Author’s suggested alignments for Parramatta Metro and Light Rail Networks (source base map: NSW Govt)

Guest writer Dr Garry Glazebrook continues his series on projects that could be funded by his proposed Building Australia Fund:

There is now widespread agreement within the NSW Government on the need to encourage employment and other opportunities to locate in Western Sydney; and that Parramatta is to be Sydney’s second CBD. There is therefore a need to focus on Parramatta for the next major series of transport investments, after the Sydney Metro, the CBD and SE Light Rail, West Connex and North Connex projects.

The Government has been examining a fast metro from the CBD to Parramatta. There are several potential alignments for this project, but the likely route would go through the Olympic Park precinct, as well as through the Bays Precinct, both of which have large redevelopment potential.

In addition the State Government has been examining light rail options centered on Parramatta. The first stage has been announced, from Westmead to Carlingford via North Parramatta, Parramatta CBD and Camellia. A potential extension to Olympic Park and Strathfield has been delayed pending further examination of route options.

Building an integrated network

The metro and light rail should best be seen as complementary components of a wider transport system upgrade (see exhibit). The Parramatta metro will be part of a high speed, long distance system, eventually linking the CBD to Badgerys Creek airport. It will also be connected to the existing heavy rail system as well as a wider Metro network including the North-West Metro and the Bankstown – Liverpool Metro.

Light rail on the other hand is ideal for shorter trips and to a provide a feeder/distributor and cross-suburb service. A second stage for the light rail should be an extension east from Camellia via Silverwater (where the prison could be redeveloped for higher use) and Newington to Olympic Park, with a branch to Rhodes, utilizing the recently completed bridge over Homebush Bay. Rhodes is itself an important residential and commercial node as well as a key station on the Northern Rail Line.

Once a new east-west metro through Olympic Park is completed, the current heavy rail link from Lidcombe station will no longer be needed for handling high capacity loads into and out of the former Olympic stadium. This link should be converted (at low cost) to light rail, connecting at Olympic Park with the other light rail links to Rhodes, Carlingford and Parramatta.

This will allow the metro to be built with fewer stations and to operate at high speed, with travel time between Parramatta and the CBD potentially as low as 16 minutes. This would transform Parramatta by making it highly connected to the existing business concentration in the CBD, allowing office employment to relocate over time to Parramatta.

Parramatta’s role as the second key transit hub in Sydney would be further reinforced if the proposed East Coast High Speed Rail link from Melbourne to Brisbane were to be routed via Parramatta instead of Sydney CBD.

The light rail network identified above can be further extended in the longer term from Lidcombe to Bankstown and Cabramatta, utilizing the existing heavy rail tracks, once the CBD – Bankstown metro is extended to Liverpool via Bankstown airport. Additional light rail branches can be built over time to provide a fast, inter-connected network covering much of middle Sydney, and serving a wide range of employment centres including Parramatta, North Parramatta, Westmead, Rydalmere, Olympic Park, Rhodes, Lidcombe, Bankstown, Cabramatta, Granville, Five Dock etc.

Much of this network would utilise former heavy rail tracks and thus avoid delays from road congestion. Light rail can operate every 5 minutes or less if necessary, much more frequently than the heavy rail services on these lines, which are currently every 30 minutes or less on the Carlingford line, and every 15 minutes or less on the Bankstown – Lidcombe – Cabramatta lines. This will provide shorter waiting and transfer times. This network can thus provide a high quality and high capacity feeder/distributor system to the high-speed long distance heavy rail and metro networks.

Based on the costs of major existing metro and light rail projects in Sydney, it is estimated that the initial Parramatta – CBD metro and the initial Westmead – Carlingford – Rhodes – Lidcombe light rail network could be built for approximately $10 billion and be completed by 2025 if funds were available.

These networks would later be extended to Badgerys Creek (in the case of the metro) and to Bankstown, Carlingford and Haberfield (in the case of light rail) by 2030 for an estimated additional cost of $8 billion.

Urban development potential

There is very large -scale urban redevelopment potential in locations to be served by these metro and light rail lines, particularly at locations such as the Bays Precinct, Olympic Park, Camelia, and North Parramatta. Some estimates indicate the potential to house up to 350,000 additional people in the vicinity of the metro and light rail stops, mostly on former industrial land. These locations will then have excellent access both to the existing CBD and to Parramatta, Sydney’s second CBD, as well as water views and proximity to the Parramatta River and Sydney Harbour in many cases.

Accordingly it is likely that there will be a substantial uplift in land values in this broad corridor, especially close to proposed metro and light rail stops, as their accessibility as well as amenity will be transformed. Some part of this uplift could be used to help fund the capital cost involved. For example mechanisms to capture a land value uplift equivalent to $50,000 per apartment could potentially raise $10 billion. In reality the uplift will be considerably in excess of this amount, given typical apartments in Rhodes currently sell for $700,000 and more.

However full urban redevelopment will likely take 20 years or more. The proposed Building Australia Fund provides a way to accelerate the metro and light rail projects in anticipation of the longer term economic and employment benefits to follow.

Sydney has recently passed a population of 4.7 million, and grew by 1.8% annually over the last five years. The Sydney metropolitan region is projected to grow by a further 1.7 million people by 2036. The Parramatta – CBD corridor provides an ideal opportunity to accommodate a significant share of this growth and to simultaneously greatly enhance Sydney’s public transport network.