“A second harbour crossing is one option being considered” … Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian. Photo: Edwina Pickles
A SECOND harbour crossing will be the centrepiece rail project in the state government’s draft transport masterplan, to be unveiled within months.
The plan will reassert the importance of another rail crossing for the harbour, which has been long talked about but absent from government policy since 2008.
Several sources have told the Herald a cross-government committee working on Sydney’s next train plan has agreed it would not be worth trying to avoid building another harbour crossing by upgrading technology on the existing rail corridor.
The Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian, is understood to have accepted the advice and plans for a harbour rail link will form the basis of the O’Farrell government’s first substantial transport document.
The crossing is needed because of the train system’s natural patronage growth and the construction of the North West Rail Link, which will bring tens of thousands of extra commuters and possibly more than eight trains an hour onto the network.
Agreement on the need for a new crossing would confirm the death of Labor’s last train plan, which was to build a ”city relief line” underground from Redfern to Wynyard to provide extra capacity on the Western Line.
Instead the draft masterplan will reopen a debate about how another crossing should make its way through the city – either under Sussex Street or under Pitt Street – and how it should connect to the rest of the network south of Central – either to the Western Line or the Illawarra Line.
Ms Berejiklian would not say whether a decision had been made. “As our submission to Infrastructure Australia last year made clear, a second harbour crossing is one option being considered by Transport for NSW in order to increase rail capacity into the CBD to 2040 and beyond,” she said.
An urgent need for a second crossing was identified in the long-term plan of the former NSW rail supremo Ron Christie in 2001. When that report was leaked in 2002, the transport minister, Carl Scully, agreed the crossing was needed, but not for two decades.
The crossing remained alive as government policy in Bob Carr’s 2005 transport plan, but was shelved when his successor as premier, Morris Iemma, decided to build separate metro-style lines in 2008.
A second crossing was also a central recommendation of the Herald’s independent transport inquiry in 2009 and 2010, but it has been vigorously resisted by elements within NSW Treasury because of its vast cost.
In their November submission to Infrastructure Australia, Transport for NSW officials listed seven options for adding capacity to the city’s train system within the next two decades.
Four included a second harbour rail link, while three attempted to avoid construction of the extra link by dramatically increasing capacity across the Harbour Bridge and through the CBD using technological upgrades and different types of trains.
The options that did not include a second crossing focused on converting the network to single-deck, higher-frequency trains that took less time to stop at stations. But these would also require significant upgrades at CBD stations and, one source said, the potential closure of Wynyard and Town Hall for between six months and two years.
In a separate development yesterday, a round table into the potential expansion of light rail from the city into the eastern suburbs heard it would cost more than $1 billion.
The round table, chaired by the deputy director-general of Transport for NSW, Chris Lock, included the federal MP Malcolm Turnbull, business representatives, the University of NSW, the Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust and local councils. Sources at the discussion said there was strong support for the expansion of the tram system.