Sydney Metro West update: the government goes for speed over coverage

Yesterday’s release of a Project Overview detailing the station locations for the planned Sydney Metro West between Westmead and the Sydney CBD largely confirms the state government’s previous announcements as well as analysis in this blog and elsewhere. It also reaffirms the government’s intention that the trip is planned to be a speedy one, with between only five and seven stations and a travel time target of around 20 minutes between Parramatta and the CBD.

This also means that the new line follows the model of the recently opened Sydney Metro Northwest which has a high average distance between stations, though similarly the stations will be “clumped” in several groups along the way. One key difference however is that in north-western Sydney the station locations largely reflect the current and planned uneven development patterns of the region, unlike the relatively even densities along the proposed route of the Sydney Metro West. This means that a number of key locations in this corridor will miss out on metro service.

The Project Overview is consistent with the government’s previous announcements and provides some clarity about how the metro will operate and its interaction with other transport infrastructure and services. However, it also points to a range of still-unanswered questions, for example the location of the CBD station, the location of stations at Rydalmere or Pyrmont, and indeed whether these stations will be built at all.

Sydney West Metro map. Source: NSW Government

What has been announced?

Timetable and cost

The Minister for Transport Andrew Constance has indicated the line will be completed by 2030, at least two years behind the previously announced target completion date. While the government has declined to provide detailed costings, media speculation suggests it will cost over $20 billion. The government has committed $6.4 billion to the project over a four-year period.

Route options

The Overview reveals the metro’s route from Westmead to the CBD – or more specifically a primary route and an alternative route between Parramatta and Sydney Olympic Park if a station at Rydalmere is constructed.

In summary, the route will be between 21 and 25 kilometres long with between eight and ten stations depending on which option is chosen and the final detailed design. This would result in average station spacing between 3.1km and 3.3km. If the shortest route were to be selected without stations at Rydalmere and Pyrmont, the proposed travel time of 20 minutes between Parramatta and the CBD would mean an average speed of around 63 km/h, somewhat faster than the current speed of the Sydney Metro Northwest.

However, maintaining a 20-minute travel time over the longer distance of 25 km with the additional two stations would mean an average speed of a very high 75 km/h. The necessity to accelerate and deaccelerate at ten stations and then to reach very high speeds between stops to maintain this makes the goal of a 20-minute trip seem very unlikely if the Pyrmont and in particular the Rydalmere station options are adopted. 

Station Locations

Westmead: the metro station will be south of the existing Westmead Station with an entrance on Hawkesbury Road. The Overview indicates there will be “an easy above-ground interchange with the T1 Western Line and T5 Cumberland Line”. This makes Westmead rather than Parramatta the major interchange between the metro and these rail lines, though it is somewhat surprising that there won’t be a seamless underground pedestrian connection between the metro and the existing rail stations. The fact that the station is located south rather than north of the current station moves it further way from the Westmead health precinct, though this will be connected by light rail.

Westmead Metro Station proposed location. Source: NSW Govewrnment

Locating a major metro/rail interchange at Westmead rather than Parramatta is likely to lead to a major revision of the existing train timetable; for example, Blue Mountains line and Cumberland line services would have to stop here to provide an interchange to the Metro.

Parramatta: The station will be in the block bounded by George, Macquarie, Church and Smith streets with an entrance on Horwood Place and a second entrance to be determined. This is next to the light rail line but further away from the existing station. However, this location puts the metro in the heart of the rapidly growing Parramatta CBD, meaning it is likely to draw significant traffic away from the existing railway line.

Parramatta Metro Station proposed location. Source: NSW Government

Rydalmere: Whether a station is constructed here is yet to be determined as is the potential location, but it is likely to be located close to the planned Rydalmere light rail stop and the Western Sydney University Rydalmere campus.

If the station is constructed it will be the only stop between Parramatta and Sydney Olympic Park, a distance of over 7km, and also the only connection with the eastern section of Stage 1 of the Parramatta light rail line currently under construction. On the other hand, the government’s favoured site for the train stabling and maintenance facility at Clyde is much closer to the direct route option between Parramatta and Sydney Olympic Park; it is unclear how this would be connected if the metro were to service Rydalmere.

Sydney Olympic Park (SOP): The station will be located to the south of the existing SOP railway station with the main station entrances between Herb Elliot Avenue and Figtree Drive and from Dawn Fraser Avenue. It would provide an interchange with the existing station, Parramatta light rail Stage 2 and buses, though like Westmead the connection appears to be only at surface level.

North Strathfield: The station will be next to the existing North Strathfield Station with entry from Queen Street. It will provide interchange with T9 Northern Line services – which means that, like Westmead, there are likely to be major changes in stopping patterns for T9 trains as well as Central Coast and Newcastle services.

North Strathfield Metro Station proposed location. Source: NSW Government

Burwood North: The station will be located north of Parramatta Road at the corner of the Burwood Road intersection, with entrances on both the north and south sides of Parramatta Road. This will be the only station along the metro route to be located on Parramatta Road and therefore it is likely to become a major bus interchange.

Five Dock: The station will be split, with one section located between Great North Road and East Street and the other at the corner of Second Avenue and Waterview Street. The station entrance will be located at Fred Kelly Place on Great North Road. According to the overview it will “provide an easy interchange with the local bus network along Great North Road”.

The Bays Precinct: The station will be located between Glebe Island and White Bay Power Station with an entrance to the south of White Bay, providing direct access to the proposed future Bays Waterfront Promenade, which would run north to south along White Bay. The entrance will be to the south of White Bay, near the proposed promenade. This means the station will not be particularly accessible for Balmain and Rozelle residents.

The Bays Precinct Metro Station proposed location. Source: NSW Government

Pyrmont: Like Rydalmere, a station at White Bay Pyrmont is being considered as “[a] strategic option subject to feasibility.” A location has not been announced, but as I noted in an earlier article there has been considerable geotechnical investigations around the Pyrmont Bridge Road/Edward Street intersection.

As I noted in another article, “a station at Edward Street would service the casino, Sydney Lyric Theatre and the maritime museum, as well as being a catalyst to extend the envelope of the CBD further into Pyrmont (though this could attract local opposition). It would also provide an interchange with the Inner West Light Rail line, providing a convenient short-cut for light rail passengers wishing to travel to the centre of the CBD rather than to Central Station”.

Sydney CBD: The location of the CBD station is yet to be finalised. It has been widely assumed that it will be collocated with the Metro City station currently under construction at Martin Place, though as I commented in another article the speculation regarding an underground walkway between Wynyard and Martin Place combined with extensive geotechnical work at Hunter Street suggests that this station could located roughly equidistant between Wynyard and Martin Place stations and linked to these stations by the planned walkway.

Future Plans

Part of the Overview is a map showing Sydney’s metros in operation, under construction, “in early delivery stage” and planned. This indicates the Sydney Metro West’s potential to be extended to the southwest from Westmead to connect to the Western Sydney International Airport currently under construction (though not before Sydney Metro Greater West is opened to connect the airport to St Marys).

Sydney Metro – long-term plans. Source: NSW Government

Interestingly, the map does not contain any proposals to extend the Sydney Metro West line further east, despite speculation about Zetland being a potential access point for the tunnel boring machines that will construct the metro, and also a possible station location. This was due to the extensive geotechnical investigations which were carried out in this area.

Comments

Sydney Metro West appears to be the government’s preferred option for a fast connection from the CBD to the new airport via Westmead, even if Great West Metro proceeds to construction beforehand. While the planned Metro City and Southwest could provide a connection via Liverpool, the section of existing track between Sydenham and Liverpool to be converted to metro standards has relatively closely-spaced stations which would not offer a particularly fast trip between the airport and the city.

This decision has probably reinforced the government’s desire for the a high-speed limited-stop service between Westmead, Parramatta and the city. However, the desire for speed means that the new line may turn out to be more of a high-speed underground express than a traditional metro which were designed to ensure that everyone along the corridor was within walking distance of a station.

The “express” approach may have been less of an issue with the Metro Northwest line for the reasons outlined earlier, but in the case of the proposed Metro West corridor it comes at a very high price, with major centres, densely-populated suburbs and other sources of high transport demand along the way being completely bypassed.

The University of Sydney in particular is a major loser. Despite having 73,000 students and 8,100 staff, the announced route confirms that it will miss out on receiving a metro station for the second time, having been bypassed in favour of Waterloo in planning the Sydney Metro Southwest currently under construction. The potential alignment on the Sydney West Metro to connect a station at Rydalmere shows a station could have easily been provided at the other end in a similar manner to service the University of Sydney.

Over on his Transport Sydney blog, Bambul Shakibaei has also addressed this issue. He has proposed that Rydalmere be dropped and instead station boxes be constructed as part of the line so that the “missing” stations can be constructed in future. Unfortunately, while I like the concept, the government’s overwhelming desire for speed means it is highly unlikely that it will take up this proposal.

Finally, the relatively few opportunities for interchange with the existing rail network means that the process of changing from train to metro and vice versa should be as seamless as possible. Unfortunately it appears that metro stations will be alongside rather than under their rail counterparts, meaning that passengers will have to travel from underground to overhead walkways to pass between the two. The potential to locate metro platforms underneath the existing ones should be investigated.

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