PM Turnball arriving by train for this morning's assault on policy neanderthalism
PM Turnbull arriving by train for this morning’s assault on policy neanderthalism

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s announcing that the Sydney West airport at Badgerys Creek will be rail ready on its opening is a signal that public transport is one of his policy commitments that hasn’t been hand braked by the coalition’s conservative power brokers.

But apart from advancing the rail service from somewhere beyond 2050 to 2025 when the terminal is intended to be jet ready his saying it will have a four track station box built into its foundations was old news.

Those with long memories will recall that when Melbourne’s all new Tullamarine Airport opened in 1970 it had gone as far as reserving a location for a ‘station box’ for a line that mightn’t even get build until maybe 2040.

Today’s announcement attracted headlines about high speed rail to Badgerys Creek, which is a nonsense. An express train to Parramatta would be a good idea, since Sydney West is actually intended to serve the current 2.2 million or so inhabitants of, amazingly, western Sydney, starting around about Olympic Park or Rhodes, from where it can take rather longer to drive the short distance to the current Sydney Airport than it does to fly to Melbourne.

The prime need for Badgerys Creek, which the PM clearly understands better than the headline writers, is for it to be connected to the metropolitan rail network, which is a comparatively low cost and simple thing to do at this time while all of the easy surface routes that could do this remain readily accessible.

The recently opened SW Rail link to Leppington Station (and its train depot further on at Rossmore) would be easy to connect to Sydney West and the stations that could be added to it on the way would readily improve transport links to more of the growing population and business base of the far western suburbs which are separated from the lower southern Blue Mountains by the Nepean River.

This would be the more so if the extended Leppington service also carried on from the northern side of the new airport to a link to the main western rail line. It would as the PM said, be of enormous benefit to the NSW economy and the rapidly growing Nepean estates as well as making Sydney West even more attractive in terms of access to a potentially large market for air travellers.

This assumes of course that the station under Sydney West doesn’t price itself out of contention the way the two stations under Sydney Airport have already done.

There is no case for building a 320 kmh high speed rail link along an incredibly expensive corridor above or below ground to a station in the Sydney CBD.  It would cost billions of dollars for a low demand proposition compared to the much nearer existing Sydney Airport.

Nor is there a rational case for a dedicated link between Sydney West and Kingsford Smith to use its original and seldom uttered proper name.  The current airport line can already run all the way to Leppington via Glenfield if desired, since the SW Rail Link was always seen at the outset in some quarters as the clandestine railway to Badgerys Creek. You could get the trains in use today to travel between both airports without stopping in little more than 30 minutes but airlines try very very hard not to make customers change airports when making connections at intermediate cities anyhow. The length of such a trip would be around 50 kilometres from Wolli Creek station depending on the exact route followed from Leppington or Rossmore to the Badgerys Creek terminal location.

There is a case however for express services from rail interchanges like Parramatta to Sydney West which is why a four track station in its basement makes so much sense.

The most efficient way to do such a service is to built the link between the new airport and the western line as a four track capable permanent way, two for expresses, and two for all-stops trains.  The express rolling stock could also be luggage friendly in a way that the current regular suburban trains using Sydney Airport are not.

In terms of future planning, such an express could one day continue on to Sydney as a Parramatta-Sydney fast train link, via no doubt several other stops, as already being floated not unreasonably by real estate and development interests.

Rail can deliver far more value to the Sydney economy by way of facilitating housing and business activity than costly motorway projects,even though there is a need for both types of investment in rational city planning.

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