By any definition, the Sydney Metro is an ambitious undertaking: Australia’s biggest public transport development, with 31 metro stations and more than 66km of new metro rail, connecting a city of more than four million people.
The idea was proposed back in 2012 as part of the Sydney’s Rail Future initiative, an ongoing scheme that aims to increase rail capacity in the region to cope with the anticipated population increase. Estimates suggest it could jump to as high as 6.4 million by 2036 in Sydney alone, with New South Wales (NSW) potentially hitting nine million by the same date.
The initiative started life with the North West Rail Link, before it was rebranded Sydney Metro Northwest, which is stage one of the overall project. A second stage, Sydney Metro City & Southwest, was given the green light in 2014.
As a whole, this means that soon Sydney will be home to a new sprawling transport network, targeting 40,000 customers per hour. This, says a Transport for NSW spokesperson, “compares to Sydney’s current suburban system which can reliably carry 24,000 people an hour per line”.
Opening of Sydney’s Northwest metro
The Northwest section of the metro is due to open in 2019, at a cost of $8.3bn. Transport for NSW plans to run trains every four minutes, or 15 an hour, during peak times, stopping at eight new stations and an additional five that have been upgraded.
There are 16 construction sites in operation, and work on the 15km twin tunnels between Epping and Bella Vista Station has been completed.
“Work is currently underway to build and fit-out stations, lay tracks, install the electrical and mechanical equipment,” explains the spokesperson.
Between Kellyville and Rouse Hill an elevated Skytrain will take the Northwest section above ground for 4km, stopping at two new stations. However, in December, concerns were raised after it was revealed that a section of the Skytrain buckled due to failings in the construction process. "We regard this as a very significant incident and we've taken it very seriously and we've taken some months to look through this," said project director of Sydney Metro NorthWest, Rodd Staples, at the time.
The Sydney Metro project team anticipates that up to 200,000 people will move into the North West region over the coming years, taking its population above 600,000, which is twice the size of Canberra. More than 30 million trips a year are expected between Cudgegong Rd and Chatswood within seven years of the opening.
Speaking in January, Staples was keen to impress the point that the metro will get people off the roads and out of their cars – perhaps even more important over the next few years if population predictions are correct.
“Areas like the North West, which have very high dependency on cars at the moment because there isn’t much public transport,” he said. “We’re looking at reducing car trips by something like 14 million a year. That’s around 12,000 fewer cars in a peak hour traveling around in the North West area.
“We have looked globally at the experience of world-class transport systems because we don’t have any easy comparators here in the Sydney given the scale of what we’re doing.”
A ‘Metro City’
As the anticipated opening of the Northwest route approaches, work on phase two is gathering speed.
Metro City & Southwest is a 30km extension from the end of phase one at Chatswood, running under Sydney Harbour through to the new stations in the central business district (CBD) and onto Bankstown in the South West.
Construction will see 15km twin railway tunnels created and work is expected to start before the end of 2018. Trains will run every two minutes in each direction.
In early January, the twin tunnels under Sydney Harbour received formal planning approval, hailed by the minister for transport and infrastructure Andrew Constance as “an unprecedented boost to rail capacity for our great city”. However, with a bill of £12bn and numerous buildings earmarked for demolition as part of the process, it is not without its critics.
Dr Mehreen Faruqi, NSW MP for the Green party, told news.com.au that Metro City & Southwest is “unscrutinised, ill-conceived”. She added: “Instead of investing the $12bn in expanding public transport to underserved areas like Western Sydney, stage two…mostly replaces existing lines and builds stations in the North Shore and city that are already well-serviced.”
However, with approval now granted officials have pencilled in an opening date of 2024.
“Sydney Metro, together with signalling and infrastructure upgrades across the existing Sydney rail network, will increase the capacity of train services entering the Sydney CBD from about 120 an hour today to up to 200 services beyond 2024,” says the Transport for NSW spokesperson. “That’s an increase of up to 60% capacity across the network to meet demand.”
Metro West: another piece of the puzzle
Not content with two huge endeavours, late last year the NSW Government revealed its plan for Sydney Metro West, an underground metro service linking the Parramatta and Sydney CBDs.
Government statistics suggest that over the next 20 years, 420,000 people could move into the corridor between Greater Parramatta and Central Sydney, putting pressure on the more than a century old T1 Western Line, which is operating at 135% seated capacity, according to government figures.
Indications at this early stage suggest it could be in operation by the second half of the 2020s.
“The next step is to start talking with the community and industry about potential station locations,” says the NSW spokesperson. “Key precincts already identified include Parramatta, Sydney Olympic Park, Bays Precinct and into the Sydney CBD – [all] key growth areas.”
Sydney Metro has not disclosed the potential cost but reports in the Australian press claim it could be up to $10bn.
Going fully automated
What about the trains that will run on the newly laid track and tunnels?
They will be manufactured by Alstom, customised for Sydney but based on the Metropolis train, which is used in 25 cities, including metros in Singapore, Barcelona and Amsterdam. Alstom will also install its computer based train control system, Urbalis 400.
Each trainset will include 38 security cameras, as well as a team monitoring the performance of what will be Australia’s first fully automated railway. There will also be platform screen doors, “common around the world but a first for Australia”, adds the NSW spokesperson.
Now thoughts turn to 2019 and the much-anticipated inaugural service.