Counting the cost of the Sydney Metro

The latest warning over the impacts of the Sydney Metro currently under construction on the rest of the city’s rail network doesn’t say anything particularly new. What makes it special however is that it was written not by committed lobby groups or disgruntled academics but rather by some of the state’s most senior and respected former transport executives. More importantly it lays bare the mounting costs of the obsession of successive state governments with the metro concept.

According to the Fairfax article the analysis (obtained by Labor under freedom-of-information laws) was actually completed as a submission in July 2015 by a group including Ron Christie, former State Rail Authority CEO, John Brew, a former State Rail chief executive, Bob O’Loughlin, a former State Rail director of rail safety and operations and Dick Day, a former head of planning and timetables at RailCorp. According to the article their submission warns that the metro plans “will result in ‘degradation of the robustness and reliability’ of Sydney’s existing heavy rail network, and ‘ultimately lead to the total network becoming gridlocked and unworkable’”.

This is because the conversion of the Bankstown line for metro operation will diminish the network’s capacity, removing a “relief valve for the network” and leaving “no escape route”. In addition, the authors claim that the line “will do nothing to relieve” the bottleneck at Strathfield where Western and Northern line trains merge.

They authors state that the $17 billion cost of the metro would have been money better spent on improving the existing rail network and that there is likely to a “voter backlash” to the new single-deck trains which will provide significantly fewer seats than double-deck trains (and fewer proportionally than any of the other Australasian CBD metro projects currently under construction). Continue reading

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Sydney West Metro and Parramatta Light Rail revisited

Last year I outlined some of the route options for the Sydney Metro West following an NSW Government announcement of the project that was extremely short on detail. Earlier this year I also examined the decision to build Parramatta Light Rail in stages, taking a close look at the proposed route for stage 1 and indulging in some speculation on the likely stage 2 route.

I thought I would revisit both sets of articles following a recent government announcement about the preferred route for the latter – and a leak last month of a Cabinet paper which suggests the choice of route options has narrowed for the former. This article also examines the relationship between these projects. Continue reading

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Back to the Future? – Sydney Region Plan and Transport Strategy (part 1)

For anyone who has been involved with metropolitan planning in Sydney for any length of time there is a whiff of familiarity surrounding the release by the Greater Sydney Commission and Transport for NSW of a suite of documents outlining a vision for the city’s next 40 years.

This is not just because the draft Greater Sydney Region Plan (GSRP) and the Future Transport Strategy (FTS) join a long line of planning strategies that stretches back nearly 70 years to the 1948 County of Cumberland plan. They also are the latest entrants in an ongoing and never entirely settled debate about the spatial nature of the city and the number and designation of major centres of activity outside the CBD, especially in Western Sydney.

The acknowledgement of the need to support such centres started patchily and belatedly in the 1960s and 70s with the then largely symbolic recognition of Parramatta as the city’s second CBD. The twin horses of suburban growth and car dependency had already bolted and the notion that this designation would require the substantial reallocation of resources to actually mean something took a while to catch on. Continue reading

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Parramatta Road: light rail shelved but is “intermediate transit” still on the table?

A $150,000 contract let to consulting and services firm GHD in May this year suggests that the NSW government is still pursuing “major public transport initiatives” along Parramatta Road, despite media reports that it has scrapped detailed plans for a light rail line from Burwood to Sydney’s CBD.

Transport NSW has commissioned GHD to undertake a project titled “Transport Planning Analysis and Drafting Support – Parramatta Road Intermediate Transit”. GHD is expected to “Develop an overarching analysis and narrative that will bring together the major public transport initiatives currently being investigated for the Sydney to Parramatta corridor.”

Parramatta Road proposed light rail route (source: SMH)

The contract commenced in May and is expected to run until February 2019. No other detail is provided in the contract announcement but the specific use of the phrase “Parramatta Road Intermediate Transit” (PRIT) in the title is intriguing because it links the contract specifically to the road. The same phrase – followed by “Light Rail” in brackets – was also used in the title of some of the working documents on the light rail plans obtained by the Sydney Morning Herald.

It’s worth exploring the implications of the development of the light rail proposals and their scrapping by the government, as well as the significance of the subsequent decision to commission GHD to undertake further work on the intermediate transit project. Continue reading

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Sydney Metro – a brief guide to a complex history

In researching an article on the implications of the Sydney Metro for the existing suburban rail network, I realised how difficult it was to understand, let alone explain, the very complex way in which the metro concept developed. There were at least half-a-dozen iterations of the proposal, with different modes and several route variations, before the current project was announced in 2012 – and even after that it has continued to evolve.

I decided it would be useful to develop a summary timeline of the project’s history. I have drawn from several sources, including several useful Wikipedia articles on proposed and implemented rail projects in Sydney, State government reports and media releases, the government’s Metro site, the Transport Sydney blog, my earlier posts on the metro and media reports. A PDF version of the timeline is available here.

Sydney Metro alignment (source: Sydney Metro website)

Continue reading

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Parramatta Light Rail part 3: Stage 1 extension and Stage 2 options

In the first post in this series I discussed the implications of the NSW Government’s recent announcement that the Parramatta Light Rail (PLR) project will be built in stages, with the link to Carlingford being given priority over what is now a stage 2 line through the Sydney Olympic Park corridor which is to be planned in conjunction with the Sydney West Metro.

In the second post I discussed the preferred route, comparing it to one chosen originally by Parramatta Council. In this third article in the series I’ll discuss in more detail the Stage 1 extension option currently under investigation as well as the complexities surrounding the route choices for Stage 2.

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Parramatta Light Rail part 2: unpacking the Westmead to Carlingford corridor

Previously I discussed the impacts of the NSW Government’s approach to the planning of the Parramatta Light Rail, following the recent announcement that only one of the previously-identified routes – the section from Westmead to Carlingford – would be constructed as the first stage of the project. In this post I’ll discuss the preferred route in a bit more detail, comparing it to Parramatta Council’s original 2013 proposal. This is no longer available online but the following maps show the current route proposal and as a comparison the route selected by Parramatta Council.

Parramatta Light Rail Stage 1 preferred route (source: NSW Government PRL website)

Parramatta Light Rail Stage 1 preferred route (source: NSW Government PRL website)

Parramatta City Council's 2013 preferred light rail route options (source: Parramatta City Council)

Parramatta City Council’s 2013 preferred light rail route options (source: Parramatta City Council)

The analysis is made somewhat easier because the line falls into three distinct sections, as outlined below. It’s important to bear in mind however that the route and stop locations are indicative at this stage and could change as a result of further consultation.

Continue reading

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