Sydney Metro & High-Speed Trains

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...)

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 commercial assets over the medium-term (and we need to transform financial management frameworks to properly assess this).
Although Australia cannot rely forever-more on population growth to support its economy, in the short to medium-term (i.e. the next few years and perhaps the following 10-20 years) population growth may be the only thing that can prevent the economy stalling, until it 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 a Sydney CBD that's far from the geographic and population centre of Greater Sydney (which is now just west of Parramatta) and by NSW's extremely slow & inefficient trains, which make it hard for people in the west to access the CBD - thus reducing demand to live in outer suburbs.  The high cost of housing concentrated into Australia's 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.
See also:

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.
  • Fast trains connect employment areas to land for affordable housing; Hyperloop could also take freight off roads:
    • New metro station supports urban development in the Bays precinct.
    • HST through Parramatta connects to cheaper land in outer Sydney areas, including south to Badgerys Creek & Canberra and north to Newcastle/Central Coast (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)
      - using TGV-style 320kph trains or 600kph Maglev or more preferably (if it can be proven to work!), the 1,200 kph Hyperloop system proposed by Telsa's Elon Musk, which aims to use lower cost levitation systems than the Japanese 'active' magnetic levitation system.
      • CLARA is currently proposing to government various HST options to be largely funded by value-capture, although it has its doubters.
      • The attached VHSTcalculations.xls compares travel times for different technologies.  Note that the greatest value probably comes from a fast Sydney to Canberra link and most of these benefits could be achieved with existing VHST technology such as TGV (& just regular HST tilt-trains on existing tracks + perhaps only $100m could halve the Sydney-Canberra journey to 2 hours - that's how bad NSW trains are!).
        • Although it may seem contrary, I suspect that a quantitative risk & value analysis could indicate the best approach is to use a proven technology from Parramatta to Canberra sooner than later (to meet the pressing economic needs discussed above), with Hyperloop then duplicating this and covering the much greater distance of Brisbane to Melbourne & beyond in future, if the technology can be successfully demonstrated.
      • An Australian Hyperloop system could start with a test-track at Badgerys Creek or Moorebank intermodal terminal, then extend from these places to provide passenger and/or freight services:
        • 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 even Adelaide & Hobart (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 be constrained only by the rate at which containers could be loaded at the port.
        • 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 (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):

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 - 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).
  • 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 effectively merge these two economic centres for daytime business-to-business trips as per the attached strategic business case (which means a maximum of about 5 intermediate stations, to reduce station delays, with an express service possibly only stopping at Strathfield and/or Homebush/Sydney Olympic Park), and
    • replacing as many existing Sydney Trains double-deck services as possible with single-deck metros at 30 trains-per-hour (tph), in order to address network capacity constraints.
& 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). 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!).

David Thorp,
8 Mar 2014, 00:29
David Thorp,
24 Aug 2017, 21:13
David Thorp,
11 Oct 2016, 17:15