Transcript—Release of the Western Sydney rail needs discussion paper



15 September 2016

Topics: Western Sydney Airport, Sydney rail network

Paul Fletcher: Well good morning. I'm very pleased to be here to be releasing the Western Sydney rail needs scoping study discussion paper. So this discussion paper sets out a range of options for potential rail routes to Western Sydney Airport. The New South Wales Government and the Commonwealth Government announced last year that we would conduct a scoping study into the rail needs of Western Sydney and Western Sydney Airport and a team of Commonwealth and New South Wales officials have been working on that scoping study and in particular to develop this discussion paper. Together with New South Wales Transport and Infrastructure Minister Andrew Constance I'm releasing this today and the aim of this discussion paper is to spark public discussion and seek feedback on a range of possible routes for a rail line. The scoping study's looking at the question of what would the right rail route be, when should it be built, how much will it cost and how should it be funded. And as the discussion paper says there's a range of possible options indicatively they could cost as much as $25 billion and of course the different options will have different costs attached to them.

The aim of the discussion paper is to seek public comment, to seek feedback from stakeholders, from citizens, from residents, from industry participants so that all of that feedback can inform the work of the scoping study. Essentially what we are doing here is part of this process of developing a final recommendation that will come from the scoping study to the two governments, the New South Wales Government and the Commonwealth Government, as part of this exercise of planning for Western Sydney Airport and for when Western Sydney Airport commences operation in the mid 2020s.

What the Prime Minister said earlier this year is that we want to look at the question of whether rail could be operational to the airport, to Western Sydney Airport by the time it opens in the mid 2020s, or if not then how soon afterwards. And so therefore we are going through a very thorough process and as part of that process we're looking at a range of possible routes and this discussion paper is an important milestone as we seek community comment and lay out some information that bears upon the questions that need to be answered here. The information about what potential routes might be, information about the existing pressures on the Sydney rail network and information about the airport itself, the kind of traffic levels that it will generate when the airport will open, how it will develop from its opening in the mid 2020s through to the 2030s, 2040s and beyond.

Because of the decision that was taken to proceed with Western Sydney Airport, a decision that was taken in 2014, that has obviously commenced many many different strands of work and one of the things that it's done is sparked this policy process in relation to rail for Western Sydney, the Commonwealth Government, the Turnbull Government working very closely with the Baird Government. I'm working as the Federal Minister for Urban Infrastructure very closely with New South Wales Transport and Infrastructure Minister Andrew Constance, and so the relief of this discussion paper today is an important milestone as we plan for Western Sydney Airport scheduled to open in the mid 2020s and as the two governments work together in relation to the rail needs of Western Sydney.

Question: Please outline the most expensive and perhaps the cheapest option.

Paul Fletcher: In broad terms there are a set of options that the paper looks at. One of them might be described as a set of north south options and in particular one option a number of community leaders in Western Sydney have called for is that the rail should go from Campbelltown to the airport to Penrith to Rouse Hill. So that's a north south access and that would be designed to facilitate connectivity to the airport from the diverse communities of Western Sydney. Western Sydney of course two million people live in Western Sydney today, there will be an extra million people within 20 years and of course for around two million people Western Sydney Airport will be more convenient, will be closer than Kingsford Smith Airport where we are right now.

So if one option or a set of options is north south, another set of options is east west, and again there are quite a number of permutations of that. Generally it's thought that probably the lower range- the lower cross range option still- several billion dollars at least, would be to extend from the existing Leppington Station to Western Sydney Airport. Of course the Baird Government in New South Wales delivered the new line which concludes at Leppington Station at the moment. At the top end you've got the option which is described as an express service to go form Western Sydney Airport to Parramatta and then into the city and then you've got a whole range of different options in between.

But I want to make this point. The numbers that are in the discussion paper here are indicative. We are at an early stage of planning. The numbers have been provided really just to make a point. As we think about options we also have to think about costs and we have to think about costs and benefits, and the other thing that we have to think about and the discussion paper talks about this in a bit of detail and seeks feedback on it, is the question of how this rail link is to be funded. And there's a fair bit of discussion in here of what's called value sharing. Value sharing is an idea which is increasingly being used in funding major rail and public transport projects around the world. This is the idea that if you build a new rail line with new stations then that will drive significant increases in the land value around the stations and particularly if it's combined with appropriate zoning, that would support for example apartments, shopping centres and other such development. And increasingly around the world we're seeing a trend of the property owners and developers being asked to contribute towards the cost of the infrastructure which in turn is increasing the value of the property. So for example in Hong Kong, MTR Corporation, the rail operator in that city is a major- operates on a value sharing basis. In London the Crossrail project which is a very large rail project is funded in significant measure around 30 per cent by a series of value sharing initiatives reflecting the increases in the value of properties and businesses that will be located close to the new stations.

So one of the questions we're asking here in this discussion paper is how should this rail link be funded because the dollar figures are very substantial and we do ask the question are there value sharing approaches that might work and we are certainly very interested in hearing from potential proponents, people who have ideas that they think could contribute to a value sharing approach, but of course that's only one of the questions we want to get feedback on. We're very interested also in feedback about the right route and also questions about timing and other issues.

Question: What's the timeframe for this feedback this evening?

Paul Fletcher: The feedback that we're asking for in the discussion paper is by 28 October, so that's about six weeks, and then that will be an input into the work of the scoping study which will be reporting to the two governments.

Question: What are you able to tell us about this very fast train?

Paul Fletcher: In answering that can I start by drawing a clear distinction between what's often referred to as a very fast train and an express train. The term very fast train or VFT is usually reserved for long distance trains using specially built tracks travelling at 250 kilometres an hour or above. We are not talking about a very fast train here. What we're talking about instead as one of the options—as one of the options, is an express train and under that option which is one of 10 or 11 options proposed in the discussion paper on which we're seeking feedback, under the express option, that would allow a trip from Western Sydney Airport to Parramatta and then to the CBD and the trip time would be about 27 minutes. Now that's towards the top end of expense. It's amongst the most expensive options because it would require a lot of tunnelling. Tunnelling is very very expensive. And the other issue in journey times is the trade off between the journey time and the number of stations you have. The more stations you stop at, obviously the longer the journey time takes over a given distance.

So the express option is one of the options discussed here and what we want to weigh up is that option against the various other options and for example this question of whether the highest need is for an east west link, express or otherwise, or whether the highest need is for a north south link. And the other thing I want to make clear is while we've laid out in the discussion paper the options that the two governments are nominating based upon the work we've done today, we're also interested in hearing if people think there are other options, other routes that we ought to think about as well.

Question: Minister, it's a pretty bold plan I mean if it was to go ahead, this Western Sydney- airport-Parramatta- city. I mean it sounds great in theory. Is it doable?

Paul Fletcher: That's the precise reason why we're going through this process of putting out a discussion paper as part of an exercise, the scoping study being carried out by the two governments into the rail needs of Western Sydney and Western Sydney Airport, which is looking at the various options and there will be very comprehensive advice provided to the two governments about the different options, taking account of the feedback we receive through this process and it will weigh up factors like cost. Clearly the- we need to weigh up cost and benefit and as I've indicated the express route will involve substantial tunnelling costs. We've got a broad sense of those but we need to get much more detail on those. So this discussion paper is about looking at the various options, weighing them up and amongst the issues to weigh up are feasibility and cost and against that what's the benefit and that also involves questions of what will passenger levels be at the airport, what percentage of passengers to the airport do we expect to use rail.

I've just had the opportunity to visit the rail station here at the international terminal at Kingsford Smith. Now at the moment here at Kingsford Smith about 20 per cent of passengers to the airport use rail. But that's grown quite significantly, and a few years ago that only stood at 10 per cent. This discussion paper sets out the numbers as to what we expect the passenger levels at the airport will be in the first few years and it's very clear that the passenger numbers at the airport on a stand alone basis wouldn't be sufficient to justify the capital cost of rail in the early years but the other point this discussion paper makes very clear and the scoping study makes very clear is that the two governments—the New South Wales Government and Transport and Infrastructure Minister Andrew Constance and the Federal Government are working through the broader question now just the rail needs of Western Sydney Airport but the rail needs of Western Sydney and so what we're asking here is what's the route that best meets the needs of Western Sydney and Western Sydney Airport and associated questions of timing, funding, doability.

Question: Would you like to see that happen? The Western Sydney Airport, Parramatta, CBD, 27 minutes; is that something you'd like to see happen?

Paul Fletcher: Well what I'd like to see happen as the responsible federal minister and what New South Wales Transport and Infrastructure Minister Andrew Constance, I'm confident, wants to see happen and he and I have been working closely together on this, I spoke with him just this morning, what we want to see is a good process under which everybody with an interest in this has the opportunity to put forward their perspectives and there are—there is strong interest in this issue, Western Sydney Airport is an enormously important piece of economic infrastructure for Western Sydney, for Sydney and for Australia. Ground transport connectivity is enormously important, rail connectivity is enormously important and one of the things we aim to do with the airport is to catalyse jobs, catalyse economic activity. The airport is going to attract all kinds of businesses. Around the world we see that airports attract businesses in warehousing, logistics, tourism, accommodation, just-in-time manufacturing, businesses like exports and perishables, fruits and vegetables, fresh flowers, these are the kinds of businesses that get attracted to be located near the airport. So Western Sydney Airport offers an enormous economic growth driver to Western Sydney if we can align that with rail as well, that's an additional driver of growth, it makes the airport work better but it also delivers better transport connectivity for Western Sydney so these are complex questions, we are taking and going through a very thorough process to look at them, including the issue of this discussion paper and seeking comment on it and so I think what I'd say as Minister and if Andrew Constance were here I'm confident he'd say the same thing, we want to see a good process in which as many views as possible get put forward, so we're capturing all the best ideas as we work towards arriving at very robust advice coming from the scoping study to the two governments so we're in a position to them work out what we do.