More stations should be considered on one of Sydney’s largest rail projects, a review has found.
And the review has expressed serious concern about a lack of transparency on cost overruns and delays.
The NSW Legislative Assembly Committee on Transport and Infrastructure has released the final edition of its Report on the Sydney West Metro Project.
Whilst the report found that support for the project remains strong, there are concerns about its alignment, route and planning.
These are in addition to previously stated concerns about transparency relating to time and cost blowouts as expressed in the previous interim report published late last year.
It recommended that the NSW Government:
- Strongly consider adding additional stations on the seven kilometre stretch of track between Parramatta and Sydney Olympic Park.
- Consider developing a business case on the potential to amend the route alignment to support housing uplift between Parramatta and Sydney Olympic Park.
- Consider adding an additional station between Five Dock and The Bays.
- Consider the value of amending the route alignment to add an eastern extension to the project.
- Complete master plans for all currently planned and potential additional stations to support housing and economic uplift along the rail corridor.
- Consider establishing a single authority for the project’s management.
The report follows earlier announcement late last year that the government would consider two new stations between Olympic Park and Parramatta but would not extend the line eastward from the CBD to Zetland and potentially to Moore Park and Randwick as part of the project’s initial opening.
Set to open in 2032, the Sydney Metro West Project is expected to double rail capacity between the Sydney CBD and rapidly growing hub of Parramatta via 24 kilometres of underground railway.
It was announced by the former Liberal state government in 2016.
Early construction began in 2020 and tunnelling commenced in 2023.
It was referred to the Committee by Transport Minister Jo Haylen in August last year after the newly elected Labor Government came into power last March.
It was referred amid concerns about cost blowouts and delays as well as concerns about the proposed route and distance between stations.
These cost blowouts and delays have seen the project’s original budget blow out by at least $12 billion to a current cost estimate of $25.32 billion and have seen the project’s completion date pushed out from the second half of this decade to 2032.
According to the report, the project still enjoys strong stakeholder support. Industry groups, councils and others consider it to be a major city-shaping project that will deliver enormous benefits for decades to come.
In terms of the cost blowouts and delays, the final report restates findings in the Committee’s initial report that its ability to inquire into these matters has been limited.
For starters, the Committee has not been able to access a copy of the project’s original business case. This is because Sydney Metro, Infrastructure NSW and Transport for NSW say they are unable to provide this as the document was Cabinet in Confidence.
The Committee was also not able to obtain detailed evidence on the likely cause of cost blowouts and time delays.
Meanwhile, information on project costs was extremely limited.
Given the magnitude of taxpayer investment that the project involves, the Committee says that the limitation on available information is highly concerning.
Beyond business case considerations, the report found that support for the project overall remained strong.
Indeed, there is a widely held belief among key stakeholders that the project represents a critical piece of infrastructure for Sydney and New South Wales.
Nevertheless, the report uncovered concerns about the project’s planning, alignment and route.
First, there is concern that about the distance between confirmed stations along the route.
As things stand, confirmed stations along the route include Westmead, Parramatta, Sydney Olympic Park, North Strathfield, Burwood North, Five Dock, The Bays, Pyrmont and Hunter Street in the CBD.
Whereas the distance between stations on metros in New York, London and Tokyo averages between 1.1 and 2 kilometres, that on Sydney Metro West averages as many as three kilometres.
In particular, there are concerns about a seven-kilometre gap between Parramatta and Sydney Olympic Park as well as the five-kilometre gap between Five Dock and The Bays precinct.
The former would represent one of the longest distances between stations on any metro system anywhere in the world, developer lobby group the Urban Taskforce told the inquiry.
As a result, there are concerns that the new metro would fail to effectively service several areas along the corridor.
Such long distances between stations may also restrict opportunities to create uplift in terms development of new housing and employment within close proximity to metro stations -a phenomenon that is commonly known as transit-oriented development.
It said the initial project planning had placed too greater emphasis on speed of travel and the perceived need to achieve travel times of 20 minutes between Sydney and Parramatta.
This had been influenced by the then Turnbull Liberal Government’s focus on 30-minute cities.
In addition to speed, the Committee noted the importance of promoting connectivity and accessibility around the travel network along with the need to maximise opportunities to deliver high volumes of new housing in and around transport stops.
This latter point is critical in light of current housing shortages and the need to unlock affordable housing delivery.
In response, the Committee recommended that the NSW Government consider addition additional stations between Parramatta and Sydney Olympic Park and between Five Dock and the Bays.
Suggested potential stations on the former route include Camellia, Newington, Rydalmere, Silverwater and Rosehill.
In relation to the latter, meanwhile, suggestions have been put forward that a station either at Lilyfield or Lilyfield North would add high value and could enable passengers to connect between the Inner West Light Rail.
The Committee also recommended that the Government develop a business case on the feasibility of amending the route alignment to support housing uplift between Parramatta and Sydney Olympic Park.
In a further recommendation, The Committee suggested that the Government consider the value of adding an additional eastern extension to the project.
One potential option could include extending the project in an easterly direction toward Zetland so as to address an existing transport deficit at Green Square, which is expected to accommodate around 63,000 to 70,000 residents and 22,0000 workers by 20236.
Another option could be a metro station at the sporting, entertainment, education and commercial hub of Moore Park to address existing public transport challenges in this area.
(As noted above, the Government in an earlier announcement late last year said that it would consider two new stations between Olympic Park and Parramatta but would not extend the project eastward as part of the original opening.)
Beyond extra stations and route alignment, The Committee also criticised a lack of master planning for the project.
A master plan in a clear overarching plan to define strategies for the physical, economic and social development of particular places according to an overall collective vision.
Thus far, only three of the nine stations which have been confirmed for the project have such a plan.
As a result, there are concerns that opportunities to unlock much needed housing and economic development along the proposed route may be being missed.
The suggested station at Camellia, for example, could provide residential development for up to 50,000 people.
The station could also generate mixed use development and support the potential expansion of the Western University campus in the town centre.
This could generate up to 25,000 high-value jobs.
As a result, the Committee recommended that master plans be completed for all planned stations as well as any additional stations between Sydney Olympic Park and Parramatta.
Galvin Melvin, Acting CEO of developer lobby group Urban Development Institute of Australia New South Wales (UDIA NSW), applauded the findings and recommendations, which he said would delivery better outcomes for surrounding communities and much needed housing through greater density around transport infrastructure.
Melvin expressed particular support for recommendations involving more stations, masterplanning and housing uplift.
“The Committee has confirmed that with some key changes, the project can provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform Sydney and support the delivery of much needed and well-planned new homes close to public transport …,” Melvin said.
“… UDIA’s research, together with our work over many years with key landowners in the Camelia-Rosehill precinct, shows that adding more railway stations to Metro West was always possible without major cost impacts and would both attract more people to the area and improve their lives …
“… If we are serious about creating accessible cities, a master plan for each station should have been considered a prerequisite for constructing a new metro rail system. This is the only way to ensure cohesive urban development, optimal integration with existing infrastructure, and alignment with long term city planning goals …
“… There’s not enough thought about the city. To be a true city-shaping project you’ve got to know the city that you’re building—and we don’t for most of our rail projects. Business cases are largely driven by travel time, not the social and economic benefits that come from creating connected cities around our transport nodes …
“… UDIA again commends the Committee on its broader city shaping focus, recognizing the wider benefits delivered through a comprehensive approach to strategic land use and infrastructure planning. The NSW Government should adopt the Committee’s recommendation to add an additional station between Five Dock and Bays West and more stations between Parramatta and Sydney Olympic Park.”
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