The Sydney CBD Metro project, which will provide train services from Balmain west of downtown, through the center city, and then south to Central Train Station, is in trouble because of a lack of coordination between the metro authority and the regional rail provider, CityRail. The project’s requirements would unduly overcrowd the platforms at Central and make existing CityRail operation no longer feasible. The Metro project plan must be revised before shovels are put into the ground next year.
Original plans for the 4.8 billion dollar (Australian) project, expected to be completed by 2015, would have required all Western suburban CityRail services to terminate at Central, rather than continue into the city core along the City Circle, as currently. Suburban trains are overcrowded and the Metro would provide much-needed relief. But it would also cause headaches for customers attempting to make it into downtown, who would have to switch to a Metro train at Central in order to complete their journeys. Without forcing customers to make this change, the Metro will likely have very low ridership. In other words, the Metro’s viability relies on a decrease in the quality of services currently offered.
The problem for Metro is that stopping CityRail trains at Central – 26 of them an hour – wouldn’t be possible because of the necessary turn-around time and limited platforms at the station. Metro’s response to the problem is that “The reference… refers to a future opportunity – and not a requirement before the CBD Metro opens.” Is the authority suggesting that Central be expanded to deal with the capacity problems caused by Metro? Is it worth spending even more money to pay for a hugely costly expansion? Or is Metro arguing that it would be acceptable to begin services with little ridership, as CityRail trains wouldn’t have to terminate?
This isn’t to say that the Metro project shouldn’t be considered at all. But with CityRail lines overflowing and more capacity needed into the CBD, the answer isn’t an elimination of existing service. Rather, what would make more sense would be a new CityRail offering into downtown along the Metro alignment, splitting off at Central from existing lines and then continuing along the planned Metro route. While it’s nice to imagine a new Metro in Sydney, improving the existing network by providing an alternative to the City Circle, as well as providing new services to Rozell and White Bay, as the Metro is planned to do, would decongest the routes through the CBD and open up new service opportunities. There’s no reason to think that metro-like services to the west and south couldn’t be provided along new alignments and connecting to the new CityRail tunnel.
Image above: Sydney CBD Metro Plan, from Sydney Metro