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Rail versus Road Transport for Western Sydney Airport

Driving to/from WSA, or catching a taxi?

Other posts on this site have dealt with options for “Metro or very fast rail for Western Sydney Airport?” contrasting today’s Metro rail technology, on the one hand, with the latest high speed rail advances out of Germany, China and Japan in the form of Maglev, at the other (fastest today) extreme. In the post headed “Just how fast a rail link between CBD and Western Sydney Airport?” we give actual examples of engineering computations for travel time on hypothetical fast rail link routes using fairly safe performance assumptions.

Now we ask, what would the road transport experience be like, in terms of raw travel times and costs, for passengers arriving or departing WSA who don’t have the choice of a fast or convenient rail link?

We ignore buses as a transport medium as we have no information on plans that the NSW Government might be considering for bus services like Melbourne’s Skybus,  but we note that Tullamarine to Southern Cross station in Melbourne is quoted at only 20 minutes (+ traffic congestion impacts) for a distance of 19-20 kms. That is only about one-third of the distance from Badgerys Creek to Sydney city and about 55% of the distance if Parramatta is the destination. So, the Skybus adult fare of $18 one way, would have to be multiplied by about 3 or 1.8 respectively to get an approximation of the relevant fare for WSA, all other things being equal. Call this $53 and $33 respectively as a crude starting point estimate, but query whether one would have to adjust this for tolls because Sydney’s Westlink M7 and the WestConnex, to our knowledge, have not formally been contracted to favour public transport (assuming privately contracted) with bus lanes, such as occurred with the Hills M2 motorway.

Driving Badgerys Creek to Sydney CBD

The authors have not gone into this subject in great depth but we used Google Maps and Tom Tom Live to make some crude estimates of driving time. This showed the following:

    • WSA area to Sydney CBD: 56 kms in about 49 minutes assuming free flow conditions (sticking to the speed limits, of course);
    • Blowing out to between 63 and 69 minutes on a sample weekday in peak times due to traffic congestion (it can be worse, as readers will know – take your own guess for AM peak times).
    • This compared to 58 and 56 minutes by existing double-deck rail from Penrith and Campbelltown to Town Hall station, respectively, which routes are each almost the same distance as driving from Badgerys Creek into the Sydney CBD.  Of course, the more relevant comparison will depend on how Transport for NSW plans the new rail service past Leppington, particularly whether changes at Glenfield and/or Central are required in future to get commuters into the CBD].

Note that we don’t have the benefit of detailed data from the Business Case for WestConnex in order to assess how much the new Motorways project, due to be complete, before WSA, in 2023, will improve these travelling times. However, we remark that if it does bring about substantial improvement, all other things being equal, one would expect a proportion of passengers to switch off rail into their cars to get the better travel time, which takes us back into that vexed issue of induced demand impacting congestion as usage grows.

Taking a Taxi from Badgerys Creek to Sydney CBD

Here we used the official Transport for NSW taxi fare calculator and compared this with results from a UberX source (just for data).

This showed the following:

  • Both calculators showing  a 56-57 kms trip taking 54-55 minutes, absent traffic congestion;
  • The computed fare costs being between $129 and $155 (one way) in the UberX calculator and $128 to $179 in the official (regulated) version.
  • We don’t have to remind the reader that this creates a high cost barrier for usage of WSA!

Taking a Taxi from Badgerys Creek to Parramatta CBD

  • The calculators showed 36-37 kms trips taking 31-33 minutes, absent traffic congestion;
  • Fares were between $85 and $101 (one way) versus $84 and $117.
  • Nb Parramatta to Mascot Airport was $75 to $106, but surprisingly lower at test time on UberX (so we won’t quote that).

Competitive fast rail

In another future post we shall comment on these results and the message they bring for a business case to have Parramatta, in particular, connected by fast rail to WSA, even despite plans that might extend the Sydney Metro out past Leppington to Badgerys Creek.

Pending that we shall leave further thoughts a mystery and invite public comment.

Metro or very fast rail for Western Sydney Airport?

A fast rail link for Badgerys Creek airport

The authors have done some computations with assistance of qualified engineers, on the various choices referred to in the post Just how fast a rail link between CBD and Western Sydney Airport?. Sydney is introducing faster Metro style services with its North West Rail Link and the extension of its Sydney Rapid Transit concept, now to be called simply “Sydney Metro”. Absent the full details of operating characteristics of those train sets, we have made some assumptions about acceleration and top speed between stations and drawn on comparisons with airport rail links in Hong Kong & Tokyo. By way of contrast we show just how fast the latest SC-Maglev technology from Japan could be.
From WSA to Parramatta by Metro
We took an example using a route covering a distance of 35 kms (northerly then easterly) with selected stops along the way.

  • We computed a travel time of 22-24 minutes to Parramatta.
  • This compared with a travel time of 24 minutes for the same distance on Hong Kong’s Airport Express.

From WSA to Sydney CBD via Parramatta plus one other intermediate stop, by Metro
For this example the route covered a distance of 56 kms with one stop between Parramatta and Sydney (Homebush Bay/Olympic Park or the Ryde area being options that were suggested to us).

      • For this we computed a travel time of 36-38 minutes to a central spot in Sydney.
      • This compared with a travel time of 36-41 minutes for the same distance on the Keisei Skyliner express rail between Tokyo and Narita Airport.

As you can see the results are broadly comparable to those for the benchmark overseas cities. We say that is a function of the technology used.

Comparison with fastest current rail technology (Maglev) – WSA to Parramatta

The most direct routes we used assumed 28 kms to Parramatta and 49 kms to the Sydney CBD. This involved minimising stops to maximise average speed. However, we also tested times using routes and stops comparable to the assumed Metro distances (above) of 35 kms and 56 kms respectively.
Here are our results:-
From WSA to Parramatta by Maglev

      • We computed a travel time of 7-9 minutes to Parramatta using the more direct option.
      • We computed a travel time of 17-19 minutes to Sydney CBD using that same route option, extended east with the additional stop.
      • The results were therefore a virtual halving of travel time to Sydney and about a two-thirds reduction of travel time to Parramatta, versus our Metro examples.

But what if we make Maglev stop at more stations & take a less direct route?
We have played around with some choices here, such as a more northerly route, an additional park-and-ride station to collect drivers from the western part of the M4 who want to bypass road congestion, also having more station stops, particularly Blacktown being of importance in order to service patrons of the Blue Mountains, Penrith and Richmond who are prepared to interchange so as to hop onto a faster link to the City. So we got a range of results, as follows:-
Range of times for Badgerys Creek to Parramatta, with these modifications

  • From 10 minutes for 31 kms (including Blacktown), to 15 minutes for 35 kms involving route changes and extra stops.

Range of times for Badgerys Creek to Sydney CBD, with these modifications

  • From 21 minutes for 52 kms (including Blacktown), to 25 minutes for 56 kms involving route changes and extra stops, west of Parramatta.
  • Note that this latter case is still some 12-13 minutes faster than our Metro examples for exactly the same route, distance and stops.

What the results point to is that there is a choice between speed of technology, but also a choice between designing for more or less stops. It is really up to our best engineers to work out how to get the best combinations of non-stop, skip stop, and multiple stops service. We talk about market aspects of that dilemma in another post on the type of travellers that might use the WSA and a fast rail link.

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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