Community calling for Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 to be shovel ready

The Western Sydney business community has called on the NSW government to prepare Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 as an economic stimulus project for the region following internal government polling that shows the project’s growing community support.

Internal government polling for the project by Newgate Research, released under Freedom of Information, found a 10 per cent increase in positive community support towards Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 in 12 months.

Knowledge of the proposed route for Stage 2 has increased from 60 per cent in 2018 to 71 per cent the following year, and the likelihood to use Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 route has increased from 54 per cent to 67 per cent.

David Borger, Western Sydney Business Chamber executive director said the jump in support for Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 is remarkable.

“The NSW government will need to use the state’s infrastructure pipeline to kickstart the economy after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and projects such as Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 can be made shovel ready over the coming months to be a key stimulus project next year,” he said.

“The communities along the Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 route and Western Sydney more broadly will be bitterly disappointed if the NSW Government fails to honour its public transport commitments to the region.”

Borger said the future of Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 has been unclear and the proven community support should get the project back on track.

“Building Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 will help unlock the full potential of the Greater Parramatta and Olympic Peninsula region,” he said.

Allison Taylor, CEO of the Sydney Olympic Park Business Association said the association and Western Sydney Business Chamber have been vocal advocates for the NSW government delivering on its commitment to build the entire Parramatta Light Rail network for both stage 1 and 2.

“What the government’s internal polling confirms is the more the local communities along the preferred route know about the project, the more they like it. They want the government to provide better transport through the region to key centres like Sydney Olympic Park and Parramatta,” Taylor said.

“Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 is a critical link to the growing communities in Wentworth Point and Melrose Park.”

The report also indicated sentiment towards local public transport is positive with most respondents rating services as either excellent, good or fair. 

“Unprompted transport priorities continue to focus on increased frequency of buses and trains and there is a growing desire for more frequent and reliable services – particularly in Stage 2,” the report stated in its findings.

Results revealed that positive sentiment increases with knowledge of the Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2, with better and more convenient connections remaining the most common reason for feeling positive about the project compared to results in 2018.

Sydney business community want more funding for Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2

David Borger, executive director of the Western Sydney Business Chamber said Stage 1 of Parramatta Light Rail is at risk of being a “white elephant” due to funding concerns for future stages of the line.

The Western Sydney Business Chamber is urging the NSW government to allocate funding in the NSW budget to get the next stage of the Parramatta Light Rail ready for construction.

Borger said the NSW government committed to building a Parramatta Light Rail network and the business community don’t want to see Stage 1 put at risk of being a “white elephant because the NSW Government has shelved the next stages”.

“We understand that Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 is awaiting an ‘investment decision’ by the NSW cabinet. My message to government ministers is give the project the green light and let’s get on with connecting Sydney’s central city with its surrounding suburbs,” he said.

Borger said stage 2 of Parramatta Light Rail ticks so many boxes when it comes to a good public transport project and it builds on the taxpayer investment in Stage 1.

In a Business NSW’s NSW Budget Priorities report, released as a pre-budget submission this month, Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 is listed an infrastructure priority.

Business NSW executives stated in the report that Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 has reached the point in its development where further meaningful work needs to be sustained by a government commitment to move forward with the project.

“This budget should allocate funding to allow the next stage of project development to be completed, with an eye to moving towards construction as Stage 1 is completed,” Business NSW executives said.

Infrastructure Australia has also noted the importance of public transport to Parramatta CBD, but Business NSW executives said the next major deliverable that can improve matters has been stuck in a holding pattern since the completion of early business case development.

Connecting hubs of major activity at Parramatta and the Sydney Olympic Park, and joining up the heavy rail, Metro and ferry transport networks, Light Rail Stage 2 serves a fast-growing part of the city. 

Borger said the true value of light rail is when it is a network.

“The NSW Government may very well be needing some economic stimulus projects towards the end of the year. Getting Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 shovel ready would be a common sense decision,” he said.

A spokesperson for Parramatta Light Rail said a final Business Case for the second stage of Parramatta Light Rail is currently being considered by the NSW Government, with an investment decision to follow.

Planning work is currently being further developed and informed by consultation with the community, stakeholders, other NSW Government agencies and transport projects including Sydney Metro West.

In October 2017, the NSW Government announced the preferred route for the second stage of the Parramatta Light Rail, which will connect Stage 1 and Parramatta CBD to Ermington, Melrose Park, Wentworth Point, and Sydney Olympic Park.

It will have 10-12 stops over a ten-kilometre two-way track, with travel times of around 25 minutes from Sydney Olympic Park to Camellia, and a further eight minutes to Parramatta CBD.

Coal Train Photo Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator

IPART calls for review of NSW access regime

New South Wales’ Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) has asked the state to order a review of its rail access regime, which it says is not currently meeting stakeholders’ needs.

IPART made the request while handing down its final rate of return and mine life calculations for the state’s freight and bulk railways.

IPART on July 9 finalised a 5.3 per cent rate of return for the next five years of third-party access to the Country Regional Network, Sydney’s Metropolitan Freight Network, the Australian Rail Track Corporation’s non-Hunter Valley network, and RailCorp’s Hunter Valley network from Woodville to Newstan Junction.

The final rate of return figure is 0.5 per cent lower than the figure in IPART’s draft decision in April, a move IPART said was due to the recent decline in the risk-free rate, contributing to a decrease in the cost of equity.

IPART on July 9 also finalised its draft decision to increase RailCorp’s maximum allowed depreciation rate from 3.3 per cent to 4.8 per cent per annum for its coal railway between Woodville and Newstan Junction in the Hunter.

The depreciation increase reflected a shortening of IPART’s mine life estimate which now extends only to 2040, four years earlier than previously anticipated.

In handing down the figures, IPART chair Dr Paul Paterson explained that the undertaking had undergone “significant changes” since it came into effect and that it no longer met the needs of stakeholders. IPART has recommended the NSW Government undertake a review of the rail access regime, adding that a national review could suffice as a longer-term solution.

The line does not transport coal for export to the port of Newcastle, but it does transport coal to the Eraring and Vales Point power stations, BlueScope Steel, Port Kembla and other mines south-west of the line.

IPART’s decision was influenced by uncertainty regarding the future of coal-fired power stations and a projected decline in coal revenues over the next five years due to changing energy trends.

Origin Energy, the owner of the Eraring power station, is expected to exit coal-fired power generation after 2032.

“The shorter estimated life is an on-balance judgement, taking into account the best publicly available information on the rail line’s expected use, mine reserves, and closures of Eraring and Vales Point power stations,” Paterson said.

IPART conducts its review of the rail access undertaking every five years, including depreciation decisions for the Hunter Valley Coal Network, and rate of return for ARTC’s non-Hunter Valley network, Country Regional Network and Sydney Metropolitan Freight Network.

The next IPART review of the rail access undertaking will take place in July 2024.

The Hunter Valley Coal Network consists of 37 sectors, five of which are owned by RailCorp in accordance with the Rail Access Undertaking.

Railcorp’s sectors comprise roughly 21 kilometres of track running coal and freight trains from Newstan Junction (sector 405) to Woodville Junction (sector 497) in Hamilton.

The other 32 sectors are owned by the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) under a separate agreement with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

Transport for NSW introducing $50 weekly travel cap for Opal

The New South Wales Government will start placing a weekly cost cap of $50 on Opal cards from Monday June 24.

The new cap is about 20 per cent lower than the current cap of $63.20 a week, and is expected to save public transport users up to $686 a year. These savings will also extend to users of the recently launched North West Metro, saving $563 a year for an adult customer travelling to and from Tallawong station and Central five days a week.

Examples of regular weekly commuters who could save $686 a year under the new plans include those travelling from Meadowban to Barangaroo via ferry, Tuggerah to Central and Kiama to Sutherland routes.

State premier Gladys Berejiklian said that the new cap would help to ease cost pressures for around 55,000 customers across NSW public transport services (including ferries).

Caps for concession holders will also be reduced as part of the plans. Opal card benefits such as weekly travel rewards and transfer discounts will also survive the new cap.

“We want to make public transport more affordable and that is why we are lowering the cap,” Ms Berejiklian said. “From Monday adults will pay no more than $50 a week and the concession cap will also be reduced from $31.60 to $25 a week.”

State transport minister Andrew Constance added that from Monday fares would rise in line with inflation at 1.9 per cent as opposed to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) recommendation  of 4.2 per cent.

“This means catching the train, bus, ferry, metro or light rail is still a much cheaper option than driving,” he said.

Labor promises to expand Western Sydney City Deal to Blacktown

Labor has announced that it will expand the Western Sydney City Deal to incorporate Blacktown City Council should the party win the upcoming federal election.

The Western Sydney City Deal, signed in March 2018, is a partnership between the Coalition Government, NSW State Government and eight regional governments: Camden, Hawkesbury, Liverpool, Penrith, Wollondilly, Blue Mountains, Fairfield, and Campbelltown.

Connectivity is a key element of the deal, including the development of the North South Rail Link.

The first stage of the line, a 30-minute train journey running from St Marys to Badgerys Creek Aerotropolis is intended to be completed in time to provide airport links in time for the opening of Western Sydney International (aka Nancy-Bird Walton) in 2026.

Shadow transport minister Anthony Albanese said that the Coalition Government’s decision not to include Blacktown in the deal was “short-sighted” and made no sense given the council area’s size and location.

Blacktown City Council hosts a population of over 370,000 people and is the second largest local government area in NSW, with 48 residential suburbs.

“Including Blacktown City Council in our City Partnership for Western Sydney makes strategic sense given its focus on job creation and unlocking a 30-minute city,” Albanese said.

“The Coalition’s decision comes despite the fact that Blacktown City Council has been included in the Western Sydney City Deal Planning Partnership, which looks at ‘innovative approaches to planning and delivery of housing’.”

The Western Sydney Business Chamber expressed its support for Labor’s plans to expand the deal to include Blacktown City Council.

David Borger, executive director of the Western Sydney Business Chamber, said it was important that Blacktown doesn’t miss out on the opportunities represented by the City Deal, including development of the Western Sydney Airport.

“The Chamber is pleased the Federal Opposition, if elected, will include Blacktown in the deal to realise the 30-minute city concept to ensure the area is not left behind other Western Sydney local government areas,” said Borger.

Labor also announced that it would invest $7.5 million in local priority projects within Blacktown City Council and called on the NSW Government to match this funding.