, which is comparatively little, and then (based on a few guesses) discussed station options for the four areas the government has committed to serving through the new metro – Sydney CBD, Bays precinct, Sydney Olympic Park and Parramatta. In part 2 I will move further into speculation about route options for the new line as well as options for its extension.
Assuming that unnecessary underwater crossings are avoided the most direct line between the four identified stations is a shallow arc between Parramatta and the CBD. This is consistent with the focus in the project overview, “on a corridor between the Parramatta River and existing T1 Western Line”. If the government intends to make the new corridor time-competitive with the existing line this is likely to limit the extent which the line can deviate from the shortest route.
This is reinforced by the location of the intermediate stops identified so far relatively close to the terminating stations. Regardless of where the CBD station is located, there is very little opportunity to locate an additional station in the 3 km section from there to the Bays Precinct. At the other end a station in the 6.7 km section from Parramatta to Sydney Olympic Park at Camellia or (just possibly) Western Sydney University is more feasible, but either location may duplicate the planned light rail line.
This means in effect that the greatest potential for additional stations and route variations is likely to be limited to the middle section between Sydney Olympic Park and the Bays Precinct which are around 10 km apart. Within this section there are three broad options, though obviously the final route is likely to involve a combination of these.
Option 1: The most direct route
As noted earlier the direct corridor option results in an arc, which is about 20 km long. This is shorter than the existing rail corridor from Parramatta to Town Hall station which is 24.5 km.
Currently the fastest trains do this trip with three intermediate stops at Strathfield, Redfern and Central in just under 30 minutes, or an average of around 50 km/h. If we assume the most direct route is chosen for the new corridor and, hypothetically, the existing double-deck rolling stock was to be used with the current stopping pattern (i.e., three intermediate stops), the trip would take about 24 minutes.
The new line will however use single-deck metro rolling stock similar to that being purchased for the current Sydney metro project with shorter station dwell times. If the indicative travel times for Sydney Metro Northwest (where the planned average speed will be around 60 km/h) are applied to this corridor then the trip time is likely to be around 20 minutes, or if another two to three stations are added, up to 25 minutes.
This is broadly consistent with an estimate by the Transport Sydney blog that the trip would take 25-30 minutes, based on an earlier version of the route with more stops. My suspicion however is that the government will keep the total number of stops on the new corridor comparatively low – certainly less than the 19 stations between Parramatta and Town Hall on the current line, and possibly as low as seven to 10 stations.
The direct option makes most sense if there are even fewer stations, for example no more than six, with the new line acting as an express link in conjunction with an extension to the planned Western Sydney airport. If therefore there were to be only to be one or two additional stations locating them in the area between Concord, Canada Bay, Five Dock and Leichhardt would seem to make sense but these locations are a little distant from the planned redevelopment of the Parramatta Road corridor.
There are two other station options. The existing Concord West and North Strathfield stations are a kilometre or so from Sydney Olympic Park and thus would seem to be unlikely candidates for a metro stop. Either would however offer an interchange between the metro and the main north line, offering passengers a faster interchange and journey than changing at Strathfield especially for those wishing to travel west to Olympic Park or Parramatta.
On balance the direct route offers the fastest travel times but apart from the Olympic Park and Bays Precinct sites does little to service the redevelopment projects in the Parramatta to city corridor.
Option 2: Southern route
In this scenario the corridor would move southwards closer to Parramatta Road. Heading towards the city the line would travel southeast from Olympic Park to Strathfield, then broadly follow Parramatta Road before turning northeast to the Bays Precinct, in effect deepening the arc of the most direct route and adding about two or three kilometres – and potentially, minutes – to the trip.
As a trade-off for the extra travel time this corridor would provide an additional interchange with the heavy rail network at Strathfield and enable the metro to provide direct support for the Parramatta Road redevelopment through one or more additional stations in this corridor. There are a number of options here; the Sydney West Metro Link consortium proposed that the line proceed in a direct line from Strathfield via Five Dock to the Bays Precinct; but another option would be to construct a station around Ashfield and at least one other, ideally near the University of Sydney which has significant potential to provide patronage in its own right.
Additional surface public transport would still be required along Parramatta Road between and beyond these locations but adding two or three additional metro stations would also help to reduce congestion and the number of buses coming into the CBD from the west.
Stations could also be added in the section from Olympic Park to Strathfield, though this would run the risk of duplicating the light rail line planned for this corridor. Indeed the Strathfield interchange could even be dropped (or replaced with an interchange at Concord West or North Strathfield as described in option 1) with the metro line proceeding directly to two or three stations on Parramatta Road. Planning a metro corridor in the vicinity of Parramatta Road is however complicated by the tunnels and other infrastructure under construction for WestConnex.
The southern option (see map) would seem to offer the best combination between a reasonably direct and fast route and servicing of key locations along the corridor.
Option 3: Northern route
While a deviation north of Parramatta River to somewhere like Gladesville is theoretically possible this seems to have been ruled out. A more feasible scenario would be a line that would invert the arc with a link from Olympic Park to a station at Drummoyne and then to the Bays Precinct via another potential station at Rozelle. As with the southern option this would add around two or three kilometres and minutes to the journey.
This corridor has the advantage that some sections around Rozelle have already been reserved as part of the previous government’s failed attempt to build a metro line. It would also have the potential through integration with the bus network to relieve congestion of Victoria Road in a similar way to which the southern option could help reduce traffic pressure on Parramatta Road, though plans for redevelopment in this corridor are more modest. On balance this seems the least likely option.
From guesses to speculation – options for extensions
This is where we move into the realm of speculation. As I noted in part 1, the Sydney Metro West announcement has come barely two weeks after the closing date for comments on the government’s Western Sydney Rail Needs Scoping Study which listed five options for connecting Western Sydney by rail and no less than six for providing a rail link to the proposed Western Sydney airport. The confirmation of the metro option for the Parramatta-city corridor means that all the options to build a rail link to the proposed Western Sydney Airport are still in play (incidentally I need to point out that my discussion of these options and indeed of the airport proposal should not be taken as endorsement of them).
The shortest and cheapest route to the proposed airport is still a heavy rail link from the south west rail link but this could also be the slowest. When the Sydney Metro West line is completed there will be two metro options, one via Bankstown and Liverpool on the City and Southwest Metro, the other via Parramatta on Metro West. Each of these also addresses a number of other planning and transport objectives in Western Sydney – but not all of them. Given the range of options, the remaining uncertainty around whether the airport will be built and indeed when the metro lines will be completed it is almost impossible to make a prediction or even to identify the most viable route.
Beyond the CBD
There are fewer extension options at the CBD end but in some respects they are more intriguing. The Metro Link consortium proposed an extension to Maroubra or La Perouse in the southeast, with an interchange with the CBD and south east light rail line currently under construction. Another option entirely is suggested in the Western Sydney Rail Needs Scoping Study; the conversion of the existing Airport Line into a dedicated stand-alone metro running from Revesby to a new station in the CBD, aimed at allowing additional trains from other lines onto the City Circle during peak hour.
While they are treated separately in the study there is an obvious case for combining the CBD terminals for both the Sydney Metro West and the proposed airport shuttle – and from there it is not too difficult to imagine them being integrated into a single line. Under this scenario the Sydney Metro West could enter the CBD from the west, interchanging with the planned metro stage two line at the planned Pitt Street station and then turning south to integrate with a converted airport shuttle possibly using the disused platforms at Central. Given the capacity that would be available at the eastern end it may be possible to combine both this and the Maroubra line as branches.