Sydney Metro & High-Speed Trains

Summary key actions:
  1. Cancel all current light rail and the "City & SW Metro" rail plans, which, along with WestConnex, are bad projects and unaffordable (see attached letter to NSW Premier).
  2. Prioritise earlier delivery of the West Metro, running it from Sydney CBD (connected into the existing City Circle) through the Westconnex tunnel (with less lanes for cars) to Parramatta, then continuing to Penrith on existing rail lines (replacing existing services).
  3. Replace existing & planned light rail in Sydney with metro rail.
  4. Run NW Metro trains along existing tracks from Epping to Strathfield then the CBD, to avoid closing and converting Epping-Chatswood until after...
  5. Convert existing harbour crossing to metro trains at 30 trains per hour (avoiding any need for the currently planned "Sydney Metro City & SW") and convert the entire Sydney Trains network to faster, higher capacity metro trains.
  6. Build a high-speed train line from Parramatta to Badgerys Creek, probably via Liverpool, and extend it in future north and south to new/expanded commuting towns.
If you like my alternative Sydney Metro plan below & attached, show your support by 'liking' it at this FROGS Facebook site.


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 sooner.  Some 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...)

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 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 panic 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 files attached at the bottom of this page & summarised following 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 my ideas here, see also:
  • Reports by 10,000 Friends of Greater Sydney ('FROGS' ):

    An integrated plan for fast "metro" trains (at ≈120kph) & High Speed Trains (HST > 200kph) 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:
      • Note trains from the North-West Metro and Hornsby to Epping could potentially run at high-capacity (30 tph) on existing tracks from Epping through West Ryde to Strathfield (before joining new metro tunnel to Five Dock & White Bay), now that long, slow freight trains are segregated from passenger services by the North Strathfield Rail Underpass (part of the Northern Sydney Freight Corridor upgrade of the Sydney freight rail network).
      • I doubt you need a new tunnel from Parramatta to Blacktown either.
    • Resolves network-wide Sydney Trains capacity constraints with 30 trains per hour (tph) single-deck metro trains on the entire Sydney network (replacing double-deck trains limited to around 20-22 tph)
      Don't buy more double-deck!  Just use the existing Waratahs for 'Inter-city' services!
      • Various alternative metro route details could be considered, subject to a maximum Sydney CBD to Parramatta travel time of about 20 minutes (preferably less), in order to:
        1. effectively merge these two economic centres for daytime business-to-business trips (since time is very scarce if you want to meet the CEO of another business) - as per the attached strategic business case
              (which means a maximum of about 5 intermediate stations, to reduce station delays, with any express services - if any are viable at all - only stopping at Strathfield and/or Homebush/Sydney Olympic Park),
          and,
        2. to ensure all-stop metro services from stations west of Parramatta to Sydney CBD are faster than current double-deck express services, so these high-frequency metro services can replace existing double-deck trains and thus also address capacity constraints.
    • Extend the metro from Sydney CBD to the Eastern Suburbs along the half-built light-rail corridor (enclosing the line along Anzac Parade to reduce noise impacts), branching from Central or from Edgecliff to go via the upgraded SFS.
    • Fast trains connect employment areas to land for affordable housing:
      • New metro station supports urban redevelopment in the Bays precinct.
      • HST through Parramatta connects to cheaper land in outer Sydney areas:
        • north to Gosford & Newcastle
          (perhaps using the spare lane in the flat-gradient NorthConnex tunnel from Pennant Hills/Beecroft to Wahroonga/Hornsby and then automated vehicles elevated over the freeway median through the difficult terrain to Newcastle),
          and,
        • south to Liverpool (probably), Badgerys Creek & Canberra
          - using 320kph TGV-style trains,
          or 600kph magnetic levitation (Maglev) trains,
          or even (if it can be proven to work), the 1,200 kph Hyperloop system proposed by Telsa's Elon Musk (using lower cost levitation systems than the Japanese 'active' Maglev).
          • Although it may seem contrary, I suspect that a quantitative risk & value analysis could indicate the best approach is to use a proven HST technology from Parramatta to Canberra sooner than later (to meet the pressing economic needs discussed above), with the option to then duplicate this section later with a more costly VHST system that would be better suited to extending the much greater distance to Brisbane, Melbourne & beyond, after having partially demonstrated the demand potential and also possibly reduced the cost and risk of more advanced technology options (like Maglev or Hyperloop).
          • An Australian Hyperloop system could be developed for passenger and/or freight services, starting with a test-track in South-West Sydney:
            • A first-stage passenger Hyperloop could extend from Badgerys Creek to Campbelltown (which avoids difficult urban areas for a first system) and then along the Hume Highway to Goulburn & Canberra (initially excluding Bowral until proven switches are developed for off-line stations that avoid delays for express services), as well as north to Parramatta via Liverpool, and then Newcastle and eventually Brisbane.  From Canberra it could be extended to Melbourne & potentially Adelaide or even Hobart if tunneling is made faster & cheaper (supporting a merger of Tasmania & Victoria).
            • A freight system connecting Moorebank to both Badgerys Creek and Port Botany could potentially be developed sooner, as it could have less stringent safety requirements.  Port Botany container-freight handling capacity is currently limited by road and rail access, and options to increase the capacity of these systems (for example through WestConnex &/or amplification of the Southern Sydney Freight Line) suffer from high costs and community opposition due to noise and other environmental impacts.  In contrast, Hyperloop's flexible, enclosed overhead infrastructure could minimise such impacts, and with its high speed and potential for unloading at a number of distribution points around the Sydney metro area, freight handling capacity could become limited only by the rate at which containers could be loaded at the port - thereby offering the prospect of achieving a significant diversion of freight from trucks on roads.
            • Alternatively a test-track at Moorebank could be extended to connect passengers rapidly between Kingsford Smith and Badgerys Creek airports.

    • CBD-White Bay details refined, including:
      • the metro using the old freight line at White Bay (where train stabling could be located) then replacing the existing capacity-constrained light rail to Lilyfield, Leichhardt-North and Dulwich Hill
        - the metro could then branch at Leichhardt-North to continue to Parramatta via Ashfield/Five Dock (possibly above ground next to the City West Link);
      • a possible fork right to Rozelle & Epping/NW Sydney (similar to Jim Steer's original proposal, perhaps in the longer term when capacity is needed);
      • a potential cable car that could connect between Pyrmont's Star Casino and new high-rise buildings at White Bay (including the old power station), Balmain and potentially on to Cockatoo Island and Woolwich;
        (
        Possible locations for support pylons or high-rise apartment/hotel stations could be Balmain hospital &/or the old telephone exchange next to Balmain Town Hall via the Balmain Hotel & the appropriately-named Exchange - where people could change to buses!)
      • a potential light rail line, if warranted after high-density development has occurred in White Bay, although this would compete with walking (being only 1 mile to Cockle Bay), ferries &/or the possible cable car;
        (the light rail might use the current line to Central by short-cutting the current loop with a tunnel between points south of the Fish Markets & Convention Centre stops)
      • re-routing of buses to reduce CBD congestion (instead of trams, which will make it worse!).
    • Opportunity to downscale WestConnex motorway & integrate it with public transport, including (details not illustrated):
      (
      The current stand-alone Westconnex project seems to be of questionable viability, especially considering the latest work by Professor David Hensher on the lower willingness-to-pay of motorists after taking into account multiple network tolls and personal / household weekly budget constraints - see my brief summary of this pricing work here.)
      • Reduce total costs of the West Metro + WestConnex through a combined rail + road tunnel for the WestConnex M4-East-M5 link, with a reduced number of car lanes and limited to use only by electric vehicles - to reward clean vehicles and avoid the cost of exhaust stacks and systems (which would be a waste of money given the imminent revolution coming to the car industry).  The piston effect of trains could also help ventilation for a limited number of hybrid electric-petrol vehicles allowed to use the tunnel for a premium toll.
      • Adopt the City of Sydney council's proposal (apparently not supported by the NSW Government) for an upgraded A3/Roberts/King Georges Road replacing WestConnex stage-3 for port trucks going between the M4 & M5, plus an M4-East connection to the Cross-City Tunnel, existing Harbour Tunnel, Eastern-Distributor (ED) & airport/port, with the West Metro reducing car demand to match the capacity of these existing roads.
        • A possible variation on this could be to continue the combined road-metro rail tunnel to Martin Place and connect the road there to the harbour tunnel & ED.
        • The City of Sydney council also propose removing the train station access fees at Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport (KSA), but I'd prefer to moderate car demand by taxing KSA's car parks, as well as applying tolls to the M5 as part of broader road pricing reforms.
      • Possibly continue a combined road/metro rail tunnel to Newtown & St Peters (see metro options below).
      • Give priority to express electric buses going from WestConnex's proposed Rozelle Interchange via a short 300m tunnel to a central Balmain bus station in the old 11 million litre reservoir cavern under Gladstone Park, then on to the proposed Western Harbour Tunnel & "Beaches Link" express bus service (although at $14bn I think it will be a long time before this is affordable).

    Subject to keeping costs down for affordability and value-for-money, further options (not shown) could include:
    • Extending the metro to Maroubra beach and from Randwick to Coogee beach and/or Bondi Junction to Bondi beach (rectifying past shambles) - connecting more than one beach to avoid overloading a single beach with too many people and to instead enable people to do the wonderful walk between beaches and thereby spread beach demand across both these and the intermediate beaches - ideally encouraged by a year-round rotation of Sculptures by the Sea.
      (BTW, Waverley & Randwick councils' failure to fix the coastal footpath along Waverley cemetery at the two councils' boundaries - 9 months after the storm damage of June 2016 - I take as further good evidence of the need for 
      council mergers!)
    • A short metro tunnel from Central or Redfern to Sydney University / RPA Hospital, with either an underground turn-back there, or perhaps, more preferably:
      • continuing on to a new underground central-Leichhardt station (near Marion St./Balmain Rd) then connecting at Leichhardt-North to replace light rail services to Dulwich Hill, or
      • a new metro rail tunnel from Erskinville to Macdonaldtown then RPA/Sydney Uni and then Glebe (replacing light rail), &/or
      • a combined WestConnex/Metro rail tunnel connecting St Peters, Newtown, Camperdown, Annandale, central Newtown & Leichhardt-North (replacing light rail from there).
    & maybe:
    • A footbridge from Barangaroo to Balmain East wharf, possibly also carrying ultra-light, automated GRT vehicles/pods that continue on overhead pylons along the centre of Darling St. to Balmain, Rozelle and Leichhardt.

    Show your support for this Sydney Metro plan by 'liking' it at this 
    FROGS Facebook site.






    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 "Seven Habits for Economically Efficient Infrastructure Planning", attached 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).
    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!).


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    David Thorp,
    8 Mar 2014, 00:29
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    David Thorp,
    4 May 2018, 02:51
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    David Thorp,
    24 Aug 2017, 21:13
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    David Thorp,
    19 Apr 2018, 22:57
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    David Thorp,
    11 Oct 2016, 17:15
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