We know that new roads don’t solve people’s transport problems. No WestConnex: Public Transport will continue to call for smarter public transport infrastructure and social good projects rather than this polluting toll road.
What could we build if we didn't blow the budget on WestConnex?
The worth of any large infrastructure project has to be measured against the cost and effects of alternative solutions to the problem the project purports to solve.
Public and private funds are necessarily limited. Building one large, expensive project means you can't build something else with a similar effect but with better social, economic and environmental outcomes. Planners call this the “opportunity cost” of a project, although “lost opportunity cost” would be a more accurate expression.
Opportunities lost through WestConnex are being felt across the state, and not just in terms of vital infrastructure Sydney and the regions aren't getting. The social budget – heath, education and welfare – is also being raided, and critical productive and profitable state owned infrastructure and services are being sold off to finance the project.
Even this sacrifice will not pay for, what would be, if it were completed, the largest underground motorway project anywhere in the world, and per kilometre far and away the most expensive. Motorists will keep on paying exorbitant distance-based tolls for decades.
Of course this government, well aware of public scepticism about road-based solutions, also purports to be doing something about public transport, but, apart from the very worthy, but wildly overpriced, CBD-South East Light Rail, and a vague promise to introduce more frequent services on the Western Line, the projects it is pursuing are a step backward to low-capacity, privately operated, cattle-class metro-style rail. All of them rely, for financing, on the conversion of great swathes of Sydney suburbs to dense high-rise.
So the question is, what could we build if we didn't blow the budget on WestConnex?
Let's take a look at a raft of sensible, affordable, projects that would clear traffic off roads, boost economic activity, and make Western Sydney more liveable.
Parramatta-Epping – complete Sydney’s missing rail link
Sydney’s Global Economic Arc (GEA) links centres of finance, business and high-tech manufacturing. It starts at the airport and runs north through Sydney’s CBD, North Sydney, St Leonards, Chatswood, Macquarie Park and on to Epping.
What connects all these centres and has led to the growth of the GEA, is the high quality rail service provided by the Airport Line and the Chatswood to Epping Line.
The only major financial and business centre not linked to the GEA is Parramatta, which is ludicrous because Parramatta is Sydney’s third largest business district, and will soon surpass North Sydney to take second place. There are currently no plans to link Parramatta to the GEA with a high-quality public transport link.
This wasn’t always the case, as previous governments had planned to build the Parramatta to Epping Rail Line (PERL) to link Parramatta into the GEA. The PERL remains the “missing link” and if it isn't built, Parramatta misses out.
In an effort to bridge this gap in Sydney’s rail network, Parramatta City Council advocated conversion of the Carlingford Line to light rail with an extension to Epping. However the Berejiklian Government has excluded the extension to Epping from the Parramatta light rail plans.
Light rail is not the best mode for the Parramatta to Epping link. It can’t be integrated into the heavy rail network and would force passengers travelling from west of Parramatta to change modes to access Macquarie Park, Macquarie University and Chatswood.
The Parramatta-Epping Rail Link should be the priority transport project to integrate the west of Sydney into the GEA. Instead, the Government has opted to build the North West Rail Line as a metro and downgrade the Epping to Chatswood Line to metro standard, which will prevent the PERL from ever becoming a reality!
This stupid, short-sighted project to be stopped by terminating the NWRL metro at Epping – or diverting it to areas not currently serviced by rail – and saving the Epping to Chatswood Line from becoming a privatised sub-standard metro.
Transport for NSW still holds the plans for PERL, so it's a “shovel ready” project and construction could be commenced very quickly. The route includes a short 3.5 kilometre tunnel from Epping to Carlingford, where it would use the existing line to Granville as far as Rosehill where it would proceed in a 4 km tunnel to join the main Western Line near Westmead.
The cost of this missing link would be around $2.6 billion, based on the known costs on rail infrastructure in Sydney. This is bargain-basement price for 18.5 kilometres of vital rail infrastructure linking Parramatta to the Global Economic Arc.
The benefits provided by building the PERL include:
• Increased economic activity by connecting Parramatta to the GEA.
• Direct services and greatly reduced travel times from the Blue Mountains and stations west of Parramatta to Epping, Macquarie Park, Macquarie University and Chatswood.
• More peak hour services on the Western Line enabled by diverting trains to Chatswood.
The Cross City Connector
Making rail work for Sydney not the MTR Corporation
Converting existing modern double-deck heavy railway lines into the low-capacity Sydney Metro concept is plain crazy. No right-minded Transport Minister or Government would countenance such a policy but that’s the fate of the Epping to Chatswood Line and the Sydenham to Bankstown Line, unless a change of government ends this absurd routing of the Metro.
The Berejiklian Government's plan is to hand these publicly operated rail lines to the MTR Corporation, a Hong Kong property developer and metro operator. MTR’s main aim is to profit from high-rise redevelopment along the line leading to the destruction of communities and built heritage. This is making Sydney work for the Metro. Sane policy would be to route the metro through areas that aren’t currently served by rail.
EcoTransit has developed a proposal to stop the NWRL Metro at Epping and then divert it south to Hurstville, incorporating interchanges with all of the radial heavy rail lines that lead to the CBD.
The NWRL Metro has been deliberately built with small diameter tunnels to prevent a high quality double-deck train service being introduced. Passengers will be crowded like cattle into trains with less than half the seating of a modern double deck train. With two-thirds of passengers standing there'll be little or no opportunity to use transit time to work on laptops and tablets, or even just to read.
EcoTransit’s Cross City Connector would be built with larger tunnel dimensions to accommodate double-deck trains and would be used by trains from the NWRL and from the Northern and Illawarra Lines. The proposal includes the replacement of the inferior metro trains with single deck suburban trains, built to have similar quality and comfort to the double deck trains.
Stations after Epping are envisaged at: Balaclava Road, Denistone East, Top Ryde, Victoria Road (interchange with a possible Victoria Road light rail line), Gladesville, Gladesville Hospital, Abbotsford Bay, Five Dock (interchange with a possible Parramatta Road light rail line), Ashfield (interchange with the Western Line), Ashbury, Campsie (interchange with the Bankstown Line), Clempton Park, Kingsgrove (interchange with the East Hills/Airport Line), Bexley and Hurstville (interchange with the Illawarra Line).
There would also be physical connections to the Northern Line at Epping and the Illawarra Line at Hurstville, allowing Intercity services to travel from Newcastle to Wollongong, by-passing the CBD. This would provide a more direct route between two of NSW’ largest regional cities.
The cost to build the Cross City Connector would be much lower than the metro currently proposed. There would be no deep harbour tunnel and less tunnelling overall. It would also save billions by scrapping the planned conversion of the Epping to Chatswood and the Sydenham to Bankstown heavy rail lines. The line would be 25 km long, mostly in tunnel, and would cost $5 billion based on the known costs on rail infrastructure in Sydney.
The benefits provided by building the Cross City Connector include:
• No disruption caused by closure of the two existing heavy rail lines for conversion to metro.
• Provision of rail transport to suburbs currently poorly served by public transport.
• Billions in budget saving could be invested into expanding Sydney’s heavy and light rail networks.
• Passengers travelling from stations west of Ashfield would be able to access many destinations outside the CBD, without having to travel through it.
Parramatta-focussed light rail network
Parramatta Council's wish-list of light rail lines focussed on Parramatta CBD –West-Central Lines would cut road traffic dramatically and enhance the employment potential of Parramatta and Bankstown whereas WestConnex – often touted as “for the West”, would cater only for a tiny minority of Western Sydney residents who choose to drive to Sydney CBD.
For a couple of years the Baird Government vaguely promised $600m towards Parramatta light rail, but this promise was withdrawn late in 2016 on the excuse that a private proposal for an underground Parramatta to Sydney CBD metro line should be considered instead. The promise of funds was certainly a cynical political ruse, designed to fool the public into believing that a progressive public transport infrastructure project would go ahead at the same time as WestConnex. In reality the enormous cost of WestConnex is soaking up amost all available public funding.
Parramatta Road Light Rail
(Sydney CBD to Olympic Park)
This project can be pushed west from Central Station in a series of short stages, progressively replacing buses which can then be retasked to provide frequent feeder services to the light rail and Western Line train stations. There would be strategically located park and rides, soaking traffic off Parramatta Road. This would provide a clean, quiet, high-capacity, service creating the conditions for Parramatta Road revitalisation. One tram lane can carry 10,000 passengers an hour, while a road lane only accommodates 2,000 cars (2,400 commuters), so Parramatta Road Light Rail would remove thousands of cars from the road, particularly in the peaks.
Pippita Express solution
An express commuter ink from Pippita, where the rail line to Olympic Park passes over Parramatta Road, to Central Station via Strathfield using remaining spare capacity in the Western Line. There would be a large commuter car park next to the station. Journey time from Pippita to Central would be less than 15 minutes. This scheme would soak traffic off the M4 before Strathfield. It's a quick, low-cost solution that would have a big impact on M4 and Parramatta Road traffic, particularly in the peaks.
This list of projects totals $11.7 billion, which is $5.3 billion less than WestConnex – leaving funds for much needed regional road and rail projects as well a funding for hospitals and schools.