Transportation Planning Casebook/Fast(er) Rail in NSW

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Summary[edit | edit source]

The New South Wales (NSW) Faster Rail Program is a significant government initiative to improve regional rail services and reduce travel times between regional centres and Sydney, Australia's largest city. The program, officially announced by the NSW government in November 2020, is part of the government's broader transport infrastructure plan and includes upgrading existing rail infrastructure and introducing new rail lines to provide passengers with faster and more reliable services[1] .

The program includes several key projects, such as upgrading the North Coast Line between Sydney and Brisbane, constructing a new rail line between the Western Sydney Aerotropolis and St Marys, and introducing faster and more frequent services on several regional rail corridors.

The NSW government has committed $2.8 billion towards the program, which will fund planning and design work, construction and upgrade works, and purchasing new rolling stock. The government has also indicated that it will explore other funding options, such as public-private partnerships, to support the delivery of the program[2].

While the program is still in its early stages, the government has made progress on several fronts, including planning and design work, community engagement, and some early construction and upgrade works. The government has indicated that construction of the upgrades and new rail lines will commence in stages over the coming years, subject to the completion of planning and design work, environmental assessments, and funding arrangements. The program is expected to significantly benefit passengers, regional communities, and the broader NSW economy by improving connectivity, reducing travel times, and supporting economic growth and development[3].

NSW Faster Rail is expected to provide several benefits to New South Wales upon its completion, including:

  1. Improved regional connectivity: The railway will provide faster and more frequent services between regional centres and Sydney, improving regional connectivity and making it easier for people to access education, employment, and other opportunities.
  2. Reduced travel times: The upgrades and new rail lines will reduce travel times between regional centres and Sydney, making it easier for people to commute, travel, and conduct business.
  3. Economic growth and development: The railway is expected to support economic growth and development in regional centres by improving connectivity and making it easier for businesses to access markets and customers.
  4. Environmental benefits: The upgrades and new rail lines will provide a more sustainable mode of transport, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and helping to address climate change.
  5. Improved quality of life: The railway will provide a more comfortable and convenient mode of transport, improving the quality of life for people in regional centres and making it easier for them to access services and amenities.

Overall, the Faster Rail program is expected to provide significant benefits to the people of New South Wales, improving connectivity, reducing travel times, and supporting economic growth and development.

Actors Involved[edit | edit source]

Actor Category Actor Interest/Involvement
State Government Transport for NSW Its responsibilities include managing funding arrangements, conducting environmental assessments, managing stakeholder engagement, and ensuring that the various projects are delivered on time and within budget. Transport for NSW also works closely with other departments and agencies involved in the project to ensure that the various projects are delivered in a coordinated and integrated way[4].
Sydney Trains Sydney Trains is responsible for operating and maintaining the rail network in the Sydney metropolitan area. As part of the NSW Faster Rail Program, Sydney Trains will be responsible for introducing faster and more frequent services on several regional rail corridors. Its responsibilities include coordinating with other rail operators to ensure a seamless service for passengers, managing the introduction of new rolling stock, and ensuring that the new services meet the required safety and quality standards[5].
Rail Infrastructure Alliance The Rail Infrastructure Alliance is responsible for delivering the upgrade of the North Coast Line between Sydney and Brisbane. Its responsibilities include undertaking design and construction work on the project, as well as managing stakeholder engagement and environmental assessments. The Rail Infrastructure Alliance is also responsible for managing the delivery of the project within budget and on time, and for ensuring that the project meets the required safety and quality standards[6].
Transport Projects Division The Transport Projects Division is responsible for the delivery of major transport infrastructure projects, including the NSW Faster Rail Program. Its responsibilities include overseeing the planning, design, and delivery of the various rail upgrades and new rail lines that are part of the program, managing funding arrangements, and ensuring that the various projects are delivered on time and within budget. The Transport Projects Division also works closely with other departments and agencies involved in the project to ensure that the various projects are delivered in a coordinated and integrated way[7].
Part of the Department for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Sets standards for air quality.

Standards for disposal of affected soil from construction sites.

Standards for disposal of excavated soil.

Local Government Central Coast The first project within the NSW Faster Rail programme is the Wyong to Tuggerah rail upgrade which will see four tracks on a 5km section of line encompassing both Wyong and Tuggerah stations.[8][9][10] This will not only involve the previously mentioned TfNSW but it will also involve Central Coast Council as the work will tie in with other public domain and traffic improvements in Wyong town centre.[11]
Federal Government National Faster Rail Authority (NFRA) The National Faster Rail Agency (NFRA) is the federal department established in 2019 by the Morrison government that is responsible for "supporting economic growth and social opportunity through faster rail connections between major capital cities and growing regional centres".[12]
Interest Groups Communities along the railway Local communities along the railway corridor affected by the project are a key interest group. They have a direct interest in this project as it will affect their daily lives. The local community is concerned about issues such as noise, disruption of local services, and potential environmental impacts of the project[13].
Tourist groups Tourist groups are also interested in the project, as it has the potential to increase tourism in regional areas. They are particularly interested in the potential for faster and more frequent services between major tourist destinations, which could lead to increased visitor numbers and revenue[14].
Industry companies Business groups are interested in the project as it has the potential to increase economic activity and create new job opportunities. They are particularly interested in the potential benefits of improved transport links between regional centres and major cities, which could lead to increased investment and economic growth[15].

Timeline of Events[edit | edit source]

Electrification and express services (~1982)[edit | edit source]

In 1964, the first High-Speed train - the Shinkansen - was launched in Japan, and it seemed to be economically successful. Several European countries followed and started operating High-Speed Train services such as the French TGV in 1981[16]. Australia also sought the possibility of the speed improvement of trains. As all Shinkansen lines are electrified, electrification is one of the keys to High-Speed Train services. In 1979, researchers revealed that electrification could accelerate the speed of trains in the case of the train line between Sydney and Melbourne[16]. The study showed that improving speed could lead to saving travel time, energy, labour costs and maintenance costs. Therefore, a plan of electrification seemed to be proposed. Indeed, Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser supported the proposal, and the possibility of the plan was examined by the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources[16]. However, they rejected the proposal because of economic impacts and the efficiency of energy[16].

Although the electrification plan was rejected, the New South Wales government started operating express services by developing diesel-engine cars: XPT. The XPT connects major cities such as Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne, and it was launched in 1982[16][17]. Power cars were placed at both ends of the train, so one power car pushes, and the other one pulls the train[17]. Maximum speed is approximately 160km/h, slower than the British InterCity125 is it based on[16]. The trains are capable of higher speeds, a test run shows the train could run 193km/h in 1992, but they are still limited to the 160km/h track speed[16].

High-Speed Rail plans to connect major cities of Australia (1982~2018)[edit | edit source]

Several High-Speed Train plans were proposed and rejected or abandoned in Australia. CSRIO proposed High-Speed Train between Sydney and Canberra, and the line would be operated via trains based on the French TGV[16]. However, the plan seemed to have some financial issues. The initial costs may achieve 2.5 billion dollars, and revenue was estimated to be 120 million dollars while operation costs might be 50 million dollars[16]. Therefore, the plan was rejected due to financial issues.

The Very Fast Train (VFT) is another Australian High-Speed rail proposal. The joint venture for the project was founded in 1986, and this is a private venture[16]. The venture proposed High-Speed Train lines between Sydney and Melbourne via Canberra as with CSRIO’s plan[16]. To analyse the feasibility, some investigations seemed to be conducted. In 1980, the VFT venture was found to be feasible economically and technologically[16]. However, the proposal was not supported by the government so the plan was abandoned[16]. It may be the result of other factors. For instance, environmental impact was a concern, and the partial deregulation of aviation market making air travel more competitive[16].

Similarly, the High-Speed train proposal from Speedrail Pty. Ltd. and abandoned due to the government’s concerns. Speedrail Pty Ltd proposed the line between Sydney and Canberra in 1993[16]. To seek feasibility, the line was investigated again in 1999. It seemed to have several advantages such as creating job opportunities[16]. Compared to the Very Fast Train, the joint venture showed that it was feasible without any tax reduction[16]. However, the government rejected the plan because huge subsidies seemed to be needed[16].

The NSW Government government and the ACT government still sought the possibility of High-Speed Train. In 1990, they show the interests toward Swedish high-speed train: the X2000 tilt train[16]. This train is operated at over 200km/h[18] and is manufactured and operates in Sweden[16][19]. In 1995, the X2000 tilt train was trialled by the NSW government to investigate the feasibility of the train in rural areas[16][19]. The trial was unsuccessful and the government concluded that the tilt train may not be suitable for the line between Sydney and Canberra[16].

Other studies of the feasibility of the High-Speed train were conducted by Anthony Albanese, then Federal Minister for Transport and Infrastructure. This study was announced in 2010 and was released in 2013[16]. This study examined construction costs, demand, travel times, speed, estimated distance, and carbon emissions on a proposed line between Sydney and Melbourne via Canberra.

Recent NSW Faster Rail plans to connect major cities (2018~2023)[edit | edit source]

In contrast to previous attempts to connect state capitals, in recent years, the NSW government's Faster Rail proposal seeks only to connect major cities in NSW and the ACT[2]. In 2018, the New South Wales government released their vision for the next 20 years[20] according to which they plan to create new job opportunities and encourage population growth in regional areas with Faster Rail being a key part of this[21]. In general, transport infrastructure accelerates the economy of countries, enhances social inclusion and well-being, and creates job opportunities. In 2018, the government the plan for Faster Rail to connect major cities and allocate a budget to investigate the feasibility of the project[2]. The investigation is still ongoing in 2023. One route, that between Sydney and Canberra, is very similar to High-Speed Rail plans proposed over the last 50 years.

Table 1: Timeline of Events
Time Event(s)
1979 Electrifying the train line between Melbourne and Sydney was investigated[16].
1982 The New South Wales XPT started providing its services in New South Wales[16].
1984 The line of High-Speed Rail between Sydney and Melbourne via Canberra was proposed by the CSRIO[16].
1986 The VFT Joint Venture was formed[16].
1990 The VFT Joint Venture was disbanded[16].
1993 The High-Speed Rail between Sydney and Canberra was proposed by Speedrail Pty Ltd[16].
1990 The New South Wales government and the Australian Capital Territory government were seeking the feasibility of a tilt train: X2000 tilt train[16].
1995 The X2000 tilt train was manufactured, and the New South Wales government examined the train[16][19].
2010 The federal government started investigating the feasibility of High-Speed Rail for Australia[22].
2013 The federal government released their studies about High-Speed Rail, however no solid action occured[22].
2018 A 20-Year Economic Vision for Regional NSW was released by the New South Wales Government[2]. New South Wales Government indicated 4 potential routes of Faster Rail[23][24].
2020 The NSW's vision about Faster Rail: "A Fast Rail Future for NSW" was released[25].
2021 Faster Rail Report was revealed by Australian Railway Association[26]. Consumer research was conducted to assess the effect of Faster Rail[27]. $298 million was allocated for Faster Rail for the next four years[24].
2022 Fast Rail was included in Future Transport Strategy[28]. Site investigations were planned to be conducted[29]. $275 million was allocated for Faster Rail for the next four years[24].
2023 Site investigation may be conducted.

Map of Locations[edit | edit source]

Figure1: Fast(er) Rail in NSW[2][30]

Figure 1 shows the proposed routes and stations of Faster Rail. There are 4 potential routes for investigation[2]:

  • Northern Corridor connects Sydney to Port Macquarie via Newcastle. The route's distance is estimated at approximately 350km.
  • Western Corridor is also a potential route. This route is from Orange to Sydney, and the distance of the Corridor is approximately 220km.
  • Southern Inland Corridor is a potential corridor between Canberra and Sydney, and the distance of the route is approximately 260km.
  • Southern Coastal Corridor is the shortest route out of the four routes, and the distance is estimated at approximately 130km. This route connects Sydney to Nowra.

In addition to this, the New South Wales government indicates estimated travel time for the routes. Table 2 shows the travel time comparison between the current time of travel and the time in the case of Faster Rail.

Table 2: Comparison of travel time
Route Current time Faster Rail Reduced time
Northern Corridor (Sydney - Newcastle) 2h35m[2] 2h[2] 35m
Western Corridor (Sydney - Orange) 4h55m[31] N/A N/A
Southern Inland Corridor (Sydney - Canberra) 4h7m[2] 3h[2] 1h7m
Southern Coastal Corridor (Sydney - Nowra) 2h39m[2] 2h[2] 39m

Policy Issues[edit | edit source]

Investment and funding issue[edit | edit source]

The NSW government has spent $87m on planning for its fast rail strategy since 2019, and has even spent about $100m on the project's feasibility study[32], while expanding infrastructure investment and the COVID-19 pandemic have increased the state's debt. The future faster railway plan is expected to require significant investment, such as improving infrastructure and purchasing efficient power systems to increase the speed and energy efficiency of trains.[33] The government needs to consider how to raise funds and sources of funds as well as how to ensure the effective utilisation of funds.

Improving transport efficiency and speed[edit | edit source]

One of the policy issues for NSW faster rail is how to improve the efficiency and speed of rail transport, including updating trains, increasing the number of trains, and improving infrastructure.[34] Some Transport planning experts argued that the focus should be on building a relatively straightforward first section of track rather than the mega project of tunnels required for the Sydney-Newcastle corridor that the government has designated as a priority.[35]

Environmental issues[edit | edit source]

The environmental impact of the faster rail program is also an important policy issue. The construction of fast rail may bring air pollution[36] and noise pollution to residents living around the line. Policy issues include how to reduce these negative impacts, what environmental protection measures to enact, and how to conduct environmental assessment and monitoring.

Land issues[edit | edit source]

The faster rail plan will require new rail construction or renovation of existing rail lines in some places. This will involve land acquisition. Land use changes have significant impacts on local communities. As of yet none of the fast rail tracks indicated by McNaughton have had any land acquired by the NSW government.[32] The policy issues include how to coordinate land use for the project while ensuring community participation and an assessment of social impact with appropriate mitigation measures.

Follow-up implementation issues[edit | edit source]

Faster rail was announced by the New South Wales government at the end of 2018[37] but there has been little substantial progress since then[10]. The Guardian reported the Perrottet government had abandoned its vision of building its own dedicated faster rail line between Sydney and Newcastle[32], despite the government's announcement that it will spend $500m on a faster rail service between Sydney and the Central Coast[38]. In mid-December the Rapid Rail project team, which had been developing the final business case for the Newcastle corridor, was told that building new dedicated track was no longer a consideration for the state government. [39] People from the development team were redeployed to smaller projects, adding extra track to short lines of the existing suburban train network. A spokesman for the Greater Cities Commission highlighted that the High Speed Rail Authority (HSRA) was not yet in existence and declined to identify any advancements the organisation had made in its fast rail engagement with the Commonwealth.[32] While the first stage of the Faster Rail plan is underway in the form of the Tuggerah to Wyong upgrade and new Intercity and Regional fleets, future stages remain in doubt.

Narrative of the Case[edit | edit source]

Motives and Funding[edit | edit source]

The proposal for faster rail in NSW aligns with the 20-Year Economic Vision for Regional NSW plan, which was released in July 2018 with the aim of improving economic and social connections between the regional areas of NSW. Although intercity trains are currently in operation, their ageing services and infrastructure have prompted the need for faster rail to improve connectivity to regional centres along four major corridors. This proposal would encourage the exploration of more opportunities in those areas, such as alternative housing, employment, and lifestyle choices, without significantly compromising access to major cities and international hubs.

Since the introduction of the plan in 2019, the NSW Government has invested $87.2 million into the planning of faster rail up until the 2021-22 financial year. The government has announced a $500 million investment into faster rail for the 2022-23 financial year, which includes early stages of the Northern Corridor route as well as further planning and development. At this time, the total estimated cost of the project has not been determined.

Routes[edit | edit source]

The investigation into faster rail in NSW is focused on four potential major corridors: the Northern corridor, Western corridor, Southern inland corridor, and Southern coastal corridor. The Northern corridor connects Sydney to Port Macquarie (350km), bypassing Gosford, Newcastle, and Taree. The Western corridor connects Sydney to Orange (220km), bypassing Bathurst and Lithgow. The Southern inland corridor connects Sydney to Canberra (260km), bypassing Goulburn. The Southern coastal corridor connects Sydney to Nowra (130km), bypassing Wollongong. Among the regional cities mentioned earlier, Newcastle, the Central Coast, and Wollongong are the second, third, and fourth most populated cities in NSW, respectively, after Sydney[40].

Stages and Service Fleets[edit | edit source]

Given the large distances of the corridors, the NSW Government has announced a staged approach to delivery. The early stages will involve upgrading and optimising existing routes and fleets, allowing for faster, more reliable, and comfortable journeys. The target speed for this stage is up to 200km/h, which would reduce travel times from Sydney to regional centres by approximately 25%. Later stages will involve dedicated investment in high-speed rails, including new lines, routes, and rolling stock. The rail in this stage aims to reach speeds over 250km/h, which may potentially reduce travel times to regional centres by 75%. It is estimated that journey times from Sydney to Canberra could be reduced from 4 hours to 1 hour, Sydney to Newcastle from 2 hours 35 minutes to 45 minutes, and Sydney to Wollongong from 1 hour 25 minutes to 30 minutes.

Discussion Questions[edit | edit source]

  • Does Australia need high-speed rail, is this the best place to investment in public transport?
  • Do the costs of the NSW program in particular stack up? Will the program be continued by governments into the future?
  • Was it correct to phase the project the way it was? Should we pursue a gradual approach to improvements like Japan and the UK or a jump straight to HSR like the USA and China?
  • Is our rail system adequate? What areas should we improve?
  • Why does Australia not have railways operating at speeds above 160km/h? Do we need faster lines as this project proposes and what improvements should we prioritise in that case?

See Also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. NSW, Transport for (2018-12-04). "Fast rail network to transform Australia". Retrieved 2023-04-17.
  2. a b c d e f g h i j k l Cabinet, Department of Premier and (2020-01-21). "A fast rail future for NSW". NSW Government. Retrieved 2023-04-17.
  3. Cabinet, Department of Premier and (2020-01-21). "A fast rail future for NSW". NSW Government. Retrieved 2023-04-20.
  4. NSW, Transport for (2017-05-17). "Projects". Retrieved 2023-04-20.
  5. "NSW Fast Rail Program - Infrastructure Pipeline". Retrieved 2023-04-20.
  6. "Metro Tunnel - Rail Infrastructure Alliance". AECOM. Retrieved 2023-04-20.
  7. NSW, Transport for (2017-05-17). "Projects". Retrieved 2023-04-20.
  8. National Faster Rail Agency (2023). "Projects".
  9. March 31, Eddie |; Pm |, 2022 at 5:21 (2022-03-28). "$1BN coming down the track for high-speed rail". Central Coast News. Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  10. a b "NSW Fast Rail Program - Infrastructure Pipeline". Retrieved 2023-04-20.
  11. "Big wins for Central Coast in State Budget - Central Coast News" (in en-US). Central Coast News. 2022-06-21. 
  12. National Faster Rail Authority (2022). "About".
  13. "NSW Fast Rail Program - Infrastructure Pipeline". Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  14. Rabe, Matt O'Sullivan, Tom (2022-05-11). "'Radically faster': Parramatta at centre of NSW's high-speed rail future". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  15. CFTH_Tiffany (2023-03-07). "Urging the NSW Government to keep fast rail plans on track". Committee For The Hunter. Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  16. a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae Panjratan (2022-10-17). "Australia's High-Speed Rail Network". Hawker Britton. Retrieved 2023-04-20.
  17. a b Transport for NSW, Customer Experience Division. "XPT Regional Trains". Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  18. Rail.Ninja TM (2023). "SJ High-Speed Train | Rail.Ninja". Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  19. a b c Worthington, Tom (1995). "X2000". Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  20. NSW, Department of Regional (2020-02-03). "A 20-Year Economic Vision for Regional NSW - Refresh". NSW Government. Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  21. NSW, Department of Regional (2021-01-27). "About the Vision". NSW Government. Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  22. a b Hawker Britton (2013). "High Speed Rail" (PDF). Retrieved 21 April 2023.
  23. Modaro, Erin (2022-12-28). "NSW high-speed rail plan between Sydney and Newcastle kept under wraps by government". City Hub Sydney | Your Local Independent News. Retrieved 2023-04-20.
  24. a b c Infrastructure Partnerships Australia (2020). "NSW Fast Rail Program - Infrastructure Pipeline". Retrieved 2023-04-20.
  25. New South Wales Government (2020). "A Fast Rail Future for NSW" (PDF). Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  26. Australian Railway Association (2021). "Faster Rail Report" (PDF). Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  27. Australasian Railway Association (2023). "Faster rail". Australasian Railway Association. Retrieved 2023-04-20.
  28. Place, Movement and (2022-09-15). "Future Transport Strategy". Retrieved 2023-04-20.
  29. NSW, Transport for (2022-06-11). "Fast rail on track to transform NSW". Retrieved 2023-04-20.
  30. Google (2023). "Google Maps". Google Maps. Retrieved 2023-04-20. {{cite web}}: |last= has generic name (help)CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  31. Transport for NSW, Customer Experience Division (n.d.). "Trip Planner". Retrieved 2023-04-20.
  32. a b c d Visontay, Elias; Transport, Elias Visontay; reporter, urban affairs (2023-03-02). "NSW slams brakes on high-speed rail plans after spending $100m on studies" (in en-GB). The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. 
  33. Australian Government, Infrastructure Australia (27 February 2023). "Newcastle–Sydney and Wollongong–Sydney rail line upgrades".
  34. NSW, Transport for (2022-06-11). "Fast rail on track to transform NSW". Retrieved 2023-04-19.
  35. Visontay, Elias; Transport, Elias Visontay; reporter, urban affairs (2023-02-23). "Australia’s high-speed rail should be rolled out in small stages with Sydney to Canberra first, experts say" (in en-GB). The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. 
  36. Wang, Feng; Shan, Jing; Liu, Juan; Fan, Wenna; Yan, Bin; Zhao, Hui; Luo, Shan (2022-05-20). "How does high-speed rail construction affect air pollutant emissions? Evidence from the Yangtze River Delta Urban Agglomeration in China". Journal of Cleaner Production. 350: 131471. doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2022.131471. ISSN 0959-6526.
  37. Laird, Philip. "NSW on a slow track to fast trains: promised regional rail upgrades are long overdue". The Conversation. Retrieved 2023-04-19.
  38. Press, Australian Associated (2022-06-11). "NSW government pledges $500m for faster rail services between Sydney and Central Coast" (in en-GB). The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. 
  39. Writers, Staff (2022-09-14). "New authority to fast track work on high speed rail". Government News. Retrieved 2023-04-19.
  40. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2022) 2021 Australian Census, Retrieved 2023-04-20.