Monday, 1 September 2014

The missing loop

Construction phase Plan B
It has long been recognised that Town Hall station was where the capacity of the Harbour Bridge rail line and the City Circle was determined. This was because of the large numbers of passengers transferring between rail services at this station and the narrowness of the platforms and stairs and escalators. These concerns gave rise to plans for the CBD Relief Line, a twin track tunnel connecting the Western lines with additional platforms at Wynyard.

Laurie Brereton Hon.
Brereton, Minister for just about everything in the Wran Government, announced this proposal in the planning for the Darling Harbour development. The tunnel would have had a Sussex Street alignment with a station giving access to Darling Harbour. Treasury stomped on this scheme and Brereton promoted the Monorail as the alternative. The Monorail did not cost the taxpayer a penny but the shareholders in Thomas Nationwide Transport paid a heavy price. Now Ms Berejiklian has torn it down.

Brereton was an early incarnation of Infrastructure Boy. He eventually became so unpopular he was booted upstairs to Federal Parliament. I took part in several community campaigns against his schemes starting with his plan for the Eastern Distributor. He had become a politician when he was unable to pass the exam to become an electrician. In the end he would accept the good advice of his advisers in the Public Service and left the State relatively unscathed.

Rail Future B

The Public Servants appointed by North Shore Rump politicians to head Transport for NSW are something else again. The CBD Relief Line has resurfaced but has been rebranded Rail Future B.

In fact the CBD Relief Line made a lot of sense. Train are spaced so they do not run into the backs of one another - basically a train will not leave say a Wynyard platform until the previous train on the line has left the platform at Town Hall. There are no bypass tracks at Town Hall station so this determines the frequency of trains crossing the Harbour Bridge rail lines. The newer train lines in Paris and Tokyo for instance achieve higher frequencies using fail-safe signalling. If trains crossing the Bridge fan out on to alternate tracks on leaving the Bridge more trains per hour can cross the Bridge which is the obvious Pinch Point.

A lot has changed since Treasury stomped on Brereton's plans:
  • Navsat has been invented to provide an additional level for failsafe signalling;
  • Google and others have spent millions developing automated stopping and acceleration for vehicles;
  • The litigious Harry Seidler has died;
  • The central and northern CBD has been developed just about to the limits allowed by floor-space ratios (which are comparable to those on Manhattan island) without demolishing the remaining sandstone buildings;
  • The internet has made battery-hen office space redundant;
  • Barangaroo and the area around Wynyard are the only places in the CBD likely to see significant expansion of office space and residential buildings in the foreseeable future;
Eeny meeny
Sydney's suburban railways
The question that must be answered is: how many commuters will ever need to access the CBD from the train line through North Sydney?

The distance from Epping station to Central via Chatswood station or via Stratsfield station is roughly the same. If Baird is not sent packing on 28th March commuters from the north west who arrive at Epping by bus or train will be able to access destinations in the CBD north of Martin Place only with extreme difficulty whichever route they take.

  • If they are dumped deep underneath Martin Place via the multi-billion dollar rail tunnel under the Harbour they must catch buses in gridlocked Elizabeth Street northbound - there is no tram stop between Market Street and Wynyard. They will of course transfer to a Harbour Bridge train at Chatswood or St Leonards. 
  • If they arrive at Central in a Central Coast train TfNSW has confirmed in the revised figures in the Preferred Infrastructure Report that they are not expected to transfer to a tram in Chalmers Street (see the post Like Father Unlike Son). They will of course transfer to a western line City Circle train at Strathfield or Central or any stop in between these stop. 
The multi-billion dollar Harbour rail tunnel does nothing to relieve pressure on the City Circle loop; it greatly exacerbates congestion on trains through Town Hall Station.

There is a way of relieving pressure on Town Hall station that was established at the end of the Nineteenth Century. The original city loop rail was incorporated into the design of the Central Rail terminal - the tram loop along Pitt and Castlereagh Streets. This loop was supplemented with the City Circle loop alongside the Central terminal when the Harbour Bridge was built, and the tram loop was torn up when the rest of the Sydney tram system was removed. It was assumed that the City Circle loop could cope with the demand for access to the CBD but evidently this was a mistake. Passengers alighting from trains terminating at Sydney Central terminal walk across the historic concourse and board a tram with complete safety, unaffected by weather, as they did for the more than 60 years when the tram loop was operating. The only passengers who would transfer to a City Circle or Harbour Bridge service at Strathfield would be those who work in the immediate vicinity of Wynyard.

The Pitt-Castlereagh tram alignment is the only CBD tram alignment that reduces pressure on the Town Hall platforms. The George Street tram rails dramatically increase congestion at Town hall Station because of the ructions caused to New South Head Road, Victoria Road, George Street and Elizabeth Street bus services. This has been established in previous posts. The Pitt-Castlereagh alignment was brought to the attention of Ms Berejiklian in a letter the day after her dismissive appearance at the Community forum in April last year and was described in more detail in my submission to the EIS. This alignment was not considered by the "Round Tables" who we are told assessed alternative routes.

Despite this, the corrupted public servants at the Department of Planning and Infrastructure declared in the Final Secretary's Assessment Report released after the newly appointed minister for Planning and Environment had signed off on the project: "With regard to route selection, the Department is satisfied that a suitable process has been undertaken to identify a preferred alignment". The 13 December 2012 brochure listed the "Members of the Sydney Light Rail Round Table". Among them were:

  • NSW Department of Planning and Infrastructure
  • NSW Treasury
  • Transport for NSW
The Department required by legislation to make an independent Assessment of the project was in on the "Round Table" process that undertook the selection of the alignment! Participants in the "Round Tables" were sworn to secrecy and efforts to find out even the names or qualifications of the people who took part in them have come to naught. Only a Royal Commission into Transport for NSW will uncover what actually took place at these meetings.

Sam Haddad
The Minister for Planning and Environment Pru Goward had sacked the long serving head of the Department of Planning and Infrastructure Sam Haddad as her first act, following the modus operandi of the newly appointed Premier, Baird. Within weeks she was taking advice from the newly appointed head of the Department and signing off on a project that will have irretrievable consequences for the City of Sydney. Her former portfolio was Minister for Community and Family Services. We now learn that on her watch the number of children at serious risk of harm who were unable to get an assessment of their situation increased proportionally yet again.

I guess this was why Baird chose her to sign off on the Assessment of the CSELR Project.

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