Sunday, 2 February 2014

Gladys' Bottom of the Harbour Scheme

Single deck rail system (schematic) SMH
The Sydney Morning Herald ran an exclusive last Wednesday, 30th January 2014, on the results of a lengthy Freedom of Information battle with the Minister for Transport. You can read it from this link
This article drew by far the greatest number of online comments for the day, so transport is an important subject for Sydney-siders. The schematic (left) is from the print edition. Despite getting access to huge volumes of emails, after being opposed on grounds of "commercial confidentiality", there very little information on the single deck train system. No information on where the stations will be located, no information on the path of the tunnels through the CBD. No one has any clue as to what the system would cost.

Politicians from the northern beaches have been pressing for a train tunnel from the northern beaches under Middle Harbour and Port Jackson to the CBD for aeons, but this has, of course, been assessed as ludicrously uncommercial. So they have come up with a new stratagem, to use stealth and systemic deception by the public service to impose the cost on public transport users in the west, and south of the Harbour. It is hardly surprising that professionally-qualified officers in TfNSW are running around like Chicken Little.

The argument for single-deck trains put forward by the O'Farrell government is that they will be able to climb at a steeper gradient, so the depth that passengers will have to descend to the stations will  be less.  The difference in the maximum gradients practicable with single or double deck trains is not significant - both around 7%. Technical Paper 10 in the EIS has this diagram of gradients in the CBD:
Cross section of CBD - Hassell + Arup 2013
We do not know if a rail tunnel would be through the bed rock or in a trench like the Harbour road tunnel, so no one can say how deep a station in, say, the vicinity of Town Hall would be. So many unanswered questions.

We do know that there is no reason to feed trains from Chatswood into the Northern Beaches rail tunnel.  The Minister for Transport has told parliament on many occasions that the Harbour Bridge rail lines have more than enough capacity to handle all the passengers from the privately-operated north-west railway, and she is right.
Erskineville rail line
Eastern Suburbs Railway pops up
The Eastern Suburbs Railway was originally planned to operate as a loop though Randwick and back to Central - there is a second platform directly above the one in use. The railway was terminated at Bondi Junction to reduce the cost and the rail popped up just before Erskineville Station. This was no problem because the railway was compatible with the Bradfield rail system. Erskineville station has four lines and they continue to St Peters station. During the 1980s this was described as a major congestion point in the rail system, culminating in the construction of the Airport Line that took trains off this line.

Apparently the O'Farrell government intends to direct all the trains from the Northern Beaches railway into this Erskineville rail corridor. But there are problems. The single deck trains are not compatable with the Bradfield rail system - the station platforms are not at the same height for one. If the Northern Beaches railway took over two of the lines, the central platform at Erskineville station would be split-level.

And where would this leave the Eastern Suburbs Railway? The possibilities are equally bizarre:

  • The Northern Beaches line continues in a tunnel to Wooli Creek Junction - like the Airport line that went into receivership.
  • Another pair of rails cuts a swath through Erskineville - a la Surry Hills
  • The Eastern Suburbs Railway is privatised and converted to single-deck trains and the money from selling this profitable rail line pays for the ludicrously non-commercial Northern Beaches railway.
So many questions - so many requests for information denied on grounds of commercial confidentiality.


  1. "The single deck trains are not compatable with the Bradfield rail system" Is this correct? I understood that the single deck trains on the North West Rail line will journey back and forth to Chatswood via the existing Chatswood to Epping tunnel but that tunnel will still use the double deck trains and share the same platforms. Single deck and double deck trains currently use the system so surely this is not an issue.

    1. The article in the SMH which you can read by clicking on the link says the government has since said that it could spend even more than the projected $200 million savings on reduced tunnel sizes, on converting the Epping/Chatswood line to carry single deck trains.

    2. Sorry my original comment was poorly worded. The point I was trying to clarify was the claim " the station platforms are not at the same height for one". I can't see anything about the height of the platforms in the SMH article. Yes double deckers will not be able to use the NWR tunnel from Epping to Rouse Hill but the single deck trains will use the tunnel from Epping to Chatswood or am I still missing something??

  2. Ross, Double deck trains will be banned from Epping-Chatswood.

  3. Article for the above here: