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Just how fast a rail link between CBD and Western Sydney Airport?

Fast as a speeding Bullet – not quite, but almost as fast as a Jet.

Another post has described how Japan has achieved major technological breakthroughs with very high speed rail, through the new form of Superconducting Magnetic Levitation trains (SC-Maglev). As recently as 21st April this year, this type of train set a new land speed record for rail vehicles of 603 km/h, in formal tests, with a manned Mitsubishi-Nippon Sharyo L0 series 7 car train set, which can reach 500 km/h in less than 2.5 minutes. The most prominent Japanese railway company, JR Central, which ran the tests and owns the Nippon Sharyo company, has already embarked on a new project between Tokyo and Nagoya using this technology. Data from that project’s official sources show that Canberra to Sydney could be covered in only about 40 minutes using this technology, all other things being equal.

Canberra to Sydney in 40 minutes, or 45 minutes via Badgerys Creek through to Parramatta
We said elsewhere: That is the sort of travel speed and time that would have to be transformational for our country. It truly is almost a “jet train”. Further aspects of this issue are covered in the posts Canberra and  Southern Highlands.

Nevertheless, it is a different question to consider a shorter distance such as Badgerys Creek to Sydney CBD, and different still to just consider Badgerys Creek to Parramatta. So what are the choices here, and how do they compare?

Firstly, let us recognise that as things presently stand, rail links for Badgerys Creek are not being prioritised relative to road links. Partly that is due to the present Abbott Federal Government’s policy of only funding roads, not rail, out of Federal revenue sources. Meanwhile, Mike Baird’s NSW Government has started studies on extension of the South West Rail Link from Leppington to Badgerys Creek with the addition of a possible spur from Narellan northwards. Furthermore, there have been suggestions that the North West Rail Link could be extended south through Marsden Park and St Marys to connect the new airport from the north (see diagram below (insert link here), shown some time ago in the local press). An issue clearly arises that North West Rail has different carriages (single deck Metro) from those that currently apply out to Leppington (traditional Sydney double deck, now regarded as more suitable for longer distances), so we await the resolution of that conundrum. Maybe the interchange under the tarmac at Badgerys Creek will be like Australia’s past experience with change of gauge at State borders……

Slow metro or fast rail
But, assuming these are the major plans of Transport for NSW, what would that mean in terms of travel speed? The North West Rail Link is 36 kms from Cudgegong Rd to Chatswood which it has been announced will take 37 minutes. This raises the old hoary chestnut of Sydney rail travelling effectively at about 60 km/h average speeds. This is good when people want convenience or when the distances are not too long, but as our examples elsewhere of travel between Newcastle and Sydney illustrate, it fails a competitiveness test when the distances are too long. From Cudgegong Rd to Badgerys Creek via St Marys is about a 29-30 km route (16-17 kms to St Marys and about 12-13 kms from there, depending on corridor availability). At 60 km/h average travel speed this would take a full hour to 65 minutes for the whole stretch from Chatswood and we say that is too slow. Why would anyone in that part of Sydney voluntarily choose to use Badgerys Creek over Mascot? Coming the other way, Glenfield to Leppington is about 9 kms, then another 15-16 kms to where rail would link into the airport site. So, this is longer than would create travel time competition against road usage. That is what our PM and Federal Transport Minister have recognised by supporting a Western Sydney Airport Local Roads Package.

There is, however, another perspective, not incompatible with Transport for NSW’s assumed future plans, whose plans we commend for a completely different purpose, that of public transport convenience and rail network completion. They will certainly be needed if Badgerys Creek is to become an airport the size of New York’s JFK, as recent press articles suggested.

Benefits of fast rail
Our perspective is that Sydney would benefit from the general speeding up of rail times across its network, and it has to start somewhere, the new airport link being an opportune place to start. There are several other experts and commentators who have said the same thing (insert link to examples).

Badgerys Creek direct to Parramatta could be cut down to 9 minutes or less using latest high speed rail technology, the fastest being if Maglev was used.
Badgerys Creek to the Sydney CBD, via Parramatta and another intermediate stop, could be cut down to 19 minutes or less with such technology.
See this post Metro or very fast rail for Western Sydney Airport? for further details and modifications bringing in other stops such as Blacktown.

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