Friday, 8 March 2013

Labor Metronet review

With the state election fast approaching, Labor has put forward its plans for public transport. These are packaged under the term Metronet. This involves the construction of several heavy rail lines.


The Northern Circle Line (NCL) will run over a new railway along Reid and Tonkin Hwys, as well as employing existing tracks along the Joondalup (to Stirling) and Midland (to Bayswater) lines to form a loop. New stations will be at Balcatta (Erindale Rd presumably), Wanneroo Rd, Mirrabooka Av, Alexander Dr, Noranda (Benara Rd presumably) and Walter Rd.
A line will also be constructed to Ellenbrook, which will branch off the NCL after Noranda, with stops at Bennett Springs (probably the intersection of Reid Hwy and Beechboro Rd), Whiteman Park and Ellenbrook.
The map also shows a line to Wanneroo, but this is not mentioned in text. I don't know of any good rail corridor to Wanneroo, and money for a tunnel would better be spent in more inner areas.
The Southern Circle Line (SCL)will incorporate an airport line previously proposed by the Liberals (from Bayswater to Forrestfield), as well as electrification and amplification of a freight line for passenger service from Forrestfield to Fremantle. New station will be at Airport West (near the current domestic terminal site, with domestic to be consolidated at the international terminal and the site redeveloped as a business park, AFAIK), Perth Airport, Forrestfield, Wattle Grove, Kenwick Junction (interchange with Armadale Line), Thornlie, Nicholson Rd, Ranford Rd, South Lake (interchange with Mandurah Line), Yangebup and Coogee, then looping back using the existing Fremantle Line tracks, through the city to the Midland Line, to Bayswater.
A dedicated airport line will also be built paralleling the SCL between Forrestfield and Shenton Park, perhaps with specialised rolling stock.
The Joondalup Line will be extended from Clarkson to Yanchep, and the Armadale Line to Byford (although the map shows a line all the way to Pinjarra!)




This plan focuses on delivering more cross-suburban rail, an very good idea. According to the Public Transport for Perth in 2031 plan, the inner city (CBD, West Perth, East Perth, Northbridge) only accounts for 18% of jobs in the metropolitan area (see page 12). This is only set to increase, as congestion in the CBD and plans such as the Stirling City Centre and Murdoch Mix draw more employers into secondary CBDs. Metronet will add Kewdale (the 2nd largest employment area), Canning Vale (7th largest), Malaga (10th), Balcatta (11th), This is more efficient, as instead of having full trains heading into the city in the morning, but near-empty trains heading out, those empty trains will have more passengers on them, which is better for the environment and for the cost recovery of public transport.


Rail will be delivered to neglected corners of suburbia, affording better access to amenities in the CBD and along existing railway lines (eg. shopping, universities, employment), and perhaps spawning new amenities to these places, drawn by rail access. This will help combat issues such as youth unemployment and unrest.


As the plan consists of surface heavy rail, it is much cheaper than tunnelled alternatives, while still offering the speed and capacity of heavy rail. Greater accessibility, as alluded to above, would bring greater investment, as a result of higher land value, and increase access to high paying jobs, which are concentrated in the CBD.



However, there is a disturbing number of lines converging on the Midland Line (five, six if you count the phantom Wanneroo line;). With regular 20 tph signalling, the maximum frequency for each line during peak hour is 4 tph, or every 15 minutes, what is being run in the off-peak. An upgrade to 30tph signalling could see 6tph, but this is what the overcrowded Midland Line receives during peak hour currently, leaving little room for growth other than traffic from Perth to before Bayswater being put onto the other lines, platform extension or running other lines at 4tph. This is not to mention that punctuality will be compromised, as each train will have to arrive at Bayswater at the exact scheduled time, or else trains after that one will be delayed.trains running even 45 seconds late may result in delays and reduction in capacity. The Midland Line will have to be quadruplicated up to Bayswater.

You could run the NCL right through to the SCL, instead of running to the city on the Midland Line. This would remove 2 lines from the Perth to Bayswater pinch point, cutting the number of lines there to 3. Each may run every 9 minutes (6 2/3 tph)on current signalling, or every 6 minutes (10 tph) with an upgrade, or double the figure with quadruplication. A new interchange station where the Midland Line intersects Tonkin Hwy would have to be built though, and airport trains would bypass this stop. SCL passengers will be able to have a zero walking distance transfer by changing to the airport line at an airport station, where both the SCL and Airport Line will call into the same platforms. There may be an extra charge on airport trains though, like in Sydney and Brisbane, which may be only be checked at entrances or enforced on board airport trains too. In addtion, reducing the number of lines does not change the fact that a large number of passengers will converge on the Midland Line between Perth and Bayswater.


Also an issue is the location of the NCL and SCL; the former in a highway median, the latter in primarily industrial lands.
We've yet to develop a good TOD at any of our existing freeway stations (Cockburn Central is alright, but cut off from the main commercial area (Gateway SC) by heavy traffic and car-oriented development along Beeliar Dr, as it is used to access the Kwinana Fwy), and for good reason - car traffic and pollution do not make good real estate marketing points, and the extensive park n' rides that follow car dependence do not make for quick and pleasant walks to the station. While there may be creative solutions, it is much simpler to build TODs outside of freeways. In some cases, non-highway TODs could harness suburb names that are already better than many highway-side suburbs (without naming anywhere).
As for industrial areas on the SCL, this is better, as there is no big, hulking highway to separate suburbs from their eponymous stations, but suburbs will still have to be radically different from what they are now. While it is good to serve industrial areas and their large employee numbers (as mentioned before, Kewdale is the area with the largest number of jobs out side of the inner city), industrial areas are typically large-scale and car/truck-dependent, and this must be changed if train lines serving such areas are to be well used. To kick out industry for residential and commercial development in response to this problem is also an issue; industrial areas cannot be simply pushed further and further out. The continued need for freight rail without delays to passenger trains will require wide rail corridors, without corresponding two-tier operation, frequency or existing urbanity.


The costing of Metronet has been quite a contentious issue. First there was the Labour costing of $3.8 billion, then the $6.4 Liberal costing, and the Treasury costing sits in between at $4.335 billion ($5.2 billion by the time the project is finished). Let's see for ourselves what the plan might cost, in my mini - costing.

To be generous, I've thrown in a few extras, such as the aforementioned quadruplication to Bayswaters, and 4 km of tunnel for the airport section (the lack of this attacked by the Liberals in radio ads)

NCL - 17 km of surface rail
SCL - 42 km of surface rail (mostly amplified over the existing freight line, but new infrastructure is needed for passenger trains), 5 km of underground rail
Ellenbrook - 11km of surface rail
Butler to Yanchep (Clarkson to Butler is already under construction) - 13 km of surface rail
Armadale to Byford - 8 km of surface rail
Perth to Bayswater - 8 km of amplified surface track
Total - 91 km of surface rail, 5 km of underground rail, 8 km of amplified track

Approximate costs (using statistics from Martin 2010)
Surface rail - $20 million per km
Underground rail - $221.5 million per km
Track Quadruplication - $27.25 million per km

To try to account for inflation (I don't know how to do it properly), and also be conservative, I will add to these figures.
Surface rail - $25 million per km
Underground rail - $250 million per km
Track quadruplication - $30 million per km

The cost of Metronet should therefore come to -
$25 x 92 + $250 x 5 + 30 x 8 (mil)
= $2275 + $1250 + $240 (mil)
= $3769 (mil)
= $3.769 billion
Let's round that up to $3.8 billion

So even with a couple extras of my own, we come up with a costing less than anyone else's, but close to Labor's (which does not include quadding) Perhaps this is accounted for by the extra promises, such as the 17 000 extra parking spaces, the Circle Freeway or 144 new trains. Even so, the quoted costs did not include my extras, which were quite expensive. We really need public transport, so we need to make sure that money spent on it yields the greatest gains possible, by controlling our cost. What happened to our experience with the Mandurah Line, which despite its complexity, was one of the cheapest heavy rail projects in Australia of its time.

UPDATE: In line with my Liberals post, I've added an extra kilometre of tunnel, and taken that corresponding section from the surface rail part of the equation. My costing has been changed to reflect this.


  1. Realy great plan. Especially the southern circle route

  2. Realy great plan. Especially the southern circle route

  3. Realy great plan. Especially the southern circle route

  4. Does anyone know what the "broken" segments of the lines represents (between Pinjarra and Serpentine, Rockingham and Atwell) ?

    1. Just that its miles away, more than the scale of the rest of the semi geographically accurate map would allow for