With Australia's economy still performing strongly, two exciting recent announcements have been made regarding urban rail infrastructure. However, there are suggestions that the fight is far from over to bring the projects to fruition.
Extension of the Sydney Light Rail Network
On 13 December 2012, the New South Wales state government announced plans to extend the Sydney Light Rail Network. The AUD1.6 billion extension, dubbed the "CBD and South East Light Rail Extension", will link Circular Quay and Central Station. Two branches will then connect Central Station with Kingsford and Randwick in the south east of the city. The new line will meet the currently-under-construction "Inner West Light Rail Extension" at Central Station. See Fig. A.
The project is part of the proposals to address the recommendations of the "NSW Long Term Transport Master Plan".
The Inner West Light Rail Extension is scheduled for completion in 2014. Work on the CBD and South East Light Rail Extension is "expected to commence in 2014 and is expected to take five or six years to complete."
The announcement states that the project is intended to be funded by NSW state government funds "and a PPP arrangement, subject to testing the business case, and value for money being met." Even more intriguingly the NSW government adds "We are also working with the City of Sydney and our other stakeholders who have committed additional funding contributions."
Some will uncharitably suggest the project has some distance to cover before it receives a green light. However, the project is impressive, necessary (given the choked state of Sydney's CBD streets) and no doubt will receive additional momentum when the Inner West Rail Extension comes into service next year.
At a glance the rest of the details of the CBD and South East Light Rail extension are impressive.
- Service reliability of 97%
- "Turn up and go" service, with wait times of two to three minutes during commuter periods
- 35 minute journey time from Circular Quay to Randwick and 34 minutes from Circular Quay to Kingsford
- Capacity to carry up to 9,000 passengers per hour in each direction
- Will reduce buses in the CBD in the busiest hour by around 180
- Integration with the New South Wales "Opal" smartcard ticketing system currently in use in the Hunter Valley, Central Coast, Illawarra, Southern Highlands and Blue Mountains areas
There is no question the extension will be a boon for Sydney-siders once completed. However, Sydney is a fine example of the challenges facing transport planners in even comparatively youthful cities.
The Department of Transport will now begin consultations with affected local councils, business, industry and the community. There will be additional input into the development of detailed designs as well as publicly exhibited environmental impact assessments and planning approval documents. Many of these interested groups will no doubt have differing views about implementation.
As anybody in the UK can attest, it can be easier for a train to pass through the eye of a needle than it can be to build new track for the train to run on.
Brisbane Cross River Rail Project
Further north of Sydney things seem possibly even less certain, with conflicting announcements issued regarding the Brisbane Cross River Rail Project. Cross River Rail is one of two parts of the wider "Brisbane Inner City Rail Solution" project.
Cross River Rail is expected to cost AUD 3.98 billion, having been revised down from an initial budget of AUD 8.5 billion. The project will rely heavily – as much as 80% according to Queensland's Transport Minister – on national government funding as opposed to Queensland state funding.
The core Cross River Rail project includes (See Fig. B.):
- Construction of two running tunnels from Yeerongpilly in the south to Victoria Park in the north, under the CBD and Brisbane River
- Four new underground stations at Woolloongabba, Boggo Road, Albert Street and Roma Street
- Connections to the existing northern and southern rail network
Pursuant to the Queensland State Development and Public Works Organisation Act, the Coordinator General exercises wide-ranging powers to plan, deliver and coordinate large-scale infrastructure projects, while ensuring their environmental impacts are properly managed. On 20 December 2012, Cross River Rail's Environmental Impact Statement received approval from the Coordinator General.
Yet it seems that there are many rivers to cross for the project, not least the Brisbane River itself.
In January 2013 the Australian Federal Transport Minister's office issued a media release stating that Queensland was yet to make a formal submission in respect of funding for Cross River Rail. Instead, the Minister confirmed that an application has been made for AUD 300 million in respect of the other component of Brisbane Inner City Rail Solution the "Early Capacity Works" project.
Early Capacity Works is a programme of value-for-money, short to medium term solutions designed to maximise use of existing infrastructure. It is understood that the programme will extend the life of current inner-city rail infrastructure to 2020.
Queensland media are suggesting that the issue lies within the Queensland government. Evidently the Queensland Transport Minister wishes to focus on Brisbane-centric solutions whilst the Deputy Premier is focused on regional initiatives outside the capital.
There is little doubt that Sydney and Brisbane have significant transport issues which require long-term solutions. The Sydney Light Rail and Brisbane Cross River Rail look to be two such long term solutions. However, as those in the UK will attest, sometimes it can seem like purposeful government, local support and sufficient funding just aren't enough.
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