Why the Northwest Metro will be shit

Is the biggest infrastructure project in NSW all it's cut out to be

Artwork by Theo Delaney

Hardcore transit enthusiasts and weary Hills commuters have no doubt been keeping informed of the Sydney Metro Northwest Project. At 13 stations, 23 kilometres and $8.3 billion, the Northwest Metro is set to be New South Wales’ largest ever infrastructure project.

Connecting the Hills Shire, an area hitherto serviced only by buses, to Sydney’s wider rail network, the Northwest Metro will completely revolutionise the public transport network in Sydney.

However, beneath the facade of world class travel frequencies and admittedly cool tunnel-boring videos is a transport project deeply wrong for the area it purports to service.

The Northwest Metro is a rapid transit system. This is in contrast to the rest of Sydney Trains, which operates as a commuter rail system. Both are noble systems, but each serves a different purpose.

Rapid transit is completely grade separated, meaning it doesn’t share a route with any other vehicle type. Commuter rail systems such as Sydney Trains splits routes between intercity, express and local trains, as well as freight trains and a dwindling number of level crossings shared with cars. Bypassing the bottleneck of different trains travelling in the same direction means that the metro trains can run at higher frequencies than the commuter rail network is currently capable of.

Rapid transit is designed for quick passenger loading and unloading, with faster acceleration and decreased dwell times at stations. To achieve this, the Northwest Metro will use single-deck, driverless trains with longitudinal seating and three doors on each car.

Commuter rail is designed to get passengers typically from outer suburbs to the CBD, with comfort and safety as priorities. Sydney’s current double-decker fleet do just that.

While the metro does guarantee faster connections to major employment centres such as Macquarie Park, Chatswood and North Sydney, as an all-stops service, it only mildly improves travel times between the Hills and the Sydney CBD.

Rapid transit systems are clearly effective, however, is a metro system an appropriate solution for the Northwest?

The area, while growing, is not yet densely populated. It has a strong car culture and the M2, the primary motorway to the city servicing the area, is heavily congested.

There’s an argument to be made that making other, closer employment centres more accessible is necessary to combat urban sprawl. But to get commuters out of cars and onto the rails, the absolute best solution is an express rail to the city through major transport interchanges.

This is important not only for connecting the Hills to the CBD but to make it accessible to all of wider Sydney. The CBD-centric nature of Sydney’s public transport system means that getting from suburb to suburb is tedious and easier by car – which of course, fuels congestion.

The Northwest metro will be shit because, like much of Sydney’s transport infrastructure over the past century, it’s a shortcut and not a solution.

Sydney should have a metro. Just not in its sprawled outer suburbs. The Hills needs public transport but it needs transit more adequately suited to its demographic and geography.

The backbone of any world class city is its transport.

If Sydney wants to be a world class city, governments should grow a backbone of their own and start investing in transit solutions that equip this city for the long haul.