Verity Firth, Member for Balmain, kindly sent me a link to the recently completed feasibility study for the Inner West light rail extension from Lindfield to Dulwich Hill, prepared by GHD. Regular readers will know what a big deal this is for me – I’ve been an outspoken advocate for light rail for years. Sydney should never have ripped up the tram lines in the first place, so any movement towards returning to this excellent mode of transport is to be commended, no matter how small.
The study concludes that construction definitely should go ahead for an extension to Lewisham (intesecting the Inner West rail line), and should probably go ahead for an extension to Dulwich Hill (intersecting the Bankstown line), with NPVs of $25.2 million and $1.5 million respectively, over 30 years, and benefit-cost ratios of 1.6 and 1.0. However, since this is just a preliminary study, they did not consider the wider economic benefits that could arise from second-order effects, so those figures should be considered a minimum.
The results are not surprising. Because the project takes advantage of an unused freight line, construction costs are comparatively negligible – GHD predict $72.5 million for the full length, including cautious estimates for upgrading infrastructure, and ~$6 million every four years in upkeep. Interestingly, the largest item in construction is ‘Contingency’, with $24.2 million, a full third of the cost. This correlates very well with lobby group Ecotransit’s estimate of ~$50 million, if you ignore the very large contingency allowance.
There is not much controversy about stop locations, with only a few (Norton St, Marion St, and the Lewisham and Dulwich Hill interchanges) having two or more feasible options. Generally these are choices between better integration with bus routes and the railway stations, or easier construction. I would argue that integration should win out every time – successful public transport rests on several conceptual pillars, and ease of use/transfer is a primary one. Saving a couple of million but making the service less attractive appears penny-wise, pound-foolish.
A secondary concern is the proposed GreenWay – a flora/fauna corridor, bike/foot path combo running roughly alongside the rail line. Several options are considered, though not in exhaustive detail, and GHD plumps for the route designated ‘Orange’, a route mostly outside the rail corridor proper that could incorporate existing shared paths. Personally, I think the GreenWay concept has merit, but shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with the light rail which, after all, is the main objective. For example, the study suggests certain options would reduce the line to just one track in some spots, something that should be avoided. Thankfully, the parameters of the study concur with my preference, so it shouldn’t be a problem unless Greens (heavily represented in Leichhardt and Marrickville councils) kick up a stink about not enough trees or something.
I urge everyone affected by traffic congestion, or frustrated with the lack of north-south transport links, or concerned with rational decision-making by government, to read the study and send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. I certainly will, and I can’t wait for the next study on a CBD extension (which, arguably, is more important though considerably more complicated).