The New South Wales Government yesterday announced the route and stations of one of the most expensive public transport projects in Australian history.
The $20 billion Sydney Metro West is due to start construction next year. It will see two 25km tunnels bored from the CBD to Westmead via Sydney Olympic Park and Parramatta.
A “game changer” of a project, it’s being talked about as a project that will “supercharge” Sydney and reduce journey times between Parramatta and the CBD to a mere 20 minutes.
But Sydneysiders have been scratching their heads over the glossy new plans — particularly over what’s missing from them: stations. Where are they all?
Seven stations are planned. These will be at Westmead, Parramatta, Sydney Olympic Park, North Strathfield, Burwood North, Five Dock and the Bays Precinct.
But for vast stretches of the route there will be no stations at all.
For seven kilometres, between White Bay and Five Dock in Sydney’s inner west there is not a single stop.
Yet the line might pass beneath Leichhardt. It’s a suburb lacking a heavy rail line and with a population density of 3203 residents per sq/km, far in excess of the Sydney urban average of 1237 people.
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For almost double that length, 13km, the line may not have a single stop between Sydney Olympic Park and Parramatta.
Residents of Rozelle, Lilyfield, Newington, Camelia and Rosehill may all feel the rumble of the Metro but have no way to board it.
Yet on the current railway line between Parramatta and the CBD, which the Metro is designed to relive capacity on, distances between stations are between 1-3km. A mere 800 metres separates Newtown and Macdonaldtown stations. It’s almost as quick to drive between them.
Architect, urban designer and City of Sydney councillor Philp Thalis criticised the choice of station sites on Twitter this morning.
“Terrible decision not to build all those stations. (It’s) just repeating the glaring mistakes of the previous metro and heavy rail lines,” he said.
“Trip time should be completely secondary to coverage and patronage”.
Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne agreed and told news.com.au: “Council is very disappointed that its residents are missing out on the public transport benefits that could flow from the Sydney Metro West.”
Another social media user noted the “long nimby stretch between The Bays and Five Dock”.
Nimby is an acronym for “not in my backyard,” residents who want the benefits of new infrastructure but don’t want to personally compromise for them.
University of Sydney Business School senior lecturer in transport management Geoffrey Clifton told news.com.au it looked like “a good set of stations”.
However, he found it “interesting” that a station at Pyrmont, just to the west of the CBD was only a maybe, not a definite stop.
“I would defiantly want to see Pyrmont go ahead because that’s going to be very important for the area to develop, to give the city the space to grow and expend the Sydney CBD.”
The Sydney Chamber of Commerce has said a stop at Pyrmont “is a necessity”.
TOWERS VS TERRACES
The Government has also flagged possible stops at either Rydalmere or Silverwater, closer to Parramatta, but neither is locked in.
Mr Clifton said a stop at Leichhardt had merit. But the very fact that the suburb was already highly populated, far from being in its favour, actually counted against it.
“There are technical reasons why it might not be feasible to build a station — such as it can’t be on a slope — but there are also commercial considerations as well,” he said.
It’s estimated each station, even of a fairly modest design, adds hundreds of millions of dollars to a rail project.
“You have to recuperate that money somehow and that means apartments, it means office space just like we’re seeing in Barangaroo.
“These days it’s just not viable to put in a train station if you don’t want to develop land around it.”
The people of Leichhardt might like to cut their commute time but is towering blocks of units built on top of, or overshadowing, heritage terraces the price worth paying?
“It’s the cost benefit analysis. Everything the Government spends money on has to demonstrate value for money because that money could be spent on hospitals or police instead,” said Mr Clifton.
Many of the other stations on the line are in areas ripe for development. The Bays is a large brownfield site close to the CBD, Burwood North is on Parramatta Rd where large slabs of tatty shops and car yards could be demolished and few people would bat an eyelid.
STATIONS VS SPEED
But there was another factor for large gaps between stations — the need for speed.
To deliver a Parramatta to city journey time of 20 minutes, the trains have to travel fast. Every time it stops, it adds precious minutes to the trip decreasing its usefulness over the current T1 Western line.
The understanding of this isn’t helped by naming of the system as a “metro” which traditionally have many stops.
“A standard Paris-type Metro would have a station in every single suburb; Sydney is developing a new (metro) where we have train stations every few suburbs,” Mr Clifton said.
“We wouldn’t want to have a station every 800m like in Paris metro as that would make it completely unfeasible as a train line for commuters from Parramatta to the city.
“It’s absolutely a balancing act between more stops to serve more destinations and fewer stops to get people to the city quickly.”
Mr Clifton said planners could deliver the shell of potential underground stations but leave it bare until a decision was made to kit it out at a later date.
It wasn’t cheap, he said, but it was far cheaper than trying to build a new station from scratch many years later.
In a statement, a Sydney Metro spokeswoman told news.com.au “the balance between travel times and number of stations to ensure the project provides the best outcome for the community” was a key consideration for the project.
“Construction and delivery challenges had to be taken into account when determining station locations,” she said.
“Both Rydalmere and Pyrmont are currently being considered as the strategic options in addition to the stations which were confirmed yesterday.”
The siting of the Five Dock station is already embroiled in controversy after it emerged Drummoyne Liberal MP John Sidoti owned properties close to the proposed site. Their value could skyrocket as the inner west suburb grows in popularity on the back of a new train line.
Mr Sidoti has also owned properties close to stations on the already open Metro North West line. He has consistently denies any wrong doing.
The line has been broadly welcomed, however, as a way to lessen crowding on currently choked rail lines.
Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue Chairman Christopher Brown said it was a “game change” and as significant as the under construction Western Sydney Airport.
“Not only will Metro West supercharge the link between Sydney’s two CBDs it will generate thousands of jobs and catalyse the urban renewal of a number of growth centres along the corridor — a new ‘steel spine’ for Sydney’s central city.”