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Action for Public Transport (N.S.W.) Inc.

Sydney's Rail Future - questions for Minister

posted Friday 17 August 2012
APT have sent the following letter asking questions of the NSW Minister for Transport:

I am concerned that the Government's promise to consult the public in planning transport seems to have been abandoned, at least as far as major decisions are concerned, and important information is not being made public.

The present NSW Government was elected in March 2011. A frequently-repeated promise was a quick start on a rail link to the north-west. Also, the Government promised to develop a transport master plan.

In August 2011, the Tipping Point Institute delivered a report to the NSW Business Chamber entitled Improving CityRail which I will refer to later. The report can be seen at http://www.nswbusinesschamber.com.au/NSWBC/media/Misc/Policy%20Documents/111004_improving_cityrail_report.pdf.

On 6 October, the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) published a story that Cabinet had been considering single-deck trains for Sydney and a "three-tier" system. See http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/parisstyle-train-plan-for-city-20111005-1l9pp.html.

A discussion paper for the transport master plan was released in February 2012. According to its Introduction, the discussion paper was developed to seek input from the people of New South Wales and other interested parties on what they think are the priorities, issues and solutions for meeting the State's transport needs over the long term. There were public forums on the master plan in various city and regional locations from February to May 2012. I understand that attendance at the forums totalled over 1,000. Apparently the Minister attended all the meetings personally. So did Carolyn McNally, who chaired the meetings.

Written submissions on the discussion paper were accepted until 27 April; I understand that about 1,200 submissions were received.

There are four advisory committees for the master plan which met in March, April and May. Meetings set down for June were cancelled. There are still meetings set down for September and November.

The draft master plan release intended for June didn't happen. Instead, on 20 June "Sydney's Rail Future - Modernising Sydney's Trains" was released. It shows a plan only slightly changed from the October leak. On that day I asked Carolyn McNally what was happening with the draft master plan and she said Sydney's Rail Future was the master plan, at least as far as heavy rail was concerned.

Criticism started to focus on the small tunnels planned, which would never be capable of carrying the many hundreds of double-deck cars which comprise Sydney's passenger trains. See http://smh.drive.com.au/roads-and-traffic/tunnel-too-small-could-make-rail-link-a-bridge-too-far-20120703-21fjy.html. One issue was that tunnels for the second harbour crossing would then also be small-bore, precluding the crossing's use by trains from the Central Coast and Newcastle.

I understand that tunnels bored to a diameter of 7 metres are required to carry double-deck trains at 100 km/h. The tunnels to Kellyville are planned to be bored at 6.1 metres.

Sandy Thomas had a letter in SMH the day after the release (4 July) stating that single-deck trains cannot inherently carry more passengers per hour than double deck, as the capacity of both double- and single-deck systems is limited by station design and signalling. He definitely has a point - Olympic Park station carried something like 25,000 passengers per hour during the Games, although fed by a single track carrying double-deck trains. Thomas also cited the example of Paris' double-deck trains. The map in http://www.allfranceinfo.com/images/paris/paris_metro.gif clearly shows RER stations spaced much further apart than metro stations. Trains take 3-5 minutes between RER stations. The RER A line has double-deck trains.

Since the release of Sydney's Rail Future, some other experts have taken time to analyse its shortcomings. See, for example, Peter Mills in http://www.aptnsw.org.au/documents/sydconstrainedrailfuture.html.

Also see the Tipping Point Institute paper referred to above. On page 23 there is a chart showing that single-deck trains lose their inner-city advantage when stations get further apart than about 1 km and that double-deck trains are appropriate with stations further apart. On the NWRL, stations beyond Epping average 4km apart.

On 29 July, it was announced that the current cap of 3.2 million TEUs per year at Port Botany will be lifted. The result will be many more trucks using routes like the M5 East and a reduction in the proportion of containers carried by rail. This is another example of a major decision made outside the master plan process.

Returning to passenger services, no details have been given as to how long conversion of the Epping-Chatwood tunnels would take and certainly no hint as to how long conversion of other lines to Cabramatta, Lidcombe and Hurstville might take. The lines would have to be out of service during conversion yet most are so heavily-used in peak hour that substitute bus services could not cope for long.

One wonders what the point was of the extensive and costly consultation and committees if the major decisions were already taken.

I would appreciate answers to the following questions:

  1. The planned system of single-deck trains on the NWRL was apparently made after consideration of several alternatives. Could I please be told what those alternatives were and what was it about them that was considered inferior to the favoured system? I would particularly like to know why any of the alternatives which involved building the second Harbour crossing before building the NWRL were rejected.
  2. How long will the Epping-Chatswood railway be out of service for conversion to single-deck?
  3. Would it be possible to specify the single-deck trains in such a way as to minimise the conversion disruption?
  4. Would it be possible to specify the single-deck trains in such a way that no conversion would be required?

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