Sydney Metro
& High-Speed Trains

Summary key actions:

If you like this alternative Sydney Metro plan, show your support by 'liking' it at this FROGS Facebook site.

I did the original version of this plan in June 2015, but it may not be completely too late see the 2019 update near the end of this page, and this LinkedIn post of 9 August 2023, which includes further comments on repurposing Westconnex infrastructure, especially to use its road tunnels to the now-built "Rozelle Interchange" for a "HOT" lane (for High-Occupancy Vehicles plus cars paying premium tolls, set dynamically to avoid congestion), with the possibility of a longer term conversion to metro rail.

Economic & demographic context

In 2016-17, Australia's economy is at a critical turning point.  The world economy faces at best a gloomy growth outlook and many commentators think a new debt crisis & recession is almost inevitable.

As the welcome progress of renewable energy hits the future prospects and current price of fossil fuels, the situation in the middle east is becoming even more volatile.  Refugees pose a huge humanitarian and economic problem for Europe (but have no-one to represent them), and Australia has failed to develop a supportive response that is compassionate, economically sustainable and effective in deterring dangerous people-smuggling.

Within Australia, the mining boom is over and as "fly out" workers come back to NSW & Sydney, the population surge has temporarily boosted Sydney's housing market, but the resulting housing affordability pressures are now discouraging further population inflows, so Sydney's property market the only thing that's been keeping the Australian economy going is poised for a slowdown or to crash 10% or more in a couple of years, if not soonerSome banks express more optimism but then they can afford to as long as prices don't fall more than 25%.  I've been unsuccessfully predicting imminent economic crisis for over a year now my latest forecast being early 2017, in reaction to government pre-Xmas economic updates & the losing of AAA ratings, although if the credit rating agencies can't see a problem, maybe no-one else will either! (update 16 March 2017 I got it wrong again, although with house prices now defying belief, maybe it's 'the market' that has got it wrong?  And yes, finally, by 22 May 2017, the credit ratings agencies see a crash coming soon... and it's taken so long for people to face reality, the correction now occurring in 2018-19 could be that much more painful... though perhaps delayed until the effect of interest rates having returned to normal is fully felt beyond 2023...)

Given the importance of property stamp duties, these economic risks have potentially major implications for the financial position of the NSW Government, which has sold the profitable TransGrid & other electricity businesses and is also selling further assets to fund major new infrastructure investments, but must ensure such investments promote growth in the economy and tax revenues to offset the lost dividends from these commercial assets over the medium-term.  Whilst we need to transform financial management frameworks to properly assess this, it seems clear to me that current infrastructure plans are unaffordable (see attached letter to NSW Premier), and not good projects anyway.

So what should we do?  Although Australia cannot rely forever-more on population growth to support its economy (which would just be a massive ponzi scheme), in the short to medium-term (i.e. the next few years and perhaps for more than a decade) population growth may be the only thing that can prevent the economy stalling and buy us some time until we can transition from a dumb reliance on resource-extraction to a knowledge & innovation-based economy (& reap the benefits of other Australian public sector reforms over the longer term).

Australia has plenty of spare land to support a higher population, but to be economically beneficial, immigrants need to be able to interact with existing high-productivity economic centres.  Right now that's constrained by Australia having too few cities, and in both Sydney & Melbourne, having a so-called "Central" Business District (CBD) that's far from the geographic and population centre of the metropolitan area (which is now just west of Parramatta for Greater Sydney), which in NSW is largely due to its extremely slow & inefficient trains, which make it hard for people in Sydney's west to access the CBD thus reducing demand to live in outer suburbs.  The high cost of housing concentrated into Australia's few cities (worsened by a cultural history/expectations and restrictive planning rules that make Australian homes the biggest in the world) also sets a limit on how low welfare benefits can be without making people homeless or forcing them to live in jobless areas (with resulting welfare dependency), and these high welfare payments reduce work incentives (though not as much as some claim) and impose large costs on taxpayers and the economy.

The solution to all this is the same as what every other global city has done fast trains to connect distant, more affordable land to existing economic centres.

So NSW's economy needs an affordable transport investment strategy with world-standard train services to address existing network constraints and to support new affordable housing and population growth in outer areas with acceptable commuting times to existing economic centres (e.g. about 1 hour or less).

But if we build it, will they come?  Will people move to outer areas, and how fast will they settle there?  In economics (as in relativity), time matters otherwise we can't afford the interest on debt.

Well, besides the diversion of existing Sydney residents seeking more affordable housing, one option would be to bring in people currently suffering in Australia's off-shore detention centres or middle-east refugee camps.  I'm sure they will gladly come and contribute positively to continued growth of Australia's economy (sign this petition if you agree).

So will plenty of Brits as they flee the economic pain from Brexit, potentially taking advantage of easier immigration that Britain should now negotiate with sunny Australia!

Fast trains for affordable housing

What infrastructure and service plan can deliver on the above aims?

A fast rail service connecting Sydney CBD and Parramatta is the top priority, to support strategic land-use development as well as relieve existing rail network capacity constraints.

But Sydney's double-decker trains are very slow, infrequent and low capacity (because of their excessive dwell time at stations for boarding & disembarking), so we need more than new rail lines; we need a total transformation of the whole network.

See the following summary & document links for an integrated, high-speed solution to Australia's transport, housing, economic and refugee problems:

'Fast rail for western Sydney':  a strategic economic business case for a new fast metro rail line from Sydney CBD to Parramatta (in less than 20 minutes)

the strategic solution to improving employment productivity, transport efficiency and housing affordability in Greater Sydney.

Consistent with these ideas, see also:

'Sydney Sustainable Housing & Integrated Transport Strategy' my submission to Sydney Metro, June 2015:

(NB. original paper had a ball-park 10-year 'funding gap' guesstimate for current NSW Government plans, which is now outdated but I'd still guess it was over $10bn even before Covid-19 hit.)

A detailed, integrated plan for fast "metro" trains (at ≈120 km/h) & High Speed Trains (> 200 km/h) to support new affordable housing supply in Sydney, potentially also combined with a revised WestConnex motorway tunnel.

     builds on Jim Steer's proposed Fast West Metro from Sydney CBD to Parramatta (& Penrith) under Victoria Road, with a Ryde branch to Epping & the North West Metro (in his report leaked to the SMH),

      supplemented with ideas from Russ Lunney (particularly the CBD bus terminal & the Pyrmont-Barangaroo station under Darling Harbour) and myself, including:

'SydneySHITS.pdf'  😉 is the A3 poster version below (which I did for the 2015-16 Consult Australia 'Big Idea' value-capture competition, but then couldn't enter), which also shows:

Further transport options could also include:

2019 update

So, more than four years after first proposing this, it looks like the NSW Government has blindly ploughed on with the appalling projects initiated by former Premiers Barry O'Farrell & Mike Baird (although given prior history it's hard not to blame the bureaucracy rather than politicians).  But when NSW's finances are finally recognised as being out-of-control (surely soon), it may not be too late to recover the situation.  Most simply, with the Bankstown line connecting to the new metro tunnel across the harbour, the cost of the CBD turnback I envisaged can be avoided whilst still dismantling the City Circle and Cahill Expressway (with train customers at Circular Quay potentially using a travelator put in the disconnected rail tunnel to get to Martin Place station).  Alternatively:

Whether such changes are viable at this late stage I can't be sure, but if they are then overall there may not be too much waste from what's been done to date (as at October 2019).

Show your support for this Sydney Metro plan by 'liking' it at this FROGS Facebook site (FROGS' SHITS beats Baird's Merde!)

What next?

Current NSW & Sydney train systems and plans must constitute the slowest & most inefficiently used rail assets in the developed world, and are the product of the closed/secretive and politicised practices of the NSW Government over many years (led by the same bureaucrats, who seem obsessed with building lots of stations of benefit to developers).

These practices need to fundamentally change, as I suggest in my 2012 paper, "Seven Habits for Economically Efficient Infrastructure Planning" (also referenced amongst other papers here).

Network plans have an inherent monopoly nature, but the design of an efficient, world-class network needs an open debate with competing views actively encouraged from multiple professional sources outside of government (including mine amongst others).

Once the network strategy is confirmed we should then privatise train operations with the appropriate contract incentives to drive continual incremental improvements (including for improved maintenance & safety that the current public operator fails to manage adequately and which good private contracting can improve noting that between 2004 and 2015 deaths due to accidents on Britain’s railways fell by 74%, compared with a 36% fall in the EU as a whole). The best particular form of private sector involvement such as franchised operations or "management contracts" will always depend on the specific current situation and likely needs over the coming decade or so, and would have to be developed in detail by contracting experts, taking into account the particular risks involved and how and by whom they can best be managed.

And finally, though it may not be the most important thing, the ridiculous & unpopular alphabetical signage recently rolled out can be easily covered with operator-customised logos based on international standard pictograms (the round signs that have been rolling out since 2013 almost look like they're designed for something better to be stuck on top!).