North West Rail Link

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For the cancelled rapid transit line, see North West Metro.
North West Rail Link
Mode Rapid transit
under construction
Owner Transport for NSW
Connects Epping, Castle Hill, Rouse Hill
Length 23 km
Stations 8
Key dates
1998 Line announced
2008 Changed to North West Metro, later cancelled
2010 Line re-announced
2014 Start of major tunnelling work
2019 or 2020 Line opened

North West Rail Link is a current project by the Government of New South Wales for a light rail rapid transit link to the north-western suburbs of Sydney, Australia. It is proposed to connect Rouse Hill to Epping via Castle Hill. The project is being managed by Transport for New South Wales and will form part of Sydney's rapid transit network.

Driverless trains will be operated on the line when it opens.[1]

History[edit]

1998 (original) proposal[edit]

The North West Rail Link was originally announced on 23 November 1998 by the then-Transport Minister in the Carr Government, Carl Scully, and was part of an $2.6 billion package of eight major rail projects due for construction by 2010 dubbed the Action for Transport 2010.[2] At the time, the proposal was for a $360 million heavy rail connection from Epping to Castle Hill, with potential extension to Mungerie Park and Rouse Hill after 2010.

Delays in 2000 by the Carr Government in releasing a draft report on the proposal led to concern about the viability of the proposed route.[3] This led to a deadlock between the State Government and Baulkham Hills Shire Council regarding construction of the $200 million Mungerie Park industrial and residential development at Kellyville. On 5 June 2000 the Council voted to defer planning approval for the Mungerie Park development until the State Government demonstrated a commitment to improve local transport infrastructure, which included building the North West rail link. In response, the State Government threatened to remove the Council's planning powers for the Rouse Hill Development Area if planning approval was not granted.[4]

Member for the then-State electorate of The Hills, Michael Richardson, submitted a Freedom of Information request for the draft report on 3 November 2000. The State Government had not responded to the request by 13 December 2000, well beyond the 21-day response limit, leading to accusations that the Government was trying to hide something.[5] The State Government formally rejected the Freedom of Information request on 9 January 2001, despite acknowledging that release of the report would be in the public interest.[6][7] As a result, the NSW Ombudsman began an investigation into NSW Transport's refusal to release the report.

News reports from March 2001 suggested that cost estimates for the Action for Transport 2010 plan had blown out so much that the scope of the plan was now reduced to an Epping to Chatswood rail link due for completion in 2008. The completion date for the Parramatta to Epping section of the original Parramatta to Chatswood link was unspecified, which meant that the North West rail link proposal was effectively deferred indefinitely—it would not be built until the Parramatta to Chatswood link was completed.[8] The Action for Transport 2010 cost blowout was seen as the reason for the State Government's refusal to release the draft report into the North West rail link route.[9]

According to Member for The Hills, Michael Richardson, the then-Premier Bob Carr effectively confirmed that the Epping to Castle Hill rail link was dead during a session of Parliament on 27 March 2001 when he refused to answer a specific question about the details of the proposed rail link.[10] There was no mention of the rail link in the 2001 budget, released the week of 30 May.[11]

A 2002 NSW Treasury report mentioned the North West rail link, and that it was "under development or investigation", but no estimate of cost or start date were provided.[12] On 10 March 2002, Transport Minister Carl Scully released a report detailing the preferred route alignment.[13] The 19 km (12 mi) route was proposed to run from Epping to Mungerie Park at Rouse Hill via Castle Hill. The cost of construction was estimated at $1.4 billion.

Public consultation on the proposal was conducted over eight weeks from 10 March to 3 May 2002.[14][15] The consultation received 118 written submissions, 73% of which were in favour of the project proceeding, and only 5% strongly opposed the project.

On 3 October 2002, the Minister announced a feasibility study for an extension of the proposed route beyond Rouse Hill to meet the existing Richmond Line.[14]

Various studies in support of the Epping to Castle Hill link were made during 2003; most of this work related to the proposed alignment of the route.[16] It was revealed on 12 August 2003 that Railcorp was considering a new $6 billion rail link that would connect Hornsby with Campbelltown via the Sydney CBD and that the North West rail link could form an extension to this route.[17]

On 9 June 2005 the State Government announced the Metropolitan Rail Expansion Plan (MREP), an $8 billion plan to add three new railway lines to the Sydney Trains network over the following 15 years. The North West Rail Link was one of the proposed railway lines, the other two being the South West Rail Link and the CBD Rail Link.[18] In 2005 the schedule was revised and a new completion date of 2017 was set.[19]

In 2006 the construction schedule was revised with a new completion date of 2017. In April 2006, the NSW Transport Infrastructure Development Corporation released the North West Rail Link Project Application and Preliminary Environmental Assessment in support of the planning approval process.[18] On 20 November 2006, the government announced a staged plan for the North West Rail Link with train services to Castle Hill and Hills Centre in 2015, two years ahead of the original completion date of 2017.

Cancellation and North West Metro[edit]

In March 2008, the Government changed the project to a metro line dubbed the North West Metro and expanded the line to run all the way to the Sydney CBD via the suburbs of Ryde, Gladesville, Drummoyne and Pyrmont. On 23 October 2008, the NSW Government announced the CBD Metro instead, a shortened version of the North West Metro which would run from Rozelle to Central station, and the project was submitted to Infrastructure Australia for funding. It was announced that North West Metro may be extended to link from Rozelle Station to Epping and Macquarie Park in the future if the CBD Metro was built. Then, on 31 October 2008, the NSW Government announced that the North West Metro would be indefinitely deferred due to budgetary cuts.[20]

Resumption of original proposal[edit]

On 21 February 2010, two and a half months after Kristina Keneally had become Premier, the NSW Government revealed the cancellation of the Sydney Metro project in its Metropolitan Transport Plan[21][22] and returned to the North West Rail Link proposal. At the time, construction was anticipated to begin in 2017.

In August 2010 the State Government applied to Infrastructure Australia for funding to accelerate the delivery of the project, but no funding was granted.[19]

2011 proposal[edit]

Following his victory in the NSW state election on 26 March 2011, newly elected Premier Barry O'Farrell announced that his first order of business would be to start construction on the North West Rail Link.[23] On 6 April 2011, Premier O'Farrell and newly installed Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian announced the project team that will be responsible for construction and delivery of the North West Rail Link.[24] It is expected that initial planning and geotechnical investigation of the route corridor will begin by the end of 2011,[25][26] with construction beginning before the 2015 state election. Some doubt these estimates and believe a construction start date in 2017 is more realistic.[27]

Call for tenders[edit]

On 15 May 2011, Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian announced that a tender had been called for engineering, rail systems and architecture services.[28][29] A tender was called on 6 June 2011 for a financial and commercial services specialist.[30] The tender documents indicate the Government's desire to appoint a financial adviser to examine the possibility of securing funding from private sources.[31] As of July 2011, the preferred financial model (public-private partnership or otherwise) is unknown, but it is anticipated that the Government will finalise the funding plan by the end of 2011. As of 5 July 2011, no application for federal funding had been made to Infrastructure Australia, despite the need for federal funds for the project to proceed.[32]

Tenders were called on 10 June 2011 for a range of services including geotechnical work, master planning and urban design, scheduling and planning support, integrated transport and land use services, and legal services.[25][26][33]

Applications for the first six of twelve tenders closed the week of 8 July 2011 with 44 proposals having been received from a range of Australian and international companies.[34][35] The first six tenders were for financial services, geotechnical investigations, integrated transport and land use studies, scheduling and program support, legal services, and master planning and urban design.[34] As part of the tender process, applicants were asked to demonstrate how they would design station precincts at the Rouse Hill, Samantha Riley Drive and Cudgegong Road sites.[35] The geotechnical information is required to determine the best method of tunnelling through the Hawkesbury sandstone that underlies much of the Sydney basin.[26]

Gladys Berejiklian announced on 14 July 2011 that the first major tender—for design services—had been awarded to a consortium led by AECOM Australia Pty. Ltd.[36][37][38][39] AECOM will be supported by Cox Architects Pty. Ltd., Grimshaw Architects and Parsons Brinckerhoff Australia Pty. Ltd. The consortium will be tasked with investigating route alignment options, rail systems, tunnel design, station locations and infrastructure planning.[37][38] AECOM also lodged applications for the master plan and integrated transport tenders.[39]

Consulting firm Turner & Townsend were awarded the tender for cost planning services on 22 July 2011.[40][41][42] According to Turner & Townsend, the company's role will be to "manage the project budget and demonstrate to the taxpayer that they are receiving maximum value for money".[41]

Establishment of Community Information Centre[edit]

On 8 June 2011, Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian announced that the North West Rail Link Community Information Centre would be established on Old Northern Road at Castle Hill.[43] The information centre officially opened on 29 June 2011 and is located opposite the Castle Towers shopping centre on Old Northern Road.[44] In its first fortnight of operation, the information centre received 453 visitors, an average of 35 per day.[45] The Premier Barry O'Farrell announced on Twitter on 28 July 2011 that around 700 people had visited the Centre in its first month of operation.[46]

Impasse over Federal funding[edit]

The Federal Government refuses to commit any funding to the North West Rail Link because it favours completion of the Parramatta to Epping section of the Parramatta to Chatswood route.[47] The refusal dates back to a promise made during the 2010 Federal election campaign—on 11 August 2010, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that the Federal Government would fund 80 per cent ($2.1 billion) of the construction of the Parramatta to Epping rail link if it were elected at the Federal election on 21 August 2010,[48][49][50] despite the Prime Minister's revelation on 16 August 2010 that the plan was not formally approved by the Federal Cabinet before the announcement was made.[51]

Premier Barry O'Farrell asked Prime Minister Julia Gillard in his first official meeting with her after becoming Premier in April 2011 to divert the Federal funds allocated to the Parramatta to Epping rail link to the North West Rail Link project.[52] Despite this, the Federal Government did not allocate any funds to the North West Rail Link in the 2011 Budget.[53] At least part of the reason for the snub, apart from the Federal Government's transport priorities, is the fact that the O'Farrell State Government did not submit a project proposal for the North West Rail Link to Infrastructure Australia.[54]

Results of a cost-benefit analysis released in November 2011 indicate that the North West Rail Link will be three times more beneficial to New South Wales than the Federal Government's preferred Parramatta to Epping extension.[55] The report also indicated that the cost of constructing the Parramatta–Epping line would cost $1.78 billion more than initially expected.

Infrastructure Australia formally rejected Infrastructure NSW's request for $2.1 billion in funding in May 2012, saying the project is "not the highest priority" transport project for Sydney. Instead, Infrastructure Australia suggested an expansion of the bus network and better transport links with Parramatta.[56] Infrastructure Australia cited the lack of a completed proposal and lack of information on cost, infrastructure and development as reasons for the rejection.[57] The State Government has vowed to build the line anyway.[57][58]

Construction[edit]

2011-12 State Budget[edit]

The NSW Government allocated $314 million towards the North West Rail Link in the 2011-12 State Budget. $222 million of this will go towards buying land along the proposed route alignment.[59] $2.5 billion was provisionally allocated to the North West Rail Link over the next four years.[60]

Commencement of geotechnical work[edit]

Coffey Geotechnics supported by AECOM were awarded the tender for geotechnical drilling services in August 2011, and drilling began on 7 September 2011. A drilling rig was set up in a park opposite the Castle Towers shopping centre at Castle Hill, where one of the underground stations will be built.[61] At least 150 boreholes with a diameter of up to 15 centimetres (5.9 in) will be drilled up to 75 metres (246 ft) deep along the proposed alignment between Epping and Rouse Hill in order to develop an understanding of the geological profile.[60] The drilling is anticipated to take about 9 weeks to complete.[62]

Major contracts awarded[edit]

There are three major contracts for the construction of the North West Rail Link. In June 2013, the tunnelling contract was awarded to a joint venture involving Leighton Holdings owned Thiess and John Holland, and Dragados.[63] In December 2013, the skytrain and surface construction contract was awarded to a joint venture between Italian firms Impregilo and Salini. The $340 million contract includes a 270 metre cable-stayed bridge over Windsor Road at Rouse Hill.[64] A third and final major contract to build the stations, operate the rail link and build single deck trains will be announced by the end of 2014.[64]

Operation of the line[edit]

As of December 2011, the State Government had not ruled out the possibility of contracting the operation, rolling stock and signalling on the North West Rail Link to private operators as part of a public-private partnership.[65]

We are focused on the longer term rail options. It's got to work as a single network, the whole network, but we are looking at private sector involvement in those as well. And we've got an open mind.

—Les Wielinga, Director-General, Transport NSW

In May 2013 it was announced that two consortium had been shortlisted to operate the line:[66]

On 24 June 2014, the Northwest Rapid Transit consortium was selected as the preferred operator to deliver the North West Rail Link operations contract.[67]

Proposed route[edit]

Original proposal[edit]

Diagram of the North West Rail Link. The line is marked in black.

The original North West Rail Link route proposal was planned to be 22 km (14 mi) in length, consisting of a 16 km (9.9 mi) tunnel (underground) section from Epping to the proposed Burns Road Station, followed by a 4 km (2.5 mi) section above ground from Burns Road Station (now Kellyville Station) to Rouse Hill. A train stabling facility was proposed to the north west of Rouse Hill Town Centre. The latest version of the original proposal proposed to connect the North West Rail Link alignment to the Epping to Chatswood Rail Link via a tunnel between Epping and Franklin Road (now Cherrybrook) stations, whereas the earliest version of the original proposal had the route alignment connect with the existing Northern Line north of Cheltenham.[68] The direct route proposed using the stub tunnels originally built for the deferred Parramatta Rail Link between Parramatta and Epping.[68] New stub tunnels for the Parramatta Rail Link were to be constructed so that if the Epping to Parramatta line were completed, trains from Parramatta would have also been able to link into the Epping-Chatswood Line.[68]

Six new stations were proposed along the North West Rail Link:

The line was scheduled to open in two stages: the first stage from Epping to Hills Centre Station was scheduled for completion by 2015 (originally 2017), and the second stage from Hills Centre to Rouse Hill Station was scheduled for completion by 2017. Construction was scheduled to begin in 2010. The original proposal called for off-peak rail service of four trains per hour, with six to eight trains per hour in peak periods. The route was expected to carry six to eight million passengers per year.

The line was originally part of the Metropolitan Rail Expansion Program (MREP) proposed by the Carr Government in 2005.[69] The MREP included the South West Rail Link, North West Rail Link and the CBD Rail Link and was intended to augment transport links between the major new growth and employment areas of the Sydney metropolitan region. The route proposal was abandoned in 2008 by the Iemma Government in favour of the development of a metro-style rapid transit system.[69][70]

2011 proposal[edit]

The route proposal put forward in May 2011 by the State Government is a 23 km (14 mi) route that calls for six new stations, and the possibility of two more at some point in the future.[19][71] The proposed stations are:

  • (connection with existing Sydney Trains system at Epping)
  • Cherrybrook
  • Castle Hill
  • Hills Centre
  • Norwest 1
  • Norwest 2[72]
  • Kellyville (Burns Road)[72]
  • Samantha Riley Drive (possible)
  • Rouse Hill
  • Cudgegong Road (possible)

The current proposed stations are listed below:[73]

Cherrybrook Station is being built as a station in a cutting, open to the sky, but below ground level while Castle Hill, Showground, Norwest and Cudgegong Road stations will be underground, whereas Kellyville and Rouse Hill will be above ground. The twin tunnels between Epping and Kellyville, at 15.5 km (9.6 mi) long,[19] will be the longest rail tunnels in Sydney when they are built.[25] They will also be the deepest tunnels in Sydney: 67 m (220 ft) below ground at the deepest point below the intersection of Pennant Hills Road and Castle Hill Road—deeper than the floor of Sydney Harbour (about 50 m (160 ft)), and much deeper than the deepest point of the City Circle tunnels at St James (about 11 m (36 ft)).[74] Most of the tunnel will be bored, although the section at Kellyville will be constructed using cut-and-cover techniques.[74][75] As of December 2011, tunnelling is expected to begin in 2014, subject to planning approval.[76]

A new train stabling yard will be constructed at Tallawong Road in Rouse Hill, with room for 16 train sets.

3,000 new parking spaces will be provided across proposed carparks at Cherrybrook, Hills Centre and Kellyville stations.[19]

Service frequency[edit]

Services will run seven days per week.[19] A report released in July 2011 indicates that upon opening of the line, four to six trains per hour will connect Rouse Hill station with Chatswood station via Epping.[77][78] Of these, only as few as 2 trains per hour will be able to continue from Chatswood to the CBD due to capacity constraints on the North Shore line.[79]

Possible future extensions[edit]

Previously there were long term plans to extend the proposed heavy-rail North West Rail Link to meet the existing Richmond branch of the Western Line near Vineyard.[80] However, the location of the alignments were never finalised and further investigation and studies would have been required.

State Government documents, dated 13 May 2011, suggest an intention to eventually extend the line to meet the Western Line near Schofields.[71] A Transport Department report dated 9 June 2011 shed more light on such plans, suggesting an extension of the North West Rail Link beyond Rouse Hill to meet the Richmond line at Schofields, Riverstone, or beyond.[81] If the extension is built, it would likely service the planned Sydney Business Park at Marsden Park, and make RAAF Base Richmond a more viable option for a second Sydney airport.

In 2013, a new proposal was raised to extend the North West Rail Link, by building a metro-style tunnel from just south of Chatswood Station via St Leonards and North Sydney and under the Sydney Harbour towards Central and Redfern, before joining the newly converted metro lines towards Hurstville, Bankstown and Liverpool.[82] This largely renews the previous proposal for the Redfern to Chatswood railway line, except with metro-style trains instead.

Criticism[edit]

  • Transport experts suggest that unless a second heavy rail link is built across Sydney Harbour from the North Shore to the CBD, the North West Rail Link will only increase congestion on the existing North Shore Line, which crosses the Sydney Harbour Bridge.[83] That a second harbour crossing is necessary has been known for some time.[13][84][85] This is because the Sydney Harbour Bridge can only accommodate 20 trains per hour, and currently already sees 18 services per hour during peak periods.[79] In addition, it is expected that passenger congestion on existing North Shore line services will increase because CBD-bound passengers on North West Rail Link services that terminate at Chatswood will be forced to transfer to the North Shore line services to continue their journeys.
  • Concern has been expressed that the proposed configuration of the North West Rail Link will not allow eastbound trains coming off the new alignment at Epping to continue south on the existing Northern Line to Strathfield station.[78] This will affect the number of trains per hour that the North West Rail Link can accommodate.
  • E-mails originating within the NSW Treasury by Principal Financial Analyst, Rodney Forrest to Rail Corporation Manager of Finance, Peter Crimp were released as part of a Parliamentary Standing Order 52 in October 2011 indicating that the North West Rail Link would have to be subsidised by the state government by about $80 per passenger based on predictions of population and passenger volumes in 2021.[86][87][88] Across the Sydney Trains network this equates to about $30 per passenger in 2021, compared to $10 per passenger in 2010. The modelling by NSW Treasury estimates that the North West Rail Link would generate only 9 million new passengers annually, or 2.15% of all CityRail trips. A Hills Shire councillor questioned the size of these estimates based on the projected population increase in the region over the next 8 years.[27]
  • The government has decided to use a type of train on the NWRL that is quite different from existing trains[89] and has contracted to bore tunnels slightly too small to ever be used by existing Sydney double-deck trains.[90] Reviews by independent experts unsurprisingly show that serious constraints on future expansion of the system will result.[91][92]
  • There has been no estimate of how long it will take to convert existing tracks for the new trains however the conversion will certainly be disruptive.[93]
  • The type of train chosen (single-deck with limited seating) is optimised for short trips with closely spaced stations and is not appropriate for 40 km trips with stations spaced about 3 km apart.[90] Expert analysis shows that double-deck trains permit more seats to be carried per hour; passengers on long trips prefer to be comfortably seated.[94]
  • Planned eventual expansion of the single-deck system will prevent or delay necessary expansion of services to the western suburbs of Sydney.[90]
  • The government has announced that the popular bus services which connect the Sydney CBD with the north-west using the M2 motorway will be withdrawn when the NWRL opens and be replaced by rail feeder services to stations on the NWRL.[95] Research has shown that trips from most of the north-west will take longer on bus-train combination than on bus alone.[96]
  • Critics have noticed that public submissions on the disadvantages of the proposal have been dismissed.[97] Meanwhile, the government member chiefly responsible for the NWRL has twice resorted to personal abuse in Parliament when asked about the project.[98][99] Further, she has been criticised for not explaining and justifying government decisions.[100]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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