Fast Western Sydney Airport Rail













BACKGROUND: Read our Sydney FastLink concept original 2-page flyer at this link:


The Terms of Reference for the Western Sydney Rail Needs Study were: Joint Federal-NSW WSRN Terms of Reference

[Note from the map of options that it was divided between east and west sectors along an axis heading north from Liverpool through Parramatta heading towards Castle Hill, whereas for the WSA and Western Sydney development, these sectors need unification]

A very informative and useful study of global airport rail links by Peter Thornton is here: Predicting Rail Mode Share

   CURRENT STATUS (1 June, 2017):

  * On 16 September 2016 the Joint Study Group released a Discussion Paper via Transport for NSW  [note, however, it has incorrect data for the HK Airport Express, which is 34 kms in 24 minutes rather than 25 kms in 32 minutes], and calling for comments by 28 October 2016

  * We made a 43 page submission on 27 October 2016, arguing for a fast east-west rail option, effectively fitting Options 5 & E combined from the Study, but suggesting that the technology should be faster than the 160 km/h limitation in the Study's Terms of Reference - this would then fit the parameters of our Sydney FastLink concept; However, we also proposed a north-south project called the New Cumberland Line, using existing and new rail lines

  * On 14 November 2016 Premier Mike Baird announced a proposed Sydney Metro West, expected to be built largely underground, "providing a direct connection between the CBD's of Parramatta and Sydney", to be operational in the 2nd half of the 2020's and involving new railway stations at Parramatta, Sydney Olympic Park, The Bays Precinct and Sydney CBD - being the 4 key stops we had proposed

  * Clearly the Metro West annnouncement addressed general Sydney commuting needs with no specificity to the WSA requirement, but the Discussion Paper had assumed 20% mode share for a Badgerys Creek rail link as an upper bound, and that may have seemed too low for the assumed cost to the State, whereas we feel that this under-rates the potential for something like Sydney FastLink if the right design decisions, and "financial architecture" was to be adopted

  * Then, on 3 March 2017 the Federal Government announced that a consortium led by SNC-Lavalin Rail & Transit had been selected to develop a feasibility, design and detailed estimates of the cost and time required to construct rail infrastructure on the Western Sydney Airport site

   OUR OPINION - and we aim to Blog more on these themes in future...

We think that the joint Governments do not yet fully appreciate the benefits of fast transit speed and customised design for a premium quality rail link to the WSA, nor that mode share for this rail link could be quite high by world standards under such a specifically tailored design, higher possibly than what we refer to as the nearest world equivalent which is the Gardermoen - Oslo service (notably being a service not included with those examined in the WSRN study).

Indeed the current situation is a bit like a repeat of the experience of a past consortium effort named Western FastRail that former Railcorp executive the late Barry Garnham and former Union man Michael Easson had put together, with Leightons and ABN-Amro. The difference was that they envisaged a fast train from Penrith rather than Badgerys Creek but there are a high number of similarities otherwise, and regrettably for Western Line travellers they were rejected by the State in circumstances of which the history is disputed (see SMH article, its follow up and Crikey). We say that the same principle they had, of a fare premium for speed of transit, is important to consider for WSA rail, noting that many good airport rail links do have a fare premium for better quality services (or even special services like N'EX and Keisei Skyliner in the case of Tokyo's Narita Airport, which is over 75km from Tokyo central) and that the value of travellers' time (especially those in businesses) is an important consideration to them and the economy. Many airport rail links of high quality therefore do have fare premia relative to mass transit services (e.g. HK Airport Express v MTR). Sydney Metro pricing would not normally be differentiated like the Western FastRail people and ourselves have respectively envisaged, and in branding the new plan a "metro", marketing specialists would say such wording is building up the wrong expectations, or alternatively we would say it is selling the potential farebox revenue short. That's problem No.1.

In relation to Peter Thornton's paper studying key factors behind airport rail links around the world, note especially that Copenhagen and Oslo have very high mode shares for rail in respect of their airport rail links. Designing for such a high mode share is important for WSA's competitive positioning because with Sydney's endemic road congestion it will not be able to maximise its attractiveness to inbound airlines and their travellers without fast enough (and cost-effective enough) rail transport links, to take its targeted customers quickly between there and Sydney CBD, which after all key previous studies showed is the primary focus of inbound travellers. Clearly because of the distance and the fact that motorway tolls east-west (M4/M5) are likely to be about $30 per one-way trip by 2027 (with taxi fares for the distance to Badgerys Creek already at a level between $125 and $200 depending on time of day & congestion), without fast enough rail WSA will not be able to improve its standing relative to Mascot Airport for premium tourist and commercial travellers. We say this is Problem No.2. This hits right at the heart of the Commonwealth's ownership of WSA.

Mascot is just so much closer to Sydney's CBD and it's own (admittedly less than optimal) rail link still enables trips between 15 and 25 minutes - depending on where to in the CBD. So a key for WSA, if we want it to be in "world's best" class as a well-connected airport, is not only getting an effective rail link of world's best quality, but also one with fast transit speeds. David Borger (Business Chambers), Margy Osmond (Tourism & Transport Forum) & others have all called for it to be fast, and we say that it should have a target of being 25 minutes or below right to a central part of the Sydney CBD, e.g., Town Hall or Martin Place. That would neutralise KSA/Mascot's advantage in that respect.

Importantly, and this doesn't seem to be widely appreciated outside technical engineering/finance ranks, we think that a Metro-style service will not be an optimal fit for purpose, because it will be too slow given the distance. That's why we have supported the ideas for faster rail technology - at least 180 km/h class, and maybe up to 250 km/h. This faster class technology is a current target for Norway's Oslo-Gardermoen Airport, as they upgrade their already successful Flytoget service [and note that word "service" because that is what it stresses]. Another key aspect for Sydney though, is to have quite high performance vehicles in terms of acceleration and braking, because WSA rail needs to have more intermediate stops by comparison given that Sydney CBD is situated in the eastern hemisphere of Sydney basin, and the population centre of gravity is gradually moving westward, as with the attempts to re-balance the location of jobs by re-positioning Parramatta as a 2nd CBD. For planning purposes the centroid currently should be regarded as along the Liverpool-Parramatta longitude axis, which is what Greater Sydney Commission seems to have recognised with their draft District Plans. So we say the rail option choice should target both this central longitudinal area (for locals) and the established historic CBD and its Harbour attractions (for visitors and for some time the majority of businesses).

The announcement by the Baird Government of a planned Metro West project indicates that there will be some quite difficult design challenges for Badgerys Creek rail links because it is now clear that, of the multiple aims which our own FastLink concept recognised, the commuting part east of Parramatta may have a pre-determined basic solution - metro train sets (Alstom Metropolis variety) and up to 12 station stops (press reports here and here). It is claimed that these can be run fast enough such that a separate "express" service, using passing loops on all but 4 of the Metro stations, will enable transit times of 15 minutes Sydney to Parramatta and 12 minutes beyond that to WSA. However, numerous engineers we have consulted have all found fault, or potential problems, with such a concept, and actually doubt such estimates for the type of rolling stock envisaged. It may well be that the two aims (relief of commuting demand for the Western Line east of Parramatta, and what now appears to be the secondary aim of a link to WSA) mlght not be easily reconciled without separating them and having a duplication of tunnels (or larger twin track tunnels) east of Westmead. Unless, that is, the two governments decide differently on the question of rolling stock that can serve both aims, which we think is possible on world markets, but was not within the WSRN Study specifications. Or if NSW funds it all.

Recognising that the Commonwealth has only committed to a 10 million passenger per annum airport in its defined 1st Stage, it may be difficult for NSW to mount a business case for a rail service to WSA (even as a metro extension, which we don't define as adequate). Likewise, we strongly believe that the business case for a full north-south rail link as pushed by the Western Sydney Rail Alliance, between Campbelltown and St Marys via WSA (Nb favoured by Labor and some western Councils) would be poor and that this should be a longer term ambition, merely needing corridor reservation for the present. Therefore the most likely scenario at present (early June'17), in our view, remains one of delay to establishment of rail links, and WSA starting its life with roads-only solutions perhaps, returning to ex-PM Abbott's now famous characterisation of us all being "kings in our cars".


   Evolving Metro West into a satisfactory dual purpose solution

Following upon recognition of the two key challenges of (1) "Metro" branding and (2) TfNSW, so far, only planning east of Parramatta, our engineering design consultant Russel Lunney has produced the following well argued case for instead evolving the metro concept into one with far greater capacity and higher speed (not just top speed, which is less important for short sprints between our station locations, but with faster acceleration and better braking): "Sydney Metro West - Time to leave the slow lane" (January, 2017). Moreover, he has specifically taken into account both the WSA requirement and the potential of the Western Sydney Employment Area, and not just the future of Parramatta as a 2nd CBD. In his latest version, he addresses the desire for extra station stops with just two more than we originally proposed, but he has wisely tempered the number of extra stops due to the likely impact of the go-ahead for a 1st stage of Parramatta Light Rail, from Westmead to Olympic Park - which has the capacity to handle movement across the GPOP* with much more car and bus replacement potential than a metro (that is, many more pick-up and drop-off locations, which should be better for developers of the higher density in those regions sought by NSW Urbangrowth).

*Greater Parramatta to Olympic Park region, as described by the Greater Sydney Commission.


To summarise our position:-

We believe planning for Western Sydney Airport has understated its potential if there is a sufficiently fast rail link. We wrote to the Prime Minister in that regard, as shown in this copy of our letter of 3/11/16: Letter to PM Turnbull.

Metro-style will not be fast enough, nor is it the desirable branding. Nor will it have enough capacity for the long term projected population of Western Sydney and the 2nd stage of WSA, and for integration of HSR both south and north of Sydney.

In private correspondence, we've informed key politicians of financial architecture elements for airport and transport planning which we suggest would maximise the outcome of the "build / populate/ finance"  process that WSA needs.

© Copyright Financial-Architects.Asia, Financial-Architects.Asia Pty Ltd, 2017

Train, road images attribution Wikimedia Commons, except where otherwise shown




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