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Public transport

Apr 17, 2017

Western Sydney: proposed metro/light rail network

Guest writer Dr Garry Glazebrook describes what a comprehensive plan for a metro rail network supported by feeder light rail services in Western Sydney should look like

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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.

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20 thoughts on “Western Sydney: proposed metro/light rail network

  1. Robert

    Great article Alan, I feel like you covered it really well. I do however seen one huge missing element to the map. The fact that the government still refuses to build a “crossrail” type system which intersects strathfield & hurstville is beyond me. It would save having to go to the CBD & as Sydney becomes a more polycentric city, it makes sense to have these connections considering we are an Alpha Global City. Also after having a look at the westconnex maps @ https://www.buildsydney.com/forum/transport-infrastructure/westconnex-maps/ it makes no sense how the government cannot see rail becoming the future as Sydney is becoming a lot denser (heading towards 50% of dwellings being medium to high density) & thus will make cars more obsolete via the phenomenon of congestion.

    To the contrary, I believe the Bankstown to Liverpool metro extension is a must & the Sydney west metro is a must (due to Camelia & the Bays precinct as well as making Olympic Park a central connected hub). Lets hope light rail truly does take off so we can have a proper 2nd CBD in Parramatta and more choice for the residents of city! Long live polycentric Sydney.

  2. garry glazebrook

    Seems that there have been quite a few more comments over the last few days, including from people (I think residents of Sydney) on a separate Reddit thread, so I thought I would add a few more comments myself.

    Firstly, some of the respondents argue for fixing the bus system rather than investing in more expensive light rail. As mentioned earlier, while I am all for improving bus services, the problem is that buses get caught up in traffic (as do trams on some Melbourne tram routes) unless fully or mainly separated from normal traffic, making them relatively unattractive alternatives to car travel. For this reason any large city wanting to significantly enhance its public transport is investing in rail on fully or largely separate alignments, or in a few cases, in full function busways. The reason why I think light rail makes a lot of sense in the middle Sydney areas I am discussing is that it can utilise existing under-utilised heavy rail alignments in many cases (e.g. the Carlingford line). The Carlingford line was originally built as a private light railway system anyway and is too windy, mostly single track, and with very low frequency services to be of much use as a heavy rail line.

    A second set of comments is anti-metro, arguing we can just speed up the existing heavy rail services on the western line. But apart from the difficulties of doing that, such a move won’t tap the enormous residential uplift potential in areas like Camellia, Silverwater, Olympic Park or the Bays precinct which a new metro alignment would. In addition, the main western line will need all its existing and potential capacity in the future to cater for population growth along that line itself (both east and west of Parramatta). So a new line on a new alignment will be needed in any event.

    A third set of comments are critical of “downgrading” the existing heavy rail services on the Bankstown to Lidcombe and Cabramatta services to light rail. However light rail can be as fast and potentially even faster (with higher accelerations and decelerations than current heavy rail services and shorter dwell times) as well as having much higher frequencies and more route alternatives, as well as providing a base for various additional extensions. It can also allow unstaffed stations and cost savings. Another advantage is that with the addition of a single extra track between Sefton and Cabramatta Junction on the northern side, that corridor can effectively become four tracks, two for light rail and two for freight trains, providing a significant enhancement to the rail freight network. Adding this extra track for light rail will be cheaper than adding an extra heavy rail track.

    Another commentator picked up on the idea of high speed rail via Parramatta, which I will cover in a future article.

    Of course the proposals for the metro and light rail network could be seen as fanciful or “pie in the sky”. However the State Government is seriously looking at a Parramatta metro, and has already announced the first stage of a Parramatta light rail system. In addition a walk/cycle/public transport only bridge has already been built between Rhodes and Wentworth Point. The proposals here merely build on that sort of infrastructure, the government announcements, and the plans already underway for large scale development in the Parramatta – Olympic Park – CBD corridor.

  3. Richard Dudley-Smith

    People say these things are expensive. Not half a bloody expensive as the WasteConnex,
    now being shown to be costing $45Billion plus with $28 Billion shortfall coming from us. UNSW has an excellent exhibition on show until 28th Apr at the Red Centre called ‘Civilising Westconnex’, which is exactly along these lines. This exhibit was visited a couple of weeks ago by Justice David Kirby, Kyeemagh-Chullora Road inquiry, Terry Lee-Williams Chief Transport Advisor Sydney City Council and Prof James Weirick Producer of the Exhibition. The link of this meeting and discussion is https://youtu.be/3D_Ez0u23Z0

  4. Socrates

    One more thing – I note the suggestion to divert any interstate HSR via Parramatta. I think that bit is pie in the sky. First there is no sign a Brisbane Melbourne HSR will be viable in the lifrtime of anyone reading this. Second, if it is, it will only make sense if it goes to the CBD.

  5. Socrates

    Thanks for the effort Gary. A long term plan for Sydney PT is sorely needed. The cost would be high but we should keep it in perspective. Recent freeway tunnels are costing $400 to $500 million per kilometre, considerably dearer than Sydney SE, which at $150 million/km is by far the most costly of recent LRT projects. Most LRTs are $60 to $80 million per km. Using old freight rail lines, as with Dulwich Hill, the cost should be of that lower order. At that rate the current $3.5 billion in federal funding support of Westconnex could have delivered around 50 to 60 kilometres of this network.

    I do not think we should get too hung up on terminology between LRT and Metros. New LRT rolling stock that is larger and faster is blurring the boundaries (and also reducing the costs). Where projects like Parramatta Light Rail get costly is when they become a trojan horse to pick up all the long deferred costs for remediating contaminated land, that we failed to fix as promised after the Sydney olympics. That work should be called what it is – urban renewal, not transport. For that matter, I still marvel that taxpayers are made to foot the bill for it, when the original polluters, or private landowners, should already have done so.

  6. John

    Further to Guest’s comment: From eyeballing the map, I guess that Garry’s proposed light rail lines cover their service area to a density which is between a tenth and a fifth of the coverage of Sydney’s original tram network in its service area.

    In other words the proposed lines, however worthy, are not really a ‘light rail network’: they are the trunk lines of what will always be a multi-modal network, in which probably three quarters of the transit person/kilometres for trips wholly within in that area will be by bus. So to make the light rail lines give best value for money in promoting interchange trips, it’s all the more important not to forget the buses.

  7. Guest

    The problem with these type of articles is that they are visionary, long term and very expensive. It also seems to be very focused on one mode: fixed rail, rather than how to optimise all modes to work together.

    The largest gains and improvements to transport in Sydney would come from a whole-of-network bus review, as has occurred in Auckland, Houston and other places. Jarrett Walker from HumanTransit Blog has a whole heap of information on this.

    Whole-of-System bus reorganisation won’t replace the need for “big” and “concrete-heavy” projects but it is incredibly cheap (low cost or even cost-neutral), rapid to carry out (12-24 months to completion) and high impact (Auckland has seen very high growth on bus services and the train network that is fed by the buses).

    Please, sort out the bus system. The constant focus on extreme cost, single-mode, ultra-long term projects is actually not helping the cause.

  8. John

    Garry: ‘The opportunities for increasing speed or capacity on the existing alignment, which dates to 1865, is very limited, This has been looked at time and again.’

    I’m aware of the March 2016 ‘Western Sydney Airport Fast Train Discussion Paper’, which disparaged the option of upgrading the existing line. The consultants by their own admission had not consulted the rail authority, and they clearly knew nothing in useful detail about existing operations. Their comments were hedged about with ‘it is likely that…’ and ‘it is considered that …’ They correctly concluded that the existing corridor is not suitable for a gold-plated 140-160kph ‘Fast Train’, but did not consider any other options that might be less gold-plated but better value for money. [1]

    This is no good basis on which to make $10 billion decisions.

    If there are other reports in the public domain that go into options for the existing corridor *in useful detail* (not just consultants recycling each other’s ‘desktop surveys’), please tell me where they are.

    I stand by my previous comments concerning the potential for a 15-20 minute Sydney-Parramatta time on an upgraded western line. Anyone who doubts me can go to the source and do the maths for themselves. Information on speed limits on the line is at http://www.asa.transport.nsw.gov.au (search for ‘train operating conditions manual division pages’).

    I have nothing against a Parramatta Metro in principle – but the cost! In a budget-constrained world we have to think about costs, benefits *and alternatives*.What other things could $10 billion do for Sydney’s public transport future that might be better value for money?

    [1] Over a distance as short at that between Sydney and Parramatta, the difference in customer value between a segregated, gold-plated 140kph Fast Train and a 110kph train of existing design integrated with the existing network is surely insignificant.

  9. garry glazebrook

    Hi all,
    Some very interesting and thoughtful comments by a range of people – am replying generally here.

    The comments generally seem to include the ideas that:
    – buses are cheaper and more flexible than light rail, so why not build busways instead
    – metro seems very expensive, when there can be upgrades to the heavy rail system (the western line) to increase capacity at lower cost

    Firstly, with respect to buses versus light rail – the international data from Europe, the US and now Asia is very clear that rail based public transport has been experiencing strong patronage growth whereas bus patronage is static (or in some cases falling). Even cities like Ottawa which pioneered busways are now shifting to light rail. The answer is that buses tend to be expensive per passenger kilometre in operating costs and do nothing for a city – in terms of land use change, because they do nothing to improve urban amenity. Because they involve only limited infrastructure spending, they don’t lead to any transformation in planning or land use. The Gold Coast (where light rail was introduced after a public debate about light rail versus busways) proves the point – there is now substantial land use change along the light rail corridor, and stage 2 is under construction, and stage 3 under planning. Similarly in Canberra there has been a big change in land use planning along the Gunghalin corridor…In this context, note that a significant part of the proposed light rail network in Western / Middle Sydney would be off-road and not subject to road congestion, the bane of cheap bus based alternatives…

    With regard to the proposed metro versus enhancing the existing heavy rail, the most important point is that the metro alignment opens up major new urban development potential in areas away from the existing western rail corridor – e.g. the Bays Precinct, Olympic Park and Camellia – Silverwater. So a new rail alignment is needed to tap this potential anyway. Secondly, the opportunities for increasing speed or capacity on the existing alignment, which dates to 1865, is very limited, This has been looked at time and again. Current travel times from Parramatta to Town Hall is 27-29 minutes by expresses at present (these do not terminate at Central) and even longer for journeys by Western Line expresses which terminate at Central. A fast metro could reduce this to 16 minutes – significant if Parramatta is to become a second CBD of Sydney.

    Thirdly, the growth of Sydney demand more investment in public transport, especially rail. The only real question is which mode(s) and where.

    Sydney will soon be bigger in population than any city in Eur0pe outside London, Paris, Madrid and Budapest, and bigger than any city in the US other than New York, LA, Bay Area, Chicago, Atlanta and Houston. Although much smaller than major cities in Asia like Tokyo, Shanghai, Seoul, or Mumbai, have a look at what those cities are doing or have done in term of metro investment…

    Sydney is a significantly less dense than most other world cities at a metropolitan scale, because of its history (including the early development of a suburban rail system which allowed it to expand into the Cumberland Basin). But densities are increasing… The only solution to its transport woes are more rail investment coupled with higher density transit oriented development (at least in my view)….

    Cheers

    Garry Glazebrook

    1. Guest

      I’m not entirely persuaded by these arguments for the following reasons:
      1. A city choosing or changing from one mode to another is not evidence that we should do the same in the Australian context. For example, a lot of the savings in the Ottawa light rail conversion comes from the need not to salt the roadway. We don’t have snow in Australia, so that “saving” isn’t relevant here.

      The same with the Gold Coast – Light Rail was chosen there by engineers because it offers higher capacity in Priority B (roads that have separate lanes for PT but still must share intersections). It is worth asking – what came first, massive development on the Gold Coast or Light Rail? Sir Joh’s change in tax laws (abolish death duties) did more for high density development on the Gold Coast than Light Rail has. That should give you a clue about what to do – levy land tax on residential properties, remove stamp duties and rework the zoning.

      Gold Coast City Council also changed the zoning around the Light Rail stops, so again you have to ask how much of this development is due to Light Rail, and how much is due to the altered zoning. If it were zoning + BRT would we see a similar effect? Possibly.

      For the record, Brisbane was thinking about having a metro, but the extreme costs and significant limitations of rail (can’t rail vehicles run off corridor, can’t run express services) has now led it to choose a super bus-based metro, saving $500 million. https://www.brisbane.qld.gov.au/traffic-transport/public-transport/brisbane-metro

  10. Teddy

    Why are buses overlooked in favour of light rail, asks Anthony below. Good question, here’s a couple of suggestions:

    1. Some Sydneysiders seem to have developed a fetish for LR. A lot of that is nostalgia for the 50s before our roads were so congested with cars and Sydney’s quaint trams trundled along near empty roads. We’ve all seen the charming b/w photos… They were the simpler times when the city’s population was less than 2 million, before capitalism destroyed it with “overdevelopment” – an era of picket fences, bicycles, kids playing on safe streets with billycarts, their mums at home in the kitchen while the dads’ were getting blotto before 6 o’clock closing. Ahhh, the good old days… Yes I’m being facetious, but a lot Sydney’s current light rail fascination is all about the past. Plus an obsession with Melbourne being “more cool” than us Heaven forbid!

    2. Politicians (mistakenly) see LR is as relatively inexpensive near shovel-ready significant projects which they’ll get the kudos for, even within their own electoral cycles. (NSW has fixed 4-year terms). All that’s need are a publicly owned road or two that can been grabbed and handed over to a private operator (in NSW’s case inevitably a foreign-owned conglomerate like the one running our existing LR) and hey presto – a “major transport initiative” is delivered! Sydney’s CSELR project has a lot of these characteristics – although the hassles associated with it may come to bite the current Premier (then Transport Minister) on the bum. Even LR’s main proponents, those hopeless 50’s nostalgics the Greens, are now sniping and snarling at it.

    3. The initial Parramatta proposals have similar issues. A lot of interest groups latched onto LR there because it seemed, at first glance, to be both “doabble” and a “very big deal”. Much more so that just more buses. Boring! Those business lobbyists and Chamber of Commerce spruikers all started proposing their own lines going everywhere, but always near them, and suddenly it all seemed a bit ridiculous. “Priorities” were fought over and proposed… the first (and only) concrete one presently being adopted is a conversion of an existing but under-utilized heavy rail line to Carlingford.

    Then along came the Western Metro, wiping out the need for a LR connection to Strathfield. And, slowly the realization has dawned that LR will have none of the capacity to service the projected population increase along the Olympic corridor – especially as the development imperative is now very much paramount. It has to be all funded with “value capture” (we’re told), so will LR be enough? Its not looking too likely, too many people have $$$ signs in their eyes…

    While Garry Glazebrook’s proposals look quite good, especially LR as a feeder to the very necessary high capacity metro and other HR – apart from that Carlingford line conversion, I doubt we’ll ever actually see those orange lines on his map. More likely lots of “boring” buses!

    1. Guest

      Light Rail can have a role in Sydney because it has higher capacity when running on roads shared by general traffic at intersections. Buses require an extra lane at stops for overtaking and passing if you want to match the capacity of light rail. So it does have a role.

      But really, there needs to be a much greater focus on (a) fixing the existing bus network which is a complete mess and would unlock enormous amounts of money to spend on improved bus transport (See what Barcelona has done), (b) altering the taxation environment to be YIMBY rather than NIMBY and (c) doing something about zoning so that more places can build. Writing an automatic TOZ zoning into City Plans and placing that in the 600 m zone around all rail stations on the network (yes, all 200+) would allow more TODs to be built and for TOD to go mainstream rather than be a “special one of project” that it is now.

      Guest Post: Barcelona’s Bus Network: Better Access, If You Change Buses
      http://humantransit.org/2017/04/guest-post-barcelonas-bus-network-better-access-if-you-change-buses.html)

  11. rohan storey

    Everybody likes Light Rail / Trams more than buses, even if buses are more / just as efficient, so I have of course done my own quick fantasy Tram / Light Rail network for southeast Melbourne, to connect up Chadstone adn Monash with each other and the train stations (a better idea in my opinion than an expensive and short train to Rowville). https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?hl=en&authuser=0&mid=1FmvkF2q0wHc0eOYPyw1w-TOFmgM&ll=-37.902355100000015%2C145.04081729999996&z=11

    1. Alan Davies

      Interesting. What’s the rationale/explanation for the various elements?

  12. John

    As a general comment while we’re talking about infrastructure priorities: if the aim is to create an efficient, integrated public transport network, I respectfully suggest that the highest priority should go to projects to improve bus priority and reliability. The needed roadworks, spread over the whole city, could easily be another billion-dollar project.

    At present, particularly in the more congested Sydney Buses territory, even when the nominal frequency is adequate buses are hopelessly slow and unreliable – if the timetable says a bus each 10 minutes, you have to allow for waiting 20. This makes buses unappealing for linked trips. As a result, PT trips with interchange are (I understand, correct me if I’m wrong) a smaller proportion of all PT trips than they are in cities where they manage these things properly.

    Optimising the network for frequent, reliable, any-time-any-place service with transfers should be a high priority. The benefits of connectivity are exponential. And because linked trips, compared with the one-seat commute, have a higher proportion of off-peak, contra-peak or cross-suburban trips, encouraging more linked trips is good for increasing the usage of existing empty seats and so improving cost recovery.

  13. John

    The other issue for the western line is line capacity. The existing line is certainly overloaded BUT its capacity can be greatly increased, within the existing easement, as follows:

    The capacity of a single track between stations is much higher if station platforms are duplicated. Stopping trains go to platforms A and B in turn, which allows them to shuffle up more closely.

    It would be quite practical to provide duplicated platforms at the major stops on the western main line (the northern track pair). At Strathfield there are already two spare platforms. [1] At Lidcombe and Granville it would require some modest property resumption. At Parramatta and further west there’s no problem, as the existing four tracks have significant spare capacity (the existing train service may be overcrowded, but the tracks have the capacity to carry a lot more trains). [2]

    That could increase the capacity of the western main line (northern track pair) from 20 to about 40 trains per hour. [3] The extra trains would have to terminate at Sydney Terminal, because there would be no capacity for them to continue into the city, but there’s plenty of space at Sydney Terminal for that.

    For yet more capacity, if needed, you could extend platforms at major western line stations and run some 12-car suburban trains to Sydney Terminal (this was proposed in the previous Labor government’s 2010 Metropolitan Transport Plan).

    You would need to include a new light rail line from Sydney Terminal (current light rail stop) to Circular Quay to carry riders further into the city (the City Railway, and the light rail now under construction, would not be able to cope with that demand). An efficient light rail service would take no more than 12 minutes from Sydney Terminal to Circular Quay, and would serve many intermediate destinations more conveniently that the City Circle rail stations. The key constraint is that it would require the political will to manage the CBD traffic system to give priority to public transport.

    Again, all the above is no doubt a billion-dollar project; but again, vastly better value than $10 billion for a new line.
    [1] The ‘spare’ platforms at Strathfield are actually used, but this is a convenience rather than a necessity: they could be reallocated to the use I’m suggesting while maintaining other train operations (some track realignment would be needed).
    [2] To provide duplicated platforms for the main line track pair at Redfern you would need to build a new platform 0 on the north side, and slew a lot of tracks in order to reuse the disused platform 9 on the south side. That would be a major project, but it could be avoided by having all main line trains not stop at Redfern.
    [3] This is about the capacity of the existing signalling system between stations, which has a headway of about 80 seconds (certainly that’s the case east of Lidcombe; some signalling improvements might be needed west of Lidcombe).

  14. John

    I won’t comment here on Garry’s interesting light rail proposals, but I comment on the Parramatta metro proposal.

    The Sydney – Parramatta corridor must be about the lowest possible priority for a multi-billion dollar new train line, because – wait for it – it has one already.

    Admittedly the existing line operates a slow and inefficient service on a 19th century alignment – the legacy of many decades of pushing rail modernisation into the never-never because the big money is going into the next motorway.

    HOWEVER, the existing line could be upgraded for performance similar to the proposed metro [1] with some straightforward upgrades.

    Existing trains on the existing tracks under the existing speed limits [2] can run from Sydney Terminal to Parramatta non-stop in about 20 minutes. [3] That could be reduced to about 15 minutes if you –
    1. rationalise the tracks in the Sydney Terminal yard so trains don’t need to creep through the yard taking 3 minutes for the last kilometre.
    2. regrade the main line to increase the cant so trains can go around curves faster. This is possible between Central and Lidcombe as there are no longer any freight trains on that section.
    3. increase the line speed on the straights to the standard NSW maximum of 115kph (now 100kph between Sydney and Parramatta);
    4. and maybe (but this is not the most important thing) ease a few of the more restrictive curves (this could be done between Strathfield and Parramatta with little impact on surrounding property).

    I guess all that could easily cost a billion dollars. That’s still pretty good compared with $10 billion (?) for a new 20km underground line. You have to think about costs as well as benefits – if you can get 80 per cent of the benefits for 10 per cent of the cost, you’ve saved a lot of money that you can put into other worthwhile projects elsewhere.

    And, importantly, upgrading the existing line has more benefits for the connectivity of the whole network for cross-suburban trips, as it preserves the interchanges at Redfern, Lidcombe and Granville.

    I’ll comment on capacity issues separately.

    [1] 16 minutes by metro is suggested. For 22 kilometres with 6 stops, that’s unlikely: it would need a line speed of over 120kph.
    [2] as shown by the track diagrams that you can find by googling ‘Transport for NSW curve and gradient diagrams’
    [3] The fastest time in the timetable is 25 minutes, but like I said, it’s an inefficient service.

    1. Letterboxfrog

      To achieve those sorts of speeds with appropriate acceleration and deceleration, Sydney would also need to do something radical about its electrified network – change the voltage to 3kVDC (Russian Standard) or 25kV AC (Modern Standard), or install flywheels to capture power when decelerating and use that to start again.

    2. Teddy

      Metro “nod needed”? Hmmm…

      It’s very clear the present government has given up on City Rail, just as the previous Labor one did. They too had a western metro in the pipeline once, which along with its initial enabling line (CBD to Rozelle) was dumped in 2011, before they themselves were dumped by the people of NSW.

      Unlike that late (unlamented) government, the earlier metro to Westmead was quite sound, and followed some of the route shown on the map above. Though it was more closely aligned with Parramatta Rd in its eastern section – it was to service Sydney Uni rather than the Bays Precinct. But now that whole corridor has been snatched by the WestConnex. Had the metro gone ahead in 2011, Transurban’s was-cow would never have been inflicted on us…

      A big part of metro’s appeal is the present government’s privatization agenda. It’s much easier to get private backing and enable value capture mechanisms to work via an entirely new and separate body rather than try and drag CityRail (and its unions) kicking and screaming into the 21st century. At least that’s the way the thinking goes, Labor and Liberal’s (though not necessarily my view).

      That’s why metro has got the upper hand here, and the various upgrades for the existing western line are not being seriously considered.. Metro is pretty much unstoppable now (and that is my view). Its just capitalism, and the dollar always wins.

      I am surprised though, why metro has so many detractors and people ready to jump in and cry, “don’t do it, we don’t want it!” As some of the comments here show, even those who are always demanding “more public transport” like the Greens and their ginger groups are virulently opposed to metro. I’ve read all the arguments John puts on one of their blogs. It used to confuse me, but maybe the answer is in today SMH… It’s a story about a busway proposal for the northern beaches, which is being opposed by some reactionary locals. Bronwyn Bishop is one, so too is an unlikely ally, Barry Unsworth. It seems Bronnie and the former Labor Premier consider public transport improvement to be “a Trojan Horse for development” (high rise on the beaches! The horror, the horror…)

      That’s the Greens and their reactionary allies’ problem too. If you build public transport like busways, metros, anything at all, then people will want to use it and be near it.

      Best not build anything then, huh?

  15. Anthony

    There are surely more important projects in Sydney than the Western metro. The suburbs it is proposed to serve between Parramatta and the CBD are already well connected to public transport – Parramatta, Strathfield and Olympic Park have train stations already and other suburbs have frequent public buses available. The issue for Parramatta is to have quicker express services to the CBD.
    The key challenge for Sydney are its growing fringes which are many miles from the CBD. A better option would be to connect some of these regions through an express train. This could go via Parramatta with no stops or at maximum one or two between Parramatta and the CBD. It could also connect the new airport at Badgerys Creek.
    Another question is why are buses overlooked in favor of light rail. Busways are much cheaper than the proposed Parramatta light rail and they connect to more places than light rail. The route between Parramatta and Rhodes/Olympic Park via Camellia would be perfect for a busway and high frequency services.

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